Senate Democrats elect pro-life leader!

by Jimmy Akin

in Abortion

SDG here with some potentially stunning news.

Almost three months ago, I blogged on this site complaining that the Democrats needed to stop stonewalling pro-lifers in their own ranks.

Now it looks like they may actually be starting to do so.

According to this CNN.com story, the shrunken Democrat minority, having lost its leader Tom Daschle, has done something that would have seemed unthinkable only a few weeks ago: They’ve elected a pro-life Democrat to be their leader.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada replaces Daschle as the new minority leader. According to CNN.com,

With the exception of abortion rights and gun control, both of which he opposes, Reid’s recent voting record on major issues puts him in the mainstream of Senate Democrats.

Assuming Reid’s pro-life credentials hold up, this is incredible news — a sign, perhaps, that Democrats are beginning to realize that unless they start reaching out to pro-lifers they’re going to continue to be the party out of power.

This leaves me with one question for pro-lifers who voted for Kerry.

Suppose that there had been enough pro-lifers willing to regard abortion as negotiable and vote for Kerry over Bush to actually get Kerry elected. Had that happened, do you think there’s any way we could possibly hope to be seeing signs now of the Dems beginning to crack on abortion?

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{ 16 comments }

dcs November 16, 2004 at 1:11 pm

Suppose that there had been enough pro-lifers willing to regard abortion as negotiable and vote for Kerry over Bush to actually get Kerry elected.
I don’t think pro-lifers who voted for Kerry regarded abortion as a ‘negotiable’ issue — they simply realized that Bush wouldn’t do much to put a stop to abortion (as his support of Arlen Specter and now Alberto Gonzales demonstrates). That’s just my opinion, and I could be mistaken — I didn’t vote for Kerry (or for Bush, for that matter).
Had that happened, do you think there’s any way we could possibly hope to be seeing signs now of the Dems beginning to crack on abortion?
No — but perhaps we would not be seeing so many signs of the Republicans “cracking” the other way. The GOP is at its best when it’s in the minority and works to galvanize its grassroots.

Esquire November 16, 2004 at 1:12 pm

Well, as a pro-life Democrat and Catholic that proudly voted for John Kerry, I’m not sure that a Kerry win, together with a Daschle loss, would’ve altered the selection of the new Senate Minority Leader.
Obviously, I can’t see the Party ever calling for the criminalization of all abortions. But I would like to see the Party institutionally express disapproval for the procedure and for the circumstances that lead women to contemplate and undergo abortions, as well as concrete proposals geared at reducing the number of unplanned/ unwanted pregnancies.
For those who consider voting for a nominally anti-abortion party “non-negotiable”, the real question involves my senior Senator from Pennsylvania.

dcs November 16, 2004 at 2:53 pm

Yes, if one can’t vote for a pro-abortion politician in an election then can one solicit votes for same? I would think that — all things considered — a Catholic would be committing at least a venial sin by voting for pro-abortion candidate X over pro-life candidate Y. So would Catholic politician Z commit a sin if he actively campaigned for X in his race against Y? And what is one to think of Catholic magazine M that gives space to Z so that he might justify his campaign for X?

Anonymous November 16, 2004 at 3:24 pm

Esquire writes: “or those who consider voting for a nominally anti-abortion party “non-negotiable””
Esquire, are you deliberately misrepresenting the Catholic Answers Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics?
Nobody considers voting for any particular party a “non-negotiable”. In fact, the guide explicitly teaches the opposite.
It teaches to vote for pro-life candidates (from whatever party) against pro-abortion candidates (from whatever party).
Unfortunately you are correct though, many people from both parties choose to follow their parties instead of Jesus Christ.

BillyHW November 16, 2004 at 3:26 pm

That last post was me.

Alan Phipps November 16, 2004 at 6:53 pm

He opposes abortion, but, from what I understand, Reid, like fellow Mormon Orrin Hatch, supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Jonathan Prejean November 17, 2004 at 7:05 am

“a pro-life Democrat and Catholic that proudly voted for John Kerry”
Is this an oxymoron, or just a sign of massive moral confusion?
“For those who consider voting for a nominally anti-abortion party ‘non-negotiable’, the real question involves my senior Senator from Pennsylvania.”
It’s called “proportionate reasons” when no viable candidate properly fits the bill. Catholics aren’t required to throw themselves under the bus by voting for someone unelectable in a primary, so long as the overall goal of the vote is to reduce the legality of abortion.
BTW, it’s an immoral compromise to accept someone who would support the legality of abortion, regardless of how he might affect the actual incidence of abortion. The law makes the society itself a formal cooperator in every abortion that could have been prevented by reasonable exercise of the society’s law enforcement, and nominal efforts at preventing abortions do nothing to offset the intrinsic evil of giving legal permission for them in the first place. It would be like saying that it was permissible to fund an abortion clinic, so long as one made some effort to talk patients out of the decision. Sure, it’s great to promote education, but if you have a choice between reducing the intrinsically evil funding to the clinic and funding more education (which might reduce the effects of the evil), you have to take the former unless you want to degenerate into sheer proportionalism.

dcs November 17, 2004 at 7:48 am

It’s called “proportionate reasons” when no viable candidate properly fits the bill. Catholics aren’t required to throw themselves under the bus by voting for someone unelectable in a primary, so long as the overall goal of the vote is to reduce the legality of abortion.
I wasn’t aware that there were different rules for primary and general elections! If abortion is really a non-negotiable issue, then we should vote for the pro-life candidate over the pro-abortion candidate no matter the circumstances of the election (primary or general). On the other hand, if one is justified in voting for Sen. Arlen Specter in the primary just to keep someone worse from being elected, then one could make the argument that one is justified in voting for Senator Kerry for President — because it would ensure that Hilary Clinton would never be able to run for that office (Kerry would run again in 2008, and Edwards in 2012 whether Kerry won or not in 2008. Mrs. Clinton would be 69 in 2016). So which is it going to be? Do we vote pro-life all the time, or is voting for pro-abortion candidates morally justified in order to keep worse candidates out of office in the future? Either way your argument fails.

Jonathan Prejean November 17, 2004 at 8:11 am

“I wasn’t aware that there were different rules for primary and general elections! If abortion is really a non-negotiable issue, then we should vote for the pro-life candidate over the pro-abortion candidate no matter the circumstances of the election (primary or general).”
A primary isn’t actually putting someone into office, and whether someone will actually have a chance of reaching the office is a licit consideration when determining whether there are proportionate reasons to vote for a candidate whose position on abortion is imperfect. If your reasoning were correct, then we would have to vote for the most pro-life candidate running in every election regardless of whether the candidate was electable. Contrary to your view, Catholic moral theology teaches that when it practically impossible for a more pro-life candidate to be elected to office, one may vote for a less pro-life candidate who favors more restrictions on abortion than existing laws, per the reasoning of Evangelium Vitae 73. I’m not saying that this was necessarily the case in Pennsylvania, but it’s hardly a ludicrous notion.
“On the other hand, if one is justified in voting for Sen. Arlen Specter in the primary just to keep someone worse from being elected, then one could make the argument that one is justified in voting for Senator Kerry for President — because it would ensure that Hilary Clinton would never be able to run for that office (Kerry would run again in 2008, and Edwards in 2012 whether Kerry won or not in 2008. Mrs. Clinton would be 69 in 2016).”
Except for the obvious discrepancy that Kerry would be in office, probably defending or expanding the legality of abortion, which is exactly the outcome that one’s vote is directed toward avoiding.
“So which is it going to be? Do we vote pro-life all the time, or is voting for pro-abortion candidates morally justified in order to keep worse candidates out of office in the future? Either way your argument fails.”
Voting for pro-abortion candidates to *office* is never justified. Voting for someone who is more pro-life than a challenger but less pro-life than someone you reasonably believe to be unelectable to office is permissible, because your action is still aimed at increasing the restrictiveness of abortion laws. Impossibility of the candidate actually reaching office is a licit reason to vote for someone else, assuming that there are proportionate reasons for doing so (like making abortion laws more restrictive than the status quo).

Esquire November 17, 2004 at 10:44 am

The bottom line is that the biggest news out of the Senate since the election involves a pro-life Democrat and a pro-choice Republican.
It’s interesting that, semantically, when many refer to a Democratic candidate, the phrase “pro-abort” or some similar or even more derogatory term is used. But Republican candidates who accept the legality of most abortions are usually described as simply “less pro-life”.
The fact is most candidates are pro-abortion in the sense that they oppose the criminalization of all abortions.
If a Democratic candidate with good pro-life credentials is derided by the pro-life side, then why would the Party ever considering being open to those views?

BillyHW November 17, 2004 at 11:02 am

Esquire, you carefully avoided answering my question.
Did you, or did you not deliberately misrepresent what was written in the Catholic Answers Voter’s Guide For Serious Catholics?
Or was your misrepresentation an error made out of ignorance?

dcs November 17, 2004 at 12:10 pm

A primary isn’t actually putting someone into office, and whether someone will actually have a chance of reaching the office is a licit consideration when determining whether there are proportionate reasons to vote for a candidate whose position on abortion is imperfect.
I had a long reply written out to this message but it basically boils down to this: I am not capable of the mental gymnastics necessary to justify voting for a pro-abortion candidate in order to keep pro-abortion candidates out of office. Sen. Specter’s position on abortion isn’t merely “imperfect” — he is a vociferous defender of abortion “rights.” Furthermore, his opponent in the primary was not unelectable. So your line of reasoning does not apply to this case.
I don’t see the distinction in primary and general voting. When one votes in the primary one is choosing the candidate whom one would most like to see in the general election. By voting for a pro-abortion candidate in the primary, you are sending a clear statement that you believe he’s worthy to hold office. This is especially true if he’s in a tight race, as Specter was with Toomey.
I’m not trying to justify voting for Kerry — I’m simply pointing out that the same logic Specter supporters used to justify voting for him in the primary can be used to justify voting for Kerry.

David November 17, 2004 at 1:43 pm

Don’t worry about Esquire responding. He routinely mischaracterizes his opponents viewpoints so he doesn’t have to confront the real issue.

Jonathan Prejean November 17, 2004 at 2:27 pm

“Sen. Specter’s position on abortion isn’t merely ‘imperfect’ — he is a vociferous defender of abortion ‘rights.’ Furthermore, his opponent in the primary was not unelectable. So your line of reasoning does not apply to this case.”
Rick Santorum disagreed with you about both Specter’s position on abortion rights and Toomey’s electability. I have no opinion except to say that if Santorum honestly believed that Specter’s presence in the Senate would help the pro-life cause, then I think his support was justifiable for the reasons I presented above.
“When one votes in the primary one is choosing the candidate whom one would most like to see in the general election. By voting for a pro-abortion candidate in the primary, you are sending a clear statement that you believe he’s worthy to hold office. This is especially true if he’s in a tight race, as Specter was with Toomey.”
If you honestly believed that the election of Specter over Toomey would be sending a clear pro-abort message, then sure, you shouldn’t vote for him. However, I don’t see why this message is any more pro-abortion than, e.g., choosing to vote for a quasi-pro-life politician who allows for rape and incest exceptions over a true pro-life candidate whom you know will not be elected. In any event, there doesn’t appear to be any clear teaching on the subject, so Catholics can reasonably disagree on this matter.
“I’m not trying to justify voting for Kerry — I’m simply pointing out that the same logic Specter supporters used to justify voting for him in the primary can be used to justify voting for Kerry.”
It couldn’t be used to justify voting for Kerry against Bush in an actual election (as opposed to a primary against an unelectable opponent who was more pro-life). But if we flipped the case so that Bush was a fanatical pro-abort and Kerry was somewhat less pro-abortion, then I think it would be entirely fair to vote for Kerry over, e.g., Dennis Kucinich (pro-life) in the Democratic primary if you thought that Kucinich had no chance of beating Bush.

chris November 18, 2004 at 6:56 am

Harry Reid 55% National Right to Life Voting Scorecard for 108th Congress
John Ensign 91% National Right to Life Voting Scorecard for 108th Congress

sh5105 March 8, 2005 at 7:35 pm

I’m a protestant, so half of you probably don’t think im really a christian, but what seems to be missing in this whole debate is the entire rest of the issues. If it’s a sin to vote for a pro-choicer over a pro-lifer, why isn’t it a sin to vote for someone who won’t care for the poor, or who is for capital punishment or any number of other issues. Much less on how well they will actually help the country be a better place for everyone…And until you get bishops running for office, no one will ever follow strictly the Catholic Church’s guidelines/demands. Just my two cents.

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