Last winter, the Boston College security policeman phoned me to warn
me that someone had placed a sign on my car in the parking garage that
suggested I might be in danger. It called me a bunch of foul names,
including "baby killer!"
I have just returned to Jersey City after a year at Boston College
writing a book on Rev. Robert F. Drinan, S.J., the B.C. law school dean
elected to Congress from Massachusetts in 1970 who campaigned against
the Vietnam War and called for the impeachment of President Nixon on
the basis of his illegal bombing of Cambodia. Drinan was elected five
times, but was forced out of office in 1980 by Pope John Paul II,
largely because of his support for legalized abortion.
anonymous vandal in the Boston garage had no idea whose car it was. He
or she seems to have been enraged by the rear bumper sticker, put in
place during the presidential campaign, which read: "CATHOLIC
DEMOCRATS/Blessed Are the Peacemakers." In his/her warped mind, since I
was voting for Barack Obama, I must be the kind of fellow who kills
Somehow this rhetoric has made its way into the abortion fracas. I
have to call it a fracas, since it certainly is not a civil discussion
nor a dialogue. A letter to the editor in the latest Brooklyn Tablet,
the Catholic diocesan newspaper, calls President Obama a
"smooth-talking baby killer."
The term has become the verbal equivalent of that four-letter
obscenity angry people blurt out when they can’t think of anything
rational to say. It’s the brutal, desperate proclamation of an empty
mind and a damaged heart.
Meanwhile, a handful of American Catholic bishops and their
followers have narrowed down the whole treasure of the New Testament –
the Sermon on the Mount, the concern for the poor, parables of
forgiveness and love — to their campaign against legalized abortion,
demonizing the president of the United States and the University of
Notre Dame, while, to the contrary, the Vatican spokesmen in their
press have described Obama with sympathy and understanding.
In his commencement speech at Notre Dame, Obama allied himself
specifically with the late Cardinal Joseph Bernadin’s "seamless
garment" approach to life issues. But his critics’ distortion of the
church’s teaching gives the false signal that no other issue matters –
as if abortion was not part of the larger culture of death that starts
wars, bombs civilians, overburdens the poor, and tortures and executes
prisoners. That distortion squanders the church’s moral authority.
Furthermore, the "baby-killer" mentality has become a breeding
ground for the deranged attitude that led a mad man to murder George
Tiller, the Kansas abortion doctor, at the door of his Lutheran church.
The American bishops’ political strategy of trying to force
Catholics, through threats of punishment in hell, to vote for
legislators and appoint judges who might reverse Roe has failed
miserably. Hell-fire threats don’t scare Americans in the 21st century,
they turn them off.
According to the New York Times, Dr. Tiller was one of only
three doctors in the country who performed late-term abortions. If that
is so, perhaps third term abortions are relatively rare.
Recent polls show that a slight majority of Americans now describe
themselves as opposing abortion rights. Is it possible that the open
climate of Notre Dame might allow for broader discussion of the
economic, social, medical, and personal issues that drive women to make
this tragic choice?
Is it too much to hope that those who oppose abortion, including the
leadership of the American Catholic church, could put their heads
together and come up with creative, educational strategies to achieve
through teaching what we cannot achieve through force — to convince
women and the men who love them that the life they have brought into
being can and should be brought into the world?