Abortion, health reform and me: who is making our choices?

Am I the only person around who is squirming — make that fuming a little — over the concessions made to the anti-choice guys before the House passed its health reform bill? Does no one else find it offensive to turn from reading on page one of today’s New York Times about this sad state of events to page 14 for a large photo of President Obama shaking hands with Cardinal Sean O’Malley? They were meeting at the funeral for Senator Ted Kennedy in August, where reportedly the good clergyman told the president that the Congress of Catholic Bishops really wanted to support health reform ——– oh, but only if everybody caved to their wishes that abortion remain unavailable.

It is not as if we weren’t forewarned. I posted a brief note in this space a few days ago (see Abortion Foes Winning Health Concessions, 11/4, below) and tried to resume a position of calm.

It is hard to remain calm. Somewhere the lines about separation of church and state have to fuzz themselves back into reality. I believe in the right of the U.S. Congress of Catholic Bishops to tell Catholics how to behave (despite the fact that of my many Catholic friends I know almost none who pay any attention in matters of personal choice.) I even believe in the right of the Pope to tell the Bishops to tell their parishioners how to behave. I even believe in the responsibility of all individuals, including my Presbyterian self, to behave according to their conscience and their faith. I just hate being governed by someone else’s faith.

This is not a small distinction. My own church, admittedly starting with a small group here in woo-woo San Francisco, passed a fairly strong national resolution denouncing our country’s torturing folks and seeking justice. As far as I know, no one threatened the president about withholding support for these occasionally immoral wars we keep fighting unless the instigators of torture-in-our-name were sent to jail. However strongly I would like to see the latter happen, I believe there are limits to what faith communities should do.

I had personal experience with back-alley abortion, in the dark days pre-Roe v Wade. It was not pleasant. Is there any way a celibate Catholic bishop could even remotely understand the horrors to which he is condemning poor, desperate pregnant women with the relentless push to make abortion totally unavailable? No. I wish there were.

We still have got to have health reform. But what prices we are paying.

Watching Idols and Icons Die

An article in yesterday’s New York Times chronicled the recent “funereal season” that has seen the passage of such players on the national stage as Walter Cronkite, Les Paul, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Ted Kennedy and Patrick Swayze. Add to that the death this week of singer Mary (“Peter, Paul and Mary”) Travers. Although Times writer Sarah Kershaw noted that no more celebrities died this summer than in summers past, a couple of other elements are in play: the particular folks who departed the stage in recent months did so just as Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age, and they were the people who “defined (the Boomers) as a tribe, bequeathing through music, culture, news and politics as a kind of generational badge that has begun to fray.”

Generational badge-fraying is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as one wears the badge lightly on the pocket and occasionally notices which threads are coming loose, in fact, I maintain it is downright healthy. Contemplation of our terminal condition could do most of us a lot of good.

(Specifically, a few of those Boomers who have been putting off getting their advance directives done (OK, I see your eyes glazing over, but stick with me here) will start thinking about doing so. Or at the very least, have a little talk with their significant others about how long they’d like to be kept on life support if they have a stroke tomorrow. Getting this done today leaves tomorrow for enjoying everything else. Plus, it encourages calm; see below.)

Walter Cronkite wound up a long and happy life at 93. But Ted Kennedy was 77, one year older than yours truly. Farrah Fawcett was 62. Patrick Swayze, 57; Michael Jackson, 50. DJ AM Adam Goldstein was 36. The reality is that we’re all terminal; most of us terminate before we’re quite ready but it does happen. Acknowledging that fact can be ridiculously freeing.

The Boomers are reportedly worried not only about the finiteness of their lives, but also about their legacy. The Times article quoted a survey of 1,000 Americans age 44 to 79 conducted by AARP, which found that 55 percent believed they would leave the world worse off than they found it. That prospect can turn you gray in a hurry. But these near-retirees are not planning just to sit around getting gray.

Loss of their legends, according to Marc Freedman, author of “Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America, has created in this generation a sense of both the “expansion and compression of time,” and they are looking toward second careers doing good. “I think this is the first time so many have simultaneously had an awareness of death and the prospect of a whole new act,” Mr. Freedman says. Many of those new acts may turn the above expectation around, so the world might be left a little better off than they found it.

To which the post-Boomers say, Go Boomers.