Mercury Poisoning is Not a Pro-Life Value

September 16, 2011, 5:11 pm | Posted by

When political leaders claim that businesses need less regulations, they don’t usually provide specifics about which rules should be cut. Instead they seem to hope that general anti-government sentiment will provide cover when they try to eliminate common-sense policies that protect the American people from dangerous abuses by companies trying to cut corners.

This week, a coalition of evangelicals and Catholics are speaking out against this very effort, targeting new attempts to delay regulations on mercury emissions from cement plant smokestacks. The campaign includes letters from evangelical leaders and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as radio ads targeting the three Congressman most responsible for this roll back effort–Reps. Ed Whitfield (KY-1), Fred Upton (MI-6) and Joe Barton (TX-6).

Appealing to these politicians’ stated pro-life principles, these leaders specifically highlight the danger mercury poisoning poses to pregnant women and children. Directly challenging the corporate industry groups behind this effort, they lay out the moral choice before Congress:

Opponents of the mercury standards are seeking to weaken or delay the regulations. They argue that the cost of cleaning up our air (about $3-7 per month per family) is too expensive. We welcome an honest debate about how much our children’s health is worth.

The radio ads are sponsored by the Evangelical Environmental Network. Listen to one here:

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Archbishop Chaput ‘s Culture War Style Challenged in Philly

September 8, 2011, 11:19 am | Posted by

Nicholas Carfardi, the dean emeritus of Duquesne Law School and former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth, has an important op-ed in the Philadelphia Daily News today that is sure to catch the attention of incoming Archbishop Charles Chaput and political leaders in this 2012 battleground state. Archbishop Chaput formally begins his tenure in Philadelphia this afternoon with an installation Mass that will include nearly 700 cardinals, bishops and priests.

A pro-life Catholic who was one of the most prominent Catholics to publicly support Barack Obama for president, Cafardi challenges Chaput and other bishops who make abortion the defining political issue for Catholics. Cafardi sensibly urges the archbishop to focus on healing the wounds of Philadelphia’s clergy sex abuse crisis and to tone down his combative political rhetoric, which includes accusing Catholics of “cooperating in evil” if they ever vote for politicians who don’t support criminalizing abortion. Cafardi writes:

A disproportionate focus on criticizing politicians who do not accept that criminalizing abortion is the only way to solve this terrible problem gives the false impression that the Catholic Church is a religious wing of the Republican Party. Elected officials who support the death penalty, demonize immigrants and slash life-saving programs that protect the poor and most vulnerable – all in contradiction to Church teaching – rarely receive the sort of public rebukes Archbishop Chaput and other conservative Catholic bishops direct at those who deviate from the Church’s position on abortion.

I believe in the sanctity of human life and support policies and laws that care for pregnant women and prevent abortions. But Catholicism is not a single-issue faith. Catholic social teaching and the moral principles of diverse religious traditions challenge the agendas of both political parties by insisting that the poor, the unborn, the undocumented immigrant and even the prisoner are children of God. Religious leaders must preserve this essential voice as a prophetic witness to truths that transcend the partisan fray.

As I’ve noted before, unlike episcopal leaders such as Cardinal Donald Wuerl in Washington, who rejects turning the Communion rail into a political arena, Bishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, NM, who has urged his fellow bishops not to “isolate ourselves from the rest of America”, or retired Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco, who warns that the Church is in danger of being perceived as choosing the Republican side in political fights, Chaput represents a wing of the U.S. Catholic Church that relishes publicly lambasting Democrats for deviating from church orthodoxy while taking a far gentler tone when it comes to conservative politicians’ contradiction of church teachings.

Cafardi’s compelling argument has recently been echoed by a growing number of Catholic theologians, social justice leaders, priests and women religious who believe abortion is a moral tragedy, but refuse to accept that it’s the only “life issue” that elected officials or candidates should be judged on. Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, certainly heard that message loud and clear when his draconian federal budget proposals were challenged as being “anti-life” before his commencement address at The Catholic University in America this spring.

During the 2008 presidential election, it was the rare bishop who stood up to fellow Catholic leaders and Catholic culture warriors who reduce centuries of Catholic social teaching to an abortion litmus test. The exception was Bishop Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles who is bishop president of Pax Christi USA, a respected Catholic peace group. In an interview with Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne just weeks before the election, he noted: “We’re not a one-issue church…But that’s not always what comes out. What I believe, and what the church teaches, is that one abortion is too many. That’s why I believe abortion is so important. But in light of this, there are many other issues we need to bring up, other issues we should consider, other issues that touch the reality of our lives.”

In an interview with the Associated Press yesterday, Archbishop Chaput criticized “cafeteria Catholics” and blithely dismissed those who love the Catholic Church but sometimes find themselves grappling with how broad moral principles best find prudent expression in the public square. “If they don’t believe what the church teaches, they’re not really Catholic,” Chaput said, mirroring the same defiant tone that George W. Bush’s former Catholic outreach director Deal Hudson adopted when he branded many progressives in the Church “fake Catholics.” At its worst, this love-it-or-leave-it Catholicism is deeply anti-intellectual and offensive to many thinking Catholics, frequently educated at Catholic universities, who understand that the Church tradition is most alive when it engages with culture and is led by bishops who are pastors not pugilists. As Michael Sean Winters writes at National Catholic Reporter today:

Of course, in a sense, Chaput is right. We are, as Catholics, bound to believe what the Church teaches…But, in Chaput’s smug articulation of the matter, he and his pals are the saved, the already converted, and everybody else is not just wrong, they are not really Catholic. I hope Archbishop Chaput will find a way to engage people that is not so dismissive of them and of their struggles. His “my way or the highway” approach does speak to the normative quality of our Catholic beliefs, but I doubt it will be pastorally helpful. I do not see how alienating people will help convert them.

We need more authentic voices like Nick Cafardi and Bishop Zavala speaking from the heart of the Catholic tradition. A global faith with a proud history of social justice witness and intellectual vigor can’t be tucked into suffocating ideological boxes to serve a narrow partisan agenda.

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Catholic Sisters React to SBAL Ruling

August 4, 2011, 5:27 pm | Posted by

LCWR members.jpgAs Tara noted earlier this week, a federal judge in Ohio has found that the health care reform law does not allow for taxpayer funding of abortion, an important first legal test of the argument’s legitimacy. The federal judge denied a request from the Susan B. Anthony List to dismiss a defamation suit brought against the organization from former Rep. Steve Driehaus. During the 2010 midterm elections, the Susan B. Anthony List waged a relentless smear campaign against Driehaus and other pro-life Democrats who voted for health care reform legislation.

Here are some powerful reactions from national organizations that represent Catholic sisters, who were influential in advocating for health care reform:

“As Catholic sisters who stood proudly with the Catholic Health Association and other faith-based organizations in support of health care reform, this ruling brings welcome clarity to an issue that has often been muddied by deliberate distortion,” said Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, President-Elect of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. “Attacking pro-life representatives who fought for historic changes to our nation’s broken health care system as proponents of taxpayer funding of abortion is factually and morally wrong. Instead of engaging in destructive political games that distort the truth it’s time to focus on building a health care system that lives up to our nation’s best values and highest ideals.”

“This important ruling untangles the knots of lies and innuendo about the health care reform law that has been exploited for partisan gain,” said Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a national Catholic lobbying group that along with 60 heads of Catholic women’s religious orders endorsed health care reform legislation. “As this decision makes clear, the Affordable Care Act does not provide for taxpayer funded abortions. Religious sisters on the front lines of our nation’s health care crisis know from experience that health care reform will save lives, support pregnant women and even help prevent abortions. Groups that attacked pro-life Members of Congress for supporting health care reform have now been exposed for holding greater allegiance to partisan agendas than making sure women and families have access to quality and affordable medical care.”

As the 2012 elections approach, Religious Right organizations will likely keep touting smears and falsehoods against health reform. Journalists and other observers should think twice before lending legitimacy to this consistently debunked lie about health reform and abortion.

Photo: LCWR Members, Credit:, Flickr

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Federal Judge: SBA List Didn’t Tell the Truth, No Abortion Funding in Healthcare Law

August 2, 2011, 3:38 pm | Posted by

Thumbnail image for sba-logo.jpgSince the beginning of the health care debate, we’ve been busy refuting the misguided claim that the Affordable Care Act includes federal funding for abortions.

One of the primary sources of this myth has been the Susan B. Anthony List, which made the claim the centerpiece of their 2010 campaign against pro-life Democrats who voted for ACA. One of these congressmen — U.S. Rep. Steve Driehaus, who lost his re-election race — filed a complaint about this deceptive campaign to the Ohio Elections Commission. Since Ohio has laws prohibiting false campaign statements, SBA List faced sanctions for repeatedly employing the false claim in their campaign material.

Yesterday, a federal judge ruled against the SBA List’s attempt to have the case dismissed, finding “significant evidence that [SBA's] statements are false.” Just like last year’s similar ruling in Virginia, the court concluded that there is no tax-funded abortion in the health care law.

SBA List’s response to the ruling was to reiterate the same confusing arguments it made to the judge:

“…[SBA List] researched Obamacare themselves, and they also read the opinions of other groups that also concluded that Obamacare provided taxpayer funds for abortion services. Yet this court found, in spite of that, and in spite of the fact that their speech is true or at least their protected opinion [added bold], that their speech might be defamatory.”

SBA List is trying to have their cake and eat it too. Purely by definition, the SBA List’s speech cannot be both “true” and “protected opinion.” The legal term “protected opinion” refers to a pure statement of opinion that can’t be proven true or false. The court documented repeated instances of the SBA List promoting the claim as “facts” and “the truth,” and went on to strike down that claim as false:

“Whether it is possible, under contingent circumstances, that at some point in the future, upon the execution of x, y and z, that the PPACA would not prevent taxpayer funded abortion is entirely different from providing for ‘tax-payer funded abortion.’ The express language of the PPACA does not provide for tax-payer funding abortion. That is a fact, and it is clear on its face.”

In that case, the SBA List’s speech doesn’t fit in either of the categories — it’s not true, it’s not protected opinion, and it’s not going to stand up in our courts of law.

Rather that continuing to defend a misinformation campaign that continues to be exposed as patently false, the SBA List needs to figure out how to start telling the whole truth. We’re hoping this ruling will set a precedent for truth-telling about this persistent myth.

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Making contraception more accessible, helping families

August 2, 2011, 9:55 am | Posted by

birth control.jpgYesterday, the Obama administration announced new standards that require health insurance plans to cover all contraceptives and other critical preventive services without co-payments or other charges. The administration acted on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, which Beth blogged about recently, pointing out how making contraception more available is a victory for common ground efforts (and widely supported by people of faith).

In the New York Times, Robert Pear highlights the Institute of Medicine decision, which pointed out that “nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States were unintended, and about 40 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion… so greater use of contraception will reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy, teenage pregnancy and abortion.”

The new guidelines also protect religious employers who are morally opposed to contraception, a provision which Pear notes is modeled after those in place in many states that already require contraception coverage.

Photo credit: Stacy Lynn Baum, Flickr

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