The National Catholic Review
Dr. Janet E. Smith (Sacred Heart Major Seminary)

Janet E. Smith is a moral theology professor who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, an M.A. from the University of North Carolina and a B.A. from Grinnell College, all in classics or classical languages. She is a consultor (now in her third term) to the Pontifical Council on the Family and also serves the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as a member of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission III.

Dr. Smith is the author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later and of the Right to Privacy and the editor of Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader. She coauthored Life Issues, Medical Choices, Questions and Answers for Catholics, with Professor Christopher Kaczor of Loyola Marymount University’s philosophy department. She has written articles for The Thomist, The Irish Theological Quarterly, Nova et Vetera, The American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, The National Catholic Bioethics Journal and other publications.

Dr. Smith holds two honorary doctorates and speaks internationally on Catholic teachings about sexuality and bioethics. She has appeared on the Geraldo show, Fox Morning News, CNN International, CNN Newsroom, Al Jazeera and EWTN.

On Oct. 5, I interviewed Dr. Smith by email about contraception and pro-life issues in the Catholic Church.

Recent surreptitious videos seemingly revealed troubling practices at Planned Parenthood—specifically the selling of “baby parts” or fetal tissue used in abortions—and caused a political deadlock in Washington, D.C. As a moral theology professor who teaches bioethics, what is your perspective on this issue?

I have no special perspective as a moral theology professor who teaches bioethics. I can't get past being just a sensible, ordinary human being who has always found abortion to be an abomination. I hadn’t heard of abortion until I was about 19 or so, as a college student in Iowa at the very radical Grinnell College. Going off to a meeting of feminists who were urging us to write letters to liberalize abortion laws, I stopped at the library to read up on what abortion actually is. I was struck by the statement that the Catholic Church understood it as a procedure that destroys life within the womb. When I went to the meeting and no one was willing to state when life begins, I realized neither science nor philosophy was behind the push to legalize abortion.

Indeed, to this day, I find advocates of abortion distressingly unwilling to address the question of when human life/personhood begins and when they do, their answers are not difficult to refute. It wasn’t until years later that I figured out it was largely irresponsible sexual behavior that was making abortion more and more a “necessity” rather than confusion about when human life begins. (Thus my interest in contraception.)

I am extremely grateful for the videos and for what the clever and brave David Daleiden has done. Americans have become more and more uncomfortable with abortion: it is getting increasingly difficult to claim we don’t know when human life begins. Even some prominent feminists acknowledged decades ago that abortion kills a human being. Selling “baby parts” is no worse than abortion and perhaps not as bad as abortion. I think the videos allow people who haven’t found the courage to protest abortion, to protest this barbaric practice. The numbers of those opposed to abortion will surely grow.

During his U.S. visit several months ago, Pope Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress about the importance of protecting all human life from womb to tomb, earning a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle. What did you make of this moment in a first-ever papal address to the U.S. Congress?

I think the standing ovation hardly indicated widespread support for the need to protect life in the womb. Sadly, it may have been a sort of herd instinct and a general enthusiasm for the golden rule and for Pope Francis. I was, of course, very happy for his remarks but am among those who wish he had used the opportunity to make the kind of case he made in “Laudato Si’,” where he said:

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? ‘If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away’ [quoting Caritas in Veritate] (No. 120).

Here he links abortion with the concerns with which he is most identified—the environment and the vulnerable. He is saying that we aren’t really protecting nature, unless we protect unborn human beings, who are a part of “nature.” And that unborn human beings share with the other vulnerable people the fact of sometimes being troublesome or inconvenient but that they deserve protection. Even more so, that when we lose respect for life in the womb, we lose respect for other vulnerable life as well—after all, for instance, the handicapped could have been aborted; can they really make claim on our resources? Should we not make assisted suicide available to them? Or deny them expensive medical care?

Pope Francis is at his best when he uses snappy images and language to make his points. I think the address to Congress was a bit too abstract and less compelling because it did not make some of his key points with the force that his approach can often achieve. We saw that he is at his best with “real” people— prisoners, children, families—so he did succeed in getting his message out eventually.

Pope Francis also made an unexpected visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor, supporting them in their lawsuit against the Obama administration over mandatory contraception coverage in non-profit health care plans. While most Catholics have argued against this part of Obamacare as a matter of religious freedom, what can you tell us about it from a moral theology standpoint?

To some degree it is happenstance that contraception is the issue that has sparked the concern for religious freedom. The increasing secularization of our culture has meant that a showdown concerning religious freedom was inevitable, whether, for instance, it involved contraception or homeschooling or baking wedding cakes for same sex weddings.

The question of religious liberty is incredibly important for moral theology and bioethics since there is great evidence that the state is going to continue to impose the corrupt values of our culture on everyone: already Catholics have had to shut down some of their important charitable activities, such as adoption services, because of oppressive policies of the government. We can expect Catholic physicians to be required to do all sorts of things that are immoral, even abortions, and for Catholic teachers to be required to teach what is immoral. 

You have been a passionate interpreter of Pope Paul VI’s teaching on contraception in “Humanae Vitae,” but many U.S. Catholics continue to ignore or reject it. Some of your colleagues in moral theology have meanwhile argued that Catholic teaching against contraception is only infallible if the church accepts it. What would you say to them?

It seems an implausible claim on the face of it. Catholics reject a whole host of teachings and some more at one time than another. Conceivably there were times when most Catholics rejected the church’s teaching on the equality of women or of all races but that rejection does not impact what is true or the status of a teaching.

Perhaps you are referencing the sensus fidelium which virtually no one equates to the results of polls. I have written an article about the sensus fidelium and “Humanae Vitae” ("The Sensus Fidelium and Humanae Vitae,Angelicum 83, 2006, 271-297). The key questions are who qualifies as the “faithful”: those who have been baptized Catholic?; practicing Catholics? (and what does that mean?); Catholics who can at least give a sketch of the reasons for the church’s teaching? Since most Catholics don’t go to Catholic schools (and even those who do often don’t receive good instruction on church teaching), where do Catholics learn the reasons behind church teaching? This is a problem across the board, for social teachings as well as sexual ones.

From your perspective, what is the strongest part of “Humanae Vitae”?

That it has elements of John Paul II’s personalism in it and thus combines both natural law terminology and personalist concepts. Speaking of the spousal act as having both a procreative and unitive meaning is a striking claim; it shows that the spousal act is not merely biological; it is a means of communication. To communicate through the bodily act of spousal intercourse to another that one wishes to have a lifetime union with him or her is inseparable from the communication that one is willing to be a parent with another. What a statement it is to say “I am willing to be a parent with you.” For those who have any idea what is involved it is a phenomenal statement of affirmation.

The spousal act should always be a phenomenal act of affirmation: “I belong to you in a way in which I belong to no one else. I am willing to be a co-creator of a new life with you and all that that involves.” Clearly “Humanae Vitae” does not see the sexual act as something strictly biological or physiological. One should be willing to be a parent only with one whom one loves, with one whom one is willing to spend one’s entire life. Contraceptive sex does not have written into it a pledge of a lifetime union; it has been reduced to a rather momentary act. Spousal intercourse that respects and does not violate the procreative possibility of the sexual act, retains the message that one is willing to be a parent with another and thus to be in a lifetime union with another.

What is the weakest part of “Humanae Vitae”?

I actually think it is a remarkably strong document, though perhaps too compact. I think greater reference to the pronatalism of Scripture would have made it a stronger document, though that would have been difficult in a time when the since discredited overpopulation scare was in full bloom. I think “Familiaris Consortio” and John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” are tremendous supplements to “Humanae Vitae,” but it is an encyclical that when read closely yields wonderful and persuasive arguments.

You once recorded a popular audio talk called “Contraception: Why Not.” In summary form, what do you believe is the best argument against contraception?

That talk depends a surprising amount on consequentialist arguments—the argument that contraception has had terrible consequences, for women, for relationships, for children, for the culture. I take that approach largely to get people’s attention and because it is true and explains a lot of the problems our culture has—unwed parenthood, fatherless children, divorce and even poverty.

And once people have been shaken out of their stupor, I give the stronger non-consequentialist reasons. I explain that contraception treats fertility and children as threats to human happiness rather than inestimable gifts. I explain that the language spoken by bodies that have their fertility voluntarily shut down is a very different language than that spoken by bodies that reverence the gift of fertility. One is a language of a momentary union, the other is the language directed towards an unlimited future with another.

Moreover, those who contracept are having sex on their terms, not God’s. John Paul II’s chapter in Love and Responsibility entitled “Justice to the Creator” is fantastic. He shows how contraception does not honor the personhood of the other, and that that is offensive to the Creator.

The Catholic Church endorses Natural Family Planning as a “birth regulation” method that can either help or delay pregnancy, distinguishing it from a “birth control” method that merely prevents pregnancy. The Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha has developed a “Creighton method” of NFP based on hygienic observation that seems to be successful. But many U.S. Catholics still insist on calling NFP “birth control,” rejecting it as an inferior natural alternative to artificial methods, which they continue to use and promote to their own children. Why do most Catholics seem to find NFP impractical and what can you tell us about the method itself?

NFP is a very effective form of birth control, no matter what method one employs. It is moral for spouses to limit their family size for good reasons. Most Catholics know next to nothing about the various methods. They involve identifying signs of fertility and abstaining during when the wife is fertile. I don’t know that it is accurate say that most Catholics find NFP impractical. Again, few know much about it, fewer have tried it. Yes, it can be difficult, more so, people testify, for those who have been sexually active before marriage than for those who marry as virgins. Especially in our culture, to remain a virgin before marriage generally requires that one have achieved a high degree of sexual self-control and thus any need to abstain within marriage is not so difficult.

But most couples who use NFP, however much they bemoan the challenges (some do, some don’t), they realize that the alternative, various forms of contraception, are not attractive and would not enhance their marital intimacy. NFP has two practical selling points: it is chemical free and thus appeals to those who pursue a “green” lifestyle and the divorce rate of those who use NFP is a fraction of what it is for the general population. I know a top chemist at Rice University who teaches NFP to classes in the mega Baptist church he attends, because it is a proven way to “divorce-proof” a marriage.

You teach moral theology, but all three of your post-secondary degrees are in classics or classical languages. What might you say to critics who question your legitimacy as a moral theologian on the basis that you do not actually have a theology degree?

Well, I find it peculiar as well. I taught in a great books program at Notre Dame that by its nature is interdisciplinary, I taught in a highly respected philosophy department at the University of Dallas and now I teach moral theology at a seminary in Detroit. In all these instances, professional scholars judged me competent to teach in the departments into which I was hired. I sometimes joke that I am more qualified to teach what I am not qualified to teach than anyone I know.

Certainly my training in classical languages has been a great boon for my work; classicists learn to read texts very carefully and to pay close attention to terms; we learn that the language used can be surprisingly revelatory of the meaning being conveyed; we learn about a pre-Christian culture that took ultimate questions extremely seriously and provided an invaluable foundation for some of the best Christian thought. I had as a friend in graduate school the great Thomist Father James Weisheipl, who claimed that if you didn’t understand the second book of Aristotle’s Physics you could understand nothing fully. I am not sure I agree or that I do fully understand it, but I know why he said that and that counts for something and maybe even a lot.

Much bad moral theology is because of bad philosophy and my study of classics has immensely helped me to understand key philosophical concepts. So it is not a bad foundation for doing moral theology. My articles and my signature book have passed peer review; colleagues have bestowed various awards on me; the church itself has signaled that it finds my work to be of value. Yet, in the end, it is never the degrees or honors that count; it is the quality of the arguments and the scholarship. They stand or fall on their own merit. I never ask anyone to accept what I say or teach because I am an “expert.”

In your own words, what is the Catholic view of human sexuality?

I think it can best be found in John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.” Our sexuality has a spousal meaning; it manifests that we are meant to be gifts to each other and that from that gift new life is to come. It discloses the most profound way that we image our Creator: we are meant to be lovers and givers of life. Both literally and spiritually.

How would you assess the current legacy and contribution of St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” to theological discourse about human sexuality?

I always want to see Love and Responsibility and the “Theology of the Body” as a package deal. Love and Responsibility is primarily philosophical while drawing upon revelation at a few key junctures. The “Theology of the Body” is scripturally based but, of course, is permeated with philosophical analysis. The two works meld natural law and Thomistic metaphysics spectacularly with personalism, especially with the concept of “consciousness.”

It has been remarkable that the riches of the “Theology of the Body” have been appreciated more by non-academics than by scholars. Scholars are catching up, but if the sensus fidelium counts for anything, the love of the non-academics for the difficult and dense “Theology of the Body” is very telling. I believe John Paul II has exponentially advanced our understanding both of the human person and human sexuality.

When it comes to issues of bioethics and sexuality, on everything from stem cell research to human cloning, many Americans say “we cannot legislate morality” and reject moral concerns as personal religious beliefs, which aren’t accessible to non-religious people. How would you respond?

It is not too facile to say that legislation is either a matter of legislating morality or of legislating immorality; there can be no third option. Either abortion is moral or immoral; it is not like the choice between vanilla or chocolate ice cream. One has to take a stand; does abortion take a human life or does it not?

The problem is that our culture no longer believes that it has any means to determine what is true and what is false. Alasdair MacIntyre and John Paul II among others have done a marvelous job showing how various developments in philosophy over the ages have brought us to this point. Since our culture is thoroughly skeptical and relativistic, the ability to make strong arguments does not translate into persuasive arguments. 

What bioethics issues are most of concern to you right now and why?

Oddly, I find myself occupied at the moment with the question of the morality of circumcision. I am surprised how few ethicists even want to engage the question. I am becoming persuaded by those who think it to be intrinsically evil, but that is just one small issue.

I am profoundly interested in questions of cooperation with evil. Clearly the persecution of Christians is escalating at a rate some of us find terrifying. We are going to be forced or coerced to do things we would never dream of doing apart from force and coercion. The question of when we must resist even to the point of death and when we may morally “cooperate” is becoming less of an abstract concern and more of a life crisis concern. I think moralists have tended to become too strict in respect to when cooperation is moral. My brief acquaintance with the work of Alphonsus Liguori suggests to me that we have become more stringent than he was and we need to revisit his work.

My other major interest is not a bioethical one. I have written a few pieces justifying the telling of falsehoods on some occasions. Predictably my work has met with opposition from several quarters, Thomists and Grisezans among them. I need to respond to their objections. If I have the time, I would like to write a handbook regarding moral behavior in a time of religious persecution.

Finally, I have somehow (ties of friendship, mostly, and the connection between contraceptive sex and homosexual sexual acts) been drawn into working on pastoral approaches to same sex issues. I am finding myself very interested in the questions surrounding these issues.

Who are your role models in the faith, either living or dead?

I had a college professor who was a living Socrates. He was not truly a model in the faith, since he had quite an antipathy for Catholicism. But he believed in truth and by a relentless dialectic convinced cohorts of students that it was logically inescapable that there is truth and that there are moral absolutes. He made us answer such questions as whether we were willing to judge Medea to be evil because she cut up her and Jason’s children, boiled them in oil and fed them to Jason. Some students were initially hesitant to commit. Many students converted or reverted to Catholicism under his influence but to his chagrin.

Ralph McInerny was both a great mentor and friend. He did much to bolster my confidence in my own abilities and was a phenomenal model of someone who could engage in fierce intellectual battles without being fierce, indeed while being charmingly genial. I wrote a eulogy about him. He meant a great deal to many people, many young people. Brave and kind and helpful. And thoroughly Catholic. Among the saints, I am very close to Catherine of Siena, Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II.

How has your faith changed or evolved over the years?

A few years ago, I became a consecrated virgin. In important ways, that has changed everything. I finally developed not only a personal but a spousal relationship with Jesus, something that was very slow coming in my life. Before that, I was much more attached to Truth than to Jesus. A 30-day retreat at the Institute of Priestly Formation was pivotal for me. I learned how to do lectio divina and it made Scripture—and Jesus—come alive for me. I have found a peace that I could never have dreamed existed.

How do you pray?

The circumstances of life can radically change my practices. When my responsibilities permit it, I find daily Mass a tremendous anchor. I have found praying the liturgy of the hours profoundly satisfying. I get much consolation and guidance from still, contemplative prayer, just sitting with God and trying to be receptive. Now that I am living full time with my mother who has dementia, daily Mass is not possible. But we say the rosary each evening together and that is becoming increasingly a pillar of my day. I have a tendency to like the “devotion of the day,” meaning right now I love the Divine Mercy devotion and the Mary, Undoer of Knots novena.

How does Catholicism influence your approach to life and work?

It is everything to me. It has brought me Christ and he is all I want. I want everything, everything I do, to be under his guidance. I believe the church is guided by the Holy Spirit. I want to help the church in any way I can. I am doing ecumenical work, not because I have had an interest in it, but because the church has asked me to. I am teaching at a seminary rather than a university because I think the church wants me here. I am working on the questions of cooperation with evil and the morality of falsehoods because I think people rightly look to the church for guidance and I think there is too much vagary around these questions. While I might not have chosen many of these tasks, I have found them beyond interesting and meaningful and I am happy God has called me to the work he has.

What is your favorite Scripture passage and why?

Oh, there are many. “Sarah laughed” always springs to mind. God's promises do seem so absurd. “Elizabeth pondered these things in her heart.” Well, yes. I am an aging lady for whom God has done some spectacular things and that causes me to ponder. “I am the vine, you are the branches”: I love how we are all grafted onto the same tree but bring so many different talents to Christianity. Jesus saying before the last supper that he has been so eager to share this meal with his friends. That is so touching. He is so eager to be with us and we pay him so little attention. And Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” I find none of the alternatives appealing.

If you could say one thing to Pope Francis right now, what would it be?

Could you stop being such a mystery, please?

What do you want people to take away from your life and work?

Of course, I would like to be holy though I am not even sure I will achieve a respectable level of maturity before I die. I would like on my tombstone: she convinced people to stop contracepting and to realize that not all falsehoods are immoral and that not all that seems to be immoral cooperation with evil, is.

Any final thoughts?

Since this is a Jesuit publication, I have been wondering if John Courtney Murray would think it true any longer that there is a natural affinity between the American experiment and Catholicism. I think we are now living in a post-Christian age. As a young person, I was blown away by Plato’s analysis that governments have a natural order of degeneration. I think it has happened here. Democracy has devolved into mobocracy, to a crass hedonism and is on the verge of a tyranny.

You ask what my hopes are: I hope I am wrong about this. Another hope is that if the age of persecution comes, my generation who are supposed to be the adults can provide the younger generation who will likely be taking most of the risks, wise guidance on which risks are moral and worth taking. 

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.


Tim O'Leary | 1/15/2016 - 2:49am

Tellingly, the suit is about a privacy issue - the methods used by the undercover prolifers to secretly video the planned parenthood employees, not to contradict what the employees said, several of who have been fired already and forced PP to end all reimbursement for the donation of fetal tissue: (proving they were already doing some transactions for baby parts)

William deHaas | 1/15/2016 - 11:08am

Unfortunately, the Centers/Dailen fit the same method and approach used by the anti-abortion extremists that led to a number of assassinations. Pretty sure that the Southern Poverty Law Center would label Dailen, Center as a *hate group*. What is sad is that folks like Janet Smith appear to justify methods such as Dailen, Center, etc. because they are pro-birth.

Tim O'Leary | 1/15/2016 - 4:36pm

William, since you pretend to be interested in not implying falsely elevated numbers, do you know how many assassinations there have been of abortionists, compared to the number of abortionists, or compared to the number of abortions? For the latter, I think it is less than 1 in 10 million. How big would it have to be to justify your blatant attempt at guilt by association? To call these prolifers likely killers of abortionists seems like a more deserving hate crime appellation.

Crystal Watson | 1/15/2016 - 6:11pm

The killing of doctors is murder. Most people, and the government, don't believe abortion is murder. So comparing those numbers doesn't really help.

Tim O'Leary | 1/16/2016 - 2:56pm

Yes. I realize that many Americans, including the Supreme Court, allow the unborn the status of subhumans (more than animals, partially property, available for experimentation, etc.), just as the Dred-Scott Supreme Court and many Americans then gave the African-Americans of the time a similar status. It is no less wrong. But, one would have to deny science and common sense to say they are not alive and that the act of abortion kills them, millions of them.

Crystal Watson | 1/16/2016 - 4:02pm

Handicapped people are persons, people of different races are persons, but embryos, even though they are alive, are not ... yet ... persons. I think this distinction is the basic disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice.

Tim O'Leary | 1/17/2016 - 10:15am

Right. Defenders of abortion deny personhood to the unborn until the umbilical cord is cut. About as rational as when defenders of slavery denied human rights to their slaves until their owner chose to free them. In each case, the power over life and death is claimed over another human being.

Stanley Kopacz | 1/14/2016 - 10:55am

We share life's general capability to exponentially increase our numbers, which is or was our greatest power against extinction. But now, our artificial environment and technologies has maximized our survival rate and lifespan. The earth can't sustain these numbers at the present per capita consumption of energy and material resources. It is necessary to stabilize or reduce the population. If artificial contraception is a moral horror, then perhaps as many as 90% of humans must refrain from sexual intercourse. Wolves have a system like this. Drugs to kill libido would be helpful since I assume masturbatory relief is also forbidden. Of course, maybe it is God's will that we expand until extinction. In that case, never mind.

Tim O'Leary | 1/15/2016 - 2:42am

Stan - you are way out of date with your Ehrlichian population bomb hysteria, all since proven false, as even the NYT admitted recently. Over 100 nations in the world have below replacement level fertility rates and will soon be facing serious aging crises and worker shortages: Meanwhile, the agricultural technological revolution continues to increase the efficiency of food production. Catholic teaching is not only good for the soul, but for society as well.

Frank Gibbons | 1/14/2016 - 9:09am

Thank You, Sean Salai, S.J., for continuing to bring different points of view to the conversation.

Tim O'Leary | 1/14/2016 - 1:25am

Excellent interview. Dr.Smith is doing heroic work, defending the fullness of the Catholic teaching on chastity, the spiritual, emotional and biological complementarity of men and women and the defense of human life. It is heroic because the powerful in our land are no longer content with making immoral choices for themselves and hurting their own lives (and children). They now want to persecute those who speak the truth and wont go quietly into the night.

Of course Planned Parenthood received cash in return for baby body parts. They deny selling because they say they didn't seek or make a profit on the sale, but that is an accounting trick, as the interviewees also admitted on the tapes. They claim only 3% of their "services" are abortions, whereas Cecile Richards was forced to admit at her congressional hearing that 86% of their profits are from the abortions.

As to Crystal's disbelief that abortion won't lead to killing the handicapped, doesn't she know that 90% babies with Down Syndrome ARE killed in the womb today?

Tim O'Leary | 1/15/2016 - 2:28am

William - you must have linked to the wrong article, as it is patently obvious that it supports my claim, which did not come from Rick Santorum, but from the very medical studies that are quoted in your link. As your link states, several studies reported rates from 84 to 92% of Down syndrome babies being killed after prenatal diagnosis. It is hardly a decisive argument to say that 90% is patently false when some studies found only 84% were murdered.

Your article also quotes the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (supporters of both abortion and prenatal diagnosis) saying that these studies are older and further studies are needed, but admitting no studies that show lower numbers. 90% seems the right number based on the best evidence we have today.

The article has one very interesting comment from Dr. Mark Evens, President of the Fetal Medical Foundation "In liberal areas such as New York City, probably 80 to 90 percent of patients with severe abnormalities do choose to terminate when legal to do so," Evans said. "In conservative areas, the proportion of terminations is much lower, perhaps as little as 10 percent" in some cases." I think we already knew that liberals were more inclined to kill the unborn, healthy or not. But, thanks for the link. I will use this again.

William deHaas | 1/15/2016 - 2:24pm

Thank you, Mr. O'Leary - I did. Here you go from 2015:

Best studies and statistics show, at most, a 30% rate. Sorry to burst your 90% bubble.

"To be specific, in 2006-2010 theses researchers estimate around 5,300 babies were born with Down syndrome annually. During this same time period, approximately 3,100 babies with Down syndrome were selectively aborted each year. Around 800 of those aborted babies would have died before birth, so without selective abortion, the researchers estimate there would be around 7,600 live births with Down syndrome. The reduction rate of babies with Down syndrome in the United States in 2010 was around 30 percent. In other words, without selective abortion, the number of babies born with Down syndrome in recent years would have been about 30 percent higher than it actually has been."
Second, however, this study also demonstrates that the majority of women carry babies with Down syndrome to term. Here’s where it gets a little confusing. A screening test (and this is true even of the new NIPT tests) simply provides a prediction about whether or not a child will have Down syndrome. The only way to determine a diagnosis with near certainty is through chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis, both of which remain invasive procedures with some measure of risk to the baby. Amniocentesis is the most reliable diagnostic tool, and it cannot be performed until around 16 weeks.

Here’s where the confusing and oft misreported statistics come in. Studies have shown that women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome through amniocentesis (who make up two percent of the population of pregnant women) generally seek an abortion 90 percent of the time. Still, the majority of women do not seek diagnostic information about their baby’s chromosomal makeup, and the majority of women do not abort their babies with Down syndrome. It’s possible that they don’t abort simply because they don’t know they are carrying a child with Down syndrome. But it is just as likely that they decide against having that information not out of ignorance but out of a commitment to their baby.

Third, the recent study demonstrates the role that culture plays in women’s decisions about prenatal testing and abortion. When compared to other countries, the United States’ reduction rate is quite low, comparable only also to the Netherlands, where the reduction rate for the population with Down syndrome is around 35 percent. Australia, by contrast, has a reduction rate of 55 percent, and the United Kingdom of 48 percent.

Tim O'Leary | 1/15/2016 - 4:17pm

William. Thanks for correcting the link. We can conclude that the 90% figure is the best estimate for those diagnosed with prenatal testing, and is somewhat lower for all of children conceived with Down syndrome. Glad to hear you and your allies can't get at those babies whose parents refuse prenatal testing.

Luis Gutierrez | 1/14/2016 - 12:12am

Polarization about issues of human sexuality cannot be resolved as long as the hierarchical structure of the Church remains patriarchal. The entire rationale for abortion, artificial contraception, and every other form of gender violence, is rooted in the patriarchal mindset of male domination in the family, which extends to social and ecological relations. Lamentably, it also extends to the patriarchal structure of the Church, which is not a matter of faith. The Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not essentially patriarchal.

Hierarchy is not the problem; PATRIARCHY is the problem. As long as the Church hierarchy remains patriarchal, most people will continue to turn around, and walk away with fingers in their ears, when the wise teaching of Humanae Vitae is invoked. The Theology of the Body (TOB) explains the *why* of this teaching, but we can no longer teach by edict what we don't teach by example. People sense that something is wrong, and act accordingly in good conscience. Whether we like it or not, the patriarchal family is passing away as families evolve from male (father) headship to joint male-female (father-mother) headship.

Trying to buy more time for the male-only priesthood is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. I don't presume to know better than the TOB experts like Professor Janet Smith, but the "great wound" (Genesis 3:16) cannot be healed by "staying the course" with a rigid patriarchal interpretation of the TOB, which is not a patriarchal theology. Actually, my *heterodox* understanding of the TOB is that it deconstructs the conflation of patriarchal gender ideology with revealed truth, about humanity and the sacraments, that still prevents the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Law to go the way of circumcision as a prerequisite for baptism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1598) plainly states that the male-only priesthood is a choice (first sentence) and who can make the choice (second sentence). The male-only priesthood is becoming an obstacle to grace. In our "already/not yet," it is time for the third leg of the tripod in Galatians 3:28 to be given the highest priority.

Tim O'Leary | 1/14/2016 - 1:45am

Luis continues to fight against the infallible teaching of the Magisterium on the male priesthood. I also do not see the word choice in CCC 1598. Here is the full quote of CCC 1598 "The Church confers the sacrament of Holy Orders only on baptized men (viri), whose suitability for the exercise of the ministry has been duly recognized. Church authority alone has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders."

While patriarchy can be abused when it is interpreted as a term of power, properly understood as a term of service, it is part of God's trinitarian self-revelation as FATHER, SON and SPIRIT. Human beings did not come up with these names - Jesus did, just as He chose the male priesthood. It is present-day gender confusion that is an obstacle to grace.

Sean Salai, S.J. | 1/13/2016 - 11:11pm

Folks, thank you for reading. I appreciate the passion that people of good will feel on different sides of the bioethical issues Dr. Smith discusses in our interview. Many of these moral issues are painful and difficult for all of us who strive to live good lives; some of them are also highly politicized in our country, making it difficult at times for us to really listen to each other without reaching for "ammunition" from various sources favorable to our pre-conceived biases. I only hope we can continue to be respectful of each other's comments, trying to appreciate what other people say from their perspective rather than simply filtering it through our own and reacting in a knee-jerk fashion. Pope Francis has set an example for this kind of dialogue and I'm grateful to our readers for striving to follow it. Let's continue to pray for each other.

William deHaas | 1/14/2016 - 11:25am

Fr. Salai - thank you and hope I have not violated the spirit of American Magazine's policy. May I elucidate another approach. Many of us over the years have had to deal with folks such as Dr. Smith. If you look to peer reveiwed and association publications, Prof. Smith's opiinions (sorry, she is not seen as having valid moral positions that are argued via accepted theological methods) are almost universally rejected by her peers, colleagues, etc.
She finds a home in the ideological camp.
IMO, this is like letting a Trump set the agenda and limits of a discussion on foreign policy (the issue is that he knows nothing about foreign policy; nothing about US military methods; no experience with how state department aligns policy, action plans, etc. He merely bloviates)
Prof. Smith's views on US catholic sexual ethics are well know - they are also overwhelmingly questionned and rejected. So, why give her a platform?

Frank Gibbons | 1/14/2016 - 10:31pm

Dr. Smith's views align with the teaching Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is an outstanding reason for her to be given a platform at a magazine that describes itself as "The National Catholic Review".

I always find it ironic when you accuse others of being "ideological".

Crystal Watson | 1/13/2016 - 1:54pm

David Daleiden is clever and brave? His video were purposely full of lies.

She makes a lot of leaps ... acceptance of abortion will lead to killing the handicapped?

She says the church has been forced to close adoption charities - not true. The church can keep open its adoption centers, but what it can't do is use government money to discriminates against taxpayers.

Her beliefs about contraception, and the theology of the body are full of assumptions unsupported by people's actual experience of marriage, which is why HV is such a failed teaching.

Michelle Piccolo | 1/13/2016 - 10:52pm

Daleiden was clever and brave...the guy had to pretend to be in favor of selling dead baby parts for over a year. I'd say that's damn brave. The videos aren't lies at all. He didn't force any of them to speak the words that they did. Many people who are pro-abortion are blind to the truth. I pray the scales fall off your eyes because if you even watch a minute of one of the videos, you should be repulsed and disgusted that abortion even exists.

As far as her beliefs about contraception and TOB being unsupported? You must not know a lot of practicing NFP Catholics, or priests, or single celibates. Trust me, there are plenty of us who not only support TOB, we live it everyday. Some are even teachers of NFP and TOB and they are some of the most amazing people you will meet.

The acceptance and legalization of abortion has indeed led to a downward spiral of our world. When we don't even believe that life begins at conception, how can we make people believe that just because your body is failing or disabled or broken, that it's worth saving?

If you want to get stories that don't make the mainstream media, I would recommend LifeSiteNews or EWTN. Also, a really good book to read that I myself as a single, 37 year old female to be enlightening was "Subverted" by Sue Ellen Browder. For those of us not even born during Roe V Wade, this was extremely helpful and informative.
Thanks for reading.

Crystal Watson | 1/14/2016 - 12:14am

Thanks for the reply. I think, though, that we are very far apart on these issues ....

The facts seem pretty clear about the videos - they were full of lies, as news publications, fact checking orgs and even the writer of this post (in an earlier post) acknowledged .... there was no selling of baby parts.

NFP ... something like 2% of Catholics practice it ... not a great success, and I don't think my first choice for advice about marriage, contraception, or sexual ethics would be celibate people, who don't have experience.

One can believe that life begins at conception, and yet not believe an embryo or an early fetus is a "person". That's the distinction between being pro-choice and believing that it's ok to kill handicapped people .... handicapped people are persons.

Sorry if I sound rigid ... thanks for discussing.

William Rydberg | 1/13/2016 - 1:47pm

As I understand it, the fact that there is a child in the mother's womb was set aside by the US Supreme Court in the 1970's. Instead, they de facto approved Abortion by elevating the Right to Privacy, saying it trumped the need to determine wether or not the child exists and is a person.

One wonders if such logic exists in fact when one looks at the effects of Patriot Act, as well as many well documented Executive Orders over the past dozen or more years vis-a-vis Right to Privacy?

One wonder's what Right to Privacy defined really is in the American context, versus Britain, France, China, Japan, Canada, etc... The concept is very different indeed in each country... The Right to Life seems to be cut loose and is bobbing in a sea of philosophies rather than law...

William deHaas | 1/13/2016 - 11:30am

This is sad - to give this person space to spread her incorrect ideology is maddening. Note - she has degrees in the classics and yet, now proclaims herself an expert in moral theology. Really?
She couldn't keep a job at University of Dallas because her behavior, views, etc. was similar to Cruz in the Senate.
She advocates for ideological (not reasoned moral theology) structures - intrinsic evil, theology of the body, etc.....these are all concepts that the academy, theologians, etc. have questionned and indicated have significant gaps, imprecision, and are used as battering rams over folks.
Janet Smith is all about *fear*; *threats* - there is little about scripture, gospel message, etc. She is pharasaical in her statements.

Michelle Piccolo | 1/13/2016 - 10:43pm

I feel like you didn't even read this interview. Clearly you don't agree with her and that's fine but to call the entire interview "sad" that she was given a okay form to discuss the beautiful teachings of HV and NFP and TOB...not very charitable or fruitful discussion. Perhaps read it again....

William Rydberg | 1/13/2016 - 1:43pm

I suppose the America Comments Policy doesn't apply in this case? Uncharitable in the extreme in my opinion...