Sometimes you can’t win for losing. Or, lose for winning. The progressive Catholic advocacy group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), long criticized by conservative Catholics for being insufficiently pro-life, is now the object of an attack from its other flank. The group Catholics for Choice has issued a glossy report detailing what it believes is the group’s backsliding on the Democratic Party’s 35 year commitment to abortion rights.
"To the untrained eye, CACG may just seem like another Catholic social justice organization, focusing solely on traditional Catholic social teaching such as care for the poor, environmental sustainability and economic justice," the report says. "However, a closer look reveals that a key aim of CACG is to oppose the legal availability of abortion." The report specifically criticized a letter CACG sent to the Washington Post which stated, "[Pope John Paul II’s] language about building a ‘culture of life’ addressed the need for a broad response – legal, social, and cultural – to prevent abortion." Thus, according to Catholics for Choice, CACG "is at one with one of the most antichoice popes in the modern era on abortion."
I was struck by the phrase "one of the most antichoice popes." Was there a pro-choice pope that I missed?
More seriously, it is worth pointing out that CACG is a non-partisan organization so it does not have as part of its mission maintaining any traditions of the Democratic Party. As well, while the report criticizes CACG for its effort to "play down abortion rights and reframe the debate in terms of reducing the number of abortions," that reframing is precisely the strength of CACG. Indeed, this reframing is where the group has showed its most successful policy influence within the new Obama administration: The President made this reframing the centerpiece of his much anticipated speech at Notre Dame.
Reframing the debate has accomplished something more than a victory within the Democratic Party, although that is no small accomplishment. The extremes in the abortion debate have long argued in abstract terms about absolute principles, a recipe for continued shouting matches. But, by focusing on the actual situation faced by a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, the new framing of the issue not only permits some common ground around the policy objective of reducing the abortion rate. It changes the way the culture talks about abortion in such a way that we can really create a culture of life. After all, freed from abstractions, there is a common word that we use in English to designate a woman facing a pregnancy, planned or unplanned: an expectant mother.
Changing a culture takes time. Still, I think the movie "Juno" did more to affect the culture than any pro-life bill that has ever been introduced into any legislature since Roe. Leaving aside abstract arguments is a critical step towards further changing the culture, focusing not on rights but on actual human beings who find themselves in difficult situations that require empathy not shouting.
CACG should be thrilled with this latest attack. It shows convincingly what conservatives have sought to deny, that you can be pro-life in a different way, that you don’t need to shout, but you do need to concern yourself with the situations faced by women who experience a pregnancy as a challenge and a difficulty, even a crisis. You need to stand by those women. Where else would Catholics find themselves?