One of the consequences of the blogosphere and cable news is that it is very easy to only engage those who share similar concerns, or those with a similar point of view. So, lately, I have been paying attention to conservative Catholic sites that opposed health care reform because they thought it did not do enough to restrict abortion funding.
This morning, the Washington Post brings us up to date about the sentiments driving the pro-choice movement. "It really pains me to conclude that on balance this law is not good for women," Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women told the Post. "It’s health care that has been achieved on the backs of women and at the expense of women." Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, had the same talking points: "We’re very disappointed…Now women will be worse off under health-care reform." Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, directed her anger more clearly in the president’s direction, saying, ‘What we had hoped for when the president was elected was that this would be an opportunity to break down the many obstacles to abortion. That instead, one year into the Obama presidency, we have moved the line further away is just stunning." O’Neill delivered the coup de grace: "I’ve heard women complain very loudly ‘This would never have happened if Hillary had been president.’"
If the approach, but not the content, sounds familiar, it is because this kind of dire warning based on worst case scenarios characterized the arguments coming from groups like the National Right-to-Life Committee and the Family Research Council. NRLC issued a statement that said "Obama is joined at the hip to the Abortion Lobby" but evidently nobody told the abortion rights groups quoted in the Post article about that fact. I mention both NRLC and the Family Research Council because they were joined on a conference call in the days before the vote by the USCCB, a decision that cost the USCCB a great deal of credibility in the eyes of lawmakers. But, NRLC has as much in common with NOW as it does with the Family Research Council. Groups like NOW and NRLC, because they focus narrowly on one issue, tend to lose perspective. In fact, contra NOW, the law will be good for women. And, in fact, contra NRLC, no the bill will not result in federal funding of abortions.
But, more than a loss of perspective is at work here. The comments by pro-choice leaders in this morning’s papers are, in part, an attempt to get the Obama administration’s attention. But, even more, this is about fundraising. The reason both NOW and NRLC adopt the worst case scenario analysis of prospective legislation is that the easiest way to raise money from your base is to sound an alarm. A letter saying that the new law really does not change much regarding abortion is not going to bring in much money. But, calling the President "the most pro-abortion president in history" raises money and an email alert with links to the Post article will do the same for NOW. It is corrupt: The truth is sacrificed so that DC-based lobbyists and activists can pay for their swanky offices and expense paid trips.
I went to the NRLC website this morning to see if they had denounced the violence and intimidation that has been directed at certain congressmen in the past few days. I hope that the bishops will also say something publicly. We do not advance the pro-life cause by threatening to kill Congressman Bart Stupak’s children. Nor, by cutting a gas line to the home of Congressman Tom Perriello's brother which was wrongfully placed on a website as the congressman’s home address. (Not that cutting the gas line at the congressman's correct address would be acceptable!) Bad enough that many Tea Party activists shouted racial slurs and homophobic epithets at members of Congress last weekend. Vandalism is a crime and it is not protected by the First Amendment the way speech is. The FBI will not have to sniff around long to find those members of the Tea Party movement who were active in the militia movements of the 1990s. Walking around the protest rally the other day, you could literally feel the dark, almost Dickensian mood of the crowd. Political and religious leaders need to tamp that mood down, not fan its flames.
Michael Sean Winters