The facts on the “conscience clause”

February 27, 2009, 1:56 pm | Posted by

It’s being reported that President Obama will revoke a midnight-hour Bush administration Health and Human Services rule change. The so-called “conscience clause” is a federal protection (issued in December and implemented in January) to health-care workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.

One of many problems with this poorly-written “conscience clause” is confusion about its scope: the vagueness of the rule could lead it to limiting everything from HIV tests to blood transfusions to emergency contraception for rape victims

Problems with the rule change had already begun cropping up. Two alarming examples from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology:

In one, a Virginia mother of two became pregnant because she was denied emergency contraception. In another, a rape victim in Texas had her prescription for emergency contraception rejected by a pharmacist.

While some on the right are claiming this a rabid pro-choice move, we beg to differ.

First of all, revisiting the Bush “conscience clause” rule does NOT mean that providers who object to performing abortions will have to provide them. No provider will have to perform abortions against their will. There is a 30-year history of legislation (three separate laws in fact) that protects such providers. (Someone needs to tell FRC, since Tony Perkins thinks “…President Obama is planning to bow down to pro-abortion forces [to] stop enforcement of laws enacted to protect the choice of healthcare providers not to participate in abortion.”)

The “conscience clause” is not only vague and potentially harmful to patients, but it also undermines the goal of reducing abortions because it potentially blocks women’s access to services like birth control. Consider: 98% of women of child-bearing age, who have ever had sexual intercourse, have used some form of contraception. Obviously, contraception is key to preventing unintended pregnancies. Preventing access to contraception runs counter to the Obama administration’s clearly stated goal of preventing unintended pregnancies and reducing abortions.

Also important to note: HHS is holding a 30-day comment period, open to the public. The Obama Administration is concerned about the consequences of the scope of the Bush “conscience clause,” but they also understand the need to clarify the existing rules and want to fully understand and address the concerns of providers.

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Thousands Ask Sen. Brownback to Demand Accountability for Misuse of Faith

February 26, 2009, 11:15 am | Posted by

Sign the Petition!

Update number two: Stephen Schneck has some interesting thoughts on what’s sparking these harsh new political tactics.

Update on yesterday’s post: To support the efforts of Faithful America and Catholics United, Faith in Public Life issued this press release:

Over 3,500 Americans of faith are calling on Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) to set the record straight about his position on a recent fundraising letter sent under his name, which called into question the sincerity of the faith of seven Catholic members of Congress. The group also insists that funds raised from this misuse of religion are returned or donated to charity.

The letter claimed to be a voice for “real Catholics” and questioned whether six Democratic Catholic senators and the Speaker of the House are genuine in their faith, calling several senators’ faith a “smokescreen.” The letter was a fundraising appeal for Catholic Advocate, an organization run by former Bush advisor Deal Hudson.

Sen. Brownback’s office has said they are not pleased with the letter and do not want his name used in future appeals, but they acknowledge that permission was granted by a former staffer to send it under Sen. Brownback’s name. This has resulted in conflicting news reports about Sen. Brownback’s position on the letter. Meanwhile, Catholics across America have already received the fundraising appeal under Sen. Brownback’s name, and Catholic Advocate is continuing to raise money off of it.

Signatories of the petition– members of Faithful America and Catholics United– are asking Sen. Brownback to set the record straight and ensure that Hudson’s Catholic Advocate won’t profit from this misuse of faith, by asking for the funds raised by the letter to be returned or donated to Catholic Charities. Faithful America also contacted Sen. Brownback’s office directly to explain the petition and offer assistance in distributing a clarifying statement.

Faithful America is an online community of thousands of people of faith upholding the common good. Faithful America is hosted by Faith in Public Life. Catholics United is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting the message of justice and the common good found at the heart of the Catholic Social Teaching.

And the story is picking up some steam!

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Preventing unintended pregnancies… more important than ever

February 24, 2009, 5:47 pm | Posted by

Family planning conversations are stirring in the blogosphere and MSM this week. Today, the story was the release of a new Guttmacher Institute study, which found that publicly-funded family planning (note: not publicly funded abortion, thanks to the Hyde Amendment) prevents nearly 2 million unintended pregnancies and more than 800,000 abortions in the United States each year . This means that without publicly funded family planning, the U.S. abortion rate would be nearly two-thirds higher, and nearly twice as high among poor women. Guttmacher argues this is “good government,” because we’re saving money in the long-term. (Pelosi took some heat for making similar arguments about including family planning in the stimulus, so I’m trying to tread lightly here!)

Anyway, I think the cost is secondary to the moral and public health argument. In my mind, in the perfect world, we would have ZERO unintended pregnancies, alleviating the cause of many heart-wrenching decisions for women and families. If the government can help get us closer to that ideal, I think it’s acting as it should. (Which is also an argument for Title X expansions.)

A blogger at RH Reality Check also notes that the study revealed that the use of contraceptives is becoming less common in this country for black, Hispanic and low-income women and goes on to point out that though the overall national rate of unintended pregnancy has held steady in recent years, falling rates among affluent women masked an increase among poor and low-income women. As the recession deepens, it’s even more important to ensure that poor women and minorities have affordable and accessible family planning services.

Some conservatives will never get behind such policies, but they’re out of step not only with the pro-choice community and the staggering percentage of women who have used contraception, but also pro-life leaders who are stepping up to support common ground. We can all acknowledge that abortion is a morally complex issue, and while we can continue to dispute its morality and legality, can’t we agree that everybody wins if we prevent as many unintended pregnancies as possible?

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Common ground on abortion: Rooted in evangelical history

February 18, 2009, 6:14 pm | Posted by

A doctoral candidate at Rice, Blake Ellis, posted a really interesting article over at History News Network yesterday. One of his contentions is that tactics like the removal of family-planning services from the stimulus bill have made it clear that “the goal of the anti-abortion movement is not a reduction in the abortion rate, but rather strict control over the private sexual decisions of the country’s citizens.”

While FPL has worked with a host of pro-life leaders who are interested in reducing the abortion rate (CLURT, Real Abortion Solutions), we’ve also witnessed pro-life obstructionism, which seems hell-bent on policing morality and private decisions than actually preventing abortions. Extreme right-to-life advocates claim that common ground solutions are just smoke-and-mirrors, covering up President Obama’s actual agenda to “promote unlimited abortions… and force [taxpayers] to pay for abortions.” Of course, neither of those claims is grounded in reality–Pres. Obama has repeatedly emphasized his desire to reduce the number of abortions. and we have numerous statutory impediments to government funds going towards abortions (like the Hyde Amendment).

(And don’t get me wrong, we’ve also encountered critics on the left .)

But what’s so fascinating about the HNN piece is that it challenges our assumptions about conservative evangelicals–especially about more “old-school” evangelicals. (Obviously, much has been said about the changing of the guard and the younger evangelicals’ broader agendas.)

Ellis claims that historically many evangelicals haven’t agreed with being fiercely political about abortion, even within quite conservative denominations. One of his examples is Foy Valentine, who pushed the Southern Baptist Convention “toward a liberal stance on issues of race and poverty and opposed Farwell’s near-exclusive focus on opposing abortion rights” in the 1960s and ’70s.

And… get this…he was a proponent of abortion reduction, through prevention and support for women and families. According to Ellis, he advocated for sex education in churches and made clear that Baptists should play a role in reducing the number of abortions in the country.

And in 1971, at an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptists overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for “legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

Ellis concedes that many evangelicals leaders and denominations have taken a harder right turn on abortion since then, but makes this final point:

…The actions of these Baptists serve as a reminder that the alliance of southern evangelicals with anti-abortion ideologues was neither inevitable nor unavoidable; and it may be reversible. …Progressives can build new alliances that might undermine the power of Christian Right leaders who would apparently rather block government support for poor women than work to actually reduce the number of abortions.

That’s what we’re trying to do. Thanks for Ellis for reminding me that’s it possible and right to find common ground on this issue.

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Pro-lifers for Obama

February 11, 2009, 2:36 pm | Posted by

I was pretty well stunned by Steve Waldman’s report from John Green that 25 percent of Obama voters were pro-life. My guess would’ve been roughly half that number. There’s a lot to unpack here.

1) Why such high crossover? Because the Obama campaign’s outreach on abortion reduction (think Doug Kmiec, the nomination acceptance speech, the third presidential debate) and the efforts of outside groups like Matthew25 resonated? Because economic anxiety crowded out abortion as a primary voting issue? Because McCain didn’t make his case well? Because pro-life voters are tired of the GOP boilerplate and yearning for common ground? I think any thorough explanation has to account for all of these factors.

2) What happens next? If I had a nickel for every “tightrope” metaphor I’ve read since Inauguration Day, it would cover my lunches and bus fare for at least a week. Thus far, the administration has taken a couple of steps to walk it: spelling out abortion reduction as a principal aim of the faith-based council, and including pro-life as well as pro-choice leaders on it; repealing the Mexico City policy, but waiting until after the observance of the Roe Anniversary to do so. After a few big-ticket items like stimulus get checked off the agenda though, symbolism will likely have to be followed with action on abortion reduction if the administration wants pro-lifers continued support, especially as Supreme Court appointments loom.

3) Will the Democratic party try to cement Obama’s gains in future elections by continuing to emphasize abortion reduction and common ground? It shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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