Center for Ethics and Leadership

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Carl Anderson, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden

A couple of shots have been fired back and forth, culminating in Knights of Columbus President Carl Anderson's open letter to Joe Biden last week, which was published as a full-page ad in several newspapers.

Basically, Pelosi and Biden have picked up the argument made by some Catholic scholars that the Christian church's teaching against abortion was not consistent through the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. Consequently, there is room to maneuver in Catholic teaching.

After Pelosi said it, the Catholic bishops quickly disagreed. Biden made the statement on Meet the Press about two weeks ago, and Anderson responded.

There are problems with all three arguments. Biden and Pelosi first since they are the easiest to dispose of. As Anderson writes, the early and medieval church was consistently opposed to abortion. The arguments may have changed over the centuries, but the position did not.

Anderson is more difficult. Biden is wrong about the history of Christian teaching on abortion, but the substance of his position defends religious pluralism, which the Vatican, contending that the issue can be proved by reason and thus should appeal to all people regardless of faith, rejected as the relevant question in this matter in its official statement more than 30 years ago. Unfortunately, Americans of all faiths have not been persuaded as a philosophical matter that the fetus has the full moral status of a human being and may not be killed. That is not as complicated a philosophical argument as it may appear; however, the best recent work has been done by scientists and thinkers at Baylor, which is Baptist, and Princeton. John Kavanaugh, S.J. whom I often cite in my blog, has tried both to make the philosophical case and also suggested political compromise.

There is also irony in Anderson's appeal to Aquinas' limited knowledge of biology, which led the great thinker to postulate that fetuses were not human until several weeks into pregnancy. Those theologians who have argued that the Church's teaching on birth control depends on medieval biology have been roundly criticized.

Anderson also appeals to the argument that slaves in the U.S. were not treated as fully human which shows that both society and the courts can be wrong. Fair enough, but slaves were humans that had already been born. Those who deny moral status to the fetus are clear that they are talking about an unborn and not fully formed human being. That returns us to the genetic and embryological arguments previously referred to.

Anderson also writes that Biden's unflinching support of Roe v. Wade implies his "endorsement" of late term abortion. This ad hominem imputation of motive is an insult not an argument.


  • Everything you stated is important to the philosophical and theological arguments regarding abortion, but do you wonder what these people really think? I often wonder if politicians are actually sharing their actual views or simply what they feel their party members want to hear. Do you think anyone in politics is actually telling the truth about their feelings regarding abortion, or are they just using abortion as yet another issue on a political ticket to receive votes and get elected?

    By Anonymous HLK, At October 4, 2008 1:53 PM  

  • While arguing that the knowledge of those living in medieval times are responsible for the light of knowledge they had, we must recognize that we,too, are responsible for the light that science has given us. Our knowledge of the combining of DNA from a male and a female makes us responsible for the new synthesis of life that occurs when egg and sperm engage. Many who argue for abortion on demand are doing so from the viewpoint of those who use the procedure as post-coital birth control. The question of abortion pro or con cannot be discussed without a full airing of the reason for the action that results in putting to death a preborn human.

    By Blogger Jerry Thacker, At October 6, 2008 6:39 PM  

  • Politicians are gonna say what they think people want to hear in general. All said and done though... abortion is not right and i have a hard seeing why people seem to think otherwise.

    By Anonymous rap music, At November 19, 2008 3:29 AM  

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