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Catholics for Choice Responds to Bishops’ Comments on Speaker Pelosi

August 26, 2008

Washington, DC—Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement about the response from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:

“In their response to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the US bishops commented on their interpretation of what Speaker Pelosi said, not what she actually said. Speaker Pelosi was correct in noting that Catholic teaching has changed over the years, even on the issue of when life begins. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops used the occasion to bang the drum on their issue sine qua non in American politics: abortion.  In doing so, the bishops ignored many relevant issues, including the importance of conscience, what Catholics themselves actually believe, and the role of religion in politics.

“On conscience, Catholic politicians need no reminding that Catholic teaching requires them to follow their own consciences—even if it is in conflict with church teaching. In addition, Catholic teaching requires at least tolerance, if not respect, for other people’s decisions. Speaker Pelosi and the many other prochoice Catholic politicians are following this teaching to the letter when they recognize the proper place for personal religious convictions in the political arena, and support policies that help ensure affordable contraception, safe and legal abortions, comprehensive sexuality education, and affordable health care for all people in this country.

“Despite what many bishops might hope, they cannot impose teachings on an unwilling faithful. Barely a fifth (22%) of Catholics in the US agree with the bishops that abortion should be completely illegal, and Catholic women in the US have abortions at the same rate as women in the population as a whole.  In fact, while the bishops may seek to make abortion an election issue, it is clear from a poll conducted by the noted Washington, DC, firm Belden Russonello and Stewart, that many of the hierarchy’s teachings on reproductive health and rights have not been received by the faithful.

“A large majority of likely Catholic voters (69 percent) strongly agree that Catholics are not obligated to heed the bishops’ recommendations on how to vote.

“In fact, as the bishops seek to make reproductive rights a national issue, national and economic security are greater priorities for Catholic voters than are so-called values issues. In order of importance, Catholics say that the priorities for any future US president are: improving the economy (68% saying it should be one of the highest priorities); protecting the US from terrorism (54%); resolving the war in Iraq (50%); and making health care more affordable (48%). The next tier of priorities also reflects practical domestic needs, including protecting Social Security (47%), improving public education (34%) and cutting taxes (34%).

“On many issues, Catholics tend to mirror the electorate at large. In particular, Catholic voters do not approve of schools teaching abstinence-only programs in schools. Six in ten (64%) oppose requiring high school sex education programs to only teach abstinence. They also believe insurance companies should be required to cover and pharmacists required to sell birth control pills. Three-quarters of Catholics support requiring health insurance plans to cover birth control pills (75%). Nearly eight in ten (78%) oppose allowing pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control prescriptions.

“The bishops are not on the same page as Catholics when it comes to deciding what the important issues in the next election are. Fortunately for Americans of every faith group and no faith group, Catholics in public life, such as Speaker Pelosi, inform their actions by their faith, their conscience, and the voices of their constituents, focusing on what is best for all Americans, not just the dictates of Catholic bishops.”