Bishops Manufacturing Abortion Controversy To Keep Parishioners Engaged

The Catholic Church is engaged in an all-out grassroots effort to defeat the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which Obama promised to pass as soon as he took office. Problem is, there's no such bill.

In fact, as Time's Amy Sullivan points out, there has been such a bill — in the past.

A Freedom of Choice Act was first introduced in the 108th and 110th Congresses (from '03 to '05 and '07 to '09, respectively), by Rep. Jerold Nadler, a New York Democrat. It was developed at a time when the future of Roe was in doubt because it was unclear if George W. Bush would have the opportunity to appoint another justice to the Supreme Court. But FOCA had a hard time gaining traction - even under Democratic control of Congress, the bill was not only never voted on but never made it out of committee. And now abortion rights advocates are breathing easier with Obama in the White House - so much so that when a coalition of 63 organizations sent the Administration its top 15 priorities for reproductive rights and health, FOCA did not even make the list.

Whoops! Not that a little fact like something's lack of existence has stopped the Catholics!

In a unanimous decision [in November], the [U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] voted "to mobilize the resources of the USCCB, dioceses and the entire Catholic community" to oppose the Freedom of Choice Act.

A chain e-mail of unknown origin soon began making its way into Catholic inboxes, warning of an imminent threat to the anti-abortion cause. "For those of you who do not know," it read, "the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) is set to be signed if Congress passes it on January 21-22 of 2009. The FOCA is the next sick chapter in the book of abortion." The e-mail urged Catholics to say a novena - a devotion of dedicated prayer for nine successive days - beginning on January 11 and ending on Inauguration Day.

Basically, a bunch of Catholic lobbyists and organizers and unwitting chain e-mail forwarders started getting everyone all excited about a bill that didn't yet exist that Barack Obama was supposedly going to sign as soon as he took office. But why do that? Why cry wolf and mislead parishioners?

Still, FOCA is proving to be the perfect political issue for anti-abortion advocates - and for congressional Republicans, who have taken up the cry as well. Unless and until FOCA is voted on by Congress, they can invoke it as a looming threat. And the longer it remains a dormant issue, the more credit they can take for their own "proactive" efforts to "defeat FOCA," as a letter from House Republicans to Cardinal Rigali on Tuesday put it.

For money. Anti-abortion campaigns make money, and convince big money donors to cough up even in times of economic crisis when they won't, say, give more money to a homeless shelter or a food bank.

This story comes just as the news that Pope Benedict received pro-choice House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband at the Vatican this week to lecture her about her politics. Several American bishops have called for her excommunication because of her pro-choice positions and, last year, the Pope warned that politicians like her could be courting damnation by supporting pro-choice policies. We may want to sit back and hope that the Catholic Church becomes the boy that cried "Wolf!" over FOCA, so that their folks are less apt to get organized when there is a serious fight.

The Catholic Crusade Against a Mythical Abortion Bill [Time]
Visiting Pope, Pelosi Hears a Call to Protect Life [New York Times]

Earlier: The Vatican: Vote Against Abortion Or Be Damned