False Middle Ground on Abortion, Crumbling
Kissling observes that this office
"has gone to someone who both believes abortion should be illegal and opposes contraception. That's right -- Kelley's group of self-described progressive Catholics takes a position held by only a small minority, that the Catholic church is right to prohibit birth control. Were there no qualified religious experts who hold more mainstream views on family planning and abortion, views that are consistent with those of President Obama?"
... Can pro-family-planning religious groups expect a fair deal from a director who believes that birth control, even for married couples, is immoral? Will programs that provide contraception to adolescents get funded? Obama's Feb. 5 Executive Order establishing a new Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships gave the office and its 11 satellites in federal agencies a policy role on the issues that are at the core of HHS's sexual and reproductive health work: addressing teen pregnancy and reducing the need for abortion. How can an opponent of the single most effective way to do both -- contraception -- lead that effort in HHS enthusiastically and effectively?
Fair questions, but there is more:
A heated exchange about the appointment between Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice (disclosure: I was president of CFC for 25 years) and Catholics in Alliance/Catholics United is representative of the struggle between religious progressives who support gay marriage and reproductive freedom and those like Kelley who think war and abortion are the same evil. O'Brien was the first pro-choice leader to criticize Kelley's appointment, and he went after her with a vengeance. In a press release, he called Kelley's "abortion reduction rhetoric ... simply a newly packaged antiabortion message," claimed the group used "flawed economic data to support anti-poverty measures as a means to reduce the number of abortions," and asserted the current policy fascination with "common ground" has devolved "into an abandonment of ideals."
Sarah Posner, writing at The American Prospect also noted the extremity of the response:
"Catholics for Choice Joins the Far Right, Attacks Common Ground," screams the press release from Catholics United (CU), which is defending the choice of Alexia Kelley to lead the center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services. Catholics for Choice (CFC) yesterday criticized the pick because of Kelley's opposition to abortion.
This is as many of us have experienced, fairly typical. When the views of the so-called common grounders are questioned or challenged, we are normally treated to healthy doses of diversionary tactics, such as strawman arguments and ad hominem attacks.
A few weeks ago, I responded to an op-ed co-authored by a staffer from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (who had previously worked in the communications department of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops).
Here is a sampler of terms they use in discussing those of us who disagree with them: "malign," "righteous zeal," "absolutist devotion," "predictable to the absurd," "demonization" "hardened agendas" and - my personal favorite -- a "scorched earth rhetorical style."
We saw a similar approach when Robert P. Jones paraded a series of strawmen and red herring in his knock on the contributors of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America
Jones' main response was to unfavorably contrast our character with those he interviewed for his recent book, Progressive & Religious: How Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist Leaders are Moving Beyond the Culture Wars and Transforming Public Life. He complained of "snarkiness" on our part; "sheer incivility," "rancor," "throwing stones," a "binary mindset," and a "take-no-prisoners mentality," while claiming that he is part of a "more humble" movement with a "less defensive attitude." Our "mindset" he writes, "has generated some surprising parallels between the left and the right."
The claim on the part of the common grounders to occupy a less rancorous middle ground between left and right; prochoice and antiabortion camps, has proven to be false when one looks at the ground claimed to be in the middle -- and who in fact holds it in common. What's more, some of the most shrill invective in this discussion has come from the common grounders, whose views are becoming more obviously untenable by the day. As Chip Berlet wrote at Religion Dispatches recently:
Sorting Out the Issues
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