By Msgr. Francis X. Meehan
Dear President-Elect Barack Obama,
I extend congratulations to you on your having been elected the 44th President of the United States of America. Despite our differences, I take time to celebrate the many gifts that you bring to the presidency – the gift of an acute intellect, the gift of making us all larger by being the first African-American president and, most importantly, the gift of a temperament that allows space for hearing other opinions.
In your generous acceptance speech, you spoke of a “measure of humility,” of a “determination to heal spanides.” It is the sincerity of your words that emboldens me to address to you the following message.
There are so many of us who embrace your ideals of caring for ordinary people, your many ideals of social caring. But there is one huge gulf between us, namely, our understanding of the dignity of the child in the womb. During the campaign, many of us have been confused – even aghast – at your lack of vision here.
In this letter, I am asking you to come across a spanide, to see with new eyes, to entertain what could be called a kind of paradigm-shift in the way one imagines today’s issue of “choice.” I ask you to consider the following.
First, please know that we Catholics do not consider abortion as though it were only an issue of faith. Our tradition utilizes reason, science and all things human. Think of this: When your dear wife, Michelle, was carrying your youngest child, Sasha, was there not a time when Michelle might have invited your oldest child, Malia Ann, to do what moms lovingly do – to come and feel the “baby” moving? When an expectant mother shows images from an ultrasound, does she not say words such as “look at the ‘baby’,” “look at your ‘brother’ or your ‘sister’?” Is it not wonderful the way this instinctive vocabulary corresponds with the insights of modern embryology and genetics?
I wish you could understand, Mr. President-Elect, that we Catholics do not consider our care for the child of the womb a “conservative” opinion, or a sectarian position, or a matter of family values only. On the contrary, if the word “liberal” in our day is often imputed to those who hold a real concern for the most vulnerable of society, then it is the pro-life vision that is most liberal, most humane – a truly integral vision.
Our vision implies that the “choice” to destroy the child of the womb is not just an inspanidual immoral action. Rather we see it also at the level of humane public policy. When a Catholic speaks of abortion and “choice” as being equivalent to an entire “Dred Scott syndrome,” a syndrome of thought that historically excluded an entire race of people from the human family, please understand that this is not a ploy of argumentation, nor any mere rhetoric.
Many fought bravely to overturn this horrible moment of our country’s history. It is a mystery to most pro-life Catholics how you and so many others do not grasp how a “choice for abortion” becomes an exact parallel, a truly regressive bias.
As one in ministry, it has been my privilege to work with women who have had an abortion. It has been a grace to assure them of their deep goodness within and to witness also the healing that comes from their participation in Catholic programs such as Rachel weekends.
Up against this experience, you can imagine how there is in our minds an extreme dissonance and confusion when we hear public figures speak of “choice” as being “pro-women.” What many do understand is this: That there is a very real and healthy feminism in our time that is beginning to be repelled by the ravages that abortion inflicts on the minds, bodies, psyches and hearts of women.
One other point, Mr. President-Elect: Do you realize that one of your campaign positions has many people actually beginning to fear you? I know you would not want that. At several points you threatened to impose upon our people what is known as the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). It is an act that would force all taxpayers to fund abortions, that would allow partial birth abortion, that would coerce nurses and doctors to act against their deepest conscience, that would strip parental involvement in their minor daughter’s decision.
I am sure that you, most of all, would shrink from being a man who inspires fear rather than hope. It is for this reason that I ask, beg, pray and hope that you could undergo this simple paradigm-shift of social vision, that you could walk just a small part of your journey in empathy with the vision of so many who would like to esteem you as our president. Thank you for your prayerful consideration of these thoughts.
Father Francis Meehan