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.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Charles Reid is mistaken about Roe, Cardinal Bernadin, and the pro-life movement

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.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink

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If Prof. Perry's post allowed comments, I would have similarly expressed my doubts that Cardinal Bernadin would be happy with his name being used to suppport the notion that we should not be supporting legal protections for the unborn. It was a "both/and" not "either/or".

The article also fails to note the series of protections that have been passed at the state level in recent years, which the pro-choice movement has not failed to notice. This either reflects fruit of the same old strategies, or a shift in strategy since Casey, which has in fact borne fruit.

Finally, Prof. Reid's calls for respect and dialogue are belied by his characterizations of Republican politicians. Given that Todd Akin lost a Senate election in a state Obama lost convincingly, isn't it fair to say that Catholics and pro-lifers have already rejected him as public face? Prof. Reid finds the disqualifies "defends the right to bear Kalashnikovs and Bushmaster assault rifles," which raises the questions of why respect and dialogue is called for in the case of killing unborn children, but not for gun ownership.

This leads to the conclusion that Prof. Reid doesn't really think these strategies will bring about an end to abortion (since he doesn't practice them on issues he does actually care about) but rather hopes pro-lifers will shut up about abortion so that we can make progress on other issues.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Jan 25, 2013 2:32:14 PM

Reid's piece is more than a tad on the condescending side...

A more constructive piece could have explored how the pro-life movement should focus on incrementalism (like in Rick's post from earlier this week) that largely aligns with public opinion, rather than focus on reversal of Roe or prohibition efforts. Polls generally indicate that the public's attitude towards abortion aligns with old Clintonite saw that abortion be safe, legal, and rare. Our current abortion regime is no where near that. He could have exhorted pro-lifers to support adoption and other means of reducing abortion. There is a lot that an allegedly pro-life leftist could exhort his more conservative co-religionists to focus on.

Instead, he basically dismisses the pro-life movement as a bunch of gullible morons.

Posted by: Catholic Law Student | Jan 25, 2013 3:15:49 PM

Cardinal Bernardin's comments during "Respect Life Sunday" on October 1, 1989 would seem to undercut Prof. Reid's conclusion that the Cardinal believed legal protection for the unborn was unattainable or secondary. I'm sure there are many other example's from the Cardinal's speeches and writings. He said:

"This consistent ethic points out the inconsistency of defending life in one area while dismissing it in another. Each specific issue requires its own moral analysis and each may call for varied, specific responses. Moreover different issues may engage the energies of different people or of the same people at different times. But there is a linkage among all the life issues which cannot be ignored.

Because of the Webster decision, the abortion issue is being debated intensely at this moment, and the consistent ethic has much to contribute. For the more one reverences human life at all stages, the more one becomes committed to preserving the life of the unborn, for this is human life at its earliest and most vulnerable stage. And the more one is committed to preserving the life of the unborn, the one more one appreciates their need for constitutional protection.

There are those who support abortion on demand who do not grasp or will not discuss the intrinsic value of human life and the precedence it should take in decision making. The issue - the only issue - they insist, is the question of who decides -- the individual or the government.
Who decides is not the issue. We all decide, but we make our free decisions within limits. In exercising our freedom, we must not make ourselves the center of the world. Other individuals born and unborn are as much a part of the human family as we are."


Posted by: Bill Collier | Jan 26, 2013 12:26:26 PM

The Catholic Church does not recognize an inherent right to privacy in regards to the act of abortion because The Catholic Church recognizes that it is a self-evident truth that a son or daughter of a human person can only be a human person.

Posted by: N.D. | Jan 27, 2013 8:05:44 AM

Reid's "analysis" amounted to the suggestion that the problem with pro-lifers is that they tend to vote Republican. While I'm not un-sympathetic to the idea that at times Republicans have taken the votes of pro-lifers for granted, the suggestion that they would find happy company in the other major political party is laughable, at best. Or maybe Prof. Reid didn't have an opportunity to see Sandra Fluke's appearance at the DNC this past summer.

Finally - and as one commenter above noted, I would have posed this query directly to Prof. Perry if he had opened the comments on his post - but I wonder, since he appears to view himself as a kind of house critic on MOJ by largely posting to pieces which disagree with the general bent of MOJ, why doesn't he, as a Commonweal contributor, play that some role there every now and again?

Posted by: Josh DeCuir | Jan 28, 2013 11:00:39 AM

"but I wonder, since [Prof. Perry] appears to view himself as a kind of house critic on MOJ"

I just figured he was Charles Reid's press agent.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jan 28, 2013 2:05:21 PM