In the heart of the heartland, in a hardworking Mississippi River town, in a state that Al Gore carried in 2000 by only 4,144 votes, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts gave the good people a lesson in biology and religion.
"Dubuque, heavily German Catholic, was for years Iowa's most Democratic city, and still is sometimes unless abortion is the issue," notes the Almanac of American Politics.
"I believe life does begin at conception," Kerry told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald in a story published Sunday.
That was the biology part of Kerry's little lecture.
How curious. One would think that in a city surrounded by beautiful farmland where the sheds are full of hogs, people would know the rudiments of human reproduction about as well as they know animal husbandry. It's as if Kerry had visited MIT to declare: "I believe that two plus two does equal four."
But then Kerry's choice of words was even more curious. He didn't say: "Life begins at conception." He said he "believes" life begins at conception -- as if he could with equal plausibility have said he "believes" life begins when a baby first cries, or when the umbilical cord is cut, or when the child begins to crawl, or walk, or talk, or get arthritis.
Clearly, Kerry is saying that when life begins is a subjective opinion rather than an objective fact. Even more curiously -- and here is where he brings religion into it -- he suggests that his own subjective opinion on when life begins has been determined not by scientific observation or study but by his religious denomination.
Here is the fuller context of what Kerry told the Telegraph Herald: "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception. But I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist . . . who doesn't share it. We have a separation of church and state in the United States of America."
If you take Kerry seriously here, it raises questions about the quality of his thinking. His logic appears to be: 1) When human life begins is not a scientific fact but an "article of faith" determined by one's denomination; 2) we have separation of church and state in America; and 3) therefore, prohibiting abortion is legislating a religious doctrine and is thus forbidden.
But following through on this logic could make it impossible to enact legislation prohibiting the abortion of any human being at any age. A religious denomination -- or a cult of atheists -- could declare that life begins at 2 or 92. Would Kerry enforce his "article of faith" on them? How could he justify it?