Kristen Gillibrand’s Wacky Pro-Choice Theology


Recently New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kristen Gillibrand claimed that laws against abortion are “against Christian faith?”  This should raise a host of red flags for people who know something about Christianity.  Most American evangelicals, who the last time I checked were Christians, oppose abortion.  Roman Catholics also oppose abortion.  The Orthodox Church also opposes the practice.  So do many mainline Protestants.

So why does Gillibrand believe that a pro-life position on abortion is anti-Christian?  She claims that Christianity teaches “free will” and, as a result, laws preventing a women’s choice to abort a baby are not Christian.

Wow.  I just read a draft of this post to my eighteen-year-old daughter and she gave me a puzzled look before saying, “Wait, that’s not how it works.”

Most of the Christian bodies I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post also believe in free will.  Yet they oppose the practice of abortion because a person’s free will is always understood in the context of other principles–like the common good, the preservation of life, and duties to others, including the unborn.  When one becomes a Christian they are called to deny self for the life of others.  There are times when individual choice must be subordinated to larger moral issues.

Please note that this post is not an endorsement of the Alabama bill.  I have argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is not the best way to reduce the number of abortions.  Rather, this post is a plea to politicians to stop doing theology.

5 thoughts on “Kristen Gillibrand’s Wacky Pro-Choice Theology

  1. Dr. Fea,

    Setting aside my personal opinion on abortion–which I often do, because I have no uterus; I can never be threatened with a fatal pregnancy due to rape (for example)–I am unsettled by the shape of your argument, in which the majority opinion among a given group of Christians therefore represents “true” Christian belief.

    There are a number of issues where large groups of people who call themselves Christians in fact hold to “unchristian” beliefs or practice “unchristian” practices.

    It does not matter what an organization says is “official;” that’s institutional dogma, but that doesn’t make it inherently “Christian.”

    It does not matter what a large group of Christians says is “official;” that’s dogmatic tradition, but that doesn’t make it inherently “Christian.”

    Whether or not the Moral Majority approves of something, whether or not the Catholic Magisterium teaches something, is not relevant to how I evaluate Christianity or Christian theology. Christianity is more than an identity label that requires you to adopt a route set of opinions and beliefs in order to “belong” to the approved in-group and speak with “authority” on “real” Christianity.

    Surely a Protestant historian can appreciate this basic principle, and it should not be a strain to see this principle in action, either during the Reformation or now, during the Culture Wars.


  2. I did not use “most” with Catholics because they have a magisterium with official teaching on this issue. The same with the Orthodox Church.


  3. “…are not thinking or acting in concert with their own church. “

    American Catholicism 101.

    I felt that the blanket statement that “Roman Catholics also oppose abortion” needed the context much as I would have if given the statement “the Founding Fathers….,” suggesting that there was some kind of homogeneous, doctrinaire and orthodox group of guys gettin’ along at the local pub. Even John used “most Evangelicals” and “many mainline Protestants” to signify some level of division.

    If Gillibrand’s position is whacky she is not a lone wolf.

    “It’s my guess that Gilibrand did it to gain some attention to her stalled presidential campaign. “

    A politician doing politics? That would be a shocker. On the other hand, this may be her actual conviction.


  4. Jim in STL

    The quote from Sara Ratcliffe May reflect the views of Catholics for Choice, an unofficial organization, but it does not reflect the teaching of the R.C.C. Specifically, the official Catechism of the Catholic Church strongly condemns it in paragraphs 2271 and 2272. The penalty of excommunication is even tied to this particular sin.

    By elevating “conscience” and “free will” above Magisterial teaching, Senator Gilibrand and Ms. Ratcliffe are not thinking or acting in concert with their own church. It’s my guess that Gilibrand did it to gain some attention to her stalled presidential campaign. Dr. Fea’s request that politicians stop doing theology is well founded, but desperate candidates will never feel constrained to accept prudent counsel.



  5. As they say, context:

    “Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, vice president of the reproductive rights group Catholics for Choice, said Catholic teaching is “crystal clear on the reverence for individual conscience as the first and final arbiter for any moral decision.”

    “Ratcliffe believes many Catholics support a woman’s ability to make her own decisions about reproductive health because ‘we know her conscience must guide her to make the best decision for herself and her family in light of her own circumstances and beliefs.’”


    Kirsten Gilibrand is Catholic.

    I would change just on thing in your final sentence, “politicians should stop using theology.”

    “Orthodoxy is my doxy – heterodoxy is another man’s doxy.”
    – William Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester (1759-1779)

    Also too, did she actually say “…that laws against abortion are ‘against Christian faith'” or is that someone’s paraphrase? The closest attested quote that I could find is:

    “‘If you are a person of the Christian faith, one of the tenants of our faith is free will. One of the tenants of our democracy is that we have a separation of church and state, and under no circumstances are we supposed to be imposing our faith on other people. And I think this is an example of that effort,’ she said at a press conference.”



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