Friday, October 27, 2006

A Sandinista the GOP Should Love

Attention U.S. Catholics: Nicaragua's Congress has just voted to ban all abortions, precisely what a purportedly "pro-life" Republican majority U.S. Congress has failed to do in four years. All the GOP-run Senate had to do was ratify a treaty signed by President Carter.

The news and the implications that cascade from it in my mind make me think of those Catholics I know who hold fast to the political version of what I call Stupid Catholic Logic. Let me explain SCL with a true story.

Once upon a time I worked with a former nun who had two rambunctious sons from two presumably rambunctious fathers, the only two men with whom she had had sex since leaving the convent. Had she considered using birth control while fornicating with such blissful abandon? "Oh, no, that would be a sin!"

The political version of SCL is what leads some dunderhead Catholics to vote Republican as a way to oppose abortion. Let me make clear that, for reasons different from theirs, I agree with them that abortion is always wrong.

To my mind, abortion always involves the risk of taking a human life since we just don't know with certainty when life begins. Still, what civil law should say about abortion is distinct from its place in moral philosophy. Law in a democracy expresses the sometimes errant wishes of the majority, not pure ethical principles.

A safer course than current U.S. law, however, might be to adopt the absolute ban in traditional Latin America law, which Nicaraguan law will adopt if the bill passed by its Congress is enacted. Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who now professes to be a devout Catholic, could become next month the president who enacts the statute. (His nemesis Ronald Reagan, a very lapsed baptized Catholic to his dying day, never seemed to find time to make abortion illegal despite campaigning twice nationally on the promise to do just that.)

The Latin American legal principle is embedded in the American Convention On Human Rights. By a quirk of my employment history, I happened to be on hand when President Jimmy Carter signed the document on June 1, 1977 at the OAS General Secretariat, in Washington, D.C.

Signing the convention was a way for President Carter to affirm U.S. policy against human rights abuses, which were then rampant in the regimes of generals Cesar Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina and Ernesto Geisel of Brazil. Funny how in 30 short years the U.S. government has gone from defending to blatantly and explicitly violating human rights, while Latin American governments have become sterling democracies in which even former torturers are tried for their crimes.

Yet it struck me then, and it does now, that in article 4, paragraph 1, the document states:

Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.

Accordingly, it didn't surprise me that the pro-choice Carter Administration didn't push ratification too hard, since in U.S. law ratified treaties become a part of the federal code. But I have been amazed that in roughly 26 years of Republican ascendancy, in which the GOP controlled the Senate for a total of 6 years, not a single clever backbencher thought to bring up ratification of the charter as a stealth "pro-life" measure.

This despite the claim in the GOP's Catholic Team Web site, that Republicans have consistently worked to promote a "culture of life," a buzz phrase stolen outright from Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae. Of course, it is easy to see how the broad economic and social terms in which the encyclical describes "life" might give the GOP's Catholic Team headaches, what with the concocted war in Iraq (which John Paul II pointedly opposed) and questionable domestic policies.

There simply is no Catholic logic left, stupid or smart, for voting Republican. Unless one simply enjoys being taken for a ride.


Tom Head said...

While I agree with the gist of your point about the Republican Party manipulating social conservatives, it's worth mentioning that ratifying the treaty would not have banned abortion simply because Roe v. Wade would have taken precedence. The Constitution always trumps the federal code, and Roe v. Wade was an interpretation of the Constitution.



Cecilieaux said...

Wouldn't the courts have to determine that Roe applied? Couldn't a new law reopen Roe? If not, then there's absolutely no point in candidates for president or Congress in declaring their views on the A-word.

Anonymous said...

You did not mention that Nicaragua is also considering extending the prison sentence for a woman having an abortion from 10 years to 30 years. Such a law apparently already exists in El Salvador, where the govt employs a forensic specialist to examine a woman suspected of having had an abortion--does he get a search warrant for this? Then, of course, his testimony is valuable at her trial.

john warne said...

tome head wrote:'s worth mentioning that ratifying the treaty would not have banned abortion simply because Roe v. Wade would have taken precedence. The Constitution always trumps the federal code, and Roe v. Wade was an interpretation of the Constitution.

Actually, tom, that's in doubt. Article VI of the US Constitution says, "The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made [the founders added this bit to make sure we understood they weren't just talking about treaties in existence at the time of the Constitutional Convention, 1787], under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land...."

What this means is that treaties made may well supercede the federal code and be on an equal footing with the Constitution. At the very least it creates a nice loophole that any anti-choice judge can drive his fat, black-robed ass through to overturn Roe.

In any event, I'm guessing the reason why it wasn't ratified is because it bans torture and opens the door for exposing US war crimes there are or will be in the region. So much for "pro-life" bs.



john warne said...

Sorry, should have deleted the "Cheers TH" part when I copied part of tom's post into mine. :-P

Moriarty said...

In the extract you cite, what does "arbitrarily" actually mean, and how can you as a card-carrying atheist affirm something to be "always wrong"? Even if something *is* always wrong, does that justify never doing it, even when a greater evil might result? What theological or philosophical basis do you have for even *considering* the relevance of rightness or wrongness, and does it matter? Why, or why not?
The very notion of "arbitrariness" warrants further analysis; of it's nature it should be the whim of an individual, rather than influenced by external factors such as religious affiliation or political allegiance. A "whim" is scarcely sufficient to ensure the carrying out of a wish for an abortion for self or other!

Cecilieaux said...

I should note to all and sundry that documents that are highlighted in this blog usually denote a link. Thus, the meaning of "arbitrary" would be apparent in paragraph 2, in which the charter declares "In countries that have not abolished the death penalty, it may be imposed only for the most serious crimes and pursuant to a final judgment rendered by a competent court [...]"

All of which tells me that "arbitrary" means "without due process."

Moriarity's second point requires asserting that it is not possible to construct a universal ethic from an atheist standpoint. This is a common theist fallacy.

Peter Attwood said...

This is great stuff. I took the liberty of reproducing it today on my own blog.