Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors


Cardinal Egan and Partial Birth Abortion

posted by Brad Hirschfield

New York’s Cardinal, Edward M. Egan, criticized Fordham University for honoring Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer with the Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize. Why? Apparently because they were pressured to do so by the Cardinal Newman Society, which sponsored a petition inveighing against honoring the jurist who wrote the decision overturning the ban on partial birth abortions.
Why should that issue be the only determining factor in the appropriateness of honoring Breyer? We need to stop litmus testing each other over single issues. It never helps and in the case of the Cardinal Newman Society, it’s making them less than honest about their mission. Despite claiming to be about Catholic identity, their own President, Patrick J. Reilly declared that their “only issue is life, the right to life”. Well which is it? Identity or pro-life activism? Why does their website market them in one way, but their leader speak in another?
Why should an organization that is “dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America’s 224 Catholic colleges and universities” limit its definition of a strong Catholic identity to maintaining fidelity to a single Catholic teaching? Does it really make sense to reduce a two thousand year old story to a single doctrine? Does that make sense for any tradition or community?
I admit that as a Jew, even a traditional Jew, my tradition accords me greater latitude on the issue of abortion.


In fact, Maimonides describes what we call partial birth abortion as being acceptable if the mother’s life is in immediate danger. Interestingly, it was the absence of this kind of proviso which gave Breyer cause to declare the ban unconstitutional.
It does suggest that “all or nothing” may not be the best way to go on this issue. In the name of reducing the overall number of abortions, we end up creating realities in which it is legal to perform more of them. But I appreciate that followers of other faiths may have no other alternative in light of their beliefs.
Maybe Fordahm should honor Justice Breyer and maybe not. That’s for them to decide. But whatever one’s view of this or any other issue, and however important the issue may be, the traditions we love always have more than one view and always have more than one way of honoring them.
When we lose site of that and single issue litmus testing becomes the mark of faith, we all lose the best of what each of our traditions teach and lose the richness that has allowed them to thrive for thousands of years. I wonder how the folks at the Cardinal Newman Society, or any of the Jewish, Muslim, etc. organizations that take the same approach to being a good Christian, Muslim or Jew, think that will strengthen anyone’s identity.



  • NYJ

    All religions have doctrines that, at times, seem to superscede common sense. How is it that a Jewish family can declare a loved one dead simply for falling in love with a non-jew? Does that make sense for any tradition or community, to expel an adherent based on one single issue?

  • Tom

    If one considers abortion as murder, then it shouldn’t come as a shock that some consider that a deal-breaker, as Pastor Warren stated. The health exception clause proposed in the partial-birth abortion ban can be contorted to mean anything (ie financial issues leading to stress threatening the physical/psychological health of the mother, thus endangering her life, and other such nonsense.) Even if it had merit, then one should weigh in the amount of lives taken violently by partial-birth abortion VS the number of lives being infringed upon by the lack of a health exception clause. Sadly, this isn’t even close.
    ‘Why should an organization that is “dedicated to renewing and strengthening Catholic identity at America’s 224 Catholic colleges and universities” limit its definition of a strong Catholic identity to maintaining fidelity to a single Catholic teaching? Does it really make sense to reduce a two thousand year old story to a single doctrine? Does that make sense for any tradition or community?’
    It makes absolutely PERFECT sense, Rabbi Hirschfield, to stress the importance of the right to life if faculty of a religious institution overlook an issue so fundamental as the right to life, though the Cardinal Newman Society NEVER gave its definition of a strong Catholic identity nor did it attempt to reduce a two thousand year old story to a single doctrine, as there are many other on-campus issues they address at many so-called ‘Catholic’ institutions.
    If we are a sane and civilized society, then shouldn’t the question be why we tolerate partial-birth abortion at all? (for those unfamiliar with the procedure: http://www.nrlc.org/ABORTION/pba/PBA_Images/PBA_Images_Heathers_Place.htm)
    Isn’t this issue serious enough?!? If someone were responsible for millions of deaths (aka Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Sadam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, etc), would that not be grounds to disqualify them from receiving a reward, even though it’s a ‘single issue’?

  • ds0490

    We also need to be careful at preaching ultra-morality on one hand while condoning immorality on another. For example, Cardinal Egan is strongly suspected of helping to cover up child abuse by priests under his supervision.
    “The House took up the bill on the same day that the Rev. Paul Shanley, formerly assigned to the Archdiocese of Boston, was arrested in San Diego on charges that he repeatedly raped a young boy during the 1980s. The House action also follows reports that New York Cardinal Edward M. Egan, while serving as bishop of the Bridgeport diocese, failed to alert police or child protection authorities to allegations of abuse by priests.”
    http://www.snapnetwork.org/legislation/CONN_backs_stricterpenalties.htm

  • Tom

    Sorry, the parenthesis at the end rendered the first link unusable.
    http://www.nrlc.org/ABORTION/pba/PBA_Images/PBA_Images_Heathers_Place.htm
    I agree it looks rather suspicious for Cardinal Egan, and wouldn’t be too disappointed if he didn’t receive an award at Fordham (even though he probably won’t anyway.) Maybe he shouldn’t be Cardinal in lue of this; however this doesn’t mean that Justice Breyer should be canonized!

  • CRShelton

    Tom said : “It makes absolutely PERFECT sense, Rabbi Hirschfield, to stress the importance of the right to life if faculty of a religious institution overlook an issue so fundamental as the right to life, though the Cardinal Newman Society NEVER gave its definition of a strong Catholic identity nor did it attempt to reduce a two thousand year old story to a single doctrine, as there are many other on-campus issues they address at many so-called ‘Catholic’ institutions.”
    The Article said : “Despite claiming to be about Catholic identity, their own President, Patrick J. Reilly declared that their “only issue is life, the right to life”
    So Tom, you either didn’t read the article, or didn’t get it. One of the author’s complaints is that the group is obviously a multi-issue group, but when they feel it’s strong to say so, they claim to be one-issue. That’s deceptive and manipulative, and in trying to defend them from their own words, you have done nothing but confirm the contradiction between what Reilly says and what the truth is.
    There is nothing wrong with stressing the right to life and making it a top priority if you feel strongly about it. There is something with isolating one idea, insisting that the world be viewed through a single lens, and ignoring all other issues. There is something wrong with prioritizing one life over another (unborn child vs. mother) before knowing the circumstances. Also, there is a big problem if you think abortion is the only “right to life” issue in the world.
    If you were really “pro-life” instead of simply “anti-abortion”, you would see that hunger, health care, hate-crime, capital punishment, and even gay marriage bans are all “right to life” issues. The Catholics in particular, and much of the “pro-life” base, are quite culpable in many of these matters. To focus only on the actions of other people is a symptom of cowardice.
    Why are Catholics constantly working to change other people, or to stop other people from doing things? There are real actions that they could be taking, but instead they just sit around and blame everyone else for the troubles they see in the world.

  • Tom

    ‘There is something wrong with prioritizing one life over another (unborn child vs. mother) before knowing the circumstances.’
    We in the pro-life movement contend that if it is bad for one, then it is almost always detrimental to the other. That is why more post-abortive women are diagnosed with psychiatric/physical ailments, end up substance abusers, go on financial assistance than those mothers who carry their babies to term. I have donated time and money to the poor, and we do provide counseling services, financial assistance, etc. to pregnant mothers in need of these services.
    ‘Why are Catholics constantly working to change other people, or to stop other people from doing things?’
    Catholics and others work to change people from dismembering and vacuuming body parts from the mother’s womb and jabbing blunt instruments into the back of fetal skulls simply because it is WRONG!!
    This is a rather simple concept to understand.

  • Scott R.

    I think you need to go back over the article to see that there are certain extreme circumstances where a late-term abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. It’s horrible and it’s tragic, but the life of the mother must ALWAYS come first
    The rabbi made the point that Judaism will allow an abortion in this circumstance, and chances are Justice Breyer (who is Jewish) had this in mind when he struck down that provision.

  • CRShelton

    “That is why more post-abortive women are diagnosed with psychiatric/physical ailments, end up substance abusers, go on financial assistance than those mothers who carry their babies to term.”
    You didn’t tell me why. You just told me that you believe it. You need to back up this claim somehow, and in some way that clearly shows that those things were the direct result of the abortion.
    I still believe what I said before : ‘There is something wrong with prioritizing one life over another before knowing the circumstances.’ Each case is different and decisions need to be made by individuals who are actually present, not by an outside community who have nothing to do with the individual in question, and can’t even agree amongst themselves.
    In any case, you still fail to address the issue in the article, which is that to judge the whole world based on one issue is wrong and unproductive, no matter what issue that is. Even if you believe that “Right to life” is the only important issue, you need to recognize that “life” is a much bigger thing than just the abortion issue.
    I asked : “‘Why are Catholics constantly working to change other people, or to stop other people from doing things?'”
    Your answer was: “Catholics and others work to change people from dismembering and vacuuming body parts from the mother’s womb and jabbing blunt instruments into the back of fetal skulls simply because it is WRONG!!
    This is a rather simple concept to understand.”
    That doesn’t really cut it. It is, indeed, simple. Too simple. I’m asking why you spend so much time fixing the ‘wrong’ things that you see other people doing, instead of the atrocities that are happening within your own church and your own life, where you might actually have a chance to change something.

  • Tom

    I personally know women who are post-abortive and have heard the testimonies of several others who have suffered emotionally and psychologically from the aftereffects of abortion. There’s a ministry (Rachel’s Vineyard) devoted entirely to helping post-abortive women deal with their grief and live meaningful lives overcoming the aftereffects of abortion.
    Plenty of source material at http://www.afterabortion.org/news/index.htm
    ‘Each case is different and decisions need to be made by individuals who are actually present, not by an outside community who have nothing to do with the individual in question, and can’t even agree amongst themselves.’
    Sounds rather good on paper; however, the majority of partial-birth abortions performed aren’t a result of maternal mortality being a factor. Goes back to my original post on weighing the odds on who’s fundamental rights to life are being violated.
    ‘In any case, you still fail to address the issue in the article, which is that to judge the whole world based on one issue is wrong and unproductive, no matter what issue that is.’
    I’m not stating that the whole world should be judged on one issue; it is a fundamental issue, however, which all other issues are built upon. A child dismembered, de-brained, or bludgeoned to death as a result of induced-labor contractions and thrown away in the garbage isn’t going to reep the benefits of a stout health-care plan, lower taxes, robust economy, affordable housing, or anything of the like.
    ‘I’m asking why you spend so much time fixing the ‘wrong’ things that you see other people doing, instead of the atrocities that are happening within your own church and your own life, where you might actually have a chance to change something.’
    I’m a simple layman in my church; I can voice my displeasure with certain courses of action, but I’m not vested with any power or authority to make changes from the inside out. I admit being displeased with those in authority who re-located pedophyles not being brought to justice or even losing their positions. I believe the church is making strides in the right direction, though. They have counceling sessions with victims and their families, more stringent requirements and psychological screening for seminarians looking to enter the priesthood, safety courses for laymen and women in a position to abuse vulnerable people, and fewer reported incidences of abuse.
    Personally, I was a former IV drug user who’s been clean for several years now and making every effort to maintain being a productive member of society.
    P.S. slowly but surely, we are changing things for the better in the pro-life movement as fewer and fewer women are having abortions. That could change, though, with the so-called ‘Freedom of Choice’ Act and all the restrictions on abortion it would nullify(state bans on partial-birth abortion, restricting state and federal funding, parental consent laws, informed consent laws).

  • Tom

    Thank you, Scott, for your insight. I wish this was true, that partial-birth abortions were performed only when the mother’s life was in jeopardy, nor did I know Justice Breyer was Jewish and that may have had an impact on his decision. However, these circumstances are few and far between and the ‘escape clause’ is being used haphazardly.
    Kind Regards

  • CRShelton

    “I personally know women who are post-abortive and have heard the testimonies of several others who have suffered emotionally and psychologically from the aftereffects of abortion.”
    Great, I personally know a 17 year old girl who felt naturally inclined to explore her sexuality but didn’t have the proper education because her father believed abstinence only and would remove her from school on the sex-ed days. Despite arguing with him for 9 months, her father would not let her abort, and now she will not be attending Yale this fall. Instead she is working in a coffee shop to support herself and her new baby and her future as a brilliant musician is over.
    We all have stories. It’s all anecdotal evidence, and it doesn’t mean anything.
    I said: “‘Each case is different and decisions need to be made by individuals who are actually present, not by an outside community who have nothing to do with the individual in question, and can’t even agree amongst themselves.’
    Tom said: Sounds rather good on paper; however, the majority of partial-birth abortions performed aren’t a result of maternal mortality being a factor. Goes back to my original post on weighing the odds on who’s fundamental rights to life are being violated.”
    It does sound good, doesn’t it? Maybe because it’s common sense. What you are saying may be true as well, but it doesn’t justify an absolute ban.
    I said: “I’m asking why you spend so much time fixing the ‘wrong’ things that you see other people doing, instead of the atrocities that are happening within your own church and your own life, where you might actually have a chance to change something.”
    Tom said: “I’m a simple layman in my church; I can voice my displeasure with certain courses of action, but I’m not vested with any power or authority to make changes from the inside out.”
    That’s ridiculous. You say that you focus on changing other people because nobody has given you permission to change yourself? I’m not asking Catholics to change the church, I’m asking them to change themselves and change each other. If you are going to plead impotence in that matter, then you have no right forcing your empty, black and white, fear-filled world view on others.

  • Tom

    ‘I’m not asking Catholics to change the church, I’m asking them to change themselves and change each other. If you are going to plead impotence in that matter, then you have no right forcing your empty, black and white, fear-filled world view on others.’
    You have the right to your own opinion; however you should think outside the box and contemplate that my post could have been for those more openminded to differing opinion than you. I’m sorry about your hangups, but God is changing myself and those around me whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.
    Jesus Loves You!!

  • CRShelton

    “You have the right to your own opinion; however you should think outside the box and contemplate that my post could have been for those more openminded to differing opinion than you. I’m sorry about your hangups, but God is changing myself and those around me whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.
    Jesus Loves You!!”
    You don’t understand what I’m about. You say that I have the right to my opinion, but pregnant women don’t have a right to their’s? You should certainly be able to see that allowing people to make a choice even if it conflicts with your personal moral viewpoint is open-minded, not closed-minded.
    I’m not sure what hangups you are referring to, but you don’t have to apologize to me. I will help myself overcome my own ‘hangups’ while you sit around and wait for God to do it for you. Jesus may have loved me, but he’s dead now and I can love myself.

  • bill

    Our dear Rabbi has a moral blind spot. Once any member of the human race,made in the image and likeness of God, is considered “expendable” for political,social,economic,eugenic reasons or convenience(the cope out of our age),then think holocaust! The sin of the times is the reification of human beings. St Thomas Aquinas? No!! Martin Buber.As an aside, what about a little consideration of the responsibility involved in having sex. Complaining about an “unwanted” pregnancy is like bemoaning a beer gut on a regime of a six pack a day.You play, you pay.

  • Robert

    “Once any member of the human race,made in the image and likeness of God, is considered “expendable” for political,social,economic,eugenic reasons or convenience(the cope out of our age),then think holocaust!”
    That is precisely what happens to many of the old, the poor, the troops sent to Iraq without armor, and myriad humans in other situations. And while the good rabbi can speak for himself, I think that you are saying precisely what Judaism teaches, except that birth is a blessing, not a punishment.

  • Patrick Reilly – Cardinal Newman Society

    Rabbi Hirschfield, unfortunately what was quoted from me in the NY Times is not accurate. The Cardinal Newman Society is concerned about Catholic identity and the whole of Catholic teaching. Where Catholic colleges repeatedly fail to uphold their mission usually involves issues like abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc. They generally do a good job of promoting community service and social justice. So we are simply trying to address the failures, and honoring a justice who finds a “right to choose” to slaughter a partially-born baby is simply inappropriate for a Catholic institution.

  • baruch

    “In fact, Maimonides describes what we call partial birth abortion as being acceptable if the mother’s life is in immediate danger.” Where does the Rambam state that partial birth abortion is permitted? How can a fetus that has exited the birth canal to the point where its head is accessible still present a threat to the life of its mother?

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