The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Professors debate role of abortion in election

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, October 9, 2008

Notre Dame law professors Gerard Bradley, a member of the Catholics for McCain National Steering Committee, and Vincent Rougeau, a member of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s Catholic National Advisory Council steering committee, debated the role the abortion issue should play in the voting decision of a Catholic citizen in a packed auditorium in McKenna Hall Wednesday.

Bradley, a supporter of Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, spoke first, representing the pro-life side of the issue. He said the pro-life stance is based on two beliefs – human life begins at conception, so aborting a fetus is killing a person, and it is morally wrong to kill an innocent person.

“You can figure out that killing is wrong by reflecting on the natural law … or any society’s legal code,” Bradley said.

The moral responsibility for the injustice of abortion is not limited to the pregnant woman and those immediately involved in the action, he said. The responsibility extends to the society that allows the act to happen and the voter that puts pro-choice candidates in office, Bradley said.

“It is wrong, in my opinion, to support a political candidate that approves or supports these [abortion] policies,” he said. “It is wrong to support this sinful structure.”

In order to determine if, as a Catholic, a person should consider voting for a pro-choice candidate, Bradley said the person should apply the Golden Rule – to treat others as you would like to be treated – to the situation. He said this rule makes people walk in others’ shoes.

“We have the tendency to discount the harms we visit on other people by what we do,” Bradley said. “[The Golden Rule] is essential if justice is to be done.”

Bradley then offered counterpoints to several common assertions by voters that it is “fair and just” to vote for a pro-choice candidate.

Bradley said many believe they are justified in voting for a pro-choice candidate if they think the candidate is superior in other positions. But Bradley said if the voter would not support a candidate who put two million innocent immigrants in prison, even if they agreed with the candidate on other issues, the voter is just morally justified in voting for a pro-life candidate.

Bradley also said many people support abortion because they believe it furthers women’s ability to participate equally in society.

“Would we say that it is fair and just to obtain or require that equality at such a great cost?” he asked. “I don’t think we would.”

Rougeau disagreed with Bradley’s views on voting morals, but he said he believes they both hope for a time in which abortions don’t happen.

But Rougeau said Catholic voters should not be held back simply by a party’s or candidate’s stance on abortion.

“No American Catholic should feel they must vote for a particular party,” Rougeau said. “That is not good for democracy.”

In the current election, Obama has expressed pro-choice views, Rougeau said. However, Obama realizes abortion is a serious moral issue, he said.

“Clearly Sen. Obama supports a legal regime that supports abortion but he has policies that I think will lower abortion rates,” Rougeau said.

The women most likely to seek abortions are poor African American or Hispanic women, he said, who will benefit from Obama’s plan for increased public spending.

Rougeau said he felt that other issues should also be addressed when a Catholic voter chooses a candidate.

“I do not believe I have to vote for candidate whose policies I don’t support simply because he shares my view that abortion is wrong,” he said.

He said Catholic voters should consider other policies that affect people’s quality of life. Although the Republican Party often takes a pro-life stance, they have a pattern of treating the weakest members of our society, namely immigrants and migrant workers badly, while often stepping in and assisting big corporations, he said.

Rougeau also said Republicans often support capital punishment, a practice which also opposes the Catholic respect for life.

“I found the Democratic Party’s positions [on other issues] much more consistent with my idea of Catholic Social Teaching,” Rougeau said.

Rougeau said Americans need to move forward on the issue of abortion while realizing that the country will never reach perfection.

“We are living in a morally flawed and complex world,” he said.