Archive for the ‘Reproductive Rights’ Category

Catholic Websites Spinning the Pew Research Center’s Recent Data on Abortion Opinion

January 31, 2013

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum reflects on the impressive turnout at San Francisco’s recent Walk for Life:

How frustrating it must be for [pro-choicers] to see history moving decisively (despite the setbacks of the current regime in Washington) in the pro-life direction.

Howbutwhatinthewhat? Here, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, is a snapshot of current opinion:

Record-High-Support-for-Abortion-1

The results of the recent Pew Research Center poll are probably even more authoritative and also show robust public support for Roe v. Wade. The PRC’s numbers have caused quite a stir on conservative Catholic websites. Contributors to online magazines like The Catholic Thing, Crisis, and First Things have been scrambling to somehow spin or deny the fact that only 29% of Americans want to see the 1973 ruling completely overturned, while 63% support it. The data also reveal a slow but steady increase in support over the past 20 years, from 60% in 1992 to the current 63%. Opposition has declined more significantly during that period, from 34% to the current 29%.

abortion-poll-1The Church’s propaganda elves are working 24-7 to convince us that the PRC report is flawed. Roe v. Wade‘s provisions are not widely understood, they say, or the PRC’s polling questions were misleading. Or they bring in other polling data—some out-of-date and some from dubious sources—to confuse the issue.

Thus, Kenneth D. Whitehead, writing for Crisis Magazine, claims that “many people [including the poll respondents] do not understand that Roe v. Wade actually allows abortion on demand throughout the entire length of a pregnancy for any reason or for no reason.”

This is demonstrably false. Roe’s central holding is that abortions are permissable until the fetus is viable (from 24 to 28 weeks, or about six to seven months). After that, the State may proscribe abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

Here’s what the law actually says:

During the first trimester, “the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.”

After the first trimester,”the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”

After viability, which occurs at around the beginning of the third trimester, “the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”

If Whitehead can sow enough distrust of the Pew findings, he may be able to persuade us that a poll conducted by the Knights of Columbus is more reliable. Yes, you heard me right. He’s citing a Catholic fraternal service and lobbying organization that is famously dedicated to upholding Catholic teachings on abortion. Their finding is that “no less than 83 percent of Americans now favor some restrictions on abortion.” Even if reliable, this finding is not necessarily at odds with the PRC’s. Roe v. Wade does not, in fact, allow unrestricted access to abortions.

Jon A. Shields, writing for First Things (“Debating Roe’s Legacy,” 1/30/13) claims that (1) “young Americans are suddenly less pro-choice than older Americans,” and that (2) “young Americans are not only less pro-choice than any other age group, but they are also markedly less pro-choice than any young cohort in any previous decade.”

His first claim is false and the second is only half-true. While it appears to be true that Americans aged 18 to 29 are still trending slightly toward anti-abortion views, they are not currently “less pro-choice” than older Americans (if “pro-choice” is taken to mean supporting Roe v. Wade and if “older Americans” means “Americans older than 29”). Shields does not disclose the actual PRC numbers, which, at best, show a pro-choice lead of only one percentage point in only one of the three “older” cohorts (the 50-64 year-olds). And the difference between the support and opposition figures is still very significant in all four age cohorts:

Ages 18-29: 41 percentage points (difference).

Ages 30-49: 30 percentage points.

Ages 50-64: 43 percentage points.

Ages 65+: 16 percentage points.

(In all of these, the percentage supporting Roe v. Wade is the higher of the two.)

Using the PRC’s polling data, 68% of the 18-29 year-old cohort are opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade, compared to only 27% in favor. Note that in the next age cohort (30-49 years old), the figures are 61% and 31% respectively. Significantly, the 50-64 year-old cohort is slightly more opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade than the 18-29 group, with the numbers at 69% (opposed) and 26% (favoring).

No wonder Shields doesn’t show us the numbers.

Shields’s related claim was that young Americans (aged 18-29) are also “markedly less pro-choice than any young cohort in any previous decade.” This is true only if we replace the word “markedly” with “slightly.” While it is true that the 2009 Gallup poll showed a 12-percentage-point decline in the numbers of young pro-choice Americans since the early nineties (from 36% to 24%), that number had not declined at all since the eighties, and it had dropped only two percentage points since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

I think we would be entitled to conclude that young Americans’ position on reproductive choice has not significantly changed since Roe v. Wade. What is perhaps more significant is the slow but steadily growing overall support for the ruling.

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View PRC’s “Abortion Support slideshow” here.

Read: “Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision” (PRC, January 11, 2013)

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For Bishop Robert Vasa, Catholic Faith Trumps Medical Norms, Reason, and Science.

December 22, 2012
Bishop Robert Vasa

Bishop Robert Vasa

In February of last year, Bishop Robert Vasa, Coadjutor of the Diocese of Santa Rose in California, addressed faithful Catholics at a White Mass sponsored by the Kansas City chapter of the Catholic Medical Association. His message was about medical ethics. Catholic Internet media approved and channeled it uncritically to their readers, most of whom—judging from the comments—found it edifying.

Here is some of what Bishop Vasa said:

In those instances where faith and reason seem to be in conflict then, provided you truly know your faith, you will become convinced that it is reason and not faith which is involved in error.

In our subjectivist, relativistic age which often masquerades as an age of pure reason it is tempting to put a lot more faith in science and reason than it is to put faith in God. Yet, both are acts of faith and both are directed toward a perceived god. For much of our society that god is science or government or technology. For us there is a greater God and a greater good.

We are repeatedly challenged to decide if we are people of science or people of faith.  In truth, we must always be both. In those instances where faith and science agree there is no moral or ethical conflict. In those instances where science or the usual practice of medicine conflicts with faith, or conflicts with the moral code of our Church, we must be men and women of faith.

The Catholic Medical Association, which sponsored the mass, is very clear about its priorities. Its mission statement says, “The Catholic Medical Association [CMA] is dedicated to upholding the principles of the Catholic Faith as related to the practice of medicine…” One might have expected something more like, “The CMA is dedicated to providing superior medical care and advancing the scientific understanding of disease.”

Here is the CMA’s statement about homosexuality:

CMA supports the teachings of the Catholic Church as laid out in the revised version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in particular the teachings on sexuality: “… tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered… Under no circumstance can they be approved.” (CCC, n.2333)”

The CMA’s position on homosexuality and its support of the so-called “reparative therapies” is diametrically at variance with that of the World Health Organization, which has stated the following:

  1. “Conversion” or “reparative” therapies and the clinics offering them should be denounced and subject to adequate sanctions.
  2. Public institutions responsible for training health professionals should include courses on human sexuality and sexual health in their curricula, with a focus on respect for diversity and the elimination of attitudes of pathologization, rejection, and hate toward non-heterosexual persons.
  3. Professional associations should disseminate documents and resolutions by national and international institutions and agencies that call for the de-psychopathologization of sexual diversity and the prevention of interventions aimed at changing sexual orientation.

Any Catholic doctor or medical institution that is guided by the values and ethics of the Catholic Medical Association should take heed. Any person who subjects him- or herself to treatment by such a doctor or institution should be wary.

The Cornerstone Forum Silences Critics

October 11, 2012

Just beneath the calm surface of Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum (TCF), the waters are roiling. Bailie, a paleo-conservative Catholic whose life and career have become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the magisterium, uses TCF as a Gatling gun against all those perceived “enemies” of Catholicism gathered outside the walls: homosexuals, pro-choicers, secularists, and especially the more moderate Catholic voices, the voices of protest and reform. But he is attempting to insulate himself—on Facebook of all places—from any return fire. Bailie has built a fortress that also functions, as one visitor put it, as an echo-chamber and a hall of mirrors—a make-believe world where those who are faithful to the Church can go on pretending that the institution is eternal and that its teachings are unassailable.

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum

Except that it’s not and they’re not. The make-believe world is under attack, most significantly and vocally by Catholics themselves. And Bailie is armed and ready for its defense. Those who disagree with the views expressed on TCF are enemies who must be wiped out, not through negotiation or reasoned argumentation but by making them simply … disappear, like the “desaparecidos” of Chile and Brazil under authoritarian regimes, or those fractious Politburo members whose images were erased from official photos. Bailie regularly purges the site of troublesome visitors. This year’s casualty count is now at around eight. These were all, with one or two exceptions, intelligent reform-minded Catholics. Others were of unknown or no faith affiliation but respectful and thoughtful in their comments. All had carefully crafted their objections to the tone and content of TCF and deserved to be heard, if only by each other.

The latest of the “desaparecidos” is S. Darrick Northington, in whose honor I am posting the conversation that occurred today regarding the HHS mandate:

(more…)

The Use and Abuse of Religious Freedom

June 15, 2012

Peter Singer

by Peter Singer / Project Syndicate, June 11, 2012

Excerpt:

The Obama administration’s requirement to provide health insurance that covers contraception does not prevent Catholics from practicing their religion. Catholicism does not oblige its adherents to run hospitals and universities. (The government already exempts parishes and dioceses, thereby drawing a distinction between institutions that are central to the freedom to practice one’s religion and those that are peripheral to it.)

Of course, the Catholic Church would be understandably reluctant to give up its extensive networks of hospitals and universities. My guess is that, before doing so, they would come to see the provision of health-insurance coverage for contraception as compatible with their religious teachings. But, if the Church made the opposite decision, and handed over its hospitals and universities to bodies that were willing to provide the coverage, Catholics would still be free to worship and follow their religion’s teachings.

Read the entire article here.

The Cornerstone Forum Once Again Refuses to be Confused by Facts, Alternative Opinions, Data, Evidence, Documentation, Reliable Information, or Scientific Studies.

June 13, 2012
“I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.”  — Sir George Sitwell, English Eccentric

Since its inception, Gil Bailie’s Facebook page for The Cornerstone Forum has sought to interpret and respond to contemporary culture “from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to the social teachings of the Church.” This is because Bailie sees Catholic faith and practice as increasingly caught “in the crossfire,” as he puts it. And he is a faithful son of the church.

Benedict XVI and Gil Bailie

But Bailie’s use of the “crossfire” metaphor is a mite disingenuous. It implicitly casts the Church in the role of an innocent bystander or a disinterested third party—despite all indications that it is not and has never been either of these. Just in recent months, Catholic institutions have sued the U.S. government over the HHS contraceptive coverage mandate, thrown their full weight behind anti-same-sex-marriage initiatives, chastised nuns for focusing on poverty and hunger rather than abortion and homosexuality, bullied the girl scouts over including a 7-year-old transgendered girl, excommunicated doctors and nuns for saving lives, and joined Republican efforts to restrict women’s access to abortions at the state level. Over the years, Church institutions have lied about contraceptives to poor Africans, obstructed patient access to accurate information and services in secular hospitals, and purged scholars who attempted to build bridges to other faiths. (For details on several of these points, see “8 Ugly Sins of the Catholic Church,” by Valerie Tarico on Alternet.)

There can no longer be any doubt either that the Church has a horse in the race or, in the case of Gil Bailie’s unfortunate metaphor, that the king has no clothes: the Church is not “caught in the crossfire.” It is firing mortars at its enemies.

Bailie’s attempt to propagate an essentially hermetic and authoritarian ideology via the Internet was a tricky proposition from the start. The Internet is by design an open, expansive, inclusive, and anti-authoritarian medium—a “real” forum, unlike the “gated” one Bailie would like to cordon off within it. People come and go, expressing all kinds of opinions willy-nilly, in a real marketplace of ideas. It’s like a Turkish souk alive with chatter and dissension. You can buy anything there, but you’ll have to negotiate—sometimes loudly.

So, The Cornerstone Forum has indeed had visitors from all kinds of people from all parts of the world—England, Austria, China, Italy, and Australia, to name a few—and, surprise!—not all of them have expressed views that perfectly match Bailie’s own. Some of their voices have been more strident than his. Some of them have been highly articulate and even argumentative, as if they had no idea of the gravitas of The Cornerstone Forum’s founder or the unassailability of his views.

Flat earth orbited by sun and moon

A large part of the disputation at The Cornerstone Forum has concerned issues of truth. The thread I have reproduced below is typical: Bailie informs his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall, and then he seems genuinely offended that they don’t buy it. (Well, actually, some do.) At that point, facts and logical arguments are offered—always by readers, virtually never by Bailie—and he ignores or dismisses them with smug little retorts like, “We’ll see.” A few weeks later, he puts up another post informing his readers that the earth’s population is in precipitous freefall.

This has been the pattern during the many years that I have visited The Cornerstone Forum’s pages, where we’ve learned that climate change is a hoax, homosexuality is gravely disordered, same-sex marriage will cause civilizational collapse, religious freedom is under attack, the Obama presidency is precipitating totalitarianism, the Muslims are taking over Europe, and secularism is to blame for everything that is wrong with the world.

About a month ago, Bailie reacted to the growing chorus of dissent by issuing a warning similar to the one you will find in the thread below. When it was not heeded, he issued a second one and expelled one of the most insightful and articulate of his critics, George Dunn. All traces of Dunn immediately disappeared, and dozens of threads no longer made sense without his voice. If you’ve ever seen photos of Stalin’s politburo with purged officials airbrushed out, you’ll get the picture.

Today, Bailie issued a third warning. This time, the one expelled was I. Here is the conversation:

Gil Bailie:

I am currently researching the worldwide demographic decline and its enormous consequences. The evidence for the decline is overwhelming, but so are the studies that trace it and the data confirming the researchers’ conclusions. I cannot claim to have a complete grasp of the problem, but I have arrived at a preliminary hypothesis:

Whereas some animals don’t breed when in captivity, humans apparently don’t breed when in metaphysical despondency, regardless of how unacknowledged and embedded in material prosperity that despondency might be.

Doughlas Remy:

There is no “worldwide demographic decline.” However, there are declining birth rates in certain countries, such as Japan and some countries of Europe. The world’s population, now slightly over 7 billion, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. That’s really rapid growth, so rest assured there’s no lack of breeding going on.

I’m not sure how you measure “metaphysical despondency” or whether there is in fact such a thing. But surely people in certain high-growth societies (e.g., in parts of Africa and East Asia) have much more reason to experience metaphysical despair than Europeans and Japanese, and it is not slowing them down.

Birth rates in Europe and Japan are falling because women are now better educated and have more options. And yes, low birth rates can pose social challenges, but so can high ones, as we discussed earlier. See my article about this on The Bent Angle.

Darrick Northington:

This seems like an impossible argument to make. I echo Doughlas, given that every human belongs to some demographic and earth’s human population is in fact growing rather than declining, the claim that we’re experiencing some kind of “global demographic decline” is false.

Gil Bailie:

We’ll see.

Doughlas Remy:

@Darrick: I’m surprised The Cornerstone Forum is again making this bizarre claim after the earlier discussion we had, where so many facts were laid out. And these facts are incontrovertible. Population growth, fertility rates, and youth/elder bubbles can all be measured. We’re talking hard data here.

It’s like one of those strange experiences where somebody points up to the blue sky and tells you it is green. You say, “No, it is blue, and my spectrograph will back me up on that.” And they say, “No, to me it’s green. And what’s a spectrograph?”

Patrick Daoust: 

The Economist recently published a book called Megachange, the world in 2050. I’m currently reading the chapter on demography. Mr Remy’s numbers fit with data in the book.

This said, we must ask ourselves why so much of Europe has such a low fertility rate – I think it’s about 1.3 in Spain and Italy. This is quite a problem for policy makers to deal with. My intuition is that in modern western societies the freedoms normally associated with men are seen as more desirable. A lot of feminist movements fight for equal rights with regards to salary, women in high profile jobs, etc. As a whole, our society seems to have stripped away all pride in motherhood.

Darrick Northington:

‎@ Patrick, it sounds like you think mothers have to be second-class citizens. In my opinion, motherhood and fatherhood are both consistent w/ equality, and any definition that necessarily subordinates one to the other is wrong. To suggest that our society doesn’t take pride is wrong, too. I think this kind of talk has more to do with white male dominance than motherhood…the kind of thinking that says a woman’s place is in the home, in the kitchen, and a man’s place is king.

By the way, birthrates in Spain have increased every year for the last 12 years.

Doughlas Remy:

@Patrick. In connection with your final sentence, about society stripping away all pride in motherhood, here is an interesting opinion from Gail Collins of the NYT:

If you look back on what’s happened to women over the last half-century – how the world has opened up for them to have adventures, pursue careers, make choices about the kind of lives they want to live – it all goes back to effective contraception. Before the birth control pill came along, a woman who wanted to pursue a life that involved a lot of education, or a long climb up a career ladder, pretty much had to be willing to devote herself to perpetual celibacy. That’s what contraception means to women.

Iron Woman. Photoshop rendering by Dean Hansen

So, maybe other life paths are simply more attractive to women. Motherhood, after all, is damned hard work, it’s unpaid and under-appreciated, and raising a child is more expensive than ever. Yearly tuition at state universities in Washington State, where I live, is now over $12,000.

In the face of all these obstacles, we have in this country a political party that wants to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids. These cuts are part of a larger proposal to cut social services block grants to the tune of $17 billion over ten years. These grants support Meals on Wheels, child welfare, and day care for children. State legislatures are also unable to raise revenues in the face of anti-tax initiatives.

Child-bearing may also about to become riskier to women if hospitals are allowed to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.

Because of the work that I do, I’ve had countless more-or-less unstructured conversations with Japanese mid-career professionals over the years, and we always talk about Japan’s birth dearth. They say raising a child is just too expensive. They value quality education and would feel shamed if they couldn’t give their children access to one.

I think there are ways women can be incentivized to have children, but governments like our own seem intent on disincentivizing them. Banning contraception is not, of course, an option, and it shouldn’t be. Women’s need for choice in these matters is paramount. The demographic problems will take care of themselves as we begin to think creatively about them.

Gil Bailie:

Let me try once again to explain why this Facebook page exists. It exists to offer encouragement to those who share its point of view. It does not exist to argue with those who don’t.

This is not a bulletin board or campus kiosk. It is a Cornerstone Forum page, and its purpose is that of the Forum, namely: to encourage and, with God’s grace, occasionally to inspire, those who share our vision and concern. The Forum and this Page exist to give an account of the contemporary cultural and moral crisis from a Catholic perspective and in fidelity to Magisterium and the social teachings of the Church, and to do so, when appropriate, by drawing on the extraordinary anthropological insights of René Girard and the theological riches of Benedict XVI, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and others. It is also our purpose here to bring these perspectives to bear on the sundry cultural and moral issues we now face, paying special attention to what we regard as the gravest moral and civil rights issue of our age – abortion – and the gravest anthropological blunder – the evisceration of the meaning of marriage and the demise of the traditional family.

“Censer,” by Dean Hansen

We are not surprised to find that many do not share these concerns, and we offer our best wishes to those who don’t, but we will no longer allow this Facebook page to become an outlet for points of view that are wearily familiar to us, the refutation of which would be as tedious an exercise for us as it would be entirely unconvincing to our naysayers.

To those more sympathetic to our efforts, we are grateful for your interest, and we will continue to try to be as useful and encouraging as possible. If we occasionally point to certain unhappy developments in our cultural life, it will only be for the purpose of encouraging resistance to them for the sake of our children’s children.

Doughlas Remy:

Gil, I think your only option may be to “de-friend” those who do not share your point of view, as you did to George Dunn about a month ago. The Cornerstone Forum will no longer be an open forum, but at least you will have an echo chamber where you can get validation from your supporters and carry out your mission of channeling the church’s (and dare I say, the GOP’s) talking points on issues of the day. I hope you will be fair with your visitors, however: Let them know up front that they will be de-friended if their opinions diverge too much from your own.

As I said in an article on my own blogsite, it’s obvious you don’t value the time and thought that your readers devote to responding to your posts. That is a shame, and it is why I hope to provide a truly open forum on The Bent Angle for some of the issues that you raise. As you will notice, I have already begun to port some of the discussions over there, for fear they will suddenly disappear from TCF. So far, the idea hasn’t caught on with your visitors, and it may not, but I’ll continue the mirroring effort, as I think it is important.

I continue to maintain that truth is important and that none of us has a lock on it, or exclusive rights to it. We reach the truth through dialog.

Catholic Media Begin Piling on Sister Farley’s “Just Love.”

June 11, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley

Robert Royal, editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, doesn’t care much for Sr. Margaret Farley’s new book, though he admits (in “The Real Taboos,” June 11, 2012) that he has only dipped into it here and there. Farley’s Just Love, which has catapulted from 142,982 to 16 in Amazon’s rankings due entirely to the Vatican’s recent censure of the work, approaches masturbation, homosexuality, and divorce from an ethical perspective that does not perfectly match the Vatican’s own.

Royal characterizes the book, which he hasn’t read, as “utterly tired,” and “not Catholic” (though she disclaims any intent to channel Catholic moral teachings), and he dismisses her positions as “essentially congruent with the untroubled assumptions of the Zeitgeist.” What Royal fails to do, however, is address any of her arguments. Maybe that’s because, not having read her book, he doesn’t know what they are.

He concludes,

But the advocates of new approaches aren’t really interested in [fresh, alternative voices] and instead dedicate themselves to defending ideas and currents that over the past half-century have wrecked families, harmed children, and made the proper taming of erotic impulses – a task every civilization prior to ours has known is crucial to human happiness and calls for great wisdom – one of the real, not imagined, taboos in American society.

Mary E. Hunt, herself a Catholic a regular contributor to Religion Dispatches, hits the nail on the head when she writes apropos of Sister Farley’s comments about masturbation: “Sexual power is power, and more and more women have it. Apparently the struggle to wrest it back is high on the agenda of those who live on the 110 acres called the Vatican.”

Indeed, the Vatican’s teachings about sexuality seem intended for one purpose only: to uphold a patriarchal system of power over people’s very bodies and the most intimate aspects of their lives. And those teachings are consistently out of step with current medical knowledge about sexual and reproductive health. The Church’s sorry record in dealing with clergy sex abuse and with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is only matched by its obstinacy in challenging the entire medical community over homosexuality and reproductive health.

It’s one thing to deplore or dismiss “new approaches” to these issues. It’s quite another to demonstrate their inefficacy, and this is where Royal’s critique falls short.

Notify This! Vatican Bungles Response to Sexual Ethics Book

June 9, 2012
Sexual power is power, and more and more women have it. Apparently the struggle to wrest it back is high on the agenda of those who live on the 110 acres called the Vatican.

by Mary E. Hunt / Religion Dispatches, 6/9/12

Margaret A. Farley

If Margaret A. Farley’s fine theo-ethical work causes “grave harm to the faithful,” Catholics live very graced lives. War, poverty, ecocide, racism, colonialism, sex and gender injustices of all sorts come to mind in the “grave harm” category. But not in the wildest imagination of anyone other than a Vatican bureaucrat would Dr. Farley’s sexual ethics qualify. How fortunate we are to have a scholar of her caliber, and how appropriate that she is appreciated widely. Recent attention to her work only serves to deepen her impact and broaden her audience; 24 hours after news broke of the Vatican censure the book was propelled from an Amazon ranking of 142,982 to 16.

The June 4th Notification from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) titled “Regarding the Book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M.,” left many scandalized by the intellectually embarrassing and morally tawdry work of a group that obviously needs a permanent vacation. William Cardinal Levada and company at the CDF are simply out of their league theologically when it takes them 6 years (the book was published in 2006) to comment on an important work—and they still get it wrong.

Continue reading this essay.

“A Constitutional Canard for Those Who Oppose Contraception”

June 8, 2012

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum is touting an article by George Wesolek in Catholic San Francisco, June 6, 2012, entitled “On Religious Liberty and a Confused Media.” The article begins,

Is it that the media doesn’t understand the issue of religious liberty and the Catholic Church, or do they refuse to report it for reasons of their own?

When the U.S. Health and Human Services mandate was promulgated by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius early this year, it forced Catholic institutions – in social services, health care and education – to offer all employees, free of charge, contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. These services are considered immoral by the church and so, naturally, the U.S. bishops objected and asked for a conscience exemption. Conscience objections have been given over the years in the interplay between state and church over a variety of issues and were considered commonplace.

But this case was different. Hidden away in the multitude of regulations accompanying the mandate was a new definition of what was to be considered “religious activity.” This new definition limited “religious activity” to houses of worship and its congregants. An exemption, therefore, would be given only to a religious entity that serves and teaches its own faithful. Serving others not of our faith, as do our social services, health care and education, does not qualify as a “religious activity.”

In essence, this new definition redefines what it is to be Catholic.

My response to Gil Bailie:

Wesolek’s position is facially nonsensical, and I cannot believe anyone is buying it. Or, rather, yes I can, because a lot of folks on the right have been imbibing the “Kool-Aid” ladled out by Paul Ryan and the anti-contraception crowd.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia concluded many years ago that religious organizations could never have absolute freedom to do as they choose. “It would be courting anarchy,” he wrote, to let a few do what is illegal for everyone else.

Here is the opinion he wrote for a majority decision in 1990: “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law … On the contrary, the record of more than a century of free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.”

In that opinion, Scalia cited the Reynolds case from 1879, which held that “Laws … cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may [interfere] with practices … Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious beliefs superior to the law of the land.”

Get that: Believe what you like, but don’t expect to do everything your beliefs require of you. A very sound principle, indeed.

Honestly ask yourself how you would react if other religions—Sikhs, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Mormons—were demanding the measure of religious freedom that the Catholic hierarchy wants for the Church.

For at least the past 133 years, U.S. courts have been requiring individuals to transgress their religious beliefs by getting vaccinations, paying minimum wage, paying into Social Security, serving in the military, settling for monogamous over polygamous marriages, not wearing yarmulkes in the military, not carrying swords into class (Sikh men are required to carry them at all times), not ingesting peyote, and a host of other concessions.

Why Jehovah’s Witnesses are still allowed to withhold medical treatment from their sick children, I don’t know, but I assume you would probably support their right to practice their faith, whatever the cost?

And you would also support Quakers who want to withhold tax payments because they object to war?

From “Justice Scalia and Religious Freedom,” by Mark Mellman in The Hill, 2/21/12:

The courts have [required religious groups and individuals to violate the tenets of their faith] because, in former Chief Justice Warren Burger’s words, “The state may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest.” Burger’s definition of “overriding government interest” included programs that were national in scope and served a positive public purpose — and by any standard, the government has an interest in ensuring that women receive preventive healthcare services.

He concludes, “The religious freedom argument is nothing more than a constitutional canard for those who oppose contraception.”

Hadley Arkes’s Twisting of Truth About Sex-Selective Abortions

June 6, 2012

Hadley Arkes

Hadley Arkes, a professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College and a regular contributor to The Catholic Thing, is a highly influential voice in the debates over same-sex marriage, abortion, and contraception. His positions could hardly be more in step with those of the Vatican. In an article published yesterday in The Catholic Thing, Professor Arkes accuses liberal feminists of “evading the moral argument” concerning sex-selective abortions and claims to demonstrate that conservatives are winning that argument through legislative initiatives like the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act that Congress failed to pass last week.

Arkes’s candor about the right’s “step-by-step” strategy of dismantling Roe v. Wade is commendable and confirms widespread perceptions that the tightening vise of abortion regulations at the federal and state levels serves that end.

The partisans of ‘abortion rights,’ he writes, “thought that it was part of a scheme to unravel those rights, as indeed it was. … They were quite right that we were seeking to dissolve the sense of the “rightness” of abortion, working step by step.

So critics of PRENDA were correct in characterizing the bill as an cynical effort to drive a wedge into the women’s movement, pitting the rhetoric of women’s rights against the rhetoric of reproductive health. The GOP-sponsored bill’s heralded purpose was to prevent sex discrimination, a problem more caused by Republican policies than ever addressed by them. How could any legislator fail to see the real agenda behind this ploy, namely, banning all abortions and punishing those who provide them.

Arkes’s moment of candor doesn’t redeem his shameless spinning throughout the rest of the article. How can anyone write a 1000-word essay on abortion without ever once using the words “embryo,” “blastocyst,” or “fetus?” Answer: substitute the words “baby” (1x), “child,” (7x), “girl,” (1x), and “women” (4x). Yes, even gooey microscopic blobs are now described as “women.” Arkes has chosen words that are effective in triggering reflexive caring because his purpose is to bypass our critical faculties and have us believe that a fertilized egg is a “person” in need of protection.

But it is not. It cannot feel pleasure or pain. It has neither preferences nor intentions, nor any dreams for the future. Household pets have a better claim to personhood than early-term fetuses.

Arkes claims that Indian women are coming to the U.S. to get “late-term abortions forbidden even in the East.” But he doesn’t cite any evidence for this claim. Moreover, late-term abortions are already illegal in the U.S., so he needn’t blame liberal feminists if the laws are not being enforced.

He writes,

… the liberal feminists in America will not countenance any move to bar an abortion based on the sex of the child. The reason is plain: To admit that any abortion could be judged as wrong or unjustified is to break through the legal wall that protects the right to order an abortion at any time for any reason.

Coming from a professor of jurisprudence, this is an astonishing misrepresentation of the facts. Women categorically do not have the right to “order an abortion at any time for any reason” in this country. Nor do the majority of liberal feminists support their right to do so.

Professor Arkes correctly assesses the scale of the sex-selection worldwide but overstates it for the U.S.:

The evidence has become overwhelming, from this country and abroad, that with the diffusion of ultrasonography – with the means of discovering the sex of the child in the womb – there has been a persistent inclination to prefer males and abort females. The result has been a massive skewering of sex ratios, with portentous effects.

Compare this from the Guttmacher Institute:

Sex-selective abortion is widespread in certain countries, especially those in East and South Asia, where an inordinately high social value is placed on men over women. In those countries, sex-selective abortion has resulted in dangerously skewed sex ratios, with boys heavily outnumbering girls. In the United States, meanwhile, there is limited data indicating that sex-selective abortion may be occurring in some Asian communities, although the U.S. sex ratio, at 1.05 males for every female, is squarely within biologically normal parameters.

Soraya Chemaly discusses the magnitude of the sex-selection problem in Asia and lays out strategies for addressing it in this excellent and comprehensive article from Huffington Post. Her conclusion:

… as people long immersed in this situation in India and China are all too aware, going backwards and curtailing women’s rights is not the solution and a woman’s right to have an abortion is not the problem.

When societies respect the equality of girls and women and “give” them control of their reproductive rights as a matter of justice, societies benefit. There is no contradiction between providing safe and legal abortion (particularly in the context of women’s health and family planning) and creating cultures that reject the elimination of girls. As a matter of fact if you do the latter, reliance on the former will be reduced.

NYT Columnist Takes Vatican to Task Over Censure of “Just Love”

June 6, 2012

Sister Margaret Farley

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd yesterday sharply criticized the Vatican over its belated censure of Sister Margaret Farley’s 2006 book, “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.” The book, which was languishing in obscurity until the Vatican’s announcement, is now on Amazon.com’s best-seller list.

Even for a church that moves glacially, this was classic. “Just Love: a Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” by Sister Margaret Farley — a 77-year-old professor emeritus at Yale’s Divinity School, a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and an award-winning scholar — came out in 2006.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which seems as hostile to women as the Saudi Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, spent years pondering it, then censured it on March 30 but didn’t publicly release the statement until Monday.

The denunciation of Sister Farley’s book is based on the fact that she deals with the modern world as it is. She refuses to fall in line with a Vatican rigidly clinging to an inbred, illusory world where men rule with no backtalk from women, gays are deviants, the divorced can’t remarry, men and women can’t use contraception, masturbation is a grave disorder and celibacy is enshrined, even as a global pedophilia scandal rages.

Read the entire article here
Read a related NYT article here.