Frances Kissling Mourns Ted Kennedy
“On the right to choose abortion, he was fully pro-choice. He supported the right of women who got their medical care from the government whether they were federal employees, in the military or on Medicaid to the same right of conscience that women with their own money or private insurance have. And, on every other issue related to reproductive health and rights, he voted for women.
How did this happen in this big, very pious Catholic family? Theology played a part but Kennedy boys by and large did not go to Catholic schools. They went to the top prep schools and to Harvard. Ted spent only the eighth grade at a Jesuit prep school and went on to the Milton Academy. Had he gone to Catholic schools in the 1940 and 50’s abortion would not have been mentioned — it simply was not an issue much before it started to become legal in the late 60’s in the US. But there is something to be said for a good secular education in terms of developing respect for diversity.
Of course, the Kennedys had access to the best theological insights of the times and they used it. I remember the late Giles Milhaven, a former Jesuit priest and theologian who served on the Catholics for Choice board, describing some days in 1970 he spent at the Kennedy compound discussing abortion with members of the family. The theologians at the meeting included Joseph Fuchs, who had served on the Papal Commission on Birth Control and chaired the committee’s majority report; Richard McCormick, who is recognized as one of the founders of modern bio-ethics, then Catholic University star Charles Curran. Albert Jonsen, a then Jesuit bioethicist, and Father Drinan, who was Dean of Boston College Law School, rounded out the team. According to Giles, the moral theologians and priests met together for a while and then were joined by the Kennedys and Shrivers who asked questions. Ted Kennedy had the good fortune to engage in discourse about abortion and Catholicism before the papacy of John Paul II virtually closed the window on the lively debate that was going on among theologians about abortion.
None of these experts thought the act of abortion was a moral good and they varied in their opinions on when if ever it was morally justified – but they were clear that Catholic legislators could vote to make abortion legal. The Shrivers never agreed and Eunice and Sarge were active early on anti-abortion efforts. Ted, who at that time expressed anti-abortion views but had not needed to vote on the issue, came around to the pro-choice position by the time the first Senate votes on abortion were required following Roe v. Wade. The first issue was whether federal Medicaid funds could be used for abortion, and the Senator was always in favor of such funding. Perhaps he understood the preferential option for the poor to be determinant; perhaps he simply saw the tragedy that surrounded very poor and very young women forced to have children they did not want. Perhaps those theologians, whose arguments were dismissed in a blogger’s short take on the Senator’s death in America as “weak then and weaker now” had some influence on the liberal lion.”
I can understand why a pro-abort “Catholic” mourns Kennedy. It escapes me why any other Catholic should.