Abortion is the greatest human rights issue, says U.S. bishops’ official

CHARLESTON — Cathy Cleaver vigorously challenges the notion that abortion is good for women. In fact, she uses statistics provided by abortion advocates to make her pro-life case.

“The vast majority of women who ‘choose’ abortion do so because they believed they had no other choice,” she said.

The director of planning and information for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities sees the 30 years of legal abortion in the United States and the more than 40 million abortions since 1973 not as a measure of our society’s success in meeting the needs of women, but of its failure.

In a talk sponsored by the Catholic Campus Ministry at the College of Charleston recently, Cleaver described the legalization of abortion as “a 30-year blind social experiment on the lives of women and children.”

“Abortion is the greatest human rights issue of our day,” she said. “We know very little about the effects of abortion on the lives of women. We don’t know how many babies have died because there is no systematic reporting on abortion.”

She cites statistics from The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a not-for-profit corporation for reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education, which she says is affiliated with Planned Parenthood. She said society has done a disservice to women because the reasons women most often use for their abortions are a lack of financial resources and emotional support.

“The reasons why women have abortions have practical solutions,” she said. “We’ve lied to women for 30 years. We’ve turned our backs on them …. We can do better than this.”

In her talk to a rapt audience of approximately 35, Cleaver described how Roe vs. Wade was legalized, discussed abortion law, how abortion is legally supported and the various abortion techniques.

“Abortion as a medical and surgical procedure has been set apart,” she said. “You get the sense when you read the case (Roe vs. Wade) Supreme Court Justice (Harry) Blackmun knew what he was about. He had to take something that was regarded with scorn for centuries until that point and make it acceptable as the highest law of the land. He dismissed the Hippocratic oath and disregarded any historical context.”

Cleaver said that since abortion is legally regarded as a personal or religious belief, a child could be described as less than a person.

“We can’t call it a child; otherwise, it would have all the rights of a person,” she said.

The law also set up the trimester framework.

“Most people in the United States don’t know that Doe vs. Bolton was issued the same day as Roe vs. Wade. It states that if an abortion is sought for health reasons, no limits can be placed on an abortion. Health reasons include physical, psychological, emotional and the patient’s age. This is still in effect.

“There’s not a single abortion that can be stopped today by law,” Cleaver said. “We can only delay it. We have the most radical abortion law in the entire world except for China.”

The most frequent argument, abortion supporters use for its legality are rape, incest, the health of the mother, according to Cleaver. Using Guttmacher Institute research, she said that fewer than 10 percent of abortions are for those reasons and rape and incest were only one percent of that.

“Approximately half of all abortions are second abortions,” she said.

Technology has also silenced the argument that a fetus is just a clump of cells, she said.

Cleaver is a convert to Catholicism, and it was her view of life that led her to the faith. The Florida native, who always believed in the sanctity of life, is a graduate of Georgetown Law School.

“Georgetown was a hostile environment to pro-life views,” she said. “I found myself defending it. I realized the Catholic Church spoke beautifully about it, and I looked into it.”

Cleaver has also had an interesting career. She worked in litigation, for a law firm that concentrated on anti-pornography issues in the mid ’90s and began public speaking and public debate. From there she went to work for a public policy group then on to Capitol Hill. She was also on the council of the impeachment proceedings for President Bill Clinton.

She said she is most happy in her work at the Pro-Life Secretariat.

Though Cleaver said the legality of abortion is not likely to change anytime soon, she believes post-abortion healing is the key to unlocking America’s grip.

“Abortion is part of the fabric of our society,” she said. “It touches us all. Society places women in an entrenched position to defend what they’ve done. Forgiveness brings with it the possibility of hope.”

She said that the Catholic Church has provided hope through Project Rachel for more than 20 years. But she urges people, particularly women, to speak out about their beliefs.

“Our silence doesn’t interpret itself,” she said. “It can be interpreted as we support it or don’t understand a women’s pain.”

Last year, the Guttmacher Institute reported sharp decline in the abortion rate in the last half of the 1990s. The rate fell 11 percent, from 24 abortions per 1,000 women in 1994, to 21 abortions per 1,000 women in 2000.

“Our culture is turning away from abortion,” Cleaver said. “More people are calling themselves pro-life. It’s becoming more acceptable. Fewer and fewer physicians want anything to do with abortion.”

In her travels and talks throughout the country, Cleaver hopes to dispel as many myths as she can.

“The financial needs of these women having abortions can be provided for, she said. “Adoption does need to become more accessible. There is no such thing as an unwanted child.”

Both Father Jeffrey A. Kendall, diocesan director of campus ministry, and Notre Dame Sister Rita Schroeder, assistant director, thanked Cleaver for speaking at the college. Sister Schroeder said it was obvious Cleaver was passionate about her subject.

“Whenever students ask me how you know if you are doing God’s work I say, ‘Do you find joy and peace in what you do? If you do, you are probably doing what God has chosen for you,'” she said. “It’s obvious that Cathy is doing just that.”