Eunice Kennedy Shriver passes: advocate for disabled and pro-life Democrat

JP: Eunice Kennedy Shriver was passionate in her support of the intellectually disabled and of the unborn. In today’s political climate it’s easy to ignore that Democrats of a previous generation were pro-life! I mentioned her husband, Sargent Shriver earlier. He “remains to date the most recent pro-life supporter to have been in a Democratic Party presidential ticket” (source). During the 1992 Democratic presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, Mrs. Shriver was one of several prominent Democrats who signed a letter to The New York Times protesting the Democratic Party’s pro-choice plank in its platform (source). Mrs. Shriver was one of the founders of the Special Olympics. The Baptist Press comments on Mrs. Shriver in the following article.

Kennedy Shriver remembered for defense of unborn


Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a lifelong Democrat and member of a political family that largely embraced abortion rights, but on that controversial issue, she was pro-life.

Shriver died Aug. 11 at the age of 88 and is perhaps best remembered as the founder of the Special Olympics. But while she was a lifelong advocate of the intellectually disabled she also was an abortion opponent, and she saw her two positions as being closely aligned.

More than four decades ago — before the Supreme Court issued its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion — Shriver began fearing that if abortion was legalized and prenatal testing was used, then disabled unborn babies would be the target. Sadly, Shriver was right: An estimated 90 percent of Down syndrome babies are aborted each year.

She wasn’t quiet about her pro-life views and consistently promoted adoption. In the summer of 1992 Shriver and her husband, Sargent Shriver, joined other pro-life leaders in signing a full-page New York Times ad that argued America should not “abandon the principle of respect for human life.” “We can choose to extend once again the mantle of protection to all members of the human family, including the unborn,” the ad stated. It ran during the Democratic National Convention, which was held in New York City.

She also is credited with helping get U.S. Catholic bishops fully on board the pro-life movement in the 1960s.

“No one more than Eunice Kennedy Shriver understood better the power held by the most vulnerable in our society,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization for pro-life female politicians, said in a statement. Shriver once served on the group’s advisory committee. “She fought for those hidden in the shadows of life, while acknowledging that they teach us far more than we could ever offer them. She was consistent in her championing of every vulnerable human life.”

Shriver, the sister of former President John F. Kennedy and current Sen. Edward Kennedy, was “deeply influenced” by the fact that one of her sisters, Rosemary, was mentally disabled, according to the 1998 book “Wrath of Angels” by James Risen and Judy L. Thomas profiling the cultural battle over abortion.

“By the mid-1960s,” the book states, “Shriver began to fear that the new abortion reform campaign represented a threat to the mentally retarded. Reformers were making the case that legal abortion, coupled with prenatal testing, could help families avoid having children with serious birth defects. Shriver saw that argument as callous and cold, the mark of a society that believed in disposable human beings, and she saw abortion reform as an early step on a slippery slope toward eugenics and euthanasia.”

Risen and Thomas also argue that America’s Catholic bishops were not “stirred to action” on the issue of abortion until Shriver “arrived on the scene.” Her name gave the pro-life movement instant recognition. In 1967 she arranged for the Kennedy Foundation and the Harvard Divinity School to co-sponsor a conference on the issue of abortion. Although it included people from both sides of the spectrum, most were pro-life. Shriver had the conference transcribed and placed in the form of a book, called “The Terrible Choice,” which she and her husband gave to Catholic leaders, Risen and Thomas reported.

Her letter to the NY Times is available here: J.F.K. Would Have Defended Bishops’ Right to Fight Abortion


The right to life of a newly conceived fetus is a value held by many people who are not Catholic. This is a moral value that deserves debate, and the bishops have a right to advance this view in all of the channels of communication that are available.

I would similarly defend the rights of the abortion rights league to advance its views in these same channels. Why then do such groups object so violently when church leaders organize to communicate their values of respect for human life from its inception? This is not religious doctrine like a belief in the virgin birth, or even the sacredness of Jesus.

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