Responding to Fr. Thomas J. Reese's recent suggestion that the pro-life movement abandon efforts to make abortion illegal and focus instead on reducing the number of abortions, Cardinal Timothy Dolan voiced grave concern with the proposal.
“As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, I want to indicate my serious reservations about Reese’s strategy, considering it a capitulation to the abortion culture, and a grave weakening of the powerful pro-life witness,” the Archbishop of New York wrote in a June 8 opinion piece at RNS.
“Catholic tradition and basic human rights teach us that every human being has an inalienable right to life that must be recognized and protected in law. While the law is not the only means of protecting life, it plays a key and decisive role in affecting both human behavior and thinking. We cannot give up!” Dolan continued.
RNS had published an opinion piece by Reese May 27 asserting that the recent vote for the legalization of abortion in Ireland was a sign the pro-life movement “needs a new strategy.”
Noting that most pro-choice laws are victorious when taken to the ballots, Reese believes the pro-life movement should stop fighting the “impossible goal” of criminalizing abortion and shift their efforts to a reduction in the number of abortions and supporting “programs that give women a real choice.”
“In short, the pro-life movement must support any program that lessens the burden on mothers and their children,” said Reese.
Reese, a Jesuit priest, also highlighted the role of the Church in his proposed strategy, saying it should treat an unwed pregnant woman as a “hero, not a whore,” while schools should design programs and affordable housing to meet the needs of mothers and their children.
He stated that the pro-life movement “has to support birth control as a means of avoiding unwanted pregnancies.”
“Planned pregnancies do not get aborted; many unplanned pregnancies do,” he asserted.
“Those who consider artificial contraception to be wrong must also recognize that abortion is a greater evil. When forced to choose, one must choose the lesser of two evils.”
Cardinal Dolan wrote that this is “one of Reese's most troubling assertions.”
“In addition to rejecting the church’s teaching that contraception is itself morally flawed, and the fact that it can be medically harmful to women, his reasoning is questionable,” Dolan pointed outed. In fact, only a good is a licit object of the will; an evil, however lesser, can never be chosen.
Dolan noted that contraception cannot be effectively chosen as a way to avoid choosing abortion: “In reality, more than half of women seeking abortion were actually using contraception during the month they became pregnant, and studies have shown that once contraception is more widely available, abortion rates may actually rise!”
Reese also wrote that “closing [Planned Parenthood] clinics that provide health care and birth control to women before replacements are up and running is irresponsible and counterproductive.”
“Working together, we could reasonably get abortions down to under 100,000 per year [in the U.S.] — far too many, but an achievable goal and better than where we are today,” Reese said.
While Dolan noted support for some of Reese’s suggestions, such as offering much-needed support to pregnant mothers, the New York cardinal said Reese’s strategy ultimately reminds him of “those in the mid-19th century who proposed amelioration as a way to reduce slavery in our country.”
“Thank God, those who believed that slavery was a moral horror, a cancer on our country, and contrary to the higher values of a lawful republic, could never accept this capitulation.”
Reese's assertion that the pro-life movement should give up efforts to give legal protection to unborn humans and instead work only to reduce the number of abortions “is an unnecessary dichotomy,” Cardinal Dolan wrote.
Reese pointed to some polls which indicated decreased support for restricting abortion laws, but Dolan highlighted other research which noted an increase of Americans wanting more limits on abortion, adding moreover that polls should not control which issues to fight for.
“Reese would be rightly disappointed, as would I, if pro-immigration reformers were to give up because polls discourage them,” Dolan said.
While the end to abortion may seem an impossible goal, Dolan said that through God, all things are possible.
“Abortion is a grave injustice. We must do everything in our power to legally protect babies and to provide for the needs of mothers,” the New York cardinal said.
“May we never give in to the culture of death or lose faith in our efforts to build a culture of life in our world.”