WASHINGTON — A full-page ad blitz with the words “Public funding of abortion is a Catholic social-justice value” has made a splash in major newspapers across the United States.
But Catholic bishops and lay leaders have seized on the campaign as an opportunity to rebuke the abortion lobby group that is sponsoring the campaign for falsely characterizing itself as Catholic — and to unequivocally state that “social justice” and “pro-life” values are inseparably united in Catholic social teaching.
The “social justice” tagline is part of the new multiyear “Abortion in Good Faith” campaign conducted by Catholics for Choice, a Washington-based group funded by wealthy donors and million-dollar investments that dissents from Catholic teaching on the inherent dignity of human life. The campaign made its Sept. 12 debut in 20 national and local newspapers, both in English and Spanish.
“The use of the name ‘Catholic’ as a platform to promote the taking of innocent human life is offensive not only to Catholics, but to all who expect honesty and forthrightness in public discourse,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, representing the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, in a statement attacking the ads. He stated that Catholics for Choice had no affiliation with the Church and indicated the organization was a front group for wealthy foundations dedicated to advancing abortion as population control.
“[A]bortion kills the most defenseless among us, harms women and tears at the heart of families. Pushing for public funding would force all taxpaying Americans to be complicit in the violence of abortion and an industry that puts profit above the well-being of women and children,” he said.
Rather than succumb to a false choice between pregnant women and their unborn children, Cardinal Dolan said the Catholic faith teaches, “Catholics and all people of goodwill are called to love them both.”
Catholics for Choice has been denounced in the past by the U.S. bishops for misrepresenting itself as an authentically Catholic organization.
The U.S. bishops’ conference joined a chorus of other bishops, dioceses and conferences throughout the country.
Several Catholic bishops in Texas — Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas (now the head of the Vatican’s new Office of Family Life) and Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter — released a joint letter saying it was a “false premise that refusal to pay for someone’s abortion is an assault on anyone’s God-given dignity.”
“The only assault on dignity in this discussion is the abortion, which ends one life and irrevocably diminishes countless other lives,” they stated.
The bishops explained that Catholic social teaching “is based on and inseparable from our understanding of human life and human dignity” in every person, from the moment of conception to natural death.
“Catholics, by definition, are in accord with the essential teachings of the Church and embrace the faith that has been handed down to us through Jesus Christ and the apostles,” they said. “Someone cannot call themselves a Catholic, yet reject the sanctity of life by active support of abortion.”
The Catholics for Choice campaign also represents the “throwaway culture” condemned by Pope Francis, explained the Minnesota Catholic Conference in its own statement.
“If there is a desire to help a woman in need who is facing an unplanned pregnancy, the solution as a society is to provide her with the resources and support she needs to care for her child — not help her dispose of it,” it stated, encouraging Catholics to support local pregnancy-resource services as “true social justice” that loves both the mother and unborn child.
In unveiling the campaign, Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, stated in a news release that the ban on public funding of abortion is the “single most detrimental policy to women’s access to abortion in the U.S.”
“How we treat the poor is a critical component to our social-justice tradition,” he said.
The Register requested via phone and email an interview with Catholics for Choice regarding the goals of the campaign and why it believed it could invoke Catholic social teaching to justify public support for abortion. The Register asked also how the campaign was being funded, but received no responses by publication deadline.
Although Catholics for Choice claims to represent the voices of Catholics who want public funding of abortion, the group itself has hardly any grassroots support, beyond a handful of volunteers and $1.3 million in paid staff. According to IRS Form 990s for the 2014 fiscal year — the latest records publically available — the organization sits on an investment stockpile of $10.2 million and churned out $894,383 in investment income to fund its activities. It also reported $3.2 million in total contributions for FY2014, including a $3-million stock gift. These sources accounted for most of the group’s $4-million revenue in FY2014.
Catholics for Choice is known to have had wealthy backers for its agenda, such as the Ford Foundation, and once received a grant from George Soros’ Open Society Foundation in 2000.
But when it comes to abortion, more Catholics are aligned with the magisterium of their bishops than the policy doctrines of Catholics for Choice.
According to Pew Research data, 57% of Catholics still think abortion is a sin, even though they are divided closely on the legality of abortion. A 47% plurality of Catholics, tilted by Latino views, favor making most or all abortion illegal.
A July 2016 Marist poll of more than 1,000 U.S. adults found 62% oppose using public funds for abortion. Also 65% of African-Americans and 61% of Latinos — two population groups heavily hit by abortion — also oppose public funding of the procedure.
What Low-Income Women Really Need
The people lined up by Catholics for Choice as its representatives for the “Abortion in Good Faith” campaign focused on expanding abortion access to poor women — not actually addressing the economic or familial circumstances that lead them into abortion.
One self-described Catholic pledge taker and community organizer, John Noble of Des Moines, Iowa, claimed, “Without public funding, poor people have no access, and the legality of abortion is only a symbol,” he said.
Linda Pinto of Shohola, Pa., a former nun who married a former priest, maintained that public funding of abortion was a matter of supporting the underprivileged and would serve the “common good.”
Gloria Romero Roses, a Catholic business owner and former congressional candidate of Southwest Ranches in Florida, said, “Catholic teaching tells us not to be complicit in circumstances that undermine our mission to be the hands and feet of Christ on earth.”
Roses went on to say that public funding of abortion was “health care for a woman who has made a choice in good conscience.” She cited her own experience growing up in Colombia, hearing about poor women dying in childbirth, from botched abortions or who were unable to care for an increasing number of children.
But Kathleen Buckley Domingo, the respect-life coordinator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Life, Justice and Peace, told the Register that Catholic social teaching aims to create a society where people can flourish. And even people who identify themselves as “pro-choice,” she added, recognize that “abortion is a terrible process” and represents a failure on the part of society to support women.
Many poor women, particularly those in a number of Latino and African-American communities, she explained, are being pressured by their economic circumstances into aborting their unborn children.
The foremost reasons for abortion documented in 2004 by the Guttmacher Institute: 74% said having a child would interfere with education, work or ability to care for their other children; 73% said they did not have the resources to raise a baby at that time; 48% said they did not want to be single mothers or had relationship problems.
According to Guttmacher data, women in their 20s account for more than half of all abortions. Also more than 60% of women who seek abortions already have one baby.
Domingo said low-income women who get pregnant need affordable prenatal health care, and they need to have confidence they will be able to keep their jobs and put food on the table for their other children by having paid leave when they take time off for birth. They also need policies that encourage the fathers of their children to stay in the home, she added, instead of having to shoulder the burden of raising children on their own. Marriage, she said, greatly reduces rates of children in low-income households becoming trapped in poverty, illiteracy and gang activity.
“Instead of that, [Catholics for Choice] are just telling them that the only thing they’re going to fund is the destruction of their unborn children,” she said.
Pro-life groups also took the opportunity to affirm the Church’s position that opposition to abortion is a social-justice value.
Kristi Hamrick, spokeswoman for Americans United for Life Action, told the Register that Catholics who value the Church’s teachings recognize that opposition to abortion is “a social-justice issue, as every life has value and is irreplaceable, deserving protection.”
She said, “In this election, as in all others, people who understand that without a right to life all other rights are meaningless must seek to elect those who will protect life, from conception to natural death.”
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), told the Register that Catholics who actually care about poor women could not get behind the Catholics for Choice campaign. She pointed out that the main beneficiaries of public funding for pregnant women are abortion businesses.
A beneficial use of public funds to “support women in pregnancy,” Day added, would be providing low-income women with paid parental leave and more support to help pregnant women finish their degrees, which would help boost wage levels that they could raise a family on. She said DFLA has also worked on legislation to pay for perinatal hospice care.
“There are all sorts of things that we can do,” she said.
Presidential Campaign Connection
Some of these pro-active policies have begun to be adopted late in the campaign by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who proposed legislating six weeks of paid maternity leave and tax credits for stay-at-home mothers in response to his abysmal numbers among women.
Although Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has long proposed legislating 12-week paid parental leave, she has also made public funding of abortion a centerpiece of her campaign.
Democrats for Life has refused to endorse Clinton, and Day noted that Clinton has struggled to gain any enthusiasm for her campaign and that her hard swing to the party’s abortion-rights contingent has not helped either.
And, Day suggested, Catholics for Choice now appears to be doubling down on that failed strategy.
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.