March 5, 1995 in Nation/World

Abortion Foes Fear Gop Contract’s Welfare Cuts Mean More Abortions They Say It’s Wrong To Demand Babies, Then Refuse Help To Poor Mothers

Peter Steinfels New York Times

Cardinal John O’Connor of New York said this week that the legislation cutting back welfare proposed in the Republican Party’s Contract With America was “immoral in its virtually inevitable consequences.”

The strongly worded statement by the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York drew attention to the fears of many abortion opponents that the political party that has been their standard-bearer is now championing a measure that could result in tens or even hundreds of thousands of additional abortions.

In a column that appeared in Thursday’s issue of Catholic New York, the archdiocesan weekly paper, O’Connor cited the case of Rep. Jim Bunn of Oregon. Bunn, a strong opponent of abortion, is one of the Republicans swept into Congress last November on the conservative tide.

But precisely because of his anti-abortion convictions, Bunn has refused to sign the Republican contract.

It is an awkward position for a freshman Republican, Bunn says, but he just cannot approve the welfare cuts that the contract proposes and that the House Ways and Means Committee is now debating.

“As a pro-life member of Congress,” Bunn said at a press conference last month, “I thought it was quite inconsistent to tell someone with a crisis pregnancy to have her babies but refuse to help her.”

Bunn, along with other Republican dissenters, like Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, is currently sending a “Dear Colleague” letter to other House members maintaining that proposed reductions in federal welfare assistance are “likely to produce dire consequences for innocent unborn children.”

Other declared opponents of abortion disagree with this position. The Christian Coalition, for example, continues to lobby actively for the contract. Ralph Reed, the coalition’s executive director, says the main goal of welfare cuts is to stop subsidizing “the culture of illegitimacy and dependency.”

Once unwanted pregnancies and single parenthood are no longer perceived as the government’s responsibility, the theory goes, Americans will voluntarily support a vast network of church and private efforts to help women in need.

Southern Baptist Convention leaders who have challenged the nomination of Dr. Henry W. Foster Jr. for surgeon general of the Public Health Service because he has performed abortions are not taking a position on welfare reductions. But they surmise that even stiff measures could quite likely reduce rather than increase abortions, at least in the long run.

O’Connor agreed that there were “some fine ideas” in the contract, but said that the welfare proposal “isn’t one of them.”

Richard Land, executive director of the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, does not deny the basis of the cardinal’s fears. “We do not want to see women aborting their babies because they see it is not economically viable to have those babies,” Land said in a telephone interview.

But Land views the current welfare system as so destructive of marriage and the discipline essential to well-being in a free-market society that he is urging a thorough overhaul of the system without taking a position for or against the proposed cuts.

“There are two competing evils here,” he said. “We’re going to resist being boxed into a corner where we have to choose one over the other. We are going to do our best to have our cake and eat it too.”

The division over abortion and welfare is only partly a matter of different Christian traditions. Land pointed out that although Roman Catholic bishops had also called for changing the welfare system, their judgments about “how evil it is” were mixed.

But Protestant leaders in the National Right to Life Committee have vocally opposed the proposed welfare reductions, while some Catholic leaders close to the Republican Party have either kept silent or, like the Rev. Robert A. Sirico, a leader in the growing school of Catholic freemarket theorists, strongly backed them.

“I would go further than the contract,” said Sirico, who is president of the Acton Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich., and devoted to making a moral case for the market economy.

The likelihood of more abortions as an outgrowth of welfare reductions is not clear, he said, noting that the number of abortions had dropped in some states after welfare benefits were cut.

O’Connor, in his column, also discusses thinkers who admit that welfare cuts will probably increase abortions in the short term but insist that eventually those reductions will change sexual behavior and yield fewer abortions. He said he was “unaware of any hard evidence” supporting their analyses.

And in a sentence reflecting the anguish this issue is stirring in the anti-abortion ranks, he asks whether even a long-term benefit can offset “a programmed ‘short-term’ increase in abortions, if we believe that every abortion destroys a human life?”

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