Fair Questions: Did Tim Kaine discard his beliefs about abortion to gain power?

There have been quite a few people in the Catholic segment of the blogosphere upset about Tim Kaine’s recent position on abortion.  In an op-ed published by CNN, Carter Snead points out that Kaine has recently changed his position on abortion.  The policies previously advocated by Kaine were essentially of the “safe, legal, and rare” variety of abortion policies that don’t try to overturn Rose V. Wade while they do try to reduce the overall amount of baby-killing.

Now, he has taken a stand in line with the Clinton campaign and is for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment along with co-sponsoring a bill to nullify any other legal restrictions on funding for, regulation of, or access to abortion.  Kaine is smart enough to know, and his friends in the Democratic Party smart enough to tell him, that the general consensus of the party has shifted on abortion…in the direction of loosening any restrictions on it.

Now, it’s certainly possible that Kaine is conveniently changing his position on the issue because the consensus of the Democratic Party has changed and he wants to be in line with the party as their Vice Presidential candidate.  It’s also possible that his current position was the position he held all along, and he was finally able to put himself in a political position in which it made sense to reveal his genuine policy beliefs.

Given that Kaine has stated that his progressive political ideology stemmed from his exposure to the Jesuits, and given his being of a particular progressive age, it would not surprise me at all if he had been in favor of loosening all restrictions on abortion for a long time.  That said, his argument that he is personally opposed to abortion but in favor of keeping it legal may not be dishonest.

It is definitely rationally incoherent, as Snead pointed out.  But as someone who used to make that same argument Kaine is making (along with almost half of the American electorate), I’m aware that the folks who make that argument are generally making it in good faith.  It’s not that they’re being cynical; they truly believe that even though they would never personally choose an abortion, the government’s role isn’t to intervene in such a complex moral dilemma.

Sure, I used motivated reasoning to reach my policy prescription of keeping abortion legal (and on such an emotionally-charged issue it’s difficult to avoid motivated reasoning), but my bad reasoning did not come from having bad intentions or a desire to gain political power.  Just as I truly believed it, the current crop of Pro-choice activists truly believe that the most compassionate thing we can do for women is to make abortion readily available and as comfortable as possible.

I don’t know that there is any way we can determine whether Tim Kaine is finally putting forward the policies that have matches his views all along or finally setting his personal views aside for political gain.  It could well be either one.  I just hope that he comes to a point at which he can stand firm on his actual principles, whatever those are.  Personal integrity is too important to sacrifice for something as small as temporary political power and great book deals.

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3 Responses to Fair Questions: Did Tim Kaine discard his beliefs about abortion to gain power?

  1. Jack D. says:

    The whole milieu of our age strikes me as very odd, Sam. It’s difficult to understand how I, who am not a confirmed Catholic, stand more in line with the social teaching of the Catholic church than many Catholics do. You mentioned “motivated reasoning,” and I think this is a big part of how most people form their opinions on morally controversial topics such as abortion.

    First, you start with a command (“Do not murder”), or let’s even just say a general principle of non-violence. Then, you couple that principle with a situation in which the principle of non-violence is pitted with another great principle, viz. that human beings should have a basic right to bodily integrity and self-determination in the dispositions of their bodies. This is a good principle, insofar as it goes. However, it is the weight that one gives to these relative principles that would generally determine the outcome. Those of us who are pro-life would say that the principle of non-violence should be weighted much more heavily, so that it would take precedence over the right to bodily integrity.

    However, it’s not that simple. I don’t think that those who are pro-choice actually give greater weight to the principle of bodily integrity than they do to the principle of non-violence. Rather, they seem to side-step the question totally, and engage in a form of emotive reasoning. They are uncomfortable with saying that it is OK to harm an unborn human being, but they are also uncomfortable with asserting to another human being that she doesn’t have the right to do whatever she wants with her body. They avoid the problem entirely by placing it on the shoulders of the individual. This is not something we typically do with other issues we feel strongly about (for example, with the issue of child abuse, we don’t leave it up to individual parents whether or not to severely beat their children).

    One of the best arguments I’ve seen for this policy (though the argument still does not convince me of the moral rectitude of legalized abortion) is that it protects the health of women because “they would just get abortions anyway,” and these would be in illegal contexts, with the increased risks of complications, post-procedure infections, and so on. However, this argument strikes me as rather dystopian. To be continued….

  2. Jack D. says:

    To continue the dystopian line of thought I was on, I will present an analogy which will hopefully not muck things up too much. One of my favorite dystopian films are the Robocop movies, specifically, the first two. This is not so much because they are good, wholesome films (they’re not; in fact, I would highly recommend against allowing young children to see them). Rather, it’s because they are are thought-provoking with regard to the evils of which people are capable, given the right conditions. For those who haven’t seen the films, they basically give a scenario of crime and lawlessness run amok. One of the most iconic scenes, which is in the second film, flips the ideal of the all-American coach on its head: The softball coach of a pre-teen co-ed team takes his young athletes out to rob and vandalize an inner-city store.

    My analogy will involve a Robocop-style dystopian scenario (which is not actually that farfetched as something quite similar already happens in many countries of the world). Let’s say that the molestation of children became more prevalent and even socially acceptable, such that it was considered normative by most–provided it was carried out discretely and in non-violent, non-coercive ways. Let’s also say that the incidence of STDs in young children started to increase exponentially (as it probably would). What to do? The leaders of the healthcare system in our dystopia hammer out a plan to distribute condoms liberally to all children, and then train the children to insist on their use. Would this be a morally acceptable course of action? Perhaps it would, in the eyes of that mainstream culture. But for those who still held to a higher form of morality, it would still be wrong to do. It might give a tactical victory, in terms of reducing incidence of STDs, but it would be a strategic loss, because it would result in the further normalization of the exploitation of children by adults. The best moral approach would probably be to go for the jugular and speak out virulently against the sexual abuse of children, even though it would surely result in one’s being ostracized and persecuted.

    Arguing that abortions should be illegal “because women will get them anyway, so they might as well be safe” is somewhat analogous to the scenario above (I’m not saying it’s a perfect analogy, by the way–for example, I know that women are sometimes resort to abortion for reasons of self-preservation, while the crime of child molestation is never committed out of self-preservation). In both cases, those who respond to these problems might have the best of intentions in reducing the morbidity and mortality of a certain population, but they do so only by setting aside other moral principles.

    I would be curious to know your opinion on this: To what extent can a Catholic disregard the Church’s moral & social teaching and still remain in full communion with the Church? The anathemas of Trent, and the other ecumenical councils, were quite clear on a number of doctrinal issues. For example, no true Catholic can deny the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or Baptismal Regeneration, or the Immaculate Conception of Mary. But since many of the social doctrines of the Church have no clear “anathema” of an ecumenical council for those who would oppose them, some seem to think that these doctrines are still therefore “up for grabs.” This is in spite of the fact that the affirmation of a “right” to abortion or the admission of homosexual couples to the sacrament of Matrimony would not only mark a complete break from Tradition, but would actually contradict everything that the Church taught on these subjects for the first 1900 years. I know it’s not likely that secular figures will ever agree with the Church’s position on some issues, but how can the Church best address the dissent that comes from within?

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