Professors Robert George and Douglas Kmiec Debate Abortion, a Pro-Life Recap

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 1, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Professors Robert George and Douglas Kmiec Debate Abortion, a Pro-Life Recap

by Michael New
June 1, 2009 Note: Dr. Michael New is a political science professor at the University of Alabama and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

On Thursday May 27th, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Princeton Professor Robert George engaged in a "Discussion of Life Issues"with Pepperdine Law Professor Doug Kmiec.

The discussion was moderated by Mary Ann Glendon, the Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

In her opening remarks, Professor Glendon made it clear that this was to be a discussion, not a debate. She hoped that this dialogue would promote informed opinion in the pro-life community on the Obama administration’s stance on pro-life issues. Furthermore, she wanted both Professor George and Professor Kmiec to explore whether pro-lifers could find common ground with the Obama administration on life issues.

Professor Kmiec opened the dialogue with a very wide ranging opening statement. He tried to argue that sometimes other issues, including foreign policy and the environment, trump sanctity of life issues when voting. He tried to make the case that the Obama administration’s new stem cell regulations were part of a reasonable compromise. He said that denying holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion was counterproductive.

Finally, he argued that science has not come to a consensus about the sanctity of embryonic human life.

Professor George spent his opening statement describing the vivid and stark contrasts between President Obama’s record and the goals and objectives of the pro-life movement. In particular, Professor George detailed Barack Obama’s record as a state legislator, U.S. Senator, and President.

He described in great detail Obama’s consistent opposition to all incremental pro-life laws, his statements in support of the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), and his administration’s efforts to fund abortion both in Washington, DC and in other countries.

Professor George called upon pro-lifers to frustrate the Obama administration’s efforts to undermine the sanctity of human life at every turn.

In particular, Professor George found it telling that while the Obama administration wants to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies but never directly expresses an interest in lowering the number of abortions. He concluded by saying that since the Obama administration does not think that fetal life is worthy of legal protection, finding common ground will be very difficult, if not impossible.

After their respective opening statements, both Professor George and Professor Kmiec took questions.

The first questions were posed by Mary Ann Glendon. She asked Professor Kmiec how he could credibly claim that the Obama administration wants to reduce abortions while President Obama has supported both public funding of abortion and the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).

Kmiec was evasive, but argued that the administration, for the time being, had taken FOCA off the table.

Professor George was asked by Professor Glendon to respond to pro-lifers who feel that other issues outweigh abortion. He responded by saying that the magnitude of abortion, outweighs all other injustices.

Much of the subsequent discussion in the question and answer session dealt with the legal status of embryos. Professor Kmiec argued that since there is disagreement about the legal status of nascent human life, it would be wrong for Catholics to insist that public policy reflect our view that life begins at conception.

Professor George insisted that science clearly demonstrates that human life begins at conception and that and that we should never go down the path of denying personhood to certain categories of human beings.

Other questions dealt with the extent to which pro-lifers should engage in dialogue with the Obama administration. Professor Kmiec argued that efforts by Cardinal George of Chicago and others led to some tangible improvements in the Obama administration’s new regulations on embryonic stem cell research.

Professor George argued that the Obama administration has expanded the funding for stem cell research and current regulations are still worse than the regulations put in place by the Bush administration. He went on to say that he and other pro-lifers would be happy to engage with the Obama administration on a range of incremental pro-life issues including bans on sex selective abortions and late term abortions. However, the Obama administration has no interest in doing so.

In their concluding statements, Professor Kmiec argued that there exists legitimate disagreement about the legal status of embryos, particularly embryos that will not develop further.

Professor George responded by saying that the breaking of bones and the shedding of blood describe the reality of abortion. Furthermore, science has concluded that from the embryonic state, we have a human. As such our dispute is not about science, but rather the principles of justice. He ended his remarks by saying that every member of the human family deserves equal dignity.

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