In her obituary today for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Catholic News Service weiter Nancy Frazier O'Brien notes the Massachusetts Democrat's longtime support for legal access to abortion. But she also reminds those who might not have remembered that it wasn't always so.
O'Brien quotes extensively from a 1971 letter on the subject by Kennedy:
"While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life," Kennedy wrote.
"Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized -- the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old. When history looks back at this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."
Of course, Kennedy would eventurally become a staunch supporter of abortion rights. As O'Brien notes, he earned a nearly 100 percent negative rating in recent years from the National Right to Life Committee and a 100 percent positive rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America for his abortion-related votes in the Senate.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy meets with Cardinal Lawrence Shehan at the Baltimore Basilica in 1980. (Jed Kirschbaum/The Baltimore Sun)
On other issues, O’Brien writes, Kennedy “stood firmly on the side of the Catholic Church.” These included immigration reform, the minimum wage and opposition to the war in Iraq. According to news reports, he died with a Catholic priest at his side.