Cooperative Extremes, Moderates, and Non-Extremes

A few days ago at dotCommonweal, Cathleen Caveny upfronted a good comment from Chris Currie and gave it it’s own thread. I had composed a reply there the other night, but lost it. So I figured I could say half as much with five times as many words here.

Chris’s own efforts in the pro-life sphere are eminently laudable. His insights are an important part of the discussion, whether that leads to practical cooperation or not.

As he concedes, there’s a wide range of pro-lifers out there who are not extremists, who do not live, breathe, and eat the movement 24/7. I don’t know it’s accurate to describe them as “moderates.” I wonder how he would peg me, for example. I’ve been very critical in the blogosphere of the faults of the political arm of the pro-life movement. Am I a moderate for wading into hostile territory and making suggestions people don’t want to hear? Sounds a lot like people hanging on PP sidewalks to me.

My own pro-life convictions were strengthened by my exposure to and attempt to adopt pacifism as a personal philosophy in the 80’s. I tend to be a very harsh judge on my own violence and see my position against abortion standing alongside some positions that mainstream society (and much of the Church) would consider extreme. I’m not sure I’m a moderate there.

One problem I see in the pro-life/moderate discussions is that too many people, it seems, are accustomed to thinking one-dimensionally. There’s a rope. On one end of the rope are pro-lifers. On the other end are abortion advocates. People line up on the rope closer to one end or the other. If you’re not at or near our end of the rope, you’re not helping, and we have theology on our side to marginalize you. End of story.

It’s a very simple story, but a totally false approach–despite the (mis)use of theology. Who hardcore pro-lifers seem to tolerate are those whose positions are congruent to their own. They are more uniformists–and sometimes the peripherals seem more important than the children they try to save. When that happens the crazy-thinking of addiction is the best way I can characterize what I hear.

Let’s face it: the abortion system and its detractors are behaving an awful lot like alcoholics and co-dependents. Logic, reason, and truth have largely gone out the window on points of contact. One side laments women dying from hidden abortions when the truth is that death rates from abortion fell to almost nil by the early seventies. Another side pumps up FOCA as an imminent threat–a bill that will never see the light of day, most likely. Neither side is open to constructive feedback from within, let alone from the other side. Each extreme is convinced it alone  holds the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. Politicians are content to marginalize the extremes because they are unmoving, and therefore irrelevant to the candidate. So other issues take center stage and get action.

So by writing this, am I a realist or a moderate?

There are two reasons why a renewal of a grassroots effort is essential. First, it gets real people who are non-uniform in their approach to abortion working together for a common good. And second, it is true ministry to serve people in anguish over an unplanned pregnancy.

Lobbying is not ministry. Neither are the compositions of press releases from chanceries. Nor are pronouncements of excommunication. Some of these efforts are necessary. Some may even help an occasional person. They serve more as pep rallies, outlets for personal anger, and a tendency to over-think a problem.

Why isn’t there more dialogue on abortion? For the same reason why the families of addicts don’t talk. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who seems to be screaming all the time.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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22 Responses to Cooperative Extremes, Moderates, and Non-Extremes

  1. Mary says:

    So what makes you think he won’t pass FOCA. He’s in the process of doing everything else he said he would do. We’ll see. When he does, I’ll be waiting for those pro-Oboma Catholics to protest the loudest. I doubt if they will. The majority of them used to Catholic Church to help get Oboma elected.

  2. Jason says:

    Thank you for this post. Lately, I’ve noticed on several blogs posts of a similar theme–calling, in one way or another, for the pro-life movement to reevaluate it’s methods and tactics. When folks tried that before the election, they were accused, often, of appeasement.

    It’s as though there has been an unwritten 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not criticize the Pro-Life Establishment.”

    I hope the atmosphere changes now.

  3. Todd says:

    “So what makes you think he won’t pass FOCA?”

    There is no political motivation to do so. Abortion-on-demand is already the law of the land, and has been for over thirty years.

    Additionally, it’s Congress that has to pass the law. The president can do nothing on legislation until it reaches his desk.

    Two clarifications:

    First, I’m not saying it’s impossible he will sign FOCA if Congress passes it. I heard a lot of pro-lifers saying it would be priority #1. Well, that was clearly wrong.

    Second, don’t mistake my criticism of the political arm of the pro-life movement or my statements against Republicans as implying I’m a “pro-Obama Catholic.” Politically, I find many of his views too conservative (the death penalty, the bailout to name two). And obviously, I part company from him on abortion.

  4. Lee says:

    Todd – he said it would be a priority. That may have been him just cozying up to the pro-choice crowd (and their deep pockets), but he is on the record.

    FOCA’s chances of passage were slim to begin with, but the negative focus on it has made it even less likely.

    On the other hand, other bills and measures are in the works. FOCA provides a rallying point, a way to remind Obama and other politicians caught up in all the celebratory euphoria over his victory that there is a large groups of voters out there who would not take kndly to some of those efforts. FOCA is the target, but other targets get hit as well.

    It also gets people paying attention to what is going on. it will be harder to sneak something through with such scrutiny.

    And it does help to swell the pro-life ranks. People like a cause.

    It took an anti-communist a hardliner like Nixon to open the door to China. maybe obama will unintentionally pave the way to a more pro-life government. You never know, with all the attention, and all the praying, he just might “convert!”

  5. Todd says:

    Lee, context is everything. The president was, at the time he made one promise, was attempting to line up support against Mrs Clinton and others.

    On the surface, either he lied flat out, or he was just positioning to beat Mrs Clinton. He sure didn’t make an issue of it in the general election.

    My point is that some pro-life leaders seemed to mislead others. They said it would be a #1 priority, and many, many voices on both sides of the divide disagreed.

    Basic civics would tell you he would never get a chance to sign a bill that wasn’t voted on by Congress.

    You made a big deal, as did others, and rightly so, about the PP sting with an underage pregnancy. I’m only pointing out the deception is running on both sides of the divide.

    We need to be realistic if we want to have a prayer of success. Much of the pro-life leadership needs to retire.

  6. Deacon Eric says:

    For 40 years, the prolife movement has had an obsession with Roe v. Wade, as if were that to be somehow overturned, the battle would be over and everyone could go home. This singular focus on Roe has become a point of orthodoxy and often seems the only thing the prolife movement cares about.

    We need more pragmatism. Case in point: President Obama has offered a middle road, saying he would like to work with people to reduce the number of abortions. Who is the bishop that the USCCB has assigned to meet with him up on this offer? What delegation from the pro-life movement has followed up on this and offered to help draft an action plan?

    Of course, the answer is no one in the pro-life movement has done this, because they have no interest in reducing the number of abortions, they only want to see Roe overturned. And we have no guarantee that Roe will eliminate abortions altogether, or even reduce them significantly.

    Still, they’d rather obsess on Roe than take up the president on his offer. It’s like the Cuban embargo; after 50 years it’s had no effect, but if we just hold out a bit longer it’s bound to work.

  7. Deacon Eric says:

    Sorry, should read: And we have no guarantee that overturning Roe will eliminate abortions altogether, or even reduce them significantly.

  8. Michael says:

    Deacon Eric, that’s the best statement about abortion from a member of the clergy I’ve yet encountered. Thank you.

  9. John Heavrin says:

    “And we have no guarantee that overturning Roe will eliminate abortions altogether, or even reduce them significantly.”

    Eric, you’re caricaturing the pro-life movement in order to engage in this scolding. Nobody I know thinks that overturning Roe would “eliminate” abortions. What overturning Roe would absolutely guarantee is that the battle to end legal abortion could then be fought in each state, and allow states that wish to severely limit or eliminate legal abortion to do so. With Roe, that process is completely foreclosed, and with regard to legal abortion, subsidiarity and representative democracy itself are completely foreclosed. Even supporters of legal abortion should be able to see the untenability of such a state of affairs in what purports to be a free country inhabited by free people.

    And as long as Roe stands, no American has any real rights, since the right to life itself has been removed, and replaced by the privilege of life, subject to the free choice of another human being. You might be born, you might not; it all depends on your mother’s choice. That’s not a right. Our right to life is endowed by the Creator; that right is removed when the Creator’s endowment is usurped and given to the mother. And if that Creator-endowed right is converted to a contingent privilege, obviously so are all other rights.

    I’m all for efforts to reduce the number of abortions, and I hope Obama will somehow do so, and that Catholics will work with him, sadly having no choice for the forseeable future. But as long as Roe stands, the pro-life movement cannot rest in seeking to overturn it, and must never acquiesce in it, as you, Todd and others imply we should. To acquiesce in Roe is to deny that our right to life comes from God.

    It’s not just the number of abortions, it’s the legality itself that is evil and must be fought always. With Roe in place, that battle can’t even begin. While I concede that methods must adapt somewhat to political realities, that reducing the number of abortions is of indispensable importance, and that talking to opponents can be of benefit, abandoning the battle to overturn Roe, for constitutional as well as moral reasons, is a non-starter. Ain’t gonna happen, in season or out, no matter who the president is, or where FOCA or other similar proposals are in the legislative process.

    And again, Eric, no serious pro-lifer thinks that overturning Roe would be the “end” of the battle. It would, finally, be the beginning of the true battle against legal abortion.

    I hope a bishop sits down with Obama too. I hope he will speak the truth to his face, and save the fawning. Obama already has plenty of that.

  10. Jim McK says:

    “Our right to life is endowed by the Creator; that right is removed when the Creator’s endowment is usurped and given to the mother.”

    Isn’t it the Creator who entrusts that right to the mother? Why is it acceptable to usurp that right and give it to the government in lieu of either God or the mother?

  11. Todd says:

    John, you usually do much better than this. Your argument is based in part on a perceived implication? You and others have frequently tossed out that caricature. I don’t think you and some other people even bother to listen.

    We offer alternatives, and too many pro-lifers whine about being asked to cave in on moral principles. How do you know the current strategy isn’t just plain stupid?

    You still haven’t been able to admit I’m a pro-lifer. Yet you’re happy to trot out the same slogans from ten or twenty years ago. It’s like banging your heads against the wall. If you really want the wall knocked over, let somebody with a different tool give it a try.

  12. Deacon Eric says:


    I am by no means saying that any efforts to overturn Roe should be abandoned; I am pointing out that effort has taken on an iconic status that has become a misplaced focus of the pro-life movement. The fact that I expressed this thought and asked if there might be other methods and then you went on for five paragraphs about Roe seems to me to be an apt illustration of our current situation.

    And I should have pointed out that many have done heroic work in the area of in-the-trenches work to address individual circumstances, offering alternatives, counseling and such. My thoughts were not directed at ALL prolifers (for I myself am pro-life), but to our national approach to this problem.

  13. Liam says:

    And why would a *bishop* be particularly promising as someone to sit down with Obama? It’s not like Obama recognizes the magisterial authority of Catholic bishops. He belongs to a church that emphatically does not.

    Rather, the more likely candidate would be another type of person. Someone not with an authority of position but authority of experience, who can walk Obama through how the pro-choice status quo is in the long term corrosive of the change he seeks to champion.

  14. John Heavrin says:

    “Of course, the answer is no one in the pro-life movement has done this, because they have no interest in reducing the number of abortions, they only want to see Roe overturned.”

    Eric, that’s from your earlier post. “no interest in reducing the number of abortions” It’s possible, in fact customary, for pro-lifers to want both. Thus the quote expresses a caricature, and an insulting one at that.

    Todd, your reading comprehension needs work. Re-read my post, slowly, and try to understand the point I’m making about Roe and the corrosive effect it has on our polity and our rights as Americans *even before* one even considers the particular issue of abortion.

  15. Deacon Eric says:


    I agree with you that working with Obama to reduce abortions should not be limited to bishops. In fact, a good layperson could be infinitely more effective. But I mentioned the bishops because the USCCB loves to issue statements and set up committees on pro-life issues regarding Roe, but when the chance comes to engage others in policies to reduce abortions, they fall silent. Perhaps this is because they do not wish to risk the ire of the pro-life movement that is adamant about focusing on Roe, and will allow no compromise on their failed strategy.

  16. Deacon Eric says:


    Again, if the leadership of the pro-life movement is interested in reducing abortions and not just railing against Roe, then what have they done to engage Obama in his offer to work to reduce the number of abortions? Can you name one pro-life leader who has reached out to him on this issue, or are they too busy issuing press releases condemning him and fixating on Supreme Court appointments?

  17. Todd says:

    More Roe fixation, John.

    I’ve blogged frequently on my take that all of western culture, especially in the US is overly fixated on “rights,” and grossly neglects “responsibilities.” Roe is just a symptom of a greater problem, not the Source of All Evil.

    The point you attempted to make on Roe underscores Eric’s point: Roe is an obsession for many pro-lifers.

    I might have qualified Eric’s statement: many (but not all) pro-lifers do not want to reduce the number of abortions–it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

  18. John Heavrin says:

    It’s not Roe itself that’s the obsession, but the legality of abortion. And until Roe is gone, that legality can’t be ended. Very simple.

    As for my point about the corrosive effect Roe has had on our national life and polity, I guess you’re just incapable of understanding it, and I tire of restating it. You can claim that we’re too hung up on “rights,” but I don’t think that claim is applicable to the right to be born. Without that right, there are no rights. And currently, we don’t have that right. Even if abortions were reduced to zero, which would be great, we still wouldn’t have the right to be born in this country, as long as Roe stands. You appear to be content with Roe staying in place, I’m not.

    You’re good at criticizing and making fun of pro-life leadership and of those who place the highest priority on getting rid of Roe. That won’t save any babies, either, Todd.

    Finally, I do not think, have never said, and apologize if somehow I have implied, that you are not a pro-lifer.

  19. Todd says:

    Thanks for sticking with the conversation, John. I haven’t done my best to keep this uncluttered, so let me start over.

    First, the original post had nothing to do with Roe. I think post #9 played right into Eric’s point. Roe is a bugaboo.

    Second, I think of “responsibility” as being the flip-side of sexual (or any other) activity. Sure unplanned pregnancies happen, but the adult response to them should–ideally–be one of responsibility, not of competing rights. I would suggest parents of an unborn child have less to crow about where personal rights are concerned, and more about the responsibility of taking parenthood seriously. I don’t see abortion as one set of rights trumping another; it strikes me more as an abdication of responsibility superceding a basic civil right.

    Next, in a virtuous society, Roe would be irrelevant. Especially in the US, where, except for (a mostly private) family insistence, we don’t have women or teens undergoing forced abortions.

    Unlike other life issues, abortion remains a personal option, not a government policy.

    “You’re good at criticizing and making fun of pro-life leadership and of those who place the highest priority on getting rid of Roe. That won’t save any babies, either …”

    True on both counts. My sense is that the rank-and-file pro-lifers on the internet aren’t listening to me. Just so they understand I’d prefer to donate to Birthright, promote adoption, and persuade friends and parishioners in need–and not send FOCA postcards or listen to the bishops wax on politics.

  20. Deacon Eric says:

    “Unlike other life issues, abortion remains a personal option, not a government policy.”

    I think Todd nailed it with this remark. In the seamless garment of pro-life values, abortion stands apart from war, capital punishment, fatal neglect of the poor and other such issues because it involves a personal choice rather than a government policy. When our government kills people by war, capital punishment or denial of essential healthcare, we are collectively responsible because we are a representative democracy. When the state pulls the switch on the electric chair, we are all complicit.

    But when an individual decides to have an abortion, we are not complicit in that act. The government has permitted it, not mandated it. And such acts will continue even if the government outlaws them, as does simple homicide.

    Certainly one can make the case that permitting abortion is just as much a social sin as mandating killing in war, capital punishment and allowing the poor to die for want of healthcare. All of these are grave social sins. But abortion is in a separate category because the people are not the perpetrators of the crime, individuals are.

    And there’s the rub. Voting for candidates who advocate murder as public policy with the whole people as the killers is active murder, while voting for candidates who assert the right of individuals to kill is passive. That’s the flaw in the reasoning of bishops who embrace the “Democrats are evil” model.

  21. Deacon Eric says:

    And so I should add: it seems to me we have two choices: voting for a Democrat who supports Roe versus voting for a Republican who denounces Roe, but has no intention or power to act against abortion aside from an annual statement on Jan. 22. In such an instance, we can look at other factors: which candidate is less likely to kill people through war, capital punishment and people dying in our streets?

  22. Pingback: FOCA Watch: Has FOCA Replaced Roe? « Catholic Sensibility

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