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.