Plumb Lines

January 29, 2010

Doug Kmiec and the Catholic Left

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Matthew Schmitz @ 11:28 am

I’m grateful for the comments by Matt Milliner and  Commonweal editor Matt Boudway on my previous post on pro-life socialists. The first point I’d like to address is Matt B.’s claim that I am wrong to call Doug Kmiec an abortion apologist. Matt seems to think that I am simply reiterating Ross Douthat’s argument that Kmiec shilled for Obama. I’m actually going much further. The sad truth is that Kmiec’s support for Obama has led him to compromise the most fundamental pro-life principles. Take the following passage from Kmiec’s book Can a Catholic Support Him? in which Kmiec defends Obama’s vote against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act:

So what does the ‘Born Alive’ Act do? Largely, it redefines what it means to be ‘born alive.’ From the time of ancient common law, ‘born alive’ has meant live birth at or near the end of a full term pregnancy with a reasonable prospect of survival. If a woman sadly miscarries earlier and expels a nonviable, but temporarily alive, unborn child with a transient heartbeat, there isn’t a county recorder in the country who would record a live birth. The miscarriage is sad enough; we don’t worsen it with the grief of death before life has meaningfully taken hold. But that’s what the ‘Born Alive’ Act does. For the most part, it redefines live birth to include nonviable unborns who lack any meaningful chance of survival. (pg. 65)

For Kmiec, a child with a “transient heartbeat” that lacks a “meaningful” chance of survival cannot even be said to have been born: the mother unceremoniously “expels” it from her womb. What does it mean to say that life has not “meaningfully taken hold,” and who is Kmiec to say when it has? Kmiec’s words reject the  truth that the pro-life movement has asserted for decades, namely, that every life has equal dignity regardless of duration or condition of disability.

Given the evidence I cite above, it’s hard for me to see why any magazine that claims to be pro-life would tolerate an association with Kmiec. If it’s all the same, I’d rather not debate the reprehensible views of our man in Malta. His twisted, misty logic has made him very hard to take seriously, and the most charitable response may be to dismiss him entirely.

Going back to Matt B.’s comment, I’d like to endorse his smart critique of single-issue voting and comments on pro-life liberalism. The liberal defense of life has an estimable legacy beautifully represented by the career of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus.  However far right he moved, he always viewed life issues through the eyes of a liberal. Matt and I would probably agree that liberal arguments for compassion, inclusion, and justice will remain powerful weapons for the pro-life cause.

What is more controversial, and what I still believe, is that  leftist arguments against the industrial exploitation of embryos will  become increasingly important (and necessary) in the fight for life. Whatever that means long-term, I tend to agree with Matt Milliner’s comment that such arguments will, for the time being, find more of a home in conservative circles than they will in liberal ones.

-Matthew Schmitz


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