Editor’s Note: Carter Snead is the director of the Center for Ethics and Culture and professor of law at the University of Notre Dame. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
Carter Snead: Tim Kaine changed his view on abortion to secure his VP nomination
DNC made little or no room for Democrats who oppose abortion, he says
Just as they have in every presidential election since I became eligible to vote, the Democrats this year have broken my heart. By nominating a ticket (and adopting a platform) that is aggressively committed to maximal abortion rights, the Democratic Party has signaled unequivocally that it does not want voters like me. And this includes the choice of vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who introduced himself at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night.
Not a single pro-life Democrat has spoken or will speak about abortion at this week’s Democratic National Convention. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, by contrast, was seated prominently next to President Bill Clinton.
That was not altogether surprising, given the party’s long abandonment of the littlest of little guys (the child in the womb) and an embrace of abortion as its most fundamental and non-negotiable freedom. No, what is truly heartbreaking is that this year, Kaine has chosen to abandon the weakest and most vulnerable in exchange for power.
By way of background, I am against the death penalty and torture. I am for welcoming and humane immigration reform, universal health care, protecting the environment, a just wage for workers, equal pay for women, mandatory paid family leave, sensible gun control and racial justice. I have voted for Democrats and Republicans, and am not a member of either party.
But I also believe that because the unborn child is, biologically speaking, indisputably one of us, equal justice under law demands that she be protected from the private lethal violence of abortion. I believe that the law should reflect the goods of radical hospitality and solidarity, signaling that everyone counts, no matter how small, vulnerable, dependent or burdensome in the eyes of others she might be. The only coherent conception of equality is one that embraces, supports and protects both the unborn child and her mother.
His past record as governor of Virginia suggests Tim Kaine used to agree with me; he supported parental involvement laws and limits on public funding for abortion. But no more. Like many aspiring politicians before him, including Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, Dennis Kucinich and even Bill Clinton himself, he has turned away from any concerns for the life of the unborn child and embraced a full-throated absolutist position on abortion rights for the sake of his political advancement.
He has even switched positions and now favors the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits funding virtually all abortions through Medicaid. In polls, majorities support the Hyde Amendment, and it has been credited with saving a million lives since its passage in 1976. Repeal of the Hyde Amendment would cause the rate of abortion to skyrocket.
Recently, Kaine added his name as a co-sponsor to the Women’s Health Protection Act, a Senate bill that purports to nullify any law that regulates abortion differently from other medical procedures or increases the difficulty of abortion access. This would eliminate virtually all abortion restrictions, likely even limits on public funding. In this way, Kaine has moved abruptly to a position more like his running mate. Both Hillary Clinton and the 2016 Democratic Party Platform call for the elimination of restrictions on abortion, including the Hyde Amendment.
How does Kaine justify this radical shift away from his record of concern for the unborn? By recycling a very tired and incoherent argument popularized by Gov. Mario Cuomo in a speech at my university in 1984. Like Cuomo and numerous Catholic politicians after him (including Vice President Joe Biden), Kaine has said he is “personally opposed to abortion” but believes the law should not restrict it.
This may sound like a good talking point, but a moment’s reflection reveals it to be morally obtuse. Kaine’s position is essentially that the law should permit and publicly fund what he is personally convinced is the unjust killing of a million innocent human beings each year. If we take Kaine at his word, his argument is at worst positively monstrous.
But it is not a serious argument; it is a transparent political ploy to obscure Kaine’s cynicism and naked ambition. It is particularly galling coming from a man who tried to claim the mantle of solidarity and social justice in his acceptance speech on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, where is the next generation of pro-life Democrats, like the late Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania? He had the eloquence and courage to show how true social justice embraces all vulnerable members of the human family, born and unborn. His son, Sen. Bob Casey Jr., is also a pro-life Democrat, but he addressed the convention about Donald Trump’s business practices and never mentioned abortion. Tim Kaine could have been heroic and countercultural in this way, but instead he chose power and prestige over justice and solidarity.