There is a train of thought that careens down the tracks of a shaky syllogism, and it picks up speed every four years in the United States. Like the Little Engine that Could, it chugs along and says, “I am pro-life and were I president, I would end abortion. Therefore if I vote for a pro-life presidential candidate, he or she will end abortion.”
President George W. Bush is perhaps the most pro-life president we have ever seen, and even when his party held both houses of Congress, his pro-life sensibilities did not translate into an abortion-ending legacy. Still, there is this persistent chugging-along by passionate pro-lifers who earnestly believe that only a pro-life president can meet the case, and they will not vote for a candidate without well-established pro-life bona fides.
As a pro-life Catholic, I am in sympathy with those voters, but only to a point. I’m always grateful to learn that a candidate I like (there have been so few!) is pro-life, but that gratitude has never defined my vote, because I believe — and recent history bears it out — that a president’s sentiments can only take an action so far.
If a pro-life president cannot successfully overturn Roe v. Wade, can a “pro-choice” president ever manage it? Yes, possibly. It depends on what motivates the “choice” part of a candidate’s position.
We’re accustomed to Catholic politicians standing before us — in varying states of grace, of which we can never truly judge — and droning a standard equivocation: “I am personally opposed to abortion but . . . rights of others . . . the law . . . blah blah mush mush, next subject, please.” But which one of them really means what he is saying about the law, and which is simply going through the motions? The one who means it may be the one to reverse Roe, and looking at voting records and public histories can help us identify that candidate.
Does his voting record read like the Christmas wish list of a Woodstock refugee, all deconstruction? Does hers reveal an inveterate flip-flopper who prefers the political expediency of voting with the rest of her party, however the vote may shift? Or does his history show a willingness to sometimes take stands that make the rest of the party cringe as often as it cheers, simply because his commitment to established law and the Constitution is so strong that it trumps the party line?
That is an important question, and a fair one, because a pro-choice candidate who is enthralled with upholding the Constitution, and interpreting it with due deference to the intentions of its authors, is the candidate who will appoint Supreme Court justices with a similar passion.
Roe v. Wade is a law that never passed in a legislative body. You might call it a breech delivery in that it came about backwards, delivered by seven jurist midwives, not Congress. It will take another five passionate constitutionalists to turn it right. The 2008 elections will give the new president the chance to name several new justices, and it is vital that pro-lifers look for a candidate who is both electable (truly electable, and not a favored pipe dream) and devoted to rigorously defending the Constitution. Identify that candidate, and — whether he or she is pro-life or pro-choice — you will get your best chance to reverse Roe v. Wade. And the pro-abortion side knows it.
If Roe is overturned, the abortion issue will not then go away. But the dynamics of the last 35 years will be changed, and the voice of the populace will be finally admitted into the fray. That will be interesting. There is a reason why the pro-abortion side does not want this issue revisited legislatively, and that reason grows stronger with every 3D sonogram being viewed by an awe-struck parent. And with every personal witness that articulates what her abortion cost her. It grows stronger with every brave victim of sexual violation who decides that a second, clinical violation and more trauma will not erase the past, or make her whole.
Can I guarantee that voting for a pro-choice candidate might bring about the end of Roe? No. But voting for the pro-life candidate brings no guarantees, either. Sometimes, faith requires that we let go of the brakes and see where the train takes us.