The question I have been hoping some interviewer would ask a "personally opposed to abortion but" politician was almost asked on Sunday, May 13th. Almost. Chris Wallace backed off in an interview with Rudolph Giuliani on Fox News when things started to get really interesting. I would have preferred that it was someone other than Giuliani who was hit with the question. I'll likely vote for him, in spite of his views on abortion, if he runs against Mrs. Clinton. But Rudy deserves some embarrassment. He has been bobbing and weaving like Sugar Ray Robinson on this issue.
What question am I talking about? A simple one: "Why?" "Why are you personally opposed to abortion?" The "personally opposed" crowd never gets asked that. They all tell us they want to respect the "freedom of conscience" of those on the side. But they are never asked to define their side. The reason why you are opposed to abortion is central to this debate.
Giuliani told Wallace that he thinks abortion is "morally wrong," that he "hates the idea of abortion," and that he would tell anyone considering an abortion "not to have it," but to consider the "adoption option" instead. (Even though, when he was running for office in New York City, he used to say that he would pay for his daughter's abortion if she wanted one.) Yet he argues "that in a country like ours, where people of good faith, people who are equally decent, equally moral, and equally religious, where they come to different conclusions about this, … I believe you have to respect their viewpoint. … I would grant women the right to make that choice" to have an abortion.
This is where Wallace tried to get down to brass tacks. And for good reason. The "personally opposed but" position is illogical. Wallace noted that Giuliani has taken this "personally opposed but" position for decades now. What he wanted to know was something else. What he wanted to know was exactly why Giuliani was "personally opposed" to abortion.
I can't read Wallace's mind, but I think I know what he was getting at. There is only one reason to oppose abortion: a conviction that it is the taking of a human life. If that is not what happens during the "procedure," why put demands on a woman who would prefer to end her pregnancy? For whatever reason. If "fetal tissue" is largely indistinguishable from a cyst there is no moral dimension involved in cutting it from a woman's body.
My hunch is that Wallace was trying to get Giuliani to say on the record that the reason why he thinks abortion "morally wrong" and why he "hates it" is that it involves the killing of an unborn child. And, after that, hit him with the obvious follow up question: "Mr. Giuliani, if you think that that is what takes place during an abortion, how can you possibly say that you favor laws that permit your fellow citizens to proceed with the killing."
Dum-de-dum-dum. Some simple analogies underscore the point. What would Giuliani say to someone who tells us he is "personally opposed" to slavery, but does not want to interfere with the rights of the "decent" and "moral" people who think otherwise and want to keep a slave or two? To someone personally opposed to wife beating and female circumcision, but who does not want to use the force of law to limit the rights of those "equally religious" people from cultural backgrounds where these practices are considered acceptable?
We could go on. There are "nice" people with advanced degrees who argue for legalized narcotics and prostitution. Some very genteel members of NAMBLA, bow ties and all, think it moral for men to have sex with young boys. Giuliani sees nothing wrong with laws that interfere with their freedom of conscience. Back when Giuliani was a federal prosecutor, he was willing to handcuff and frog walk people from Wall Street to enforce laws against securities fraud. He was willing to send Leona Helmsley to jail for underpaying her taxes. I'm perfectly serious: I have an easier time seeing how someone could make the case for what Leona Helmsley did on her tax returns or for insider trading than for aborting a child.
Giuliani must have sensed what Wallace had in mind. He didn't answer the question. Instead, he filled the air with the usual boilerplate about respecting the freedom of conscience of those who come to moral conclusions different from his own. Wallace tried to get him back on topic by repeating the question: "But what is it about abortion that makes you so personally opposed to it?" No soap. Giuliani slipped the punch and went back to his mantra about the diversity of opinion.
So Wallace moved on to another topic. There is nothing surprising about that. The hosts on these talk shows usually do not press on when a guest makes it clear he is not going to answer a question. They can't grab the guest by the collar and shake him until he agrees to answer. The guest is a guest. My guess is that the hosts think that they've done their job when they make it obvious to the audience that the guest is dodging the question. Which Giuliani was.
I repeat: I can envision a scenario where I will vote for Giuliani. What he is doing is no worse than what Catholic Democratic politicians such as Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Mario Cuomo and Christ Dodd do on a routine basis. (I'd love to see Nancy Pelosi, who calls herself an "Italian Catholic grandmother," explaining why she opposes killing an unborn child, but does not want her neighbor to be restricted from doing so.) But it is no better, except to the extent that Giuliani's commitment to appoint strict constructionist judges may serve the cause of overturning Roe v. Wade.
Nonetheless, we have to call a spade a spade. Whatever one thinks of Giuliani on the other issues, he is not trying to take a moral or philosophically sound position on abortion. What we are witnessing is a "pro-choice" politician — who, along with his wife, has contributed generously to Planned Parenthood — trying to win the nomination of a political party with a substantial number of pro-life members. Hence the smoke and mirrors.
Catholic voters have an obligation to factor in the likelihood that a politician is saying things about abortion for no reason other than to win their votes. That includes "pro-choice" voters who trot out their assurances about how they are "personally opposed" to abortion. And also "pro-life" candidates who have no intention of doing a thing about abortion once they are elected. Sorry, folks. There are two or three "pro-life" Republicans running for the presidency who strike me as never spending a moment thinking about abortion, except when their advisors illustrate to them to importance of the Catholic vote.
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