After decades of debate over abortion, something new has occurred this year.
First, the Democratic Party is now not just using pro-choice language; it is also acknowledging the need to do something to reduce the number of abortions. Democrats, like presidential candidate Barack Obama are now willing to say that abortion is a moral issue--something the pro-choice lobby always opposed. Democrats are now promoting social and educational programs that will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and help pregnant women have their babies. In other words, after many years of insisting that abortion be legal and safe, the Democrats are finally emphasizing that it should be rare.
This new emphasis by the Democrats will not win over the hard-core pro-lifers, but it will make it easier for those, especially Catholics, who are concerned about abortion and other issues to vote Democratic.
The second change in the debate this year is within the pro-life community. The traditional pro-life strategy has been to try to make abortion illegal. This has meant supporting Republican candidates, even though Republicans have never delivered on their promises even when they controlled both houses of Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court.
A small group of Catholic pro-lifers, exemplified by Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi, has concluded that criminalization is a failed strategy. Overturning Roe v. Wade will simply return the issue to the states, where most states will keep it legal; and where it is illegal, women will simply drive to a neighboring state. These pro-lifers argue that abortion will not be criminalized in the foreseeable future and that it is time for pro-lifers to be more pragmatic and support candidates who will actually reduce the number of abortions through social programs that help women choose life when they get pregnant
Isn't it possible to argue that whether abortion is a sin is a matter of Church doctrine on which bishops are equipped to instruct the faithful and expect obedience, whereas the best means of diminishing the number of abortions is a matter of public policy and political calculation on which Catholics may have legitimate disagreements? And isn't it also possible to argue that bishops who instruct the faithful on matters of pubic policy and political calculation as though they were speaking on matters of doctrine are abusing their office? And finally, aren't bishops who withhold Communion from politicians who may agree with them on abortion as a matter of doctrine, but disagree with them on how best to diminish the number of abortions committing a grave sin?