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July 20, 2006



What's the news? This is about politics, not morality. If the Bush Administratoin had a moral clue, we wouldn't be in Iraq.

paul zummo


Please explain how this is all about "politics." A majority of Americans support ESCR, and this could do more to hurt his political party than help it.


Amy, there's an inaccuracy in your post. Bush hasn't funded any "embryo-destructive" research - he's funded research on cell lines that were created before the funding question came to him. In other words, none of the funding allowed embryos to be destroyed - the funding came after the fact and no funding is to go to cell lines from embryos destroyed after the announcement of this decision in August 2001.

Donald R. McClarey

Leave it to some part of the pro-life movement to engage in straining of gnats. The pro-life movement has never had a better friend in the White House than Bush 43, as his veto ever amply demonstrates. As to Tony Snow, a firm pro-lifer, here is his explanation of why the veto was cast.

"MR. SNOW: The President -- I don't think that's the choice that the President has presented. What the President has said is that he doesn't want human life destroyed. Now, you may consider that insignificant, but the President has said -- and you have had in a number of cases the Snowflake babies, where some of those fetuses have, in fact, been brought to term and have become human beings. The President believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder; he's one of them.

Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that this government did make available already existing lines -- to sort of get back to your question, there were existing lines. And the most recent figures we have are 2004, but 85 percent of all the embryonic stem cell research on Earth was conducted using those lines. There is nothing that makes embryonic stem cell research illegal; it simply says that the federal government will not finance it. As you know, there are ongoing efforts in some states, including, I think, California and Massachusetts, to use state money for it, and I daresay if people think that there's a market for it, they're going to support it handsomely. The simple answer is he thinks murder is wrong, and he has said."


A few things I'm unclear on. Does Bush support research on embryos (if they're not killed)? And does the Church permit that?

Tom Haessler

Hello, Todd,

I disagreed with President Bush about the decision to go to war with Iraq because it didn't seem to be just (although I support the mission to defend Iraqis from sectarian, Baathist, and Al Qaida murderous assaults because it's defense against unjust aggression). But I think Bush's veto is one of his finest hours. There's negligible political advantage and he seems to me to have made this decision almost solely on the basis of moral principle.


I understand the symbolic and somewhat practical consequences of whether federal funds should be used for ESCR. However, isn't this, at best, a secondary concern, like federal funding of abortion? The real issue is whether ESCR should be legal, and I would think that the measure of whether one is prolife on this issue is whether one supports a criminal ban on ESCR, not simply whether federal money will be used to support it. So why aren't the president and our prolife politicians trying to get a ban enacted? And if they are not, why are they any more "prolife" than politicians who aren't trying to get a ban on abortion enacted? Supporting a federal criminal ban on ESCR should be a "non-negotiable" shouldn't it, just like supporting a federal ban on partial-birth abortion?


I think also if you go and read more of the question/answer bit from Snow, you would see that the reporters' questions were trying to paint Bush as standing in the way of science/cures/etc. It does come off as almost bragging about endorsing embryo-using research, but I think, having watched Snow a bit, he was probably mostly tired of the selective memory of the journalists. Actually, the part I didn't like was at the end (my asterisks), though I'm assuming it was a slip of the tongue. But it shows how easy it is to slip into the other side's language:

Q What's the point of having the snowflakes here today? What's the message of that?

MR. SNOW: **The message is that an embryo can produce a human being**, and there will be some in evidence. In addition, there will be people who have been the recipients — who have been the beneficiaries of stem cell breakthroughs, advances that have been garnered through adult and other stem cells, and therefore demonstrating — getting back to our other point that, in fact, scientific breakthroughs have been made with these technologies that have also been financed by the federal government and by private industry.

Tom Haessler

With respect to the Snowflake program, there are those in the pro-life movement with some theological competence (like Monica Migliorino Miller) who are opposed to embryo adoption and rescue. Others like Germain Grisez are very strong proponents - even acknowledging the right of unmarried single women (and, by extension, consecrated women!!) to be rescuers! Until the magisterium should take a stand, I think Grisez has the better argument. Embryo adoption is not at all like homologous or heterologous artificial insemination, which replaces, rather than assists, the marital act. Embryo rescue and adoption is not a strategy to assist a couple experiencing infertility (although this COULD be a finis operantis, a motive), but the rescue itself is not a strategy for overcoming infertility, but for saving a life.

The point of having the Snowflake children present at the press conference is to remind people that embryos are little people. That can be adopted. Would that someone would have asked "But they don't look like people, do they?" and Tony Snow, if he'd been on the ball could have responded, "Yes, they look exactly like all of us looked at the embryonic stage of development."

Tom Haessler

Hello, Celine,

Of course, you're entirely correct in seeing that consistency would mean that pro-lifers should all support a ban on ALL ESCR. The same thing is true, mutatis mutandis, of a ban on all abortions. And yet, the mainstream pro-life movement supported a ban on partial birth abortion, not a ban, at this time, on all abortions. HOW to move toward respect for all human life at every stage of development is not a black and white issue, but a question of prudence. Good people can have a variety of different opinions about strategy and tactics. When the majority of Americans support ESCR, IMHO, it would be imprudent to go for a full ban prior to more extensive education of the public. Look how the public quickly relapsed into anti-life attitudes surrounding the Terri Schiavo case. Incremental approaches are more prudent than support for a perfect law.


Could this be THE issue that splits the Pro-Life Movement?


If the Bush veto were allowed to stand without elaboration, then yes, I'd say it's a good moment. That Tony Snow is putting the spin on the president as a liberal: I'm thinking that Bush can appeal to his conservative Christian base for broad support and individual politicians can trumpet their own support for ESCR or not, as they wish.

Minimal political harm to the R's, I think. The real moral issue is ESCR, and government funding for said research is a sideshow (though a worthy fight).


Tom Haessler:

OK, I can agree that incrementalism is prudent here, and we should be taking this step-by-step or on a get-what-can/minimize-the-harm basis. Even so, many prolifers argue that being opposed to abortion trumps all other issues (including war and capital punishment, for example) because these involve "prudential judgments," whereas there can be NO political disagreement on whether we should go ahead and ban abortion. But if a politician can decline to try to ban ESCR based on prudential political considerations, can't a politician also properly decline to try to ban abortion based on prudential political considerations? What's the difference? Or is the whole abortion-trumps-everything argument bogus, self-serving baloney?

Mike Petrik

I know better than to answer for Tom, who will undoubtably supply you with a better answer; but here's mine if you'll indulge me:
Basically, I agree with you!
I have said repeatedly that one can agree that abortion is a serious moral wrong and should be illegal and yet still politically favor its current legaility, at least hypothetically. For example, if one honestly believes that outlawing abortions immediately will result either in more actual abortions (or no reduction but more women casualties) or cause a backlash that would result in a legal climate that is pro-abortion and less vulnerable to remedy than today's landscape, then it would seem permissible for a pro-life legislator to avoid voting for pro-life legislation as a tactical matter. While I hardly think this hypothetical is plausible I concede its merit as a hypothetical. Indeed, it is fair for a legislator utilize a prudential calculus to evaluate each piece of legislation. But while tactics are subject to a prudential calculus they must be ordered in good faith to achieve appropriate ends, which must be a society whose laws and behaviors recognize the grave sinfullness of abortion.
You are way too smart to believe that the views of any of the usual suspect pro-abort Catholic pols are described by the foregoing hypothetical.

TM Lutas

What to do with immorally gathered scientific data or other resources is a very tricky question. Should the Church accept the tithe of a pimp? Should we accept the use of Nazi hypothermia experimentation data? Should we make use of stem cell lines created by abortion? Should scientific research depending on those materials be eligible for federal funding? How about scientific research that makes use of the nazi data?

The embargo on the nazi data started falling before the ESCR move of Pres. Bush but I do not recall the same sort of tut tutting from the pro-life movement even though that data was gathered by the murder of large numbers of death camp inmates tossed into freezing cold water and thus arguably more pro-death than the small number of stem cell lines applicable to Pres. Bush's order.

Does it make a difference that whether it's cells or data? Does it make a difference the death dates of the victims?

I'm not staking a position here because I really am conflicted on this one and am unsure that there is a consistent position out there even in Church policy.

Maclin Horton

Celine, you say,

many prolifers argue that being opposed to abortion trumps all other issues (including war and capital punishment, for example) because these involve "prudential judgments," whereas there can be NO political disagreement on whether we should go ahead and ban abortion.

I'm not the most politically engaged person around, so someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but this isn't the message I hear from the pro-life movement at large. No one is in a position to "go ahead and ban abortion," although most who would call themselves pro-lifers would support that as a goal. In the meantime, there are all sorts of opinions as to appropriate measures and tactics.

I gather you're referring to pro-life hostility to various Catholic Democrats (Kerry, Kennedy et.al.). The problem with them is that they've convinced most people on both sides of the issue that they view abortion as an absolute right, and any limitation of that right as unacceptable, and they've worked very hard against the pro-life movement for many years now. To say they "decline to try to ban it" is not an accurate description of either their views or their actions.

Mike Petrik

Maclin is spot on.


But if a politician can decline to try to ban ESCR based on prudential political considerations, can't a politician also properly decline to try to ban abortion based on prudential political considerations? What's the difference? Or is the whole abortion-trumps-everything argument bogus, self-serving baloney?

John Paul talks about "incrementalism" (doesn't use that word) in "Evangelium Vitae". He's very clear that the only way a person can vote for an imperfect law to lessen a grave evil (like abortion) is if their personal opposition to that grave evil is clearly known, without equivocation.

If a politician were to vote for an imperfect law, whether for abortion or ESCR, his personal opposition to all forms of either crime would have to be known, as well as his intention to work toward passing legislation banning all forms of each particular evil.

I don't think refusing to ban all abortions or ESCR if that opportunity presents itself, in the name of "incrementalism", would be morally justifiable. But, if there's an opportunity to ban SOME forms, you would take that opportunity, obviously.


If abortion were to become illegal, how would the law deal with women who broke the law and had abortions? What kind of penalties would public opinion tolerate? Or would the criminalization of abortion become an unenforceable law much as the immigration laws are now?

I'm against abortion too but if it becomes illegal then it becomes a crime and unless the law is a joke, it will have to be punished.



Pre-Roe abortion laws targeted abortion providers, not recipients as such. That's why the movement for liberalizing anti-abortion laws was ruddered in its first generation by doctors who were the targets of the law.

Tom Haessler

Hello, Celine,

I agree with Mike Petrik and Maclin Horton. But I'd like to make some distinctions that often are not made on these issues.

1. The Church teaches that all direct attacks on unborn human life at any stage are, objectively, seriously sinful. The Church also teaches that the state has an obligation to protect unborn human life. The first sentence expresses a teaching that would seem to be an exercise of the infallible teaching authority of the universal ordinary magisterium of the bishops confirmed by the authority of the bishop of Rome. The second sentence embodies a teaching that is authentic, authoritative, and technically what is called Catholic doctrine (not Catholic dogma). If one denied the second proposition while upholding the first one, one would not be a heretic.

2. It's not impossible that there might be some Catholics who would dissent from the second, but not from the first, proposition. They might think "I'm against all abortions and think that they're always objectively speaking mortally sinful, but I think in today's pluralistic society more harm would be done by state sanctions for abortion than by a policy of no sanctions." I think that this position is wrong, but it certainly is not necessarily heterodox. Such a position could take the form of insisting that theoretically the state should sanction abortions, but that, for a variety of reasons, it shouldn't be done now. Such a position would not be heterodox. In other words, there would not be any denial of either Catholic dogma or doctrine involved. It would, IMHO, be a highly eccentric opinion, not very well grounded, but not heterodox. Or such a position could take the form: "I think the Church is right. All abortion is objectively sinful. But I'm a libertarian and the state should never interfere in a woman's choice to have an abortion." I think this form could well involve dissent against Catholic doctrine - the teaching which states that the state should protect unborn life. Another form of opposition to pro-life legislation that some could take is: "The state has a responsibility to protect all unborn life and the best way to do this is to provide the kind of environment where all life is welcomed either by the parents or by others if the parents are irresponsible, but I don't think the state should PUNISH women who have, or doctors who perform, abortions. This, too, is an eccentric position, but not exactly heterodox. I think it is mistaken because it doesn't understand the teaching function of law. It grossly underestimates the value of the law as restraint of the less virtuous members of society and this restraint as an important factor in the common welfare of all. It's difficult to imagine that the high profile Catholic legislators who are "pro-choice" REALLY believe that the first proposition (all direct attacks on unborn life are immoral) is true.

3. On the issue of prudential judgments and war and capital punishment. Sometimes this is completely misunderstood. I'll try to break it down because there are so many issues involved.

4. Catholic teaching on capital punishment (as explained in the catechism, EVANGELIUM VITAE, and the COMPENDIUM OF SOCIAL DOCTRINE) is NOT a prudential judgment. The teaching is IF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS UNNECESSARY IT IS WRONG. This, actually, is not entirely new. It's a position taken by a number of theologians in Europe prior to Vatican II. John Paul the Great elevated it from a theological opinion to Catholic doctrine.


6. IMHO, Justice Scalia dissents from Catholic teaching on capital punishment as expressed in the capitalized sentence in number 4. Such dissent, of course, does not make him a heretic, but it does mean that he dissents from Catholic teaching on a non-infallible point (something that one should not do).

7. Some bloggers recently (on Mark Shea's blog) dissented from Catholic teaching that nuclear bombing of cities can sometimes be allowed. They specifically insisted that one could bomb cities if the government conscripted large numbers of women and men (say from ages 15 to 45). They argue that this "total war" situation eliminates the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. This kind of thinking stretches "prudential judgment" type thinking to absurd proportions and is a way of dissenting.

8. High profile Catholics who are pro-abortion (in the sense that they have not made their opposition to all abortion part of their record) are a major scandal in American Catholicism. Bishops disagree on how exactly to approach this scandal, but I think a good case can be made that, after a period of dialogue on the subject, it would be impermissably permissive (IMHO - LOL) of the bishops to not ask such individuals to refrain from Communion. Very many bishops would agree with this.

9. Five or six bishops have openly stated that it would be a mortal sin for a Catholic to vote Democratic in any election because of the party's platform. THIS is an example of clericalism in the pejorative sense. These individuals have imposed their own opinion on something that is quite clearly debatable. There are so many reasons that this is wrong that it would take a very long post to explain fully why it is wrong.

10. But a few historical examples will show the extreme imprudence of bishops trying to dictate which political party lay persons should support. From 1870 to 1927, technically, Catholics were forbidden to vote in Italian national elections because it was an endorsement of "Italy" which came into existence by the forceful takeover of the papal states. But very many Catholics, undoubtedly supported by their confessors and many Catholic intellectuals, voted in national elections before the question was settled by the concordat with Mussolini. Another more recent example is the question of Italians voting for Communists after World War II. Sometimes Catholics voted for Communists in local elections because they were good, honest beaurocrats, and the local Christian Democrats were corrupt. This led the very conservative Cardinal Ottaviani to state: "Those who vote for Communists SIC ET SIMPLICITER, which is to say NOT for their espousal of dialectical and historical materialism, but for other reasons, are NOT subject to excommunication."

11. I hope that noone will conclude from the above that I'll vote for a Democratic candidate. I'm a pro-life Democrat who will continue to vote Republican in national elections until Democrats get their act together. But this is a result of a long concatenation of prudential judgments which I'm obliged to make myself without my bishop dictating each step of the way. I have the greatest respect for the teaching authority of the pope and bishops. But I deny apodictically that bishops have any authority to tell adult Catholics how to vote. Voting is ALWAYS a matter of prudential judgment. Irreducibly so.

12. I think there's a consensus in the pro-life movement in this country that DOCTORS should be punished, not women, if abortion becomes a crime. Mother Teresa thought women should be punished somehow too. I think she was wrong about this.


Thanks to Mike Petrik and Tom Haessler for intelligent responses to my expressions of discomfort with the "intrinsic evil v. prudential judgment" framework in which life issues are often discussed. I believe I agree with Tom's conclusion that all or virtually all political judgments are intrinsicly "prudential" in nature -- though I would add that some political judgments are almost certainly sins against Prudence, like those of most Democrats on criminalizing abortion.

Tom Haessler

Oh, dear! I just noticed that I mistakenly said "sometimes" instead of "never" in number 7 in my last post. But I guess noone misunderstood my intent, hopefully.

Maclin Horton

Pretty much total agreement with Tom on my part. Interesting about the Italian Communists--I think I surprised a friend of mine once by saying I could imagine voting for a Communist in a local election where he was the best candidate for an office that wouldn't really do anything to advance his cause.

Oh, and by the way, I don't think "abortion trumps everything." In my opinion various social issues and most crucially the life issues trump most everything else in our current political situation, but I can imagine scenarios in which that would not be the case (and I don't consider my judgment on this to be the only legitimate Catholic one). Just to dream up something that I hope is very far-fetched, a candidate who announced his intention to resolve the problems of the middle East by nuking a number of Muslim cities: I'd have to vote against him (or her) even if his opponent was the president of Planned Parenthood.

Also, I've never denied that it's possible in principle for a Catholic to hold that to criminalize abortion here and now would be a bad idea. I think he or she'd be wrong but I think it could be a licit position. I just don't think that's what the Kennedys et.al are doing.

Also by the way, I am not a Republican. I have no party affiliation or loyalty.


Now I am confused about the sin against prudence. Not to stop and think, read, research, and take counsel with other minds: OK. But to come up with the wrong judgment in someone else's opinion, is that a sin against prudence?


I would think that a sin against prudence would be similar to the judicial standard for overturning a verdict, i.e., no reasonable person could have applied the applicable principles to the facts and come to the conclusion that was reached.

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