The Flip Side: Accountability and Crisis Pregnancy Centers

The pro-choice movement recently became aware of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, and they’ve gone to town on them. What surprises me most about pro-choicers’ reactions is not that they have imitated pro-lifers by going undercover to expose abuses, nor that they have succeeded in uncovering some horrific abuses, but that they totally fail to grasp the reasoning behind CPCs.

A crisis pregnancy center is designed to address the fact that women who are actually in “crisis” pregnancies generally don’t see keeping the baby or even carrying the baby to term to be viable options, and the resources offered by CPCs are supposed to give these women a more viable choice. In such cases, abortion clinics offer an easy out, but CPCs try to actually give women another option when they think abortion is the only one. It is precisely because abortion so often seems like the only way out that CPCs exist in the first place: even if CPCs don’t offer abortions or abortion referrals, they are in at least one sense more meaningfully “pro-choice” than the abortion mill down the street.

As baffled as I am by the sheer uncomprehending outrage with which abortion advocates regard the fundamental mission of CPCs, they have made some valid criticisms in their accusations against at least some CPCs with respect to incorrect factual claims (be they deliberate lies or simply misinformation passed naively along), humiliation, emotional blackmail, or threatening to call child services when a woman decides to keep her child instead of giving the child up for adoption.

So what I am I suggesting here? I am suggesting that if pro-lifers don’t want pro-abortion politicians to use public outrage against horrific abuses perpetrated by certain CPCs as a way to shut down all CPCs, then it’s on us to look into our local CPCs, to understand their mission and arguments and to hold them accountable to charity and truth, not just trust in their good intentions. A failure of either empathy or honesty could not only cause great harm to the individual women CPCs are trying to help, but the stories could in the long run scare women away from CPCs and toward a rather more regrettable option.

As far as I can tell, the Women’s Care Center is very good, and it may be easy for people like me who have never seen a CPC other than a Women’s Care Center to assume that every crisis pregnancy center is just as good, but it apparently just ain’t so. If we don’t want Planned Parenthood or NARAL shaping laws that place too many restrictions on CPCs in the name of cleaning up the messes left by rogue CPCs, we should probably clean them up ourselves, both in the laws and on the streets.

It may be the case that the sort of political doomsday scenario I’m predicting never actually materializes, but even if we are not held accountable for our failures by our political opponents, I rather doubt that we will escape accountability to Someone Whose judgment matters quite a bit more.

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The Abortion-as-Healthcare Paradox

In recent months, there has been massive opposition to legislation designed to force abortion clinics to meet reasonable health and safety standards; a look into the more distant past reveals that there have long been concerns about individuals who work at hospitals and religious hospitals in general being forced to provide abortions against their consciences.

On one hand, abortions rights activists refuse to hold abortion clinics up to hospital standards, but on the other, they want hospitals everywhere to provide abortions. There’s some sort of cognitive dissonance going on here. Do pro-choicers want hospital-quality abortions or not?

It seems to me that the opposition to the pro-life legislation is reflexive rather than premeditated: the way they see it, pro-life folks are pushing it, so it must be bad. The very fact that pro-lifers came up with it makes them suspicious that the bills are not designed to make abortion safer, but primarily to restrict abortion access.

If that’s really what they’re concerned about, I’m wondering why we got a Wendy Davis filibuster instead of a Wendy Davis bill raising health and safety standards for abortion clinics. That is, if pro-choice politicians don’t want pro-lifers to ride a wave of public opinion against horrific conditions in abortion clinics, maybe they should take some legislative steps to clean up their own side’s messes. If bills written by pro-life activists restrict abortion too much, let’s see the other side’s alternative (given the way in which the Obamacare debate developed, I think this is a fair argument).

With respect to the “safe, legal, rare” slogan, abortion rights advocates are currently batting one for three, and I can’t understand why they are so intent on doing so at this juncture. If birth control is healthcare, then let’s hold birth control providers up to basic medical standards.

The Dean’s List

I recently criticized the advice which John McGreevy, the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame, gave to undergraduates about making good use of their remaining time in college to “connect your coursework with the many other experiences and opportunities available to you as a student.”

The two letters Dean McGreevy sent out are not significantly different in content; in fact, every piece of advice given to seniors is also given to underclassmen (the list of 5 ideas sent out to seniors is expanded to 10 in the junior/sophomore version), and every bit of it seems directed toward preparing for “life after Notre Dame.”

The problem does not lie in suggestion that we ought to be preparing for life after college (as odious as the thought may be), but in the image of the Notre Dame student and graduate that concerns me. There is one short paragraph that seems to encapsulate his perspective:

As an alumnus of the College of Arts and Letters Class of 1986, I know firsthand how the opportunities for our graduates have expanded—in professional and graduate schools, service, and the paid labor force—over the past 25 years. The trick is to take advantage of them.

Dean McGreevy seems to believe that every Arts and Letters student ought to be trying to take advantage of the professional opportunities which are now available. He envisions Notre Dame graduates in corporate boardrooms and in university faculties across the nation, and wants Arts and Letters students to feel empowered to pursue these high-powered careers. Notre Dame students, as McGreevy sees them, are culturally curious, socially conscious, and (perhaps most importantly) professionally ambitious, and making good use of available institutions and programs looks pretty good on any resume.

Even if we accept McGreevy’s apparent careerist focus as a good thing, his advice overlooks the fact that each of these talented and ambitious students is surrounded by other students who are talented in different ways and ambitious in different fields, and these students are constantly interacting with each other in trivial and non-trivial matters, and may well influence each other in whether and how they pursue these opportunities. McGreevy doesn’t seem to get any closer to the acknowledgment of this principle than in his invitation to consider writing a senior thesis; the thesis seems to be promoted primarily as a resume booster, but then McGreevy adds this: “Almost one-third of Arts and Letters seniors do a senior thesis. Shouldn’t you be one of them?”

That’s right: the closest McGreevy comes to acknowledging the role of fellow students in each individual’s educational experience is an invocation of peer pressure. All the cool Arts and Letters students are working on a senior thesis, so if you want to be cool, you should be working on a thesis, too!

By all this I do not mean to belittle the unique opportunities McGreevy describes; I have done several of the things he recommends, and I have found that visiting office hours and interacting with the various academic institutes and centers to be tremendously enriching. Nonetheless, emphasizing these opportunities at the expense of other readily available means of personal development and fulfillment will impoverish rather than enrich the University community. It is a good thing that Notre Dame graduates have a better chance than ever to rise to the tops of their professions; however, if the only worthwhile use of a degree from the University of Notre Dame is in climbing the corporate ladder, and the only alumni worth recognizing are those who are have done so particularly well (in so doing making it easier for future alumni to ascend to the same level), then Notre Dame has become an elite institution in the worst sense of the word.

The College’s focus on building careers for its graduates can be seen as an attempt to bring Catholic values into boardrooms across America, and this is a noble goal; I would hardly contend that America’s corporate culture is in need of less conscientious and ethical leaders. The problem comes when, in helping students pursue these positions of power, we neglect to teach them the lessons that we want them to teach to the rest of the world. In the attempt to make a Catholic education more appealing, we rob it of exactly that which makes it worthwhile.

Some of you may know that I am usually not particularly inclined to participate in conversations criticizing the Land o’ Lakes statement, but I think that the comparison is rather apt. In the Land o’ Lakes statement, numerous Catholic universities stated their commitment to standards of academic freedom and independence, believing that this would help them to gain prestige in the secular world and that this in turn would help present an even stronger witness to the truth of Catholicism. However, if this process leads the university to cease to be meaningfully Catholic, it is no longer able to achieve the goal it set out to accomplish. We could say that Dean McGreevy’s emphasis on career concerns is part of an attempt make an education in the humanities seem more worthwhile, but it is not the value of the humanities that I want to uphold through this post, but an even broader kind of education.

Again, it is good that Dean McGreevy wants Notre Dame students to reach positions of worldly power, and I understand that bolstering Notre Dame’s reputation for producing people capable of taking on these roles will in turn make it easier for succeeding generations, but if Notre Dame becomes a place that only wants to train societal elites, then its students must inevitably become more elitist. The College needs to be more ready to acknowledge the legitimate diversity of vocations: the stay-at-home mother or father is not wasting their education or potential, nor does a person who accepts a low-powered career in order to be able to focus more on the people around them steal an education from someone who may have made “better” use of it by climbing the corporate ladder.

Again, the pursuit of increased professional opportunity is not a problem in itself, but only when it results in the marginalization of other vocations. It is not only the world-historical individuals who have value, and they more than anyone who need to recognize that fact. The ambitious Notre Dame graduate ought not only bring to their high-powered job an appreciation for foreign languages and cultures or a vaguely-defined concern for the poor, but a very real connection with and appreciation for those who are in and not merely from different walks of life, and there are few experiences better-suited to fostering this kind of respect than meeting these individuals as peers in a University that is catholic as well as Catholic.