God-o-Meter Q+A with Doug Kmiec on His New Pro-Obama Book

kmiec.jpgDouglas Kmiec, legal counsel to President Reagan and George H.W. Bush and former dean of Catholic University, is out with a new book, Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Questions about Barack Obama (read an excerpt). Kmiec talked to God-o-Meter about what provoked a Republican pro-life advocate to write a book-length endorsement of the Democratic nominee for president.
It’s one thing for a conservative Catholic Republican to voice support for Barack Obama. It’s another to write a whole book about it. What provoked this?
It wasn’t how I set out to spend my summer. But I went to a meeting with Senator Obama and other faith leaders in June in Chicago and I was so impressed by the manner in which he handled that meeting–the length of time he spent with each of us, the way he answered questions and his open-minded approach and his answers on the life topic that I put to him. As I left the meeting it occurred to me that the reasonable thing to do would be do so some writing about it. I began writing essays that were syndicated in my column for the Catholic News Service, as op-eds in The Chicago Tribune and Slate, and all the writing generated a large amount of return email. I found myself individually answering emails at all hours of the day. That was the genesis of the book, to do wholesale what I was doing retail.
That must have been some meeting in Chicago.
It was my first face to face meeting with him. He opened by saying that everything he was going to tell us was on the record, that we could repeat it anywhere we liked. There were cameras outside the building but he said he knew those gathered in the room were not supporters and might be antagonists and that they might be uncomfortable being seen with him. So he said he’d maintain the confidence of anything they said in that meeting and also the maintain the confidence of whether they participated in the meeting. Comparing that to the existing political administration that has thrived on secrecy and closed circle of advisors, it was marvelously refreshing.
The second thing was that I was deeply impressed with the sense in which he got tough questions and not once was he angered or flustered or provoked. He frequently would turn it around and ask three of four questions that would illustrate the division in his own turn of mind and would inevitably find something in agreement in which the exchange could end. I’ve seen a lot of public figures and most of them spend five or ten minutes talking to you and take a picture and leave. Senator Obama came at 1:30 and I remember looking at my watch and it was 5:30 and he showed no sign of inching toward the door. And there was no camera inside.
Was the Obama campaign involved in writing the book?
I was probably about halfway done with it when I had a conversation with the religious outreach director and they asked me if I’d seen these Catholic voter guides that seemed to be saying that Catholics could not support Obama. The guides suggested that if you were for someone who wasn’t for reversing Roe v. Wade, cross that person off your list. And that seemed to dovetail with things that were being written about me personally, saying that abortion and stem cell research and marriage were “non-negotiables.” I know the church gives primacy to the question of life, and understandably so–everything flows from it. But the church is clear that you could support a pro-choice candidate if one had proportionate reasons. The American bishops were very careful in their Call for Citizenship document about the importance of Catholics having a comprehensive understanding of their faith and how the language of the culture of life deals with all aspects of life. So it’s fundamentally concerned with how working people are treated. Are they treated as capital assets or as people whose work is entitled to dignity and respect and paid a fair wage. How the environment is treated…
Was the Obama campaign worried that the book might scare off Catholic voters because it would be seen as a challenge to the Catholic church?
[The Obama campaign] has a natural desire not to pick a fight–it’s not in the interest of any campaign to raise unnecessary disagreements. On the other hand, they weren’t at my shoulder as I was writing. As an academic, I wouldn’t have allowed them to… But they knew I had a great frustration with those who have called themselves pro-life and do nothing. I’ve grown frustrated with my own political party. We’ve had substantial majorities in the House and Senate and we’ve owned the White House for eight years and I’ve never seen anyone do anything on the Human Life Amendment [the constitutional amendment that would ban abortion]. And I became quite familiar with the undeniable information from the Centers for Disease Control and others that there is a positive correlation between poverty and the rate of abortion. If the economic circumstances of a woman in poverty is addressed directly there is a good chance she will make the right choice in choosing life.
Coupled with that is my personal experience. My wife and I have become increasingly involved in counseling women in college who are confronting an unwanted pregnancy. They come to us in confidence and are going to have an abortion because ‘I can’t talk to my parents–it would disappoint them’ and they are often in great anxiety. And together my wife and I are able to calm those anxieties and take them apart one at a time. I’ve seen how effective this is, if you can provide some tangible assurance that they can continue in school, if you help them find a job or temporary housing, if you can put them in touch with parishes that have resources that assist them with maternity needs, they choose life. Not every time, but most of the time. I began to look at the ledger and said, “I’ve asked the Supreme Court five times to overturn Roe, and each time they gave me the back of the hand. I’ve testified before Congress against the Freedom of Choice Act and in favor of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. I can’t count the times I’ve been before the Judiciary Committee and all of it pales in comparison with my wife’s and my experience.”
There’s a Catholic notion of subsidiarity: that the government’s role is to help the person make the right direction. It’s not the government’s role to come in and displace the person but to help the individual help themselves. And the person speaking that language is not John McCain–it’s Barack Obama. He was the one talking about prenatal care and funding for maternity leave and rebuilding the adoption process so it’s far less costly. The other side was not saying any of those things. Late in the day I hear, “Well of course [McCain’s] interested in that, too” but most of the conversation I hear on the other side is “until we get the law changed, we can’t do anything on the topic”. And the legal issue becomes like an iron curtain that falls in front of the social gospel, as if it cannot be touched until this flaw in the legal system is addressed.
But the pro-life movement has made incremental progress over the years: the Hyde amendment preventing federal funding for abortion, the “Mexico City policy” preventing U.S. funds supporting abortion abroad, the federal partial birth abortion ban, the appointment of conservatives like John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.
Sam Alito and John Roberts are the best part of what you mentioned. I am certain that the mistake that Roe represents–the invention of a right out of something that doesn’t exist, won’t occur on their watch. That said, I don’t know what those two will do with Roe if it’s asked to be considered again. I don’t think it’s 100-percent sure or even close to predictable that they would reverse the case because they are so committed to rule of law, to the principle of stare decisis. Both were careful in their confirmation proceedings not to make any commitment on that score. But they will not make the situation worse, and that is an incremental improvement. On the other issues, like the Hyde Amendment or use of federal funds abroad for purposes to contradict the ethic of life, that’s true. But it’s also longstanding, not attributable to this administration in any way.
What about the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003?
The Supreme Court decision in Gonzales [upholding the act in 2007] upheld the law on its face; it does not say anything about how the Court will consider the matter when it’s applied in a context in which there is a bona fide health need. That’s how Kennedy wrote the opinion. Yes, it’s an important development. But it’s one that people should not overstate. Another reason to be cautious is that the Virginia has passed a comparable partial birth limit and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has invalidated it… that decision will likely be petitioned to go en banc and then to the Supreme Court and at that point we’ll have a better view as to whether the court really made progress in Gonzales. I don’t mean to begrudge the achievement, but people say the Court banned the procedure, end of sentence. That’s not what they did. They upheld the law on its face while waiting for another day to decide whether it could be upheld on constitutional grounds.


Comments read comments(10)
post a comment
Douglas Johnson

posted September 24, 2008 at 6:55 am

The most striking thing about this interview, to my mind — and it has this in common with Doug Kmiec’s other recent discourses promoting Barack Obama — is how it completely avoids acknowledging the actual policy agenda to which Obama is firmly committed with respect to abortion.
Prof. Kmiec seems to work hard to leave the impression that Obama will merely preserve the legal status quo on abortion, while throwing some government assistance in the general direction of women who are experiencing crisis pregnancies. But the real Barack Obama is firmly committed to an agenda of hard-line pro-abortion policies that, if implemented, would greatly increase the numbers of abortions performed.
For example, by even the most conservative estimate, there are more than one million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment, which cut off federal funding for abortion starting in 1976. Some of them are probably turning out for the Obama “Faith, Family, Values Tour” meetings. Even the Alan Guttmacher Institute (linked to Planned Parenthood) and NARAL admit that the Hyde Amendment (and the similar policies adopted by many states) have resulted in many, many babies being born who otherwise would have been aborted — indeed, the pro-abortion groups periodically put out papers complaining about this.
So, the Hyde Amendment is a proven “abortion reduction” policy, big time. Yet Obama, of course, advocates repeal of the Hyde Amendment — and he also wants to enact a national health insurance program that would also mandate coverage of abortion on demand. (As a state legislator, he voted directly against limits on public funding of elective abortions.) If he were elected president and succeeded in implementing these policies, the likely result would be a very substantial increase in the number of abortions performed in the U.S., quite possibly an increase in the hundreds of thousands annually.
It should be noted that the Hyde Amendment must be renewed every year, because it is a “limitation amendment” on the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill. During some years, the Hyde Amendment was preserved only because Republican presidents threatened to veto, or did veto, HHS funding bills that did not extend the law. But renewal of the Hyde Amendment would be difficult if a president insisted that any funding bill that contained it would be vetoed.
Moreover, pro-life state laws — for example, women’s right to know laws, waiting periods, and parental notification laws — are saving countless lives, but Obama is a cosponsor of the so-called “Freedom of Choice Act” (S. 1173), which would invalidate virtually every federal and state limitation on abortion. Don’t take my word for it — read what Planned Parenthood said about it, here:
On July 17, 2007, Obama told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing that I’d do.”
More than half of the states have parental notification or consent laws in effect, which the Supreme Court has said are permitted under Roe v. Wade as long as they meet certain requirements, including availability of judges to authorize abortions without parental notification or consent. A recently released study by Michael New, Ph.D. , assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, found that laws requiring notification to or consent of at least one parent prior to a minor’s abortion have reduced the abortion rate among minors, in states that have enacted such laws, by approximately 13.6 percent on average (even though these laws have court-mandated judicial bypass provisions). In states that enact laws requiring the involvement of both parents, the in-state abortion rate among minors dropped by about 31 percent.
Obama has also voted directly against parental notification requirements twice, out of two opportunities, during his short time in the U.S. Senate.
Every one of these laws would be nullified by the “Freedom of Choice Act.”
For more information on the “Freedom of Choice Act,” I recommend study of Cardinal Justin Rigali’s September 19, 2008 letter to Congress about the bill, and the legal memo that accompanied it. They are here:
and here:
Prof. Kmiec refers in passing to a “Human Life Amendment” to the Constitution. It should be noted that the Constitution does not give a president any formal role whatever in the constitutional amendment process. (An amendment requires a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress, and ratification by at least 38 state legislatures, but not the president’s signature.) With respect to regular bills, however, such as the “Freedom of Choice Act,” the president’s hand holds great power: to veto the bill — thereby protecting hundreds of pro-life laws and saving countless human lives, which is what a President John McCain would do if the “Freedom of Choice Act” reaches his desk — or to sign the execution order, as Barack Obama has pledged to do.
Obama even advocates repeal of the national ban on partial-birth abortions, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2007 on a 5-4 vote — a ruling that Obama harshly criticized. Indeed, one of the major purposes of the “Freedom of Choice Act,” according to its prime sponsors, is the nullification of the ban on partial-birth abortions.
Obama’s “abortion reduction” spiel — which Prof. Kmiec regrettably has swallowed hook, line, and sinker — is a public relations product cooked up at liberal think tanks, mostly Third Way, where veteran pro-abortion activists specialize in developing strategies to help hard-core pro-abortion politicians camouflage their positions. The Third Way “Culture Program Director,” who is in charge of the “abortion reduction” messaging scam among other projects, was previously employed by the Health and Reproductive Rights group at the National Women’s Law Center, and before that, by Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, a major abortion provider.
Finally: some states currently receive federal grants that they pass on to crisis-pregnancy networks, to do the sort of important and admirable work that Prof. Kmiec describes. However, proposals to expand such government programs have faced great resistance from abortion advocacy groups and the abortion industry, which regularly trash the work of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). Indeed, the abortion lobby has pushed hard for legislative and regulatory measures to make it much more difficult for many such centers to even operate effectively. (So far, the pro-life side has been able to block federal versions of such anti-CPC legislation, but in some states CPCs are under siege from politicians allied with the abortion lobby.) During his entire political career, Barack Obama has never bucked the abortion lobby on anything (if you doubt that statement, I’ll send you some of things Obama said during his primary contest with Hillary Clinton.) Prof. Kmiec may think that an Obama presidency would be a boon for the work of crisis pregnancy centers, but I think that Prof. Kmiec would find himself bitterly disappointed.
Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life

report abuse


posted September 24, 2008 at 10:58 am

Kmiec may not know how Alito and Roberts may rule on abortion but he sure as heck knows how an Obama appointment will vote. Obama will set life issues back 50 years. Any Catholic who feels infected by his arguments should quickly visit CatholicVote.Com and watch thier video. It’s a sure cure if you let it into your heart.

report abuse


posted September 24, 2008 at 11:16 am

Mr. Johnson,
Kmiec has already made clear that his support of Obama is premised Obama’s positions on other social issues (and social welfare in general) and not simply on the issue of abortion. Because of the nature of forum which is conducting the interview the questions focus on that issue, so I suppose if you want a more comprehensive explanation of Kmiec’s support you should read his book.
But Kmiec is correct to focus on issues of social welfare, even in the context of the abortion debate. You deride Obama’s “abortion reduction” spiel, but articles such as this one ( make it quite clear that abortion is most prevalent among poorer women, and that boosting their socio-economic prospects is a highly effective means of reducing abortion. This is common sense, and your unwillingness to fact this fact (and in fact deride such studies as the output of “liberal think tanks”) and focus rather on the unending legislative and judicial struggle to outlaw abortion indicates that your staunch ideology prevents you from seeking a more practical and comprehensive solution to the issue of abortion.

report abuse

Douglas Johnson

posted September 24, 2008 at 2:58 pm

In my initial posting on this topic, my final paragraph touched on the likely hostility of an Obama administration to government support for the work of crisis pregnancy centers. After posting, I was reminded that the Obama campaign was asked directly about this subject on a questionnaire that was submitted to all the presidential candidates in late 2007 by, a pro-abortion activist website. Here is the question, and the answer from the Obama campaign:

[question] Does Sen. Obama support continuing federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers? Why or why not?
[answer] No.

The complete questionnaire and the Obama campaign responses (which includes other information that may be of interest to readers here) is found here:
Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee

report abuse

Dr Ed

posted September 24, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Here we go, another self-appointed spoke-person for the Catholic Church! How many Popes we have now? Pelosi, Biden, now Prof. Kmiec… I guess these are the ones who get to use the microphone.
But Dean or no Dean (with all due respect), it seems to me that Prof. Kmiec has not authority (moral or otherwise) to either speak for the Catholic Church or to explain Her teachings. That Authority resides with the Bishops of the Catholic Church only.
Maybe God-O-Meter would be interested in bringing someone with the required Authority to set the record straight? Hehehehe…Maybe a Bishop or two can place a phone call to Prof. Kmiec and set him straight too? (Is he Catholic?)
Meanwhile, for all of you Catholics and people interested in the truth (like me) here is some website I just came across…
If you are a Catholic it would be a good idea for you to visit that site… Or better, go to your Bishop or Pastor and ask the question to the one Christ appointed for teaching (according to your own Religion).
If you people insist I will end up learning a lot about the Catholic Church! That Church is turning out to be pretty avant-garde when it comes to defending the rights of the individuals (See Obama: we speak some French too!)

report abuse

Mike St. Clair

posted September 24, 2008 at 10:35 pm

I WAS a catholic… like George Carlin… until I reached the “age of reason”… I even attended seminarial school. BUT, since then, I’ve been able to give human consideration to all aspects of “life”, and have concluded that it begins when the child is born. Until then, “life” is at the mother’s discretion, and, if the mother’s life is in peril, it’s up to the medical team. This careful calculation of support for Barry Obama, is insightful, honest and very compelling. I applaud the deep insight that he gained by engaging Mr. Obama and his philosophy. Truly an awakening that should affect all who read it.
Please, convince more of the profound respect Mr. Obama has for all life.
thank you…

report abuse


posted September 25, 2008 at 8:32 am

Dr. Ed writes:

Here we go, another self-appointed spoke-person for the Catholic Church! How many Popes we have now? Pelosi, Biden, now Prof. Kmiec… I guess these are the ones who get to use the microphone.

GOM sees your point, but what about the self appointed spokespeople from the right that get a lot of attention, including The Catholic League: For Religious and Civil Rights, Fidelis, and the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast? They get a lot of press too, no? (Catholic League president Bill Donohue has been on Fox News Channel twice this week already.)
Aren’t these self-appointed spokespeople from left and right proof that the Catholic church holds positions that transcend the partisan divide? Issues that both benefit and hurt Democrats and Republicans.

report abuse


posted September 25, 2008 at 9:06 am

God-o-Meter: You’re correct that the mentioned groups have no authority on their own. The only authority that they may have is when they are citing church teaching which is very clear on abortion. It is obvious Kmiec is doing a end run around this teaching.
Mike St. Clair: I am curious, how did you arrive at birth being the moment that a child becomes “life”? BTW, Obama didn’t even vote to protect these children.

report abuse

Dr Ed

posted September 25, 2008 at 12:27 pm

I love this site, and I hope you don’t end up banning me.
I am honestly seeking a dialogue, but I am scientist and I think any meaningful dialogue must start by showing respect for the truth.
By some convoluted way of thinking, you just equated Catholics who express grossly un-Catholic views with Catholics who present us with views that are full accord with the teachings of the Church.
You can’t do that. You can’t do that because it is irrational: these people’s views either accurately reflect reality (i.e, in this case the Catholic Doctrine) or they don’t.
Truth and Untruth are not equivalent.
True knowledge can’t be achieved as if all answers were correct. We need correct knowledge to undertake correct decisions. I think –after what I just read- that you owe Catholics and non Catholics alike the opportunity to hear (read) what the Catholic Church teaches .
You gave the mic. to the Professor…I suggest you give the mic. to a Bishop of the Catholic Church.
I do not know how hard it is for GOM to get in touch with one of the Bishops, but you don’t really need to. You can just go ahead and post –say for instance- the article from the link I pasted below.
The article, which as you see comes from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops(USCCB), has very clear points for those interested in True Catholic Teachings. NONE of these points support the Professor’s explanations. The article states:
1) The Catholic Church’s constant teaching against abortion.
2) The Church recognizes that the obligation to protect unborn human life rests on the answer to two questions, neither of which is private or specifically religious.
a) The first is a biological question: When does a new human life begin? When is there a new living organism of the human species, distinct from mother and father and ready to develop and mature if given a nurturing environment? Today embryology textbooks confirm that a new human life begins at conception. The Catholic Church does not teach this as a matter of faith; it acknowledges it as a matter of objective fact.
b) The second is a moral question, with legal and political consequences: Which living members of the human species should be seen as having fundamental human rights, such as a right not to be killed? The Catholic Church’s answer is: Everybody. No human being should be treated as lacking human rights, and we have no business dividing humanity into those who are valuable enough to warrant protection and those who are not.
3) Protection of innocent human life is not an imposition of personal religious conviction but a demand of justice.
Again, I believe the article above has better chances of accurately representing the Bishops’ teachings than the whole book the professor wrote.
Two footnotes:
As some of your readers may have noticed, my position against abortion stems from the scientific facts about the human embryo (as demonstrated in current Developmental Biology). So, I do not need the teachings of the Catholic Church -or any other Church or Religion- to affirm that the Human Embryo is an individual of the Human Species.
I am one of those Americans who think that ALL individuals are equal. I ask: Are you?
Further to this, the heads of two major professional societies of anesthesiologists told us that babies surviving partial birth abortions are alive and fully capable of experiencing great pain during a partial-birth abortion.
Question: Do you think we should let these babies die a miserable death abandoned on some tray or in some hospital trash container?
You see, this is not about Religion or about denying a ’Women’s right to choose’, it is about affirming that we are all equal and that we do have a human heart.
These things are important to consider when casting your vote.

report abuse

Mere Catholic

posted September 26, 2008 at 10:53 pm

I find Dr. Kmiec’s personal narrative of his and his wife’s work with counseling young women facing crisis pregnancies very compelling. Indeed, one-on-one counseling can provide women with the same type of reassuring guidance that the Kmiecs have provided. Across the country are large networks of crisis pregnancy centers which have sought to do this on a community-wide basis. Most of them are non-sectarian and exist on shoe string budgets, largely culled from donations from churches and other houses of worship, and the generosity of volunteers who are pro-woman and pro-life. Almost all of them offer pre-natal help, including financial assistance, housing, clothing, baby items, etc. Some can even offer free medical care and assistance with child care post-partum. These are exactly the kind of community organizations that could be instrumental in abortion reduction and in giving women a true choice. But they are much maligned by the prochoice movement, and especially by the abortion industry. Why? Because they will not counsel anyone to get an abortion or refer for one. Why is Planned Parenthood not held to the same standard? Have they ever counseled against an abortion and provided women with resources to continue a pregnancy? So Sen. Obama’s answer to the following question posed by a pro-abortion blog (see is instructive to those who want to see if Sen. Obama shares Doug Kmiec’s vision on abortion reduction:
Does Sen. Obama support continuing federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers? Why or why not?
So, I’m not sure how Mr. Kmiec believes Sen. Obama embraces abortion reduction in any meaningful way. I really, truly wish I could share Mr. Kmeic’s deep trust in Sen. Obama. As a woman of color and someone with an inherent distate of the GOP, I find it heartening to see a black man at the top of a presidential ticket. His oratory is deeply inspiring and would he use it to speak out for life, we couldn’t ask for a more eloquent prolife advocate. But his legislative actions tell us otherwise. He is firmly planted in the radical pro-abortion wing of the Democratic party. Doug Kmiec is right to be disappointed in the GOP and their failures in not implementing a complete pro-life platform, but if remains the prolife advocate that many have known him to be, I fear he will find himself more disappointed by a Obama presidency.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

Closed for the Season
With Election Day finally having come and gone, God-o-Meter is closing up shop till 2012--or at least 2010. Till then, get your faith and politics fix over at Beliefnet editor-in-chief Steve Waldman's blog. 7 ...

posted 4:32:33pm Nov. 19, 2008 | read full post »

On The Religious Left, Great Expectations
The first priorities for Barack Obama's administration will be the economy and a variety of foreign policy issues. But the burgeoning religious left, which worked so hard to get Obama elected, expects some movement on its issues, including a ...

posted 1:49:31pm Nov. 07, 2008 | read full post »

Howard Dean's Vindication
God-o-Meter wrote a piece for today's Roll Call on the vindication of Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean's much-derided 50-State Strategy, which is largely about reaching out to the nation's more religious voters in the red ...

posted 2:01:06pm Nov. 06, 2008 | read full post »

A Post-Election Chat with Ralph Reed
Amid today's talk that Barack Obama has narrowed the God Gap, God-o-Meter checked in with Ralph Reed, who spearheaded religious outreach for George W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns and who pioneered such outreach for Republicans as executive ...

posted 3:09:07pm Nov. 05, 2008 | read full post »

More Innacurate Faith Storylines From the Media
God-o-Meter is struck by the number of faith-based storylines the news media appear to have gotten dead wrong this year. One was the line that Obama was poised to make big gains among white votes, especially evangelicals, who were undergoing a ...

posted 11:53:20am Nov. 05, 2008 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.