Politicians, Old Buildings, and Whores

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman once called former president of the so-called Catholics for a Free Choice, Frances Kissling, the “philosopher of the pro-choice movement.” Well, let’s see the Philosopher in action.

A few years ago, pro-life lobbyist Peter Smith ran into Kissling on an escalator at the United Nations. Smith, a jolly Australian with nary a critical word about anyone – even Kissling – gave her a big smile, stuck out his hand, and said, “Hello, Frances.” Kissling glared at him and said, “Get away from me or I am calling security.”

I had the same experience. A few years ago, I was invited to appear on a session of CNN’s “Crossfire” with Kissling. Right before the live show, we were standing next to each other. Though we had met a few years before at a conference in The Hague, we had not spoken since. I stuck out my hand and said, “Hello, Frances.” The Philosopher just glared.

Here is Kissling philosophizing about some of her opponents: “The Catholic right is uglier and meaner than anyone on the religious right, worse than the Falwells and Robertsons. The viciousness of the Donohues, the Deal Hudsons, the George Weigels and the Richard John Neuhauses is soul-numbing.”

There’s no surprise why she was the longtime president of Catholics for a Free Choice, a dissident group dedicated to undermining the teachings of the Church. They are now called Catholics for Choice. Bishops representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have twice condemned them. Big foundations pay for her former group – the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller, and others – that wish the Church ill, or at least see the Church as the last bastion against the radical ethos.

Kissling has a long and troubled past. Her enmity toward the Church started, she claims, with how the Church supposedly treated her mother. Kissling claims to have once been a postulant in a religious order. She then went on to run an abortion clinic, and later to head “Catholics” for a Free Choice. As its leader, she famously said that she “searched the whole world for a government to overthrow and found it in the Holy See.” Among other things, she ran a campaign to throw the Catholic Church out of the United Nations, an effort that failed miserably and embarrassingly for her and her colleagues.

       Kissling “searched the whole world for a government to overthrow
and found it in the Holy See.”

In recent times, it seems, Kissling has come to believe Goodman’s comment that she is some kind of philosopher. She “retired” from Catholics for a Free Choice a few years ago, though she is listed on their 2008 tax return as “former president” with a salary of close to $400,000. In her new role as Philosopher she decamped to the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania where she is a “scholar” in residence.

She recently co-hosted a “dialogue” on common ground at Princeton University in which, behind the scenes, she appears to have bare-knuckled her less experienced pro-life interlocutors into letting her call most of the shots. However, at the conference and afterwards butter wouldn’t have melted in her mouth.

Afterward she wrote almost lovingly, “Simply put, one hopes that dialogue between those opposed to and in favor of a woman’s right to choose abortion would result in a more realistic public debate; less name-calling and attacking and more reasoned argumentation for each position.” She also wrote, “When people who disagree passionately on something important to them take the time to sit down and engage each other, good things happen. At a minimum, they find out the ‘other’ is a human being, not the devil incarnate.” Sounds great.

But just this week, blogging at an Internet site called RH Reality Check, she ripped the Vatican (and me, I am proud to say) for our “brutal” rhetoric. At one and the same time, Kissling can criticize her opponents for calling names and in the same breath call her opponents names.

She is a divided woman. Those of us who have met on the actual field of pro-life battle – at the United Nations and elsewhere – know a very different woman than the one who steps forward at common-ground conferences with the cameras on. On stage, Kissling is funny, articulate, charming, pixyish even. Backstage? Well you have seen what she can be like backstage.

I once held out hope that Kissling was actually changing. Some years ago she began to recognize the humanity of the fetus (though, she does not believe it a child) and its ability to feel pain, and criticized her pro-abortion friends for failing to acknowledge them. It seemed like a good opening. She has not moved at all beyond that point. Maybe she will finally reach the logical conclusion, or maybe she is simply hoping for the kind of status Noah Cross (John Huston) described in the movie Chinatown: “Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.” For the record, I do not consider Frances a whore. I consider her a true believer in abortion and I actually respect her usual brawling style.

What’s more – and Frances knows this – I pray for her by name every single day on the fifth decade of the Rosary. Where there is life, there is hope. I just wish she believed that, too.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.