Catholics’ culture wars are not pro-life – New York Daily News

Conservative Catholics on the Supreme Court — including Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — played a decisive role in overturning Roe v. Wade last week, delivering a victory for anti-abortion activists who spent decades organizing around a singular political goal. The achievement is a testament to the synergy between a well-funded Catholic right and a powerful conservative legal movement that has shifted the ideological makeup of the court in recent years.

But the road to overturning Roe has been littered with costs and moral compromises that have damaged the credibility of the anti-abortion movement, distorted Catholic identity in public life and left low-income women more vulnerable than before.

The 50-year campaign to end Roe required Catholic anti-abortion leaders to link arms with a political movement that is hostile to much of what Catholic social teaching says about the common good and the dignity of life after a baby is born. This transactional marriage with elected officials who shredded social safety nets — and embraced a libertarian, anti-government ideology anathema to Catholic teaching — left women and families to fend for themselves.

The court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will not end abortion, but it will leave low-income women of color to face greater insecurity, while women with the financial resources to travel to states where abortion is legal will continue to do so.

Despite the victory lap on the right, most conservative politicians who call themselves “pro-life” have been missing in action when it comes to supporting robust pro-family policies such as increasing the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid, improving the quality of pre-and post-natal health care and providing paid parental leave after the birth of a child. It’s not surprising that evidence shows that abortion rates actually decreased more during some Democratic presidential administrations than Republican administrations. Making health care more affordable, contraception more accessible, and strengthening other social safety nets provides the economic dignity that allows women and families to thrive. These social policies should have led to bipartisan coalitions to support women, infants and children decades ago. If Republicans and anti-abortion activists don’t rally behind an agenda to support women and families now, the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement will only be exposed with more clarity.

The church itself has a long way to go before its pro-life rhetoric matches reality. Many Catholic dioceses still don’t provide full, paid parental leave after the birth of a child and lag behind some secular institutions when it comes to pro-family policies for employees. In a high-profile case that received national media attention last summer, an unmarried teacher at a Catholic school was even fired after she became pregnant.

While it’s true that the Democratic Party’s increasingly absolutist position on abortion has alienated even some moderate Democrats in recent years, the pro-life movement’s willingness to go all-in with Donald Trump proved how corrupting single-issue politics can be. After Trump announced a “zero tolerance” policy that separated immigrant infants and children from their parents at the border, the nation’s most prominent pro-life organizations were tellingly silent.

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The Susan B. Anthony List, led by a Catholic, Marjorie Dannenfelser, told the media her organization had no comment.

“We’re not on either side of this issue,” David O’Steen, the executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, told reporters.

As the anti-abortion advocate and Catholic scholar Charles Camosy wrote in the New York Times in 2018: “In standing by President Trump and his administration — and, indeed, in now honoring him as their standard-bearer — traditional pro-life leaders have put short-term and uncertain political gain ahead of consistent moral principle.”

Last week, Trump took credit for appointing three justices who voted to overturn Roe. There is no sign that Trump’s most enthusiastic Catholic apologists recognize the costs to the church’s consistent ethic-of-life teachings and its moral integrity by embracing a leader who stoked racism, restarted the federal death penalty, separated immigrant families, encouraged insurrectionists and tried to overturn the election.

If conservative Catholic leaders have any hope of reclaiming credibility damaged by decades of culture wars and the more recent push to weaponize Communion against President Biden and other pro-choice politicians, they should listen more than they preach. The majority of Catholics do not want abortion criminalized. We hold that position not because we are indifferent to human life or are “pro-abortion.” Instead, we recognize that all life issues are connected, and that criminalization does not end abortion or create a culture of life where women and families have the resources to live with dignity.

We’re tired of simplistic “pro-life” and “pro-choice” labels that fail to address the complexity that surround pregnancy and childbirth. The road after Roe will be filled with anger, pain and disillusionment for many. Catholics need to play our part in healing wounds and finding a better path forward.

Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life and author of “The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church.”

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