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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Today the Weekend Reader brings you Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church by the former editor of Conscience magazine, Patricia Miller. Good Catholics explores the conflicts that arise when religion and women’s issues collide. Abortion and birth control are deemed sinful by the Catholic Church, whose reach goes beyond those who adhere to its doctrine. The Church now finds itself at a crossroads, where their hardline views are being met with fervent criticism from both outside and within. In the excerpt below, Miller examines what happens when an adult life is put at risk by the religious views of an organization, and the repercussions of challenging the Church.

You can purchase the book here

In November 2009, as the battle over health reform raged in Washington, a twenty-seven-year-old woman nearing the end of her first trimester of pregnancy was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Doctors told the mother of four that she had a nearly 100 percent chance of suffering heart failure and dying if she carried the pregnancy to term. They recommended an immediate therapeutic abortion to save her life. The recommendation went to the Catholic hospital’s ethics committee, which included Sister Margaret McBride, a Sister of Mercy who was an administrator at the hospital. The ethics committee approved the abortion under the rationale that its primary purpose was to save the woman’s life, not terminate the pregnancy. The abortion was performed and the woman survived. Six months later the decision came to the attention of Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmstead. He condemned the hospital for approving the abortion and announced that Sister McBride was automatically excommunicated because of her participation in the decision to allow the abortion. “In the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld,” Olmstead said.

Olmstead was suggesting that a woman who could otherwise be saved be allowed to die to protect the letter of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which said that direct abortion couldn’t be allowed under any circumstance. Hospital administrators and Sister McBride defended the abortion as the correct decision because both the woman and the baby would have died without it. “Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save,” said hospital president Linda Hunt. In December 2010, Olmstead stripped the hospital of its Catholic affiliation after it refused to promise that it would never again perform an abortion to save a woman’s life.

The McBride case was a dramatic example of the willingness of the Catholic bishops to place Catholic dogma over patients’ needs and raised serious concerns about their oversight of Catholic hospitals. “The need to accommodate religious doctrine does not give health providers serving the general public license to jeopardize women’s lives,” said a New York Times editorial.

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It also illustrated the bishops’ insistence that they alone had the right to define the parameters of the provision of health care at any institution related to the Catholic Church. It was an issue on which the bishops were increasingly intransigent and on which they had found an accommodating partner in the Bush administration. The administration had included a Catholic health plan in the federal employees’ health program that tailored its benefits to comply with the restrictions in the Directives. It excluded coverage for abortion, sterilization, contraception, and artificial insemination even though the plan, OSF Health, offered contraception coverage through a third-party provider under other programs.

Because obviously no one could force Catholics to utilize banned services if they didn’t want to, the implication now was that their premiums couldn’t even go toward a plan that offered such services. And since the federal employees’ health program was already prohibited by law from covering abortion, it was clear that an effort was under way to elevate less controversial services such as contraception to the same level of moral approbation as abortion. But it was on the issue of conscience clauses that the Bush administration was especially accommodating to the bishops. Bush’s PEPFAR pro- gram included an exemption for religious providers who didn’t want to distribute condoms, which was custom-made for Catholic agencies like Catholic Relief Services. Bush signed an appropriations bill in 2005 that included the first federal conscience clause. This broadened the abortion exemption to a wide range of health care entities, including health maintenance organizations and other insurers, and included the right to refuse to refer for abortions.

By this time, the issue of conscience refusals was becoming increasingly contentious, as the bishops were joined by elements of the Christian Right in asserting the need for greater conscience protections for health care workers, who they charged were regularly being forced to violate their faith in the provision of certain services. Organizations like Pharmacists for Life campaigned for the right of pharmacists to refuse to dispense or refer for oral contraceptives or emergency contraception (EC) on the discredited grounds that they were potentially abortifacients. Reports of conscience-based service refusals mushroomed. There were hospital nurses who refused to care for patients before or after emergency abortions, doctors who refused to prescribe the Pill to unmarried women, and infertility clinics that turned away lesbian patients. Conscience exemptions were now being used as a political tool to block access to services to which some objected or to make moral judgments about the provision of care to certain patients.

In 2008, the health care community was in an uproar after the Bush administration used the regulatory process to codify the right of almost any health worker—including those ancillary to a procedure like schedulers or janitors—to opt out of providing any service to which he or she had a religious or moral objection. Women’s health advocates, medical associations, and even drugstore chains were quick to express alarm about the regulation, not only because of its unprecedented scope and potential impact on patients’ access to care but because it seemed to purposely conflate abortion and contraception. They said the rule could be used to circumvent laws that required insurers to cover prescription contraceptives or hospitals to provide EC to women who had been raped—two issues of special importance to the Catholic bishops.

By the dawn of the Obama administration, however, the bishops were losing ground on conscience exemptions. They lobbied unsuccessfully in Arizona to broaden that state’s narrow religious exemption to its contraceptive equity law, which covered only churches, to include any religious employer, such as Catholic hospitals and universities. The bishops in Connecticut lost a bruising two-year battle for an exemption to that state’s new “EC in the ER” law despite putting up a fierce fight. The Obama administration undid the sweeping Bush conscience exemption, noting that federal law still protected providers from being compelled to participate in abortions. Then, in August 2011, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that all employer-based health plans would be required to provide contraceptives to women at no cost under its proposed rules for the preventive services guaranteed to all individuals under the Affordable Care Act.

In deference to the Catholic bishops, HHS proposed a narrow conscience clause that exempted nonprofit organizations directly involved in the inculcation of religion that primarily employed individuals of the same religion, like Catholic churches and other houses of worship. However, Catholic-affiliated institutions like universities and hospitals that served the general population and employed non-Catholics would have to provide contraception through their plans. Many of these employers had chosen to self-insure—that is, serve as their own insurers—to circumvent state contraception mandates, but they would be required to comply with federal law.

The type of narrowly drawn conscience clause proposed by the administration had been sanctified by two closely watched state supreme court decisions in New York and California. The U.S. Supreme Court let both decisions stand, which was seen as a major victory for a limited application of conscience clauses. But in the ensuring years since the 2006 New York decision, not only had the Christian Right become activated on the issue, but the question of conscience clauses had spilled beyond health care as efforts advanced to ensure equality for same-sex couples. Catholic Charities affiliates in Boston and Illinois closed their well-respected adoption agencies rather than comply with state mandates that they provide adoptions to gay and lesbian couples.

Then in September 2011, shortly after the Obama administration announced the contraceptive mandate, HHS announced that it would not renew a contract with the USCCB to provide assistance to victims of inter- national human trafficking because the bishops’ organization refused to provide women who had been subjected to rape or forced prostitution with access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion, EC, and family planning and sexually transmitted disease counseling. Where HHS saw the need to provide all medically appropriate services to these women, the bishops claimed anti-Catholic discrimination, especially because political appointees at HHS had overruled a program evaluation that rated the USCCB as the top-performing contractor in terms of service provision. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokesperson for the USCCB, said that there was a “new, albeit unwritten rule of HHS, the ABC rule—Anybody But Catholics.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, purchase the full book here.

Excerpted from Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church by Patricia Miller. © 2014 by University of California Press. Reprinted by permission. 

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  • Independent1

    Whether or not those of you posting here believe in God, assuming there is a God, does anyone posting here believe that if the majority of scientists on the planet have known for quite some time that the earth is becoming over populated that God didn’t know that long before they did? Like at least 2000 years ago??

    I’m assuming that most of the posters on the NM have one ounce of common sense, and that you answered, sure, God knew the world was becoming over populated long before any scientist figured that out.

    So if that’s the case, why hasn’t the Catholic Church figured out that God knows the planet is becoming over populated and may well not want the church to continue pushing its dogma that would make the over population even worse: keep putting the Church’s nose into what should be a women’s decision, whether or not she’s in a position financially, emotionally or health wise to have another baby; and the church’s ban on contraceptives – dogma which clearly exacerbates the world’s growing overpopulation.

    God clearly gave the message that he knew the world was becoming overpopulated when He put Jesus on the earth. During his ministry, Jesus made it clear that some things had definitely changed. In the beginning, God not only looked the other way, He at times even promoted early man to having multiple wives and even have children with their wive’s handmaids; something that Jesus made quite clear had become taboo. To the point that Jesus said, if a married man even looks lustfully at another woman, he is committing adultery in his heart, an outright sin.

    And God did something even further. Moses had told the Hebrews that they could divorce their wives and be free to marry someone else. Jesus even made it clear that from his time on that that would also be taboo. A man was to have one wife for life. Jesus said that if a man divorced his wife and he and she married someone else, not only would he be committing adultery, he would also be forcing her to commit adultery.

    So now, why do you suppose God changed his mind so drastically. Not condemning men like Abraham from not only having children with their wive’s handmaiden, but actually having other wives and concubines – and also not condemning divorce, to when Jesus came, strictly desiring to have one man live for life with one woman?

    My sense is that it was because more than 2,000 years ago God knew where the world was headed and wanted to slow procreation down. Something that the Catholic Church’s nonsense dogma is not helping. When is the Catholic Church going to wake up and realize that God knew the world was getting overpopulated at least a couple thousand years ago, and they need NOW to wake up and see that too……

    • Stuart51

      He knew, he was just waiting for us to show whether or not we had the intelligence to fix things.

      We have shown we haven’t, that is why he is now perfecting Ebola.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    As a Catholic woman, educated in a Catholic school and a product of the 1960s, it has always been abundantly clear to the female gender that religion is always the domain of male major domos. So, look at this issue from within. You have so-called Christians like Jim Jones, David Koresh, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Uncles Rulan and Warren Jeffs all ramming their righteousness down women’s throats. Only the most uneducated, financially dependent American women today are still believers in the male dominated religions. At this point, the 5 Catholic men on the Supreme Court are pushing a backroom agenda using the utterly ridiculous expansion of First Amendment rights to not only insist obscenely profitable corporations are people, but also now can stand toe to toe with women in church. More BS than this you don’t find in Fantasyland.

    Furthermore, as a woman, it’s becoming abundantly clear that educated, financially independent women are huge threat to male religious dominators all too accustomed for all too long in having money and financial decisions solely in their purveyance.

    When a Supreme Court can use the First Amendment to imply that businesses are people who go to Church, confess their all too numerous sins, let me know. Till then, women will fight tooth and nail for equality.

    Some American men need to get off that Male Supremacy addiction. They love the double incomes women bring to their households..just not the rights and freedoms that go with that kind of financial independence.

    Some men in the US have one nightmare they are morbidly terrorized by…a female majority in government, education, business, society and ….church.

    • whodatbob

      Eleanore, Thank you well thoughtful post! As a man and product of 16 years Catholic Education, I applaud you, you hit the nail on the head.

      If priest, bishops and cardinals were married Church leadership would have a better understanding of females. That said Church doctrine is out of step with the word.

      With an educated mind you truly believe your behavior is not sinful, it is not.

      God Bless

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        Like a tsunami raging over a whole country, the tide of this need for certain men to dominate has destructive consequences. Not all men feel the need to dominate. Those who do are usually pathological sociopaths who wade in neurotic deep waters. The most recognizable feature of these guys is an inability to understand the serious connection between their decisions and the ripple effect of the consequences. Bringing children into the world that adults can’t afford brings back the days of orphans exploited as newsboys by Hearst and Pulitzer. It strike at the heart of forcing children to work when they should be getting educations, which today is the right wing anarchist agenda..make college unaffordable and you reduce children’s ability to get an education. Reduce education and you have handily created a nation of uneducated free slave labor. Men of religion think imposing pregnancy somehow insures that what any male chooses to give, must also insure control over women. Back to the Past..not the Future.

      • Sand_Cat

        Church leadership might get a better understanding with married clergy; that’s not to say that doctrine would change.

        • whodatbob

          We can only hope!

    • sfbmoore

      Absolutely correct. This is really a fight about the independence of women. Birth control and abortion has freed women to earn independent incomes and abstain from unwanted pregnancies. It is obvious enough that men are now grabbing at any power point they can find. It is too late to stop this progress! Women must vote in force in the next election!

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        Isn’t it comforting to note that in the US 52% of the majority are female? Now you see how and why the Supreme Court 5 are so hot to help their male dominators insure they keep control over women and children. How can men exploit women if women are so financially independent, they don’t need men for support?

    • CherMoe

      As a Catholic woman, I absolutely and TOTALLY agree with you. And if it came down to my life or that of my daughters or granddaughters, I would leave the church in a heartbeat, in order to save their lives. With the radical stance the Church takes and the way they have pressured our politicians into bullying women and DOMINATING us and making us victims of their RAPE CULTURE, I don’t think the church is doing right by its parishioners. When a zygote is more important than a living, breathing person, that’s it for me. So sad. It’s not enough for people to be led like sheep, brainwashed and guilted into how they must live their lives and “personal conscience and common sense” are not allowed a place in a person’s decisions, then there’s something seriously wrong.

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        CherMoe, my mom used a phrase “It’s a depressingly male dominated world out there,” that always made me cringe. In Catholic school, girls were not expected to be stars in science and math. They were taught home economics, typing, steno and bookkeeping. All jobs that pay at the lower end compared to that of the chemists, engineers and financial wizards.

        All that suppression of intelligence accomplished was a generation of women in the 1960s who knew they didn’t need a man for financial security. This is a clue to why after nearly half a century, women’s salaries remain below that of men’s.

        If you study the reasons religions all view women as “impure and sinful,” it comes down to male domination.

        The greatest threat to this today are women who refuse to be cowed by male gamers and cons whose only reason for existence is to control what they believe is the “weaker sex.”

        My response to the bulls who do this is, “Go through pregnancy and labor. Then come back and tell me how strong you are.” Once you see through the veil of male ego, you see how important it is for some men to keep women under their control any way they can.

  • JSquercia

    As a Catholic male I find myself in an ODD position when it comes to abortion. I do believe that at SOME point the Fetus does become a separate
    being (different DNA) . That being said I feel that I have no right to impose the
    my view on anyone else ( Constitution prohibits THIS) . In the case of the abortion performed on that mother of four , there is NO question that the Sister and the Hospital were Correct . The Bishop would have lost BOTH the mother and the child and left four children without mother .
    As for Birth Control it is perfectly clear that preventing pregnancy is far different than abortion . The Bishops have NO right to impose Catholic beliefs on others and are in fact IGNORED by the vast majority of Catholics on this issue .

    • whodatbob

      Two things:
      1) My wife and I are Catholic, have as many children as we could afford (7), if not for birth control we would of had many more and not have been able to feed and educate any of them.
      2) Not only should our Bishops not try imposing Catholic believes on others, so should others stop pushing their believes on us.

  • BiteMeLiberals

    For liberals there is only one God. Hail King Obama!

    • whodatbob

      As a liberal Democrat I know God is the Supreme Being, Obama is a mere mortal and our President for only another year and one half, PRAISE BE THE LORD!

      • Sand_Cat

        Two of a kind.

    • Independent1

      Well, that’s certainly a lot better than being a GOP loving conservative who worships the party of the Devil, such as yourself!!!

      • BiteMeLiberals

        That could be why the DemoGods want to release 30,000 criminals.

    • Sand_Cat


  • Paul Bass

    Here is a suggestion that obviously will never be followed by the religious right.
    I’m a single parent of a special needs child/adult who is now 20. It has been incredibly difficult. Yet, I have no indication that our society accepts SN kids.

    So go ahead and protest all you want in front of Planned Parenthood, as long as you have an adopted crack baby or fetal alcohol child on your hip. If not, go show your hypocrisy elsewhere.