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dotCommonweal Blog

Collateral Damage

We are all too accustomed to the military's Orwellian evasions.Today's New York Times' editorial appears to indulge a like propensity.

Not surprisingly, it inveighs against a new Kansas law regarding abortion. The Editorial Board is particularly exercised by what it considers "the shock value language" employed in the legistlation, which describes “clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors” or other instruments that “slice, crush or grasp a portion of the unborn child’s body in order to cut or rip it off.”

The Board clearly prefers the more clinical and antiseptic language of "dilation and evacuation" – though it does concede that the fetus is removed "often in parts."

Reading this, the perverse thought came: can the Times actually be an instrument promoting conversion to the pro-life cause?

Cuomo analysis, Cuomo anecdote

The funeral for Mario Cuomo was held today at New York’s Church of St. Ignatius Loyola. In addition to inspiring tributes and remembrances, his death has also prompted archive searches for items like this: A 1990 letter in which the governor took up Commonweal’s invitation to join in a reasoned debate on abortion. “Perhaps the best I can do right now,” Cuomo wrote to the editors, “is to reflect on some of Commonweal’s commentary of the past six or seven months,” which he proceeded to do, at length, using bullet points and providing detailed citations [.pdf].

Much of the recent commentary, at Commonweal and elsewhere, has focused on Cuomo’s position on abortion and whether he’d given “intellectual cover” to Catholic politicians personally opposed but not inclined to act politically against it (the editors write about this and other aspects of Cuomo’s legacy in “Mario Cuomo, Politician,” just posted on our homepage). Or, if not that, his keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic Convention, which to those then longing for someone to speak truth to the heartless power of Reagan and sense to his legions of heedless followers was (and remains) a galvanizing event.

I still have the copy of that speech that was handed to me some months later, on my first day at my first real job in New York City, as a college intern in the press office of Governor Mario Cuomo. Since I’m now also at the age where I can say things like, “this was before the internet, so getting a printed copy was a big deal,” I will: It was. Few of my friends or classmates seemed to care, most having happily—with their first-ever presidential ballot—participated in the landslide re-election of Reagan, while some of my family members liked to dismiss my new “boss” as “your friend Mario Cuomo,” when they weren’t calling him “the most dangerous man in America.”

I had exactly one personal encounter with Mario Cuomo, when during my internship I was told to write a public service announcement for him to record: Two hundred words or so on the importance of protecting Adirondack rivers and streams. “The waterways of the Adirondacks are among our state’s most precious resources,” it began. No pretentions about it rivaling a stump speech much less a keynote, but then, I had not yet heard it in Cuomo’s voice.

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Mario Cuomo, in Commonweal

Mario Cuomo, who died New Year's Day and about whom Paul Moses writes here, was also a Commonweal author. In "Persuade or Coerce?" he responded to Kenneth Woodward on the subject of Cuomo's 1984 speech at Notre Dame; in "Faith & Government," he wrote about the experience of elected officials who try to reconcile personal religious convictions while serving a pluralistic American constituency. "Catholicism is a religion of the head as well as the heart, and to be a Catholic is to commit to dogmas that distinguish our faith from others," Cuomo wrote in our pages:
Like most religions, it also requires a lifelong struggle to practice that faith day to day. The practice can be difficult. Today’s America is a consumer-driven society filled with endless distractions and temptations for people struggling to live by spiritual as well as material impulses. Catholics who also happen to hold political office in this pluralistic democracy-and therefore commit to serve Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Protestants, as well as Catholics-undertake an additional responsibility. They must try to create conditions under which all citizens can live with a reasonable degree of freedom to practice their own competing religious beliefs, like the right to divorce, to use birth control, to choose abortion, to withdraw stem cells from embryos...or even to fight the belief in a God.
Also, in 1985, the editors of Commonweal interviewed Cuomo, then in his first term as New York governor; you can read the complete interview here.

 

Obama administration proposes another new abortion disclosure rule.

Yesterday, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury published a proposed new rule that would require all insurance plans available on the health-care exchanges to disclose whether they cover abortion in their summary of plan benefits.

As I reported last year, and earlier this year, finding out whether the plan you're shopping for includes abortion coverage has been nearly impossible. According to the new proposed rule, an insurer offering plans on a health-care exchange must explicitly indicate whether or not elective abortion services are included. That is, if such coverage is included, the summary of benefits must list it "in the covered services box," according to the proposed rule. If  abortion is not covered, the insurer must list "abortion" in the "excluded services box." Finally, "plans that cover only excepted abortions [elective abortions] should list in the excluded services box 'abortion (except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is endangered)' and may also include a cross-reference to another plan document that more fully describes the exceptions."

The new rule, if adopted, would strengthen another rule, proposed by the Obama administration last month, requiring insurers to disclose their plans' abortion coverage before a customer signs up for the policy. Previously the Affordable Care Act only required insurers to disclose abortion coverage "at the time of enrollment." It wasn't clear whether that meant before a person signed up for a plan, at some point after she had begun the signup process, or after she had already completed it. These two rules, if finalized, would allow customers shopping on the exchanges to readily tell whether the plans they're considering cover abortion well before they've purchased a policy.

Obama administration proposes new disclosure rules for abortion coverage.

According to a new rule proposed by the Obama administration, some insurance companies that sell coverage on the health-care exchanges will have to disclose whether their plans include elective abortion—before consumers enroll. The move comes a day after two prolife groups launched a website to help consumers determine which plans available on the exchanges cover abortion. They note that in four states the exchanges offer no plans that exclude elective abortion. The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register on Monday.

Nearly a year ago I reported that finding out whether exchange plans covered elective abortion was nearly impossible. And in some states, you can't buy a plan without such coverage. The administration indicated that it was looking into the problem, but nothing changed. This past September, a Government Accountability Office report revealed that eighteen insurers across ten states were not in compliance with the Affordable Care Act when it came to abortion coverage. It found that some insurers were failing to segregate premiums for elective-abortion coverage from all other premiums, and others were still not disclosing whether their exchange plans included such coverage, even though the law requires such informtion be available "at the time of enrollment." The GAO also found that some insurers were not filing their plans with state regulators, who are responsible for monitoring compliance with the law. Again, Obama administration officials said they were examining the issue. This new rule appears to be the administration's first step to address these longstanding problems.

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The Susan B. Anthony List, and the pros and cons of single-issue politics

After you've read the New Yorker article Paul Moses recommended below, consider checking out Kelefa Sanneh's story in the October 27 issue on prolife politics, "The Intensity Gap."

Sanneh focuses on Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the prolife political advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List, to explore how prolife convictions translate into election strategizing. Knowing that the magazine tends to presume a strong prochoice perspective on the part of its readers, I was wary, but although Sanneh's approach does assume some unfamiliarity with sincere prolife principles -- imagine if you will people who feel very strongly that abortion is wrong -- he is respectful and fair in his descriptions of how Dannenfelser and colleagues work and what their motives are. What emerges is a fascinating picture of how hard it is to make any principle, however strongly held, a measure of political success, and how compromising even single-issue politics can be.

If you're not worn out from having lived through it all, Sanneh's rundown of how we got from Roe v. Wade to the polarized state of abortion politics today is helpful and clear. "Like many other political issues," he writes, "the fight over abortion has grown increasingly partisan, which means that often you support the cause by supporting the party." Dannenfelser is forthright about her support for the GOP as such: "If we're close [to a Democratic majority in Congress]," she tells Sanneh, "I can't in good conscience, for the cause of life, support even a great prolife Democrat."

That is an uncomfortable position, but not an irrational one, as Sanneh demonstrates. If you are truly concerned with a particular single issue, it pays to be pragmatic about what progress on that issue will require, and in the case of abortion progress depends more on how a particular legislator can be pressured to vote than on what he or she professes to believe. People who should know better (mostly op-ed columnists) wax nostalgic about bipartisanship and cooperation, but give the SBA List credit for seeing how things really work (or fail to work) in Washington.

Furthermore, Sanneh finds, in this case, supporting the party -- that is, working to get Republicans elected, so that they may pass legislation that restricts abortion -- sometimes means not talking too much about abortion. Sanneh describes a push poll conducted by the SBA List (though he does not use the term) designed to appeal to voters' "general opposition to Obamacare." They have also sent out misleading "Public Health Alert" mailers -- spoiler, the "public health threat" children in your area face is abortion -- and then there's the "right to lie" case in Ohio, which is not exactly an uplifting story of principled political activism.

It's an uneasy marriage: the cause of protecting innocent life and the anything-but-innocent pursuit of political strategizing. But one must move beyond the purity of moral absolutes to make incremental progress through the law. Sanneh opens by describing a bill called "The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after twenty weeks of gestation." It was supported by Senator Lindsey Graham, who said, "At twenty weeks, people have been born and survived." That is not true, something Sanneh does not point out right away, although he does later explain that "the limit of twenty weeks was carefully chosen to be just short of viability, so that if the Supreme Court wants to uphold the law it will have to revise the regimen it created forty-one years ago" with Roe v. Wade. Like the mid-1990s attempts to pass a partial-birth-abortion ban, this is a carefully crafted political maneuver whose aims go beyond what is spelled out in the bill itself (especially when you consider, as Sanneh notes, that Graham promoted the bill knowing it would never come to a vote).

After reading Sanneh's piece, I am no more convinced of the soundness of a single-issue approach to voting than I was before. But I am persuaded that such an approach can be shrewd. It is possible for voters in New York state today to decide how to vote solely on the basis of abortion laws -- Cuomo favors liberalizing them further; Astorino favors restrictions; the partisan balance of the Senate could determine success either way. It is a case when supporting the cause could well mean supporting the party. The trouble, as ever, is that supporting the party involves casting a vote for a broad agenda, and there are many other issues at stake and many reasons to hesistate about supporting either major party. I was encouraged, at Mass this week, to cast my vote "for a culture of life," but I wish it were easier to check off that option on the ballot.

Abortion coverage on the health-care exchanges: still a fine mess.

Several health-insurance companies across ten states are not in compliance with the Affordable Care Act when it comes to handling elective abortion coverage, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. The investigation, which was requested last winter by several members of the U.S. House of Representatives—including Speaker John Boehner—did not set out to measure whether insurance companies were following the law. Rather, it was intended to discover which health plans on the exchanges cover elective abortions, how they charge for that coverage, and how enrollees can determine whether the plans they’re considering cover such abortions. But over the course of its research, the GAO discovered that many of the insurance companies they surveyed—eighteen total—fell significantly short of the law's requirements. And some of them didn’t even realize it.

The Department of Health and Human Services has promised that it will soon issue further guidance to bring insurance companies into full compliance with the law.

The ACA allows insurers to sell policies that cover elective abortion on the state health-care exchanges—unless state law says otherwise—but it governs key aspects of those policies. The law and its implementing regulations prohibit the use of federal subsidies to pay for elective abortion coverage. To make sure that doesn’t happen, insurers selling such plans on the health-care exchanges must do three things: They have to estimate the monthly cost of elective abortion coverage on an average actuarial basis, which cannot be less than $1 (that prevents insurers from giving it away). Then they must collect from enrollees a separate payment equal to that cost. Finally, after they receive that payment, issuers have to segregate it from any other premiums collected from the enrollee. But before the insurer even gets to the billing stage, regulations require that customers be able to tell whether the policy they’re considering covers elective abortions. That was the plan, anyway. But it doesn't look like things are proceeding according to plan.

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Pope's man in Italy on abortion, homosexuality & Communion for the divorced & remarried.

The church should listen "without any taboo" to all arguments for married priests, for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, and about homosexuality, according to Bishop Nunzio Galatino, the man Pope Francis hand-picked to serve as general secretary of the Italian bishops conference.

In an interview with the Florence newspaper La Nazione, Galatino said that “in the past we have concentrated too much on abortion and euthanasia." (Sound familiar?) "It mustn’t be this way because in the middle there’s real life which is constantly changing." He continued: “I don’t identify with the expressionless person who stands outside the abortion clinic reciting their rosary, but with young people, who are still against this practice, but are instead fighting for quality of life, their health, their right to work.”

Needless to say, that didn't go over with members of the prolife movement. As the Tablet of London reported, John Smeaton--head of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn--responded sharply: “I do identify with the person outside the abortion clinic praying their rosary, whether or not the person is expressionless.... I really don't think you would be saying, if national laws had allowed the killing of Catholic priests or Jews over the past few decades: 'In the past we have concentrated too much on the killing of Catholic priests or Jews.'"

(H/T David Gibson)

Hobby Lobby invests in same drugs to which it objects?

Today Molly Redden at Mother Jones reports that Hobby Lobby holds mutual funds that invest in the manufacturers of the same pharmaceuticals and devices to which the company claims religious objection.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company's owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby's retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby's health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

There would have been many ways to avoid this, since "faith-based investing" in funds that avoid "vice" industries or other objectionable companies is a well-known phenomenon with competitive rates of return.

All nine funds—which have assets of $73 million, or three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan's total assets—contained holdings that clashed with the Greens' stated religious principles.

Hobby Lobby and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the conservative group that provided Hobby Lobby with legal representation, did not respond to questions about these investments or whether Hobby Lobby has changed its retirement plan.

I would have assumed a company taking the issue of corporate free exercise all the way to the Supreme Court would have looked into this. I doubt it would have affected the case's outcome, but it certainly could have affected the oral arguments by forcing the plaintiff to distinguish degrees of cooperation between providing health insurance options and providing retirement plan options. If these drugs and devices aren't too objectionable to invest in for your employees' retirement plans, a justice might have asked, why are they too objectionable to include as options in your employees' health insurance plans?

Read the details here.

Justice Kennedy's Logic Puzzle

Everyone knows the power granted by Justice Kennedy’s middle position on the Supreme Court. Indeed Paul Clement, the advocate for the plaintiffs in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, seemed to direct most of his arguments toward the concerns he imagines Kennedy to have about the case.

But even in Clement's most hopeful fantasies, he could not have imagined the gift that Kennedy would present him during questioning of the Solicitor General. Kennedy introduced the idea that, by the logic of the government’s case -- in some future scenario, at the calamitous bottom of a slippery slope -- for-profit corporations could be forced to “pay for abortions.”

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Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius today (UPDATED 1:30 PM)

And here we are. After years of debate, protest, and litigation about the "HHS mandate" and its levels of exemption, accommodation, or non-accommodation under the Affordable Care Act, Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and the related Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius are having their day in the Supreme Court.

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Survey says.

Last week, Univision released a survey of twelve thousand Catholics in a dozen countries across five continents. The idea occurred to them after the Vatican asked the world's bishops conferences to find out what their people think about a range of social issues and report back. But, as the Univision survey's executive summary notes, "the papal questionnaire is not an opinion-gathering instrument." True, it's not exactly reader-friendly (several dioceses chose to adapt it in order to make it more intelligible to the people whose views it was designed to gather). Nor were its results easy to compile. So Univision sponsored a large-scale survey that would adhere to contemporary standards of data collection, and allow us to say with a measure of confidence: This what the world's Catholics think now.

The results won't shock you. (The German and Swiss bishops certainly weren't surprised.) They represent "an alarming trend for the Vatican," because the "majority of Catholics worldwide disagree with Catholic doctrine on divorce, abortion, and contraceptives," according to Bendixen and Amandi International--the communications firm that conducted the study. (It's been published a few ways: as an interactive feature, a slideshow, and an executive summary--which explains the survey's methodology.)

The country-by-country breakdown also holds few surprises. Generally speaking, the more developed a country is, the less likely its Catholics are to fully agree with certain church teachings. So, while a significant majority of U.S. Catholics (59 percent) say that women should be ordained priests, 81 percent of Ugandan Catholics disagree (the breakdown is similar on the question of married priests). Of course huge majorities of American Catholics (88 percent) have no problem with the use of artificial contraception. Ninety-four percent of French Catholics support the use of contraceptives--edging out Brazil's 93 percent to take the top spot in that category. And when it comes to divorce, the percentages line up similarly: 60 percent of U.S. Catholics believe that being divorced and remarried outside the church should not bar one from receiving Communion, while 72 percent of Catholics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo agree with that church teaching. On gay marriage, most Catholics agree with their bishops: about 40 percent of U.S. Catholics oppose it, compared with 99 percent of Catholic Africans.

The abortion results are more interesting.

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Abortion, Poverty, Contraception, and Promiscuity

There has been much attention given to the latest report that abortions have fallen to their lowest rate in 40 years. The rate of below 17 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 is nearly half of the rate at its peak in 1980. Discussions in the wake of the report have focused on causation, an almost-impossible task given the complexity of the phenomenon of abortion. Isolating causes is certainly not possible, and it seems more reasonable to suggest that more-successful contraception and a more negative public attitude toward the morality of abortion have both contributed to the decline. The question of whether state-level legal restrictions on abortion make any difference is hotly disputed; since these restrictions ordinarily are passed in states where abortions are geographically less available and where the general moral culture is more anti-abortion, it would be hard to know how to separate out these factors.

I want to put these numbers in some larger perspective, by diving more deeply into the statistics about abortion. To me, these raise questions about the level to which one could drive down this abortion rate; as with our economic analysis, a focus on up-or-down trend numbers often obscures the larger phenomenon.

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New stories on the homepage

Two new stories to highlight on our homepage. First, in "Botched Arguments," the editors comment on political gestures and the pro-life cause, in light of a recent New Yorker article that

makes the case that desperate women will seek abortions regardless of the dangers, and that restricting access to the procedure only guarantees their further victimization. This has long been the argument for keeping abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” If the prolife movement is going to respond to it persuasively, it will have to convince Americans that its concern for the women involved in abortion is as great as its compassion for the unborn. As Peter Steinfels wrote in these pages (“Beyond the Stalemate”), the movement needs to shift more of its energies from partisan gestures and all-or-nothing legal gambits to the tasks of persuasion and witness. Gestures like the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” will change no one’s mind—and are not intended to. Neither do they protect the unborn—and they are not expected to.

Read the whole thing here.

And, in "Secularists for Christmas!," Albert Wu discusses the rise of groups in France like Résistance Républicaine that are wielding an old notion of "secularism" (laïcité) in a new way:

[T]hese groups employ the term as a form of aggressive anti-Islamic politics. They take pride in their contempt: the Résistance Républicaine website proclaims, “Islamophobia is not a crime…. It’s legitimate defiance,” and, “I’m an Islamophobe and I’m proud.” At [a] December demonstration, marchers switched seamlessly from chanting “Hands off Christmas” to “Islamists, fascists, killers.”

It might be easy to dismiss this hyperbolic rhetoric as limited to fringe groups. A routine demonstration against unemployment and inequality earlier in December attracted four thousand (about four times as many people as the Résistance Républicaine rally drew). An antigay marriage protest in May brought out nearly a hundred fifty thousand. But defining laïcité in a way that preserves France’s Christian identity is far from a marginal idea. It is also taught to new immigrants at a “day of civic formation,” a full-day class on French law, history, culture, and “Republican values.” Attendance is mandatory for all who wish to obtain a long-stay visa. Truancy can result in the rejection of future visa applications.

Read it all here.

Top stories (and top posts) of 2013

In a year that saw a papal resignation (and consequent conclave) and the public embrace of the new pope, it's not surprising that among our most-read articles and blog posts of 2013 are items on these stories, such as our exclusive interview with Francis. But readers also responded to stories on same-sex marriage, public-education reform, and the relationship among work, material necessities, and "the good life." Below are the top ten stories from Commonweal and blog posts from dotCommonweal this year. As this is simply a data-generated tally, are there other stories and posts from 2013 not represented here that are nonetheless worth a mention? Any particular favorites - or further thoughts? 

Top stories

“The Things We Share,” Joseph Bottum

“Less Please: Capitalism & the Good Life,” Gary Gutting

“A Chat with Pope Francis: The Commonweal Interview,” The Editors

“Beyond the Stalemate: Forty Years after Roe,” Peter Steinfels

“Reform of the Reform,” Jackson Lears

“Regime Change: Benedict & His Successor,” William L. Portier

“The Big Chill: ‘Humanae Vitae’ Dissenters Need to Find a Voice,” Cathleen Kaveny

“A New Balance: What the Pope’s Interview Reveals,” The Editors

“Historical Amnesia: When Catholic Leaders Misread the Past,” Nicholas Clifford

“The Big Dig: Reconfiguring the Church in Boston,” Luke Hill
 

Top blog posts

“No, the Pentagon won't court-martial service members for sharing their faith,” Grant Gallicho

“NYT’s ironic fact-check error,” Michael Peppard

“Archdiocese of Wobegon,” Grant Gallicho

“Washing feet,” Rita Ferrone

“Apostolic Nuncio to USCCB: Be pastoral, not ideological,” Grant Gallicho

“Francis: women are the first communicators of the Resurrection,” Grant Gallicho

“Interregnum report, March 6,” Dominic Preziosi

“The conclave bird: a distinctively Roman omen,” Michael Peppard

“When ‘allegedly prolife’ groups attack,” Grant Gallicho

“Pontifex legibus solutus?” Joseph A. Komonchak

On the homepage: Minimal wages; Kaveny on ACLU & bishops

Two new items featured on the homepage today. First, the editors on working for less than a living wage:

Contrary to popular misconceptions nourished by some in the media, most of the low-wage workers who would benefit from a higher minimum wage are not teenagers earning a little pocket money and learning some basic job skills. More than 90 percent of them are adults and almost a third are parents. The federal government spends around $7 billion a year on public assistance just for the families of fast-food workers. If conservative lawmakers are serious about streamlining entitlement programs and promoting self-reliance, they should be lining up behind proposals to raise the minimum wage.

So why aren’t they? It isn’t for lack of public support. A large majority of voters from both parties are in favor of raising the minimum wage. Whatever their opinions about welfare, most Americans agree with Adam Smith that those who work for a living should actually make one. Opponents of a higher minimum wage say it will only hurt the poor by reducing the number of jobs: when labor costs are higher, they warn, employers will hire fewer workers. This argument has a certain intuitive force, but several recent studies suggest that modest minimum-wage increases have no significant effect on employment levels. Lobbyists for retailers and fast-food restaurants also argue that higher wages will drive up business costs, which will be passed along to consumers as higher prices. But research suggests that a $10.10 minimum wage would add only a few pennies to the price of a hamburger. The lobbyists don’t mention that the big corporations they represent could also absorb some of the higher labor costs by accepting lower profit margins.

Read the whole thing here.

Also, Cathleen Kaveny looks deeper into the ACLU's complaint against the USCCB in the case of Tamesha Means, who allegedly received medically negligent treatment in the course of her pregnancy and miscarriage at a Catholic health facility:

The alleged negligent act: promulgating the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.

According to the complaint, the USCCB is responsible because it “directed the course of care Plaintiff received.” ... According to the plaintiff, Directive 27 does not require Catholic hospitals to disclose the option of a “previability pregnancy termination,” because (she claims) the church does not see it as morally legitimate. The plaintiff also blames Directive 45, which prohibits abortion. That directive reads: “Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion, which, in its moral context, includes the interval between conception and implantation of the embryo.” The plaintiff contends that Directive 45 prevented [the hospital] from either completing the miscarriage or referring her to a place that would do so.

But has Means identified the right defendants? Contrary to popular belief, the USCCB does not have the power to tell individual bishops—or Catholic health-care systems—what to do and what not to do.

Read the whole thing here.

Peter Steinfels responds to George McKenna

Over at Human Life Review, Peter Steinfels has a response to George McKenna's critique of Peter's June 2013 Commonweal article "Beyond the Stalemate." (You'll remember that in October, Commonweal editor Paul Baumann weighed in on McKenna's piece on our blog.) Here is an excerpt from Peter's response: 

It does not matter that McKenna’s critique contains a number of nasty barbs aimed at me and my religious views. What matters is that, while I strongly doubt that Human Life Review readers (or for that matter Commonweal readers) would completely agree with “Beyond the Stalemate” in undistorted form, an open-minded and accurate reading might at least provoke constructive thought. But that would require a return to the central concerns and argument of my article rather than what “successive readings” convinced McKenna I was really up to.

And what was that? My “underlying point,” he claimed, is to propose a “grand bargain” between the species of liberal Catholics he labels Commonweal Catholics and their “pro-choice brethren on the left.” And what were the terms of this “grand bargain,” in McKenna’s view? “We will eschew any more public rhetoric about a ‘moment of conception’—if you will just agree with us that at some point in the pregnancy the occupant of the womb can be called human and thus entitled to the same legal protections we give to the already-born.”

All very interesting. And completely false.

You can read Peter's response in its entirety here.

Getting Used to Things

The things we grow used to.  This piece in the New York Times this morning, on the difficulty of agreeing about how to remember the days when Montgomery, Alabama, was a center of the slave trade illustrates how “Southern history is a custody battle still in litigation,” and it reminded me of an interview with Shelby Foote, which I bumped into a few days ago while looking for something else.

Foote, a native of the Mississippi Delta, spoke mostly of William Faulkner (to whom, as a young man, he had boldly introduced himself while his best friend, Walker Percy, shyly cowered in a car parked in Faulkner’s driveway) but he included some searing, honest and fascinating comments about racism and the culture in which he grew up. Acknowledging the evil of it, he nevertheless remembers how that culture could regard a black person (though he doesn’t use that term) as “somewhere between an animal and a human being,” and admits that “I lived in a society that was filled with horrors…they were not horrors at the time.”

I can’t help but wonder if there will come a time when many of us will be speaking of the commonplace, unremarkable horrors of our own time and country, among them, the aborting of nearly a million unborn children annually and our evident nonchalance about it. 

We can get used to anything, it seems.

Special feature: Bernardin’s consistent ethic of life, thirty years later

Thirty years ago Friday, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin came to Fordham University to deliver a follow-up lecture on the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace” [.pdf], a presentation in which he introduced his formulation for a consistent ethic of life [.pdf]. 

I was a freshman at Fordham in December 1983; dealing for the first time with end-of-term papers and final exams, I did not attend the lecture. But it was big news on campus (and off), its key passages highlighted in the official student paper and discussed in my theology, philosophy, and political science courses in the semesters to come. To an eighteen-year-old recently compelled by the 1980 proclamation from President Carter to register for the draft, and made further anxious (like many of my classmates) by the belligerence of the Reagan administration’s nuclear-weapons rhetoric—limned with references to scripture—Bernardin’s wedding of issues made sudden, stunning sense. A pro-life position consisted of more than focusing singularly on abortion; it also meant opposing what he called “the moral and political futility of nuclear war” and directing states “against the exercise” of capital punishment. A formulation like “consistent ethic of life” provided shape for inchoate railings against what I was beginning to think of as the injustices of the day, coming along in time for the moral and political awakening common to first-year students. I still remember the weather (pouring Bronx rain) and how my mother drove the seventy miles from New Jersey to hear Bernardin in person, a basket of all my younger brothers’ laundry in the back seat because the washing machine had broken down and she needed to stop at a Laundromat on the way home.

That’s my personal reflection, in service of directing you to a more thorough and informed discussion over on our website. To mark the thirtieth anniversary of Bernardin’s lecture, we’ve asked four contributors to reassess his idea for a consistent ethic of life and to comment on its influence and its relevance today. Lisa Fullam, David Cloutier, Robert P. Imbelli, and Cathleen Kaveny are the participants in the discussion, “Consistent Ethic of Life, Thirty Years Later,” which you can find here. Once you’ve read it, come back to this post to share your comments. 

Does your new health plan cover abortion? Good luck finding out.

Just posted to the homepage: my piece on elective abortion coverage on the health exchanges. I'll have more to say about this later, but for now, here's a preview:

On Sunday, the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline for fixing Healthcare.gov passed, with seemingly decent results. For the past month, the administration had been consumed with that task. But in the meantime another serious problem seems to have escaped its attention: Federal and state health-care exchanges make it nearly impossible to tell whether their plans cover elective abortion. And in some states customers don’t even have the option to purchase abortion-free coverage.

Last month, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was brought before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to be questioned about the failures of Healthcare.gov. “If someone…has strongly held pro-life views, can you commit to us to make sure that the federal exchanges that offer that [abortion coverage] is clearly identified and so people can understand if they're going to buy a policy that has abortion coverage or not?” asked Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). “I don’t know,” Sebelius answered. “I know exactly the issue you’re talking about. I will check and make sure that is clearly identifiable.”

That was November 1. It’s still nearly impossible to determine whether plans on the exchanges cover elective abortion. For example, on the New York State exchange—supposedly one of the best—the signup process is painless. You create a username and password, enter your legal name, address, Social Security number, and within moments you’re shopping for coverage. You can compare several plans at all levels of coverage (bronze, silver, gold, platinum). Monthly premiums are displayed first, followed by deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. You can explore a plan’s outpatient-services coverage, its prescription-drug coverage, mental-health services, lab tests, etc. You can even see its pediatric-vision coverage. But you can’t find out whether a plan covers elective abortion.

Read the rest right here.