Crooked thought

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Feb 26, 2004 12:00 AM
The debasement of people high and low who reach out for political recognition is the most solemn rebuke to democracy. In the blizzard of protests against Ralph Nader's decision to run for president, the vector of the complaints is the damage his candidacy could effect on the Democratic contender. But at least Nader is able to reply that by his emphasis on saving the spotted owl, or whatever, he maximizes pressure on the Democrats to co-opt his programs. But what is to be thought of the debasement not only of politics, but of religion, by John Kerry?

His pursuit of the pro-choice voter is so assiduous as to bring into question his intellectual sanity. John Kerry is a Catholic who, he frequently says, opposes abortion but is in favor of the rights of dissenters from his position to have abortions and to advocate a higher incidence of them. That position by Catholic politicians ("I am personally opposed to it, but others aren't, and I respect their rights to their positions") is hardly novel. Teddy Kennedy and Mario Cuomo come to mind, famous expositors of the imputed obligation to transcend private opinions in the service of public consensus.

But Kerry has gone what in better days would have been universally held to be one bridge too far. In a speech last year to the NARAL Pro-Choice America Dinner, he gave an intellectually suicidal summary of his views.

He began by saying that "there is no overturning of Roe v. Wade." He went on: "There is no outlawing of a procedure necessary to save a woman's life or health." That statement of course begs the question on which the entire Congress and the state legislatures and the Supreme Court have been stalled for years, namely, Is the invocation of "health," if made by the woman alone, conclusive in authorizing abortion? If so, Roe v. Wade, which did not authorize willful third-trimester abortions, stands to be revised as the Roe-Wade-Kerry decision.

Kerry continued: "There (shall be) no more cutbacks on population control efforts around the world." This endorses abortion Chinese-style. Too many people? Too few abortions.

But the eye-popper was still to come: "We need to honestly and confidently and candidly take this issue out to the country and we need to speak up and be proud of what we stand for."

But Kerry says he personally opposes abortion. Where is he exhibiting his pride in what he stands for? Whom has he counseled against abortion? A nun somewhere, out of earshot?

The popular notion is jejune, holding that opposition to abortion is the position -- the sectarian position, it's widely thought -- of the Catholic Church. Catholics oppose abortion, therefore anti-abortion is a Catholic position. Or, Jews oppose genocide, therefore opposition to genocide is a Jewish position.

It is true that the Catholic Church as an institution is the most visible opponent of routinized abortion. But its opposition to the practice is not based on Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is based on the proposition that human beings are human beings even if they have not yet been born. Those who are helpless are, it is all but universally held in America, to be protected. The 1-day-old child is protected with the full force of the law. The proposition that he is without rights when he is minus 1 day old is nothing more than a social convention conflating various concerns. One is for the mental health of the mother, one for the perceived satisfaction of the mother, another for the national birthrate, and still another for the unspoken hope that we'll have fewer black and Hispanic births.

Apologists for Senator Kerry's inanimate disapproval of abortion contend with the problem, for instance Mr. Ono Ekeh. He has the unenviable role of administrator of "Catholics for Kerry." Its pitch on this issue is that Senator Kerry's war on abortion is most subtly conceived. You see, most abortions are had by the very poor. "John Kerry's vision for America is a pro-life vision that will ultimately reduce the frequency of and need for abortions" -- after Mr. Kerry has eliminated poverty. Perhaps the candidate should be asked: Would it be reasonable to prohibit abortion for women who are millionaires?

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has said that "the well-informed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political policy or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals." We need to know from John Kerry: Why do you personally oppose abortion? Not because it is a Catholic position and you are bound to it as a Catholic, because, manifestly, you don't feel bound by Catholic teaching. Tell us, then, what are your reasons for opposing abortion? Would you tell us if we promise not to pass the word on before election day?