THE BLOG
10/12/2007 06:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Catholic University Forces NPR Station to Refuse Funding From Planned Parenthood

I can't believe I just cancelled my membership to my local NPR station. Not only have I long been a member of WDUQ in Pittsburgh, but also I spent part of my undergraduate career working there while a student at Duquesne University. Yep, I'm hardcore Catholic: RC elementary school, high school and college. And a hardcore news junkie, listening to hours of NPR news shows on WDUQ, punctuated with all those annoying but necessary "underwriting" announcements.

But after two days of the current pledge drive, the perennially cash-strapped station got the message to "refuse underwriting from Planned Parenthood." The university is actually the station's license holder, and it objects to the broadcast of:

Support for DUQ comes from Planned Parenthood, offering healthcare services to men, including screenings for cancer and STDs. Planned Parenthood: Their mission is prevention.

Support for DUQ comes from Planned Parenthood, providing comprehensive sexuality education, including lessons on abstinence. Planned Parenthood: Their mission is prevention.
Support for DUQ comes from Planned Parenthood, whose community educators empower teens to make good choices by teaching self-esteem. Planned Parenthood: Their mission is prevention.
Support for DUQ comes from Planned Parenthood, offering cancer screenings for women and men. Planned Parenthood: Their mission is prevention.

Though founded by the Fathers of the Holy Spirit, the university is run by lay people (i.e. not members of the clergy, for you non-Catholics) who don't seem to have a good grasp of community relations, let alone journalistic integrity. The administration's stated rationale is that funding for WDUQ is actually "a gift to the university," and that Planned Parenthood doesn't jibe with every dot and tittle of Catholic doctrine. The Church actually objects to artificial assistance to help infertile couples conceive, as much as it objects to artificial methods of preventing conception, but, golly, DUQ accepts underwriting from IVF clinics.

OK, I understand that whoever is pulling the strings at my alma mater is making a hamhanded statement about abortion. Very little of what Planned Parenthood does involves abortion, but that doesn't stop the powers-that-be from threatening both the integrity and the solvency of the area's largest NPR station. (I shall refrain from making a bad joke about the Church's possibly objecting to Planned Parenthood's counseling for victims of sexual assault.) What most dismays me about the PWB's shenanigans is how so very counter-productive they are. Gee, wouldn't you think that an awful lot of the people who would give money to an NPR news station are the type who would also support reproductive rights? Is it really a good idea to tick off so many of the station's members?

Even more to the point, undercutting the efforts of Planned Parenthood is more likely to increase, not decrease the demand for abortion. Serendipitously, today's New York Times reported on a worldwide study of abortion rates, quoting Dr. Paul Van Look, director of the World Health Organization's department of reproductive health and research:

We now have a global picture of induced abortion in the world, covering both countries where it is legal and countries where laws are very restrictive. What we see is that the law does not influence a woman's decision to have an abortion. If there's an unplanned pregnancy, it does not matter if the law is restrictive or liberal.

The study, published in Lancet (you can read the 13-page pdf here), says the data also suggest that the best way to reduce abortion rates was not to make abortion illegal but to make contraception more widely available. The highest rates of abortion are in countries that outlaw abortion; not surprisingly, these are also the places with the highest rates of maternal death from abortion complications. The lowest abortion rates? In Western Europe, where abortion is not only legal, but contraception is also available as part of citizens' universal health coverage.

Although WDUQ did obey its bosses and refuse the underwriting, thus far it has been the only media outlet anywhere to carry the story, so I'm not sure what this says about being an NPR station at a Catholic University.

Personal rant: Don't assume you already know my stance on abortion. I'm Catholic, and I'm pro-life. This doesn't mean that I want the force of law (and tax money) used to persecute women and girls who think they need an abortion. The individual, not the government, should make decisions about one's personal health. The risks of pregnancy can be very high, and no one -- but NO ONE -- has the right to impose those risks on another. This also doesn't mean I am not totally repulsed by a casual attitude toward abortion and pregnancy, but I know only too well that barriers to legal abortion are enforced only for those without money and/or connections. The well-to-do will always be able to get a proper medical abortion for whatever silly reason they want, even as poor women are refused life-saving therapeutic abortions for ectopic pregnancies because of bizarrely legalistic misinterpretations of Catholic doctrine.

Under such bizarrely legalistic misinterpretations of Catholic doctrine, I should never have been born, or at best should have grown up without a mother. OK, here's my personal story. No abortion is involved, so it's not like my late friend Gwen Eliot's story. It's really my parents' story, and since they've both passed, I can't embarrass them by sharing.

Despite my strict Catholic upbringing, my father was openly disdainful of the Church. He rarely followed the fasting laws, never went to Mass or Confession. He didn't explain this behavior to us kids. Of course, he didn't have to, since he was the Man of the Family. I learned the truth only after my mother's death.

She had long been in poor health, and had been since the birth of her first child, my elder brother, in 1947. Her doctors warned her not to get pregnant again too soon. She was 21, and a married woman. The Church said using contraception was a sin, and she confessed that sin when she went to Confession. The priest called her a "whore to her husband," and sent her home in tears and without forgiveness. When her husband finally teased out the explanation for those tears, he stormed off to the church.

My future father was a devout Catholic, both a choir boy and an altar boy in his youth. His wartime love letters to my future mother were filled with references to God, and his wedding gift to her was a rosary, which I now cherish. Well, he loved God and he loved my mother, and saw no contradiction. He literally dragged the priest from his confessional and began to berate him. Before anything physical could happen, a friend pulled away my father, who would not re-enter a church for a long time.

My parents continued to use contraception until the doctors said a pregnancy might not be so life-threatening. Nine months later, I was born. It was a tricky birth, and the doctors told my mother she could not safely have another child. I had no other siblings, but I had two loving parents well into my adulthood. For that, my parents sinned?