Life Issues in the New Administration

The election is over, and the changes are already beginning. For sincere Catholics, the most disappointing prospect is President-elect Barack Obama’s complete embrace of the culture of death. He is dedicated not only to preserving the right to abortion, but actually to extending it. Unfortunately, he can make lots of changes quite quickly, and he almost certainly will do so.
Last year, Obama promised Planned Parenthood that his first act as president would be to sign a bill that he co-sponsored in the Senate: the Freedom of Choice Act. This bill will invalidate virtually every state or federal restriction on abortion, even those previously found constitutional by the Supreme Court, such as parental notification laws, waiting periods, full disclosure, and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Some scholars argue that it could also force Catholic doctors to perform abortions against their will.
Obama also wants to reverse the ban on federal funding of fetal stem cell research. That won’t even require legislation, just an executive order. With the stroke of a pen, human embryos will become property. They will be produced for the purpose of harvesting their parts, and federal funding will support the process. President Bush refused to risk “crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos.” For Obama, it is a priority.
Obama is also expected to reverse the ban on taxpayer funding for overseas aid promoting or offering abortion (the “Mexico City Policy”). President Reagan instituted this policy in 1984. It was repealed by President Clinton in 1993, but reinstituted in 2001 by President Bush. It will probably be re-repealed by President Obama very quickly.
President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is also about to undergo a radical change. Bush launched PEPFAR in 2003 to combat global HIV/AIDS. It was the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history, with up to $48 billion authorized for the effort. Under PEPFAR health workers are trained to emphasize abstinence and marital fidelity as the most effective ways to combat the spread of AIDS. Unfortunately, that is about to change.
Discussing these issues, Susan F. Wood, the co-chair of Obama’s advisory committee for women’s health issues, said: “We have been going in the wrong direction and we need to turn it around and be promoting prevention and family-planning services.” The Obama team’s approach will emphasize condoms, abortion, and the morning-after pill. Referencing Obama’s campaign slogan, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said, “I don’t think many dreamed that this ‘change’ would mean taking taxpayer dollars to fund abortion around the world.” He called the projected policy overhaul of PEPFAR “tragic, a betrayal of social justice and human rights.”
Even at the United Nations, things will change. Time after time, in agreement after agreement, advocates attempt to insert abortion rights language into international treaties. Representatives of the Holy See spend a great deal of time combating these efforts. During the Clinton administration, the Holy See was often at odds with the United States over these issues. Once the Bush administration was in place, the Holy See and the United States were on the same side. Unfortunately, that is about to change again.
As Time magazine has reported, “the election of a pro-choice, pro-diplomacy Democratic president is changing the Vatican’s game plan vis-à-vis Washington on several levels. Bush was viewed in Rome as a rare ally in the West for his opposition to such issues as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research.” Obama will not be an ally. The United States will now support abortion rights in international treaties, and the Holy See will continue its heroic efforts on behalf of the most vulnerable humans.
This is a lesson about presidential power for now and the future. We all know that the president gets to nominate Supreme Court justices. Too often, the electorate is told that this is the only real impact that the president can have on life issues. (That was the argument set forth by Republican, abortion-rights candidate Rudolph Giuliani in an effort to attract — or at least not frighten off — pro-life voters.) In reality, however, the president sets the agenda and affects life issues in numerous ways that we are only just now coming to see clearly.
While he was a state senator in Illinois, President-elect Obama opposed a measure that would have mandated medical treatment for babies who survived an attempted abortion and were born alive. His reasoning was that such a law might suggest that these fully born babies were actually human. Unfortunately, his stated intentions indicate that he is determined to continue denying their humanity. As president, that determination means that many more human lives will be lost.

Ronald J. Rychlak


Ronald J. Rychlak is the associate dean and MDLA Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is the author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope (Revised and Expanded) (2010) and Righteous Gentiles (2005).

  • Bob

    Pray for Obama’s heart to change on life issues. Pray, pray. On December 12th, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, spend the day praying and fasting for an end to abortion.

    Take action and right our congressmen and senators. Educate friends and family on these issues. Participate in pro-life activities. We must as Catholics push back harder then secular evil is pushing against us.

  • MT

    This article illustrates well why the majority of our Bishops were asleep at the wheel prior to the election. It’s a tragedy for the Church and for the unborn.

  • Stupefied

    Is this site becoming a one issue rant?
    I concede that abortion is an abomination, but one would assume that Mr. Obama is weilding a thousand scalpels. He has political views that may not be acceptable to all the readers of this site but hehas certailly thus far demonstrated an intellectual ability to solve some of this nation’s ills that none of his electoral challengers have.
    Roe v Wade will be litigate and legislated to death. The Court despite its majority Catholic representation will accept the principle of stare decisis and do nothing.
    Thhere are millions of starving Ctholics in the developing world who view each new day with dread because of the pains that hunger and disease bring in their wake. I have seen it.
    The cyber soap-box preachers who rant about good Catholics who accept abortion as a societal evil could expend some of their energies towards the social issues that confront the church today and that are being ignored because of a myopic ideology.
    Kmeic,Pelosi, Biden are good Catholic before the Pharisees cast any more stones let them evaluate their own values.

  • Steven

    The “good” Catholics who oppose abortion are frequently blind to any of the other issues before us today. Pope Benedict recently said children “both born and unborn” need care and attention. We should pay attention to that. Instead of finger-pointing and fault-finding, try living like Catholics. A good example is the best evangelization. And try a few posts on why it is that attempting to equate the US constitution and the Republican Party with Catholicism is not the best idea. And a few more posts on an appropriate (i.e., not protestantized) liturgy is a good idea would be helpful as well.

  • Perryj

    I am amazed after all of the information posted that so many still do not understand the scope of abortion. Abortion kills over 40 million people in the world each year. This is over three times as many as people dying from starvation, aids and water borne diseases combined. Forty one thousand woman die from breast cancer each year in the US. Over one million children that can feel the pain of death are killed each year. One out four African Americans have been killed via abortion. More African Americans have been killed via abortion than were slaves. More people have been killed by abortion in the US than were killed during World War II globally. There is not an issue that is even close in scale to abortion.

    Sad that Catholics voted Obama in to office for a refund check. I hope that $500.00 makes them feel better because when I see God I do not want to tell him I voted to kill babies.

  • Joe Marier

    Steven, do you read this site regularly?

  • Brian S.

    Stupefied wrote: “He has political views that may not be acceptable to all the readers of this site but hehas certailly thus far demonstrated an intellectual ability to solve some of this nation’s ills that none of his electoral challengers have.”

    I challenge Stupified to provide a list of nation’s ills that have been solved by Obama’s intelectual ability.

  • Kevin

    Stupefied, we’ve exchanged opinions before to little avail, but let me ask you a question: how do you define a “good Catholic”? If Pelosi and Biden are part of your definition, as you suggest, what is it about their public actions (none of us can know their souls or their private actions) that you believe makes them good Catholics? Where does orthodoxy to the teachings of the Church and the Magisterium rate in your definition?

    Our faith should not be tied to any particular political figure or party, as it far surpasses our human concerns. That means that the Church’s teachings are never going to be 100% in line with any political party anywhere in the world, and that is part of what makes discussions and articles here on Inside Catholic so interesting: the intersection of our faith and the increasingly secular public square in which we live. It’s not up to any of us to “concede that abortion is an abomination” as that conclusion can be deduced based on both Natural Law and on the teaching of the Church. It’s also not our duty (any of us, from any political or faith persuasion) to judge the state of anyone else’s soul but our own (even the Church has never declared that any particular person’s soul has gone to Hell, although it has declared the souls of the saints to be in Heaven.) All Catholics are called to inform our consciences with the Church (not with any political party’s mantras or propaganda) and practice our faith in accordance with the Church’s abundantly clear teachings on moral issues in public, and on spiritual issues in our private lives.

    Regarding Obama’s explicitly anti-life stances, clear from his own mouth and actions for the past several years, insofar as they conflict with both Natural Law and Church teaching, we must fight every effort to enshrine them in law; it’s a multi-faceted fight that involves spiritual, political and cultural battles, and we don’t have the option to give in or back down because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or offend the world with the Truth. You seem to be posing a false dichotomy by saying that Obama’s suggested future policies (all of which are very hypothetical and very iffy in their results, for he’s not even the POTUS yet!) will help the poor and starving in the US and worldwide, so therefore we should rejoice in this possibility insofar as it may address the social justice issues that the Church teaches, and not get so caught up in his anti-life stances and plans. You’re making some dangerous assumptions that his policies, if passed and implemented, will work and will not have dire consequences (just look at so many social justice policies implemented by the UN that have resulted in the deaths of millions, e.g., banning DDT use in poor countries, which has led directly to the deaths of millions of human beings from malaria and other diseases that DDT would easily erradicate, all in the name of ecological justice!) Even if the seamless garment argument were 100% in line with Catholic teaching (and it most certainly is not, or at least not in the versions that social justice-first Catholics promote), just look at the numbers given here and in many places easily reached online. Abortion far and away destroys more human lives than all other social justice issues combined (and here I’m talking on a global scale, but it’s even more the case looking at the numbers here in the US alone.) You can call this site or orthodox Catholic efforts to battle anti-life policies like those Obama supports “one note rants” all you want, but that one note is far louder and cries out to Heaven far more than any other social justice issue.

    Steven, you really should take a careful look through past articles and blog posts all over Inside Catholic, as every one of the issues you mentioned you would like to see more of has been written about and debated in depth at least once, and usually many times.

    People, please open your eyes to the call of Christ and the Church–we must live our lives in communion with those calls in order to be orthodox Catholics, no matter our political views!

  • Richard A

    Thhere are millions of starving Ctholics in the developing world who view each new day with dread because of the pains that hunger and disease bring in their wake. I have seen it.

    What you haven’t seen, yet, is Obama elected president of the developing world.

    The cyber soap-box preachers who rant about good Catholics who accept abortion as a societal evil could expend some of their energies towards the social issues that confront the church today and that are being ignored because of a myopic ideology.

    Name that guy. Seriously. The cyber-soapbox preachers who “rant” about good Catholics who accept abortion as a societal evil expend most of their energies on many of the social issues that confront the church today. You only pay attention to them when they rant about abortion, and pretend that’s the only thing they care about.

  • Steven

    Anyway, it seems to me that it’s dominated by discussions of abortion, Catholicism as a mirror of the Republican Party, finger-pointing at less-than-worthy Catholics, etc.

    I think some of those who post here should remember that then-Cardinal Ratzinger held even Catholics who attended Mass only on Christmas and Easter were worthy of some consideration because he saw this as reflective of their recognition of the divine. Granted, they weren’t the “best” Catholics, but the Church has never been only for the “pure,” although from the comments I read here, you’d think it was. It seems as though there’s a substratum of Catholics around who think they are called to judge whether and how fervent their fellow Catholics are. It seems to rest primarily in externals (how else could one judge, after all?).

    There’s nothing here about interiority, about liturgy (other than expressing one’s “joy”), evangelizing is covered in the most jejune manner possible, subjectivity writ large, etc. There is a lot of time spent re-inventing the wheel (the senses of Scripture articles or the umpteenth article on Cardinal Newman), no time on things that could help Catholics, such as an investigation of monastic spirituality, no real converage of traditional Catholicism except to ridicule it, etc.

    It seems to be a very slanted effort here while characterizing itself as a blog for Catholics interested in culture, arts, and politics, only it’s only for SOME Catholics.

  • Cyrille

    This is a site for those who adhere to the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. If you supported a pro-death politician in the last election, please examine your conscience and go seek out the sacrament of confession. And don’t come here spouting your faux-catholicism as though you can write it as you choose. The Church ain’t no democracy, and if you don’t like that, then go with the Protestants down the street, please, and stop calling yourself “Catholic”. One cannot be both pro-abortion and Catholic.

  • Laura

    Bravo Cyrille, bravo.

  • John B.

    Saw this in the comments of another blog: I’m not a fan of NIV (which is apparently what they’ll be using), but I think it’s a good symbolic gesture.

  • R.C.

    I think “Stupified” has been adequately answered.

    But, Steven, I wish to contradict you on this point:

    The “good” Catholics who oppose abortion are frequently blind to any of the other issues before us today.

    Isn’t it clear that the opposite is, in fact, true?

    One would expect that a person “blind” to other social ills would be a person less-inclined to volunteer their time and money to help solve those ills. Right?

    Yet time and time again, statistics demonstrate that folks who are more regularly religious, more socially conservative, more rigorously insistent about doctrinal issues, and more committed to pro-life, are more likely to give large percentages of their income to help the poor, and to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, and to volunteer at soup kitchens, and so on, than their less-conservative counterparts.

    In other words, Steven, if you want to find someone who talks about helping the poor, you can find one on every streetcorner. Thus hast always been, and thus ’twill always be.

    But if you want to find someone who lives the Church’s doctrine of helping the poor, with their own money and time and talents, talk to a social conservative.

    (Which is to say: Talk to the same folks who’re always harping about how abortion is an objective moral ill.)

    Those who’d like to say that abortion isn’t a battle worth fighting? They’re the ones who also don’t drop a dime in the plate. (Or to be more precise, they drop far fewer dimes per dollar of income than their more socially-conservative counterparts do.)

    So, Steven, it’s just not true to say that those who loudly oppose abortion “are frequently blind to any of the other issues before us today.” In fact, I’m afraid you’ve got it completely bass-ackwards.



  • Dan Hurley

    Amazing that Steven and “Stupified” are so committed to love of Obama that they are blinded to his well-documented support of pro-abortion policies.

    We already have a Messiah. His name is Jesus Christ.

    Glad this site is getting these issues on the table. Hearts need to be changed about abortion, euthanasia, contraception, and all life issues. Only when hearts are changed will the horror of the culture of death be defeated.

    And no, this site is not a “one-issue rant.” The folks like Kevin, Cyrille, Richard A. and RC are standing firm to ALL the Church’s teachings. As Catholics, those teachings must supercede any political party, liberal or conservative label, or candidate.

    Thanks and God bless, Dan

  • Del Torkelson

    I identify with the frustration felt by those of us who wish the cafeteria Catholics would go elsewhere.


    I doubt it’s best for them or us if they accept banishment and until they find some cyberspace echo chamber.

    This might be one of the few avenues in which they encounter intelligent, informed and orthodox Catholics articulating the faith.

    Furthermore, does it make us any better defenders of the faith if we only preach to the choir?

    And hey, I think R.C. has a more or less irrefutable point, and I’d like to see if Steven can admit he was off by, oh, 180 degrees.

  • Del Torkelson

    The missing word in the third copy block is “search.”

    It’s supposed to read “… accept banishment and search until they find…”

  • Nathan Cushman

    RC, I’ve been so happy with your comments lately, that I don’t feel nearly as compelled to add anything myself…

    I’ll just note that the InsideCatholic writers have diverse opinions about environmental, economic, and other issues that separate Democrat from Republican. The only thing they all tend to agree on is that the life issues, which are concretely taught about by the church, are more important than other issues.

    Whatever the Obama-supporting Catholics like to believe, the Church has no official teaching that commands support of Democratic economic or environmental policies.

    Yes, the Catholic Republicans on this site defend their positions sometimes, but they don’t actually spend as much time on that as they spend defending the clearly taught Catholic teachings about the sanctity of life.

    Besides, in all this talk about feeding the poor, what part of Catholic teaching agrees with the Democrat idea that we are supposed to feed the poor with condoms?

  • R.C.

    Aw, shucks.

    Thank you, sir, for the vote of confidence!

  • john quirk

    Governments need money to run their programs. With the murder of the Pre Born in the various ways proposed who is going to pay the taxes? 50 million preborn killed since roevswade. How many more?