-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

viewpoint

Catholic identity, Planned Parenthood and the “Gospel of Life”

| Wednesday, November 11, 2015

This past week, I was contacted by numerous people who expressed serious concern about a recent public display by some students and faculty at Saint Mary’s that positively portrayed the services of Planned Parenthood. I was very saddened to learn this show of support for an organization that is the largest abortion provider in our country occurred at a Catholic college in our diocese. At the same time, I have been heartened by those students, faculty and alumnae of the College who are committed to the cause of life and the authentic good of women and have expressed their opposition to Planned Parenthood and any positive portrayal of this organization.

The actions taken by the students and faculty in support of Planned Parenthood illustrate that even at a Catholic college, there are those who cling to the conviction that Planned Parenthood is an organization dedicated to the well-being of women. While I do not doubt the sincerity of those who hold this view, I do challenge them to seriously re-examine what this organization stands for in light of our common humanity and our Catholic faith.

From its very beginning, Planned Parenthood came into existence as a means to promote the eugenicist vision of its founder, Margaret Sanger. Consider the astonishing words with which she expounded this worldview in her book, “The Pivot of Civilization,” published in 1922:

“The lack of balance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit,’ admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. The example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit, and therefore less fertile, parents of the educated and well-to-do classes.  On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective. Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon American society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupid, cruel sentimentalism.”

The fact that Planned Parenthood continues to operate clinics primarily in poor, minority neighborhoods raises the question whether this original vision still largely informs its strategy and its mission today. Planned Parenthood’s own website states that 80 percent of its clients receive “services” to prevent unintended pregnancy, and that the provision of contraception constitutes over a third of all the organization’s activity. From a Catholic point of view, contraception does not constitute true health care because it neither preserves nor restores the proper functioning of the body, but rather damages one of its natural functions. In fact, there is increasing evidence that when a woman’s fertility is suppressed through the use of synthetic hormones, she is exposed to serious health risks. Especially in light of Pope Francis’ call in “Laudato Si’” for a greater respect for human nature and an integral ecology, can’t this be seen as a lack of stewardship and care for the ecology of our human bodies? Even more problematic is the fact that the most effective contraceptives available today can also function as abortifacients. Is it any wonder that the first feminists condemned both abortion and contraception as offensive and injurious to women? Instead, they called both men and women to mutual respect and self-restraint in marriage as a way to live responsible parenthood. To the extent that Planned Parenthood does provide any legitimate health services for women — such as cancer screenings or testing for sexually transmitted diseases — those services are already widely provided by others. Community health centers, for example, provide free or low-cost services to 22 million patients in urban and rural areas and outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics 13 to 1.

Many people have come to believe contraception is part of the solution to the problem of abortion. What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is just how closely abortion and contraception are connected. Contraception is not part of the solution to the culture of death — it is part of the problem. This is because contraception attempts to sever the link between sex and procreation, which, if unsuccessful, can be definitively accomplished through an abortion. In his 1995 encyclical, “The Gospel of Life,” then-Pope John Paul II emphasized this connection:

“Despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practiced under the pressure of real-life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God’s law fully. Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.”

One in three abortions in our nation is currently performed at a facility operated by Planned Parenthood, up from one in five abortions in 2005. In a strategy designed to increase their market share, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) in 2010 stipulated that, by 2013, every affiliate must have one or more clinics that perform abortions on site. A few affiliates left PPFA rather than comply with this requirement, but most did not. That this strategy was successful is evidenced by the fact that in 2013 alone — the last year for which complete data is available — Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 327,653 abortions. In fact, 94 percent of the “services” Planned Parenthood provides for pregnant women are abortions, either surgical or medical (by means of the abortion drug RU-486), outnumbering other options 16 to 1. In fact, since 1970, Planned Parenthood facilities have aborted over 5 million unborn children, and abortions currently account for a great deal of the organization’s income.

Pope Francis has called abortion the product of a “widespread mentality of profit, the throwaway culture, which has today enslaved the hearts and minds of so many.” When he addressed the bishops of the United States during his historic visit to our country in September, Pope Francis urged us not to look the other way or remain silent in the face of such evils:

“The innocent victims of abortion, children who die of hunger or from bombings, immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden, the victims of terrorism, wars, violence and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature — at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters. It is wrong, then, to look the other way or to remain silent.”

The “Gospel of Life” is a seamless garment covering many issues involving human life and dignity. Respect for human life from the moment of conception is an integral part of the message of salvation and the mission of the Church and the first principle of its social teaching upon which every other human right is founded. Catholic institutions, including Catholic colleges and universities, must not look the other way or remain silent in the face of attacks against the most vulnerable human beings among us, those as yet unborn. According to the apostolic constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” “Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles penetrate and inform university activities” in all aspects of campus life at a Catholic college or university.

Catholic identity is not only about what we stand for; it is also about what we will not stand for. Just as we would be rightly scandalized to see a public display portraying a racist organization like the Ku Klux Klan in a positive light, so too, we expect Catholic colleges to refuse to lend any kind of respectability to organizations like Planned Parenthood that play such a significant role in the culture of death. Authentic freedom, academic or otherwise, is always linked to the service of truth and love. It is also ordered to the formation of the human person in truth and love, formation in which Catholic colleges and universities play a critical role.

Saint John Paul II urged us to do better by the young adults with whose formation we have been entrusted in this beautiful but difficult area of life: “It is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept and experience sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection. … Only a true love is able to protect life.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades

Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend

Nov. 10

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: , , ,

About Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

Contact Letter
  • what no really

    Oh good, an old white abstinent man is once again trying to tell women how to manage their own sexual and reproductive health.

    This is a university, not a monastery.

    • RM

      Oh good, another know-it-all not engaging the argument, but rather using disparaging language and ad hominems as a substitute for substance.

      This is a university, not an internet combox where we check our intellects at the door. Oh wait…

      • what no really

        The “arguments” are based on religion. You cannot argue from false premises, so there is no point in engaging.

        But I think we all appreciate the value in individual freedom.

        I have no problem with religious people or religious believes, by the way. But I really cannot stand when people try to argue public policy from a religious standpoint. It’s not workable in a society that’s not a theocracy.

        And this claim: “In fact, 94 percent of the “services” Planned Parenthood provides for pregnant women are abortions, either surgical or medical (by means of the abortion drug RU-486), outnumbering other options 16 to 1” has been debunked so thoroughly in so many different places that I don’t care to address it.

        • Ed Knauf

          No, the bishop’s statement is factual. Note the modifier “pregnant” – 94% of the services PP provides “pregnant” women involve the death of their child. They also provide objectively immoral contraceptive services, and screen for cervical cancer. The bishop’s point is this-none of the so-called “good” PP purportedly does can outweigh the horrific evil that goes on in their clinics every day, to the tune of about 900 babies per day nationwide.

          • what no really

            “objectively immoral?”

            I am not sure you understand what objective means.

          • Ed Knauf

            On the contrary, it’s apparently you who isn’t familiar with the concept. Perhaps I oughtn’t assume that students at ND/SMC are well versed in the faith. In your world, I’m guessing that you look on all “morality” as relative – what’s good for me is good, what’s good for you is good.

            Catholic teaching holds something quite different – that there are certain goods and certain evils that are always and everywhere “objectively” good or evil. For instance, it is always and everywhere, “objectively” evil to procure an induced abortion. Meaning, of itself, abortion is an evil act. Now in Catholic moral theology, there may be mitigating, “subjective” factors that might lessen (or even eliminate) an individual’s personal culpability for that evil – for instance ignorance, improperly formed conscience, lack of freedom, force of habit, etc.. Contraception is objectively evil, meaning on its own it is always and everywhere evil; but if one has never been taught that, one’s culpability could, we believe, be lessened.

            Hopefully you still have time to sign up for a moral theology course and can delve into these things more deeply.

          • what no really

            I’m not Catholic. So.. no.

          • Ed Knauf

            And therein lies the disconnect. SMC is Catholic. Which is why its behavior must be informed by Catholic religious belief, and why it oughtn’t be lending support to organizations that are material participants in objective evil.

          • what no really

            It’s not lending its support. Individual students and faculty members did. As is their right.

          • Ed Knauf

            Bishop Rhoades thinks otherwise. And on a private college campus, there are no such “rights.” Any such display requires the administration’s approval. Heck more than forty protesters, including an elderly priest, were jailed by Notre Dame for their public protest of President Obama’s appearance at the ND commencement a few years back. So there are no such “rights.” And if a display requires the administration’s approval, then it is implicitly lending its support to allow it.

        • Ed Knauf

          This isn’t about public policy, for SMC isn’t a public college. It’s a private, Catholic women’s college, and so long as it wishes to call itself “Catholic,” it may not lend public support to morally reprehensible organizations like PP.

  • the argument works both ways

    I don’t doubt the Catholic Church believes it promotes the well being of everyone but it’s track record with priests who sexually abuse minors leads me to challenge those who cling to this conviction.

    • João Pedro Santos

      “I don’t doubt the Catholic Church believes it promotes the well being of everyone”
      Not really, they just want to keep their status. Imagine if they had to admit that sexual freedom (regardless of the gender of the participants and whether they’re married or not) is good and that contraception is also good. They’d have to admit they’re a fraud.

      • Ed Knauf

        What is “good,” Joao? The existence of “good” implies the existence of “evil,” doesn’t it? What is evil? Who decides?

        • João Pedro Santos

          It’s funny that such questions come from someone who thinks that a controversial institution such as the Catholic Church should decide all that.

          • Ed Knauf

            Wrong again, Joao. GOD decides good and evil. The Church discerns and communicates the revelation of God.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Ok. Then prove that:
            1 – God exists.
            2 – The Church in fact communicates with God.

          • Ed Knauf

            I don’t have to prove those assertions, and neither does ND or SMC. They’re matters of faith. And assuming you’re an ND student, the university YOU CHOSE to attend takes them as true, based on that Faith. You could have gone to a public, secular school, and then your and What No Really’s opinion would matter. But you chose to attend a Catholic school, and being a Catholic school means something vis-a-vis what sorts of things/ideas/behaviors it will tolerate and allow itself to be associated with.

            Basically what I’m saying is that if you aren’t Catholic, you don’t have standing (a legal term, look it up). Your opinion on what a Catholic college should and shouldn’t do isn’t really germane, because you don’t (can’t really be expected to) have an informed opinion.

            The only person whose opinion really counts is the one who wrote the op-ed above.

          • sn0rkel

            So what you’re saying is no one else is allowed to have an opinion? How asinine. And claiming that everyone who attends SMC or ND must have done so simply on the basis that they are Catholic? Again, completely asinine. As a women’s college Saint Mary’s offers a unique environment for women to be educated in a single-sex classroom, which has been proven beneficial. THAT is why I transferred here. I couldn’t care less about its affiliation with any church, being that I am not affiliated with any church. I came here on the basis that I would be getting an exemplary education, as I am sure did many others. Don’t make blanket statements you cannot defend. By demanding that all students and student groups be given equal treatment and equal say that is in no way “imposing [my] faith” on anyone. That is simply demanding that I and my fellow students all be treated and respected as equals.

          • Ed Knauf

            Everyone’s allowed to have an opinion. But if SMC wishes to call herself “Catholic,” then not everyone’s opinion matters. You, by your own admission, transferred to SMC without regard to her Catholic identity. Then you shouldn’t care what exactly that entails, and you absolutely shouldn’t be so arrogant as to impose your “non-Catholic” ideology on an institution that wishes to identify as “Catholic,” for no other reason than you can’t possibly know what that term means.

          • sn0rkel

            As a student who is paying good money to attend my voice absolutely matters, as does everyone else’s, and you cannot silence them simply because you don’t like them. Again, asking to be respected is not asking or forcing the college to agree with us.

          • João Pedro Santos

            “Everyone’s allowed to have an opinion. But if SMC wishes to call herself “Catholic,” then not everyone’s opinion matters.”
            Finally you admit you support fascism.

          • sn0rkel

            So what you’re saying is no one else is allowed to have an opinion? How asinine. And claiming that everyone who attends SMC or ND must have done so simply on the basis that they are Catholic? Again, completely asinine. As a women’s college Saint Mary’s offers a unique environment for women to be educated in a single-sex classroom, which has been proven beneficial. THAT is why I transferred here. I couldn’t care less about its affiliation with any church, being that I am not affiliated with any church. I came here on the basis that I would be getting an exemplary education, as I am sure did many others. Don’t make blanket statements you cannot defend. By demanding that all students and student groups be given equal treatment and equal say that is in no way “imposing [my] faith” on anyone. That is simply demanding that I and my fellow students all be treated and respected as equals.

          • Tom Z.

            People like you claiming that ND is only for Catholic students and their Catholic opinions really makes you look childish and quite frankly, really stupid.

          • Tom Z.

            Your argument ends when you say GOD decides. This does not work in the real world and shouldn’t be taken seriously in an actual argument because it is lazy and covered in bullshit

          • Ed Knauf

            I’d like to engage you in an intellectual conversation, Tom Z. Let me know when you’re ready.

          • Tom Z.

            Haha good one.

  • Ed Knauf

    Thank you, Bishop Rhoades, for teaching the faith. May SMC’s board and administration be humble enough to accept your teaching and steer the college in a more faithful Catholic direction.

  • sn0rkel

    Regardless of their Catholic identity Saint Mary’s is a college above all, and colleges are and should be places of unbiased education, especially if they are going to claim the title of “liberal arts college”. Women deserve to be informed of all of their options when it comes to pregnancy and that includes abortion. That doesn’t mean the college has to approve of abortion or support the fact that students here likely have and likely will continue to get them, but denying students an opportunity to learn is just ridiculous. Education isn’t meant to sway you to think a certain way or change your mind if it has already been made up. This garbage barrage of attacks on students and faculty who are just trying to educate is ridiculous and makes me immediately regret my decision to attend Saint Mary’s. If I had known I would be shamed into silence for disagreeing with the majority then I would never have come here. We are taught to be strong women and stand up for what we believe in but apparently that doesn’t apply if you’re not staunchly Catholic. Last I checked being Catholic wasn’t a requirement to be a student here. If the pro-life group has the right to speak then so should the pro-choice group. It doesn’t mean the college or anyone else has to agree with them.

    • Ed Knauf

      SMC is a Catholic school, and sorry, sn0rkel, that entails a Roman Catholic “bias” in all she does, says and believes. You might not like that; you came to SMC by your own choice and you’re free to leave. But “Catholic” needs to mean something.

      SMC doesn’t require every student to be Catholic, but that doesn’t mean that SMC should be shy or apologetic about proclaiming the truth that the Faith teaches. Nor does it mean that SMC should pander to every demographic who chooses to attend. You should have known you were coming to a Catholic college, but now you want the College to act as if it weren’t. We the many Catholic students, faculty and parents who are outraged by the PP display wish to hold SMC to act in accordance with what she says she is: a Catholic College.

      • sn0rkel

        That’s not what I’m saying at all. It’s about respect. You don’t have to like what I believe but you should respect it. I have a right to speak what I believe. The college mission is to educate. How can we educate if the Catholic bias (which I acknowledge exists and should rightly exist) blinds the college at every turn? That blindness certainly will not create well-rounded students. I am glad the college admin defended the Catholic stance; what else would make it Catholic? My point is that dissenters cannot be silenced.

        • Ed Knauf

          What you refer to as “blindness,” I would call “truth.” Many students and their parents choose SMC precisely FOR a CATHOLIC education. You wish to separate the two words; they can’t (or at least oughtn’t) be separated. Funny – I’m here complaining about SMC’s straying from an authentic Catholic witness, and you’re complaining she’s too Catholic. Bishop Rhoades, whose voice is what matters, would agree with me.

          • sn0rkel

            Why do you fee the need to speak with such a sour attitude? This is exactly why students feel so attacked. SMC is a Catholic college with Catholic roots and traditions and that is great, but not everyone at SMC is Catholic and not everyone here came to be indoctrinated as such. To teach Catholicism as a standard is one thing but to attempt to sway students is another. You’re trying to argue a completely different issue. I’m asking for respect of differing viewpoints while you’re demanding silence. That’s just ludicrous.

          • João Pedro Santos

            That’s how religious fanatics are. They always claim their religion is all about love, but they are completely judgemental and insultive. I’ve had enough with trying to argue with Ed Knauf, it’s like talking to a wall.

          • John Robin

            Sn0rkel, I do respect your right and freedom to believe as you wish, whether you are Catholic or not. You and all students certainly should be afforded respect by each other and by the school. You’re totally correct about that. And you should not be pressured to change or conceal your beliefs.

            But please appreciate that as a private institution, SMC has a mission which it has a right to protect. I think SMC is very encouraging about open dialogue, discussion, and respect. Every student, student group, and academic class can openly discuss and debate Planned Parenthood, right? But SMC has a right to decide what sort of political or other demonstrations take place on its campus.

            You probably wouldn’t want the KKK to recruit members at your home in your own front yard. You’d probably put call the police to remove the demonstrators if necessary, and you’d be right to do so. SMC has a similar right to decide what sort of causes will be openly celebrated on campus. That’s not the same as imposing silence.

            Best wishes.

  • Nathan

    Personally never understood why any university would ban an event based solely on content. An attempt to stifle discussion on a subject seems as though it would only be valuable to the weaker side of an argument.