Playing back the nursery rhymes with which liberal Catholics soothe themselves at bedtime, the VCG voter's guide reminds us that we can reduce abortions by reducing the economic burden of pregnancy and child-rearing:
Many "prolife" candidates talk a good talk on ending abortion but don't produce results. On the other hand, there are candidates who don't believe in making abortion illegal, but who support effective measures to promote healthy families and reduce abortions by providing help to pregnant women and young children.
This picks up the theme sounded earlier by Joan Chittister and Richard McBrien (each of whom has reasons for wishing the pro-life movement discredited): they contend that anti-abortion conservatives lose interest in the child after it's born and becomes a tax-burden, and accordingly are not so much pro-life as "pro-birth."
But is the premise true -- viz., the premise that increasing economic aid cuts down on abortions? Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice, who is fervidly pro-abortion, insists the claim is false. This from her article in which she accuses the "progressive religious agenda" of cooking the data in order to score political debating points:
And here is where the progressive religious agenda gets interesting. Is Wallis genuinely interested in presenting evidence-based policy solutions that really can reduce the need for abortions, or is he using abortion as another way to push an antipoverty agenda? Are pregnant women a means to achieving Wallis's agenda? (In case you didn't get it, his is the classic means and ends argument.) There is absolutely no evidence that better economic benefits, jobs, child care or parental leave would lead to a significant decline in abortion. There is however substantial evidence that access to contraception (both regular and emergency contraception) would significantly reduce unintended pregnancy and thus abortion.
This overwhelming and admirable commitment to ending poverty and promoting policies that would do that has caught not only Wallis, but another newly important figure in progressive evangelical circles, Glenn Stassen. Stassen, who describes himself as prolife, but is publicly in favor of legal abortion, is the author of the study that claimed abortions went down under Clinton and up under Bush and hypothesized that the reason was Bush's cuts in the antipoverty budgets. More recent research has proven that Stassen was wrong on the facts. Abortions went down under Clinton and have continued to go down under Bush (although at a much slower rate). Most importantly, data shows that Stassen's conclusion -- that the abortion rate went down under Clinton because of better support for poor pregnant women -- is demonstrably wrong. Analysis by the Alan Guttmacher Institute of government data show that the reason for the decline during Clinton's presidency was increased use of emergency contraception and better use of traditional contraceptives such as the pill. When I asked Stassen why he continues to make his claims, despite the facts showing otherwise, instead of supporting contraception as a way to reduce abortion, he passionately responded, "Because I want to make an antipoverty argument."
Why is this important? Because Kissling is not a right-wing party operative using findings taken from neo-con sociologists to attack pro-choicers. She's as pro-abortion as they come. She's situated solidly on the Left. And the data she refers to are provided by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. That's to say, Kissling, and the organizations with which she aligns herself, have every incentive to applaud the transfer of wealth from the private to the public sector in the precise ways urged on us by Chittister, McBrien, and the VCG voter's guide. Hence their ideological bias will favor the utility of increased government spending in reducing abortion.
Yet they say it ain't so.
So let's do some stock-taking. The moral thrust behind the liberal appeal (i.e., that Catholics should vote for pro-choice statist Dems) hinges on the recognition that almsgiving, however effected, is a morally righteous endeavor. The pro-choice Stassen wants "to make an antipoverty argument" -- even if he has to misrepresent the facts in doing so -- because an antipoverty argument has a direct appeal to the Christian conscience. True, the kind of woman who'd decide to kill or not kill her child based on her level of unearned income is not an unambiguously satisfactory beneficiary of the public purse, but most of us would agree it'd be worth increasing economic relief, if doing so lowered the abortion rate to pre-Roe levels. But contraception, unlike almsgiving, is not a morally admirable expedient, and "emergency contraception" is simply a euphemism for early abortion. If it is these means, and not economic relief, by which the Lefties lower abortion rates, they can expect no moral congratulation from Catholics. The insinuation put about by the Left is that conservative Christians, out of stinginess, settle for high abortion rates rather than the untrouser the tax money that would lower them. It would be interesting to know how pro-choice Catholics stack up against pro-lifers in terms of free-will out-of-pocket donations given to private agencies that address problem pregnancies and the like.
A final point. Guttmacher and Kissling may be correct that, in the Clinton years, abortion rates dropped due to more effective contraception. But many of us can think of other factors pertinent to the matter. What if the women in question were usually married? What if they lived in the same home as their husband and children? What if their current husbands were in most cases their first? What if they had a reasonable expectation of staying home to raise their children? Man does not live by bread alone, nor by housing vouchers and government-funded day-care, and more than economics has changed in Western society since the legalization of abortion. VCG asks us to support candidates "who support effective measures to promote healthy families." So tell us, please: who are those pro-choice candidates who out-perform their pro-life opponents in working to discourage extra-marital sex, to end no-fault divorce, and to defend the married, hetero, two-parent household against its adversaries?
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Posted by: principle not pragmatism -
Oct. 24, 2006 4:07 PM ET USA
I would like to note that these pro-abortion advocates of government helping the poor, would be furious and non- supportive if the money did not include the contraceptive mentality.
Posted by: -
Oct. 24, 2006 12:48 PM ET USA
Once again the logic of the argument fails if applied to past human rights issues: Many "anti-slavery" candidates talk a good talk on ending slavery but don't produce results. On the other hand, there are candidates who don't believe in making slavery illegal, but who support effective measures to promote automation and reduce slavery by providing help to slave-owners and freed slaves.
Posted by: Convert1994 -
Oct. 24, 2006 8:39 AM ET USA
Exchanging the truth of God for a lie (cf. Romans 1) has dire consequences.
Posted by: Sterling -
Oct. 23, 2006 10:43 PM ET USA
Hey, we need one of those St. Peter jokes - you know, a liberal Catholic dies and meets St. Peter. "Why should I allow you into Heaven?" says St. Peter. "Well, I wrote this voter guide to tell Catholics that the right economic policies were just as important as being pro-life." And St. Peter says ...
Posted by: rpp -
Oct. 21, 2006 5:25 PM ET USA
This was well thought out and argued, Di. Well done! Gino, I share your sentiments However, I would like to point out that there is no such thing as a "pro-abortion" Catholic. Paragraph 2279 of the Catechism states pretty clearly you cannot be both pro-abortion AND Catholic. Such people may *think* they are Catholic, but they have excommunicated themselves.
Posted by: frjimc -
Oct. 21, 2006 10:57 AM ET USA
Great final paragraph, Uncle Di. Indeed, if pro-aborts are not BETTER than prolifers the Vatican doc won't allow voting for them! Better question, though, is this: if those pols are working to reduce abortion, doesn't it mean that they don't WANT abortion? And if not, why not? Only answer: Because abortion is an evil in itself. Because if it's not an evil, then it's neutral or a good. Moral people don't work to reduce "neutrals" or "goods," and they work to END (not reduce) "evils."
Posted by: Gino -
Oct. 21, 2006 7:38 AM ET USA
You have destroyed these "concerned" political opportunists with your answer to theit hypocrisy. I still say pro abortion Catholics play Russian roulette with our children. "If they make it past birth; they will be recipients of great concern; otherwise they are just dead!