10 Dec

The Bishops’ “Dixi”-Land Ban: Abortion and the Catholic Church

A voice of sanity.

By Lon Newman, President of Wisconsin Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association


The belief that contraception is intrinsically evil, though sincere, does not make it true. The belief that it is “written in everyone’s heart as ‘natural law‘” is no more persuasive. If true, it seems there would be no disagreement.

Catholic leaders know they have not persuaded one another, the public, or their own laity, to agree that contraception is evil. So when it comes to public policy, rather than engage in dialogue and debate, they seem to make a statement and end it with a “Dixi” (Latin for “I have spoken”) as though that is all that should be necessary.

For those who accept the authority of the Catholic hierarchy, that is enough. But in the democratic process of establishing public policies that are respectful of Catholics and non-Catholics, it is unresponsive and insufficient.

Nonetheless, reproductive rights advocates have recently witnessed ultimatum upon ultimatum.

Contraceptive benefits? This College will close!

Gay discrimination prohibited? No more poverty programs!

Emergency contraception required? Emergency rooms to close!

Pharmacists required to fill prescriptions? They’ll be forced to quit!

Health insurance reform with abortion coverage? No health care reform!

This kind of tactic is often inaccurately called “blackmail,” but a better description would be “tantrum.” Infants and toddlers who, frustrated in their efforts to control the environment or their parents, sometimes act out emotionally, physically, and inappropriately. Adults try to ignore this behavior and toddlers outgrow it. “But,” advises us; “do not reward your child after a tantrum by giving in. This will only prove to your little one that the tantrum was effective.”

The message that we must persuade our elected officials and policy makers to learn is that good policy-making must be based on evidence, science, justice and reason and that means a civil discussion with an informed and engaged audience is key. We may not always be able to ignore childish political tantrums, but we must never accommodate and encourage them.

For this reason, Young Catholics for Choice (YCFC) and Family Planning Health Services (FPHS) will collaborate and launch a Wisconsin-based advertising and media campaign to promote information about emergency contraception (EC).

In terms of public discussion, misinformation and distortion about emergency contraception has confused the public, policy makers, and especially Catholic parishioners. Most people have an incomplete and inaccurate understanding of EC. Until that changes, for women who need EC, neither the health care principle of ‘informed consent‘ nor the religious principle of ‘informed conscience‘ will have real meaning. The purpose of the campaign is to replace misunderstanding with evidence and knowledge so individuals, including people of every faith, can make decisions about emergency contraception with a more fully informed conscience.

Each of the four cities where the informational ads will run has a distinct example of the need for a more informed public.

  • In Eau Claire, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner reported to us that an area Catholic hospital is violating the intent of state law because it refuses to offer EC to rape victims unless the victim submits to time-consuming, expensive, and unnecessary testing.
  • In Milwaukee, the new archbishop has declared his opposition to Wisconsin’s “Compassionate Care for Rape Victims” law based on a medically-unsupported belief that the most common form of EC (Plan B ™) “causes abortions.”
  • In Green Bay, two television stations refused to run the ads we produced with Young Catholics for Choice earlier than 9:00 p.m. because they were “too controversial.”
  • In Wausau, local priests routinely pray the rosary in front of our family planning clinic (which does not provide abortions or medical referrals for abortion) with signs that say “Stop Chemical Abortion” and “Family Planners Promote Child Promiscuity.”

Our collaborative informational advertising about emergency contraception will begin this week and bring together secular and sectarian voices to inform our citizens. There will be radio and television ads throughout Wisconsin (and on the web) to encourage women of reproductive age to go to to learn more about EC and to have Plan B™ on hand before they need it.

Speaking about political engagement and the Catholic Church, the new Archbishop of Milwaukee stated: “If we don’t challenge one another’s statements, then we’re relinquishing our responsibility to the common good.” Our emergency contraception information campaign will meet that responsibility with sectarian and secular voices.

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