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Thursday, June 16, 2011


Sleeping Beastly

I beg your pardon, Mr. Olson, but I think you do an injustice to at least some of the 47% of Catholics who agreed that both labels described them accurately. It is usually a mistake to attempt to paraphrase someone else's statements without giving them a chance to say whether or not your paraphrasing is accurate.

I myself would say, if asked, that I am pro-choice (because I approve of choice, in principle) and that I am pro-life (because I approve of life, in principle.) I would also say that I am liberal (because I approve of liberty) and that I am conservative (because I approve of conservation.) I would say all these things because I am also anti-obfuscation. If someone wants to know my position on abortion, I am opposed to it, but if they want to know my position on life and choice, I am in favor of both. I can't be the only Catholic who feels this way, and there may have been some like me among those polled.

What I object to is not imposing my will on others (that would make me either insane or a liar) but to the widespread use of misleading labels. I think it's a mistake to play the euphemism game, especially for those of us who oppose abortion. It makes it seem as though we are uncomfortable with the reality of our position. Let our yea be yea and our nay be nay.


Democracy devours itself.

Carl E. Olson

Sleeping Beauty: I would be a bit more sympathetic regarding your point and a bit more patient with your snippy tone if I was somehow guilty of taking terms or phrases that have a widely agreed-upon meaning and then re-defined them for my own devious ends. But I think I am on solid ground when I say that the vast majority of people understand--for better or worse--that the term "pro-choice" is used by people who either actively support abortion or say that it should be allowed, even if they are personally opposed. Is that a misuse of the term "choice"? Yes, I think so, and you and I would likely agree on that point.

However, do a search online for "pro-choice" and 99% of what you find in the first few pages is supportive of abortion. And, to be clear, that isn't my fault. As Dr. William Brennan, author of Confronting the Language Empowering the Culture of Death, stated in this 2009 Ignatius Insight interview: "The language of choice has become so pervasive that the word abortion has fallen out of favor. In 2003, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League changed its name to NARAL Pro-Choice America."

In addition, the Public Religion Research Institute survey is quite clear that "pro-choice" means supporting abortion or at least saying it should be allowed, etc. (Folks can access details about the study via the links at the bottom of this page.) Now, it could be that some folks do consider themselves both "pro-life" and "pro-life" for the reasons you give. Wonderful. Great. Let me buy you a free drink. But, seriously, do you really think that the percentage of folks who use "pro-choice" in such a way is substantial at all? More to the point, it's irrational for you to be upset with me when it is as clear as it is June that I took it as a given that "pro-choice" refers, in the study, to those who are pro-abortion to some degree or another. Or, to put it another way, do you think I am incorrect in stating, as I do above, "What we have, in other words, are a large number of Catholics saying, 'Personally, I'm pro-life. But I won't force my beliefs on anyone else.'"?

Finally, you might not enjoy my October 8, 2008, post, "Pro-choice" vs. "Pro-abortion"? Or, "Pro-choice" = "Pro-abortion"?


I would almost agree with Sleeping Beauty, but the problem with the paraphrasing isn't yours, Carl, it's with the original article. One thing about such polls is the precise wording of the question (as well as the sample selection, etc.) can largely determine the outcome, but all the article gives is a paraphrase of the question.

The news media pull this kind of stunt all the time, asking questions like, "Do you support a balanced budget amendment?" Any reasonable person would realize that it depends very much on who gets to decide HOW the budget would be balanced -- yet they're not given any option that would express that. Similarly with, "Do you support health care reform?" Every reasonable person knows we don't have the best of all possible systems, and some improvements could be made; but many reasonable people would still not support *Obama's* health care reform.

Sleeping Beastly

I'm not upset with you, but I think you may be wrong in thinking that you have correctly (re)stated the position(s) of the respondents. Many of them may deserve more credit than you give them.

The article says "[56%] of Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases" while "Seven-in-ten Americans say the term 'pro-choice' describes them." That leaves a good 14% (at least) who say "pro-choice" describes them but who do not think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. I'd call that a substantial percentage. Not being a mind reader, I can't say what their reasons were for responding as they did, but for this segment, at least, I don't think it's a case of cognitive dissonance.

I grew up in (and recently moved back to) San Francisco, and I am familiar with the phenomenon of heterodox Catholics. There are lots and lots and lots of them. In fact, my wife and I are the only lay adults I know personally who I am sure don't practice contraception. I just don't think this study necessarily says what you say it does.

I did enjoy your post, and it seems that we are at least in agreement about the term "pro-choice."

Teo Matteo

After 50 years of hearing Catholics opine about abortion I am coming to a conclusion. Many of those that have for years taken the "I dont believe and I would not have an abortion myself, but I thinks its fine if others do" will in a situation take someone to get an abortion or pull out their credit card and 'take care of it'. Or at least not counsel someone close to them against its horror. I may be wrong but there must be a reason why 31% of abortions are dead 'catholic' babies.

Robert Miller

I think maybe we've reached a point in public discourse and advocacy where we do need to start calling a spade a spade: not so we'll get more accurate survey results, but in order that we may get clearer thinking by the large group among the general public (including, regrettably, a likely majority of US and European Catholics) who don't care to think regularly about these issues.

Thus, together with "life" and "choice", let us take the words "family" and "marriage". No doubt the vast majority of respondents to any poll these days will check "pro" to all of the above. In fact, only "choice" has any ambiguous connotations in a moral sense (although this distinction is largely lost in the antinomian post-modern world). Yes, I'm all for freedom of choice to the extent it is freedom to act according to right reason and true faith.

But the issues of the day are precisely "life", "family" and "marriage", as all are understood according to that immemorial wisdom most perfectly understood in the Catholic Christian Wisdom of the Church. Thus, I would urge that Catholic activists on these fronts increasingly adopt the "anti" banners that this commitment implies. Our real battle is not to convince our fellows that "life", "family" and "marriage" are "good" or "best", but to convince them that these have powerful enemies, (by persistently naming them) and that these must be defeated.

Perhaps, in this way, another currently ambiguous term, "Catholic", will surface for much-needed clarification. We've reached a moment in which very few would say they are "anti-Catholic". When Catholics begin to make it clear that "life", "family" and "marriage" are at the center of their public commitment and require unambiguous "anti" advocacy and action, it will make it easier (as it already is beginning to) for the enemies of "life", "family" and "marriage" to check the "anti" box when asked about "Catholic".

Carl E. Olson

Sleeping Beastly (I see that I wrongly called you "Sleeping Beauty" in my first response; that was an honest error!): I will readily agree that, as you state, "Many of them may deserve more credit than you give them." I am sure that many of them do hold to the position you outline.

But, having agreed on that, I still think my main point is very valid: there are many Catholics who do call themselves both "pro-life" and "pro-choice" who say they are opposed to abortion but also insist that abortion should be legal and that, in fact, it is sometimes necessary, etc. I just read some of the comments on the National "Catholic" Reporter site about this same study/topic, and one of the commenters, for example, wrote the following:

Submitted by Rev. John (not verified) on Jun. 13, 2011.

What this shows is that millenials understand nuance. I disagree with the AEI scholar who says this is like saying "it's murder and I'm for it." It's more like saying that it's killing, and it's unfortunate, and I don't want it to happen, but it may be inevitable sometimes and I don't want it to be illegal.

That is more or less where I stand and I am not millenial, but the terms of the debate label me as pro-choice, when I feel that I am actually pro-life, life being that of both the mother and the child.

I've run into this mentality in numerous places online and otherwise, and I think it is readily evident in the approach taken by a number of Catholic politicians. And I think we agree that is a position of capitulation that only furthers the culture of death.
Gabriel Austin

There is continual reference to Mario Cuomo's "I wouldn't do it myself...&c" but little reference to Cardinal Cushing's same statement about not wanting to force his opinions on others.
One wonders what this bishop was thinking his job was.

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