Personally opposed, but …
Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, October 6, 2004
John Kerry shares the time-honored excuse of Catholic politicians for their support of abortion, professing some form of the “personally opposed, but …” argument. Having recently heard several defenses of this position in casual discussions and lectures, I thought it would be helpful to consider where Kerry fits in the picture. To do this, I will consider specifically what Kerry does not mean.
One argument goes that a representative of the people needs to represent the will of his constituents. If the majority of the constituents is pro-abortion, he needs to vote accordingly. This sounds like sophisticated political theory, making it appealing despite its many problems. Whether it’s good theory or not, be sure that it is not what Kerry believes. In his letters to pro-life constituents, where he would be most likely to expound this theory of representation, he says nothing of it. Rather, he writes that “after much careful study, I remain committed to the position that no one ultimately is better able, and no one has a more compelling right, to weigh her options than the pregnant woman. Included in these options should be the choice of pregnancy termination.” It is Kerry himself, not his constituents, who has come to this conclusion.
Nor does he mean that he has deep pangs of conscience when he casts a pro-abortion vote, mindful of the great harm that it causes. Instead, he told NARAL that “we need to honestly and confidently and candidly take this issue [abortion] out of the country and we need to speak up and be proud of what we stand for.” Kerry promises to champion abortion rights internationally, as something we have no misgivings toward but are “proud” of, and he has promised that his first action – if elected president – would be to provide funding for organizations that perform abortions overseas.
Perhaps Kerry means that while his faith instructs him that abortion is wrong, he cannot impose his faith on others. Aside from the many difficulties that accrue to this view, it too is not what Kerry means. In 1994, he said before Congress, “Abortions need to be moved out of the fringes of medicine and into the mainstream … And by the same token … tolerance needs to be spread out of the mainstream churches, mosques, and synagogues, and into the religious fringes.” What does this suggest? First, that because of her pro-life voice, Kerry’s own Catholic Church is on the “religious fringes,” and that the Catholic Church must start preaching “tolerance” of abortion.
So in what sense is Kerry “personally opposed, but …”? I suspect that with him and with so many other pro-abortion Catholics, the line is an insincere but convenient excuse to assuage the uncritical citizen, and that regardless of the soundness of any “personally opposed, but” argument, most politicians espouse nothing but an empty formula.