The New Pro-Lifer

In our pain, anger and profound sadness over the murder of Dr. Tiller, pro-choice people risk losing an opportunity to see a better day as a country and a movement. In the wake of our loss, it is tempting to continue to categorize in one fixed way all who oppose abortion. To do so would be easy but also foolish. We must admit and accept that not all who are opposed to abortion are the same.  Especially since a new movement of pro-lifers has extended a hand in search of a better way.

Yesterday offered a unique opportunity to make this distinction. Alexia Kelley, co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, was appointed Director of Faith-based and Community Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Each of the eleven federal agencies has an Office for Faith-based and Community
Partnerships that reports to the White House Office of Faith-based Initiatives. Kelley has been appointed as the liaison for HHS.

Moments after the announcement, John O’Brien, president of the
pro-choice group Catholics for Choice, released a statement calling the Kelley appointment “a defeat for reason and logic.” He continued,

“The administration has talked a lot about reducing the need for abortion, and progressive groups like my own are totally with the administration in doing that,” but “to have someone working in HHS who oversaw an organization that is anti-abortion… really beggars

HHS has been called “ground zero in the culture wars” for good reason. Its policies strike at the heart of our most heated social disagreements, particularly those between pro-choice and pro-life groups. HHS oversees the FDA, which approves new contraceptive and abortion methods; the CDC, which promotes disease prevention initiatives on STDs including HIV; and Title X, the nation’s contraception program for the poor, among others. One of the hallmarks of the Bush administration was the influence it granted the anti-abortion, anti-contraception movement on HHS policy and functions.

O’Brien’s complaint is that the choice of Kelley, given her previous role overseeing a Catholic, anti-abortion organization, puts important social policies in danger of being hijacked by those same Bushian forces. But Kelley is not the Bush-styled pro-lifer of yore. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which Kelley founded, is a progressive organization that has also played a primary role in
instigating a nationwide discussion of common ground on abortion. Her group has championed policies aimed at preventing the need for abortion, policies that have been identified as those pro-choice people can support too. It would be a mistake to group Kelley among anti-abortion operatives who snub opportunities to improve the
relationship between pro-choice and pro-life communities, and who refuse to do anything to reduce the need for abortion. Her group has worked for policies that can reduce the need for abortion, work that has offended many hard-line anti-choice groups and individuals. To date, she has dedicated her career to finding shared solutions and minimizing this debilitating national conflict.

In November of 2008, Kelley’s group, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, released its study, “Reducing Abortion in America: The Effect of Socioeconomic Factors,” which found that:

“Analysis of nationwide data suggests that the economic status of pregnant women factors prominently into their abortion decision. Public policies that provide assistance and support to low-income families are rarely framed as ways to reduce the incidence of abortion. However, the findings from this study suggest that a two standard deviation increase in economic assistance to low-income families is correlated
with a 20% lower abortion rate in the 1990s. Across the entire United States, this translates into roughly 200,000 fewer abortions. Further, higher male employment in the 1990s was associated with a 21% lower abortion rate; and lower poverty rates were correlated with 10% reduction in the abortion rate.”

The report concluded:

“Elected officials can utilize effective and appropriate socioeconomic public policies to reduce abortions. These include: promoting policies that increase male employment; lower the poverty rate; provide funding for child care for working women; and increase economic assistance to low-income families. Legislation aimed at these goals can effectively reduce abortion in America.”

This is a revolutionary leap in pro-life thought, a dramatic break from the 36-year-long drumbeat by the right-wing anti-abortion movement; that segment has single-mindedly focused on restricting and illegalizing abortion. In fact, the Catholics in Alliance report admits:

Our analysis finds that state laws regulating abortion had little systematic impact on the abortion rate in the 1990s. The one exception may be Medicaid funding. Our analysis consistently finds that Medicaid funding for abortions increases the abortion rate – a
finding consistent with earlier research – though this effect is never statistically significant. If Medicaid funding does in fact increase the abortion rate, this result is nonetheless consistent with the main the implications of our study suggesting that the abortion rate is sensitive to economic factors.

Kelley is a new style pro-lifer, one who believes a progressive agenda will produce pro-life results. In January 2009, she wrote in an op-ed published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Voters are looking for a new path forward. The question is, do we have the political and moral will to make it happen? People of faith have a particular responsibility to both collaborate with and challenge the new administration. It’s long past time for all of us to move from rhetoric and division to results.

Make no mistake, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is a
Catholic organization that accepts the Church’s position on abortion and contraception. But under Kelley’s leadership, its efforts were spent exploring an array of policies that succeed at reducing the need for abortion. The organization has taken a notably passive role towards the church’s dictates. It has not worked to restrict abortion or make contraception less available, approaches most other anti-abortion and Catholic groups focus on exclusively.

But unlike some of the loudest voices in that movement, she believes the solution rests at the end of a new path that can be entered together. Even if some way along that path we revisit conflicting convictions. The White House has indicated that HHS will be the department that will enact many of the common ground policies that the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, working with the White House Council on Women and Girls, is currently helping to identify. And while Kelley’s new focus is not exclusively on reducing the need for
abortion – the Office of Faith-based Initiatives is also focused on poverty reduction, health care reform, and encouraging responsible fatherhood – Kelley will help shepherd, not set, the White House’s common ground agenda on abortion through HHS.

It’s fitting that, as someone who helped spark the common ground effort, she will now help
see it through to safety.
Pro-choice people need to improve the national dialogue on the
abortion issue. We can lower the vitriol. We can expose the
anti-abortion groups that oppose all the proven ways to reduce the need for abortion. We must isolate those that only stoke the coals of hatred in this conflict and, especially those who create the inflamed environment that inspired Dr. Tiller’s murderer. The vast majority of self-described “pro-life” Americans abhor the violence, want to move past the conflict and have both sides work together to find common ground. The American pro-life public has longed for leaders like
Kelley and, the truth is, so have we.

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  • invalid-0

    It [CACG] has not worked to restrict abortion or make contraception less available, approaches most other anti-abortion and Catholic groups focus on exclusively.

    What I’ve read is that Kelley supports reducing access to abortion care. The report you quote from indicates a willingless to engage with socioeconomic factors, but does not rule out restrictions on access. Are there citations supporting the assertion that she seeks to reduce the need for abortion, and not necessarily the number performed?

  • jodi-jacobson

    With all due respect to Cristina, I have a different take on this appointment, to be honest and will write more extensively about this later.  However, this information was posted in an earlier news report today and speaks to your questions directly. Kelley’s organization in fact strongly supported restrictions on access to abortion and as Cristina writes, supports the institutional churches doctrine on these issues; in other words it does not represent the views of the majority of the Catholic population.  Moreover, it seems to escape examination that we live in a pluralistic, not a Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Islamic society, and the term "faith-based" is too loosely thrown around to imply some level of faith consensus on these issues, where there is none.

    From the earlier post:

    Kelley is the co-founder and former executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), which:

    "promotes a consistent ethic
    of life that honors the sacred dignity of the human person, born and


    "believe[s] the right to life is foundational in any just society and
    work[s] to promote bipartisan, common-ground solutions to preventing the
    tragedy of abortion [and opposes efforts to "undermine reasonable restrictions on abortion
    such as waiting periods and parental notification."

    In a report on Catholic Alliance for the Common Good, Catholics for Choice found that:

    Alexia Kelley’s leadership of CACG reveals a vehement
    antichoice stance that is focused on reducing the number of, not the
    need for, abortions. In voter’s guides the organization Kelley led
    characterized abortion as akin to war or torture.

    Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for Choice, stated that:

    Ms. Kelley’s appointment is whether President Obama’s
    administration is serious about reducing the need for abortion. And,
    while it may not gain many headlines, the impact and significance of
    this appointment should not go unnoticed.

    O’Brien continued:

    If Ms. Kelley had been appointed to another position in
    the administration, there might be less reason for concern. However,
    the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for
    providing and expanding access to key sexual and reproductive health
    services. As such, we need those working in HHS to rely on
    evidence-based methods to reduce the need for abortion. We need them to
    believe in men and women’s capacity to make moral decisions about their
    own lives. Unfortunately, as seen from her work at CACG, Ms. Kelley
    does not fit the bill.

    In the American Prospect, Sarah Posner writes:

    In her 2008 book, A Nation for All, co-written with Chris Korzen,
    Kelley wrote, "Each abortion constitutes a direct attack on human life,
    and so we have a special moral obligation to end or reduce the practice
    of abortion to the greatest extent possible." 

    Posner, who has followed CACG and other groups, also states that:

    Kelley and CACG have made clear they are committed to Catholic doctrine
    on abortion and birth control. CACG has supported the Pregnant Women’s
    Support Act, aimed at stigmatizing abortion and making it less
    accessible. In discussing legislation on reducing the need for
    abortion, Kelley has written that various pieces of legislation
    concerned with women’s health "are not all perfect; some include
    contraception — which the Church opposes." Never mind that more than
    90 percent of American Catholics use it anyway.

    Kelley’s appointment raises the question of whether the President’s
    common ground initiatives will focus on securing women’s rights and
    access to safe abortion services while ensuring full support for
    measures–such as universal access to contraception and comprehensive
    sexuality and reproductive health education–that will reduce the
    number of unintended pregnancies, or whether the focus will be on
    further stigmatizing and limiting access to safe services.

    According to Posner, for example:

    Under George W. Bush, the faith-based centers didn’t play a policy
    role. But Obama has expanded the faith-based project to include a
    policy side, and one of its chief goals is to reduce the need for

    O’Brien, who clearly sees Kelley’s appointment as a threat to women’s access to safe services, states that:

    From the beginning, Alexia Kelley directed CACG to ignore
    the question of access to abortion and reframe the debate in terms of
    reducing the number of abortions—although polls consistently show that
    the majority of Catholics support abortion rights. This language around
    reducing the number of abortions should be a huge red flag to anyone
    who believes in and seeks to defend a woman’s right to choose. While
    evidence-based prevention methods can go a long way towards reducing
    the need for abortion, some women will always need access to safe and
    legal abortion and we must recognize that and ensure public policies
    support that access.

    Kelley is on record for supporting restrictions on access to abortion.  According to Catholics for Choice:

    In an audio press conference prior to the 2008 election,
    Ms. Kelley agreed with other speakers who spoke out in favor of
    restrictions on abortion, saying, “Catholics in Alliance supports these
    restrictions as well. 




  • colleen

    Make no mistake, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good is a Catholic organization that accepts the Church’s position on abortion and contraception.

    There is nothing more destructive and dehumanizing for women, no position more guaranteed to exacerbate deep poverty and widespread economic inequality and than the Church’s position on abortion and contraception.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

    • invalid-0

      I don’t think that positions on improving poverty and other indirect ways of reducing abortion matter much when one is against contraception and abortion. Someone who does not respect the autonomy of women, especially the 98% of American women who choose to use birth control at some point in their lives, should not have input into federal policies on women’s health.

      Anyone who does not realize that the strict idealized doctrine of their church is not anywhere near the reality in women’s health is a poor choice. There are many, many people involved in progressive religious groups that could have found more common ground.

  • invalid-0

    There’s no doubt that all opponents of legal abortion are not the same and that characterizing everyone as woman hating, right wing zealots is as bad as anti-abortionists who think all pro choice people are selfish hedonists. At the same time, it’s important to be analytical and accurate in our portrayal of those who agree with us and those who disagree with us. I am fairly sure that Cristina has not read the CFC report on Catholics in Alliance or some of the critiques of the research she cites that was conducted by Catholics in Alliance. Let’s be clear: Catholics in Alliance has taken the position which has been articulated by Alexia Kelley that abortion,torture and war are comparable evils. They are committed to legal protection for “unborn children” as a matter of essential human rights. They do not include in their common ground solution to abortion family planning but only deal with providing women once pregnant with economic support.

    The research Cristina cites has been criticized by both social scientists who favor legal abortion and those opposed as methodologically flawed and drawing conclusions that are not warranted by the data. The research which reviewed state data on abortions from 1982 to 2000 claimed that in states where there were jobs programs, enhanced WIC and head start and other social and medical benefits for women, the abortion rates dropped significantly. After releasing the data in August 2008, in response one assumes to the criticisms, it was withdrawn and reissued with far more modest conclusions about such economic benefits resulting in a decline in abortion rates. And, in an amazingly ideological turn, neither the original nor adjusted research included any evaluation of the extent to which increased access to contraception or EC might have been accountable for the decline in abortion rates. Reading the report one would believe it was written before the pill was invented.
    The study also found that medicaid funding for abortions had no effect on abortion rates and then concluded that such funding should still not be available to poor women.

    I am one of those pro-choice people who has actually spent years talking to people who disagree with me about abortion. I have written repeatedly that there is merit in some of the arguments against abortion and that our movement would do well to consider some of the concerns raised by those who are opposed to abortion. I have no quarrel with Alexia Kelley as a sincere opponent of legal abortion and family planning. I respect her commitment to ending unjust wars, eradicating poverty and dealing justly with immigrants. I found some of the language in the CFC press release over the top (I don’t think Kelley’s appointment can lead us to conclude the president is not sincere about reducing the need for abortion, for example). However, I still think it reasonable to conclude that Kelley’s ideological biases are not a good foundation for serving as faith based director in a department that will give away more than $20,000,000 to faith based groups for family planning services and in an administration that has committed itself to sexual and reproductive health rights based on respect for women’s moral agency.

    As we move toward greater civility in our interactions with those who disagree with us on sexual and reproductive health and rights,let’s not, in the name of common ground abandon serious analysis of the work and values of those who disagree with us. It is possible to respectfully say that that we need staff in federal agencies who are in sync with and enthusiastic about making family planning more available to all men and women and ensuring that poor women have equal access to safe and legal abortion while recognizing that Judy Brown and Alexia Kelley are not the same person.

    I urge Cristina to rethink her support for Alexia Kelley and to work to ensure that the many highly qualified faith based advocates of reproductive health are hired to administer faith based programs at HHS, USAID and the 9 other federal agencies that have such centers.
    Since the system does not want to let em call myself Frances Kissling – I’ll just add to the body of this message. i am Frances Kissling

  • invalid-0

    This is the perpetual dilemma I see on RH Reality. Being in favor of “reducing the number of abortions” vs. “reducing the need for abortion.” It would be easy to demonstrate success with the first approach, but how would one demonstrate that they have reduced the need for abortion through their various social policies? One could point to a decrease in unintended pregnancies, but that is only an indirect way to measure the reduction of this need.

  • hatmaker510

    I find it irresponsible at best and deceitful at worst, when individuals and/or organizations manipulate science to their own ends. This exploits the ignorance of people not educated in the scientific method. CAGC asserts that Medicaid funding increases abortions. They go on to admit that the numbers which are the basis of that assertion are not statistically significant and they "never" have been. What this means is that no correlation, much less a statement of causation can be extrapolated based on those numbers. This important fact is further glossed over by CAGC when they blatantly ignore that admission and state: "If Medicaid funding does in fact increase the abortion rate…". This should infuriate people, no matter what opinion they hold. An organization (and by extension Alexia Kelley) as dishonest and manipulative as this, must be called to the carpet. Putting Ms. Kelley in such a position within HHS is, at best, a huge mistake. I don’t think it is a stretch to then say honest people will now be put in a position to play watchdog as it relates to her activities.

  • invalid-0

    Christina Page is being disingenuous at best when she lauds the attempts by Catholics in Alliance to forge common ground. There are some of us, me among them, who regard common ground as akin to the lowest common denominator, a spot where those who are willing to forgo all principles gather to pat each other on the back and tell each other how marvelous they all are. Others, with the very best of intentions, disagree with my view, and I respect that absolutely.

    But what does Cristina Page consider to be common ground? The common ground that Alexia Kelley’s Catholics in Alliance seeks includes a spot where abortion is compared to torture and war, where restrictions on access to abortion are applauded, where there is no room for policies that seek to improve access to family planning and comprehensive sexuality education.

    There is no room in this common ground for the positions I support, which include support for women who choose to continue a pregnancy as well as public funding for comprehensive sexuality education, family planning and abortion services. And that is why Catholics for Choice produced a report on Catholic Alliance for the Common Good that Cristina has so many problems with. We do not wish to see the HHS promote positions that denigrate the decisions women make about pregnancy.

    You might also be interested to note that the CACG report on socioeconomic factors that help reduce abortion (their words) that Cristina lauds so highly had to be withdrawn soon after it was published because it was based on such flawed data. When this was revealed, one of the authors declined to be associated with it, even after it was rewritten. It is also replete with conditional phrases starting with should, could and might – a sure sign that the conclusions are based on supposition, assertion and conjecture, not science and evidence.

    This discussion is far from over, and I very much look forward to the views of others.

    David Nolan, Director of Communications, Catholics for Choice

  • invalid-0

    It doesn’t seem really realistic to expect a relatively liberal/experienced pro-choice activist to be chosen. That’s given the problems at least in retrospect that were said to exist between the “religious” (meaning religious conservative) community during the campaign of Bob Kerry in 2004 — issues that seemed to be basically about policies related to abortion and perhaps contraception, which really only began to be explored or at least reported in the media after media coverage of the 2004 March for Women’s Lives — and given the efforts the Obama campaign (and to a lesser extent Hillary Clinton) made to reach out to the mushy middle of moderate social conservatives during the 2008 presidential campaign

    We think expecting someone that pro-choice activists would come to a consensus on as being pro-choice is both an unrealistic and a misplaced hope — kind of like complaining that Obama didn’t overturn the Hyde amendment, when he really never even had much of a chance or intention to try to pass the Freedom of Choice act, at least not early in his administration. It’s not that Ms. Kelly’s nominaton is something to celebrate, rather if one feels strongly opposed to it (or to the existince at all of the office) there are probably better ways to respond than spending much time arguing why she shouldn’t have been appointed.

    If not Alexia Kelly, if one is seriously going to argue that there are people better qualified and arguably more pro-choice / less opposed to abortion access, who else might be a better alternative to be the Director of Faith-based and Community Partnerships?

    Leave out for now Fr. Guido Sarducci, as we know he’s has declined to serve at least for now, focusing instead on resolving issues with Minnesota Sen. Franken’s 2008 election.

  • invalid-0

    First, a faith based office does not need to be headed by a religious person – but that aside, there are many good candidates who have worked on health care, reproductive health and know religious institutions and how they operate. This need not have been a controversial appointment. Rev Debra Haffner at the Religious Institute would have been a great appointment. Rita Nakashima Brock, with PhD in theology and experience in running an academic institution is another good candidate. Serra Sippel executive director of CHANGE has a master’s degree in theology. Loey Powell of the UCC has extensive management experience as well as being an ordained UCC minister. There is no dearth of qualified candidates who share the president’s positions on reproductive health

  • invalid-0

    Frances Kissling’s balanced criticism of Alexia Kelly as a candidate for this office should be respected; she and a handful of other Catholic pro-choice activists are among the few we know of who could do that best. But without familiarity with other candidates we can’t really say we can expect much better as far as an appointee for this office, given the ambivalence that the Democratic party, if not the electorate at large, seems to have for advocating reproductive choice beyond keeping abortion technically legal, although with numerous restrictions that make it as hard or harder for low-income or lesser-educated women to get in some cases than it was before Roe.

    There are numerous other campaigns which pro-choice activists could take on besides spending a lot of energy opposing this appointment on issues we rarely if ever hear about. Take minor’s access to emergency contraception over-the-counter, for example. We’d like to see argued that should be allowed, and it’s fine with us if there are state-by-state variations in access at least to help demonstrate that minors benefit from it and aren’t somehow harmed by OTC access. We’ve corresponded with numerous state pharmacy boards and chain store pharmacies and corporate functionaries about that. Hey reader, pharmacists need training and hand-holding to competently, nonjudgmentally provide EC OTC to minors, and while not all are going to do it well and we don’t want to make those who don’t want to do it do it anyway, what we’ve seen so far seems to be working! But we read little if anything about enhancing minor’s access to EC in the activist press, mainstream press and professional journals and individual professional contacts are our only source of information. Most news and pro-choice activist coverage going back to before Plan B was approved by the FDA for OTC access only covered aspects that made Democrats look like pro-choice vanguards, Republicans (especially under former President Bush) like anti-choice ideologues, and drug companies like Barr Labs look like politically neutral (and pro-choice) figures. We’d like to hear about some national pro-choice group taking on a campaign at least at the state level to help move along enhancing minors’ access to EC OTC, and maybe we will someday. There’s other innovative ways to help enhance access to reproductive health care, but all we read about in the activist press along those lines is about abortion funds – and they do need more support – and abortion aftercare projects, and that’s about it. But this is a digression and we don’t mean to hijack the thread.

    After doing some Google and Newsbank searching we’ve found quite a lot of information on all of the people that Frances mentioned above. They’re all highly qualified on reproductive choice issues and probably as well in their experience with religiously-affiliated health care and social service providers and projects, which is what the position they’d be appointed to would be mainly concerned with.

    But all of these names seem relatively unknown to the pro-choice community at large, before their mention above we’ve only heard of Rev Debra Haffner before, the other names have never turned up on our newsfeeds or articles on issues even indirectly related to reproductive choice that we’ve clipped from the web, including the press, mainstream or activist. A qualified appointment doesn’t need to be a household name, they just need to be qualified and not have anything that would disqualify them. Concerns raised in an article that Francis wrote for Salon regarding a seriously flawed study citied by Kelly’s group Catholics in Alliance is worth bringing to people’s attention. The study basically asserts a causal relationship between money spent on welfare programs like WIC and reductions in abortion. WIC is a supplemental food program for women and children which is of course as noncontroversial as a soup kitchen. Perhaps that’s why some would look for a causal relationship, as WIC is relatively a minimally controversial welfare program, but it doesn’t make much intuitive sense to think it’s going to in itself play much of a role in reducing the abortion rate than a soup kitchen or donated baby clothes.

    It would be very helpful if some website, maybe RH Reality Check, would take the names Francis listed above along with others who might be qualified for a position like this one, and describe their experience, qualifications, and their shortcomings, if any. We see tables like this in major newspapers when potential judicial nominations like for the Supreme Court are discussed. Not that there’s a committee like the Senate Judiciary Committee voting on who should serve in an office like this, of course, this is an appointment which we suppose isn’t something for debate and some government committee of elected officials to choose, but if pro-choice citizens are supposed to have an opinion of a potential appointee, much less an objection, they’d need to be better informed. If it was attractive and well-referenced, it might be something a major newspaper would publish or a news bureau or network help distribute.

    Providing information like that, and taking comments from website or blog readers would also help gain support among the larger progressive community, religious and secular, for how offices like this should be staffed and administered. Blog posts we’ve read commenting on Kelly’s appointment often don’t go much further than repeating that Kelly is anti-choice, and some focus on questioning whether the government should at all be funding “faith-based” initiatives or whether they are a violation of a principle of separation of church and state. We’d like to read about relationships that appointees could help build with diverse progressive constituencies, like we mentioned toward the end of a wordy comment we posted at Feministing.

    For better or worse it looks like we’re going to have faith-oriented offices like this and they’ll play an role in reconstructing essential services and a safety net, medical and social, maybe like the kind that used to exist before President Clinton fulfilled his pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” It ought to be possible to support progressive, pro-choice medical and social service providers and projects without alienating moderates and secular systems that work, and minimize impacting private religious institutions. We need to find a better way to participate though than just after the fact of an appointment like this writing a few critical articles, as important as the information that may be in them, or we may continue to see anti-choice policies and laws move further towards ending choice as we’ve known it.

  • chris-korzen


    As someone with firsthand knowledge of the "facts" surrounding the CACG report, let me clarify a few. First of all, it’s simply inaccurate to say that the organization’s study "Reducing the Need for Abortion: The Effect of Socioeconomic Factors" was "withdrawn." In fact, you can find it right here. A revised version was issued in November, which corrected an error the authors discovered in the data, and the primary conclusion remained the same: when it comes to abortion, economics matters.

    A similar study by my organization Catholics United reached the same conclusion. In Kansas counties with lower unemployment, higher rates of health care coverage, and more Head Start centers, there were fewer abortions. We’re hearing some heartbreaking anecdotal evidence about how the recession is driving the number of abortions back up. And don’t forget Guttmacher’s survey findings that show a sizable majority of women who seek an abortion do so because they can’t afford a baby.

    For daring to advance this radical and subversive notion that economics matters, Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United have been lambasted by fundamentalists like the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, Priests for Life, and the more radical elements of the Republican leadership. Interestingly enough, many of the talking points used on this board to debunk the CACG study come straight from a right wing Web site called Moral Accountability, which appears to have the primary mission of attacking the credibility of organizations like ours. (Everyone here should take moment to look at before deciding if you really want to be echoing their messages.) Strange that the Catholics for Choice gang has now (and only just now; we’ve been around for more than four years) chosen to join the anti-Catholics in Alliance/Catholics United chorus. But politics makes strange bedfellows, and I suppose CfC has all sorts of reasons they feel they have to pick this fight. More power to them in these tough economic times for having money to burn on slick reports attacking groups in search of common ground.  :)

    While we’re on the subject of common ground, let me just point out that I seem to have a very different take than Mr. Nolan. Common ground doesn’t require that anyone give up on their values. One does not have to stop fighting for contraception or parental notification laws in order to come to a consensus on health care and adoption support. All we have to do is figure out what we can agree on, and focus on that. So whether we label ourselves "pro-life" or "pro-choice" is irrelevant to the question of whether we will capitalize on an opportunity to advance some much-needed economic and social reforms: health care for all, improved support for pregnant women and families, etc.

    I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation.

    Chris Korzen
    Executive Director
    Catholics United

  • invalid-0

    What a nice opportunity to extend the dialogue, Chris. Yes economics matter

    1. This is not news to those of us who are prochoice. In fact we have been working for women to have the resources they need to care for children longer than we have been working for the right to choose. In fact,we work for those rights for all women, even those who never considered abortion. I see no need to link abortion to meeting the needs of women, families, etc. It should happen in its own right.
    2. The data from Guttmacher on economics as the reason women have abortions points out that almost all women cited multiple reasons, and it is not clear whether solving some economic problems alone would lead to a big reduction in abortions although they should be solved. Moreover, we know tht in countries like Sweden, Denmark, etc the lower abortion rate (and it is still not significantly lower than the US) is due to contraceptive use and more permissive attitudes toward sexuality accompanied by a sense of responsibility. So even in countries where women and children are cared for, abortion is heavily chosen once unwanted pregnancy is in place. How do you account for that in your hopefulness that if we actually provided adequately for women, families and children they would have many fewer abortions?
    3. There are numerous problems with the study, not just the initial mistakes which caused it to be withdrawn. In fact, the revised study is far less optimistic about the effect of economic supports than the original. And more than one data error as made
    4. Some other problems:
    a) without also looking at trends in the availability of contraception it is hard to draw conclusions about what caused declines in abortion rates
    b) Like many advocacy oriented “studies” this one was not peer reviewed, nor subject to the rigors of acceptance or rejection by professional publications.
    c When you go from the results section of the paper to the conclusions the language changes. No longer is one talking about correlation and association, which has some legitimacy but about cause and effect which you cannot prove.
    I could go on, but will stop here. Overall, one is left with the sense that the conclusion was made long before the study was developed.
    5. As you well know, most Catholics believe that contraceptive use is moral. And it is well known that Catholics can disagree with the church position on contraception – as many bishops have said publicly over the last forty years. Yet Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United say in their literature that Catholics do not have the right to dissent from this position. Do you believe that? Moreover, do you not believe, that even though you refuse to speak out in favor of the responsible use of contraceptive that if we really want to meet women’s desires and needs which include the desire not to have to choose abortion, the way that is most likely to make that possible is increased access to and education about sexual responsibility which includes the use of contraception.

    I sincerely hope you will take the opportunity to answer these questions, without beating around the bush or obfuscation. And I in turn would be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

  • invalid-0

    I think there is far more to common ground than the quick and simple comments in your post. And I am really concerned that those most involved in the current effort have a very limited comment to and understanding of what it takes to really get to common ground. First, you are absolutely correct that common ground requires no one to mute their voice on their values and beliefs. And, Catholics in Alliance and Catholcis United certainly have not muted theirs as you still speak of abortion in the apocalyptic absolute language of moral evil and are clear you want it to be illegal. Those who are prochoice need to retain their values message regarding the moral agency of women which is at the root of a commitment to choice.

    But if by common ground we mena people who seriously disagree on some core values working together to achieve a mutually agreed upon end – trust is the first requirement. And I would say those “prolifers” most pushing common ground have done little to promote trust with those who are prochoice. If you have any real desire to achieve common ground, it will be essential that you reach out to build trust. Unilaterally if necessary just as we ask int eh case of nuclear weapons. What are the elements of trust? First, engagement and lots of it. People have to commit the time to talk together and to really talk to each other as well as listen. Sound bites are out, not answering tough questions is out, and not asking real questions about what you are curious about is out. It also helps to be able to acknowledge what is good in the position of the other. You may feel you have done htat with “evangelicals” – but they agree with you about abortion and the ones you are dealing with agree with you about the environment and poverty – so where was the difference you bridged?

    Second, honesty is tops. That means things like more careful conclusions about what will reduce abortions, good facts and data. Example: I have no ideas why you think changing adoption policy will lead to more women continuing their pregnancy. What data do you have? And what policies do you suggest? And have you thought about or even acknowledged the pain associated with adoption?

    Third, part of reaching common ground is also understanding differences. I agree that it is better for women not face the decision to have an abortion Unlike some of my colleagues who are prochoice I think it is better not to face an abortion because it is better not to take life even when one has a moral right to do so. I want fewer abortion because women want fewer abortions, not because abortion is evil. How we come together around fewer abortions unless we have figured out how to deal with the differences is important.

    Finally, civility extends beyond the common ground position. Your statement in response to Catholics for Choice was neither civil nor responsive. You made no effort to refute their substantive points and you used ad hominem attack – they are just jealous of you and a do nothing organization. I hold you more responsible for the quality of the discourse as you say you want to make common ground and end the culture wars, CFC which I am totally uninvolved in is clear that it is not interested in common ground approaches (which does not mean it is wrong, or uncooperative or anything else).
    SO, if you want to build common ground on abortion then start working seriously with those who are prochoice.

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    Why Catholics for Choice wants to pursue attacks against Alexia Kelley and Catholics in Alliance is beyond me. The Alliance for years has worked on a broad range of social justice issues and has advocated tirelessly on behalf of issues and programs that address the quality of life for people at the bottom. That another progressive organization would attack them, especially in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s murder when there are clearly greater threats to a woman’s right to choose, is absurd. They clearly have more important work to do. In fact, Christina Page got it right. Anyone who gets flack from extremists on both sides of the political spectrem sounds exactly like the kind of person for this job.

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    Please, the Alliance is four years old. It’s “work began in 2006 and was focused on the 2006 elections. Yes, it has many good positions on poverty alleviation, immigration and the war. It has modest effectiveness due not to its desires but to the size of its budget and number of staff. That is not a criticism, there are many small good organizations, but let’s not treat the Alliance as if it were Oxfam or a long standing deep reach organization. I refuse to invoke Dr. Tiller on either side of common ground, or use his death to justify one or the other position on the issues that face us. It is just cheap.

    It is reasonable to question an appointment without it being taken as an attack. Such thin skinned supporters! Those of us who are prochoice want federal employees who clearly support choice in sensitive positions. Alexis Kelley is not pro choice or pro family planning. She is I am sure a wonderful person and I am not attacking her. She knows she is not prochoice or profamily planning and I assume she is proud of it. There is no reason to freak out when someone expresses concern. Once again, O’Brien why not answer the substantive question Why should I not be worried that someone who will have a lot to say about family planning, emergency contraception, federal funding for poor women to enable them to exercise their right to decide does not believe in those policies, in fact actively believes they are evil?

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    While we are talking facts, let’s make sure we get them right.

    Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good’s initial study – which was promoted by CACG as the solution to the abortion issue – was indeed withdrawn due to faulty research. The withdrawn report was then replaced with the current report which can be found at the link you provided. Interestingly, one author removed his name from the new report, leaving the other, Professor Joseph Wright of the University of Notre Dame, as the sole author.

    Which brings me to my second point, you may have forgotten to mention that this “similar study” conducted by Catholics United was also conducted by Professor Wright – making the two reports a bit more than similar. We agree that economics matter. We have data that shows that women living in poverty are much less likely to have affordable access to contraceptives in order to determine the size and spacing of their family. So, it is not always about being able to afford the baby, it is about being able to afford contraception – which CACG nor Catholics United support. Your colleague James Salt was careful to state several times in a recent conversation that Catholics United has not yet formulated a position on family planning. When might we see one?

    In the end, what is perhaps most troubling is that CACG acts as if it represents the views of all Catholics on abortion. Years of polling show us that this is not the case. A recent Gallup poll recently found that Catholic opinion is nearly identical to non-Catholic opinion on abortion. A poll by the US bishops at the end of last year found that only 11 percent of Catholics support the bishops’ position that abortion should be outlawed. These numbers show that US Catholics do not share the values of the church hierarchy or CACG on abortion.

    As to your assertion about our opinion on common ground, we don’t seek common ground when it means restricting the choices women have – restrictions that Ms. Kelley and CACG publicly support. We don’t seek it when it means finding the lowest common denominator so that as many people as possible can find something they can agree on. We are more than happy to seek common ground that ensures that women are given more choices. Unfortunately, the common ground you seek does not reflect the needs of women.

    I, too, look forward to continuing the dialogue.

    Best wishes,

    David Nolan
    Director of Communications
    Catholics for Choice