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September 10, 2008

Bishops v. Biden

The Catholic Bishops are cheesed with Joe Biden for, as they see it, claiming that abortion is just a "personal and private issue." Here's the relevant quote, from Biden's response on Meet the Press last Sunday:

I'd say, "Look, I know when it begins for me." It's a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths--Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others--who have a different view.

According to the bishops, "the Senator’s claim that the beginning of human life is a 'personal and private' matter of religious faith, one which cannot be 'imposed' on others, does not reflect Catholic teaching."

Of course, Biden did not say that the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a private matter. His position is that it is a confessional matter. The bishops can assert until they are blue in the face that what they profess is universally applicable because it's built into the nature of things; but at the end of the day they remain religious leaders asserting the doctrine of their church. And most American Catholics, like Biden, understand them as such.

(Originally posted at Spiritual Politics)


If you had bothered to read what the Catholic bishops actually said, you would know that their argument is not theological, it is scientific. Here I'll quote them for you:

"While ancient thinkers had little verifiable knowledge to help them answer this question, today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception (see www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/bioethic/fact298.shtml). The Catholic Church does not teach this as a matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact."

I've got the entire statement on my website: http://www.americanpapist.com/2008/09/text-usccb-responds-to-joe-biden.html

The "doctrine" they are asserting - that human life ought not to be killed - is one I hope reaches beyond confessional lines.

I am surprised that somebody blogging on "Christianity Today" would not be able to make a distinction between an article of faith and the inalienable right to life.

Holding life sacred at all stages should not be a matter based of faith but a matter based on natural law. If I cannot tell somebody I have the right to live, then I might as well cease fighting for anything at all.

I'll have to offer my concurrent opinion with the above comments. The issue is not a matter of doctrine. It is a matter of embryology. Science has settled the matter that human life begins at conception.

That said, the issue is; when should de facto human life be afforded human rights? Biden argues that human life begins at conception but it doesn't matter because he, apparently, believes that human rights cannot be afforded to a human being until society, by popular concensus affords those rights to the human being in question.

The church counters, not with a doctrinal argument, but with a rational argument. Namely, that the idea that a de facto human being does not innately deserve human rights is simply wrong. In fact, this idea, that some human life is unworthy of life was at the root of the greatest atrocities committed against mankind in the 20th century.

You don't have to be an orthodox Catholic to get this. You only have to be playing with a full deck and have a basic sense of science and history.

Which of these three, Mark, are you missing?


Mr. Silk, did you actually read the bishop's response? Abortion is not merely a personal matter as Biden claims nor merely a confessional matter as you claim. The Catholic Church, in fact, makes no confession about when human life begins - it defers to science for that answer. It's a simple scientific fact, which given our modern understanding of biology no one can deny, that unborn babies are living human beings. The only philosophical question involved is whether or not all humans are deserving of basic human rights? One does not need a religious creed to recognize the painfully obvious answer that human rights belong to all humans.

At the August 16 Saddleback Forum, when Pastor Rick Warren asked Sen. Obama, "At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?", Obama responded that "answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade." In a Sept. 7 interview, Obama further explained that it was a "theological question." Apparently Mr. Silk agrees.

But one problem with this approach is that any concept of "human rights" presumes that lawmakers can distinguish who is a "human" to whom such rights attach. Any definition they choose is going to agree with some religious views and disagree with others.

Well, you may say, in a pluralistic society, we will just have to all agree that human rights begin at live birth. But wait a minute -- Obama's record clearly shows that he doesn't agree with that proposition, either, at least not in the abortion context.

As an Illinois state senator, from 2001-2003 he led the opposition to the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, The bill, only three sentences long, simply recognized any infant who was completely expelled from the mother, and alive, as a legal person. Obama explained in 2001, and has never recanted, that he opposed this bill because he believed it was unconstitutional to define a "previable fetus" to be a legal person – even though the bill only applied if the baby had achieved "complete expulsion or extraction from its mother," and was alive. (Obama’s statements are quoted verbatim a White Paper issued by NRLC, which also contains numerous links to primary documents, which is posted here:

I am a critic of Roe v. Wade -– but even among persons who defend Roe v. Wade, most consider that ruling to confer a right to terminate the lives of unborn humans inside the womb, and do not believe that it diminishes the legal status of a baby who is fully born. (Indeed, a bill virtually identical to the one that Obama opposed passed the U.S. Senate 98-0.) Yet, there really are some people who believe that Roe v. Wade goes further, and requires that a "previable fetus" (Obama’s term) who is the subject of an abortion must remain classified as a non-person no matter where that "previable fetus" is located. In this vision, the so-called "previable fetus" who happens to be outside the mother is still in the process of being aborted, and that entire process (which Obama regards as constitutionally protected) will end only with the death of the newborn. By his actions and his explanations of those actions, Barack Obama showed himself to be among those who hold this expansive vision of the "right to abortion." In Obama’s view, to declare the fully born and living but "previable" human to be a legal person does indeed interfere with "abortion" and does indeed conflict with the full and proper application of "Roe v. Wade."

Thus, in Obama's view, even a live birth is not enough to confer "human rights," in the abortion context at least. If not then, when?

This is not a merely theoretical question. In testimony on the legislation, one nurse testified regarding "induced-labor abortions" performed at the hospital which employed her: "It is not uncommon for a live aborted babies to linger for an hour or two or even longer. At Christ Hospital one of these babies once lived for almost an entire eight-hour shift. Last year alone, of the 13 babies that I am aware of who were aborted at Christ Hospital, at least four lived between 1-1/2 to 3 hours, two boys and two girls." The nurse testified that another aborted baby "was left to die on the counter of the Soiled Utility Room wrapped in a disposable towel. This baby was accidentally thrown in the garbage, and when they later were going through the trash to find the baby, the baby fell out of the towel and on to the floor." Another nurse testified that she "happened to walk into a ‘soiled utility room’ and saw, lying on the metal counter, a fetus, naked, exposed and breathing, moving its arms and legs."

Obama's commitment to defend the practice of abortion without qualification was so absolute that it led him to reflexively view the issue of babies born alive during abortions through the prism of his concept of Roe v. Wade, and worse, to conclude that a breathing, squirming, fully born pre-viable human baby is still covered by Roe v. Wade. But when he ran for higher office (U.S. Senate) in 2004, he realized how difficult that position would be to defend in the world outside the halls of the Illinois Senate. That is when he began to misrepresent the contents of the bill that he had opposed, which produced this judgment by the Annenberg FactCheck.org watchdogs: "Obama's claim is wrong . . . The documents from NRLC support the group's claims that Obama is misrepresenting the contents of SB 1082 [the 2003 Illinois BAIPA]."

Here's the entire text of the bill that Obama voted against, and killed in the committee he chaired, on March 13, 2003.

Section 5. The Statute on Statutes is amended by adding Section 1.36 as follows: (5 ILCS 70/1.36 new)

Sec. 1.36. Born-alive infant.

(a) In determining the meaning of any statute or of any rule, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative agencies of this State, the words "person", "human being", "child", and "individual" include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.

(b) As used in this Section, the term "born alive", with respect to a member of the species homo sapiens, means the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of that member, at any stage of development, who after that expulsion or extraction breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion.

(c) Nothing in this Section [the bill] shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being born alive as defined in this Section.

Section 99. Effective date. This Act takes effect upon becoming law. >

Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee
Washington, D.C. 20004
Legfederal // at // aol-dot-com

I'm also rather shocked by this rather gross lack of discernment. "Cheesed"? Come on, we're talking about the murder of millions of babies, and a politician giving an example to people across the country that allowing this is okay, while claiming to be Catholic out of the other side of his mouth. In addition, he's setting a bad example for Catholics, other Christians and people of good will everywhere who could be led astray by his comments. Somehow the word "cheesed" doesn't seem appropriate for the gravity of the situation.

Mark, I'm sorry to take a fellow CT writer to task, but this issue is too important, and your shallow and inaccurate coverage of this complex and important story does a disservice to your readers.

You twice misrepresent the bishops as viewing Biden's position as "Abortion is a personal and private issue," once in the course of knocking down your own straw man: "Of course, Biden did not say that the Catholic Church teaches that abortion is a private matter." No, and the bishops didn't say he did either. What both Biden and the bishops were talking about as "personal and private" (Biden affirming, the bishops negating) was not abortion, but the beginning of human life. Apparently you missed that.

In this, very clearly, the bishops are objectively right and Biden is objectively wrong: It is a biological fact, not a matter of faith, that human life begins at conception. There is nothing "confessional" about it (a word you strangely supply for Biden, though he didn't use it himself).

Where the bishops do affirm as the Church's teaching, and where they themselves are very clear that it is the Church's teaching, is in answering the moral question "Which human lives deserve protection?" Here they affirm unambiguously: "The Catholic Church’s answer is: Everybody." Given their clarity on this point, what exactly do you mean to get at regarding their "going on till they're blue in the face," etc.? Would you say the same to faith-informed opposition to slavery or segregation?

Your confusion on the point the bishops clearly distinguish is common: Probably Biden himself is confused on this point, and you may well be right in predicating a similar confusion of the majority of American Catholics (and other Americans for that matter). That's precisely why we need clear coverage that doesn't perpetuate the confusion.

Readers interested in an informed and accurate discussion of the subject are referred to the American Papist blog for more information.

Ahh, a who's who of Catholic bloggers who recognize a problem with how Mr. Silk read the document. I'll add my voice to that of the others here. Objective Fact - not point of doctrine.

I see Silk has written an equally unhelpful follow-up post at Spiritual Politics. Clearly he doesn't get it, and perhaps may not want to.

To be against abortion is not a matter of faith. It is a simple scientific fact that life begins at conception. A lot of atheists and believers of different religions are against abortion for this very reason. You fail to see that the theological argument follows that fact and not the other way around

Life doesn't begin at the moment of conception. It began a long time ago, and is continued with the processes of conception, of which there is no "moment." A "moment" is a rough metaphysical construct of little scientific meaning. Where is the margin of error?

Of course, before about 200 years ago with the discovery of the mammalian egg, there was better reason to suppose that conception happened in a "moment," when conception was thought to be the "moment" when the womb accepted the man's "seed" and began to form it. But, we now know differently, and have for two centuries.

Life does not begin with each male planting his "seed." Or with a female releasing an egg, or even when the two meet. The process of conception begins before and doesn't stop after.

A woman is born with all the eggs she'll ever have. I was born with the equipment to make and distribute spermatozoa. That it didn't function until a while later...would suggest that my argument is also based in "nature." Conception is a process that started before me, in my mother's womb and in me, even before I was mature.

Even if I haven't had children (I have a genetic disease I wouldn't want to give to my children), conception is nevertheless ongoing, with or without me. Nature doesn't care if I have children, or not...just that somebody has children. Actually, nature likely doesn't care...period. We care. I may not have children, but I still want to be a good ancestor, even if it's with "memes" instead of genes.

As there is no such thing as a "moment" in reality, except as a casual way of humans roughly marking an impossible in reality spot in the development of space/time (whatever that is), when a person's rights come into being is necessarily blurry.

The Constitution seems to imply, that for the purposes of people in this country, rights, duties and privileges come into being with the age of the person and citizenship status. I have the right to run for President, my niece doesn't. I have the privilege to drive a car, my grand-niece is forbidden to drive. I don't have to go to school, she does. I can vote, she doesn't have that right as she's not 18.

My legal immigrant neighbor has most of the rights, duties and privileges I do, as he should, but...not all. And what about artificial entities like corporations? They pretty much have the same rights, duties and privileges of my immigrant neighbor, an actual human being, yet they're not human at all.

So...where does that leave legal abortion? Wherever society wants it. We're not a country with a state church, and in any case, our religious leaders disagree with each other. My denomination reluctantly, but officially, supports legal abortions, for instance.

In any case, even if religious leaders did agree, they should make a secular case for their argument to overthrow a right to privacy, of which George Washington, for starters, presumed and cherished, at least for people who weren't enslaved.

Otherwise, their argument could possibly run up against the Constitutional Father's disestablishmentarianist understandings of freedoms and rights. Not to mention the rebooting of the Constitution and the country with the Reconstruction era amendments, the woman's suffrage movement and again in the Civil Rights era. (All of which religious conservatives generally opposed, including the American Revolution and the end of slavery. So, why do we still listen to them, let alone be one?)

In any case, the position of Sen. McCain has the acrid whiff of eugenics to it. A woman shouldn't have the right to a legal abortion, except in the case of rape, incest or the woman's health.

In other words, a woman doesn't have the privilege of legal access to an abortion, unless she can prove to someone or a committee, who is likely not her peer(s), that the man who impregnated her was some sort of inferior male. Then, that presumed to be inferior "innocent child" can be "murdered" with Sen. McCain's full approval.

Of course, what constitutes a health problem is sometimes arbitrary. Mental stress, for instance...? I know what it is for me, but what is it for you? What is it for a woman we both don't know?

Will this subject of 'abortion' ever get realistic in recognizing and acknowledging that the world's population MUST be reduced to at least 1/7 of the current 6+ billion - or, we all perish during the next generation or so.

At current population level, earth's water supply is good for about 25-30 years.

At least one bishop has spoken to Biden about refraining from Communion until he reforms his view. If Senator Biden continues to receive Communion, then he is not "prepared to accept the teachings of my Church." The Church has taught from the first century (the Didache) that abortion is murder. If Biden truly believees this, then how can he say others have the right to commit murder???

There is a BOOK above all other church or religious books, written by GOD that says GOD knows us BEFORE we are even born .. HE is there with us while we are being formed in our mother's womb .. it's a no brainer .. It's not about what the church or Biden thinks .. it's about what GOD thinks and HE thought of you before your Mom or Dad every did. Cool.

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