The Trump administration has gone all-in for the pro-life movement today. As noted earlier, Mike Pence made the first appearance by a sitting vice president in the 44-year history of the March for Life, and Donald Trump’s close adviser Kellyanne Conway started off the program with an impressive speech. Before heading out to the event, Conway made an appearance on Fox & Friends to emphasize the White House commitment to protecting life — and used a surprising and familiar construct for it:
"If we can promote and protect life from conception to natural death, it says an awful lot about our country." – Kellyanne Conway pic.twitter.com/dvDqPH1F9M
— Fox News (@FoxNews) January 27, 2017
“We believe in the sanctity of life,” Conway tells the hosts from the White House. “I think if we can promote and protect life from conception to natural death, it says an awful lot about our country.” Indeed it would, and it’s a refreshing change to hear that coming from the highest levels of our government after eight years of praise for Planned Parenthood. As Conway says later in the same part of the interview, it’s even more remarkable coming from the administration of a man who was clearly pro-choice until recently, and whose commitment to the pro-life cause was questioned on that basis. So far, so good.
Conway’s language should ring a bell with Catholics, too — and prompts another question.Catholics around the world routinely pray at Mass for exactly how Conway puts it here. Conway in fact introduced herself to the March for Life today as “a wife, a mom, a Catholic,” so she understands that the mission to “protect life from conception to natural death” comes straight out of the “seamless garment” doctrine of Catholicism on life-related issues. That includes abortion, but also assisted suicide, euthanasia, and the death penalty as well, as Conway certainly knows.
Does this declaration hint at some level of opposition within the administration to the use of the death penalty? That’s part of the emphasis on “natural” — opposing the taking of life by the state or other entities, outside the context of war or imminent self-defense. I’d guess the answer is “no,” especially given Trump’s positions on law-and-order issues, but I certainly would love to discuss this directly with Conway at some point.
The Catholic catechism does not categorically forbid the death penalty, as some on Twitter have pointed out, but the context of prudential judgment on this point is very narrow. Paragraph 2267 of the catechism states that “the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor [emphasis mine].” The same paragraph goes on to this all-but-certain exclusion:
Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”
It is this doctrine that has had the three most recent pontiffs calling for an end to executions by Western democracies, all of which have plenty of capacity for detaining the dangerous unjust aggressors for the rest of their lives.
Now, not everyone is Catholic, and even among Catholics there is disagreement on the range of prudential judgment in this area. Americans govern themselves based on consensus within the bounds of the Constitution and not by the Catholic catechism, and thus far the consensus at the federal level and in several states is to continue the death penalty. However, Conway’s use of “seamless garment” language makes this an interesting question for the new administration, and I’d certainly enjoy that discussion.
In fact, this week I’ve had a lot of fun with my tongue-in-cheek #Morrissey4Vatican campaign to get appointed ambassador to the Holy See. But it’s at least worth noting that this kind of issue is one in which that ambassador will need to advise the president and carefully work into the diplomatic relationship between the two countries. Hopefully, Trump’s choice will be prepared for those tasks.
Here’s the full interview, and this exchange takes place near the end; the video on the tweet is only working sporadically. Conway goes back to the “co-parenting” argument about media coverage, which isn’t my favorite description of the theoretical role of the Fourth Estate; it sounds more like their sycophancy during the Obama administration. Conway does a better job when it comes to explaining Stephen Bannon’s remarks at length, though, and proves once again that she’s the MVP of Trump’s inner circle, which is why she’s on TV far more than anyone else: