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More on Melinda Henneberger


At the request of Robert Reid and the permission of William Collier: some comments on Henneberger's op-ed piece



Posted by William Collier

on June 22, 2007, 2:59 pm

Im not trying to hijack this thread about Juan Coles prescription for Hillary on Iraq, but Peggy did mention the Melinda Henneberger NYTs op-ed piece, too. The op-ed is titled Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats.

In gathering info for her new book (If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians to Hear), Ms. Henneberger states that she traveled to 20 states, over an 18-month period, listening to a wide cross-section of women comment on the issues they care about for the 2008 presidential election. According to Ms. Henneberger, first-time defectors in the 2004 election, i.e., Democratic women who voted Republican, did so most often not because they were soccer moms who saw Bush as better able than Kerry to deliver on fighting terrorism, but because they were turned off by the Democratic Partys unwillingness to tolerate a diversity of views on the issue of abortion.In Ms. Hennebergers own words:Many of them, Catholic women in particular, are liberal, deep-in-their-heart Democrats who support social spending, who opposed the war from the start and who cross their arms over their chests reflexively when they say the word 'Republican.' Some could fairly be described as desperate to find a way home. And if the party theyd prefer doesnt send a car for them, with a really polite driver, it will have only itself to blame.What would it take to win them back? Respect, for starters and not only on the night of the candidate forum on faith. As it turns out, you cannot call people extremists and expect them to vote for you. But real respect would require an understanding that what supporters of abortion rights genuinely see as a hard-earned freedom, opponents genuinely see as a self-inflicted wound and though I can feel some of you tensing as you read this a human rights issue comparable to slavery.Again and again, these voters said Democrats are too unwilling to tolerate dissent on abortion. It is a point of orthodoxy no more open to debate within the party than the ordination of women is in Rome.She also makes good points about the Democratic Party hierarchys overreaction to the recent Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on partial-birth abortions.IMO the op-ed provides sage practical advice for the Democratic presidential hopefuls on the abortion issue. Ms. Henneberger warns that the abortion issue has been very, very good to the Republican Party and that if the Democratic candidates hope to reconnect with the first-time defectors, they will have to moderate their pro-choice statements and construct a bigger tent on the abortion issue.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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I did a post on Vox Nova about this today (broadly sharing William Collier's conclusions):

Hmm, a Contributor once-removed. I don't think I'm comfortable with this. I was only half-kidding with the Groucho Marx joke, and I've always been a back-of-the-classroom, under-the-radar, one-of-the-proletariat guy. Also, Morning's Minion has done a much better job of capturing the essence and implications of Melinda Henneberger's op-ed. I was for the most part summarizing the op-ed for those who might not have access to the NYT.I would add one thing to Morning's Minion's comments. The Democratic Party already has a ready, willing, and able group within its ranks--the Democrats for Life of America--that can provide some very useful advice on pro-life issues. I hope DLA gets called upon by the party leaders.

So precisely how should the Democratic party triangulate the issue, short of simply advocating the adoption of the Catholic doctrinal position into law?

I second Antonio's query.A seasoned Catholic Democratic party operative told me decades ago now that he counseled young candidates running in Catholic areas that the only tenable position they could take was to say that they were personally opposed to abortion, but would not force their religious views on others.It didn't take long for those candidates to sound like weasels to both sides.

Here is a genuine question: Is the following position on abortion simply too lethal for a Democrat to hold:1) In the vast majority of cases choosing to have an abortion is an immoral choice. However, (drawing on Aquinas here) not all immoral actions should be outlawed, and, abortion is one such action. Therefore, abortion should not be criminalized.2) However, there is room for more restrictions on abortion, especially regarding later term abortions and non-emancipated minors. Most European abortion laws are far more restrictive than U.S. laws, and the world has not ended there.If this position is too extreme for a Democrat to hold, then the Democrats have, it seems to me entirely hamstrung by this issue.

That should be "then the Democrats have, it seems to me, been entirely hamstrung by this issue."

Joe, one of my state legislators wasa pro-life Democrat before he was term-limited. He took a candid stand for specific restrictions on abortion, such as parental notification (which passed) and waiting periods (which did not). I'm sure he would have supported a proposed "sonogram law," that would have required women to view an ultrasound before deciding to abort, as a right to be informed law.He never made any blanket statements about abortion except relative ones. Such as, "As a Catholic, I believe abortion is wrong, but ..." I don't know about the decriminalization bit. I think those who are doctrinaire on both sides of the abortion issue would see that as weaseling.

Just a p.s. to the strategy my legislator took above: His support of abortion restrictions took the form of favoring the rights of parents to assent to medical procedures of their daughters, the right for women to make informed choices, etc.

There are a lot of people like Ms. Henneberger, Mudcat Saunders and James Carville come to mind, who are just as certain that a given group of voters will vote D on election day if only the D's reach out to [fill in the blank -- Southerners, pro-lifers, etc.] Has Ms. Henneberger analyzed the results of her conversations in light of the 2006 election results? I know she didn't speak and isn't speaking for me.

I wonder why most of us sans Barabara accept Henneberger's conclusions as if they are fact. How does that balance with the overwhelming support and popularity of Bill Clinton for president?As far as the South is concerned the democrats lost the South because of support for civil rights not pro life, as Lyndon Johnson predicted.And why are we not paying attention to all those prolifers like Rick Santorum who were given the boot? Seems to me that the burden of proof is on Hennenberger. Here is a more scientific survey.

Bill:Your Catholics for a Free Choice link puts me in mind of your oft repeated assertion that 'abortion is the fraud issue of our time.'How about this for fraud: On the same link that includes a CBS poll reporting 65% of Catholics as favoring greater restrictions on abortion, Catholics for a Free Choice claims that 'Catholics are prochoice.' One could as easily claim from the same data that 'Catholics are prolife.'Earth to official prochoice *and* prolife movements: there are many of us unwilling to let you define the terms of the conversation.

2006 Senate in a nutshell:MO -- pro-choice McCaskill defeats pro-life TalentMT -- pro-choice Tester defeats pro-life BurnsPA. -- pro-life Casey defeats pro-life SantorumRI -- pro-choice Whitehouse defeats pro-choice ChafeeTN -- pro-life ??? (can't remember name) defeats pro-life Ford.VA -- pro-choice Webb defeats pro-life AllenI think I'm forgetting one state that flipped and McCaskill is probably amenable to certain restrictions on abortion, but still, this hardly validates Ms. Henneberger's thesis. The other thing about Ms. Henneberger's analysis that I haven't seen questioned anywhere is that although it seems beyond dispute that younger voters are more open to flexibility on abortion, they are less likely to vote solely based on a candidates position on abortion. Thus, that flexibility noted by Ms. Henneberger doesn't necessarily mean that if a D does not demonstrate flexibility the voter won't vote for him or her. And in any event, both Rs and Ds have a number of "cross party" reps on life issues -- Casey, Tim Ryan, Harry Reid for Ds and Susan Collins and her ilk for Rs. Which of these can be said to be in the ascendant in their respective parties?

Okay ships passing in the night.What if you're all correct (except Bill Mazzella: Bill, if you believe CFC's version of Catholics and abortion, you must believe that the moon is made of green cheese).Most Catholics, like most Americans, do not vote on single issues, including abortion. So, the polling data and election outcomes are never going to be in synch. Gallup polls over the last several decades show that most Catholic, like most Americans, think not all reasons justify abortion and would favor more restrictions, especailly on late abortions. More than a majority do not think economic or social reasons justify abortion. Let's face it: Roe was a bad political and legal decision; and restrictions are in order. It has poisoned our politics for over thirty years, and now it has given a Supreme Court that will poison our jursiprudence, not by overturning Roe, but by overturning everything else!Melinda Henneberger can defend herself, of course, so I won't. But she never claims she has a statistically accurate report, she only claims that the national Democratic Party is out on a limb that it doesn't need to be on. Why the Dem's policy should be dictated by NARAL and Kate Michelman is a mystery to me. There's a lot of room between Republican efforts to overturn Roe and what most Americans would find morally tolerable (not that that necessarily would be moral).Now, Melinda, speak up.

Mike McG,I am all for more people defining the conversation. I think we can explain the apparent contradiction. Restrictions does not mean abolition.Moreover, CFFC are much more responsible and on target than too many will lead us to believe.The origins of my rage about my questioning the prolife movement comes from my being contacted in a parish in the South Bronx, over forty years ago, about campaigning against legislation to make abortion legal. Which I enthusiastically embraced.This work gave me an inside view of the chancery that I still find stunning to this day. Secondly, of all the tasks that I could have used help with, this is the only one the Chancery called me on.So you can say I met a few frauds on the way. The same is true of the Republican party's use of the issue. Most republican women are for freed choice. (That is how the president's father lost to Clinton.) Republican women are more relaxed about it today as they know the law will not be changed.If the federal government does outlaw abortion, the scenario will change paradigmatically. This is why it is a fraud issue. Why people are willing to forget the continuous abuse of women by the hierarchy and poo pah it saying that it is too hard to tackle.

Our wishe is their command.Posted by Tom Reese:Democrats Set Their Sights on Winning Back Catholics Learning from Kerry's loss, lawmakers craft abortion stands By Dan Gilgoff, US News & World Report Posted 6/24/07 A Roman Catholic nun who leads a social justice advocacy group called Network, Simone Campbell rarely got a phone call from Capitol Hill before the 2006 election. Campbell, based in Washington, D.C., says she "wore her knuckles bare" fruitlessly knocking on lawmakers' doors, particularly those of Democrats who should have been natural allies on issues like raising the minimum wage and comprehensive immigration reform. Then came last year's midterm elections. Campbell joined a new Catholic voter-turnout operation working to reverse the wilting Catholic support Democrats had seen in 2004. After her efforts helped elect Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, her phone began ringing. Campbell's group is now regularly invited to meetings with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. On a recent conference call about immigration with other religious activists, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York announced at the last minute that she wanted to jump on. Campbell was asked to give the closing prayer at a big Democratic National Committee meeting last winter. "I stopped being a pariah," she says. "Now, I'm value added." Indeed, having witnessed both George W. Bush's victory among Catholics in 2004 and the Catholic vote's dramatic rejection of Republicans last year, Democrats are now waging a multifront offensive to shore up what was once a bedrock constituency. The Democratic National Committee has hired its first director of Catholic outreach. The DNC is also slated to soon unveil an organizing hub for Catholics on its website, and it's planning to supply state parties with Catholic voter lists before the 2008 election. Catholic Democrats in Congress are introducing legislation to reduce demand for abortion, a top issue for the Roman Catholic Church. And some Democratic presidential candidates are already devising Catholic outreach plans. "You know things have gotten off track when a Roman Catholic candidate has to do outreach to people within his own church," says Senator Casey, discussing his own 2006 outreach effort. "But we're getting it back on track now." With Catholics accounting for 1 in 5 American voters, the mobilization could determine whether Democrats win the White House and keep control of Congress in 2008. "Catholics are ideal targets" for Democrats courting religious voters, says University of Akron political scientist John Green. Many Catholics are political centrists, unlike overwhelmingly conservative evangelical Christians. Catholics also tend to be less observant than evangelicals and so are less likely to tow the church line politically. What's more, the Catholic Church's promotion of social welfare programs and its opposition to war (including Iraq) dovetails with the Democratic Party platform. But Catholics face cross-pressures from their church to oppose abortion and gay marriage, pushing them closer to the GOP. In 2004, a handful of Catholic bishops denounced Democratic nominee John Kerry's pro-abortion-rights position; one said he'd deny Kerry, a Catholic, the Eucharist. Kerry lost white Catholicswho make up the vast majority of the Catholic communityto Bush by 56 to 43 percent. By contrast, the only Catholic ever elected president, John F. Kennedy, won nearly 80 percent of the Catholic vote. Analysts blame Kerry's weak showing among Catholics largely on his unassertive response to the bishops' attacks. As the 2006 election cycle got underway, a Democratic consulting firm called Common Good Strategies emerged, and new liberal religious groups like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good worked in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Kansas to prevent a few conservative bishops and the GOP from defining the "values" debate. "Before that, religious voters felt they had no place to go that was not right of center," says Network's Campbell, who helped frame affordable healthcare and opposition to the Iraq war as values issues. Common Good Strategies enlisted nuns to do phone banking, while Casey delivered a major speech on faith and politics at the Catholic University of America. He wound up winning 58 percent of the white Catholic vote, even though he was challenging Sen. Rick Santorum, an antiabortion Catholic. New ideas. The DNC's new Catholic outreach director, John Kelly, is an alumnus of the Pennsylvania and Ohio campaigns. He has already met with scores of Catholic leaders, devising "practical solutions" on hot-button issues like abortion. Those solutions include three Democratic proposals in Congress to reduce the number of abortions. One, cosponsored by Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, seeks to help prevent unwanted pregnancies through education and contraception (which is opposed by the Catholic Church) and to provide counseling and economic assistance to low-income, pregnant women to dissuade them from having abortions. DeLauro says Catholics who support abortion rights must stand up against what she considers the church's attacks: "There are people who have used religion and the Eucharist as a political weapon, and we as Catholics have to speak out to define ourselves." Of course, DeLauro and other Catholic Democrats run the risk of seeming to be at loggerheads with their own church. Some in the church hierarchy insist that's the case because the church won't accept any position on abortion that falls short of criminalizing it. "The primary issue for the Catholic bishops is the life issue," says one highly placed source in the church hierarchy. "Democrats don't have an openness on that issue, and that will always be the block." Some moderate and conservative Catholics, meanwhile, say the Democrats' Catholic outreach so far has focused almost exclusively on liberal social justice organizations. "I've not heard anything from the DNC," says Raymond Flynn, a conservative Catholic Democrat who was ambassador to the Vatican under President Clinton and now leads Catholic Citizenship, a major lay Catholic group. Flynn, who supported Bush in 2000, says the only Democrats reaching out to him are presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and her husband. The Clinton campaign is also corresponding regularly with its growing list of religious supporters, tagging Catholics in its database for more specialized outreach down the road. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign, meanwhile, is hosting values forumsincluding five in New Hampshire during one week in Junethat are drawing many Catholics. Former Sen. John Edwards's campaign manager, David Bonior, is a onetime Catholic seminarian. Bonior attributes Kerry's loss largely to his failure to articulate antiwar and economic justice positions that would have appealed to Catholics, giving Bush an opening to target them on abortion and gay marriage. "The difference is that John Edwards gives them a place to go on the war and a place to go on economic policy," Bonior says. And, depending on what happens in Congress, Democrats might have a place for them to go on abortion, too. This story appears in the July 2, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., [email protected] Senior Fellow Woodstock Theological Center Georgetown University Washington, DC 20057 202-687-3532

One of the reasons so many people favor more restrictions on late abortions is because there is deliberate obfuscation about who has them for what reasons. When you ask people whether women should be able to terminate for risks to their lives or because of grave fetal defect the response is overwhelmingly pro-choice. Well, that's who has later term abortions. Specifics, details, matter, especially when it comes to curtailing any person's liberty, and that is what you won't do. Offer specifics. Rather than wringing your hands about how abortion isn't sufficiently restricted. What restrictions do you want? Who is going to be forced to give birth under what circumstances in your ideal world?

The contrast between American bishops and Catholics for a Free Choice is revealing. The bishops have up to 2002 enjoyed an unearned good reputation while CFFC has suffered an unearned poor reputation. Even liberal Catholic magazines went along.Brought down by the secular courts the bishop now suffer an earned poor reputation while CFFC situation remain the same. It may be time again to reexamine CFFC instead of flippantly discarding it since it is still not that fashionable. You may not find them at the annual Alfred E Smith dinner but look at what one does find there.Their integrity remains while that of their critics continues to sink.

Anyone who is interested in the issue of late term abortion can visit the Alan Guttmacher web site, which tabulates and analyzes statistics and other valuable information about abortion. Here's a fact sheet: more than 1.2% of abortions are induced after 21 weeks of pregnancy. 88% of abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

1% of 1.2 million = 14,400. Insignificant? Perhaps to prochoice absolutists, for whom this statistic shows late term abortion for the trivial red herring they believe it to be. But not insignificant to many, many people conflicted about abortion. Prochoice advocates point to one set of facts involving horrendous birth defects, for example. Prolife advocates point to abortion for cleft palate. I'm reminded of the article in the NYT magazine some time ago by a writer who 'selectively reduced' two of the three triplets she was carrying so as not to be reduced to buying peanut butter at Costco.I submit we'll make no progress on this issue until prolife advocates can publicly recognize the profound and agonizing consequences of an unwanted pregnancy and prochoice advocates are equally vocal in acknowledging with sorrow that abortion procures the death of the fetus. Maybe then a compromise like that mentioned by Joe Pettit above might have some resonance.

It's insignificant if, as I believe, the vast majority of those abortions relate to circumstances in which the vast majority of the population believes the right should not be circumscribed -- grave health issues for either mother or fetus. Very few women wake up at 20 weeks gestation and decide they don't want to be pregnant any longer for reasons unrelated to health issues. If you want to make abortion illegal for women who are facing personal risks to their own health or in circumstances where the fetus has been diagnosed with grave or lethal defects, say so. Don't hide from the issue. That's all I'm asking.

Barbara's assertion that "grave health issues" are the reason for most abortions is not supported by at least one key study:In 1988, the Alan Guttmacher Institute conducted a survey of women who were getting abortions, asking why they had made this decision. They received responses from 1900 women at 27 abortion "clinics" and 3 hospitals. The results were printed in Family Planning Perspectives, Planned Parenthood's magazine.Both the Guttmacher Institute and Planned Parenthood are pro-abortion, so it is fair to suspect that there may be a "pro-choice" bias to the study. Additional bias may be suspected from the nature of the survey: It is fair to ask if a woman who is getting an abortion for less-than-earthshaking reasons might not exagerrate or even invent justifications in order to make her decision sound more justified. Nevertheless, the results of their study are interesting. The following text and numbers are taken from the chart in Family Planning Perspectives, July/August 1988 issue, page 170:Woman is concerned about how having a baby could change her life 16% Woman can't afford baby now 21% Woman has problems with relationship or wants to avoid single parenthood 12% Woman is unready for responsibility 21% Woman doesn't want others to know she has had sex or is pregnant 1% Woman is not mature enough, or is too young to have a child 11% Woman has all the children she wanted, or has all grown-up children 8% Husband or partner wants woman to have an abortion 1% Fetus has possible health problem 3% Woman has health problem 3% Woman's parents want her to have abortion <1% Woman was victim of rape or incest 1% Other 3% (Totals do not add to 100% because of rounding.)

Robet, late-term abortions. That's what I was referring to. I'm not making any claims for any abortions that are undergone prior to 16 weeks of gestation. It's those that are done after that, and especially, after 21 weeks that I was referring to. So if you look closely you will find that 6% answered that either fetus or woman has health problem -- which is just about the same as the 5% of abortions conducted after 16 weeks. Want to bet there's an overlap between the statistics I quoted and those statistics? Most fetal and maternal health problems surface after the first trimester and that's why they tend to lead to later abortions. Sheesh.

If you believe--as many do--that a new human life begins at conception, then the question of whether the abortion destroys that life early in the pregnancy or later is really irrelevant. Moreover, the issue of late-term abortions is quite similar to the issue of a "health" exemption--the term "health" has been so broadly defined that almost anything at all--even the woman's concernt hat pregnancy will interfere with her career--can fall under a mental health explanation. Likewise, the health risks to justify late-term abortions are open to wide and vastly differing interpretations. Medical diagnoses have been wrong in the past; doctors are not perfect. But the one constant is that the new human life that began at conception is dead.

Sure, some health risks are overblown. Some aren't. Some birth defects are minor, some aren't. To me, what you are saying is that some women should be forced to face acute hardship and potentially catastrophic outcomes because other women are morally unserious. The difficulty with the pro-life movement is that it has lost any capacity to weigh the interests of anyone save the fetus. A woman's life counts for zero.

Of course, the opposite of what Barbara says is actually true--it's the unborn child's life that counts for zero for far too many people. There are few restrictions at all on abortions today--even the recent Supreme Court decision on partial birth abortion is not considered a major victory by many in the pro-life movement (I don't necessarily agree with them, but i know they feel that way).

Even with exceptions for life or health (however that might be defined), no doctor wants to run the risk of being thrown into the meatgrinder we call the legal system.It's not hard to imagine some overzealous prosecutor, wanting to curry favor with pro-life voters, deciding, ex post facto, to second guess the decision of the attending physician. Talk about the potential for miscarrage.

"Of course, the opposite of what Barbara says is actually true--it's the unborn child's life that counts for zero for far too many people."Perhaps you'd care to support that with facts. In pro-life rhetoric, the pregnant woman is either invisible, a callous harridan or a quivering, guilt ridden creature of pure emotion.

Robert, I know it doesn't seem this way, but if you go back to your last two or three posts, when asked about hardship to actual women, you either deny it, or start talking about the fetus. That's what I mean by saying that women count for zero. The potential for real and devastating consequences to women is never a factor in the pro-life view of abortion. That doesn't mean it isn't real.

Antonio,In every successful abortion the unborn child dies--if that is not counting for zero, what else could it possibly mean? If that is not a fact, what is it? Or are you one who considers the unborn child just a collection of cells?Barbara,This goes back to a question I asked in another thread about some cardinal or archibishop and Amnesty international: if you will stop supporting the destruction of unborn human life, I will gladly preface my every remark with compassionate concern for the women involved, I'll even support whatever programs or spending that might enable them to keep their children or help them carry their children to birth and then give them up for adoption. But what you want is that the hardships these women face should trump the life of their unborn children--and that I cannot agree to.

Robert, you can show your concern for both women and fetuses by supporting those programs right now. If your support depends on whether I change my mind, well, whatever, I guess they aren't that important to you.

That's a deliberate dodge, and you know it. The fact is, except for the most extreme pro-lifers (who are always portrayed as representing the whole), the pro-life side has far, far more concern for the women invovled than the pro-choice side has for the unborn children because the pro-life side does not advocate policies that guarantee the deaths of one of the two persons involved in this discussion. The pro-choice side does not even acknowledge that there are two persons involved.

Put it this way. If men bore children abortion would never have been an issue. A blunt way to put it but perhaps the only way to phrase it. Abortion was never an issue in olden times as too many children were naturally lost in childbirth, The average age of women in the first few centuries was below 25 and 19 was the median age, if I remember correctly. As soon as puberty arrived women were told to have children. Most of them knew their life was destined to be short. Shorter life spans and the need to have more labor for the family made abortion a mute issue.For this reason, any one looking at history can easily see why virginity would be preferred over maternity and marriage. Somehow, at least early, only elite women were given this privilege. A woman becoming a nun secured a freedom unavailable to the married or single woman.More than anything the history of women shows them being dominated. They certainly were the first slaves taken as the booty of war.Slaves could do most any task except participate in politics. It is only in the last few centuries when women got the right to vote did matters change. Reproductive and other issues became challengable with this unique paradigm change.What amazes me is how many women still defend a dated system and take part in the vilification of women, like Hilary, which would never be tolerated if done to a man.

"In every successful abortion the unborn child dies--if that is not counting for zero, what else could it possibly mean? If that is not a fact, what is it?"It's your opinion.Making judgements about someone else's values in such circumstances requires mind reading skills neither of us has.Also, claiming that the anti-abortion movement values women while wishing to deprive them of the right to decide such matters sounds more like condescension and paternalism to me.

Robert, if there are degrees on the pro-life side (you note that the most extreme are portrayed as representing the whole), would you concede that pershaps there are degrees on the pro-choice side?And that perhaps some of them acknowledge there are two human lives involved? And that some would support restrictions on some types of abortions and abortions for some reasons?

Jean: Good question. I look forward to Robert's answer and would be most interested in the replies of Bill, Barbara and Antonio to your question as well. There are indeed intermediate positions and voices. I often feel that it well serves those most entrenched in absolute positions that these voices not be heard.

Jean,Of course there are degrees in the views of the pro-choice side. Some support abortion on demand for any reason, some support it only in cases of rape, incest or the health of the mother, etc. Nothing I have written said anything otherwise (because other than stating that they deny the humanity of the unborn and listing a survey of the reasons women gave for having aboirtions I don't believe I've comented on the pro-choice side at all). Your other point--that some pro-choice people do recognize that two human lives are invovled--is deeply disturbing if true. After all, a person who says the unborn are just a bunch of cells is mistaken (I won't bother qualifying it by saying "mistaken as far as I'm concerned" because you already know that) but his or her support of abortion is at least consistent with that view. But for someone to acknowledge that the unborn child is a human life and then support its destruction anyway ... there is no other word to describe such an act than evil. Of course, many people support the destruction of human life under certain ciorcumstances--when the police shoot a fleeing suspect, when a convicted murderer is put to death, when soldiers are killed in a war, and even when innocent civilians are accidentally killed in that same way. But just as the deliberate killing of innocent civilians or surrendering soldiers is not condoned, the killing of an unborn child--the most innocent person of all--can never be condoned. In the rare, rare case where the mother will absolutely die if she attempts to give birth (and I do not know if such an absolute case even exists, especially given today's medical technology) then one life is being balanced against another and certainly no one should force the mother to sacrifice her own life for the sake of her child (though everything in Christianity suggests that God would look more kindly on that choice than on the opposite decision) but in all other cases the life of the unborn child should weigh more heavily in the balance. After all, the mother at least has the option of aborting the child or not--the child has absolutely no choice in the matter.

Robert, you are right in writing that if a person believes a fertilized human egg is a human being, then no way is pro-choice justified, except when the mother's life is also involved. Even tho I do not believe there is a human being there, this does not mean that I am against dialoguing the matter.What I am pointing out is the issue of abortion is for the most part a woman's issue, which is mostly talked about by men, who miss the boat on it. Angela Bonaviglia, in her classic, "Good Catholic Girls" writes: "But why Abortion? While the issue itself is compelling and controversial, the prominence with which it is treated by the Church, particularly in 2003 and 2004, raises an intersting question: Why is the greatest sin of the early twenty-first century in the Catholic Church not nuclear proliferation or ethnic cleansing, prisoner torture or blowing children up with bombs or land mines, hungry people in the richest nation on earth, homelssness, rape, murder, or priest abuse of children, but ending a pregnancy, even at the zygote state?" pg44.Bonavoglia follows this with an even more poignant response. That is for later. "Good Catholic Girls" is a classic which is even more notable for not being read by most educated Catholics.

Bill,Until the concept of human reproduction with artifically created sperm (an actual story in today's news) becomes reality, every pregnancy involves both a man and a woman and thus abortion cannot be considered just a woman's issue. And no human life should be solely dependant on the choice, decision, whim, or whatever of a single other person. As for why the Church makes abortion so central, I think you are too focused on the clergy's very long and very bad relationship with women. While that does make it hard for them to convince many people about the rightness of their position on abortion, it does not actually change the rightness of their position. Likewise, the priest sex scandal has done the Church immeasurable harm in convincing anyone to listen to them on anything related to sex and morality, even if the particular point they try to make is right ... it's just human nature to not believe someone who's been shown to have feet of clay. Consider Eugene O'Neill's classic "The Iceman Cometh" in which the opinions of the character who tells everyone that they're just wasting their lives in that bar can ultimately be dismissed because it turns out he just murdered his wife--hope I didn't give away the ending to anyone! In any situation, the acceptance of the message is often dependent on the trust you give the messenger. As to why abortion is considered the greatest sin, you could argue that it is simply the Church's issue that the media gives the most attention to. After all, the American bishops have condemned all capital punishment, haven't they? But again, the rightness or wrongness of abortion is absolute in itself; it is not dependent on the rightness or wrongness of any other issue nor on how much attention or lack of attention that any human beings or human organizations--the Church included--pay to that or any other issue. Each is a separate sin, if you will. And as for the Church's focus, I would suggest that efficacy is part of the answer--the Church knows it cannot do much about war or rape or murder ... those are eternal problems that may never be solved. But the legal status of abortion is a tangible target that the Church has every reason to hope and believe it can alter. As for the priest scandals, well there you and I have no disagreement. Indeed, I would have thought it a pity--but a necessary pity--if the Church had even stopped talking about abortion for a while in order to clean up its own act and then reenter that debate with cleaner hands. That they have not done so will ultimately hinder their efforts, I believe.

I usually shy away from saying women should have greater prerogative in the abortion debate, but I do emphatically agree that there is no situation like pregnancy, and therefore, it is a morally incomplete position to treat it "just like" anything else. It does seem to me that's what the Church does, assigning basically no value to a woman's interest in liberty or personal autonomy, and only the most grudging value to her life at all (I find the application of dogma to ectopic pregnancies or therapeutic abortion to be truly chilling). Basically, putting all the pieces together, women are compelled to be selfless or damned when it comes to pregnancy. Men are put in that position only under extraordinary circumstances, not through the ordinary life event of pregnancy, and usually find excuses through doctrines of self defense or justification that they will not make available to pregnant women. Most women who have abortions already have children that they probably value above all else. That should tell us something about the conflict between lived experience and abstract doctrines on the existence of personhood. It isn't dispositive but it counts for a lot.

Robert,I appreciate your thoughtful and reasoned response. Ideally in a loving relationship a man and a woman work to share everything together. All of us know many great examples.Yet even a cursory consideration of what people like Elizabeth Schussler-Fiorenza and other women are pointing out show an immense gap between men and women with reference to ability and experience in reproductive and other issues. Take a look at this comment from Augustine with reference to his mother's relationship with his father. I quote without comment:Book 9 chapter 9 verse 19 of the ConfessionsMoreover, even though he was earnest in friendship, he was also violent in anger; but she had learned that an angry husband should not be resisted, either in deed or in word. But as soon as he had grown calm and was tranquil, and she saw a fitting moment, she would give him a reason for her conduct, if he had been excited unreasonably. As a result, while many matrons whose husbands were more gentle than hers bore the marks of blows on their disfigured faces, and would in private talk blame the behavior of their husbands, she would blame their tongues, admonishing them seriously--though in a jesting manner--that from the hour they heard what are called the matrimonial tablets read to them, they should think of them as instruments by which they were made servants. So, always being mindful of their condition, they ought not to set themselves up in opposition to their lords. And, knowing what a furious, bad-tempered husband she endured, they marveled that it had never been rumored, nor was there any mark to show, that Patricius had ever beaten his wife, or that there had been any domestic strife between them, even for a day. And when they asked her confidentially the reason for this, she taught them the rule I have mentioned. Those who observed it confirmed the wisdom of it and rejoiced; those who did not observe it were bullied and vexed.

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