Antiabortion Obama Backer Doug Kmiec Answers Antiabortion Critics

The constitutional lawyer says the president's liberal social policies haven't shaken his support.


By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Engaging in E-mail conversation with a constitutional lawyer can be dangerous. Fire off a quick interview request and you might get a footnoted legal brief in response.

But it can also be thought-provoking. Yesterday, I E-mailed Douglas Kmiec, the former legal counsel for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush who spent much of the 2008 election cycle making the Catholic case for supporting Barack Obama. My 56-word note asked whether he had a response to the conservative Roman Catholic groups that are calling him out for backing Obama now that the president has reversed the Mexico City Policy barring federal funds for international groups offering or endorsing abortion; nominated a Catholic who supports abortion rights to be health and human services secretary; and lifted the Bush-era restrictions on federally financed embryonic stem cell research.

Kmiec's E-mail in reply was 1,500 words long.

Here's the more general part of his response, from the concluding paragraphs of his note, followed by more detailed responses to Obama's specific social policy moves:

I am very pleased by the President's appointment of Josh Dubois and Mara Vanderslice to the Office of Neighborhood and Faith-based Partnerships, and I am especially pleased that the President deliberately highlighted at the national prayer breakfast the abortion reduction expectations he has for this Office. I have great expectations for this Office, and I am looking forward to many constructive efforts that will involve many people at the most local levels in efforts that will assist their neighbors and involve us personally in our economic—which I believe must also be a cultural—recovery....

Of course, I am pleased that the FOCA [Freedom of Choice Act] "scare" has proven, as all of the President's strong supporters like me predicted, to be without foundation. I continue to encourage the President's advisors to endorse the Pregnant Women's Support Act, or one of its companion measures, and specifically, the "life support center" provisions which I helped in the drafting. Of course, one of the first legislative achievements of this still very young administration was a reversal of the Congress' previous denial of the expansion of children's health care.

So the political antagonists of the President can "call me out" if they want; though, I think their time would be better spent seeing the larger picture of the economic and related cultural challenges which face the nation and how the President brings great intelligence and open-mindedness to the needs of many who previously were invisible to the governmental process....

Given the jolt of the present conditions, all of us will have an opportunity to re-think the extent to which we in our individual lives have become servants of money and thus allowed the agents of debt finance to wrongfully-direct our vast technology and personal talents simply toward the multiplication and satisfaction of consumerist and materialist attitudes. There is a real chance of redirecting our know-how to the preservation of the environment, a more soundly balanced work-family relationship, and energy policies that will make it unnecessary to occupy foreign nations—from which, by the way, the President is bringing our troops home—yet, another, campaign promise, if not moral achievement, to praise....

On Obama reversing the Mexico City Policy barring federal funds to groups abroad that offer or endorse abortion:

The Mexico City policy aggravated levels of disease, deprived remote areas of less developed nations sometimes of their only available health care, and as you reported, I believe, may well have also accounted for dramatic increases in abortion. So while I did not have occasion to address the Mexico City policy hardly at all during the campaign, I see a President willing and capable of re-assessing questionable policy early in his administration even if it was also a policy that in some instances helped separate us from those who do not share our concern with abortion as a practice. I am more interested in seeing us maintain the amendment which continues to preclude U.S. funding of abortion in foreign countries than a policy that seemed to have an abundance of negative collateral health effects unrelated to abortion.

On Obama's appointment of pro-abortion-rights Kathleen Sebelius to head the Department of Health and Human Services:

With regard to Secretary-designate Sebelius, I believe she is a highly capable and respected administrator who fully believes in the protection of human life at all its stages, and will advance that goal by working for one of the most important health reforms in our history—that, as a matter of faith and justice, will no longer overlook the needs of the poor and uninsured, but instead will ask the type of tough questions that will address billing practices and medical record practices that needlessly raise the price and reduce the quality of health care provided for all Americans. I very much regret that on a few occasions, she and her bishop have not been in agreement on what is legislatively possible and legally defensible in terms of life efforts, though I trust the Governor's training and disposition as someone who has funded abortion reduction and adoption efforts and as someone who would only with the greatest reluctance disapprove well-intentioned legislation that under existing law, she has been counseled, would likely be found unconstitutional.

On Obama lifting regulations on federally funded embryonic stem cell research:

The stem cell policies that the President has announced are exactly as he campaigned. Because of my faith and my acceptance, as a scientific matter, of the human zygote as the beginning of life, I disagreed with the then-Senator during the campaign on this topic, and I have not read anything to alter my position or concerns. Then and now, I applaud the President's desire to separate science from politics, but I have also urged that politics not be confused with the legitimate concerns of scientific ethics. In particular, I have advocated to friends in the administration that the administrative regulations, which have yet to be drafted, give preference to alternatives to the use of embryonic stem cells, such as induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, which my research friends at USC and UCLA tell me have yielded nerve cells. As you know, these are embryonic-like cells that are said to be "reverted" from their adult state. My research friends who share my pro-life orientation are optimistic that these ultimately will be shown to be an ethical alternative to the use of embryonic stem cells, but they also caution that the ethical implications are not at all free from doubt—in part, because even the non-embryonic cell may actually contain information capable of development that should not be destroyed or impeded . . . .

Of course, with or without an alternative to embryonic cells, Cardinal Rigali has it exactly right, no innocent human life is to be sacrificed for another even with the promise of medical breakthrough. That said, I do commend the President for his strong prohibition of human cloning....

Douglas Kmiec
Douglas Kmiec