The National Catholic Review

Pro-life Americans suffered a serious defeat with the approval of the RU-486 pill by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The pill, which has been used for several years in Europe, allows a woman, under a doctor’s supervision, to abort a fetus up to 49 days after the beginning of her last menstrual period. This will permit many abortions to occur without surgery or the use of an abortion clinic. Many women will decide quickly in favor of an abortion using the pill rather than delay their decision until surgery would be required. There is also the danger that the RU-486 pill will be perceived as comparable to a birth control pill, a position that pro-choice advocates are already espousing.

While there is some hope that Congress may reverse the F.D.A.’s decision, American society has become so tolerant of abortions that it is unlikely that the RU-486 pill can be kept off the market for long. American abortion policy is being determined by public opinion polls, not by moral principles. The approval of RU-486 requires that Catholics and other pro-life activists rethink our strategy in response to the great abortion tragedy.

Violence against abortionistsseverely condemned by the bishops and mainstream pro-lifershas hurt the pro-life cause. Shrill demonstrations and rhetoricimitating the worst of the anti-Vietnam demonstrationshave garnered brief seconds on television news but have failed to convince many. On the other hand, silent, prayerful candlelight vigils have countered the media stereotype of pro-life crazies. Non-violent demonstrators willing to be arrested for their beliefs have also gained respect from the public.

But RU-486 will relocate many if not most abortions away from the scores of publicly identifiable abortion clinics to the anonymity of thousands of doctors’ offices. There is a danger that demonstrators will lose heart when much of the evil is out of sight.

Nor have politicians proven to be much help. Most Democrats have followed President Clinton like lemmings over the abortion cliff. Republicans are proving to be pro-life in name only as their pollsters carefully plot the views of middle-class soccer moms. While Mr. Clinton has compromised most of his principles during his presidency, the one principle to which he has held firm is his pro-choice stance, even in the face of polls showing overwhelming opposition to partial-birth abortion. Mr. Gore, who in Congress sometimes voted pro-life, has followed the same course as Mr. Clinton in his quest for the presidency. While we can hope that as president he might change his mind again, this is unlikely. Meanwhile Mr. Bush promises to be against abortion, but so did his father and President Reagan, who always placed their economic and military programs higher on the agenda than abortion. Will George W. be any different?

Pro-lifers need to devise a new strategy in the face of current American political and cultural realities. We must continue, as we have repeatedly said in these pages, 1) to oppose partial-birth abortion, 2) to oppose government funding of abortion and 3) to support the right of parents to know if their pregnant child is trying to arrange for an abortion. The last two become even more important with the approval of RU-486. The pro-abortion lobby will push for public funding and distribution of the RU-486 pill both nationally and internationally. This must be opposed. Likewise, the thought of minors popping RU-486 pills without their parents’ knowledge is frightening. These three goals are both morally correct and politically possible.

 

But if the goal of the pro-life strategy is the reduction in the number of abortions, then the strategy must be expanded to make it easier for women to have their babies rather than abort them. This means following the bishops’ lead in supporting universal health care for children, beginning in the womb. It means support for child care and a living wage for poor and working-class parents. As long as poor parents feel threatened economically by an unborn child, abortions will continue. Pro-lifers need to recognize that more children would be saved by such policies than would be saved by banning partial-birth abortion.

Finally, the RU-486 pill provides an additional challenge to the Catholic hierarchy. The bishops need to make clear that their opposition to the RU-486 pill and abortion is quite different from their opposition to birth control pills and other contraceptive measures. It may even be time for them to ask whetherbecause abortion has become so pervasive and because it is an evil so much greater than the evil of birth controla person who would terminate a pregnancy should be counseled to avoid becoming pregnant, even if this means practicing contraception. Such a stance would belie the accusation that the bishops are interested only in sex. It would make clear that abortion is not a sexual issue but a human rights issue.

Comments

Michael Artigues, M.D. | 1/22/2007 - 12:21pm
Your blind spot regarding contraception and the church’s consistent ethic of life may be politically correct, but it is an ultimately misleading position to hold (Editorial, 10/14). Sadly, your editorial sounds less like a pro-life statement than a lukewarm call for “reason.” Should the pro-life movement truly be satisfied with a nominal decrease in the approximately 4,000 state-sanctioned killings that occur each day in this country? Are we Catholics really supposed to look at the issue of contraception as the sacrificial lamb to be given up in our ultimate quest for “fewer” abortions?

While the church’s opposition to birth control is based on the inseparable qualities of unity and procreation, there are many other reasons to speak out against it. It’s common knowledge that hormonal contraception (the “pill,” Depo-provera, Norplant) causes millions of abortions each year (when you consider that human life begins at fertilization). If that weren’t bad enough, look at the human suffering brought on with the aid of contraception, despite its goals to the contrary: more abortions, divorce, infidelity and sexually transmitted diseases; women viewed as objects and children as unwanted byproducts. If you want a reliable source, read Humanae Vitae, a most prophetic encyclical that 32 years ago accurately predicted the moral decay in which we find our society.

As a church, we cannot simply strive for a country free of abortion and let contraception go unchallenged as a benign and basic “right,” because abortion and contraception are firmly linked. Consider the language of the court majority in the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reads in part, “...people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception fails.” It sounds to me as if the church knows exactly whence she speaks. Contraception is intimately related to the abortion issue—both legally and morally.

When mankind decides to usurp God’s ultimate authority—be it by contraception, abortion, euthanasia or capital punishment—it continues down a slippery slope of death and destruction.

Andrew Galligan | 1/22/2007 - 10:47am
Regarding the editorial (10/14) on RU-486: hooray and boo. Well said that “as long as poor parents feel threatened economically by an unborn child, abortions will continue.” When Catholics and all their bishops really grasp that fact, maybe some group like Catholic Charities in every diocese will move that to the top of its priority list when it comes to disbursements. If all bishops were to make the financial pledge to pregnant women who are considering abortion, as Bishop Kenneth Untener has done, what a wonderful witness for life our church would become in a land that prizes free choice so highly! We would be putting our money where our mouth is by such an act of faith.

However, it is poorly said that “American abortion policy is being determined by public opinion polls, not by moral principles.” It is too easy to infer from such a statement that those who are pro-choice are unreasonable and/or unprincipled. Our words must not ever insinuate that as we continue our efforts to influence public opinion and policy on such a complex matter as abortion. We have to recognize intelligence and good will on the part of those who disagree with us on moral (and doctrinal) issues.

Robert F. Patterson | 1/22/2007 - 10:45am
Your editorial’s recommendation (10/14) that the Catholic hierarchy allow a person considering an abortion to be counseled to use contraception could have widespread—and not too happy—consequences.

“The Jesuit magazine ‘America’ recommends the use of the birth control pill and of condoms to counteract abortions” is exactly how the secular press and most Catholics, as well as non-Catholics, might well interpret your advice.

You are right in saying that opposition to abortion is quite different from opposition to birth control (pill or condom), not only for bishops (you enjoy distinguishing their ideas from Catholic thought) but for those who understand the immorality of both.

Why do you think that a person seriously considering abortion would be helped by telling them, “You should have used the pill or a condom in the first place. So sorry”?

What your recommendation means, ultimately, is that you want the church’s opposition to the pill and to condoms to cease. Taken to the next logical step, you want young people to be told that if they must have sex, they should use condoms.

Nice distinctions like “the lesser of two evils” are not relevant.

Andrew Rosato | 1/22/2007 - 10:43am
I am writing to offer a criticism of your editorial on RU-486 (10/14). I find one of the suggestions in your last paragraph most curious—namely, your claim that there are people who accept the church’s teaching on contraception but reject her teaching on abortion. Aside from the unlikelihood of any person fitting your description, the editorial overlooks two important considerations in the abortion debate. First, though abortion is a human rights issue it is not completely separate from sexual issues. Abortion is a practice largely supported by a contraceptive mentality. In light of the statistic that 58 percent of abortions in America last year were procured by people using contraception during the month when pregnancy occurred, the following words of Evangelium Vitae deserve reflection: “The pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected” (No. 13). Second, and more important, people working to end abortion will use many means to achieve this goal, but none of them will involve promoting one intrinsic evil (e.g., contraception) to prevent the intrinsic evil of abortion. The means, however, will include prayer before the Eucharist, discussion with the opposition about our understanding of human life, providing money and time to help poor pregnant women and electing politicians who show some awareness of the injustice of abortion. The road will not be easy, nor will it be made easier by promoting contraception.

Anthony Mirante | 1/22/2007 - 10:36am
While I generally agree with your editorial on RU 486 (10/14), there are some additional points which I think need to be addressed.

It is important not to ignore the scientific facts regarding use of Mifepristone, also known as RU 486. The common belief (espoused by the American media) is that Mifepristone will terminate a pregnancy in a one pill, one day procedure. Mifepristone causes a detachment from the uterine wall, not expulsion (removal). A second required medication called Misoprostol is taken within 24 hours after Mifepristone to prevent stomach ulcers. The side effects from consumption of Misoprostol include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. If the woman has negative type blood, another drug, Rhogam, is injected to prevent antibodies from harming future pregnancies. These facts must be made clear to the American public. The physical, emotional and psychological effects of an abortion will take years to heal. All of us need to be aware of that.

Adam and Jody Rewa | 1/22/2007 - 10:34am
Regarding the editorial “RU-486” (10/14), we would for the most part say, well done. You identified precisely the dangers that F.D.A. approval of the abortion pill herald, particularly the further removal of the termination of a life to “the anonymity of thousands of doctors’ offices.” It is indeed a discouraging and depressing signal, if any were needed, of our nation’s willful abandonment of an ethic of life.

We must, however, take issue with your recommendation that the bishops “make clear that their opposition to the RU-486 pill and abortion is quite different from their opposition to birth control pills and other contraceptive measures.” the opposition of the church to both abortion and contraception is, as far as we can tell, identical, for both are life issues. We must be careful not to fool ourselves by saying that contraception is the lesser of two evils and ought to be accepted as a means of preventing abortion. Artificial contraception is a fundamental denial of the life-producing aspect of our sexuality. We cannot lose sight of this and still credibly speak out against abortion. They are cut from the same cloth.

It is certainly tempting when faced with the horrific specter of partial birth abortion and the sinister silence of RU-486 to look upon the contraceptive pill as relatively benign. To make peace with artificial contraception is no solution, but only a poor bargain and a retreat from the culture of life to which we are compelled.

Michael Artigues, M.D. | 1/22/2007 - 12:21pm
Your blind spot regarding contraception and the church’s consistent ethic of life may be politically correct, but it is an ultimately misleading position to hold (Editorial, 10/14). Sadly, your editorial sounds less like a pro-life statement than a lukewarm call for “reason.” Should the pro-life movement truly be satisfied with a nominal decrease in the approximately 4,000 state-sanctioned killings that occur each day in this country? Are we Catholics really supposed to look at the issue of contraception as the sacrificial lamb to be given up in our ultimate quest for “fewer” abortions?

While the church’s opposition to birth control is based on the inseparable qualities of unity and procreation, there are many other reasons to speak out against it. It’s common knowledge that hormonal contraception (the “pill,” Depo-provera, Norplant) causes millions of abortions each year (when you consider that human life begins at fertilization). If that weren’t bad enough, look at the human suffering brought on with the aid of contraception, despite its goals to the contrary: more abortions, divorce, infidelity and sexually transmitted diseases; women viewed as objects and children as unwanted byproducts. If you want a reliable source, read Humanae Vitae, a most prophetic encyclical that 32 years ago accurately predicted the moral decay in which we find our society.

As a church, we cannot simply strive for a country free of abortion and let contraception go unchallenged as a benign and basic “right,” because abortion and contraception are firmly linked. Consider the language of the court majority in the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reads in part, “...people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception fails.” It sounds to me as if the church knows exactly whence she speaks. Contraception is intimately related to the abortion issue—both legally and morally.

When mankind decides to usurp God’s ultimate authority—be it by contraception, abortion, euthanasia or capital punishment—it continues down a slippery slope of death and destruction.

Andrew Galligan | 1/22/2007 - 10:47am
Regarding the editorial (10/14) on RU-486: hooray and boo. Well said that “as long as poor parents feel threatened economically by an unborn child, abortions will continue.” When Catholics and all their bishops really grasp that fact, maybe some group like Catholic Charities in every diocese will move that to the top of its priority list when it comes to disbursements. If all bishops were to make the financial pledge to pregnant women who are considering abortion, as Bishop Kenneth Untener has done, what a wonderful witness for life our church would become in a land that prizes free choice so highly! We would be putting our money where our mouth is by such an act of faith.

However, it is poorly said that “American abortion policy is being determined by public opinion polls, not by moral principles.” It is too easy to infer from such a statement that those who are pro-choice are unreasonable and/or unprincipled. Our words must not ever insinuate that as we continue our efforts to influence public opinion and policy on such a complex matter as abortion. We have to recognize intelligence and good will on the part of those who disagree with us on moral (and doctrinal) issues.

Robert F. Patterson | 1/22/2007 - 10:45am
Your editorial’s recommendation (10/14) that the Catholic hierarchy allow a person considering an abortion to be counseled to use contraception could have widespread—and not too happy—consequences.

“The Jesuit magazine ‘America’ recommends the use of the birth control pill and of condoms to counteract abortions” is exactly how the secular press and most Catholics, as well as non-Catholics, might well interpret your advice.

You are right in saying that opposition to abortion is quite different from opposition to birth control (pill or condom), not only for bishops (you enjoy distinguishing their ideas from Catholic thought) but for those who understand the immorality of both.

Why do you think that a person seriously considering abortion would be helped by telling them, “You should have used the pill or a condom in the first place. So sorry”?

What your recommendation means, ultimately, is that you want the church’s opposition to the pill and to condoms to cease. Taken to the next logical step, you want young people to be told that if they must have sex, they should use condoms.

Nice distinctions like “the lesser of two evils” are not relevant.

Andrew Rosato | 1/22/2007 - 10:43am
I am writing to offer a criticism of your editorial on RU-486 (10/14). I find one of the suggestions in your last paragraph most curious—namely, your claim that there are people who accept the church’s teaching on contraception but reject her teaching on abortion. Aside from the unlikelihood of any person fitting your description, the editorial overlooks two important considerations in the abortion debate. First, though abortion is a human rights issue it is not completely separate from sexual issues. Abortion is a practice largely supported by a contraceptive mentality. In light of the statistic that 58 percent of abortions in America last year were procured by people using contraception during the month when pregnancy occurred, the following words of Evangelium Vitae deserve reflection: “The pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected” (No. 13). Second, and more important, people working to end abortion will use many means to achieve this goal, but none of them will involve promoting one intrinsic evil (e.g., contraception) to prevent the intrinsic evil of abortion. The means, however, will include prayer before the Eucharist, discussion with the opposition about our understanding of human life, providing money and time to help poor pregnant women and electing politicians who show some awareness of the injustice of abortion. The road will not be easy, nor will it be made easier by promoting contraception.

Anthony Mirante | 1/22/2007 - 10:36am
While I generally agree with your editorial on RU 486 (10/14), there are some additional points which I think need to be addressed.

It is important not to ignore the scientific facts regarding use of Mifepristone, also known as RU 486. The common belief (espoused by the American media) is that Mifepristone will terminate a pregnancy in a one pill, one day procedure. Mifepristone causes a detachment from the uterine wall, not expulsion (removal). A second required medication called Misoprostol is taken within 24 hours after Mifepristone to prevent stomach ulcers. The side effects from consumption of Misoprostol include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. If the woman has negative type blood, another drug, Rhogam, is injected to prevent antibodies from harming future pregnancies. These facts must be made clear to the American public. The physical, emotional and psychological effects of an abortion will take years to heal. All of us need to be aware of that.

Adam and Jody Rewa | 1/22/2007 - 10:34am
Regarding the editorial “RU-486” (10/14), we would for the most part say, well done. You identified precisely the dangers that F.D.A. approval of the abortion pill herald, particularly the further removal of the termination of a life to “the anonymity of thousands of doctors’ offices.” It is indeed a discouraging and depressing signal, if any were needed, of our nation’s willful abandonment of an ethic of life.

We must, however, take issue with your recommendation that the bishops “make clear that their opposition to the RU-486 pill and abortion is quite different from their opposition to birth control pills and other contraceptive measures.” the opposition of the church to both abortion and contraception is, as far as we can tell, identical, for both are life issues. We must be careful not to fool ourselves by saying that contraception is the lesser of two evils and ought to be accepted as a means of preventing abortion. Artificial contraception is a fundamental denial of the life-producing aspect of our sexuality. We cannot lose sight of this and still credibly speak out against abortion. They are cut from the same cloth.

It is certainly tempting when faced with the horrific specter of partial birth abortion and the sinister silence of RU-486 to look upon the contraceptive pill as relatively benign. To make peace with artificial contraception is no solution, but only a poor bargain and a retreat from the culture of life to which we are compelled.

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