Buttiglione's Pro-life Position; Benedict XVI and Free Markets

The Italian Senator's Quest to Stop Forced Abortion

| 2861 hits

By Edward Pentin

ROME, JULY 29, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Rocco Buttiglione, vice president of the Italian Parliament, is one of Europe's most respected and prominent pro-life politicians. So when he was reported to have allegedly compromised his views on abortion, not a few people were shocked.

The allegations came from an interview he gave July 17 to Corriere della Sera in which he reportedly said that he was "opposed" to efforts to create binding legal protections for the unborn in Italy. He said he favored a shift in emphasis on "reducing abortion" by supporting women in need, and the interview also seemed to suggest that he thought he was "wrong" in trying to defend the unborn child against its own mother when he fought against legalized abortion in Italy in the 1980s.

But speaking in his Rome offices last week, he told me he really said that in Italy it was wrong to try to fight abortion only through the penal law. Buttiglione, who is also a philosophy professor, said he believed the penal sanction was important, but equally important was strengthening the relation between mother and child. "Since there is not in Italy a consensus on the reintroduction of a penal sanction, we have to concentrate our efforts for now on supporting the mother to help her to accept her motherhood," he explained. "We have to support her, making her more free; the more free she is, the more difficult it will be for her to renounce the child."

He was therefore at pains to point out that he has made "no compromise at all" on the abortion issue. Indeed his views appear no different to those of pregnancy support centers.

The misunderstanding arose when he was explaining how pro-life and pro-choice supporters could back his campaign to ban forced abortions worldwide. On July 15, he managed to pull off an impressive coup: uniting pro-life and pro-choice politicians to vote in favor of a motion (with abstentions from the political left), which called for a U.N. resolution against compulsory abortions. It also called on the United Nations to outlaw abortion as a form of birth control. Such policies as the one-child policy in China, and those in other countries where mothers are bribed with government handouts to abort their child, have claimed the lives of millions of unborn children in recent years.

"We all agree that abortion is an evil," Buttiglione said after the motion was passed, "but we are divided among those who are for life and those who believe the choice of the woman comes first. It's now time to fight together against those in the world who are both against life and against choice."

He told me he saw this as a first and important step along a path, one in which it is possible to "create a majority and a broad consensus in Italian politics to try to reduce abortions."

He used the discovery of the United States as an analogy: "The Americans went west, they went to Ohio, the frontier, then later somebody stepped out and said, 'let's go farther,' so they went to Wyoming.

"So it's a step on a long way until we better understand one another and it'll be a struggle but we must able to discuss it."

Nobody renounced his or her fundamental convictions, he stressed, "but it is a fact that in the world of today one half of humanity is threatened by abortion against the will of the mother."

Buttiglione believes it will be possible in Italy to achieve a majority to reduce abortions with a view to perhaps introducing a new referendum, banning them in the future. Although he doubts a referendum would succeed if it were held today, he remains hopeful as he sees support for the pro-life position growing.

Buttiglione's comments to Corriere della Sera were largely misunderstood in the United States, mainly because the two countries approach the abortion issue differently, according to Kishore Jayabalan, Rome director of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

"In the United States, the Supreme Court decided the issue for the entire country without any political input from people, but in Italy the situation has been decided by a referendum," he explained. "This means that in Italy, you have to convince the majority of the population that abortion is wrong, whereas in the U.S. you have to first convince the majority of U.S. Supreme Court judges to overturn Roe v. Wade before you can get to the same place as in Italy."

Jayabalan, who has known Buttiglione for a number of years, said he has "no doubt" about Buttiglione's pro-life credentials, and that he is sure the Italian politician still believes it can be made illegal in the long term. He stressed that the majority of Italians are not there yet, so the goal is to "try to reduce abortion while trying to educate people of its moral evil."

But if you apply such an approach in the United States, Jayabalan said, "it sounds like he doesn't care what the law says, and that he's satisfied with what it says" because it doesn't take into account that abortion is still a major legal question in the United States "that has yet to be decided by the people."

Jayabalan also pointed out that, compared to U.S. law on abortion, Italian abortion law "is more restrictive." As a result, he said, "Italians don't always realize how liberal U.S. abortion law is, or why U.S. pro-lifers have to focus so much necessary attention on Roe v. Wade."

The controversy unfortunately overshadowed Buttiglione's motion, which could be a major turning point in the abortion debate, offering both sides the chance to find common ground on reducing abortions worldwide. A welcome development from the campaign was that even ardent Leftist pro-abortion politicians declared that abortion should not be a human right, thereby implying they recognized the fetus to be a human life.

Now Buttiglione is waiting to see if President Barack Obama, who promised to reduce abortions in his recent meeting with Benedict XVI, will add his voice of support. "This is a good opportunity -- a very significant opportunity -- for him to comply with the promise he made to the Holy Father," he said. "We will see, but I am hopeful -- why should he be against it?"

* * *

A Business Perspective

What do those in business and government think of "Caritas in Veritate"? A Rome conference last week gave some interesting indications, at least among those who are firm supporters of the free market. Held by Istituto Bruno Leone, a Milan-based free-market think tank, it brought together an impressive line-up of senior economists, business leaders, lawyers and former government officials from a number of countries.

The meeting took place under the Chatham House Rule, so I cannot quote the speakers by name (the Rule allows participants to comment in confidence, thereby promoting a freer and franker discussion), but I can offer a summary of their reactions.

Overall, the participants welcomed the Holy Father's first social encyclical. The majority saw the document as a "major contribution" toward making global economics more ethical, particularly in the long-term. And they supported its general thrust: that man and human dignity should be at the center of economic and political decisions.

"Its great strength is that it is a spiritual document, not an economic, political or social science one," said one speaker, who lauded the encyclical for showing the world how Christian humanism can "enkindle charity." He said the Pope's words, such as those in its conclusion -- that "without God man neither knows where to go or even understands who he is" -- is a valuable observation in today's world. "The fact that that is put in a document which the whole world is asked to discuss, I say three cheers for that," he said.

Another participant praised the passages in which the Pope stressed the importance of upholding the dignity of all human life as the bedrock of Catholic social teaching, and as indispensable to authentic development. And he posed an interesting question: whether Benedict XVI views those who don't respect the dignity of the human person as people whom we can really look to as definitions of compassion.

On a more superficial level, the speakers criticized the document for being too long, overly complex and wordy. Parts of it are surprisingly poorly written, one speaker opined, and he believed it showed it wasn't totally written by the Pope himself who is known for his luminous writings (various scholars and Vatican officials played a large part in drafting the document).

Some liked the passages on globalization and the environment, but others balked at its endorsement of the United Nations and its call for a central authority to oversee the globalization process. They also had reservations about some of its general tone, which seemed to put trust in the state to offer moral guidance.

The conference chair summed up conference's reaction as "two cheers" rather than three. But he noted the encyclical's invaluable assertion that God's love "calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, and gives us the courage to continue seeking and looking for the benefit of all.”

"I just feel that is such an inspired vision when I go to work in the morning and I'm dealing with 'structured products,' 'credit derivatives,' and what we should do," he said. For this reason, he said, while he also wouldn't give it three cheers, he certainly gave it “more than two.”

* * *

Edward Pentin is a freelance writer living in Rome. He can be reached at: epentin@zenit.org.