Media ignoring diversity of religious views on stem cell research

March 9, 2009, 11:21 am | Posted by

Numerous news reports about the Obama administration’s reversal of the Bush White House’s restrictions on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research have painted a misleading picture of the faith community’s position on the issue. In fact there is not a singular position from the faith community on ESC research.

The Washington Post initially reported:

The move, long sought by scientists and patient advocates and opposed by religious groups, would enable the National Institutes of Health to consider requests from scientists to study hundreds of lines of cells that have been developed since the limitations were put in place — lines that scientists and patient advocate say hold great hope for leading to cures for a host of major ailments.

And their Saturday front page story quoted only one religious source — Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins.

Politico, Newsday and the San Francisco Chronicle also report that religious activists oppose embryonic stem cell research without noting that numerous faith groups support it.

To name a few, the United Methodist Church (America’s second largest protestant denomination), every major Jewish denomination (including Orthodox), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association are all officially in favor of embryonic stem cell research.

Even the socially conservative LDS church is officially neutral on the topic, and church member Sen. Orin Hatch has been vocal in his support of embryonic stem cell research.

Just as the religious anti-ESC research arguments deserve fair representation in the media, so do the arguments of religious groups and leaders that believe ESC research is the most ethical, life-affirming use for embryos left over from fertility treatments that would otherwise be discarded.

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Hardball takes up common ground on abortion

March 6, 2009, 4:56 pm | Posted by

As exasperating as it might be to watch Chris Matthews repeatedly cut off a guest, it was encouraging to see a common ground approach to abortion get a hearing on Hardball last night. William Saletan, who recently penned a New York Times op-ed on the subject, appeared alongside Family Research Council fellow Ken Blackwell to discuss the issue with Matthews, who described Saletan’s approach as finding “some common ground on the goal I think we deeply all share, of dramatically reducing the number of people who choose abortion.” Saletan focused principally on improving education on reproductive health, which is a part of the comprehensive approach including improving access to contraception, supporting pregnant women and families economically, widening access to pre- and post-natal health care and promoting adoption.

Money quote from Chris about the consequences of not finding a new course on abortion:

Here`s the question I put to you [Ken], ten years from now, if we are still on the air here, and you come back on and Will comes back on, we`ll have the same argument, and you will take the same position of abstinence and all this stuff, and there will be 10 million more abortions by then. And we will have the same discussion, while having accomplished nothing. That`s my concern. It`s gotten nowhere. Nowhere.

It’s nice to see the common ground approach securing a beachhead in MSM. Hopefully other shows start discussing abortion reduction too and include more diverse voices. With healthcare reform on the table, the conscience clause under review, and Kathleen Sebelius awaiting confirmation, there’s never been a better time!

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Lingering “conscience clause” question

March 5, 2009, 4:40 pm | Posted by

One lingering question about the revocation of the midnight-hour, Bush administration “conscience” rule:

If health care providers were in such a bind when it came to “conscience” objections, why didn’t President Bush push for the new HHS regulation years ago? If it is critical, why was it done in the last month of Bush’s presidency and why didn’t it go into effect until he’d left office?

The official HHS press release notes the existence of several statutes already in place to safeguard the freedom of health care providers to practice according to their conscience, but then makes the politically-charged statement that the new regulations were put in place to “increase awareness of, and compliance with, these laws.”

President Obama isn’t advocating for overturning any of those statutes that the Bush administration said “safeguard the freedom of health care providers to practice according to their conscience.” It seems to me that all the president is doing is ordering a review of a hasty and problematically vague change in regulation.

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Sebelius for HHS: The George Tiller False Attack in the MSM

March 3, 2009, 6:25 pm | Posted by

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is President Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Under her leadership in Kansas, abortions dropped by more than 10%. While pro-choice, she is personally opposed to abortion and has worked to reduce the number of abortions in the very red state where she, a pro-choice Democrat, was elected twice as governor.

THE FALSE ATTACK:

While this record has brought Gov. Sebelius praise from many religious leaders, including Catholics and Evangelicals, she has drawn heat from right-wing groups. One of their main pillars of attack is based on her alleged “close” connection to Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider in Kansas who’s now facing criminal charges. Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, for example, FRC claims that “she has had a close personal and financial association with the nation’s most infamous abortion doctor, George Tiller, who specializes in late-term abortions.” The Liberty Council claims, “Sebelius has close ties with late-term abortionist George Tiller…Sebelius honored Tiller and his entire abortion clinic staff at the Governor’s mansion in April 2007. Tiller has contributed thousands of dollars to Sebelius and to her PAC.” Operation Rescue President Troy Newman went so far as to put it this way: “With Obama’s appointment of Gov. Sebelius to the Department of Health and Human Services, he might as well be appointing George Tiller…”

THE FACTS:

George Tiller purchased the right to attend a reception at the governor’s mansion with Gov. Sebelius by buying a table for the reception in a fundraising auction. Gov. Sebelius did not invite him to attend. Gov. Sebelius has not taken financial contributions from Tiller as a gubernatorial candidate or as governor and she appointed the state Attorney General who is prosecuting the case against him.

THE FALSE ATTACK IN THE ECHO CHAMBER:

Unfortunately, the misinformation isn’t limited to fringe groups. Major news outlets are repeating it.

New York Times: “Anti-abortion leaders also criticize her for hosting a reception at the governor’s mansion in 2007 attended by George Tiller, a prominent Wichita abortion provider. At the time, Dr. Tiller was under investigation and now is about to go on trial for 19 misdemeanor charges of violating state restrictions on late-term abortions, according to news reports.”

This report misrepresents the reception, which Dr. Tiller purchased the right to attend, and fails to note that Gov. Sebelius appointed the attorney general investigating Tiller for those charges of violating state restrictions on late-term abortions.

The Hill makes a virtually identical mistake.

Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star: “The governor also has an oddly close relationship with George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who brags on his Web site that he has performed more than 60,000 late-term abortions since 1973. He’s now facing trial for 19 counts of performing illegal abortions. A major contributor to Democratic campaigns, Mr. Tiller has been fêted at the governor’s mansion.”

The governor’s relationship with Dr. Tiller isn’t “oddly close” and she hasn’t “fêted” him. Tiller purchased the right to attend the reception at the governor’s mansion and she has not accepted donations from him as a gubernatorial candidate or as governor — key facts the story doesn’t mention.

Fox News: “Kansas-based Operation Rescue says it will launch a full-out campaign against Sebelius because, as governor, she has had the support of Dr. George Tiller, who has been indicted for allegedly performing late-term abortions on underage girls.”

Later on in the story, Fox provides a bit more context, but in the lede of this story, the connection between Gov. Sebelius and Dr. Tiller is misstated, for the reasons listed above.

Sidebar: Fox News gets it wrong on the Bush “conscience” rule: “Sebelius’ opponents point out that HHS already is in the process of undoing a Bush administration regulation that allows medical personnel to refuse to provide abortion or sterilization services based on religious or moral grounds.”

HHS is not, in fact, in the process of undoing regulations that allow medical personnel to provide abortion. While the Bush “conscience” rule (which went into effect at the midnight hour of Bush’s presidency on January 20, 2009) is currently being reviewed by the Obama Administration, there is a 30-year history of legislation, which Obama supports, that protects medical providers from being forced to provide abortions against their personal moral or religious beliefs.

CORRECTING THE RECORD:

On a more positive note, CNN, which originally misreported the Sebelius/Tiller story, has now corrected it. Originally, the CNN story read: “Another lightning rod for Sebelius is a 2007 reception she held for Dr. George Tiller at the governor’s mansion in Topeka. Tiller, who specializes in late-term abortions and who once received the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, is presently facing charges relating to his practice.”

After FPL contacted them with the facts, they fixed the story . It now reads: “Another lightning rod for Sebelius is attendance by Dr. George Tiller and his staff at a 2007 reception she held at the governor’s mansion in Topeka. The doctor, who specializes in late-term abortions and once received the National Abortion Federation’s highest honor, won the reception at a charity auction held for the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.”

Other reporters need to follow CNN’s lead and fix factual errors in their stories on this attack. Americans deserve accurate information about the president’s pick for such an important post.

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Religious right groups continue to misinform on the “conscience” rule

March 3, 2009, 5:15 pm | Posted by

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again.

The hastily created and vague so-called “conscience” rule was put into place by the Bush administration in the waning hours of his presidency. Revoking this rule WILL NOT revoke the right for any health care provider to refuse to provide abortions. As with the Mexico City Policy, abortions are on another plane, due to legislation like the Hyde and Helms amendment.

Unfortunately, groups like Citizens for Community Values in Ohio are perpetuating myths about what the “conscience” clause will and will not do. In today’s action alert, they tell their readers that

“Over the weekend President Obama quietly announced his intention to rescind the conscience protection rule set in place by President Bush in December. That’s the rule that protects doctors and other health care workers from being forced to perform or promote abortions contrary to their moral objections.”

Rescinding this rule will not mean any health care professional will be forced to perform or promote abortions. Instead, health care providers will continue to do their jobs– providing men, women, and children with the health care and services they need.

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