US bishops confront Barack Obama's sweeping abortion agenda

US bishops confront Barack Obama's sweeping abortion agenda

Paul Kengor

A potential big battle has begun, one of special interest to all Christians and guaranteed to generate a lot of attention from all Americans.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a stern warning to president-elect Barack Obama and his incoming administration, highlighting grave concerns over what will happen to unwanted, unborn human life.

The statement was delivered in November at the end of the annual assembly that represents all American bishops. It was issued by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the USCCB.

The subject is the once unthinkable Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which Barack Obama promised will be the 'first thing' he signs as president. As the bishops forcefully noted, FOCA would eliminate countless reasonable restrictions on abortion enacted by bipartisan legislatures - Democrats and Republicans working together - over the past 35 years, including parental-consent laws and protection for babies who accidentally survive an abortion.

No choice

FOCA, wrote the bishops, 'would coerce all Americans into subsidising and promoting abortion with their tax dollars.' Every American would be complicit in paying for abortions - you would have no choice.

This would not only be unprecedented in American history but light years away from Obama's claim that he 'respects' those with different points of view in the pro-life camp.

Most shocking, and of special concern to the bishops, is the fear that FOCA would eliminate the freedom of conscience of doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers - Catholic, non- Catholic, you name it - to not participate in abortion procedures at their hospitals.

The bishops noted that this would be an attack on Americans' free exercise of religion. FOCA 'would have lethal consequences' not only for prenatal human life but for the most basic freedoms that living, working Americans have long held dear.

Further, the bishops dread that FOCA would require all hospitals with obstetrics programs to do abortions, a natural expectation given that Obama has spoken of abortion as a 'fundamental right,' a basic government service, and a vital component of America's 'safety net.' He calls groups like Planned Parenthood a 'safety-net provider.'

The bishops thus stated that FOCA would be 'an evil law that would further divide our country, and the Church should be intent on opposing evil.' The consequences for what Pope John Paul II termed a Culture of Life will be disastrous.

Many of those who voted for Obama will be shocked by all this. They shouldn't be. Obama openly made these promises.

As evidence of the rancour already taking hold in the Catholic Church, consider the striking scene at a parish in Greenville, South Carolina, in November, where the priest insisted that any parishioner who voted for Obama must go to confession and do penance before taking Holy Communion. The priest's reasoning is based strictly on the radical abortion policies of Obama.

That reaction by the priest points to what I sense is an added motivation by the bishops: they feel partly responsible for what occurred on 4 November. Catholics, driven mainly by pocket book issues - actually, driven by issues other than abortion - voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a decisive margin of 54 to 46 percent. (John McCain won Catholics who attend Mass weekly, 50 to 49 percent, but lost in a landslide to Catholics who don't attend weekly, 58 to 40 percent.)

Catholics, who were one-in-four of all voters, delivered 17 million votes to Obama, twice the overall popular-vote margin. They arguably made Obama president. And they voted this way in spite of an extraordinary effort by bishops to warn their dioceses about things like FOCA.

The bishops are also upset that Catholic politicians helped make this possible, including vice-president- elect Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, both pro-choice Catholics, not to mention all those young people who voted in hordes for Obama, including the 60 percent of students at Catholic colleges who believe abortion should be legal, according to a new study commissioned by the Cardinal Newman Center.

What's more, the bishops see that Protestants didn't vote the same way as Catholics; they went for McCain in an exact reversal, 54 to 46 percent, with evangelicals voting McCain by at least two-to-one, and in some polls three-to-one.

Political fight

That's painfully ironic to the bishops, since Protestants have no pro-life encyclicals like Humanae Vitae or Evangelium Vitae, no Catechism or Catholic dictionary or encyclopedia that in the first entry in the glossary defines abortion as 'gravely contrary to the moral law,' no 2,000-year prohibition against abortion, no adamantly pro-life man in Rome like Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI, no Magisterium that constantly denounces abortion.

The bishops understand that Catholics held the potential in this election to spare America another 35 years of Roe v. Wade, the first 35 years of which produced 50 million aborted babies. Instead, the legal permanency of abortion in America now seems guaranteed. And now, the bishops are digging in for the political fight of their lives. Expect leading pro-life Protestants to join them.

And to both Catholics and non-Catholics, get ready for some fireworks.

Dr Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, USA. His article was first published on

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