By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 6, 2009 ( – In a meeting with several members of the Catholic media Thursday, President Obama insisted that pro-life Catholics' fears over the new administration's abortion agenda was “not based on anything I've said or done.” The president also said he embraces the so-called “seamless garment” moral theory of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, which he said he feels has been “buried under the abortion debate” in recent decades.

The president called for the brief round-table meeting with Catholic media to discuss his upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict XVI July 10, but addressed the rift between his stance on abortion and the Catholic Church's moral teaching in response to questions.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the Catholic News Service, the National Catholic Reporter, National Catholic Register, America magazine, Commonweal magazine, Catholic Digest, Vatican Radio, and a Washington Post religion writer.

According to the Catholic Digest report, one member asked for more information on President Obama's stance on conscience protection for doctors objecting to abortion. 

President Obama said that the expectation of heavily pro-abortion policy from his administration “is not based on anything I've said or done, but is rather just a perception somehow that we have some hard-line agenda that we're seeking to push.”

Obama, who in February began repealing a Bush regulation strengthening doctors' conscience rights, said he favors a “robust” conscience clause. However, he did not elaborate on what aspect of the Bush regulation he considered flawed and did not give a compelling reason for why his administration is repealing the regulation.

“[The new conscience clause] may not meet the criteria of every possible critic of our approach,” he said, “but it certainly will not be weaker than what existed before the changes were made.”

Despite Obama's claim that pro-life fears are “not based on anything I've said or done,” a steady stream of pro-abortion policy since his inauguration has left the pro-life community little room to doubt the President's devotion to the abortion agenda. These policies include abolishing the Mexico City Policy, funding the United Nations Population Fund, unleashing federal funds for embryonic stem-cell research, and calling for taxpayer-funded abortion in Washington, D.C. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April confirmed that the Obama administration would work to dismantle pro-life laws around the world as part of its policy of promoting “reproductive health.”

In terms of Obama's personal stance on abortion, pro-lifers have pointed to a July 2007 speech in which Obama told Planned Parenthood that the “first thing” he would do as president would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Because FOCA would establish abortion as a “fundamental right” for women, the legislation would effectively eliminate all state and federal bans on abortion, as well as the rights of medical professionals to deny to perform or refer for abortions.

“I am absolutely convinced that culture wars are so nineties; their days are growing dark, it is time to turn the page,” Obama had said. “We want a new day here in America. We're tired about arguing about the same ole' stuff. And I am convinced we can win that argument.”

In addition to his statement on FOCA, Obama had a 100% pro-abortion voting record as a U.S. senator, including voting against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which would have mandated that babies that are born alive after failed abortions receive normal medical care.

In Thursday's meeting, President Obama mentioned more than once his attraction to Cardinal Bernardin's consistent life ethic or “seamless garment” theory of social justice, which advocates a holistic approach to the sanctity of human life by opposing abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and economic injustice.

However, Obama said, that theory has been “buried by the abortion debate” in recent years, and he expects to advance a “broader set of values” than those espoused by pro-life Catholics.

“It's not up to me to try to resolve those tensions [among Catholics]. All I can do is to affirm how that other tradition has made me, a non-Catholic, reflect on how I can be a better person and has had a powerful influence on my life,” said the president.  “And that tells me that it might be a powerful way to move a broader set of values forward in American life generally.”
Although President Obama has more than once called upon the theory to downplay his disagreement with the Church on abortion, including in his speech at Notre Dame, Cardinal Bernardin himself strongly condemned the use of the consistent life ethic to dismiss the centrality of the abortion debate.

In 1988, Bernardin told the National Catholic Register: “I know that some people on the left, if I may use that label, have used the consistent ethic to give the impression that the abortion issue is not all that important anymore, that you should be against abortion in a general way but that there are more important issues, so don't hold anybody's feet to the fire just on abortion. That's a misuse of the consistent ethic, and I deplore it.”

Thursday's discussion also touched on the “common ground” the administration is avowedly seeking on abortion when one journalist asked about the president's expectations for the initiative. 

Obama responded that he awaits a memo from his task force mapping out common ground, and said he expected to find agreement on advancing sex education and reducing “the circumstances in which women feel compelled to obtain an abortion.”

Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America, has criticized Obama's emphasis on reducing the “need” for abortion while staunchly refusing to support reducing the number of abortions. 

Wright recounted her experience at a May meeting of the abortion “common ground” task force in which Melody Barnes, the Director of Domestic Policy Council and a former board member of Emily's List, corrected Wright for stating that the administration wished to reduce abortions. 

“It is not our goal to reduce the number of abortions,” said Barnes, but rather only to “reduce the need for abortions.”

“Obama needs to be honest with Americans,” said Wright.  “Is it true that it is not his goal to reduce the number of abortions? 

“More importantly, will he do anything that will reduce abortions? Actions are far more important than words.”

See related article:

Commentary: Obama Aide – Not Our Goal to Reduce Abortions


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