Ted Kennedy and Abortion: Two Views

Does his support of abortion rights represent a mark against his Catholic faith?

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While judging souls should be left unto God, two writers sought to examine Ted Kennedy's Catholicism and support for abortion rights, which his church strongly opposes. Both Ross Douthat and Daniel J. Flynn are conservative, pro-life authors, but they took different approaches to interrogating the late senator's relationship with the church over this most contentious issue.

What Might Have Been Douthat began his column by laying out Kennedy's critical support to abortion rights and his Catholic faith that supposedly animated policy decisions. Kennedy "unstintingly" supported abortion rights, Douthat said, after the senator wrote in earlier years that he believed the unborn had the "right to be born" and "the right to grow old." Kennedy's defeat of Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court allowed the court to uphold a "near-absolute right to terminate a pregnancy" in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

But had Kennedy been more like another liberal, Catholic family member -- his sister Eunice -- the country's abortion experiences might have been different. "One could imagine a world in which America’s leading liberal Catholic had found a way to make liberalism less absolutist on the issue, and a world where a man who became famous for reaching across the aisle had reached across, even occasionally, in search of compromise on the country’s most divisive issue." While Kennedy's pursuit of universal health care pursues an "eminently Catholic goal" that same system subsidizes abortions, Douthat said.

What Kennedy Was Flynn said Kennedy did not act like a "model Catholic" and quotes approvingly from a Catholic advocate who said Kennedy was a "champion of the Culture of Death." Flynn goes on to list several un-Catholic actions by Kennedy: taking communion at Mary Jo Kopechne's funeral, asking the church to annul a 25-year marriage that produced three children, and bringing his nephew William Kennedy Smith to a bar on Good Friday, which preceded a rape charge, of which he was acquitted.

All of these indiscretions, first among them support for abortion rights, has led to a time where "few conflate Kennedyism with Catholicism as they did a half century ago," Flynn wrote.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.