A Right to Privacy?

During an interview on Meet the Press this past Sunday, Democratic Senator and possible Vice Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine, admitted to being a “Traditional Catholic” who “personally opposes Abortion.”  Despite his personal opposition however he has “taken the position, which is quite common among Catholics — I have got a personal feeling about abortion, but the right rule for government is to let women make their own decisions.”

The Senator is right that his is a position that is “quite common among Catholics,” especially politicians.  But what never gets said is why they are “personally opposed.”  That would seem to be the next logical question that gets asked anytime a seemingly reasonable person says they are opposed to something that other people accept.  Part of the reason why it never gets asked is because the answer is implied when they identify themselves as Catholic.  They are opposed because that is what the Church teaches.  In other words, it is a matter of dogma that Catholics should oppose abortion. As a “traditional Catholic,” Senator Kaine knows that the Church (and American constitutional law) says that religious dogma should not legitimately be enforced by the coercive power of the state. It is also politically convenient because by suggesting that abortion belongs only in the confessional realm, Senator Kaine is able to play both sides of the field.  He can be personally opposed (and thus satisfying those who are also opposed) while appearing to be very tolerant of other people’s beliefs.

Surely as a “traditional Catholic” who is personally opposed to abortion he would know that the Church does not teach that abortion and contraception are matters of revealed faith.  Just as surely a Catholic who is involved in public life would have read St. John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae.  If he had he would have known that “[T]his doctrine is based upon the natural law” ( EV, 62) and like all the precepts of the natural law, binding on Catholics and non-Catholics.  In other words, being Catholic has nothing to do per se with whether you think abortion and contraception are wrong.  Pro-life Catholic politicians are just as guilty in this regard of allowing the debate to center around their Catholicism and would do a great service to the movement if they avoided making that connection.

While the “personally opposed, but…” defense has been worn out, it is the second half of the Senator’s response that bears a closer look because it betrays a profound philosophical difference from what the Church has taught us:

“I deeply believe — and not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

Again as a Catholic, the Senator could again turn to Evangelium Vitae and find that the Holy Father anticipated his response when he said:

“Finally, the more radical views go so far as to maintain that in a modern and pluralistic society people should be allowed complete freedom to dispose of their own lives as well as of the lives of the unborn: it is asserted that it is not the task of the law to choose between different moral opinions, and still less can the law claim to impose one particular opinion to the detriment of others.” (EV, 68)

If it is not from the Church that the Senator gets his “radical view” then where does it come from?  It comes from a distorted view of the human person that permeates the modern American landscape.  It has even found its way into our laws through the so-called “right to privacy.”

Tim Kaine

Man by nature is a social being.  He depends upon others for his fulfillment.  Operating under this paradigm, the role of government is to aid in the development of the total person.  A good government is one that helps to create morally good people.  Laws not only protect freedom from the outside but also from the inside by promoting virtuous behavior.  Certainly it is always preferable to foster virtue by non-legislative means since virtue requires voluntary rather than coerced actions, nevertheless law cannot remain indifferent to moral actions because of its pedagogical power.

Operating under this view, there is an emphasis on the freedom to fulfill one’s obligations.  The obligation to protect innocent human life leads to the outlawing of all offenses against human life.  Each man sees himself as his brother’s keeper to a limited extent.

This understanding of man as social by nature is rejected in modern-day America.  Instead man is an individual with absolute autonomy.  He only enters into social relationships by an agreement or contract. Each man enters civil society and gives up only so much of his personal liberty as to facilitate comfortable self-preservation.  Under this view, the role of government becomes protective—protecting freedom from outside interference and from infringement by others.  Anything is legal provided it doesn’t limit the freedom of others.  The emphasis now shifts towards rights rather than obligations.  When two rights claims such as the right to choose and the right to life clash, the government must step in with positive law.  It is always the louder (or stronger) asserter of rights that wins.

Within this atmosphere of radical individualism enters the right to privacy.  This becomes a fundamental right because one must be able to do what one pleases without any outside interference.  This right has been elevated within the annals of the Supreme Court to an unalienable right.  Although it remains rather elusive as to what exactly it means, the Court ruled that the right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

It is “deeply held belief” in the right to privacy that trumps anything else that the Senator might “feel about abortion.”  Accordingly while he thinks that an individual’s private choices regarding intimate and personal matters (like whether or not to bear a child) must have no government interference, this cannot be done without reference to the moral law.  In no other aspect of life do we treat the right to privacy as an absolute right except in contraception, abortion, and homosexual activity.  This suggests that it is merely a smokescreen for judicial (and in the case at hand Senatorial) fiat.

Can the Senator explain why the private use of recreational drugs is a problem?  What about prostitution?  The “right to privacy” remains unprincipled.  This is why the right to non-interference for abortion (Roe v Wade) quickly turned into a right to abortion (PP vs Casey).  The government now interferes by supplying the abortion.  This is why a “personally opposed but” stance does nothing except reveal a lack of personal integrity.  The Senator is far from the neutral observer that he pretends to be.

We need only look to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling as proof of its arbitrary nature and its impossibility to overturn.  Abortion may be a personal decision, but it is certainly not private and no amount of judicial gymnastics can make it so.

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