A Modest Proposal to Catholic Conservatives: Fight Poverty

An open letter to conservative Catholic philanthropist Timothy Busch:

Dear Mr. Busch,

As a fellow practicing Catholic, I was riveted by a recent account in the Washington Post about your hosting other well-heeled Catholic conservatives at $1,250-per-person conference on faith and politics at Donald Trump’s hotel in our nation’s capital.

According to published reports, you are a lawyer and successful businessman from California who has made his fortune catering to wealthy travelers who patronize your high-end hotels and resorts.You also are a co-founder of the Napa Institute, which appears to host an annual Catholic Davos, offering a luxury setting for rich, devout conservative Catholics to mingle with princes of the church and other Catholic thinkers.

Personally, I find wealth and the message of the gospels to mix about as well as oil and water. But my Lenten vow was to try to better understand people who disagree with me, and to try to refrain from snarky comments. This is much more difficult than forgoing chocolates.

I must say I am very tempted to mention that Napa’s conference not only promises “the best of Catholic thought” but “multiple Masses.” Who could resist?

The rest of this blog, I promise will be snark-free. Well, almost.

I was struck by your remarks at the DC event: “In the early weeks of this administration more has been done to address the biggest tragedy, the biggest catastrophe, and that is abortion. … More has been done to benefit the causes of life, which is more important than anything we have in our society … Everything else is trumped by this issue of life.”

I do understand some of the Catholic thought underlying this statement, and your view of abortion. But I am concerned about your insistence that the new administration, and its nomination of an anti-abortion justice to the Supreme Court and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, will somehow eradicate what you term our nation’s “biggest tragedy.”

Abortion is not a gateway drug. Women don’t choose to have an abortion because it is legal. In many cases they seek abortions because they have a crisis pregnancy. Often that crisis is poverty. More than three-quarters of all abortions in the U.S. are performed on women who are either poor or low-income, just above the poverty line.

I think we can agree that even if abortion does not remain legal, women of means will find ways to secure them. Thousands of poor women, however, will seek out illegal providers and risk their own lives to end a crisis pregnancy. Those who lack the resources to do that, and who must carry their fetuses to term, will face a terrible burden after they give birth.

It is not enough to save the life of a fetus, if that fetus, when born, is doomed to a life of poverty.

One option is to ensure access to birth control to prevent this problem. Surely, if we prevent conception, then the evil you see in abortion is addressed and dealt with.

But since you support the efforts by religious orders to sue the Obama Administration to block the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, I assume that you wouldn’t agree.

Indeed, you seem downright giddy about White House efforts to end that mandate, likely blocking access to contraception for millions of women. “I told one of the sisters today that it’s over for the devil,” you were quoted as saying at the meeting in DC. “It is over for evil. It is over for that compromise of religious liberty.”

But there are other moral considerations. Surely, the gospels would not be content with us merely saving the life of a fetus. Every fetal life saved from the “evil” of abortion becomes a human being with needs.

Justice requires that we do more than provide care for pregnant women during the pregnancy, and offer some support during their infants’ earliest days. We have to invest substantial resources to ensure that every fetus is delivered into a world that provides healthy food, adequate housing, and a good education.

Needless to say, if the law prevents abortion even in cases of a fetus’s physical problems, our responsibility for care is even greater. Yet President Trump’s budget would cut aid to the poor. His proposed health care plan would have denied health insurance to an estimated 24 million people. His budget would cut housing supports and other anti-poverty programs by more than $4 billion. Low-income energy assistance and before- and after-school programs also are on the chopping block.

Or consider this possibility. I am an undocumented immigrant, whose future in the U.S. has just become far more precarious, due to the Trump administration’s hard line policies. I have just discovered I am pregnant. I want the baby, but I face agonizing choices. If I am deported while pregnant, I will be raising my child in the midst of the violence and want I fled from. What future will that child have? If I am deported after I have the baby, who will care for the child?

So my challenge to you is: How do you and other conservative Catholics intend to ensure the future well-being of all the fetuses you save?

Since you are a philanthropist, and know others who have financial resources, I suggest you crunch the numbers and begin to create a fund large enough to support this moral enterprise.

I would also urge you to lobby the White House to embrace policies that create a strong safety net, and provide decent housing, health care and education to all. That effort should at least be as well funded and passionate as the anti-abortion crusade has been. Maybe you could start by passing around a hat at your July conference.

Otherwise, your decades-long effort to ban legal abortion without considering your moral obligations to the mother and developing fetus raises another moral question. Is this really about life? Or do you wish merely to regulate — and punish — the sexual conduct of women?

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