“Authentic Common Ground on Abortion”

THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. With all the episcopal criticism of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama … Continued


By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

With all the episcopal criticism of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give the commencement address, you would think that the American Catholic bishops have written off the administration and anyone who is pro-choice as unredeemable.

This is certainly the position of some in the pro-life movement who are so critical of pro-choice politicians that they consider any cooperation with “the enemy” would be wrong. They will not even cooperate on programs to reduce abortion because that would infer that you find legalized abortion acceptable, they say.

This is not the position of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

On Friday, April 24, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chair of the bishop’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, wrote each member of Congress asking them to co-sponsor and support the Pregnant Women Support Act (H.R. 2035), a bill initiated by Democrats for Life.

Cardinal Rigali agrees that this bill can provide “authentic common ground” for people who disagree on other issues. This puts the bishops firmly on the side of working with anyone to support programs that will reduce the number of abortions.

Cardinal Rigali notes that the bill includes:

Eliminating pregnancy as a “preexisting condition” that can be used to deny health coverage for women; grants to support centers providing alternatives to abortion; assistance encouraging colleges and universities to provide support for pregnant and parenting students; increased support for the WIC program, and for adoption programs; allowing states to cover unborn children and their mothers under the Children’s Health Insurance Program, providing prenatal care for especially needy pregnant women who may not otherwise be eligible; and improving services for pregnant women who are at risk from domestic violence.

These programs will help women to choose life and not be forced to have an abortion because of economic constraints. This has become even more important because the current economic crisis appears to be increasing the numbers of abortions.

“No woman should ever have to undergo an abortion because she feels she has no other choice, or because alternatives were unavailable or not made known to her,” writes Cardinal Rigali. “An abortion performed under such social and economic duress meets no one’s standard for ‘freedom of choice.'”

The Pregnant Women Support Act should be supported by both pro-choice and pro-life people. Such support will show that pro-choice advocates really want to give women a real choice, and it will show that pro-life advocates truly want to protect life.

What is disconcerting is that so far the cardinal’s letter has received little coverage outside the Catholic press. The only non-Catholic news site covering the story that I could find in a Google search was usnews.com. This story deserves more coverage.

Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is Senior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

By Thomas J. Reese | 
April 28, 2009; 3:41 PM ET

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  • Nosmanic


  • mreiter72

    This is a wonderful step in the right direction. There are a lot of aspects to being prolife, and a lot of reasons women choose to abort. It makes sense to me to work on helping pregnant women create safe, healthy environments into which they would want to have their babies. “Prolife” should not just apply to the unborn, also — it should apply to babies, children, adults and the elderly in equal measure. Otherwise it risks becoming an empty and pointlessly divisive issue characterized more by anger and judgment than any good it is really doing in the world.

  • grogg1

    I didn’t See anything about birth control or education. Both would lower the numbers of abortions.

  • number1son

    I notice there is no mention of birth control in the text. Any group that is sincere about eliminating abortion should assure women’s access to birth control, pre- and post-pregnancy.

  • jp1954

    Wow. This is the same group that derided Obama and his followers as “pro-abortion” when complaining of his invitation by Notre Dame to speak at its commencement? Perhaps they’ve determined that intransigence is not an effective policy? That’s a good sign, and society could well benefit as a result.

  • Bluefish2012

    Honest anlysis has to at least acknowledge the possibility that the use of birth control has increased the likelihood of abortion.The reasoning is this: Underlying the rationale of using abortion is the conviction that one has the right to sex for pleasure only, without the responsibility of possible consequences. Once that “right to pleasure for pleasure’s sake” is established, any failure that occurs is clearly unwanted and therefore subject to elimination.There is clearly something wrong with such “free love.” In fact, given that a human being is unwanted and consequently destroyed, one might call the process “free hate.”

  • bevjims1

    They still don’t get it. Women will have an abortion for economic reasons not because they can’t afford the hospital care, its because they will not be able to support the child once it is born, to raise, feed, cloth and shelter the child. And a baby would probably mean not being able to work. These are the things going through the minds of a woman who finds out she is pregnant, especially unwed mothers. If you want to stop abortions start with education and contraception, then make life for a mother who works possible. America has made great strides in the past 30 years in providing child care. But more can be done. No woman should have to worry about bringing a child into the world. If you want to limit abortions you need to be prepared to help support the children. Every Catholic church should have a daycare center free to its members and at a small cost to non-members. Why don’t they? It would go a long way to reducing abortions.

  • agapn9

    The catholic church is not against education. The church is against birth control because one of the ways that the pill prevents birth is to dislodge a living embryo from the wall of the uterus.The dislodgment of a growing viable embryo resulting in the death of that embryo is considered abortion by the catholic church.

  • MPatalinjug

    Yonkers, New YorkIt is rather late in the day for Thomas J. Reese, S.J. to plead with Catholics and ultra-conservatives that in reality the Church is not against “moderates” as far as the controversial and divisive issue of ABORTION is concerned.Catholics all over the United States have long been under the enduring impression that the Catholic Church is unyieldingly opposed to abortion, opposed to birth control, opposed to the use of artificial means of family planning, opposed to gay rights, opposed to gay marriage, and opposed to stem cell research.No desperate appeal by the likes of Thomas J. Reese, S.J. and other Catholics (who must be appalled at the number of Catholics who have drifted out of the Church into other religious denominations) will be able to stop the trend which is gaining momentum.To these people who have drifted away terribly disillusioned and disenchanted with the Catholic Church’s obviously neurotic fixation with these highly divisive social issues, to the total neglect of other political, economic and social issues that have a more significant impact on their lives, there is a sense that the Catholic Church is no longer relevant in their lives.Mariano Patalinjug

  • BethesdaDad

    I agree wholeheartedly with the other comments that unless there is full support for comprehensive birth control programs and services, this proposal falls far too short. If the Church is interested in finding common ground, it must move beyond the kind of thinking that got the Pope into so much trouble with his condoms comment in Africa.Otherwise, there are some worthwhile proposals here, though I would like to see much more about long-term programs to support single mothers through their kids’ childhoods. It’s not enough to get them through pregnancy and the first few months – and then leave them on their own; and yet that seems to be the emphasis of the pro-Life community.

  • globalone

    Dad,”It’s not enough to get them through pregnancy and the first few months – and then leave them on their own”Since when did the citizens of this country become responsible for the CHOICES made by its individuals?While HR 2035 goes a long way to bridging the divide between us, it circumvents what is arguably the most important tenet of this issue. That there must be a focused effort on educating men and women that they are accountable and responsible for the CHOICES they make.Killing a child because you’re “not in the right place right now” or because, as a single parent, you can’t afford another child is a cop-out and a lazy and abhorrent attempt to shirk responsibility and accountability.If you don’t want to have a child, don’t have sex. Not complicated, is it?But if you have sex anyway under the illusion that birth control will always prevent just that, prepare yourself that you will ultimately have to take responsibility for your actions.

  • Athena4

    It’s a good start. However, I’ll bet a donut that Democrats will support it, but Republicans – the so-called “pro-life party” will vote against it, simply because it comes from the Democratic side of the house. That seems to be their pattern lately – they don’t have any good ideas of their own, but are shooting down any Democratic ones.

  • schaeffz

    Yes, help mothers-to-be maintain a healthy prenancy. But also, provide the means for that mother to properly care for the child. Job training, day care, housing, psychological support, etc. Without these, the only recourse for survival is, as it has always been throughout history, abortion. Isn’t the Catholic Church rich enough to give up some gold statues and real estate for this servanthood? If the CC were to undertake a vow of “poverty” to help a mother-to-be resolve her dilemma and choice, then this proactivity would begin to reduce and pray, even eliminate the abortion scourge.

  • gimpi

    “The church is against birth control because one of the ways that the pill prevents birth is to dislodge a living embryo from the wall of the uterus.The dislodgment of a growing viable embryo resulting in the death of that embryo is considered abortion by the catholic church.”agapn9, If that is the case, why do they oppose barrier methods such as condoms or diaphrams, and voluntary sterilization?

  • justillthen

    Hello Globalone,”If you don’t want to have a child, don’t have sex. Not complicated, is it?”A bit simple minded for me, and we are such a complex group, no?If you don’t want to have a child, but you do want to have sex, then find a way that you can achieve both those desires. Options are abundant in life to realize multiple ends. The simple equation Sex =

  • katavo

    Because the pro-life crowd wants it all, they’re getting nothing.Instead of working towards a world where there are no abortions, they insist there be none now.Instead of working towards eliminating unwanted pregnancies by promoting abstinence *and* birth-control, they insist on abstinence only.Instead of supporting those poor women who end up choosing an abortion because they can’t support a child themselves, they blast her for her poor morals and leave her on her own.How’s this absolutism working out for you pro-lifers? Has your insistence on having it all your own way stopped one abortion, prevented one unwanted pregnancy, supported any woman who can’t support an unwanted child?I’d have to say that you are part of the problem, and none of the solution. Since you are unwilling to compromise with anybody, nobody is willing to compromise with you.

  • Paganplace

    Good column. Too much of the supposed ‘pro-life’ movement has really been about *hurting* women, and children, in the name of …sexual control. Little too kinky for me. I think the debate about who, if anyone, gets to enforce what they say ‘God’ (or GOP) wants, is absolutely *no* excuse for the ‘pro-life’ movement to actually be pursuing agendas which *punish* women for unwanted pregnancies, while trying to make sure as many happen as possible by restricting access to and awareness about contraceptives. Plain as day ‘babies’ are just an *excuse* when what they really want is *sexual control.*In my times as Pagan clergy, I’ve counselled a number of women who found themselves with unexpected pregnancies. The last time anyone I talked to *chose* to have an abortion was back when it was perfectly legit to fire someone for getting pregnant, and also legit to fire them for therefore being forced to have an abortion to not be homeless. In Pagan belief, motherhood is sacred, and cannot be coerced. But it’s also *valued.* I’ve seen city tribes that might be hard-pressed to remember what a checkbook *looks like* come together around a situation like that. Punitive hardships such as some Christians (and bishops) want to impose cause they want to use ‘abortion’ as a *bludgeon* to enforce their will …don’t value motherhood. Or children. There’s *no* reason we can’t support mothers better. And if you don’t like what it costs, ease up on the gag rules about contraceptives.

  • CCNL

    Buddha has provided. The 35 million aborted babies are being reincarnated as fanatical Muslims.

  • Gaby1

    Globealone:”If you don’t want to have a child, don’t have sex. Not complicated, is it?And surely that comment was meant for the men who dip their wieners into the mustard jar. Right?!?!?!

  • Gaby1

    agapn9:”The catholic church is not against education. Oh, yeah, and what is your excuse for not aloowing the condom????

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Anti-choicers jes’ ain’t gonna win, Tom. Not gonna happen. Not here. Yer Romans ain’t gonna buy us like they did Ireland. UhUh. Nope.It appears you are wise enough to know the enmity the RCC is breeding and not only amongst Catholics as a result of its position on birth control and abortion, not to mention homosexuality, not to mention this, that, and several other things.Tom, you know what? You appear a decent sort, and so I’m going to spare you edification on the “NT” and “Jesus,” spare you that which that Son of Your Church, CCNL visited upon a rabbi on this blog; the creature “explained” and translated (I swear) for this rabbi.Now, Tom, what do you think of my Jewish caritas? My Jewish wisdom? You do appear a decent sort, not a complete embarrassment, like Stevens-Arroyo. One gets the sense that you have an education.Communicate to the RCC. This is a secular society. Perhaps, Catholics would stop fleeing the Church, not only here, but in Europe if they removed their fingers from everyone’s wombs and genitalia.Who knows, you might even get some folks back into the church. It’s that Roman thing that turns so many former Catholics off.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Tom,I want you to understand. I am exercising tremendous forebearance, not posting long excerpts from this, that, and t’other scholarly text, debunking much of what CCNL, the “realist” says of both “Jesus” and the “NT.”I mean, tremendous. Sage-like. I mean I’m in an altered state.

  • CCNL

    Now what might have Paganplace been in her previous life??Probably another pagan since pagans do no harm (or good?) and therefore just keep a constant flow into the reincarnated market place of humankind of about one percent of the population for the last one hundred years.

  • CCNL

    It would appear that the Baha’i cult has many RCC similarities in dictating rules about the functions of everyone’s wombs and genitalia to include those of the same sex involvement. And then we have the Jewish rules about not bearing false witness, fornicating, killing, adulterating and coveting with said rules also pertaining to homosexuals.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Tom,Please go to “Love and Questions on Israel’s 61st,” and note, this isn’t the first time that CCNL, the Catholic has done this sort of thing on a rabbi’s thread.Posted by: CCNL | April 29, 2009 2:24 PMNow, tell me, is this consistent with Catholic teaching?

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Tom,I forgot to mention, I’m talking about the Catholic CCNL aka Stadtbear aka various Observers aka Tom aka false witness and jerk.Now, Tom, my being in an altered state and all, I’m not posting edifying material on the QRST Gospell and such, but as you can see, I’m getting very, very close. I am getting close Tom. And the reason is this lying thing has written the most offensive imaginable garbage to a very sick woman. Not I. This entity, Tom, says it is Catholic.Fr. Tom, I’m logging off because I do not trust that my altered state will continue with this Catholic, ccnl aka jerk, lurking about, larvally, much longer.I leave you with these words:If I am not for myself, who will be for me?Goodnight to you, and I sincerely hope you read this and post before my edification becomes necessary.Farnaz

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Tom,Just visited briefly to see what ccnl, the Catholic, might be up to on R. Hirschfield’s thread, the one I mentioned in my previous post.From Amazon.com4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (101 customer reviews) Posted by: CCNL | April 30, 2009 12:58 AMYour call, Tom.I’d start with the Q Gospell, easy to cut and paste, and scan. The rest is nothing.Easiest thing in the world.REAL SOON.

  • CCNL

    It is obvious we got Farnaz’s attention but to keep her awake, once again:It would appear that the Baha’i cult has many RCC similarities in dictating rules about the functions of everyone’s wombs and genitalia to include those of the same sex involvement. And then we have the Jewish rules about not bearing false witness, fornicating, killing, adulterating, and coveting. And keep in mind, Farnaz has the following aliases:Farnaz2 aka Observer12 aka Observer31 aka Yael1

  • globalone

    “In my times as Pagan clergy, I’ve counselled a number of women who found themselves with unexpected pregnancies”I’m guessing we can thank the whole “victimization” movement for this type of absurd statement. How about a little Q&A for our mother (and/or father) dealing with an “unexpected” pregnancy.Q: Do you understand the concept of reproduction? That children are created through the act of sexual intercourse and engaging in such an act may result in a child?A: Yes I do. I’m not stupid. But we used protection.Q: Are you aware that there is no method (including Depo-Provera, Norplant, etc.) that is 100% effective except for abstinence.A: Of course I’m aware of that.Q: So how is your pregnancy “unexpected”?A: Q: Hello?Q: Are you still there?

  • ThishowIseeit

    Rev. Reese,

  • justillthen

    Hello again Globalone, I see that you are continuing to play that fiddle. Your Q and A to Paganplace was cute and I understood the point, but you seem to hold onto some assumptions that are not necessarily true.I posted to you and you gave no reply. No need to, just noted. The essence of that message, responding to your statement “if you don’t want to have a child, don’t have sex”, was this: “If you don’t want to have a child, but you do want to have sex, then find a way that you can achieve both those desires.” Sex does not invariably lead to pregnancy, even if practiced without birth control. (Practice makes perfect!) Practiced with birth control the freedom to be sexual without being pregnant, or parental, is greatly increased. It is natural to want to be sexual for humans. It is natural that if birth control is used conscientiously that pregnancy is avoided. It is then natural that one that engages in sex while using birth control would not ‘expect’ a pregnancy. The act of religiously based groups to seek to restrict access to birth control as well as sexual education is immature in the least, irresponsible itself, and leads to a greater number of the abortions that they loathe. A self fulfilling prophesy.

  • LillyP

    The bill mentions nothing about education or access to birth control which have been proven to reduce the number of abortions. The right won’t compromise and they don’t have any true interest in reducing the number of abortions. I believe that President Obama should completely ignore the anti-choice community. They never mention anything about illegal abortion which kills millions of women every year. If abortion became illegal in the US, the conservatives and Catholic Church would ignore the women who harm themselves by taking matters into their own hands. Just ask any woman who came of age pre-Roe. They have horrors stories of women who self-aborted. Abortion isn’t new. Roe didn’t invent it and it’s never going to go away.

  • TracyAligDowling

    We are to report offensive comments, and unfortunately the vast majority of the comments regarding Fr. Reese’s observations are offensive. Also a great many are uninformed — quoting inaccurate statistics, wierd slants on Catholic teaching, and a lack of awareness that abortion and contraception were universally considered as evils by most other major religions until the 20th century. (The Catholics were not the ones responsible for the illegality of contraceptives in the US — those were laws passed by Protestants and other Americans.) Just a thought — no woman ever got pregnant by herself — is it possible that some male responsibility is warranted? That maybe male sexual responsibility is a little more complicated than bringing a woman to orgasm?

  • globalone

    Juststill,Apologies for not responding earlier. Honestly, I’m not sure I understood your response.I am certainly not against anyone enjoying sex to whatever degree they so desire. Birth control, no birth control. That’s completely up to them. And considering I have no ties whatsoever to the Catholic church, I am not against the use of birth control.But the fact remains. No birth control on the planet safeguards women from ever becoming pregnant. This is not a secret. This is common knowledge. And to use the fact that the “odds” are in your favor as a crutch to defend abortion is intolerable.If a drunk drives home on six separate occasions and makes it safely, is the seventh time excused when he plows into another vehicle? Really, how could he have expected that an accident would occur?Abortions that are performed due to circumstances that are “unexpected” is a lazy way of saying that you would rather not take responsibility for your actions.Again, I don’t believe that women should be locked up for having one or that they should be forced to wear a scarlet letter. But any “education” that is conducted needs to be more than the birds and the bees. It needs to include serious discussion on responsibility and accountability. And not just as it pertains to abortion.

  • justillthen

    Hello Globalone, Thank you for the reply. Okay, I am in alignment with most of your last post. Just not the more absolutist version of ‘if you don’t want a child don’t have sex’. In a pure world of absolutes that is a reasonable argument. Not in this more subtle existence. I am all for the encouragement of and teaching of personal responsibility and consequences for ones’ actions. Taught along with real information on human sexuality and sexual relationship issues and crafted to the language of the audience you would find few disinterested listeners. As well I’m guessing positive step in sexual dynamics, whether active or not. Active, one way or other is what happens, in my view. That does not mean ‘sexual’, but most young people are experimenting with their own sexual attractiveness, posturing, flirting, dressing, positioning socially and heirarchically, etc. We can help grow a more balanced and grounded culture by being honest and forthcoming around sexuality as well as many other essential topics.So… my little speech.

  • CCNL

    In case you missed the latest news:Buddha has provided. The 35 million aborted babies in the USA since 1973 to date were/are being reincarnated as fanatical Muslims

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Tom,I may have misjudged ccnl. Perhaps, his posting of Chopra’s book (scroll down) on Rabbi Brad’s thread was meant to be helpful. I should respond in kind, should I not? The least I can do….JesusAvailable at Amazon.comThe Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore (Hardcover)

  • CCNL

    News Flash!!Buddha has changed his direction-All aborted babies starting with the thousands killed today will be reincarnated as rabid and ranting Baha’i cultists!!!

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1