Catholic Bishops' Latest Fearmongering, Anti-abortion Strategy

On recent Sundays, many Catholics heard sermons on the church hierarchy's latest anti-abortion strategy -- a national postcard campaign to defeat the Freedom of Choice Act, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment.

This campaign is not designed to be thought-provoking or to inspire dialogue. Rather, the rhetoric of the postcards, the fact sheets and other campaign materials is meant to stir up fear among churchgoing Catholics and foster a call to arms against the new Obama administration.

Take, for instance, an excerpt from the postcard that states, "The Freedom of Choice Act, the most radical and divisive pro-abortion bill ever introduced in Congress, would create a 'fundamental right' to abortion that government could not limit but would have to support."

However, sadly for the bishops' rhetoric, the last version of FOCA died with the end of the 110th Congress, and a new version has not been introduced. In any case, we have no idea what that new version might look like if and when it is introduced. The only inherently divisive issue about FOCA is the bishops' language in opposing it -- which simply adds to the divisiveness that some want to inject into the abortion debate. 

However, the bishops may have good reason to resort to fearmongering in order to garner support. After all, the majority of Catholics ignored the dictates of a conservative minority of bishops who falsely asserted that a vote for a pro-choice presidential candidate would be anti-Catholic. In the end, 54 percent of Catholic voters, who make up a quarter of the electorate, cast their ballot for the pro-choice candidate in the 2008 presidential election.

The results showed that the majority of Catholics voted their consciences when deciding who should be the next president and ignored the single-issue dictates of a few bishops who declared that it was unacceptable to vote for Barack Obama because of his pro-choice position.

The bishops are well aware that they are losing ground when it comes to imposing their anti-abortion views on Catholics and society at large. They were forced to hide the results of a poll they did by releasing the horrifying -- for them -- results on Dec. 30, when few journalists were paying attention. The results show that 9 in 10 of the nation's adults reject the bishops' position on abortion.

While many seek to impose conditions on access to abortion care -- some reasonable, others not -- barely a 10th of the population is completely opposed to all abortions. This figure is one of the lowest found in a large-scale poll in recent years and must have lead to some sobering conversations around bishops' Christmas dinner tables.

Despite the polls that show that Catholics and non-Catholics alike support access to safe and legal abortion, the bishops intend to forge ahead with their anti-choice agenda. While FOCA, if introduced and passed, would a guarantee a woman's right to choose, the USCCB has proposed changes in policy that would "restrict the practice of abortion as much as possible." Ideally, the church hierarchy and its anti-choice allies would like to completely erase the right of women to choose and force women to give birth, whether they were ready and happy to be mothers or not. This is not an outcome that many people think reasonable.

Catholics in the U.S. and around the world recognize that some women are always going to need to access safe and legal abortion. At the same time, the rhetoric of the abortion debate has too often been focused on the prohibition of abortion. Catholics recognize the need to move from the discussion of prohibition to a discussion of ways in which unwanted pregnancies can be prevented and the need for abortion reduced. There are many ways to do this, including better sexuality education and family planning, as well as improved pre- and postnatal care and child care facilities.

Until the bishops and their allies begin to discuss prevention seriously and support reducing the need for abortion in a sensible and workable manner, their losing strategy will only succeed in fostering more division and contribute to needless scaremongering about the real debate we should be having on abortion.

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