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Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Ed Mechmann

Fr. Reese is surely aware that Catholic Morality 101 focuses primarily on the nature of the act performed (see Veritatis Splendor 76 ff). An appeal to a person's motives or intentions means nothing if the act performed is gravely evil. So we can call people "pro-choice" forever, if Fr. Reese prefers. All that does is hide the truth, and it doesn't change in any way the fundamental evil of supporting a legal regime where one may kill innocent children with impunity.


The percentage of pro-choicers who declare themselves personally opposed to abortion is quite high -- a fact that makes the distinction even more illogical. The "personally opposed" pro-choicers say they are against abortion but it must be allowed for "others." But if the "others" who are not even personally opposed to abortion is a very small group of people, why is it so important to guarantee them something that is abhorent to nearly everyone else?


Honest question for you, and I assure you I'm not interested in getting into another extended conversation about abortion:

Whether or not it is appropriate in the first place to make a distinction between being "pro-choice" and being "pro-abortion", is it conceivable that someone could make the distinction and yet find both the "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion" position problematic?

Because that's where I am, and I'm curious what you would say of our similarities, despite our obvious differences. I happen to think it's important to make a distinction that you think clouds the issue. At the same time, though, I still find the "pro-choice" position to be wrong, even if I would want to separate it decidedly from the idea of someone being "pro-abortion" (which I find to be an odd idea in the extreme, and probably lacking any significant representatives).

What would you say to that? As much as you probably think I'm argumentative, I really do try to stake out some points of agreement when that's possible. You may not think opposition to the pro-choice position as I understand it is enough, though- that we must think of pro-choice people as actually pro-abortion in order to be properly opposed to that stance.

I'd be curious to know what you think. Because, despite your opinion of the "street-smart man", I don't think it's at all obvious that the pro-life community generally (let alone other people) would be as quick to assume that the people they disagree with on abortion are actually "pro-abortion". It seems to me that, right or wrong, most people understand the issue to be more complex than that.


You need to be careful here. The position of "personally opposed but..." is different from the position of "abortion is a normal medical procedure". Both have been condemned by the church but that does not make them the same. One involves the question of what we should do personally and one involves the question of what the law of the land should be. Adultery, for example, is one thing we say is immoral but need not be illegal. The church has said the parallel position on abortion is not acceptable for Catholics to hold or publically defend. Obama is not a Catholic so that distinction is more relevent for him.

Caren LeMark



Here is a question, the answer to which I have never satisfactorily received: How might a politician who is "pro-choice" vote differently than one who is "pro-abortion?"


He who believes in the choice to commit evil, or advocates the right to commit evil, or believes that evil is good fools himself when he claims he is not for evil but for the choice of committing evil. Anyone with reason knows that we can either choose good or evil, so to claim that this choice dose not exist, or is at least threatened, is to confuse men into accepting the choice of evil and to make evil appear good - even to the point of making that which is good appear evil. To acknowledge the choice of evil is one thing, but to believe in the choice to commit evil, to believe that men have the choice to do wrong, that men can do wrong if they wish without having to bear consequences, or without being in the wrong, or without any guilt, correction, or amendment, is evil in itself.

Francis Beckwith

Two problems with Fr. Reese's comments:

1. In order to be "pro-choice," one must believe that abortion ought to be permissible. But in order to justify its permissibility, one must believe that the unborn is a being that may be killed by its mother without a public justification. So, someone who is pro-choice must deny that the unborn is a full-fledged member of the human community entitled to all the protections of our laws. Thus, if he wants to be accurate, Fr. Reese should call the pro-choice position, anti-prenatalism, and those who embrace it "fetophobic" or "natalist."

2. If one thinks of abortion as a legitimate way to avoid the unjust punishment of getting pregnant and giving birth without prior explicit consent, as President Obama clearly believes, then one is in fact pro-abortion. If, for example, I were to say that people should be free to either exercise or be slothful, but I continually extol exercise as a means by which to avoid sloth, I am pro-exercise.

Ed Peters

What a pity.


Following up on Joe's point: what, exactly, does Fr. Reese think Pres. Obama would have done differently thus far in his political career, if he were "pro-abortion" rather than "pro-choice?" Because, really, I can't come up with much other than employing the National Guard to physically force women to have abortions...


An easy answer for Margaret and Joe. I'd say that restrictions on abortion currently in place are very often things that pro-choice and pro-life people could agree upon, though pro-choice and "pro-abortion" people could not. That is, a pro-choice politician could still strongly support restrictions against partial birth abortion, or against abortions that are not performed in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment to the mother. A "pro-abortion" politician, if there ever were such a thing, would presumably be against any such restrictions.

Much as my personal views are pro-life, and much as I'd like to see the laws of the land reflect these values, I think it's dishonest to act as if current legal restrictions count for nothing. If you're operating under a simplistic legal/illegal binary on abortion, then you're not going to understand what the law actually says, and you're going to get tripped up on these hogwash notions of there being no difference at all, in terms of action or intention, between a pro-choice and a "pro-abortion" person.

Ed S

The baby about to be aborted does not care whether his mother is pro-choice or pro-abortion. He cries in pain for life; God's tears are abundant in either case.

Why parse this abomination? Indeed, Ed, what a pity!

Carlise Leston

What an idiotic statement. Is an idiot behind that (il)logic reasoning?

"Truth is the conformity of mind to reality." - Bro Francis+MICM

Leslie Warrington

Fr Reese,
Call me ASAP! I need you to talk to your bishops over here and I want you to give a speech to my Congress and Senate to promote my Health Care Plan!
Where you been hidin', Man? - BHO


I think that the minute we refuse to parse moral issues carefully is the minute we begin to respond to them in a sloppy manner.

Still curious what Carl would have to say to my initial question. Also, whether I should take Joe's and Margaret's silence as satisfaction with my response on the policy distinctions between pro-choice and "pro-abortion" people. I'm glad that people are asking for justifications from those who disagree... I think this will help the conversation along, and I'm wondering what peoples' reactions are.


While plausible in theory, the number of "I'm-not-'pro-abortion'-I'm-'pro-choice'" politicians who have voted for VERY reasonable restrictions on abortion (parental consent/notification, waiting period, etc.; keeping in mind these very reasonable restrictions are not terribly widespread) is quiet negligible. A distinction without a difference. And, if there is no real practical difference, then it's merely a semantic shell game. In which case, to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, "to Hell with it."

Take President Obama (please!) as an example. He claims he is not pro-abortion. Fine. How would his legislative voting record have differed if he were pro-choice and not pro-abortion? What actual (as opposed to theoretical) piece of legislation would a PCer have supported that a PAer would not have, or vice-versa?

Which is why I posted my question.



My silence just means that I don't have tons of time to read and respond to blog comments... ;)

Following the examples you cited, then I'd have to say Obama is much more strongly in the pro-abortion than pro-choice crowd. He strongly objects to any restrictions on abortion. Fought the Born-Alive act when he was in the state legislature in Illinois tooth and nail. Immediately restored all foreign aid for abortion-providing groups upon taking office. And is now insisting that we must not, cannot pass health reform with anything resembling the Stupak amendment in it. Oh yeah, and doesn't want his own daughters "punished" with a baby, just for good measure. Sounds to me like he's never met an abortion he didn't like. I'd call that pro-abortion.


Evan highlights "pro-abortion" thusly: "the idea of someone being "pro-abortion" (which I find to be an odd idea in the extreme, and probably lacking any significant representatives)"

I'm curious about the distinction as well. What quality moves from one from being merely "pro-choice" to being "pro-abortion"? And are there many such people?

At any rate, assuming there is such a distinction, I think I know of at least one:

The announcement on Monday, March 30 that The Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale was appointed as the sixth and newest president of Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, MA, has orthodox and pro-life Episcopalians shaking their heads.

Ragsdale, who is an outspoken advocate of abortion and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) rights, was the unanimous choice of the Board of Trustees and will begin her duties on July 1, 2009.

In addition to the press release and public letter concerning the appointment, the EDS website also has a link to Rev. Ragsdale’s sermon blog. There, the first sermon is entitled, “Our Work is Not Done.” The content has been cited and circulated on a large number of pro-life and conservative Christian blogs. An excerpt follows:

“When a woman wants a child but can’t afford one because she hasn’t the education necessary for a sustainable job, or access to health care, or day care, or adequate food, it is the abysmal priorities of our nation, the lack of social supports, the absence of justice that are the tragedies; the abortion is a blessing.

“And when a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion – there is not a tragedy in sight -- only blessing. The ability to enjoy God’s good gift of sexuality without compromising one’s education, life’s work, or ability to put to use God’s gifts and call is simply blessing.

“These are the two things I want you, please, to remember – abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done.”

Never a dull day in the Episcopal Church.



My, er, "silence" is nothing more than a delay brought about by everyday circumstances which prevent me from leaping to respond. However, since my response DID come 16 minutes after yours, might it be safely said you are satisfied with mine?

(A strange thing, as it was a question yet to be satisfactorily answered, but still...)


Enough...check out the video link from Priests for Life, of an unborn person, and tell me he/she is worthy of the death penalty.

Other Facts:

1. The heartbeat is observed three weeks and one day after fertilization, and the heart will beat 54 million times before birth!

2. At 6 weeks the embryo begins making spontaneous movements. Touch his mouth and he will withdraw his head.

3. At eight weeks, 90% of the anatomical structures found in adults are present – that’s 4000 distinct anatomical structures!

4. The child has unique fingerprints at 10 weeks – the same fingerprints he or she keeps throughout life.


1. If it is OK to kill the innocent without trial, how much justification will it take to kill anyone who is afraid to 'cast the first stone'? Shed light on what these folks stand for and pray the light cleanse their minds and hearts of this wickedness, abortion rights.

2. Can't be personally opposed but...can't serve two masters.
Can't call yourself Catholic and Pro-Choice...can't serve two masters. You must choose a side and stick to it.

This sin shall end in our time, completely, either by the fiat of man or the Hand of God.

Nino  Baldino

and so the south really won the war after all..slavery was the ownership of one human over do with what one wills..and so it is with abortion..the killing of a life if it is inconvenient..and the other issue was slave labor products.we are inundated with slave labor products from china etc..thus our economy is destroyed...have a nice day..Nino


To Evan's "easy answer"

Why would someone believe that abortion should be legal for non big-3 (rape/incest/life of mother) cases yet should be subject to limiting measures? How can you justify legalized abortion while retaining a non-arbitrary reason to say "but it should be rare"? Declaring abortion legal almost necessitates denying the value of the life aborted, yet if that life has no value, why should we strive to make abortion be rare? Removing the value of the child leaves no negative claim to limit or outweigh the the claimed positive "right" of the woman to have an abortion. The position that abortion should be legal but rare seems to implicitly acknowledge that the life has value (abortion should be rare, or is a negative practice) but explicitly denies the implications of this concept and says mothers should still be able to destroy the life. Thus, if the life of the unborn has value, there is nothing the state can do in good conscience to deny the value of the life. If the life has no value, then there is no reason to limit the practice.

Therefore those who are of the "legal but restricted" opinion seem to be confused because their position's implied assumptions are contradictory. I suspect that they are either more pro-life than they realize or are just the "respectable/conciliatory" wing of the pro-abortion crowd.

Bob Henry

Being pro-choice only confirms that they are descendents of Adam. He ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and his descendents are doing likewise, they relish in the thought of being wise in their own eyes. They should turn from death and eat from the Tree of Life, so that eternal life will be theirs through Jesus Christ.

Fr Don Malin

re: pro-choice vs pro abortion. Should we enact pro-choice laws for burglary? Pro-choice laws for arson? Why are we defending this position? The Pro-choice position(to me)is a philosophy that wants to enact in law the right to choose something we know is wrong, (" don't know anyone who is pro-abortion"). We know abortion is evil, and is damaging to society (read in here the psychlogical and social costs of the aftermath of abortion). The pro-choice philosophy or position is all about legislating the permission for people to choose to do evil.
It seems to me that the pro-choice philosophy, if applied to other crimes would give some legitimacy in court to the persons who chose to do those crimes. It might lessen their criminal penalties by justifying their right to "choose" to do this or that crime. What do y'all think about this thread of thought?


To Margaret & Joe... my comment on your "silence" was an attempt to goad into more conversation... I recognize that folks have lives outside of the blog... hence my lack of posting over Thanksgiving weekend. (Carl hasn't taken the bait, though) ;)

In response to Sarquil (and also Margaret and Joe), I wouldn't hesitate to agree with you that 1) limited and arbitrary restrictions on abortion are not enough, and still leave room for the grave evil of legalized abortion, or 2) that there are plenty of pro-choice politicians who reject rather sensible restrictions on abortions... but you did not ask anyone to defend pro-choice politicians on their legislation. What you had invited was defense of them against the charge of being "pro-abortion" by pointing out some distinctions between the two.

As I've said repeatedly, I think that the pro-choice position is gravely mistaken and harbors the immense evil of the taking of innocent life. But this doesn't mean that it's the same as being "pro-abortion". You've asked for distinctions, and I've given them. I agree with you that the pro-choice position is also highly problematic, and I've never said otherwise. I don't see why pointing out the flaws of pro-choice rhetoric or legislation is somehow an argument against my point that it's still a quite different thing than being "pro-abortion".


Declaring abortion legal almost necessitates denying the value of the life aborted, yet if that life has no value, why should we strive to make abortion be rare?

I disagree with this, although I used to think and respond more along these lines. Speaking with pro-choice people whom I know to be sincere and thoughtful has made me realize that this notion is a bit too simplistic. I think Francis Beckwith's above comment also comes close to your point here... while I agree generally with what he said, I think that tying identity as a full-fledged part of the human community and enjoying all the protection of our laws blurs the issue a bit... it is vaguely correct, but it makes more precise moral reasoning difficult.

Think of it this way: execution for certain heinous crimes is permissible in parts of the country. The executed person has certainly forfeited the protection of law by their actions. They are also, of course, guilty in a way that unborn children are not. But it seems problematic to say that we are denying the value of their life by executing them... even them, even the guilty and the criminal. It seems that it is reasonable, that is, to imagine a situation where someone can be killed without the assumption that their life has no value.

The calculus of such killing in the case of abortion is, of course, difficult to stomach. It is base and crude to think that financial situation or lack of proper resources would be a reason for a mother to have her child killed, and the gut reaction that this represents a rejection of the value of that life is understandable. But I don't think reacting this way recognizes the difficulty with which people enter into these (yes, sinful) situations. Pro-choice people often recognize the distinct value of unborn life, though they do not think that this value trumps all other considerations. I'm not saying it's right. Nor am I saying it's even consistent. It is what it is. And it has analogous cases with which to offer comparison. It does not seem obvious that allowing the killing of a life means that one has failed to acknowledge the value of that life. It may mean that one doesn't acknowledge the proper protections of which that life is deserving, but it's not as if most pro-choice people just think of the unborn as a lump of cells that they're dealing with.


In response to Fr Malin-

I don't know who you think is "defending this position"... I come closest to doing so, but surely I'm far from defending it. If someone were to defend the pro-choice position against your points, though, I think it could easily be done by pointing out that arson and burglary clearly violate the property rights recognized of people in law, while the rights of unborn children are more ambiguous (not ambiguous to the Ignatius Press constituency, perhaps, but to the laws of the land). It is the violation of recognized rights that justifies laws against these actions, and the laws enshrine that protection of right. On the other hand, there are plenty of psychologically and socially costly, even evil actions that are not prohibited by law... a person can be unloving, or prideful, or greedy, or wasteful, all without breaking any laws. Our laws are not structured to prevent people from doing evil, nor are they structured purely for societal utility. Neither of these seem like adequate arguments against a pro-choice policy with regard to abortion.

So unfortunately, I think this thread of thought is a bit of a dead end. And again, I disagree on this not because my sentiment on abortion is very different from others who speak up on this blog. I am pro-life. But for that very reason, I don't think we can afford to waste our time on straw-men, weak arguments, or emotionalism. I think that we need the very best reasons behind us as we defend the dignity of human life. If that means that I distance myself from some of the critiques being leveled here, then so be it.


No one chooses to do evil until he sees it under an aspect of some good (I think it was Aquinas who said something along those lines). Thus, it seems to me that Obama and others who are pro-choice are consciously or subconsciously aware that it would be abhorrent to be pro the killing of the innocent. But, they couch their position in terms of being pro-choice because presuambly they see that the "good" of affirming the woman's absolute autonomy is greater in the hierarchy of goods than the right of the innocent babe to life. Of course, such a conclusion is a nonsence and a complete subversion of real values. But, this ludicrious position is the logical outcome of a rampant individualism which denies our true personhood, which is never purely focused on ourselves, but we are made for communion.

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