Time Bureau Chief to Catholic Church: Just Give Up on Abortion

Time's Tim Padgett regurgitated just about every liberal talking point on abortion in an online column on Thursday which tried to claim that the Catholic Church's pro-life efforts in the U.S. were pointless and out of step with the laity: "Aren't they just wasting our time as well as their own?" Padgett cherry-picked from Church documents and quoted from the infamous pro-abortion front group Catholics for Choice.

The Miami and Latin America bureau chief for the struggling magazine began his article, "Why Radical Pro-Lifers Are Wasting Their Time: Most American Catholics support abortion rights," by all but gloating over the rejection in Mississippi of a proposed personhood amendment: "Now that voters in Mississippi have rejected the so-called personhood agenda — the radical anti-abortion effort to make the moment of conception the legal beginning of human life — the movement says it plans to take its referendum to a number of other states in 2012."

Padgett continued by introducing his argument that most Catholics in the U.S. are apparently pro-"abortion rights," using the liberal bastion of Rhode Island and its large population of self-identifying Catholics as his example:

...[W]hat I’d really like to know is why the Colorado-based Personhood USA isn’t going to Rhode Island. Small though it may be, Rhode Island’s population is 63% Catholic, the highest share of any state. A pro-life plebiscite victory there should be a slam dunk, right?

Wrong. A 2005 poll showed that Rhode Island is also, coincidentally, 63% pro-choice — a near impossibility if its Catholic residents are as doctrinally opposed to abortion rights as the bishops assure us every Catholic must be. And lest you dismiss Rhode Island Catholics as a liberal fringe, a Pew Research Center survey this year found that a majority of all U.S. Catholics, 52%, think abortion should be kept legal.

Of course, like any of the various authors who try to push this contention, the Time writer doesn't break his statistic down into whether these "Catholics" are attend Mass every Sunday or, like many liberals, only attend church on occasion. Also, a 2010 Marist poll found that "66% of Catholics Millenials [18-29 year olds] say abortion is morally wrong," a development that dovetails nicely with the growth of Catholic religious orders that make a point to be faithful to the Church. Unsurprisingly, Padgett doesn't pay any attention to this.

Later in the column, the Time bureau chief touted many of the endlessly repeated talking points of pro-abortion Catholics-in-name-only, all the while misrepresenting Church teaching:

The bishops[']...crusade to demonize abortion rights and any politician who defends them has backfired, because it has forced Catholics to engage the matter all the more deeply. And most Catholics do so not via hierarchical regimentation but via human reason, as our faith tells us to....We embrace our church's protection-of-human-life impulse; but I think most Catholics have rationally concluded that no matter how we feel about abortion personally or spiritually, we cannot in good conscience call abortion in the early stage of pregnancy — when more than 90% of all abortions occur in the U.S. — murder in a legal sense.

That's hardly a new Catholic concept. As far back as the Middle Ages, the sainted theologian Thomas Aquinas recognized that a first-trimester fetus wasn't yet a sentient human being but rather a potential human being — a vegetative organism lacking "ensoulment." It wasn't until the Popes felt their power threatened by the Enlightenment that they started to assert a blanket ban on abortion, co-opting new scientific instruments like the microscope to claim even the youngest fetus as a "homunculus," or miniature human being.

But while the Catholic bishops have to toe the Vatican line, the Catholic laity doesn't. Most of us have long since discarded Rome's primitive homunculus model in favor of more modern and reliable science demonstrating that until a fetus develops a central nervous system and cerebral cortex – after the first trimester – it cannot be regarded as a sentient being let alone a human being....

There is social as well as scientific awareness involved, says Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics For Choice in Washington, D.C. "Catholics tend to side with the underdog...and many of us feel that even if we wouldn’t make that decision [abortion] for ourselves, we don't want to see a woman who does feel she has to make it victimized by not having legal access to it.” He also notes that ever since Rome's senseless refusal in 1968 to condone birth control, most Catholics have resolved to "make our own decisions about the pelvic zone."

...[N]ot even the Catholic hierarchy can definitively agree on when human ensoulment occurs: In its 1974 "Declaration on Procured Abortion from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," the Vatican simply said it was best not to “take the risk of killing a human person."...

Where to begin? About a thousand years before St. Thomas Aquinas, the early Christians definitively condemned abortion in a teaching called the Didache. So even if Padgett wants to turn to Aquinas to somehow defend abortion (something that the Angelic Doctor himself didn't do), he can't then honestly argue that "it wasn't until the Popes felt their power threatened by the Enlightenment that they started to assert a blanket ban on abortion."


The writer's claim about "Rome's primitive homunculus model" and the "more modern and reliable science demonstrating that until a fetus develops a central nervous system and cerebral cortex...it cannot be regarded as...a human being" is chock full of spin. If he's going to take the Catholic Church to task for supposedly out of line with "modern and reliable science," then he's going to have to do the same with the Discovery Channel, which recently promoted an hour-long documentary on pregnancy with an online quiz which stated that "the genetic point of view says that life begins exactly when fertilization occurs...Any sooner means these cells still are part of the parents. According to this point of view, after fertilization, the cells already have coordinated their behavior as a unique new organism." So science is on Rome's side after all!

Padgett's citation of the 1974 document is just plain dishonest. None other than the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 2270, makes it plainly clear that "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life." This paragraph not only references a 1987 CDF document, but also Scripture itself, the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

Just over a year ago, in a July 2010 article for Time, the writer compared Catholic bishops to "white Southern preachers [who] weren't ashamed to degrade African-Americans," labeled the Church "misogynous," and accused the institution of an "increasingly spiteful bigotry" against homosexuals

All in all, what the liberal Time bureau chief is trying to justify in his indefensible pro-abortion view, placing his apparent Catholicism behind his left-leaning political ideology, something that far too many American Catholics also do.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center