My Problem With the Pope

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Pope Francis the Good is one truly uplifting presence on the world stage. Millions of us welcome and rejoice over his messages about helping those less fortunate, building tolerance and seeking justice – all goals that could use reinforcing in almost every corner of this turbulent planet. Even for us Protestants, it’s a good time to share the name Frances, by whatever spelling.

But the pope and I have a small disagreement.

Should a woman have control of her own body? Not if it contains an embryo, or if she might want to prevent it from growing an embryo, according to the pope.

Abortion? Absolutely not, says the pope. Being a forgiving sort, he has empowered more priests to “forgive” women who have chosen to have abortions and would like to continue practicing their Catholic faith. But once conception occurs – no matter that it’s the result of rape, incest, abuse or a limitless range of very personal issues – the woman must be shoved aside and all focus be on bringing that unwanted fetus into a life of questionable care. And any woman who has made this very personal decision must “seek forgiveness”?

This writer does not profess to be a Biblical scholar, but I have not found, or ever had anyone point out, anywhere in the good book that it says Thou Shalt Not Abort. In all the centuries of mostly men who wrote and have subsequently interpreted the Bible, somehow they – including centuries of presumably celibate priests – have simply opted to deprive women of all reproductive freedom. And today they would still deny a woman’s right to exercise free will.

But it is on the issue of contraception that the pope’s messages ring false, and harsh. One cannot fight poverty and simultaneously demand that poor women bear more unwanted children. If one so adamantly opposes abortion, how can one ignore the fact that adequate contraception would prevent millions of unintended pregnancies – and reduce abortions exponentially?

According to a recent New York Times editorial, a “2014 poll of 12,000 Catholics in 12 countries found that 78 percent supported contraception; in Spain, France, Columbia, Brazil and the pope’s native Argentina, more than 90 percent supported its use.”

The Guttmacher Institute, quoted in the same Times editorial, reports that some 225 million women who want to avoid unintended pregnancies do not use (often cannot access) reliable contraception. “Providing them with contraception would prevent 52 million unintended pregnancies, 14 million unsafe abortions and 70,000 maternal deaths a year.” Even if you don’t care about the maternal deaths – as is clear with “Pro-Lifer’s” everywhere – how does it not make sense to prevent the 52 million unintended pregnancies and 14 million unsafe abortions?

Could someone please ask the good pope to consider these facts? He probably won’t get that request from House Speaker John Boehner, one of twelve children, but he could get it from his equally faithful follower former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pope Francis is reportedly a very good listener.

One can only hope.

Judge Janice R. Brown on family planning

Janice Rogers Brown
Janice Rogers Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In her words, it is “a repugnant belief.” That would be family planning.

Excuse me?

Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has an interesting opinion about birth control: Thou Shalt Not. It is fine with me if Judge Brown chooses not to plan her family (she had one child by her first husband) but not so fine to impose that personal belief on the rest of us.

But that’s where we are headed. Judge Brown recently ruled that the government should not require Freshway Foods to cover birth control for their employees because that would have Freshway affirming “a repugnant belief,” and force them to be “complicit in a grave moral wrong.”

Some of us do not see family planning as morally wrong. By and large we tend to believe that strong families with children who are loved, wanted and cared for make sense. By and large we also believe that adult women are competent to make decisions about their eggs. But once that egg is fertilized, Judge Brown believes, along with many others including the Freshway founders, that it becomes something sacred and that’s where our beliefs diverge.

All of this increasingly matters. New York Times writer Jeremy W. Peters explains it in a thorough and thoughtful piece about how abortion cases in courts such as Judge Brown’s served as the tipping point for recent action by Senate Democrats to call an end to the filibuster. It’s hard to blame them. Democrats joined with Republicans to put Janice Brown — who was highly distasteful to liberals and moderates — on the bench, assuming Republicans would later join Democrats to put mildly distasteful others on the bench. Wrong. Republicans simply dug in and refused to confirm any Obama nominee.

Which puts us in a situation of majority rule without much minority right… but then, we have been for some time in a situation of minority rule without much majority power.

Democracy is a mess when extremists take over. Extremists have taken over reproductive rights: no contraception, no abortion, no choice, no access, no rights for countless women across the country. Extremists leave no room for dialog, mutual respect or compromise; it’s simply My Way or the Highway.

When a federal judge holds extremist opinions there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.