Catholics for Choice (CFC) is a pro-abortion advocacy group of self-identified Catholics based in Washington, D.C., who assert, contrary to the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Roman Catholic Church, that “the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health,” namely abortion. The group takes an extremist pro-abortion position, circulating a petition arguing that “Public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.”
Formed in 1973 as a 501(c)(4) lobbying group in New York City by members of a local chapter of the feminist organization National Organization for Women (NOW), the group was named Catholics for a Free Choice until 2007. 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,” the CFC supports even late-term abortions, does not recognize the authority of the Church on abortion or contraception, and holds that “every individual must follow his or her own conscience.”
Prolific pamphleteers, bloggers, essayists and spokesmen, the leaders and staff of CFC provide ongoing purportedly “Catholic” justification for abortion to abortion providers, abortion-rights advocates, and pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The CFC also lobbies and coaches policy makers and organizes opposition to pro-life efforts to restrict abortion. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has continuously rejected CFC’s identification as a Catholic organization and has stated that the organization promotes positions contrary to Catholic teaching. 
From the beginning, CFC’s publicity efforts have been deliberately antagonistic toward the Catholic Church. In its first year, the organization’s executive director, Patricia Fogarty McQuillan, held a mock papal inauguration in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, in which she declared herself “Her Holiness Pope Patricia the First.” In 1984, the organization placed a full-page ad in the New York Times titled, “Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion,” signed by dissident Catholic theologians, priests and nuns. The ad declared that the Church’s teaching on abortion is not “the only legitimate Catholic position.” More recently, current executive director Jon O’Brien penned an article taking aim at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) titled, “Nobody Gets to Say Who is and Who is not Catholic.”
Throughout its history, the CFC has been funded by progressive foundations with little or no perceivable connection to or interest in the Catholic religion. Its early benefactors were the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) and the National Abortion Rights Action League (now NARAL).  Since then the CFC has been supported by wealthy organizations with a history of supporting Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups. These have included the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which gave the CFC over $18 million between 2006 and 2014, the Ford Foundation, and the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Catholics for Choice was originally called Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) and was founded as a 501(c)(4) lobby in New York City in October 1973, by three members of a local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Patricia Fogarty McQuillan, Joan Harriman, and Meta Mulcahy. Just a few months earlier, the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States and CFFC’s founders were “concerned that the gains of Roe could be temporary if an organized anti-abortion movement, supported by the Catholic Church, gained momentum.” 
From its inception, CFFC has rejected the teachings of the Catholic Church on abortion and contraception, and has declared that the organization does not recognize the authority of the Church, the Pope and the bishops on these matters. In an early effort to emphasize this defiance, CFFC’s first executive director Patricia Fogarty McQuillan held a mock papal inauguration in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade. McQuillan declared herself “Her Holiness Pope Patricia the First” and then announced that women “would no longer accept the erroneous dictates of the magisterium or the ‘teaching authority’ of the church regarding women.”
During the early 1970s, CFFC remained a small group in New York City with little money. McQuillan died in June 1974, and for the remainder of the 1970s CFFC teetered on bankruptcy, surviving on small grants from the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR), the National Abortion Rights Action League (now NARAL), and the Unitarian Universalist Church in New York. 
In 1976, the organization moved to Washington, DC, and hired lobbyist Ginny Andary who visited members of Congress to make them aware of “pro-choice Catholic opinion.” In 1979, the board voted to spend its remaining budget on hiring Patricia McMahon as executive director. McMahon soon secured CFFC’s first large grant of $75,000 from the Sunnen Foundation, a manufacturer that produced Emko contraceptive foam. With the new investment, McMahon launched CFFC’s publications program, including its quarterly magazine Conscience.
1979 continued to be a busy year at CFFC. First, the board and McMahon decided to shift the organization from a 501(c)(4) lobbying group to a 501(c)(3) educational organization, making CFFC eligible for foundation grants. McMahon argued that “publications, public speaking and convening like-minded groups of people around the country seemed the most important thing that CFFC could do.” Next, McMahon invited to the CFFC board executive director of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) Frances Kissling.  Kissling would become executive director in 1982 and serve in that role until 2007.
With Kissling in charge, CFFC’s funding increased. Early six-figure contributors included the Sunnen Foundation and other pro-abortion and pro-contraception philanthropies as the Brush Foundation, Gund Foundation, Packard Foundation, General Service Foundation, Educational Foundation of America, Public Welfare Foundation, John Merck Fund, Scherman Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation. CFFC also received $10,000 from the Playboy Foundation in 1982 and 1983. When critics suggested it was hypocrisy for a feminist organization to take money from a pornographer, Kissling claimed that she considered the funding “reparations.” 
Throughout the 1980s, CFFC became more prolific, publishing pamphlets designed to provide ostensibly “Catholic” cover for abortion. The organization’s Abortion in Good Faith series, beginning with the 1981 We Are the Mainstream: Dissent in the Catholic Church argued that the progress of mankind over nature freed individuals from the teachings of the Church, which are an “entrenchment in past ignorance and a denial of present knowledge.” More specifically, regarding contraception and abortion, CFFC asserted, “the church’s real objection to personal reproductive choice is not that it violates natural and divine law,” but that it “calls for the placement of an individual’s judgment between herself or himself and church authority.”
While rejecting the teachings of the Catholic Church, CFFC did adopt some of its teaching methodology in an attempt to appeal to Catholics. In 1983, CFFC board member Dan Maguire penned Abortion: A Guide to Making Ethical Choices, which was written like a catechism “so all kinds of people could read it and get good theological opinions stated understandably.” “Clinics were probably the biggest consumers of our materials,” said public affairs director Mary Jean Collins. “It was all about making Catholics comfortable with the choices they were making when the church said it was wrong.”
Under Kissling’s direction, CFFC also became more active in coaching pro-abortion Catholic members of Congress and seeking opportunities for media exposure, like its 1981 “press conference” protesting the testimony of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in support of the Hatch Human Life Amendment.. It was in 1984, however, that Kissling generated her first major media exposure and what would prove to be one of the CFFC’s most widely-reported publicity efforts. In response to U.S. bishops denouncing the pro-abortion position of Democratic vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, CFFC placed a full-page paid advertisement in The New York Times on October 7, titled “Catholic Statement on Pluralism and Abortion.” The statement acknowledged that “recent popes and the Catholic hierarchy” had condemned abortion as morally wrong, but went on to claim that this was not “the only legitimate Catholic position.”
On November 14, the NCCB condemned the statement and on December 18, the Vatican announced that it had instructed every member of a religious order that had signed the statement to retract support of the statement or be subject to prosecution under canon law and possible dismissal from their orders. Within a year, the priests, brothers and all but two of the nuns retracted their support, but the controversy over the ad led to greater media coverage for the CFFC. By August 1986, the Washington Post Magazine ran a friendly story about Kissling titled, “The Cardinal of Choice.” In the article, Kissling is quoted as stating, “Jesus Christ didn’t come here and say, ‘You gotta have a pope, you gotta have cardinals, you gotta have bishops, you gotta have priests… This system is man-made and really modeled upon a European feudal system… What I am trying to do is to democratize and humanize the Church.”
In 1990, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, CFFC published its Guide for Pro-choice Catholics, a compendium of articles and essays designed to assist pro-abortion Catholic politicians and candidates. CFFC also filed amicus briefs in the 1990s in several abortion cases reaching the Supreme Court, one of which was quoted from by liberal Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissenting opinion in Webster.
CFFC extended its reach beyond the U.S. throughout the 1990s, helping establish partner organizations in Latin America under the umbrella Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir and winning recognition by the United Nations as a nongovernmental organization (NGO).
Shortly after the turn of the century, CFFC launched two new international efforts that are still operational as of 2017. The first, See Change, is an attempt to pressure the United Nations into revoking the Holy See’s Permanent Observer status. The second, Condoms4Life, is a campaign to raise awareness about the “devastating effect of the bishops’ ban on condoms.”
The early 2000s also saw the CFFC broaden its scope to include support for “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Catholics.” In 2007, the organization changed its name to Catholics for Choice (CFC), Kissling resigned, and Jon O’Brien became executive director.
Relationship with the Catholic Bishops
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is the membership association of the Catholic bishops of the United States and U.S. Virgin Islands, has consistently condemned CFC and rejected its claim to represent Catholicism.
- “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 faith,….Catholics for a Free Choice merits no recognition or support as a Catholic organization.” Administrative Committee, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1993. 
- “For a number of years, a group calling itself Catholics for a Free Choice has been publicly supporting abortion while claiming it speaks as an authentic Catholic voice. That claim is false. In fact, the group’s activity is directed to rejection and distortion of Catholic teaching about the respect and protection due to defenseless unborn human life.” Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000. 
- “The organization rejects and distorts Catholic social teaching – and actually attacks its foundation. As Pope Francis said this summer to leaders in Poland, ‘Life must always be welcomed and protected … from conception to natural death. All of us are called to respect life and care for it.’” 
“Abortion in Good Faith”
Campaigning for federal funding of abortion in the U.S., CFC has taken out ads in national and local print publications across the country. CFC has also created a website where Catholics can sign an online pledge declaring that, “Public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.”
Launched in 2000, See Change is an ongoing attempt to pressure the United Nations into removing the Permanent Observer status of the Holy See. In its campaign video, CFC asks, “why is a fake state with few families allowed to obstruct women’s rights the world over..?” and “the Holy See should not be able to trade on its presumed moral authority.”
Is an effort to raise awareness about the “devastating effect of the bishops’ ban on condoms,” and to force faith-based organizations that administer federally-funded international development aid to offer “evidence-based comprehensive services,” including condoms, sex education, and needle exchange programs.
Jon O’Brien, Executive Director
Before joining CFC in 1996, O’Brien worked at the Irish Family Planning Association and the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s European Bureau in London. O’Brien has been recognized by the International Conference on Population and Development, Planned Parenthood, and the California Women’s Law Center. In a 2012 article admonishing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, O’Brien commands that “every individual must follow his or her own conscience.” 
Board Chairman, Daniel A. Dombrowski
Dombrowski is a professor of philosophy at Seattle University. He is the author of eighteen books including A Brief, Liberal, Catholic Defense of Abortion; Rawls and Religion: The Case for Political Liberalism; and Hartshorne and the Metaphysics of Animal Rights.
Between 2006 and 2014 the CFC received over $18 million from The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which gave a total of more than one billion dollars to pro-abortion foundations over the same period. CFC has also received funding from the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation ($5,735,500), Ford Foundation ($2,650,000), and the Huber Foundation ($1,155,000).