Conservatives privilege ideology over expertise in this global health crisis

Conservatives privilege ideology over expertise in this global health crisis
© ANNA GASSOT/AFP/Getty Images

I was deeply troubled by Father Frank Pavone’s attack on the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in The Hill. 

Pavone seeks to discredit ACOG’s medical expertise by suggesting that the body, along with its 60,000 board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists members, cannot simultaneously support abortion access, a key component of women’s reproductive health, and also be an “a dispassionate observer of abortion policy.” 

This is yet another example of conservatives privileging ideology over expertise in the midst of a global health crisis. 


Pavone and the organization he leads, Priests for Life (PFL) has a history of using the abortion issue to support conservative lawmakers and candidates, flouting both the core Catholic teaching of freedom of conscience and the American principle of separation of church and state.

By contrast, ACOG’s advocacy is backed by decades of continuing medical education, research and ensuring clinical best practice.

PFL traffics subjects, not substantiated by science, ranging from abortion and contraception to tax law. Pavone has defied his superiors’ calls for restrain and, instead, has produced materials and publicity stunts that are far and away more sensational than pastoral. 

Pavone does not even have the support of many of his brothers in the Catholic hierarchy who have regularly admonished him formally and in the press for his tactics. 

The church hierarchy certainly opposes abortion,  But a core teaching of the Catholic church is that when facing a moral decision, the individual Catholic is obligated to listen to and follow their own conscience above all else and not subject their agency to priest, church, state, or anyone else.


A strong majority of Catholics in the United States support access to reproductive health care services for those who need them. Six in 10 Catholic voters believe abortion can be a moral choice, and the majority of Catholic voters support access to insurance coverage for abortion — whether through private or government-run plans, according to a poll conducted in 2016 on behalf of Catholics for Choice. 

As Catholics, we believe in the inherent dignity of each person, including the poorest of the poor. We know that our Catholic social justice tradition calls upon each of us to advocate for policies that protect the least among us: those who are most vulnerable and marginalized in our society. These are the individuals who are most harmed by policies that would allow the government to interfere with private reproductive health care decisions, such as abortion.

Medical professionals across the country are on the front lines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, putting their own health and well-being at risk every single day. Shame on Pavone for attacking any group of dedicated health care providers at such a time as this in the name of imposing his ultraorthodox, ultraconservative politics on Americans and for his misleading claim to speak for all Catholics.

And shame on states like Ohio and Texas for exploiting this medical crisis to advance their politics at the expense of women exercising their moral agency in seeking the full range of reproductive health care services.

Regardless of how each of us responds when faced with the choice of whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy, in our free and democratic society it is critical that we stand up for freedom of conscience — including freedom of bodily autonomy for others with whom we might disagree — and for the value of facts and expertise.

Forcing women to give birth against their will by placing unnecessary and unfair obstacles to access essential health care runs counter to our society’s fundamental principles and most certainly violates Catholic social justice teaching.

Unlike Priests for Life, ACOG advances more than a single issue. For over half a century, ACOG has enhanced awareness among its members and with the public of the many issues facing women’s health care from preventive services, to maternity care, to abortion. Father Pavone is advocating for a narrow political point of view, one which is rejected by the majority across the United States, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe is acting president of Catholics for Choice.