Catholic shills for the Democratic Party enjoyed some success during the past election year in publicizing the claim that abortions declined in the Clinton years because increased disbursements to social services allowed pregnant women to keep their babies instead of aborting them, hence we were to believe that the Democratic policy—an unrestricted right to abortion combined with financial disincentives to exercise that right—was the authentically prolife position.
Some may be inclined to doubt whether, even if the economic argument were sound, the sort of woman who’d decide to kill or spare her child based on her level of unearned income would model a Catholic notion of citizenship. But is it sound?
Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice (not a woman in the service of the pro-life lobby, the US bishops, or the Religious Right) has made a telling case that the antipoverty claim is a sham, that the data was cooked so as to present a connection that doesn’t exist, in order to weaken conservative resistance to anti-poverty programs. Writing in the oddly named Conscience magazine, Kissling said:
This overwhelming and admirable commitment to ending poverty and promoting policies that would do that has caught not only [Jim] Wallis, but another newly important figure in progressive evangelical circles, Glenn Stassen. Stassen, who describes himself as prolife, but is publicly in favor of legal abortion, is the author of the study that claimed abortions went down under Clinton and up under Bush and hypothesized that the reason was Bush’s cuts in the antipoverty budgets. More recent research has proven that Stassen was wrong on the facts. Abortions went down under Clinton and have continued to go down under Bush (although at a much slower rate). Most importantly, data shows that Stassen’s conclusion—that the abortion rate went down under Clinton because of better support for poor pregnant women— is demonstrably wrong. Analysis by the Alan Guttmacher Institute of government data show that the reason for the decline during Clinton’s presidency was increased use of emergency contraception and better use of traditional contraceptives such as the pill. When I asked Stassen why he continues to make his claims, despite the facts showing otherwise, instead of supporting contraception as a way to reduce abortion, he passionately responded, “Because I want to make an antipoverty argument.”
Nota bene: the analysis exploding the economics claim comes not from some conservative think-tank or the bishops’ pro-life office; it comes from the Guttmacher Institute, from the heart of the abortion campaign itself. That makes it all but impossible for liberals to dismiss the conclusion as biased against the progressivist stance.
With the factual flooring knocked out from under them, will liberal Catholics feel constrained to modify their enthusiasm for the Democratic “solution”? I’m skeptical. On the one hand, the correct attribution of the abortion decline to contraception and pharmaceutical abortion will not bother those who reject Catholic teaching concerning those practices. On the other hand, the suspiciously opportune timing of the revived Clinton-claim, and the curiously fervid support for the same, suggest that progressivist Catholics with a bad conscience on the abortion issue are backing the antipoverty ruse simply in order to buy themselves permission to go with pro-abort Democrats. Most, probably, never really believed it themselves.
Flannery O’Connor published a short story in 1955 with the title “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead.” The point has not been communicated to the Kennedy-Drinan-Pelosi Catholics, whose verbal concern for the poor, combined with lofty disdain for those who would protect the unborn, results in a Marie Antoinette-like detachment from the grisly reality: “Call on us when you exit the womb, mon enfant, and we have a shiny new sovereign for your cello lessons!” And hey, if a million or so every year aren’t in a position to take them up on the offer, at least no one can fault them on their generosity. Liberals are more caring than the rest of us.
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