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THE 2008 ELECTIONS AND THE CULTURE OF LIFE IN THE UNITED STATES: Statement of William E. May

william_e_may.jpgThere have been and will for some time continue to be, here in Washington and all over the country, vastly different responses to the election of Barack Obama to the office of the President of the United States.  For America, the celebration over the election of our first African-American executive marks a long awaited hour in our nation’s history.  Apart from this, I wish I could join in because a person’s skin color is irrelevant to his or her ability to serve as our president. But with others I am experiencing something more akin to mourning than celebration. Obama made his way to the presidency in part by hewing closely to the agenda of our nation’s most extreme abortion advocates. Working closely with them, he refused to ban the killing of infants “born-alive” after “botched” abortions. He raised funds on promises to preserve the legality of partial-birth homicide, and he promised if elected to sign a law wiping out virtually every small constraint on abortion that the pro-life community has managed to pass democratically for the last 35 years. Already, he is promising to undo via quick executive orders all that prior presidents have done to protect human lives during their embryonic stage.

These contradictory responses to his election are well symbolized by Obama supporters’ invocation of the spirit of Martin Luther King at the Democratic National Convention in Denver at the same time that King’s niece, Alveda King, was leading a pro-life demonstration in the same city.

Obama’s administration seems prepared to strengthen the “culture of death” mentality that has unfortunately won the support of so many in our country, as abortion, euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide, human embryonic stem cell research and other issues testify. In fact, on Election Day, voters in the State of Washington, like the citizens of Oregon, voted to legalize assisted suicide. Obama’s administration—and the Democratic majority in Congress–will also in my opinion further erode respect for marriage, understood as the life-long union of a man and a woman, giving equal moral status and legal recognition to “domestic partnerships” and the “civil unions” or “marriages” of persons of the same sex. I think it is also likely that programs advocating abstinence as the proper and best way to cope with teenage pregnancy will not be supported by the incoming administration and Congress.

Many recognize that the election signals a dramatic challenge to the “culture of life” and a victory for the “culture of death”. Several pro-life groups have already voiced their concern, for example, the Family Research Council, Americans United for Life, the National Right to Life Committee, and similar organization.

In addition, the most recent issue (8 Nov. 2008) of BioEdge [1] , an important international bioethics newsletter published in Australia, had this to say: “The electoral tidal wave which swept Democrat Barack Obama into the White House and Democrat majorities into the Senate and the House of Representatives could reshape the bioethical landscape in the United States. The most obvious issue is abortion. Mr Obama is a strong supporter of a woman’s right to abortion….In 2007, as both sides of the abortion divide remember well, Obama promised Planned Parenthood that ‘the first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act’ (FOCA). This act has been kicking around Congress since 2004, but Obama became a co-sponsor of the Senate version in 2007. The purpose of FOCA is to codify Roe v. Wade, invalidating every restriction on abortion at least up to the stage of viability.” BioEdge noted other areas where adversaries of the “culture of life” can anticipate strong support from Obama and a Congress controlled by Democrats: legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, government funding of embryonic stem cell research, genetic and eugenic engineering (for the full report see http://www.bioedge.org [1] /). And Arthur Caplan, a highly influential secular bioethicist at the University of Minnesota, noted in an interview on MSNBC that opponents of Roe bv.Wade, human embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia/assisted suicide and similar issues were soundly defeated in the recent election (see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27577306/ [2] ). Noting that “the 2008 election will be remembered not only for Obama becoming the first African-American president, but also for its impact on core bioethical topics that have long dominated American domestic politics,” Caplan expressed confidence that battles over such issues as abortion and human embryonic stem cell research were coming to and end (with advocates for both on the winning side) and that the future would usher in new victories for euthanasia/assisted suicide and similar issues.

There is much that all of us who seek to make our society one in which the culture of life can flourish can do. It seems to me that major secular media, along with some widely influential academics and a sizable contingent of those responsible for prime-time t.v. sitcoms and highly ballyhooed cinemas have done much to make elements of the culture of death seem attractive. But the truth is on our side, and I am convinced that many superb arguments have been developed by some of the best contemporary minds to show why such deeds and practices as abortion, euthanasia, the new “reproductive technologies,” and similar components of the culture of death are bad for both individuals and the common good. But these arguments are frequently not well understood, and  many very good people in our society have been misled by clever propaganda, half truths, cleverly devised opinion polls, etc.to such an extent that people find it difficult to keep their minds receptive to the crucial questions of human existence at the heart of the debate over a culture of life vs. a culture of death. The “meanings” of human existence mediated to many by the media and other channels of information today are unfortunately not true. I call all this a “disabling factor” preventing people from hearing the truth. We need, with the help of God’s grace, to become “enabling factors” helping people to hear the truth by developing new kinds of arguments to unmask false meanings and mediate true ones.

For instance today there is a lot of talk about human “rights.” We talk about the unborn child’s “right” to life, while abortion advocates stress the woman’s “right” to control her reproductive life. It seems to me that all this talk about “rights” ignores the distinction between a “liberty” or “liberty” right and a “right” in the strict sense. John Finnis provides a superb discussion of this difference in his chapter on rights in his great book Natural Law and Natural Rights. I urge all of us to read this chapter. I intend to make  good use of it in some articles on euthanasia or abortion in the future.

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Copyright 2008 Culture of Life Foundation.  Further publication granted, atribution required.