Catholics Should Have No Voice on Abortion Law

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Brett Kavanaugh, Catholic

No self professed Catholic should have any say at all in deciding laws governing abortion that the rest of us have to abide by.

Our Constitution guarantees the right of every person to her/his own religious belief and practice. It also prohibits the establishment of religion, which is a closely related concept. Finally, it prohibits religious tests for public office.

The Founders were well aware that one of the most common reasons for their European ancestors and peers to go to war in the two hundred fifty years before the American Revolution was conflict over how government treated citizens because of differences in religious beliefs. A simple solution was to prohibit the government from taking sides, including from requiring anyone who took a public position to adopt a particular religion.

The difference between religion and government is that religion is voluntary and government is coercive, potentially. Any given person may feel strongly compelled by some inner feeling or sensibility to profess a particular religion, but they are always free to choose that religion and to choose differently if they see fit. Government enacts laws and imposes penalties on persons who violate laws.

One of the most contentious policy and political issues of our day is the right to abortion. On one side are those who insist that any woman should be free to make her own choice about whether to carry a pregnancy to term on the grounds of bodily autonomy, which all persons who are not pregnant take for granted. On the other side are those who insist that every fetus, from zygote to birth, is as much a person as anyone else and thus deserves the same level or protection for its life as anyone else.

Republicans have gleefully exploited this issue at least since Ronald Reagan. They like it because it allows them to adopt a pose of moral outrage on behalf of “the unborn” even as they try to eliminate federal funds for school lunches, plot to separate children from their parents at the Mexican border, and pursue other policies that harm children. Since so many good Christians are so bloody minded on the issue of abortion, proclaiming their opposition to abortion allows Republicans to win Christian votes even as they pursue viciously immoral policies.

Abortion played a key role in the huge fight over confirming Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the Supreme Court. One possible Republican vote against Kavanaugh was that of Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the last of what we once liked to call “moderate Republicans,” a common enough breed before the slathering “conservatives” took over the Party, starting sometime in the 1990s. The question got articulated in part in terms of the legal doctrine we call “stare decisis,” or the idea that, once judges, especially the Supreme Court, have decided an issue, they should only change that decision for very compelling reasons. This is a principle that commands the respect of judicial conservatives, as opposed to judicial activists on behalf of “conservative” political and policy aims, such as Antonin Scalia, who was eager to reverse Roe v. Wade, the major decision of the Supreme Court holding that women have the right to an abortion at least until the viability of the fetus.

Chief Justice Rehnquist applied this rule in writing the majority opinion to uphold the decision in Miranda v. Arizona, famous as the source of the “Miranda warning” every child in the United States learns from watching TV shows purportedly about police.

In announcing her decision to disregard the testimony of a woman who claims Kavanaugh assaulted her sexually in high school, Collins claimed to be sure that Kavanaugh would not try to reverse Roe v. Wade, the major abortion rights decision, but would abide by the principle of stare decisis.

Comes now a statute in Louisiana regulating abortion providers that looks in important respects much like a law that the Supreme Court struck down three years ago on the grounds that it actually contributed nothing to women’s health, but only served to make abortions less readily available, thus violating the prevailing test for abortion laws, that they not impose an “undue burden” on women’s right to abortion.

There are thus two precedents here, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstadt, the 2016 Texas case, and Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case holding that women have the right to abortion that started the whole debate. A trial judge struck the Louisiana statute down, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, leading the plaintiffs to request an emergency stay from the Supreme Court, which it granted, by a vote of five to four.

Kavanaugh the Catholic voted in the minority and issued a dissent. He argued that it is not yet clear if the statute, which requires any doctor who performs abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital, will actually impede women’s ability to get abortions. This is pretty much nonsense, and it strongly suggests that Kavanaugh will find some way to allow new restrictions on women’s rights, up to and including reversing Roe v. Wade outright when the opportunity presents itself.

Prohibiting Catholics from voting on abortion law would seem to violate the principles of not establishing religion and on religious tests for public office, but it does neither. This is not a blanket rule against Catholics participating in government positions, such as England had during the colonial period, before the American Revolution, it is a highly specific rule that reflects a simple recognition that any person who professes loyalty to the Catholic Church has a highly ideological position on abortion that should not become law.

The Catholic Church notoriously opposes abortion. Catholic hospitals explicitly argue that they should not have to perform abortions even when the mother’s life is at risk. In sum, women only matter to Catholics if they are having babies. If they cannot muster a successful, full term pregnancy, they may as well die.

Persons who wish to abide by Catholic doctrine are free to join the Church and adopt its moral precepts, although molesting children is still illegal. The rest of us, who choose not to join the Church, should remain free to ignore its moral precepts and not have government impose them on us.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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