June 25, 2007

Giuliani and Abortion: A Lightning Rod Issue, Part 1

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Back during the CNN presidential debates, Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani faced a harsh question comparing his permissiveness towards abortion while personally opposing it to Pontius Pilate’s permissiveness towards Jesus’ crucifixion while personally opposing it. To complicate matters, lightning interrupted Giuliani’s answer, drawing huge laughter from the crowd. Divine intervention or not, the inevitable spread of this incident over the Internet has attracted attention to Giuliani’s abortion stance like a lightning rod. When Giuliani stops running a campaign off the fact that he was the mayor of New York City during 9/11 (there is a funny political cartoon on CNN about this which also fittingly references Catholicism and religion), his views on abortion will inevitably drag down his campaign to win the Republican nomination as time progresses.

Possibly divine lightning strikes at Giuliani

Already, as the New York Times has duly noted, Giuliani’s views on abortion have begun to drawn fire from the leadership in the Catholic church. Given my recollection of how Catholic bishops treated John Kerry during the 2004 election, the odds do not look good for Giuliani, and Pope Benedict XVI will certainly not change that at all. Giuliani already believes that an unborn child constitutes human life. Once he has conceded that, he really cannot dance around abortion like he did in the debate.

Giuliani claims that “we have to respect the fact that there are people that are equally as religious, equally as moral that make a different decision about this. And should government put them in jail?” Appealing to opposing moral and religious views does not work here, however. Anyone can find a plethora of opposing views from moral people not just on abortion, but on basically any issue. One should consider opposing viewpoints when trying to discover the truth, but once one has found the truth, opposing viewpoints cannot change the truth. Equally important, the rule of law applies to everybody from the most crooked criminal to Martha Stewart. If anybody violates the law, they should face the consequences, excepting an unjust law based on false truths. However, since Giuliani already settled on the truth about abortion that should form our laws, his wavering on the issue makes no sense. Despite the importance of intellectual diversity, it still does not outweigh the value of human life.

Now since this article deals with the Catholic church, I can foresee people coming from all directions to argue for the separation of church and state. However, the merits of that argument do not hold in this situation. I advocate a premise with a more universal principle. If anyone believe that an unborn child fits the definition of life, whether because of religion, ethics, and philosophy, then they should stand up for those beliefs. One can come to this conclusion through a variety of ways, not just by theology.

Separation of church and state does have its uses, though. The New York Times also notes that the Catholic church has to worry about an Internal Revenue Service regulation forbidding churches from endorsing or denouncing political candidates. However, as long as Catholicism denounces not only Giuliani, but other Catholic candidates with similar views such as Sen. Biden and Gov. Richardson, the IRS should not even approach them. If the Catholic church follows this one guideline, they keep focus on the issues, not on any one candidate in particular. They have the right to express their views on the issues as much as any other group, and anything else would infringe on their freedom of speech. Here, separation of church and state serves as an additional barrier not to protect the state from the church, but to protect the church from the state.

But getting back to the main topic on hand, Giuliani has a better strategy at his disposal: he could advocate protecting unborn children after viability, the point at which the child could live outside the womb. Saying, “I believe in human life before birth, but I respect other views on exactly when life begins,” makes much more sense than saying, “I believe in human life before birth, but I respect other views on whether or not terminating this life is moral.” I still would not agree with Giuliani on when life begins, but at least I would have a decent amount of respect for his views. Furthermore, I have a specific reason for choosing viability as a possible standard for Giuliani to use. A clever argument exists that would justify banning abortions after viability without directly overturning Roe v. Wade. Yes, Giuliani could appease the Catholic leadership and also the broader pro-life movement without launching a full frontal assault on Roe v. Wade. Quite frankly, I do not understand why he should not utilize this option. Giuliani still could say, “I consult my religion, I consult my reading of the Constitution, I consult my views of what I think are important in a pluralistic society,” yet he could accomplish all of this in a much more reasonable way. So how exactly would this option work? Stay tuned for Part 2.