Friday, January 25, 2013
In this HuffPo essay, to which Michael Perry linked, Charles Reid is mistaken in several respects. First, he re-presents the frequently advanced -- but no more compelling for being frequently advanced -- argument that, because Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter declined to overrule Roe in Casey, it is "obvious" that "Republican promises on abortion were cynically motivated by partisan advantage and were not a sincere commitment to the life issues." The suggestion, I take it, is that pro-lifers should not vote for Republicans because Roe will never be overturned.
I suspect it probably won't -- at least not explicitly. That said, the five Justices who have indicated a willingness to uphold reasonable restrictions on abortion were appointed by Republicans, and the four who have indicated a determination to invalidate such restrictions were appointed by Democrats. So, if you think (as you should, if you are pro-life) it's important that (i) our laws move in a pro-life direction and (ii) that those laws survive judicial scrutiny, then you have (Casey notwithstanding) a good reason -- even if not a conclusive one -- to prefer that Republicans, rather than Democrats, nominate and confirm federal judges.
Second, Reid suggests that Cardinal Bernadin's "consistent ethic of life" emphasis provides an "alternative road map for American Catholics," according to which "the premise of the pro-life movement must be about saving lives, not winning elections or even changing laws." Cardinal Bernadin did not think, in fact, that pro-lifers should stop at "saving lives" and disregard the important task of "changing laws." He would have been wrong if he had. True, there are limits -- some imposed by the Court, some imposed by political and cultural realities, some by sound judgment and prudence -- to what laws can do when it comes to creating a culture of, and a consistent ethic of, life. But I am very confident that Cardinal Bernadin would firmly reject the suggestion that pro-lifers should settle for our current, deeply unjust legal regime. Cardinal Bernadin never suggested Catholics should abandon the struggle for legal change; his challenge, instead -- which we should all embrace -- was to broaden that struggle, to other contexts and other ways in which the dignity of the person is threatened or disrespected.