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Opinion | Margery Eagan

The Church’s dismaying anti-abortion rhetoric

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley
Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley(Alessandra Tarantino/AP)

I saw the enraging line last week in a parish bulletin in my hometown of Fall River, where the diocese, 17 years after the clergy-abuse story broke in Boston, has yet to publish names of its own credibly accused priests .

My sister saw it at a Cape Cod parish. Friends saw it in and around Boston – friends who, like me, are hanging by a thread to a church that won’t come clean on abuse, still discriminates against women and gays, and now appears, again, to be spinning and twisting truth.

The line in these bulletins had to do with a bill on Beacon Hill to preserve abortion rights should Roe v. Wade be overturned, and to expand those rights beyond 24 weeks. That expansion may seem like an extreme move, but it is reserved for certain rare and tragic circumstances: the discovery, late in a pregnancy, of lethal fetal abnormalities or of significant threats to a mother’s health, as determined by her doctor.

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But that’s not what these bulletins told parishioners.

No, they told parishioners to fight against a bill that would “allow abortions during the nine months of pregnancy for virtually any reason.” That wording came from a statement signed by all four Massachusetts bishops, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston.

And some bulletins, including one from Holy Name Church, Fall River, urged parishioners to sign a petition against the bill at Massachusetts Citizens for Life, where the bill is falsely described as legalizing “infanticide (killing) a child born alive on the abortion table.”

“Infanticide.” It’s a gruesome word increasingly used now to incite by President Trump and by those hoping to outlaw all abortion. What a monstrous image of mothers they’re creating. They would have you believe that if a bill like this were to pass, women would suddenly demand abortions days from delivery “for virtually any reason.” And that sadistic doctors would readily oblige their whims, even if that meant slaughtering newborns.

To be clear, I am not attacking the church’s stand against abortion. I get it. But I am attacking its nasty tactics. Unfortunately, we’ve seen them before, in battles over gay and transgender rights and, most blatantly, during Massachusetts’ 2011 physician-assisted suicide ballot-question fight. A $5 million ad campaign (with $700,000 coming from the Boston Archdiocese and the Knights of Columbus) somehow turned a highly regulated proposal into a sinister scheme to knock off grandmas.

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The church is “making judgments of women that are wrong,” says one devout Catholic who has counseled mothers in the hospital and watched them “agonize” early in pregnancy when faced with lethal fetal abnormalities.

“Shaming women,” is how state Representative Patricia Haddad, who cosponsored the legislation, sees it. Her legislation is needed, she says, both to ensure abortion rights should Roe be overturned and to help women like Tara Mendola. The Globe’s Yvonne Abraham detailed how Mendola, 28 weeks pregnant with her third child, found out that the fetus she carried had so little brain tissue he would be unable to breath or swallow and thus would die either in utero or shortly after birth. Because third-trimester abortions remain illegal here, Mendola, wanting to spare all unnecessary suffering, borrowed $15,000 for medical costs and went to Colorado.

“This is needed,” said Haddad, a graduate of Fall River’s Mount St. Mary’s Academy, where she remembers that the nuns “pressed into you to be kind, compassionate, and accepting.”

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Two weeks ago at a Boston College symposium on the church’s future, a panelist lamented ever-shrinking Mass attendance and an alarming drop in church weddings. No surprise there. Catholicism today is a hard sell, but particularly to young people who embrace equality between sexes, as well as gay rights and gay marriage, and who can’t quite reconcile a church hiding its own actual crimes while daring to demonize those whose moral failings don’t even come close.

As for their Catholic parents? Some of us, as I know too well, ask ourselves daily: How long can we justify hanging in?


Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.” Her column appears often in the Globe

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Diocese of Fall River was an archdiocese.