"Catholics for Choice Joins the Far Right, Attacks Common Ground," screams the press release from Catholics United (CU), which is defending the choice of Alexia Kelley to lead the center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services. Catholics for Choice (CFC) yesterday criticized the pick because of Kelley's opposition to abortion.

CU is led by Chris Korzen, Kelley's co-author of the book A Nation for All, and the former communications director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), the organization Kelley leads. In the press release, Korzen states:

Catholics United is profoundly disappointed by Catholics for Choice's simplistic, incendiary, and unhelpful reaction to President Obama's appointment of Alexia Kelley to this important post. . . . [CFC president Jon] O'Brien's statement, as well as his report attacking Catholics in Alliance and Catholics United for our own efforts to find common ground, is a roadblock to progress. It is intended as cover for Catholics for Choice's increasing irrelevance, and its inability to offer any real solutions to the challenges of our day. Despite annual expenditures of more than $3.5 million, the organization accomplishes little more than creating a hostile and divisive political climate – as evidenced by today's statement.

CU claims it is seeking to end divisiveness over abortion, but if someone disagrees with what it characterizes as "common ground," it uses divisive language to accuse that person of being divisive.

As it turns out, I had interviewed Korzen just hours before the news of Kelley's appointment broke yesterday. (If he knew about it, he didn't let on.) Since the election, CU has been defending Obama against what he rightly calls "fundamentalist Catholics" who protested his appointment of Kathleen Sebelius to be HHS secretary and his speech at Notre Dame. CU is trying to position itself as the representative of American Catholics; Korzen accused CFC of not really being a Catholic organization because it challenges church doctrine on abortion and contraception. CFC is "looking to challenge the church’s theology," said Korzen. "We’re looking to help Catholics make sound political decisions based on the teaching." That means his group will not contradict church doctrine opposing both abortion and contraception.

But in positioning itself as the supposed peacemaker on this "divisive" issue, CU has become an active participant in the "common ground" dodge. "Even if you accept the story line that abortion is the worst injustice being done in society these days," Korzen asserted, the rhetoric of the militant right is wrong.

"Do you accept that storyline?" I asked.

"That’s my point. We need to have a better conversation than one that focuses on the divisive points," he replied.

But that isn't Korzen's only dodge. He hasn't really been serious about studying the sort of policy -- such as that promoted by CFC -- that gets to the heart of matter: reducing unintended pregnancies. For example, although he claims he wants to reduce the abortion rate, Korzen claimed to have never read Prevention First, the bill the White House supports to reduce the need for abortion. Prevention First focuses exclusively on comprehensive sex education and contraception, not the economic supports such as in the Pregnant Women's Support Act, which Korzen claims will reduce abortion. He pointed to the Netherlands, where abortion is legal but abortion rates are low. Korzen asserted that the low abortion rate was a result of the "makeup of the political economy" -- that because of economic supports, women would choose less frequently to have an abortion.

But that's not true. The low abortion rate in the Netherlands is due to widespread use of contraception and age-appropriate sex education.

--Sarah Posner

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