Monday, November 9, 2009

Frances Kissling Gives a History Lesson on Abortion and Morality.

How have we gotten to a place where abortion is morally repugnant? Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice, explains in an article for Salon:

We started down this road in 1976 when the Hyde Amendment passed and when, in 1980, the Supreme Court upheld the principle that the federal government had the right to enact policies that favored childbirth over abortion by restricting funding for abortion. Most Democrats saw that giving antiabortion taxpayers greater moral standing than women who choose abortion was a political power play. After all, taxpayers don't get any other say in how their taxes are used. Pacifists' dollars support war; anti-bailout Americans saw their taxes go to banks just this year. Except on the issue of abortion, if you want to be a tax resister, the only thing to do is not pay your taxes and go to jail.

Clearly, the antiabortion right was using poor and powerless women as surrogates for their inability to control all women’s access to abortion. Sadly, a few pro-choice Democrats agreed with the antiabortionists that abortion should be legal but was morally repugnant, and should not be supported with federal dollars. Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore (who later changed his mind) were in that camp.

While efforts to overturn Hyde from 1976 to 2004 were sporadic and unsuccessful, at least some legislators tried. Most pro-choice legislators and advocates continued to agree that it was immoral to deny public funding to poor women for a service that was legal. All that changed with the Democratic defeats in 2004, which led the Democratic Party to falter seriously in its commitment to choice. Party leaders courted antiabortion Democrats as candidates for the House and Senate in conservative districts and states.

Howard Dean, then party chair, initiated an outreach plan to integrate anti-choice Democrats into the party. In fact, they were able to hold their press conferences in the Democratic National Committee building. Democrats for Life has proved to be radically antiabortion, and its members have been congressional ringleaders of the effort to exclude abortion coverage in health insurance reform. The party stopped calling them anti-choice and adopted the language they preferred, “pro-life." In many ways, the message was sent that being pro-choice and antiabortion were equivalent, morally and politically. Deeply held beliefs were not to be critiqued, they were simply to be accepted so that Democrats would be seen as sensitive to religious values.

Religious groups that were broadly in alliance with the positions of the Democratic Party, but disagreed with the party on abortion, stepped up and began to “advise” the party on how to talk religion and gain the votes of the small percentages of anti-choice Catholics and evangelicals who are progressive on other issues. Democratic operatives promoted the new antiabortion progressives with deep-pocket party donors who were searching, post-2004, for new groups to support to reach out to "people of faith." Most of those same groups have worked for the Stupak amendment, including Sojourners, Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. They are now among the religious voices listened to on the Hill and in the White House.

Obama himself contributed to the rehabilitation of the immoral positions on abortion and poor women taken by these groups when he adopted the common-ground approach to abortion. The president chose to emphasize the “good will” and deeply held beliefs of those opposed to abortion and funding for poor women as opposed to a clear critique of the immorality of restricting a woman’s right to decide whether abortion was a moral decision for her, personally. The White House pushed pro-choice leaders to acquiesce to this form of diplomacy by creating a “dialogue” among all players, with no reference to the merits of various positions on abortion, simply a so-called shared commitment to “reducing abortion.” The president presented his own pro-choice position as just one view among many.

Common ground was featured and promoted even on Web sites devoted to choice, when dedicated a special site to providing a platform for both pro-choice and antiabortion views, further legitimating the idea that the legality and morality of abortion rights were debatable. We were treated to glowing descriptions of the “good” pro-lifers like Alexia Kelly of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, who compared abortion to torture and capital punishment, as well as the “bad” old pro-lifers like Doug Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee and the Catholic bishops. Following the vote on the Affordable Health Care for America Act, Catholics United issued a press statement in which they allied themselves with the bishops: “We are proud to stand with the US Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Catholic Health Association and other Catholic groups who have lent their unified support to this bill.” (How any progressive Catholic group can be proud to stand with a religious institution that just opened its doors to every homophobic and misogynistic Anglican to come on over and join our church is beyond me.)

Some pro-choice leaders warned that the party’s strategy, in the name of morality, muted the moral justice inherent in the pro-choice position. Former NARAL president Kate Michelman argued with Chuck Schumer and Howard Dean about anti-choice Democratic candidates to no avail. Party leaders were reassuring and adamant: If we could get a Democratic majority and a Democratic president, we would save choice.

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Joint Statement of Religious Leaders on Stupak Amendment.

Great to see but I know it doesn't have the teeth or rolodex of the USCCB. Until they impress representatives and senators with their ability to effect votes, this group of religious leaders for choice is not going to have enough influence to save women from the trend of rights denial. Time for a new strategy.

Catholics for Choice, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Clergy Network, the Religious Coalition on Reproductive Choice, and the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing represent more than ten thousand religious leaders and tens of thousands of people of faith who believe that abortion must be safe, legal, and accessible. We come together to condemn the passage of the Stupak amendment, which if passed by the Senate will effectively deny coverage for abortion services to women covered by the new federal health care plan. We are appalled that religious leaders intervened to impose their specific religious doctrine intohealth care reform, not recognizing that women must have the right to apply or reject the principles of their own faith in making the decision as to whether or not abortion is appropriate in their specific circumstances. Further, we decry those who sought to use abortion as a way to scuttle much needed health care reform. We call on the President and the United States Senateto ensure that the final bill that passes does not include any specific prohibition on the use of federal funds for reproductive health care services. We pray for a renewed commitment to relational and reproductive justice for all.


The Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera
National Chaplain
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
213 840 7258

Jon O'Brien
Catholics for Choice
202 986 6093

The Reverend Debra W. Haffner
Executive Director
Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing
203 222 0055

The Reverend Carlton W. Veazey
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
202 628 7700

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Stupak in Their Words, True and Untrue.

From Anne Marie Polak at AmericansUnitedforLife, a hodge-podge of comments on Stupak that tend to leave the truth on the floor:

Statements are paraphrased.

Stupak: Capps Amendment is the most direct assualt on Hyde since 1997.

DeGette: Capps Amendment is a compromise that does not spend $1 federal dollar on abortion. Requirement for supplemental insurance is offensive to women

Pitts: The public does not support federal funding of abortion. Current law prevents fed. dollars from paying for abortion and subsidizing abortion providing plans. A majority opposes funding of abortion on demand.

DeLauro: Stupak Amdt. undermines Capps and is an unprecedented overreach of women’s basic rights and freedoms. It would take away the freedom of conscience and destroy access to abortion. Further, it would discriminate against working women. This is a life or death for women.

Dahlkemper: Stupak Amdt. doesnt change current law. It doesn’t outlaw abortion and it makes hcr consistent with all other federal hc programs.

Capps: Stupak Amdt. strips women of right to choose and does not maintain status quo. Abortion is a legal, medical procedure. Irony that those who claim to oppose gov interference in hc are the same people who are supporting this government regulation of abortion. Capps already does prohibit fed funding.

Pence: I still plan to oppose underlying bill. Ending life is morally wrong; it is wrong to pay for abortion with taxpayer money. Stand for life and vote yes on Stupak.

Lowey: Abortion should be legal and safe and rare. We should reduce abortions by offering contraceptive care, not by denying access to abortion.

McMorris Rodgers: Protection for children should start at moment that life begins. Women object to gov funding of abortion.

Ellsworth: We need to offer Prolife options on the exchange. I have been working with the Catholic bishops on this amdt. This has not been easy, but the amdt. honors and respects life, including the unborn. With passage of this amdt. I will support the bill.

Lee: Inserts federal gov into women’s choices. I am Catholic and I can understand the tough moral choices. But this amdt. will return us to the dark days of back alley abortions. Stupak goes way beyond Hyde. Stupak brings outrageous religious views into public policy. We have a separation of church and state that requires us not to cross this line. Also, it will hurt low income women.

Ryan: Support proteciton of life. Vote with a clean conscience.

Nadler: We are trying to level the playing field for women, but Stupak discriminates agasint women. There would be no abortion in public option, and Stupak would change existing law.

Bachmann: Life is the watershed issue of this generation. Destruction of life not healthcare.

Quigley: Only people who can afford insurance can get abortions. Poor women will be forced to sacrifice privacy.

Fortenberry: The vast majority of Americans do not want federal funding of abortion. Women deserve better. From early childhood to the elderly, we should not compromise. It is not ours to decide who lives or who dies.

Slaughter-(co chair of pro choice caucus) For years, pro-life and pro-choice members have been in a peaceful coexistence around Hyde. H.R. 3962 has the strongest conscience clause yet–and even that is now being strengthened. 30-40 years of women’s accomplishments are being cancelled out. Poor women will have to go to the back alley.

Schakowsky: Only option for abortion is separate policy. Millions of women will be losing coverage.

Lipinski-Approve the Hyde amdt for this bill through supporting Stupak.

Chris Smith: Abby Johnson viewed abortion and became pro-life because she saw how abortion kills a child. Abortion harms women–women who have abortions are more likely to later suffer depression. Abortion contributes to pre term birth–and pre term birth contributes to other problems we want to avoid. If we want to reduce abortions-dont fund them. A Guttmacher study confirms this.

Kaptur: Stupak Amdt. reaffirms Hyde, nothing mor


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New Hampshire Prepares Death with Dignity Bill.

WCSH6, a channel out of Portland, ME is reporting that the New Hampshire legislature will make its Death with Dignity bill recommendations tomorrow, Tuesday:

A New Hampshire House committee plans to make its recommendation Tuesday on a bill to legalize assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

The Judiciary Committee this fall has been working on the bill, which was introduced last session but held over for more work. The full House votes on the measure next year.

The bill would let terminally ill patients over age 18 obtain lethal prescriptions, with safeguards to prevent abuses.

Opponents call the bill a recipe for elder abuse. They say doctors should be treating the terminally ill, not helping them die.

Oregon has approved assisted suicide ballot questions twice. Washington state followed suit last year.

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More Palliative Information Becoming Available.

One trend that I have noticed since the summer's hoopla over "death panels" and euthanasia, is an effort by Palliative care organizations and medical units to educate the public on what it is they do and who needs their services.

Extreme conservatives in the US have in the past been critical of palliative and hospice care, confusing their mission to provide comfort at the end of life with "giving up" on a patient. At the other end of the spectrum is concern that some hospice facilities oppose patient choice at the end of life because of their Catholic origins and continued religious affiliations.

Efforts to bring more information to the public, in part to dispel the untruths bandied about this summer (and beyond by the likes of Sarah Palin) is a welcome sign that at least dialogue has begun. Palliative and hospice organizations have little funding or resources. They are staffed by half of volunteers. Any outreach they conduct will be local and grassroots - even when supported by large medical universities such as the one linked above - but they are greatly necessary.

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Just Covering for the Blue Dogs.

From St.MichaelSociety, a run down of Saturday night's Stupak events.

Apparently, there are many who feel Stupak is not strong enough. When your objective is ending abortion completely - repealing Roe v. Wade essentially - despite what statistics say about the effects on women's health, public opinion, and what we claim is a religiously diverse country that must accommodate all beliefs, nothing will satisfy you.

Bottomline is, there was always going to be a way, designed by the Democrat leadership, to allow pro-life leaning and blue dog Democrats to say they voted for an Amendment that prevented abortion funding. The abortion industry and its allies in the House were hoping to get by with a weaker Amendment, while still appeasing pro-life leaning blue dogs. Outside of the Hyde Amendment, Stupak-Pitts was the strongest language pro-lifers could come back with and win passage. The arguement over Stupak hurting the broader cause is silliness and a poor attempt at finger pointing. If it was not Stupak-Pitts, it would have been Capps, Ellsworth, or someother 11th hour phony insothat these blue dogs could go home and say they voted against abortion funding. Better to have an Amendment with teeth, than a phony.

We are still a long ways from this discussion being settled. In order to sustain Stupak-Pitts language in any final bill that goes to President Obama, the pro-life movement must keep the pressure up on Senators, then eventually on conference committee members, some of whom will try to remove Stupak-Pitts from the final House-Senate compromise . And, as we move forward, we must keep fighting to stop end of life counseling, i.e. assisted suicide, and work to ensure that there is a strong conscience clause protection for pro-life doctors and medical professionals as we have been covering here on the SMS site, pushing on our Facebook page and on Twitter. And, most importantly, the pro-life movement must stay as united as it has been — 240 votes is quite an accomplishment, but we are far from ultimate victory. The fight for life has only just begun.

The move to ban payment for Death with Dignity as legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana is still alive. According to lifenews:

HR 3926 also contains numerous end-of-life concerns.

The bill contains the controversial "death panels" panned in the previous legislation and it includes two clear end-of-life provisions -- including one that requires insurance companies to distribute advance directives and other planning tools to all who are insured on the new government-run exchange.

The other allows Medicare reimbursement for optional end-of-life planning consultation.

Both provisions appear to exclude assisted suicide from the consultations and advance directives, but those exclusions have no meaning in the Washington and Oregon (and possibly soon in Montana) where assisted suicides are legal.

There, state law says that "death with dignity," the legal terms in those states for assisted suicide, does not actually constitute assisted suicide.

In both states, state law says actions under the assisted suicide statute "shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law."

As a result, in Washington and Oregon, Medicare reimbursed consultations could involve assisted suicide planning and advance directives or other planning materials distributed by mandate. Thus, taxpayer-funded information provided under both provisions will include assisted suicide options in those states where it is legal.

To be clear (and I think, regarding misinformation on end of life provisions, I write that often), Death with Dignity acts, as law in Oregon and Washington, require the patient to bring up the issue with the doctor. Any literature that may state the laws exist - and these are laws, by the way - is fully legal. It is still within the patient-doctor relationship that Death with Dignity must be determined viable.

What could get interesting is the lack of such requirements in the Montana law. Because it comes through the courts - and is expected to be upheld by the Montana Supreme Court by the end of the year - it has no such provisions. I expect a lot of noise when the decision comes down.

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What Exactly Does the Stupak Amendment Do?

It's worse than you think. From RHRealityCheck (via ThinkProgress) comes a story from Jessica Aron that lays out the details for those of you still reeling for more information:

If you thought that just because abortion is a constitutional right and part of basic reproductive health care it would be available in the reformed health insurance market known as the Exchange, think again. The Stupak Amendment, passed Saturday night by the House of Representatives after a compromise deal fell apart, potentially goes farther than any other federal law to restrict women’s access to abortion.

The claim that it only bars federal funding for abortions is simply false. Here’s what the Stupak Amendment does:

1. It effectively bans coverage for most abortions from all public and private health plans in the Exchange: In addition to prohibiting direct government funding for abortion, it also prohibits public money from being spent on any plan that covers abortion even if paid for entirely with private premiums. Therefore, no plan that covers abortion services can operate in the Exchange unless its subscribers can afford to pay 100% of their premiums with no assistance from government “affordability credits.” As the vast majority of Americans in the Exchange will need to use some of these credits, it is highly unlikely any plan will want to offer abortion coverage (unless they decide to use it as a convenient proxy todiscriminate against low- and moderate-income Americans who tend to have more health care needs and incur higher costs).

2. It includes only extremely narrow exceptions: Plans in the Exchange can only cover abortions in the case of rape or incest or “where a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would, as certified by a physician, place the woman in danger of death.” Given insurance companies’ dexterity in denying claims, we can predict what they’ll do with that language. Cases that are excluded: where the health but not the life of the woman is threatened by the pregnancy, severe fetal abnormalities, mental illness or anguish that will lead to suicide or self-harm, and the numerous other reasons women need to have an abortion.

3. It allows for a useless abortion “rider”: Stupak and his allies claim his Amendment doesn’t ban abortion from the Exchange because it allows plans to offer and women to purchase extra, stand-alone insurance known as a rider to cover abortion services. Hopefully the irony of this is immediately apparent: Stupak wants women to plan for a completely unexpected event.

4. It allows for discrimination against abortion providers:Previously, the health care bill included an evenhanded provision that prohibited discrimination against any health care provider or facility “because of its willingness or unwillingness to provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.” Now, it only protects those who are unwilling to provide such services.

One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Eighty-seven percent of employer plans offer abortion coverage. None of that will matter if the Senate takes its cues from the House. In every other way, this bill will expand access to health care. But for millions of women, they are about to lose coverage they currently have and often need.

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Religious Exemptions for Health Care Coverage.

ReligionClause reports that the new health care bill, passed narrowly by the house late Saturday night, does include an exemption to mandated coverage for religious reasons:

The House version of the health care bill passed Saturday, HR 3962, imposes a 2.5% penalty tax on anyone who fails to obtain acceptable health care coverage. (Internal Revenue Code Sec. 59B(a) [pg. 297 of PDF]). However the bill does provide a "conscience exemption" for members of religious sects whose tenets reject insurance benefits. The exemption in Section 501of the bill [IRC Sec. 59B(c)(5) at pg. 299 of PDF] tracks the exemption from payment of social security and self-employment taxes for members of groups such as the Old Order Amish, described in Section 1402(g) of the Internal Revenue Code. (See prior related posting.)

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And the Earth is Flat Too: Sarah Palin and Death Panels.

From ThinkProgress, Sarah Palin keeps the "death panel" ball rolling by insisting that they are an aspect of the new health care bill.

During the summer’s debate over health care reform, right-wing activists and lawmakers latched onto former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s false claim that President Obama and congressional Democrats were proposing government “death panels” that would “pull the plug on grandma.” While Republican leaders largely abandoned this myth, Palin revived it on Friday during a speech at a Wisconsin Right to Life fundraising banquet. In her remarks, Palin “repeatedly suggested that liberal social policies could lead to de facto euthanasia.” The speech was closed to the press and audience members were not allowed to bring cell phones, cameras, or any recording devices, but a few reporters still managed to sneak in. Politico reports that Friday’s speech was less than inspiring:

Palin had remarks prepared but frequently wandered off-script to make a point, offering audience members a casual “awesome” or “bogus” in discussing otherwise weighty topics.

As in: “It is so bogus that society is sending a message right now and has been for probably the last 40 years that a woman isn’t strong enough or smart enough to be able to pursue an education, a career and her rights and still let her baby live.”

Other Palin touchstones included: praise for the military, jeers for the “the liberal media” and a general manner of speaking that often veered into rhetorical culs-de-sac.

While she drew applause during her remarks, Palin’s extemporaneous and frequently discursive style was such that she never truly roused a true-believing crowd as passionate about the issue at hand as she. Not once during her address did they rise to their feet.

Palin warned on her Facebook page last night that the “death panel” provision is in the health care bill that just passed the House.

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Add Scotland to the List.

From the UK Press Association/ via google:

More than two-thirds of people would back a change in the law to allow assisted suicide, polling evidence showed.

Support is highest among people aged between 35 and 44, but falls away among older age groups, according to the poll for the Sunday Times.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald is proposing changes to the law in Scotland to make it legal to help someone bring about their own death.

More here.

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