The speculation over what the pope and president would discuss, and whether or not abortion would be center stage has been answered affirmatively. As the Vatican’s statement makes clear “the conversation turned first of all” to issues “such as the defense and promotion of life, and the right to abide by one’s conscience.”
We also know that President Obama told the pope of his desire to “reduce the number of abortions,” and of his “respect for the positions of the Church.”
It is obvious that President Obama has a serious interest in engaging in a meaningful dialogue with the Catholic Church, and with Catholics, who make up one fourth of the U.S. population. President Obama clearly had much to gain from a successful meeting with the Pope.
Certainly this is another achievement for Vatican and American diplomacy and represents a positive development for those of us who hoped that this meeting might mark a new opportunity in the important relationship between the Catholic Church and U.S. government.
We applaud President Obama for showing sensitivity to the growing consensus among the American people favoring the right to life, restriction of abortion, and the protection of conscience.
As our Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll shows, there is a great deal of common ground among the American people on these issues. 86% would restrict abortion far more than it is today, and 79% would protect the right to conscience of health care workers. This is a real consensus on the heart of the abortion issue, and it is heartening to see the president’s attention to it.
This is an important moment. The pope and the president have laid the foundation for trying to achieve authentic common ground. How we build on this meeting in a constructive way in the months and years ahead is critical. The following issues will help provide a true gauge of the progress made on achieving common ground with the Catholic community:
1. Adoption of a federal conscience clause regulation that gives real protection to Catholic institutions and individuals;
2. Health care legislation that does not contain a back door mandate for abortion;
3. Abortion reduction programs that respect pro-life crisis pregnancy and teenage abstinence programs;
4. Preservation of the pro-life riders that currently exist in the annual appropriations legislation. These riders, which restrict federal abortion funding, also raise conscience protection issues, since their removal would force tax payers to pay for abortions against their conscience.
5. Dropping any attempts to codify by statute the president’s rescission of the Mexico City Policy, which allows international abortion funding by the United States.