Kissling retires; led 25-year fight

WASHINGTON – After a quarter-century as head of an organization working to change the Catholic Church’s stand on abortion, Frances Kissling is stepping down as president of Catholics for a Free Choice.

Ms. Kissling and others describe Catholics for a Free Choice, which supports legal abortion, as a “church reform group,” but the U.S. bishops’ Administrative Committee said in 1993 that it “has no affiliation, formal or otherwise, with the Catholic Church” and “can in no way speak for the Catholic Church and its 59 million members in the United States.”

Under Ms. Kissling’s leadership, Catholics for a Free Choice expanded its reach beyond the abortion issue to such topics as same-sex marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, contraception, the clergy sex abuse crisis and the Vatican’s right to diplomatic status at the United Nations. The organization also worked outside U.S. borders to change abortion policy in other countries.

“Because of its opposition to the human rights of some of the most defenseless members of the human race, and because its purposes and activities deliberately contradict essential teachings of the Catholic Church, we state once again that Catholics for a Free Choice merits no recognition or support as a Catholic organization,” the Administrative Committee said in its six-paragraph statement in 1993.

The bishops charged that Catholics for a Free Choice “is associated with the pro-abortion lobby in Washington” and is mostly funded by “secular organizations supporting legal abortion in this country and abroad.”

A founder and president of the National Abortion Federation, Ms. Kissling will be succeeded by Jon O’Brien, executive vice president of Catholics for a Free Choice, who formerly worked as director of communications for the Irish Family Planning Association in his hometown of Dublin.

Ms. Kissling was to be honored at a March 2 dinner in Washington organized by Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Marysa Navarro-Aranguren, a history professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., who chairs the Catholics for a Free Choice board of directors.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.