Time to Stand Up for Life

By Richard M. Doerflinger

December 12, 2008

At their November 2008 general meeting, the Catholic bishops of the United States congratulated our new President-elect and urged Americans to unite in solidarity at a time of economic crisis, reminding us that "we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers." They also expressed grave concern over a looming pro-abortion agenda that could divide our nation as never before.

At the core of that agenda is a radical proposal called the "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA). Despite its name, FOCA would deprive Americans of their freedom to enact almost any restraint on abortion at any stage of pregnancy. It would overturn hundreds of current laws on conscience rights, informed consent, limits on tax-funded abortion, and parental involvement in minors' abortion decisions. President-elect Obama has vowed (and recently reaffirmed) that he looks forward to signing it into law.

The bishops said with one voice that they will mobilize the Catholic community to oppose this agenda. Catholics -- whether they voted against Mr. Obama because of his abortion stance, or voted for him despite that stance -- can unite in a massive grassroots campaign against FOCA, urging Congress to retain all existing federal laws that prevent government funding and promotion of abortion.

Some may see this as useless, because both chambers of Congress now have pro-abortion majorities. But the same was true in 1993, when Bill Clinton became President. An earlier version of FOCA was steadily moving forward in Congress, when millions of postcards signed by Catholic parishioners landed on Capitol Hill and began convincing members to back off from this radical pro-abortion agenda. FOCA became stalled as members debated whether they really wanted to overturn all longstanding and popular laws placing any limit on abortion. The 1994 election then brought another change in Congress, and the threat was averted for years to come. This can happen again.

Ironically, some may think the opposite — that there is no need for a campaign, because FOCA (and perhaps the pro-abortion agenda generally) will be on the back burner for months or years while the economy and health care dominate congressional debate. That, too, would be a mistake. FOCA as a single bill may not come up right away. But extending the appropriations bills that fund all federal programs will be one of Congress's first duties in January, and new funding bills covering the next fiscal year will be written in early spring. Many current laws on taxpayer funding, conscience rights, and other issues exist only as provisions in these bills, and could be eliminated with the stroke of a committee chairman's pen — paving the way for the more wholesale assault of FOCA, if pro-life Americans do not voice their opposition early and clearly.

In this campaign Catholics will be fighting a specific bill, and the overall agenda that it embodies — that of knocking down the modest laws that have reduced abortions, and prevented outright government subsidies and mandates for abortion, for 35 years. These laws must not be swept away all at once, or one at a time. We will urge Congress not to start down this destructive path, but to serve the life, health and prosperity of all Americans, beginning with the most vulnerable. This goal could be achieved if millions of Catholics would take a minute to sign a postcard to their elected representatives.

Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Go to www.usccb.org/prolife to learn more about the bishops' pro-life activities.