The Kennedys and Abortion

Edward and Caroline Kennedy.
Edward and Caroline Kennedy. (photo: UPI)

In 1971, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., wrote this in a letter to a constituent:

“When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.”

Today, however, Sen. Kennedy, Caroline Kenney and other prominent members of America’s First Family of Catholic politicians are stridently pro-abortion, in open defiance of Church teaching on an issue of fundamental morality.

How did this unhappy transformation occur? According to Anne Hendershott, a professor of urban studies at The King’s College in New York and author of “The Politics of Abortion,” much of the discredit for converting the Kennedys to abortion-rights advocacy can be laid at the feet of a group of prominent Catholic priests.

“At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a ‘clear conscience,’” Hendershott writes in a Jan. 1 commentary published by The Wall Street Journal.

Continues Hendershott, “The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book ‘The Birth of Bioethics’ (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.

“Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that ‘distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue.’ It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians ‘might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order.’”

Writes Hendershott, “Father Milhaven later recalled the Hyannisport meeting during a 1984 breakfast briefing of Catholics for a Free Choice: ‘The theologians worked for a day and a half among ourselves at a nearby hotel. In the evening we answered questions from the Kennedys and the Shrivers. Though the theologians disagreed on many a point, they all concurred on certain basics . . . and that was that a Catholic politician could in good conscience vote in favor of abortion.’”

— Tom McFeely