MILWAUKEE — In his first visit to Milwaukee in decades, “Washington Insider” Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reflected on his time in the capital and looked at upcoming state and national “battlegrounds.”
Doerflinger spoke at a Wisconsin Right to Life fundraiser benefiting the Veritas Society, a statewide television campaign aimed at women ages 18-34, on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at the Wisconsin Club.
He began by listing his most memorable moments on Capitol Hill: advising former President George W. Bush, lobbying Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, jostling the director of the National Institute of Health, dodging traps set by congressional committees and recalling moments that touched his soul.
“Hi, I’m from Washington, and I’m here to help you,” he joked. “That gets funnier every year.”
Lesson in embryonic stem cells
He recalled meeting President George W. Bush, and giving him advice on what to do about embryonic stem cell research.
“Letting loose with what I felt was my best argument, I told him, ‘I think you should do here what your father did here’ – only to realize, from the blank looks around me that I now had to explain to everyone, including the president, what exactly it was his father had done,” said Doerflinger.
He also recalled sitting next to the director of the National Institute of Health at a congressional hearing when the director admitted, “Yes, adult stem cell research is very promising, but we also need to destroy embryos for their stem cells because we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.”
Doerflinger said he shook his head and muttered under his breath, “so to speak.”
He said he testified against government-funded abortion and was confronted by a congressman who hoped to trick him and show hypocrisies.
“He told me he was against government-funded capital punishment, and didn’t I agree with him on that? I told him the bishops’ conference was against that, had been for many years, and we’d be happy to work with him on that. Unless, of course, his goal was to farm it out to the private sector.”
Not all fun, games
Yet, he assured his audience that dealing with matters of life and death is not all fun and games.
“In the pro-life office of the USCCB, we do a lot of laughing so we don’t cry,” he said.
After working 15 years full time on ending abortion, he worried that he might have become insensitive and jaded.
“Then I read – for the first time – a very factual and clinical account of partial birth abortion by someone who performs it. I found I hadn’t been desensitized all those years, because I could still cry. I remember feeling horror at what perfectly normal human beings are capable of doing to one another,” he said.
He cautioned, however, about generalizing and demonizing specific groups because, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Euthanasia is growing concern
Several national issues are likely to make their way into Wisconsin soon, according to Doerflinger, noting euthanasia, in particular, is engrained in the culture in Oregon and Washington. He said it will appear in proposed legislation in Vermont, and on a ballot initiative in Massachusetts, and predicted it will likely move “in on us from both coasts, thereafter.”
According to Doerflinger, “The founder of the Hemlock Society himself announced years ago that euthanasia would succeed – not because of freedom or dignity,” he added, “but because of cost-control: the need to get rid of the greedy geezers who keep hanging on to their little lives.”
Doerflinger, however, called that a crazy idea, noting that suicide will be kept illegal for everyone else, “but (we’ll) carve out a special class of people whose suicides the government can’t think of any reason to prevent,” he said. “We’ll still talk most people off the ledge, but for these select few, we’ll offer a friendly nudge.”
Support for abortion declining
Polling data indicate support for unlimited abortion shrinking and waning, he noted, “so the question has changed to: Do people of faith have rights?”
When Doerflinger first began in pro-life work, he said the big question was choice.
“Everyone was told, ‘Abortion is a consequence of the freedom of choice. You have a choice not to. Don’t like it? Don’t have one and don’t do one,’” he said.
Yet, today, he described a new battleground, suggesting that major groups in Washington, with allies in Congress, want to make sure that health care providers can be forced to be involved with abortions against their will.
As an example, he pointed to the Department of Health and Human Services, “which recently put language into grant proposals, giving preference to organizations providing ‘the full range of legal OB/GYN services.’ In other words, abortion.”
The Catholic Church has a major national program serving human trafficking victims, particularly sex trafficking victims, he said. “The bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services department was covering 163 (different groups) which hail from 44 states and five other areas. Only a third of which are Catholic. We had five years of excellent ratings.”
“This year, the government added the new condition,” he said. “And the grant was given instead to three small organizations which have nowhere near the experience, network or influence – in housing, counseling, social services, etc. But they do refer for abortions – the only thing they’re better at.”
According to Doerflinger, the story made the cover of the Washington Post on the day he was speaking.
“Some enterprising investigative reporter found out that we graded the highest – even with the downgrading we got for not providing abortions – according to an independent review panel. They got overruled by political people in (Secretary) Kathy Sebelius’ office. It was an ideological decision,” he said.
Doerflinger said the same department recently issued a mandate requiring all private health plans to cover the full range of sterilization and contraceptive drugs and expanded the definition to include drugs which induce abortions.
“To be (exempt) you must be a house of worship, not hire anyone of other faiths, and not serve anyone of other faiths,” he said. “Basically, to get a religious exemption, you have to stop acting like a Christian.”
Pro-life culture making inroads
Doerflinger said pro-life culture is making significant inroads.
“Forty years ago, 30 percent of teen girls said they had sex. That went up to 51 percent in 1988, and it’s been declining every year since. It’s down to 43 percent. That’s among boys as well,” he said, explaining that the most commonly cited reason is that it’s against religion and morals.
“So, we’re having an effect on young people. We’re just not having nearly the effect in Washington,” he said.
The Millenials present a unique set of advantages and challenges, he said.
“They’re perhaps the most idealistic generation ever. There’s 60 million of them. That’s significant. They’re the biggest group since the baby boomers. And they get 99 percent of their information off the Internet. They don’t trust TV news, they don’t read newspapers. They do searches. They follow their friends’ links. We have to make sure we have the appropriate search terms (for Google), directed to appealing, informative pages,” Doerflinger said.
He also encouraged audience members to write.
“Write to elected officials and representatives. Write on blogs, in letters to the editor, and to family and friends. Then join the debate: Watch the news for issues, and share what you’ve learned,” he said.
“We need to touch the conscience of those who don’t know what to think about abortion. We need to reach out and make it known that there are people who care about unborn children, and pregnant women,” he said. “If we change the world enough, who knows? Maybe Washington will even notice.”