Bishops Call For Both/And Approach to Life

Election fever is catching everybody these days, even bishops, and since it’s so fashionable to issue clarifying statements about the 30+ page Faithful Citizenship document, Cardinal Justin Rigali (chairman of the USCCB* Committee on Pro-Life Activities) and Bishop William Murphy (chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development) have issued a clarification about clarifications of Faithful Citizenship.

Though my tone in stating this is flip, there’s some very good material in the two page letter:

Some argue that we should not focus on policies that provide help for pregnant women, but just focus on the essential task of establishing legal protections for children in the womb. Others argue that providing life affirming support for pregnant women should be our only focus and this should take the place of efforts to establish legal protections for unborn children. We want to be clear that neither argument is consistent with Catholic teaching. Our faith requires us to oppose abortion on demand and to provide help to mothers facing challenging pregnancies.

Recently, some have called on the Church to abandon most of this effort. They say we should accept Roe as a permanent fixture of constitutional law, stop trying to restore recognition for the unborn child’s human rights, and confine our public advocacy to efforts to “reduce abortions” through improved economic and social support for women and families.

The Catholic community is second to no one in providing and advocating for support for women and families facing problems during pregnancy. Catholic hospitals, charitable institutions, and thousands of pregnancy aid centers, provide life-saving care and compassionate alternatives to the violence of abortion.

We have advocated for universal health care coverage, generous family leave policies, increases in the minimum wage, humane welfare policies for women who are pregnant or caring for young children, expanded funding for WIC and other nutrition programs, and a federal children’s health insurance program that includes coverage for unborn children and their mothers. Because some women still feel pressured by economic hardship and lack of support to resort to abortion, our task in this regard is far from over.

These efforts, however, are not an adequate or complete response to the injustice of Roe v. Wade for several important reasons. First, the Court’s decision in Roe denied an entire class of innocent human beings the most fundamental human right, the right to life. In fact, the act of killing these fellow human beings was transformed from a crime into a “right,” turning the structure of human rights on its head. Roe v. Wade is a clear case of an “intrinsically unjust law” we are morally obliged to oppose (see Evangelium vitae, nos. 71-73). Reversing it is not a mere political tactic, but a moral imperative for Catholics and others who respect human life.

Third, Roe itself enormously increased the annual number of abortions in our society. The law is a teacher, and Roe taught many women, physicians and others that abortion is an acceptable answer to a wide range of problems. By the same token, even the limited pro-life laws allowed by the Court since Roe have been shown to reduce abortions substantially, leading to a steady decline in the abortion rate since 1980. Bans on public funding, laws requiring informed consent for women and parental involvement for minors, and other modest and widely supported laws have saved millions of lives. Laws made possible by reversing Roe would save many more. On the other hand, this progress could be lost through a key pro-abortion proposal, the “Freedom of Choice Act,” which supporters say would knock down hundreds of current pro-life laws and forbid any public program to “discriminate” against abortion in providing services to women.

Providing support for pregnant women so they choose to have their babies is a necessary but not sufficient response to abortion. Similarly, reversal of Roe is a necessary but not sufficient condition for restoring an order of justice in our society’s treatment of defenseless human life….

Now, I might disagree with the bishops on the question of whether increasing the minimum wage and mandating “universal health care” according to the models put forward thus far would actually be greatly beneficial to the mothers of unborn children. I think there might be other policies we could pursue which would have a more positive effect for them than these policies, but that’s a matter of judgement and discussion. Their essential point, which I very much agree with, is that it is essential for us as Catholics both to advocate the legal banning of abortion and also to provide much needed support to women in “unplanned pregnancies” through a variety of public and private means.

My main question reading this, actually, is who exactly is saying, “we should not focus on policies that provide help for pregnant women, but just focus on the essential task of establishing legal protections for children in the womb.” [emphasis added]

I can speak only for my own family and direct acquintance, but I myself and those I know put fairly significant time and money into providing help for pregnant women through those very crisis pregnancy centers that the bishops mention later on, yet I’ve never provided a dollor an or hour of time in the last couple years to stricly political efforts — other than the blogging that I do for a mixture of fun and intellectual stimulation, and the few minutes it takes me to punch holes in a ballot every couple of years and make sure that my chads aren’t hanging.

So far as I can tell (and I must admit, the bishops are probably in a much better position to have been made uncomfortably familiar with the less savory side of some political advocacy) no on has argued that “we should not focus on policies that provide help for pregnant women”. Rather, some people argue we should do that and seek to make abortion illegal, and others argue we should do only that and not seek to make abortion illegal.

I suppose that if one nurtured the straw man belief that conservatives really do think that “an ownership society means: you’re on your own” one might imagine such a thing — but that’s simply not the case.

So while I strongly agree with the overall point that’s being made in this letter, I’m rather confused as to whom half of it is directed against.

* USCCB is short for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

5 Responses to Bishops Call For Both/And Approach to Life

  1. Eric Brown says:


    I’m getting around to a post about universal healthcare, what I think are many common misconceptions about it, and particularly what is wrong with the American health care “system” and try to get a general consensus of what we can all rally around.

    In my research of healthcare, I have found that not all models or notions of universal healthcare mandate that the government actually run hospitals nor be the delivery system of healthcare. Rather it’s creative ways — some good, others bad — of how we can cover everyone, or at least have the possibility there. The best version of a universal healthcare I have seen (and of which I agree) is put forth by the group “Republicans for Single-Payer,” which is a group that posits a single-payer universal healthcare system (not government-run) while maintaining their committment to a free-market economy.

    In regard to the statement itself, I think the Bishops may being acknowledging charges made at groups like Catholic Answers who advocate applying a litmus test on candidates. You take two candidates: candidate A and candidate B and you look at their views on abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and gay marriage. If candidate A, supports abortion, then you’re morally obligated to vote for candidate B. If both candidates support abortion, then you look at the other four, and if they support all, then you’re allowed to look at other issues and make your decision from there.

    In essence, while I do sympathize with that view, I do think that such a rigid litmus test is not what the Bishops recommend. Though, I’m not at all defending for voting for pro-abortion candidates. In essence, what I’m thinking is this, Republicans are often charged with legally restricting abortion, but not supporting “progressive” policies that would lead women to choose abortion. While there is much folly to that proposition, there is some truth. SCHIP — the child healthcare program — that provides healthcare to socio-economically disadvantaged children allows many families to have their children covered with basic healthcare, while the parents cannot afford it. Republicans (and some pro-life Democrats) have fought tooth and nail to get unborn children covered in this program so that pregnant women feel they have an option. Republicans also routinely vote against expanding coverage, or redirecting funds toward something else, which seems to me a contradiction of their own principles. Why cover unborn children, if you’re going to redirect the funds to something else, thus limiting the recepients and thus limiting the number of unborn babies potentially saved?

    I think that’s what they’re getting at. Then again, I could be wrong.

  2. Eric Brown says:

    haha…I meant “lead women to NOT choose abortions”

  3. I figured that was basically it — but it still strikes me as something of a straw man dichotomy, though perhaps a necessary one in order to get both sides to listen to your critique.

    I’ll be curious to read a piece by your about health care. I would certainly agree that we need some outside the box thinking about it. A while back I did a somewhat unrealistic thought experiment on it focusing heavily on subsidiarity. And I’d be interesting to brainstorm some more realistic ideas.

    In this particular election, I don’t think McCain’s health care plan is all that great — though I don’t like Obama’s either.

  4. Big Tex says:

    Health care… what an interesting topic. Personally, I’ve been employed by companies with stellar benefits for the most part. The exception being a temp position at a major firm that Darwin surely remembers. 🙂 Currently, my employer offers several medical packages, one of which is a zero contribution plan (i.e. no payroll deductions, for the whole family). With this, I am truly blessed.

    My sister, on the other hand, is employed by a school district somewhere in north Texas and the medical benefits do not even come close. Her coverage is less than $100 per month. When adding her husband to the plan, the employee contribution jumps to over $500. My brother-in-law recently jumped onto his employer’s plan. In effect, it’s a $400 “raise” a month for them. Others aren’t so lucky.

    Another friend from back in TX is in a similar predicament with insurance. Covering his family is just too expensive, so they pay for some other insurance.

    Looking forward to your piece, Eric.

  5. Ernesto says:

    Please consider posting this video and passing it along, it’s amazing. It’s great at showing the distinction between MaCain and Obama in regards to the abortion issue. Please pass this along to everyone you know. We have to get McCain elected… E

    Abortion is advocated only by persons who have themselves been born.
    Ronald Reagan

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