Obama’s abor­tion stance will be his down­fall

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - CARL A. AN­DER­SON

In Novem­ber, as we look back on the re­sults of the 2008 pres­i­den­tial con­test, I sus­pect that we’ll con­clude that Aug. 16 was the day that Barack Obama lost the race.

At the Sad­dle­back Civic Fo­rum on the Pres­i­dency, evan­gel­i­cals had their chance to meet Mr. Obama and to com­pare his brand of Chris­tian­ity to theirs. When Mr. Obama said: “Je­sus Christ died for my sins, and [. . .] I am re­deemed through him,” the evan­gel­i­cal au­di­ence was on the same page.

Pas­tor Rick War­ren then posed his ques­tion about abor­tion — a piv­otal is­sue for evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian and Catholic vot­ers alike — this way: “At what point does a baby get hu­man rights, in your view?” It was a ques­tion of how Mr. Obama’s faith would in­form his con­science and his pol­icy. The Illi­nois se­na­tor’s an­swer — “An­swer­ing that ques­tion with speci­ficity, you know, is above my pay grade” — fell flat, both be­cause it seemed to many peo­ple to be a ca­sual an­swer to a very se­ri­ous ques­tion, and be­cause it sim­ply did not con­nect with a Chris­tian au­di­ence for whom it is an ar­ti­cle of faith that God is the au­thor of life.

Ev­ery mem­ber of the con­gre­ga­tion sit­ting in that church could re­cite the fa­mil­iar pas­sage from Jeremiah 1:5 by heart: “Be­fore I formed you in the womb I knew you, be­fore you were born I ded­i­cated you.” Or Psalm 139: “I formed you in your mother’s womb.” In fact, Mr. War­ren quoted that psalm a day af­ter the Sad­dle­back Fo­rum, shortly af­ter say­ing “to just say ‘I don’t know’ on the most di­vi­sive is­sue in Amer­ica is not a clear enough an­swer for me.”

Tak­ing the “I don’t know” ap­proach is quite dif­fer­ent from the one com­monly used by prochoice Catholics like for­mer New York Gov­er­nor Mario Cuomo, who be­gins by stat­ing a per­sonal be­lief shared by most Catholics and evan­gel­i­cals, that abor­tion is wrong, but then of­fers not to “im­pose” his be­lief as a pub­lic of­fi­cial. This for­mu­la­tion is pop­u­lar among pro-choice Catholics of both par­ties, from Democrats Joe Bi­den and Kath­leen Se­be­lius to Repub­li­cans Tom Ridge and Su­san Collins.

But Mr. Obama con­spic­u­ously de­clined to say abor­tion is wrong, say­ing sim­ply, “I be­lieve in Roe v. Wade.” The clear im­pli­ca­tion was that he doesn’t be­lieve that abor­tion is wrong. Through­out the pri­mary sea­son, he had been speak­ing about faith in a way that had Catholics and evan­gel­i­cals lis­ten­ing care­fully.

But this time, the mes­sage didn’t res­onate. He pro­fessed an in­ter­est in ad­dress­ing the ques­tion, “how do we re­duce the num­ber of abor­tions?” But he made no ef­fort to ex­plain why they should be re­duced, say­ing only that “there is a moral and eth­i­cal el­e­ment to this is­sue.”

Then, Mr. Obama added, “if you be­lieve that life be­gins at con­cep­tion [. . .] then I can’t ar­gue with you on that be­cause that is a core is­sue of faith for you.”

But it’s a sci­en­tific fact, not an “is­sue of faith,” that each hu­man be­ing’s life be­gins at con­cep­tion. To sug­gest, as he did, that it is more a mat­ter of the­ol­ogy than bi­ol­ogy was hardly the sym­pa­thetic at­ti­tude that this au­di­ence was looking for. In­stead of con- nect­ing with them, he may well have alien­ated many of them.

The real ques­tion, posed pre­cisely by Mr. War­ren, is when “does a baby get hu­man rights?” But even if there is dis­agree­ment over pre­cisely when those rights should be rec­og­nized, can there re­ally be any doubt when a baby is just weeks away from de­liv­ery? Why must late-term abor­tions re­main free from re­stric­tions?

Mr. Obama un­der­stands the is­sue as well as any­one in Amer­ica — and bet­ter than most. While he was a stu­dent at Har­vard Law School, he did re­search for Lawrence Tribe, when the well-known law pro­fes­sor was writ­ing “Abor­tion: The Clash of Ab­so­lutes.” (Mr. Tribe thanks him warmly, by name, in the book.)

Mr. Obama’s words at Sad­dle­back and ac­tions as a leg­is­la­tor leave no doubt about where he stands. He op­posed a par­tialbirth abor­tion bill that passed in the Se­nate by a 2-1 mar­gin, and later crit­i­cized the Supreme Court for up­hold­ing the law. As an Illi­nois state se­na­tor, he was among a hand­ful of leg­is­la­tors who op­posed a state ver­sion of the Born Alive In­fants Pro­tec­tion Act. And he has promised that the first thing he’d do as pres­i­dent is sign the Free­dom of Choice Act, elim­i­nat­ing all ex­ist­ing re­stric­tions on abor­tion, in­clud­ing the Hyde Amend­ment’s ban on fed­eral fund­ing.

Sad­dle­back pro­vided a unique op­por­tu­nity for Mr. Obama. Evan­gel­i­cals have been very con­scious of his hav­ing made a de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion to em­brace Chris­tian­ity. But many had been un­easy about Chicago’s Trin­ity United Church of Christ and Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s es­pousal of Black Lib­er­a­tion The­ol­ogy. They were lis­ten­ing for re­as­sur­ance on Aug. 16, but heard some­thing quite dif­fer­ent.

As a re­sult, I think we may look back and find that Mr. Obama’s in­roads among evan­gel­i­cals and Catholics ended at Sad­dle­back.

Carl A. An­der­son is the Supreme Knight of the 1.75 mil­lion-mem­ber Knights of Colum­bus, the largest lay Catholic or­ga­ni­za­tion in the world.

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