Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, on Friday was awarded one of six Life Prizes at a gala at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. Speaking about the pro-life movement, he encouraged pro-lifers to persevere and insisted that Catholic predictions about societal decline had proven correct.
Doerflinger spoke in an interview with Kathryn Jean-Lopez for National Review On-Line. In the interview, he encouraged pro-life Americans not to “despair and give up.”
“Our situation is similar to what it was in 1993: the White House and both chambers of Congress basically against us on the abortion issue. Our opponents thought they would soon reverse the Hyde amendment against federal abortion funding, begin funding destructive human embryo research, and pass the Freedom of Choice Act,” he told National Review Online.
“None of these things happened, and President Clinton’s repeated vetoes of a ban on partial-birth abortion only kept the horrors of abortion before the public’s eyes and increased pro-life sentiment. If we persevere, we will again show that the pro-life message is here to stay.”
He also argued that the Catholic Church has been proven right in its predictions about the direction changes would take in society.
“We said the widespread distribution of contraception would increase temptations to abortion and divorce, mislead people into thinking they could have sex without consequences, and threaten to trivialize sexuality. Is it possible to deny this has happened?
“We said depersonalizing reproduction through technologies such as in vitro fertilization would lead us to experiment on human embryos and tempt us to try human cloning. We said embryonic-stem-cell research was not only immoral but was being used to make promises of ‘miracle cures’ that people couldn’t keep,” he told National Review Online.
“In a way it’s frustrating to be right so often in these dire predictions, especially when hardly anyone ever comes back later and says ‘Gee, sorry, you Catholics were right.’”
While acknowledging some peoples’ disappointment that President George W. Bush did not do more for the pro-life cause, Doerflinger praised the former president’s appointment of a Supreme Court that upheld a partial-birth abortion ban.
“He single-handedly retained many pro-life policies by his veto threat against bad bills. He advanced the cause of faith-based initiatives and conscience rights in health care,” Doerflinger commented. “He changed the stem-cell-research debate by holding the line against destructive embryo research while promoting morally acceptable alternatives that are now showing tremendous progress.”
He then repeated warnings about the threat posed by the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), reporting that it would elevate abortion to a “fundamental” right and require government health programs that support childbirth to support abortion to the same extent.
The bill “would overturn hundreds of modest pro-life laws passed over the last 35 years—conscience clauses, public-funding restrictions, informed-consent and parental-involvement statutes, and so on,” he told National Review Online.
Addressing the state of stem cell research, Doerflinger said that adult and cord-blood stem cells have become the “gold standard for actually benefiting patients, with embryonic stem cells lagging far behind.”
He argued that even if embryonic stem cell research has any advantages, “even those advantages can be pursued as well or better” using cell reprogramming techniques that create induced pluripotent stem cells.
“However, just as the science is demonstrating that human embryo destruction is irrelevant to medical progress, that controversial avenue may receive a new infusion of money and attention for ideological reasons,” he commented, praising President Bush for his ban on federal funding for research that is destructive of human embryos.
“His policy enabled the morally sound alternatives to be pursued and funded, and these are now showing they can actually do many things better.”
Doerflinger said that in one sense pro-lifers have never done enough for children after they are born.
“That is one meaning of Jesus’ saying that ‘the poor you will always have with you.’”
“But the pro-life movement has established literally thousands of pregnancy-support centers and contributed perhaps millions of hours to this kind of support, usually unpaid hours. The Catholic Church’s hospitals and charitable institutions are unparalleled in their support for women and children in need. And we have supported many public policies to improve this support, including most recently the Pregnant Women Support Act being reintroduced in this Congress.”
Responding to charges that the pro-life movement is hypocritical because it is not doing enough after birth, he replied:
“Which is the deeper hypocrisy? What about a society that constructs a complete system of care and support for the child after birth then supports killing the child before he or she can benefit from any of it?”
Noting that pro-life case can be made through appeals to both faith and reason, he told National Review Online:
“For Catholics we can argue on faith grounds, and that adds an extra dimension because of God’s special love for those who are weakest and most defenseless. But to lawmakers and the general public we are very happy to make arguments that can be understood by any person of good will. To state a paradox, our faith tells us that respect for all human life from conception to natural death is not only a matter of faith.”
Calling the Life Prizes award being bestowed on him an “enormous surprise,” he said most of his work has been “behind the scenes” in writing, research and analysis, speaking with Congressional members and staff, and helping the bishops articulate their position.
“It is a great honor, especially when some of the other honorees have suffered enormous hardships or endangered their livelihoods by standing up for life. When all is said and done, I am paid to do what I love doing.”
Doerflinger suggested to National Review Online that the award grows out of a need to energize the next generation of pro-life advocates by providing role models for them.
“It’s humbling to think that some consider me that kind of role model. But in general I think an award program like this means the movement is maturing and settling in for the long haul, planting the seeds of the future.”