How do you create a true “Culture of Life”?

Here are some possible answers, and some food for thought–or debate.
One comes from Thomas Reese, Jesuit priest and political scientist, writing at the WaPo’s “On Faith” blog on “Abortion: Rhetoric or Results?” Reese has the best roundup I’ve seen on studies of what works–or doesn’t–in effecting change on abortion rates. He starts with the recent Pew Forum surveys showing opinions on abortion have remained relatively stable since 1995, with support for keeping abortion legal in all or most cases has fluctuating between 49% and 61% while support for making abortion illegal in all or most cases has fluctuated between 36% and 48%. Currently the numbers are 54% for keeping it legal; 41% for making it illegal. As Reese says, “Neither side is convincing the other.” So how is a “culture of life” created?
A second insight comes from Dan Gilgoff’s God-o-Meter interview with for Reagan/Bush official and pro-lifer, Doug Kmiec, who has been much in the news, here and elsewhere. In the interview, Kmiec talks about his rationale for supporting Obama. But two things struck me in particular, and they are of a personal (perhaps personalist) nature. One was Kmiec’s reaction at a sit-down between Obama and religious leaders in Chicago last year. Obama’s characteristic openness and graciousness made an impression–and beyond simply coming off as a “nice guy,” he offers a way forward by the example of his own approach.


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.


Obama has continued to go “into the lion’s den,” engaging his would-be opponents on their own turf–think of the Saddleback Forum–something McCain seems loathe to do.
The second element of the interview is the effect of Kmiec’s personal involvement in helping pregnant women considering an abortion:

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.

Powerful testimony to a “culture of life” that too often gets lip service.

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Douglas Johnson

posted September 24, 2008 at 10:54 am

Your suggestion that Senator McCain is “loathe” to go “into the lion’s den” makes me think that you must have missed McCain’s September 12 appearance on ABC’s “The View,” roasted, I mean hosted, by Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, et al.
As for Senator Obama, he certainly wasn’t in the “lion’s den” on July 17, 2007, when he made his too-little-viewed speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. It was enthusiastically received at this gathering of the lobbying/political arm of the nation’s largest abortion provider. That is the occasion on which Obama said, “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing I’d do.” He also promised to make elective abortion part of his national health plan.
With respect to the new interview with Douglas Kmiec, from which you quote, the most striking thing to me — and it has this in common with Kmiec’s other recent discourses promoting Obama — is how Kmiec completely avoids acknowledging the actual policy agenda to which Obama is firmly committed with respect to abortion. 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.
Unfortunately, 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:
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,” of which Obama is a cosponsor, and which, as noted above, he has declared to be a top priority.
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:
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. (A constitutional 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

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Steven Ertelt

posted September 24, 2008 at 1:17 pm

A few things here… you sure don’t create a culture of life by electing Barack Obama — who would sign a bill overturning every pro-life law in the US and cause 125,000 more abortions a year! (
Kmiec may personally oppose abortion but everything he is doing is undone by electing someone who will keep virtually all abortions legal for another 35 years throughout pregnancy and paid for with our taxpayer dollars.
If Kmiec is okay with another 50 million abortions, Obama is his man. If he is serious about a culture of life, McCain is his guy.
And the Pew poll doesn’t accurately measure public opinion on abortion because it assumes the public knows when most abortions are done. Some people wrongly think most abrotions are done for rape.incest reasons (it’s 1 percent according to Planned Parenthood) and so they wrongly say they want most abortions to remain legal (even though they really oppose the 98 percent that are done for social reasons).
CBS News had a better poll actually breaking down when and why abortions are done and showing a 54-42 split pro-life vs. pro-abortion. (

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Douglas Johnson

posted September 25, 2008 at 5:21 am

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 prominent 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) is found here:
Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee

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Mark Edwards

posted September 25, 2008 at 10:37 am

Mr. Kmiec appears to be the bloggers’ favorite on various sites of a Republican Catholic who is in favor of Obama and opposed to McCain. That Mr. Obama is charismatic, and willing to spend time advocating his position when his position is to support and further abortion rights fails to impress this independent Catholic voter.
Mr. Kmiec does appear to hit one key issue, that too many people think the issue is one or the other. Pro-abortion rights advocates say, “Let’s inflate government throughout the bureaucracy to reduce abortions, but do not touch in any way the legal issues around abortion,” while too many pro-life advocates say only to repeal Roe v. Wade with little support for women and families who choose to go forward with a pregnancy. There is no reason that both cannot occur, a criminalization of abortion while increasing supports for pregnant women and newborns. Similar to rescuing drowning swimmers, the lifeguard needs to save who they can now. But a sane lifeguard and policy does not tell swimmers on the beach to go ahead and jump in at the same time as they are trying to rescue others.

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Payday Loan Advocate

posted September 29, 2008 at 4:29 am

America and Capitalism are both based on the freedom of choice. We as Americans and Capitalists should have the financial freedom to choose how we use our money, and we should be able to choose where we get a loan. The fact that certain states are banning a financial resource such as the payday loan industry is ridiculous. These states are taking away the availability of a loan to those who need money quickly, who don’t have the credit to attain one from a bank, who only need a few hundred dollars loaned instead of thousands. Don’t let the legislation take away your financial freedom and vote for your rights as an American citizen.
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