Abortion, Augustine and…Nancy Pelosi?

Nancy Pelosi.jpgAnd Aristotle, Aquinas, Archbishop Chaput and various Bishops, and Brokaw…All weigh in on the House Speaker’s response to Brokaw on Sunday morning’s “Meet the Press” (scroll to the end) in which he raised–yet again–the age-old question, “When does life begin?”

Pelosi’s response did not, to say the least, do justice to the Catholic tradition:

MR. BROKAW:  Senator Obama saying the question of when life begins is above his pay grade, whether you’re looking at it scientifically or theologically. If he were to come to you and say, “Help me out here, Madame Speaker.  When does life begin?” what would you tell him?


Augustine.jpgREP. PELOSI:  I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time.  And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition.  And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months.  We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.  Roe v. Wade talks about very clear definitions of when the child–first trimester, certain considerations; second trimester; not so third trimester.  There’s very clear distinctions.  This isn’t about abortion on demand, it’s about a careful, careful consideration of all factors and–to–that a woman has to make with her doctor and her god.  And so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins.  As I say, the Catholic Church for centuries has been discussing this, and there are those who’ve decided…


MR. BROKAW:  The Catholic Church at the moment feels very strongly that it…

REP. PELOSI:  I understand that.

MR. BROKAW:  …begins at the point of conception.

REP. PELOSI:  I understand.  And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that.  So again, over the history of the church, this is an issue of controversy.

Brokaw was taking up what Rick Warren began at Saddleback, when he asked Obama and McCain that question–though without exploring the lameness (Obama’s “above my pay grade”) or inconsistency (McCain’s “stem cell research is okay”) of those answers. On the one hand, it is good to see Augustine, as well as Aristotle before him and Aquinas after him, among others, being discussed in the public square. Very Catholic, we must admit. But  “Meet the Press” doesn’t seem like the most enlightening forum for such an issue. Wouldn’t the discussion more proper to that venue be about public policy on abortion?  


Pelosi’s response earned the first and sharpest retort from Denver’s Archbishop Chaput, whose statement one commenter likened to “an attack ad.” Maybe not quite, but he’s doughty, as ever: “Catholics who make excuses for [abortion–whether they’re famous or not–fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith.


The U.S. bishops’ Pro-Life and Doctrinal committee heads responded here, and Washington’s Archbishop Donald Wuerl also weighed in with a measured statement that included this paragraph:

We respect the right of elected officials such as Speaker Pelosi to address matters of public policy that are before them, but the interpretation of Catholic faith has rightfully been entrusted to the Catholic bishops. Given this responsibility to teach, it is important to make this correction for the record.

As regards public policy, it is interesting that the final part of Pelosi’s answer has received less notice, and no response (that I’ve seen) from church authorities:


REP. PELOSI: … But it is, it is also true that God has given us, each of us, a free will and a responsibility to answer for our actions. And we want abortions to be safe, rare, and reduce the number of abortions. That’s why we have this fight in Congress over contraception.  My Republican colleagues do not support contraception. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, and we all do, we must–it would behoove you to support family planning and, and contraception, you would think. But that is not the case. So we have to take–you know, we have to handle this as respectfully–this is sacred ground. We have to handle it very respectfully and not politicize it, as it has been–and I’m not saying Rick Warren did, because I don’t think he did, but others will try to.


The best discussion I’ve seen so far, and by far, is over at dotCommonweal, where several pros weigh in with thoughtful exchanges. Check it out here.

All in all, the Pelosi-Brokaw-Bishops exchange illustrates once again not only the difficulty in linking religious precepts with public policy, but also the difficulty in being a Catholic in public life. With Biden on the ticket, it seems likely this debate will continue. Will it scare McCain away from choosing a Catholic veep?   


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posted August 26, 2008 at 12:56 pm

The speaker may want to check out the Cathechism and get her facts straight. From the Cathechism of the Catholic Church:
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.
From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.71
2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.
This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable.
Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.74
God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves.
Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.75
2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense.
The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life.”

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Charles Cosimano

posted August 26, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Being excommunicated would be the best thing that could happen to Nancy Pelosi. She would be freed from having to go through those embarrassing gyrations, be able to wrap herself in the cloak of political martyrdom and be insured of the overwhelming support of her constituents, who, in end, are the only people who really matter in all this as folks in Congress only need to keep their voters happy and can cheerfully ignore everyone else.

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Rick Hitchcock

posted August 27, 2008 at 9:16 am

Can a person or a party that simply has no regard for human life be trusted in any facet of our lives? The re-writting of morality and life issues that are contrary to my basic beliefs seem to go hand in hand with alot of other changes. I’ve been looking at and studying looking at and trying to understand the constitution of the United States of America’s there is no mention of the state superceeding Christianity or ,in any of the copy’s I have read does it say that the founding fathers work is open to interpetation? Founded by Christians useing the Ten Commandments as the basis for our rule of law can’t mean that these gentleman can be sued by the ACLU today can it? The only reason for the gross and unimaginabe misinterpetations has to be personal agenda’s! I pray that the Lord our God will help the misguided find his truth and if not he will dispence with the lotto protect all of his children. God has done alot of dispencing as I read the first testament I pray he will continue to do so.

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posted August 27, 2008 at 12:18 pm

“Can a person or a party that simply has no regard for human life be trusted in any facet of our lives?”
That’s an excellent question, and it’s the question that drives a lot of people to register Republican (myself included). It always amazes me how the Left never gets the point, though. But I guess that comes down to the simple fact that most liberals are like Obama and Pelosi and don’t feel like they can answer the question about when life begins.
The kicker is, that as professed Christians, they really should know.

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posted August 29, 2008 at 8:17 am

I commend Archbishops Chaput and Wuerl. Too bad all bishops and priests won’t stand up and denounce so called Catholics that want to be part of the church but won’t follow the tenets of the faith. I have been in touch with my bishop and the reply was, “there are publications discussing our responsibilities as Catholic voters available to each parish.” The people that should read them won’t.
Like my friend says, “if you don’t want to follow the teachings, go be something other than Catholic.”

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J R Dittbrenner

posted September 4, 2008 at 11:22 am

Mdediphysical discussions are fun, but not necessarly factual in content. When the sperm enters the egg cell that is an act of conception. Untill it attaches itself to the interutern wall it can not surive and will be flushed away. This is not in the realm of the mother’s control. You have an abortion of this zygote-the union of two gametes; who governs the human body’s life-you choose.
Sincerely, J R Dittbrnr

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J R Dittbrenner

posted September 4, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Dear Mr. Hitchcook:
The first treaty signed by the US was with the Babary Pirates-Tripoli. In it Mr. T. Jefferson stated that the United States was not a Christian nation. That treaty is counted as law of the land and intergal to the Constitution.
Sincerely, J R Dittbrenner

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