Common ground: a basis of mutual interest or agreement
The current talk about “common ground” continues to concern me. These days, it pertains to several events that are separate and yet quite similar. The first is a piece of Capitol Hill legislation known as the Ryan-DeLauro bill, titled Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act (HR 3312). What first caught my eye about this piece of legislation is that it is being celebrated by abortion supporters as a milestone, with commentator Sarah Posner reporting,
These two legislators [Ryan and DeLauro], who disagree on the question of whether abortion should be legal, worked with the centrist think tank Third Way’s culture program to find common ground among supporters of reproductive rights and opponents of legal abortion. The result, though, is pretty much what NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and other reproductive health advocates have been arguing for years: prevent unintended pregnancies through comprehensive sex education and birth control, and support economically struggling women and their families.
It is clear that this legislative proposal is somewhat appealing to those who might claim they are pro-life for political purposes, but are not truly dedicated to protecting preborn children as persons. I suggest that this is so because Third Way is an organization that describes itself as “the leading think tank of the moderate wing of the progressive movement” and says, “We work with elected officials, candidates, and advocates to develop and advance the next generation of moderate policy ideas.”
While I am not sure exactly what it means to be in the “moderate wing of the progressive movement,” my gut reaction is not favorable. The good news about Ryan-DeLauro is that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is opposing it. In a well-articulated statement, the USCCB pro-life office’s Susan Wills aptly labeled Ryan-DeLauro as “the Planned Parenthood Economic Stimulus Package of 2009.” At least on this bit of “common ground,” the bishops have chosen to remove their shovels.
But on other “common-ground” fronts, the news about the Catholic response is not as pleasing. For example, the USCCB is supporting the Pregnant Women Support Act (HR 2035). This bill, which some say could be supported by the White House, is described as a measure that would “reduce the abortion rate.” Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has appealed to Congress to support the bill, which he claims “will provide many kinds of life-affirming support for pregnant women and their unborn children.” In a letter sent to every member of Congress, Cardinal Rigali states,
First, the fact that over a million abortions take place every year in this country is a tragedy, and we should at least take steps to reduce abortions. Second, no woman should ever have to undergo an abortion because she feels she has no other choice, or because alternatives were unavailable or not made known to her. An abortion performed under such social and economic duress meets no one's standard for “freedom of choice."
In his letter, Cardinal Rigali said that the bill “provides an authentic common ground, an approach that people can embrace regardless of their position on other issues.” While this sounds reasonable, we decided to see what the actual legislation states in relation to abortion, its availability and its identity as a surgical option for expectant mothers. What we found was not exactly compatible with Catholic teaching.
Among other things, the Pregnant Women Support Act sets out to make sure that any woman who is seeking an abortion is first provided with adequate information about her pregnancy. If she proceeds to abort her child, that is her choice.
Section 501 (“Disclosure of information on abortion services”) stipulates that “health facilities that perform abortions… shall obtain informed consent from the pregnant woman seeking to have the abortion. Informed consent shall exist only after a woman has voluntarily completed or opted not to complete pre-abortion counseling sessions.”
This legislation accepts as a fait accompli the Supreme Court decisions on abortion. It implicitly tolerates the idea of aborting a child because this action is protected by law. This is what common ground has always been about when applied to a thorny matter such as murdering a child prior to birth. So why is the USCCB applauding and supporting such a measure?
Bear in mind that the very same USCCB will not endorse political initiatives for protecting the personhood of the preborn child. Many bishops have done little or nothing to educate their flocks on the Catholic Church’s bedrock teaching on the humanity of the preborn and the fact that abortion is an act of murder. Perhaps it is more comfortable to be publicly accepted as reasonable than it is to demand an end to the slaughter.
The Catholic common-ground game appears to reach all the way to the Vatican. Robert Moynihan, founder and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, recently wrote an opinion piece in which he made a few troubling statements. For example, in writing about his good friend Gian Maria Vian, the controversial editor of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Moynihan tells us,
A month before President Obama's scheduled visit to see the Pope on July 10, Vian published an editorial that took a positive view of Obama's first 100 days.
Conservative Catholics in the United States and elsewhere were appalled that, despite Obama's moves to provide greater access to abortion and stem-cell research, the paper was not denouncing Obama. There were calls for Vian to resign.
When I spoke with Vian a few days ago, I asked him about this controversy. He told me that he still has the "full support" of the Vatican's Secretariat of State. (In fact, Vian is a personal friend of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope's secretary of state.)
What can explain Vian's position -- and, by implication, the position of the Secretariat of State, and, perhaps, of the Pope himself?
Vian told me that the "big picture" needs to be kept in mind, that the Holy See's agenda, while always and unswervingly pro-life, nevertheless includes many other issues, such as social justice, disarmament, the Middle East and Cuba.
Vian's position illustrates the considerable differences between the European and American viewpoints on many critical issues of our time. The Europeans (like Vian) focus on points of agreement, and the Americans (like Vian's critics) focus on points of disagreement.
I do think Vian -- and even the Secretariat of State -- may be "naïve" about Obama and his intentions.
But I also believe that Americans can become so intent on one grave moral injustice (abortion and the manipulation of human embryos, both of which are always profoundly wrong) that they can ignore other areas of possible agreement.
What in the world is this man thinking? The “big picture” has a fundamental principle, and that is that each human being has innate dignity bestowed on him by God Himself. Therefore, putting an end to abortion is the “big picture”!
Moynihan discusses the meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and President Obama, opining that because the Holy Father handed Obama a copy of Dignitas Personae, there is that one hopeful “possibility of reaching Obama with a reasoned argument in defense of life.”
When one can relegate the act of abortion to being “one grave moral injustice” among other matters where agreement is possible, the Machiavellian nature of any common-ground proposal becomes obvious. The very idea of seeking "common ground" on which the forces of evil can agree with the forces of good is counterfeit to the core. The pro-life movement does not exist to be all-inclusive on many “issues” and “points of agreement.” It exists to end the murder.
Moynihan knows as well as I do that Obama is not backing down on abortion. Regardless of the global issues on which two heads of state can agree, the pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth. His teaching authority comes from Christ, not from political strategists and certainly not from accommodating evil. The same can be said for each of those men ordained into the priesthood of the Catholic Church, including every single Catholic bishop.
Abortion is not merely one among many so-called issues; it is a human tragedy that is being ignored, accepted and otherwise minimized for the sake of political opportunism. In my many years as a Catholic, I have never heard a sermon on my obligation to placate the world and appease elected officials. What I have heard is that crimes against humanity, such as the horror of abortion, are atrocities before God that can never, ever be condoned, accepted or otherwise embraced.
Perhaps it is time for Catholics, including the bureaucrats at the USCCB, to individually reflect on what is going on and stop hoeing so-called common ground—a ground that is seeping with the blood of dead preborn babies.