In a sprawling forty-five-minute address to the United Nations this morning, Pope Francis again urged world leaders to take practical measures to protect the environment, avoid armed conflict, and protect the most vulnerable.
After “reaffirming the importance” of the UN in working to promote justice and human rights,” the pope prodded the assembly to pay attention to the “victims of power badly exercised”: the environment and the “ranks of the excluded.” He warned against “false rights” presented by “the world”—and then he asserted a new one: “a true ‘right of the environment’ [derecho del ambiente, in the original Spanish] does exist,” Francis said. That is a very big deal.
Before the publication of Laudato si’, there had been some speculation about whether the encyclical would speak of the environment itself as having rights. After Francis told journalists that human beings had lorded their power over nature Robin Darling Young asked:
Was he really implying that created nature—the environment—has rights of its own? Such a view on the part of the pope would be a significant development in Catholic thinking about the inherent worth of creation apart from the humans who dominate it. We shall soon find out if he meant it.
It sounds like he did.Read more
This morning Pope Francis delivered a stirring address to the U.S. Congress—the first of its kind—in which he carefully, but firmly urged legislators to draw on the rich history of this nation to build up the common good. Largely avoiding the harsh rhetoric he cautioned bishops against yesterday, he prodded America to remember what has made it great: welcoming the stranger, cooperating with those of diverse commitments, working toward the common good. Ensuring the commonweal “is the chief aim of all politics,” according to Francis, who once weighed a career in political life. He acknowledged that defending the dignity of all, working to ensure the well-being of all citizens, especially “the most vulnerable,” is not an easy task. Yet, he continued, that is the responsibility, indeed the vocation, to which every lawmaker is called. This was a speech of fundamental ideas—of political theory, of anthropology, of theology. But it was anything but airy. Francis talked in specifics. He talked immigration, he talked capital punishment, he talked arms control, he talked climate change.
The pope’s audience, however, was not limited to those in the room. He characterized his message as an invitation to enter into a dialogue with all Americans: the elderly who, while retired, “keep working to build up this land”; the young, who strive to “realize their great and noble aspirations” yet face “difficult situations”; and everyday workers, who labor not simply “to pay their taxes,” but “in their own quiet way…generate solidarity.”
Francis used the stories of four great Americans to drive home his message of solidarity with the planet and all its people: Abraham Lincoln, who defended liberty; Martin Luther King (who featured in Francis’s address at the White House), who sought to ensure the “full rights for all [our] brothers and sisters”; Dorothy Day, who devoted her life toward “the cause of the oppressed”; and Thomas Merton, who serves as an example of our “capacity for dialogue and the United States.”Read more
For those following the CMP videos, number 10 is on YouTube.
Top quote: "Everything we provide is fresh." But there's more.
Will Planned Parenthood give up this source of funding in order to keep operating?
It would seem prudent.
See update below.
The release of the first Planned Parenthood sting video—in which Deborah Nucatola, the organization’s senior director of medical services, graphically explained, during lunch, how a physician might alter an abortion procedure to obtain certain organs, and what a clinic might expect to be paid for procuring such specimens—brought with it equal measures of outrage and skepticism. Outrage from prolifers (and those who don’t identify with the movement) that someone could so casually describe such a thing in between sips of wine and forkfuls of salad. Skepticism from prochoicers (and others) who weren’t convinced that the video, captured deceptively and edited to maximize shock value, fairly portrayed Nucatola or her employer.
The Center for Medical Progress—the group that carried out the sting operation—accused Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue in violation of federal law. (Reimbursement for expenses is legal. Making money on the process is not.) But that first video, especially in its unedited form, did not quite prove that charge. Nucatola explicitly says that Planned Parenthood wants to avoid seeming to profit from fetal-tissue donation. The activists posing as buyers push her to say how much Planned Parenthood expects to receive for a specimen, and she mentions a few numbers, thirty dollars on the low end, one hundred on the high.
Planned Parenthood promptly denied CMP’s allegation, explaining that their clinics follow the law:
At several of our health centers, we help patients who want to donate tissue for scientific research, and we do this just like every other high-quality health-care provider does—with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards. There is no financial benefit for tissue donation for either the patient or for Planned Parenthood. In some instances, actual costs, such as the cost to transport tissue to leading research centers, are reimbursed, which is standard across the medical field.
Yet almost as soon as Planned Parenthood released that statement, documents surfaced that called it into question.Read more
Lynn Winmill, a federal judge [in Idaho] has ruled that Idaho’s law banning secret filming of animal abuse at agricultural facilities is unconstitutional.
Audio and visual evidence is a uniquely persuasive means of conveying a message, and it can vindicate an undercover investigator or whistle-blower who is otherwise disbelieved or ignored.
Prohibiting undercover investigators or whistle-blowers from recording an agricultural facility’s operations inevitably suppresses a key type of speech because it limits the information that might later be published or broadcast.
The state law passed at the behest of the dairy industry argued that films of animal abuse was hurting business. Too bad says the judge! (See the AP story.)
Let's see how this goes down in California where two restraining orders have been issued against David Daleiden & Co. for filming abortion providers talking about fetal parts for research and most recently lab technicians showing fetal hearts, livers, etc.
The irony of the contrast, I leave to your own thoughts and imaginations.
(Continuation): A California Superior Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order barring further releases of videos surreptiously made by David Daleiden and the guerrilla film maker, Center for Medical Progress. This ABCnews story seems to imply that the company StemExpress is featured in those videos. (StemExpress was featured in the science section of the NYTimes story previously posted).
The legal grounds for the judge's action are unclear; a hearing is scheduled for August 19. Any legal beagles here able to clarify the grounds for the restraining order? [UPDATE: The Washington Post offers this legal analysis, which may turn on a California law requiring both parties to agree to a taping of a conversation.]
This story has legs and I can't help observing that taking it to court gives it very long legs. (Are there bachelor degress in film-making that teach students how to keep a story going?)
Don't want to prolong this discussion, but the Science section of the NYTimes (July 28) tells us some more about fetal research, fetal tissues, and fetal parts pricing. I'm guessing Mr. Daleiden's video prompted the story. The First Post...
Today's (July 21) NYTimes has a sort-of interview with the man who made the "fetal parts available" video. "Sort- of" because as David Daleiden says, "I don't think I'm the story." Distributing organs from aborted fetuses in a non-profit way seems to be legal as Planned Parenthood claims. So I suppose the view of the media is that this isn't about Planned Parenthood, but about Daleiden: "What's his problem."
Daleiden has posted a second video and promises more. He has strategically released these to churn the Republican presidential race. At the moment, the Democrats are saying that Planned Parenthood is doing a good job of defending itself (they don't need our help!).... We'll see how that goes.
If Planned Parenthood's charging for processing, handling, and postage is not illegal (I don't actually know that), than what about the moral status of this practice?
1. Giving the woman having the abortion the right to informed consent to this practice seems wobbly. She doesn't want the baby. What claims does she have in distributing its parts?
2. Who actually buys the parts. Daleiden, in order to give his inquiries legitimacy, set up a dummy corporation that appears to do research but doesn't. Does Planned Parenthood (or others) practice due dilligence in distributing the organs. Who do they actually distribute them to? Is there a list?
3. Is the research done on these organs being done ethically? There are established federal regulations about the use of fetuses and/or their organs in medical and scientific research. Are these being observed?
4. I'm sure you can think of more!
Daleiden has an interesting bio included in the interview.
I recently posted a response by Margaret Archer—president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences—to an attack essay by Stefano Gennarini in First Things. This essay accused the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, of openly defying the position of the Holy See on “reproductive health” and “reproductive rights.”
The good bishop has now published his own response, and it is detailed, thoughtful, and gracious. I invite you to read it without my editorial comment.
But I want to step back and think about this for a minute. We had an event at the Vatican that focused mainly on climate change and how it hurts the world’s poorest people. But instead of engaging on this vitally important point, agitators like Gennarini turn the debate back to abortion. And pretty soon, that’s all everyone is talking about. He has forced an upstanding Catholic bishop to go on record stating that he is in fact opposed to abortion!
As I’ve mentioned before, this is a tried-and-true tactic. But we shouldn’t play into their hands. We need to put these people back on the defensive. The pro-life position can never be limited to abortion. It must encompass all forms of the “throwaway” culture that Pope Francis mentions so often, all ways that life and dignity are degraded and cheapened. It must encompass the issues that the Pontifical Academy is passionate about, including human trafficking and modern forms of slavery. And it certainly must encompass the need to reduce carbon emissions, given that our “business as usual” trajectory is going to prove catastrophic for human life and health, especially for the poor and the unborn.
So let the response to such provocation be: “I oppose abortion, but do you oppose decarbonization”? I would like to hear an answer to that question from Stefano Gennarini, George Weigel, Robbie George, Raymond Arroyo, Bill Donohue and all others who seek to downplay and dismiss these concerns.
I would argue that, from a moral perspective, opposing decarbonization is not that different from supporting legalized abortion—you might not be the acting moral agent, but you are still complicit in the structures of sin. Putting it another way, it might not be formal cooperation with evil, but it is certainly material.
And sin is the right word. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has been saying this for a long time—degrading the earth, including by changing the climate, is a sin. Pope Francis has used similar words in the past. And given the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s representative at the launch of the encyclical next week, what’s the betting that this theme will feature prominently?
On the website now, our May 15 issue. Here are some of the highlights:
Isolate the contagion. Prevent transmission. Treat outbreaks instantly and aggressively.
Classical theology has the angels deciding their destiny in a single, unalterable choice. I sometimes dream of being able to imitate such an act, one that would free me from all my ambiguities and contradictions, my half-hearted aspirations and ineffectual resolutions. This is not the way things work, however...
Read all of "Knowing Jesus" here.
Eve Tushnet reviews an exhibit produced by over 40 artists at the National Museum of African Art that recreates Dante's Divine Comedy on three floors:
I’m sitting in hell with a couple of little boys, who are trying to prove they’re not scared. We’re watching a cloth-wrapped figure prostrate itself and bang its fists against the floor, as sobs and wordless singing give way to a howled “I, I, I surrender!”
Read about the beautiful, horrific, beatific and redemptive show here.
Also in the May 15 issue: James Sheehan on how Greece and Ukraine are "testing Europe"; reviews of books about abortion, the short history of the black vote, a young Lawrence of Arabia, and secular humanism—plus poetry from Michael Cadnum, Thomas Lynch, and Peter Cooley; and Elizabeth Kirkland Cahill reflects on bodily decrepitude and wisdom.
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?
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.Read more
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.
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.
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.Read more
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.
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.Read more
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)
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.
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.”Read more
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