My recent column (‘Do we want to know?’) seems to have touched a nerve in ways unintended. I challenged progressive Catholics to speak “the truth” about abortion and “about Obama’s abortion agenda,” regardless of whether doing so would “derail Catholic support” for the rest of his progressive program.
Melinda Henneberger of the Washington Post, and Michael SeanWinters of the National Catholic Reporter take exception to my piece, reducing it to an argument over whether they oppose abortion.
Henneberger chides me for saying that she and Michael Sean Winters were “late to the ‘culture war,’ and rather reluctant combatants” in it, noting that, “I've been writing about this issue for years.” Winters, too, protests that, “I am not soul searching on the issue of abortion. I am not reluctant to address the issue.”
To both, let me clarify—I am well aware that they oppose abortion and both have written, often compellingly, about it for years. Their voices are persuasive forces for good. While others in the progressive wing have perhaps been timid on this issue, neither Henneberger nor Winters have been timid at all. My observation was that they’ve been “late” and “reluctant” to reconsider their support for President Obama, in light of the cultural damage resulting from Obama’s abortion zealotry.
I think we can agree to disagree on whether it was worth it to try and find common ground with Obama on abortion in the past. Surely, here in 2013, when the President ignores Gosnell’s “house of horrors” the very same week that he fawns all over Planned Parenthood, we can agree that President Obama is the same man that State Senator Obama was: an unflinchingly pro-abortion partisan.
Winters is right that the culture war takes place on many levels—and my earlier column addressed only one aspect, the political side. Butas I’ve written previously, here, abortions will end not because of political maneuvering but because countless volunteers care enough to simply share a cup of coffee with a woman who is struggling.
Winters responds to my column with a lengthy defense of the late Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” strategy. But in so doing, he perhaps unintentionally draws a caricature in which Catholics either embrace the seamless garment strategy and speak winsomely with pro-abortion folks in pursuit of common ground, or they proceed with a “single-minded focus on abortion,” showing themselves to be “angry” people who deploy “hatefulness” and perhaps even shout “baby-killer” in vain hopes of changing minds.
I hope Winters gets to meet the pro-life people I know.
I grew up in the pro-life movement and never met anyone whoever shouted “baby-killer” or anything like it. The pro-life folks I know are women who, having been through the pain of abortion, speak gently to women outside of abortion clinics, offering assistance and conversation. They are elderly people who spend hours in adoration for the victims—mother, father, and child—of abortion. They are couples and singles adopting unwanted infants, toddlers, and teens. They are parents of already large families who open their homes year after year to women in crisis pregnancies. They are families who offer babysitting, transportation, food, and money to formerly abortion-minded women long after their babies are born. And they are moms, dads, and kids who volunteer twice monthly in soup kitchens to feed the hungry.
We can avoid this unnecessary dichotomy. Hearts and minds change because of the warmth of the people they encounter as much as because of the message they hear. It’s not as if the pro-life message will succeed by simply changing laws; we must change hearts through our personal exchanges and relationships. But neither will unborn children be well-protected if we settle for reaching out only through personal relationships. The law molds the hearts,minds, and consciences of the American people as well—and the law needs to protect our most vulnerable.
It’s unnecessary (and uncalled for) to accuse progressives of bad faith in their support for Obama—call it over-exuberance in 2008 and denial in 2012. But what happens going forward is crucial.
We need all Catholics to work together with a compelling, pro-life message that all human beings, from the moment of conception to natural death, have a right to life. Here’s hoping that Henneberger and Winters can spur their progressive Catholic friends to follow their lead and add their voices in defense of the unborn.