A Chronicle Of The Abortion Hearings (Part II)


A Chronicle Of The Abortion Hearings


March 28, 1974


WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the hall filled on March 7th, the second day of anti-abortion hearings before Sen. Birch Bayh’s sub- committee, a sprinkling of familiar faces appears in the audience. Russell Shaw, Bill Ryan, Bishop James Rausch, Msgr. James McHugh — a whole row of brass from the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC). This is their day in the electronic sun, the day on which four U.S. Cardinals will be filmed and photographed telling Congress to outlaw abortion.

The situation is made to order for the sleazy purposes of Bill Baird, the anti-life propagandist from New York. Baird is on the sidewalk outside the Dirksen Senate Office

Building, with two squirrelly looking females who are parading back and forth with a large sign (apparently a bedsheet). It denounces “religious oppression.” Baird is handing out a press release to anyone who will take it (not many will), claiming that “For the first time in history, the halls of Congress are being in- vaded by direct agents of a foreign power — the Vatican.” Somebody ought to send a copy of this document to the Apostolic Delegate, who would undoubtedly take a keen interest in news of competition from other “direct agents.”

John Cardinal Krol, Archbishop of Philadelphia, is the first of the four Cardinals to speak. As expected, he takes the line that he and his colleagues are present as concerned “citizens” but he gives the expression a twist similar to that used by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. Cardinal Krol rejects the notion that Catholics are somehow uniquely bound by the rules of Church-State separation to keep their mouths shut on public policy issues. “Either we all have the same right to speak out on public policy, or no one does,” the Cardinal says. (The complete text of all the Cardinals’ testimony appears in The Wanderer of March 14th.)


For the most part, the testimony is a very generalized presentation of medical and legal objections to the Supreme Court’s decisions, but something more substantive appears in Cardinal Medeiros’ remarks. He states three “basic and necessary considerations” for the proper drafting of any anti-abortion amendment which the Catholic Conference is likely to approve. These are as follows:

“One, the constitutional amendment should clearly establish that from conception onward, the unborn child is a human person in the terms of the Constitution.

“Two, the Constitution should express a commitment to the preservation of all human life. Therefore, the prohibition against the direct and intentional taking of innocent human life should be universal and without exceptions.

“Three, the right to life is described in the Declaration of Independence as ‘unalienable’ and as a right with which all men are endowed by the Creator. The constitutional amendment should restore the basic protection for this human right to the unborn, just as it is provided to all other persons in the United States.”

These three points are repeated in the written testimony submitted simultaneously by the (USCC) along with the additional provision that the amendment should give the State and Federal governments concurrent powers of enforcement.

At the conclusion of the Cardinals’ prepared remarks, Sen. Bayh makes a pitch for support among pro-life forces. “Some people have criticized the chair- man of the subcommittee for holding these hearings,” he says, “But too many politicians have tried to push this question under the rug…. I am pursuing the truth.”


Sen. Bayh’s first question brings a strong answer from Cardinal Krol. Bayh points out that illegal abortions will go on despite the proposed amendments, but only the rich will be able to get them. What about it?

Krol retorts, “The question is not availability, but rightness. If it is not right, it should not be available to anybody, monied or not monied.” Compare the crime of abortion with that of rape, the Cardinal suggests. Are we going to legalize rape just because present law is often disobeyed?

Sen. Bayh dislikes the comparison. Abortion is the act of a women upon her own body, he says, whereas rape is the act of a second party. Cardinal Krol insists in reply that the fetus is a second party, whose consent is not secured. Moreover, the fate of the abortion victim — death — is worse than that of the rape victim.

After a brief hassle over statistics from Japan (Msgr. McHugh is now sitting with the four Cardinals and scribbling memos to them), Bayh attacks the Cardinals’ definition of conception as synonymous with fertilization. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, he points out, defines conception as “implantation of the blastocyst.” Krol replies that the evidence of the geneticist points to fertilization, while the obstetricians speak of implantation “because that is the point at which an obstetrician can diagnose pregnancy. But life is there already.”

Bayh does not pursue this subject but produces instead a copy of the Bishops’ Ethical Directives for Catholic Health Facilities — a very clear, no-nonsense document adopted by the American Hierarchy in 1971. Bayh cites Section 13, where the Directives speak of “indirect abortion,” and a long exchange ensues between the chairman and Cardinal Medeiros as to the meaning and application of the direct-indirect terminology. The exchange is rather a disappointing one, for although Cardinal Medeiros (and later Cardinal Krol) handles the questions well enough as far as generalities are concerned, one gets the distinct impression that the four prelates have not done much homework. They do not seem to have “boned up” on the details of their moral theology. This reporter, for one, keeps wishing that the USCC had brought along the superb Jesuit moralist Fr. Thomas J. O’Donnell who had a large share in drafting the 1971 Directives and who defended them brilliantly at a press conference in November of that year against all the barbs that a hostile press corps (led by the inimitable Lester Kinsolving) could throw.


Questioning now passes to the senior Senator from Hawaii, Hiram Fong. Of Chinese ex- traction, Sen. Fong lists his religion as Congregational Christian. He probes to find out whether there is dissent within the Catholic Church on the subject of abortion, and gets a rather lame answer from Cardinal Manning. Next he probes to discover whether the Cardinals would settle for “half a loaf” — a States’ rights amendment, for instance — but he finds them undisposed to compromise.

He then raises the question of privacy. “Some women feel their right to privacy would be disturbed. Would you care to comment on that?”

Cardinal Krol’s answer is perfectly on target: “I believe in the right of privacy, but not at the expense of the life of another human being.”

Sen. Cook’s questions deal mainly with the second section of the Buckley amendment (see story and transcript in The Wanderer, March 21st). But Cook also succeeds in drawing out Cardinal Krol on the subject of Gregory Baum. The Kentucky Senator cites an article by Baum in the Nov. 30th, 1973, issue of Commonweal, in which Baum agues that the Church should give up trying to define the beginning of life and should rest her opposition to abortion on other grounds. Krol quotes against this view the words of Vatican II: “Therefore from the moment of its conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care. …”

Krol then accuses Baum of unprofessional behavior (popularizing theological hypotheses before they have been debated in learned circles) and flatly declares, “In this case he is not in line with the official teaching of the Church.”

When Sen. Cook finishes his questions, the chairman returns to the attack. Although on Mar. 6th, he had seemed quite skeptical when Sen. Buckley alleged a connection between abortion and euthanasia, today Bayh introduces the connection himself. “Where do we draw the line on the other end of the age spectrum?” he asks, initiating a lengthy discussion with Cardinal Cody. When that seems to lead nowhere but to loose generalities, Bayh switches to his favorite question of penalties. If abortion is murder, shouldn’t the abortionists get the electric chair?

Cardinal Krol resolutely insists that the civil penalties are up to legislatures, not Cardinals, to decide. When Cardinal Cody ventures the opinion that punishment is not the primary remedy but rather affirmative social action — maternity homes, adoption, etc. — Sen. Bayh is profoundly unimpressed. He cites his own experiences with trying to administer institutional care and suggests that the Country needs less of this sort of thing rather than more. Cardinal Cody replies with a good question: “Isn’t it rather shortsighted to be trying to eliminate one evil (institutionalized care) by creating another (legal abortion)?”


The four Cardinals are finally let go, and one tries to put together a few thoughts on what they have accomplished. Certainly, they have held their ground; their answers to a broad range of questions have been adequate, though general. One is enormously grateful that the delegation has been led by the tough-minded Cardinal Krol rather than by his predecessor Cardinal Dearden. Nevertheless, one comes away with a bad impression. Maybe it is just the sense that there is a long battle ahead and that altogether too little has been resolved in the long hours of testimony that morning. But maybe, too, one feels disappointed because the Cardinals have left a great deal undone. They might have laid to rest the canard that the Catholic Church’s present stand contradicts the abortion views of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. They might have explained how theology relates to the changing conclusions of an empirical science (biology in this case). They might have clarified the theological and philosophical background of the term “person” so vital in the abortion controversy. Instead, the four prelates said only the things which others can say better — and no doubt will say better before these hearings are concluded.

The next installment will treat the testimonies of the pro-abortion panel: Bishop A. James Armstrong (Methodist); Prof. Barbara

McNeal (Colgate-Rochester School of Theology); Mrs. Jane Stitt (Presbyterian Task Force to Study Abortion); Rabbi Balfour Brickner (Union of American Hebrew Congregations); and the non- Catholic anti-abortion panel, Rabbi J. David Bleich (Rabbinical Council of America); Mr. David Lawrence McKay (Mormons); Mrs. Jean Garton (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod); and the Rev. Robert Holbrook (Baptists for Life).

Two more pro-abortion speakers followed the pro- and anti-abortion panels: William Thompson (stated Clerk of the United Presbyterian Church) and Dr. Robert V. Moss (president of the United Church of Christ). Dr. Moss’ testimony was read for him in his absence by two other officials of the church.

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