Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Frs. McBrien and Reese are wrong

In the piece by Fr. Richard McBrien, to which Michael linked, we read the following:

The only way that abortions are going to be reduced, as Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese insisted recently on his blog for The Washington Post ( Abortion: Rhetoric or Results), is by dealing directly with the causes that lead women to have abortions.

This is just wrong.  I won't burden readers with an endless stream of links, but the claim that the "only way" to reduce abortions is to "deal[] directly with the causes that lead women to have abortions" is badly mistaken.  Reasonable regulations of abortion (and rules against public funding of abortion) also reduce the number of abortions.  Fr. Reese also states:

Those wanting to do something about abortion must face the political reality that abortion is not going to be made illegal in the United States. Granted that fact, then the political question has to change from "Who will make abortion illegal?" to "Who will enact programs that will reduce the number of abortions?"

No, there is another question, i.e., "who will enact regulations, and who will nominate and confirm judges who will permit regulations, of abortion".  It it true, of course, that overruling Roe will not end abortion.  (As I have written before, though, Roe's wrong needs correcting even if that wrong does not prevent a single abortion.)  It is also true, though, that there is plenty of room for (and plenty of public support for) reasonable regulations of abortion, regulations of the kind that would (and do) reduce the numbers of abortion.

No one is saying -- certainly, I have never said -- that "dealing with root causes" is not one way to reduce the number of abortions.  (Will Sen. Obama ever endorse the Democrats for Life proposal in Congress?)  But, especially at this late date, and at this point in this election-year argument, it is bewildering -- and, frankly, frustrating -- that someone of Fr. Reese's stature would assert something that is so incorrect, i.e., that the "only" way to reduce abortions by dealing with root-causes (and, therefore, that we should not worry so much about Sen. Obama's commitment to Roe, to public funding, to the FOCA, etc.). 

Nowhere in Fr. Reese's piece (or in Fr. McBrien's) is the impact on abortion rates (which would seem to matter more than the raw numbers relied on in the pieces) of public funding, the FOCA (in all its glory), and the election of an Administration that is full-throatedly pro-abortion-rights.  This consistent refusal -- by Reese, McBrien, Kmiec, Cafardi, etc. -- to engage the effects of policies that will increase the abortion rate, in the context of their contentions that pro-lifers should stop worrying about Roe and put their hopes in an Obama administration's social-welfare programs, is inexcusable.

UPDATE:  Here's Professor Gerard Bradley, on the "root causes" argument.

. . . Public authority’s first responsibility is not, in any event, to counsel persons to make good choices.  Nor is it to make it easier for them to make good choices.  There are many institutions and people in society who can do those things, not least the charitable offices of churches.  The first responsibility of government, the indispensable core of social justice, is the equal protection of everyone from violent destruction by others.  Only government can see to that.  No one else and no other institution in society can see to it, because seeing to it depends upon the enactment of just laws and their effective enforcement by enforcement authorities.

I have not said a word so far about the critical empirical claim made by “root cause” strategists:  better social services (healthcare and the like) will reduce the incidence of abortion.  For what it is worth, I think the evidence for that empirical claim is dubious.  I think that what I have said so far establishes that the “root cause” campaign is morally dubious, and unworthy of Catholic’s support for that reason.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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