Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Will the Pope and Obama Clash Over Abortion?

Vincenzo Pinto / AFP / Getty

By Jeff Israely Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008

Though Barack Obama won't be announcing his foreign travel plans any time soon, it's a good bet that the new American President will meet Pope Benedict XVI some time next year, perhaps in early July to coincide with the G8 summit in Italy. It promises to be one of the great photo ops of 2009. Benedict sent a personal message to Obama the day after his victory, which referred to the "historic occasion" of his coming presidency; and Obama subsequently telephoned the Pope as part of a round of calls to world leaders.

But well before the two men have their historic handshake, the ground is already shifting underneath U.S.-Vatican relations. After the Bush administration, the election of a pro-choice, pro-diplomacy Democratic president is changing the Vatican's game plan vis-a-vis Washington on several levels. Bush was viewed in Rome as a rare ally in the West for his opposition to such issues as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research. And the first issue to watch is abortion. (See a map showing the new fronts in the U.S. abortion battle.)

The Pope's top aides may have already informed Benedict about a campaign promise Obama made on July 17, 2007, to Planned Parenthood, stating that his first act as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would undo legislation that put restrictions on access to abortions. Some Catholics have warned that such a decree, which would essentially codify Roe v. Wade into federal law and could force doctors in Catholic hospitals to perform abortions against their conscience. "There's more fear here than wrath," a senior Vatican official told TIME with regard to the Catholic hierarchy's attitude toward Obama. However, if Obama signs the Freedom of Choice Act in his first months in office "it would be the equivalent of a war," says the same official. "It would be like saying: 'We've heard the Catholic Church and we have no interest in their concerns." U.S. Catholic bishops meeting last week in Baltimore vowed to take on Obama for his support of abortion rights; they are also skeptical about his assurances to try to reduce the number of abortions while supporting the right to choose.


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