The Nation's Pulse

Choice Shots at Catholics

Welcome to something calling itself the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

By 5.1.07

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Founded in 1973 with help from the Playboy Foundation and the United Methodist Church, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) has tirelessly organized left-wing religious voices for unlimited abortion rights. Now it is targeting Catholic hospitals that decline to conduct abortions.

Agencies of the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church still support RCRC, as do Catholics for a Free Choice, the Unitarian Universalists, and some Jewish groups. RCRC, of course, was enraged by the recent Supreme Court decision permitting bans on partial-birth abortions.

"With the April 18 Supreme Court decision banning specific abortion procedures, concerns are being raised in religious communities about the ethics of denying these services," the RCRC warned. Ominously, an RCRC spokeswoman noted that all five of the Supreme Court's majority opinion are Roman Catholic men.

Likewise, RCRC is distressed that some Roman Catholic hospitals decline to provide abortions, sterilizations, and contraception. "Doctors, pharmacists and nurses are also increasingly exercising a so-called 'religious or moral objection,' refusing to provide essential services and often leaving patients without other options," RCRC complained. "And now, to make it worse, the government is codifying these refusals, first through legislation and now with the recent Supreme Court decision, where five Catholic men decided that they could better determine what was moral and good than the physicians, women and families facing difficult, personal choices in problem pregnancies."

RCRC is helpfully providing some guidelines for health care providers to protect them from undue Roman Catholic influence. "Refusal to provide health care would be balanced by alternate service delivery so that no one would be victimized when another exercises his/her conscience," state the RCRC guidelines, which are called "In Good Conscience: Guidelines for the Ethical Provision of Health Care in a Pluralistic Society."

"A growing number of doctors, nurses, and pharmacies are refusing to provide, refer, or even tell their patients about care options that they feel are not in keeping with their own personal religious beliefs," an RCRC official explained. So the RCRC, with the wide depth of knowledge and grace available only to the fully pluralistic, is rushing to the defense of the victimized whose requests for abortions have been denied.

In short, RCRC believes itself to be standing against aspiring theocrats. "In Good Conscience is appearing now to answer the dangerous threat of a few religions wanting to speak for all religions, and wanting to impose their particular teachings on every health care institution and health care provider," explained an RCRC guidelines organizer. "This is a statement about religion and health that stands up to that threat. And it is a statement that stands up for fundamental religious and democratic principles."

According to the RCRC news release, its guidelines offer an "alternative to sectarian restrictions imposed on health care, such as the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, among others." RCRC frets that 1 in 5 Americans gets health care from Roman Catholic providers. And RCRC is disturbed that individual doctors, pharmacists, and nurses also can exercise a "religious or moral objection" and leave their patients "without other options."

RCRC points to 46 states that permit individuals refuse to perform abortions, while 43 states allow institutions to refuse to abortions. Does RCRC want to compel all individuals and institutions to perform abortions, in the name of pluralism? Its stance is not completely clear. At the very least, it would deny all government funding to those who refuse abortions. And it would at the very least mandate that all must provide referrals to willing abortionists. All patients are to be entitled to information about "reproductive health" or whatever is required to "achieve sexual self-understanding and adjustment," which is presumably a reference to sex change operations.

The RCRC guidelines specifically lament that Roman Catholic guidelines for church health care services are an "explicitly sectarian theological statement" rather than "universal assumptions." RCRC is concerned that the Catholic bishops claim that a specific revelation from Christ has been entrusted to the Roman Catholic Church. "The bishops have every right to take this position, but it is not a foundation for ethical thinking that can claim wide appeal in a pluralistic society," RCRC opines. "All appeals to natural law are directed back for final adjudication to the keepers of a particular religious tradition with its own notions of what God wills in and through the figure of Jesus Christ."

In truth, RCRC claims its own particular brand of religious pluralism is the final adjudicator of religious truth. It asserts that access to abortion is a "religious right" that no human law can abrogate. In contrast, every major branch of historic and universal Christianity, along with most of monotheism, views abortion unfavorably. They point to Scripture, tradition, and natural law. But the RCRC version of infallibility harkens to 20th century notions of unrestricted self-will and radical autonomy. In short, if the self wants it badly enough, whether an abortion, a sex change operation, or an assisted suicide, it must not be denied, and all others must facilitate the demand, no matter their own qualms.

RCRC is afraid of a supposed theocracy run primarily by Roman Catholics, with assist from Southern Baptists and other religious dogmatists. But RCRC of course prefers its own, far more coercive theocracy, arbitrated by Unitarian social justice activists, whose inerrant doctrines, unlike those of traditionalists, are constantly and faddishly under revision.

Mark Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

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Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.