Catholics, Politics & Abortion

My Argument with Mario Cuomo

Listening to Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry talk about his position on abortion (“We believe that what matters most is...not narrow appeals that divide us, but shared values that unite us...”), I hear loudly in the background the sonorous voice of Mario Cuomo, our foremost “philosopher-politician,” as the Boston Globe has lately crowned him. It is twenty years since Cuomo delivered his famous speech at Notre Dame, in which he defined what has become the established rationale for prochoice Catholic politicians. In a recent New York Times op-ed piece on Kerry and the Catholic bishops (“A Political Sacrament,” May 28, 2004), I dismissed that speech as a piece of “ancient sophistry.” That brought a message from the former governor of New York urging me to reexamine his words. And so I have. I have also tracked Cuomo’s statements on the abortion issue in this political season and discussed the matter with him by phone.

A whole new generation—including Senator Kerry—has come of political age since 1984, when Cuomo’s speech was seen as a defense not only of his own prochoice politics but also those of Geraldine Ferraro, a Catholic congresswoman from New York who was that year’s Democratic candidate for vice...

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About the Author

Kenneth Woodward was for thirty-eight years religion editor of Newsweek.