Catholics For Choice (CFC)—known as Catholics For a Free Choice prior to 2007—is a nonprofit organization comprised of self-identified Catholics claiming to be “part of the great majority of the faithful” who have chosen to embrace a “Catholic alternative” to “the dictates of the Vatican on a number of moral issues related to sex, marriage, family life and motherhood.” Rejecting the Catholic Catechism‘s explicitly “unchangeable” affirmation that abortion is a “moral evil” in every case, CFC aims “to ensure public recognition of the existence, in substantial numbers, of pro-choice Catholics.”
Also contrary to Catholic teaching, CFC likewise approves of premarital sex and contraception. Its Condoms4Life campaign, for instance, condemns “the devastating effect of the bishops’ ban on condoms,” and urges Catholics to use condoms as a way to protect themselves and their partners from the transmission of HIV. Impugning, as well, “the impact of negative sex messages from the Vatican,” CFC maintains that “the individual conscience of each person”—and not the dictates of the pope and the bishops—should be “recognized as the keystone of moral decision making” in matters regarding sex and its potential consequences.
CFC was established in 1973, shortly after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision had designated abortion as a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. The group’s principal founders were National Organization for Women (NOW) members Joan Harriman, Patricia Fogarty McQuillan, and Meta Mulcahy. By CFC’s telling, these women “were motivated by the simple conviction that the bishops did not represent the Catholic people on reproductive rights issues, including abortion.”
Ms. McQuillan, who served as CFC’s first president until her death in 1975, marked the first anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by symbolically crowning herself “pope” on the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. By McQuillan’s telling, the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion was rooted chiefly in the fact that its hierarchy was dominated by men.
In its early years, CFC was almost entirely a voluntary operation; it had no paid staff, no central office, and no budget. Its work was conducted partly out of its members’ homes, and partly out of office space provided, free of charge, by Planned Parenthood‘s New York branch. The modest funding that CFC received during that period came chiefly from the Unitarian Church, a strong advocate of abortion and population control.
As the ’70s wore on, CFC activists brought their group considerable publicity by appearing as counter-protesters at right-to-life demonstrations in various locales, where they often stole the media spotlight.
In 1979 the feminist activist Patricia McMahon, who served as CFC president from 1977-81, changed CFC’s legal status from that of a lobby to that of an educational association, thereby making the group eligible for tax-exempt status and opening the door to large-scale support from charitable foundations.
National Abortion Federation founder Frances Kissling succeeded McMahon as CFC president in 1982. Kissling greatly increased the group’s fundraising efforts, and she initiated its publication of pamphlets, newsletters, and a quarterly magazine called Conscience.
In the October 7, 1984 edition of the New York Times, CFC ran a highly controversial ad titled “A Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion,” which proclaimed that there was more than one legitimate Catholic position regarding abortion.
In 1992 the United Nations formally classified CFC as a non-governmental organization (NGO), thereby permitting the group to subsequently participate in UN conferences.
Of the $15 million that CFC raised between 1996 and 2000, more than 70% came from five sources that had never contributed to an officially recognized Catholic nonprofit: the Buffett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
In March 1999, CFC launched its “See Change” campaign, an unsuccessful international initiative that aimed to downgrade the Holy See’s (i.e., the Vatican’s) status in the United Nations from that of a Non-Member State Permanent Observer, to that of an NGO. Such a measure would not only have prevented the Holy See from voting on UN policy, but also from addressing any UN meetings unless invited to do so.
A member of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, CFC was a Co-Sponsoring Organization of the April 25, 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” held in Washington, DC, a rally that drew more than a million demonstrators advocating that women be granted unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand.
In 2007, CFC’s former vice president and director of communications, Jon O’Brien, who had once served as a program manager at the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s European Bureau in London, succeeded Frances Kissling as CFC president – a post he continues to hold.
In 2012, CFC co-sponsored the dissident Austrian priest Helmut Schüller’s “Call to Disobedience,” a reform initiative (denounced by Pope Benedict XVI) that sought to pressure the Catholic Church to change its teachings on a variety of issues related to the liturgy and ordination. That same year, CFC also co-sponsored Father Tony Flannery, whom the Vatican had suspended for questioning various Church teachings on sexuality and the New Testament.
In a March 2014 advertising initiative, CFC impugned the Catholic Church for seeking “to impose its views on entire populations, Catholic or not.” The ads also stated that the U.S. Bishops had “ignored” religious freedom “on many occasions, most recently in their assault on the contraceptive requirement in the Affordable Care Act” – a reference to an Obamacare provision mandating that all employers, regardless of their own religious or moral beliefs, must provide their workers with health insurance policies covering the costs of contraceptives and abortifacients. Moreover, the CFC ads asserted that Pope Francis’s “interpretation of Church teaching does not represent that of the majority of Catholics, especially on issues related to sexuality, reproductive health and family life.”
In 2016, CFC appealed to Pope Francis to permit Church members to undergo abortions in good conscience as a means of eliminating the possibility of delivering babies with birth defects caused by the Zika virus.
In September 2016, CFC’s “Abortion in Good Faith” campaign ran full-page, color newspaper ads promoting taxpayer-funded abortion rights for women unable to pay for the procedure themselves. The ads, which ran in multiple states where there were large Catholic populations, characterized abortion as a “conscience-based decision,” and argued that taxpayer funding for such abortions is morally consistent with accepted principles of “social justice.”
In a similar spirit, CFC has praised Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America, for doing work that “exemplifies the Catholic social justice tradition.”
CFC’s “Catholics in Public Life” project is “a nonpartisan public education initiative” that teaches Catholic legislators and policy makers how to “clearly articulate pro-choice positions grounded in progressive Catholicism.” Specifically, the program provides these individuals with in-depth research on the opinions of Catholic voters and the Catholic hierarchy, and with opposition research on groups and individuals “who seek to discredit and silence pro-choice Catholics.”
CFC has been condemned more than once by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), which in 2000 said that CFC: (a) “is directed to rejection and distortion of Catholic teaching about the respect and protection due to defenseless unborn human life”; and (b) “is not a Catholic organization, does not speak for the Catholic Church, and in fact promotes positions contrary to the teaching of the Church as articulated by the Holy See and the NCCB.” Similarly, the Texas Catholic Conference said in 2016: “Despite what is implied by its name, Catholics for Choice … has no affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, it is financed by grants from a few secular organizations pushing a pro-abortion agenda.”
In addition to the charitable foundations cited earlier in this profile, other funders of CFC include the Compton Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Prospect Hill Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Open Society Institute of George Soros, the Playboy Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, the Summit Charitable Foundation, and the Turner Foundation.
For additional information on CFC, click here.
 Schüller’s “Call to Disobedience” advocated such things as: (a) allowing the ordination of women; (b) permitting priests to be married and non-celibate; and (c) allowing remarried divorcees and non-Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
 CFC opposed the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (previously Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores), which ruled that individuals do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business, and thus cannot be forced to provide their workers with health insurance plans that provide coverage for contraception and abortifacients.