Saturday, July 4, 2009

Catholic Bishop: I am pro-life

Well, duh

Earlier this week, on a motor trip to the Midwest, we passed through Pittsburgh. There, my mother-in-law's hospitality includes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which on Wednesday ran an op-ed piece by David A. Zubik, bishop of the Pittsburgh Catholic diocese.

I really don't know if Pittsburgh is a more Catholic place than other eastern or midwestern cities with an industrial past, but because Marrianne's family is Catholic, the city seems to be filled with an awful lot of practicing Catholics, out-of-practice Catholics or definitively ex-Catholics. It followed that Zubik's column, I Am Pro-Life, was a topic of breakfast table discussion, if only briefly.

Marrianne's mom was pretty clear about her own position: Abortion should remain legal and government action should be focussed on reducing teen pregnancy and addressing the social ills (like poverty) that make choosing abortion sometimes seem like the only viable choice for young women. If one could accurately parse the voluminous polling data about abortion, it's likely that Audrey McMullen's position reflects the biggest plurality, if not the majority, of Americans. For all practical purposes, our discussion ended there.

But driving around the Midwest for 1,400 or so miles (our approximate total by the time we get back to D.C.) offers plenty of time for reflection. And I keep thinking about Zubik and wondering how he rationalized writing something so unsurprising, for a Catholic bishop, as "I Am Pro-Life." So far, the only thing I've been able to come up with is this: Zubik is rallying, or at least comforting, the troops.

After all, the recent murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has provided an opportunity for some pro-choice activists to directly connect the pro-life movement with the extremists who operate on its fringes. One can only assume that some faithful Pittsburgh parishoners have expressed their own doubts and concerns.

Zubik's response is formulaic. Scott Roeder, Tiller's murderer, is a nut-case. And besides that, he hung out with anti-tax and anti-government groups. He is, therefore and quite obviously, not the right sort of pro-lifer. And, anyway, writes Zubik, "pro-life groups were quick to denounce Dr. Tiller's murder and the tragedy that someone would take a life in the name of defending innocent life."

Having carefully defined the pro-life movement to exclude the significant portion that does not condemn Tiller's murder and/or believes the government functions primarily to impose secular values and confiscate property, Zubik moves on. The pro-life movement is based on the "sacredness of life," Zubik says, but was originally marginalized as Catholic and therefore "anti-Catholic prejudice was a card to be played." The pro-life pioneers of the '70s, he seems to be suggesting, displayed uncommon courage through those dark times.

But in a we-are-the-world conclusion, Zubik arrives at the happy news:
The latest Pew research study shows that pro-life Americans make up nearly half the population. They are in every age group, every religion, every political party, every neighborhood, every part of the country, every race and every color.

If you want to know what pro-life people look like, forget the caricatures and cartoonists, the propaganda and the pundits. Just take a look at your neighbor.

Of course, if your neighbor also thinks that the government is trying to take away his gun or force him to drive a hybrid, then he's not what pro-life people look like. And, if he thinks that abortionists get what they deserve, then he's not what pro-life people look like, or so Bishop Zubik tells us.

It is also an inconvenient fact that the latest Pew research study didn't ask people if they were pro-life, so the near majority to which Zubik refers actually includes the portion of the population which thinks that abortion should be more restricted than it is now, but does not believe that it should be made illegal altogether.

Zubik never uses the phrase "pro-choice" in his piece, though given his relaxed understanding of the Pew survey, it would seem to be no stretch at all for him to discover that polling actually shows us that a good portion of the population is both pro-life and pro-choice. In the meantime, the Bishop also tells us that pro-life encompasses "opposition to capital punishment, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, war and violence of any kind. That being the case, I eagerly await his next piece denouncing the use of violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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