By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Facing President-elect Barak Obama’s pledge to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would bar legal restrictions on abortion at the state and federal level, Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco today said that the Catholic church needs to make the case against the measure “early and often, both with members of congress and with the new administration.”
Speaking with reporters during the Nov. 10-13 meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Niederauer suggested that it would be a mistake to interpret Obama’s victory as an expression of popular support for the Freedom of Choice Act, known as FOCA.
Niederauer heads the communications committee for the U.S. bishops’ conference.
“If you look at exit polls on election day, you will not find very many people who came out of the polling place and said their vote for either candidate was based on FOCA,” Niederauer said. “Many wouldn’t know what it is.”
Asked what the church should do about Catholic legislators who support FOCA, Niederauer said that the bishops agree on the diagnosis – that such a vote amounts to cooperation in evil – but may not be able to reach a common policy on the hot-button question of whether to deny communion to pro-choice politicians.
“We have a very strong statement made in 2004,” he said. “It’s still in place. It says we should not give a platform [to pro-choice politicians], we shouldn’t give them awards or feature them. But with regard to Holy Communion, it is left up to the pastoral sensitivity and responsibility of individual bishops to interact with those office-holders in their own diocese.”
“As person differs from person,” Niederauer said, “perhaps the best approach may be one thing for one person, another for another.”
The Freedom of Choice Act was introduced in the House and Senate in 2004, but to date has not made it beyond the committee stage. Estimates are that states currently have an aggregate number of 300 restrictions on abortion which would be abolished by FOCA, inclduing late term abortion bans, parental consent requirements and parental notification laws.
The web site of Barak Obama’s presidential campaign includes a January 2008 statement from Obama issued on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision: “When anti-choice protesters blocked the opening of an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic in a community where affordable health care is in short supply, I was the only candidate for president who spoke out against it,” Obama said. “And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.”