“Above My Pay Grade”

We were recently treated to the remark by Barack Obama that the question of when a baby receives human rights was beyond his pay grade. At the public forum at Saddleback Church, he said: “… whether you’re looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity … is above my pay grade.”

That, of course, is exactly what the Supreme Court said in Roe vs. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion in American throughout all nine months of pregnancy. Faced with a question it found too uncomfortable, the majority said the following:

We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer” [410 U.S. 113, 159].

So what are we to think of those who speak this way? Is it vice or virtue? Do they display a careful effort not to play God, or a cowardly unwillingness to assert the rights of their fellow human beings?

Some say that the government should not be involved in the personal, private decision of abortion. They don’t know how right they are. The government got “too involved” in the abortion decision when it legalized it. Despite its profession of ignorance about whether what is aborted is in fact a human life that has already begun, the Court nevertheless declared, “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn” [410 U.S. 113, 158]. What part of the pay grade of government is the right to define the boundaries of human rights or the limits of protection for the human family? Since when does the government get involved in deciding who qualifies for human rights?

Claiming ignorance about who has human rights is a frightening abandonment of responsibility. Some may think it’s an effort not to “play God,” but it is actually just the opposite: the claim to be God. We may claim not to decide, but in practice, we cannot escape deciding: either every human being will be protected, or we will start deciding whom to exclude.

This gives rise to two thoughts, one from common sense and one from Scripture. Common sense tells us that if someone is hunting and doesn’t know whether what’s moving behind the bush is a bear or a man, he should refrain from shooting until he is sure. Doubt, in other words, leads to an abundance of caution, not an abandonment of it.

Scripture, moreover, tells us that the man who committed the first murder claimed ignorance about the one he had killed. “Where is your brother?” God asked Cain. “I don’t know” was his answer. It was a lie, and it doesn’t allow either Cain or the Supreme Court or anyone else to escape their responsibility to protect their vulnerable brothers and sisters.

Fr. Frank Pavone


Father Frank A. Pavone is an American Roman Catholic priest and pro-life activist. He is the National Director of Priests for Life and serves as the Chairman and Pastoral Director of Rachel's Vineyard.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Claire

    I wonder how Obama would feel if someone said that the issue of whether blacks deserve equal rights is above his pay grade?

  • Grace Harman

    The government hasn’t the right to deny life -or personhood- to any group. GOD gives us our right to life -not the government. That is why Roe Vs. Wade is so wrong. They even acknowleged that they did not know “when life begins”- even though science says that a new being starts immediately at fertilization.
    Like Nancy Pelosi, they confuse man’s incomplete and flawed knowlege with what GOD and the Church have taught consistantly – “you shall not kill”.


    This week’s activites at the DNC, just amplify that the Democrat Party continues to lead and promote what the great JPII called the culture of death.Not only have all their candidates and leading party figures called for abortion rights and homosexual marriage, they have once agin institutionalized these within their party platform planks. This means the Democrat Party as an institution supports abortion on demand and the right for sam sex couple to be married. This is in direct opposition to the teaching of the Church and I fail to see how any member of the Church could vote for a Democrat. I honestly don’t know how a Catholic politican could remain a Denocrat given the party’s planks.

    I hope that McCain makes a strong pro-life choice for his VP pick (like Gov. Palin of Alaska). But already, the Republican Party from the Catholic perspective is clearly in line with the Church’s teaching since it’s party platform are once agin expected to be opposed to abortion and same sex marriage. While I think the choice for Catholics is clear, maybe more of our bishops and priests should come out publically to edcuate and remind the flock of the distinct difference between the two parties inrealtion to fundamental Church teaching on the Life issues.

  • gk

    I am glad that the Supreme Court does not want to play God. It is a bummer though, that human beings look to the Supreme Court as a form of morality beyond just simple laws.

    Hanging one’s hat on the hook of the Supreme Court when making a moral decision is a reason to pray for all those poor women who face a “decision” when they concieve.

  • dennisofraleigh

    “…the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer…”

    Whaaa?? Give me a break! I have a little paperback book published in 1966 (Obama was a 5-year old kid then) with photos of unborn babies taken with (what was by todays standards) “primitive” photographic methods that show in great detail that the form inside the mother’s womb is a living BABY!! And the accompanying narrative speaks in great detail about how the baby reacts to noise & other stimuli. The Court was clearly lying when it alleged the deficiency of “man’s knowledge” about such matters.

    Strange terribly ironic, on the other hand, that the same august body, the US Supreme Court, can, with a legal microlaser split the hairs on determining what is/is not “cruel and unusual punishment” when it comes to capital punishment issues, but when it comes to the matter of determining whether the live dismembering of a 25 week-old unborn baby is anything resembling “cruel and unusual,” that question is apparently “above [their] pay grade” also.
    From: Saint Augustine of Hippo
    To: Rep. Nancy Pelosi

    Roma locuta est, causa finita.

  • Kenneth Jones

    My mother was a Democrat. Father was a Republican. Every few Novembers it got to be really noisy around my home. Sadly, neither are alive today. Sadly, neither party remains as it was several decades ago. Father knew that he was indeed his brother’s keeper. My mother wanted us, as a society, to do what was right for all of us; a long time ago, the Democrats had that concept down pat. No more. These days even she would vote Republican. So, of course, will I.
    My father used to say, “When in doubt, vote “No” and Republican.” Hah! Perhaps life never was that simple. But this issue of life is surely clear to see. All other issues, everything else, becomes secondary. Form your conscience and vote it.

  • noelfitz

    I think the Democrats are trying to turn to Catholics for support, which was shown by the contributions of Biden, Kerry and Casey at the Convention in Denver.

    It is important that Catholics do not give up on the Democrats completely. We are all sinners, none of us is perfect.

  • Richard Bell


    The problem with your implied suggestion (to vote democrat, anyways)is that the only way to make the Democrat party come round to catholic values is to force them to acknowledge that going against catholic values costs them elections.

    If McCain has the leap of faith to pick a prolife running mate and talks a clear prolife message, and wins despite all of the blandishments heaped on Obama by the MSM, then, and only then, will the Democrat party realise ‘its the values, stupid’.

    Until abortion obviously makes them lose, they will continue to use it as a plank in their platform.

  • Andrew James

    “Until abortion obviously makes them lose, they will continue to use it as a plank in their platform”

    EXACTLY. And then we will see the flip flops come out of the closet once again.

  • noelfitz


    You wrote:

    If McCain has the leap of faith to pick a prolife running mate and talks a clear prolife message, and wins despite all of the blandishments heaped on Obama by the MSM, then, and only then, will the Democrat party realise ‘its the values, stupid’.

    In picking Sarah Palin, McCain may have had the Leap of Faith you suggest.

    God bless,

  • Grace Harman

    Sarah Pilin is a great pro-life choice. Now we need to pray and vote for them!!

  • ekbell

    That ruling about persons always reminds me of this…

    “in 1928 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that when the BNA Act was written in 1867, the term “person” was not meant to include women, but only men” thus interpreting the act in terms of their prejudices.

    Later due to the valiant work of five women the ruling was overturned and women were recognized as persons.

    We now need to fight for the recognition that judges ahve and are again
    interpreting law in terms of their own prejudices.