The issue very intelligent politicians and their media allies are
adept at ignoring, right at the heart of their rhetorical flourish
about civil and human rights for all people, is when human life begins.
Now that the subject has been newly raised in the Saddleback Civil Forum, it’s very much on the table. In this Newsweek online piece, George Weigel asks why Democrats are ignoring it.
Throughout this lengthy campaign, the Democratic Party
has worked hard to present itself as the party of intellect, competence
and moral seriousness. Yet it’s off to a very rocky start in addressing
the substance of the abortion issue—which remains, 35 years after Roe
v. Wade, one of the most volatile in our public life. Talk this week by
Democratic leaders about lowering the incidence of abortion in America
will rightly be welcomed by pro-life Democrats, including the large
number of pro-life African-American Democrats. But the recent public
record has to make committed pro-lifers of both parties wonder just how
serious the Democratic leadership is about engaging the abortion debate.
In the couple of posts below, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent total
misrepresentation of Catholic teaching reveals the willful distortion
or denial of fact. As did Sen. Obama’s recent comment that defining
when life begins is “above my pay grade.”
An embryology text widely used in American medical
schools, “The Developing Human,” is not so reticent about the science
involved: “Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete
or sperm (spermatazoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to
produce a single cell—a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent
cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” That
is the science. It’s quite specific, and understanding the science here
is surely not above the “pay grade” of a president who will be making
public-policy decisions based on that science.
And that’s very important to get, the fact that the president and
other government leaders, along with judges and justices, have some
worldview based on some version of values. So we need to ask what
informs those values. As pastor Rick Warren said at the open of the
Saddleback forum, ‘We believe in the separation of church and state,
but that there is no separation of faith and politics.’ The Church
instructs hierarchy and lay faithful alike to be morally informed
voices in the public square.
As for theology, there are, obviously, theological
disagreements on the moral question of abortion. But while a president
is not a theological referee, a president ought to have some grasp of
the basic philosophical issues that have been vigorously debated in the
abortion wars over the past several decades; these, after all, are the
issues that should inform public policy.
Here’s a clear and excellent point:
For decades now, pro-life advocates have been arguing,
on the basis of reason informed by science, that nothing human was ever
anything other than human, and that nothing not human will ever become
human. These are things we can know prior to our theological
convictions (or lack thereof). Does Senator Obama disagree with these
And this is another incisive and critical point:
There are also serious questions of political theory and
governance at stake in the abortion wars. Pro-lifers have long argued
that allowing the government to declare an entire class of human
creatures—the unborn—outside the protection of the law is a danger for
That’s the key to it all.
Pro-lifers of both parties—some of them agnostic and
atheists—have made genuinely public arguments, based on scientific
knowledge, reason and democratic political theory. Judging from the
evidence to date, the Democratic candidate for president has yet to
engage those arguments seriously.