Roundup: Church and Politics, Future of Supreme Court

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Roundup: Church and Politics, Future of Supreme Court

Brady Swenson

Wading into the brackish waters of church and politcs; Election important to future of Supreme Court; Closer look at the 'rape exception' in South Dakota abortion ban; Services fall short for rape victims; Editorial boasts benefits of family planning; Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to discoverers of HIV and HPV; and more.

Church and Politics

Many church leaders make forays into politics, especially in the months leading up to an election.  This year is certainly no exception and there was much to evidence that fact in the news over the weekend.  Both the New York Times and the Boston Globe ran stories about the Catholic Church’s efforts to influence their congregants’ votes, which celebrated its worldwide “Respect Life Day” yesterday.  The New York Times reports that Joseph Martino of Scranton, Pa., “has ordered every priest in the
diocese to read a letter warning that voting for a supporter of
abortion rights amounts to endorsing homicide.”  The Boston Globe says that “one of the highest-ranking American bishops at the Vatican, Archbishop
Raymond L. Burke, last week warned that the Democratic Party risks
becoming the ‘party of death.'”  Mixing church and politics is not limited to the Catholic church.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that one local pastor, Rev. George Marin, in his sermon yesterday called on his congregation “to reject [Barack Obama] as the next president of the United States.”

South Dakota blogger Todd Epp, after watching a local televised Catholic service during which a priest asked fellow Catholics to vote for “pro-life” candidates, wondered aloud if opposing political views would receive equal air time on local television in a state considering an abortion ban this November 4.

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But there are Catholics and other people of faith who are of a different political mind and, as the NYT article reports, they are more vocal and better organized this year than most:

In a departure from previous elections, Democrats and liberal
Catholic groups are waging a fight within the church, arguing that the Democratic Party better reflects the full spectrum of church teachings.

is a contest for credibility among observant Catholics, with each
faction describing itself as a defender of “life.” The two sides
disagree over how to address the “intrinsic evil” of abortion.

The escalating efforts by more-liberal Catholics are provoking a vigorous backlash from some bishops and the right.

Two Catholic groups have been working together to distribute leaflets and pamphlets to their fellow Catholics in an attempt to provide an alternative argument, that the Democratic Party’s stance on social issues is more in line with Catholic teaching than the GOP’s.  In response the Bishop’s Conference of the church has taken steps to effectively ban the pamphlets:

In the aftermath of the 2004 election, many liberal Catholics
complained that parishes had distributed millions of copies of a voter
guide created by a group called Catholic Answers that highlighted five
“nonnegotiable” issues: abortion, stem-cell research, human cloning,
euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

In response, liberal groups
like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance quickly began preparing
alternative guides emphasizing a broader spectrum of the church’s
social justice teachings.

Then the Bishops Conference, perhaps
to forestall a blizzard of competing pamphlets, all but banned
third-party voter guides from parishes, requiring the explicit
endorsement of the presiding bishop.

But some, including the
bishop of La Crosse in Wisconsin, a swing state, have nevertheless
chosen to authorize distribution of the “nonnegotiable” guides this
year. The liberal groups are trying to distribute their material
through direct mail and at meetings of lay Catholic groups.


Election Could Greatly Influence Supreme Court

Today marks the opening of the 2008-2009 term of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Be sure to check out Emily’s great preview of the upcoming term that will feature a number of cases that could expand or curtail women’s ability to challenge discrimination in the workplace.

The November 4 presidential election will likely influence the makeup of the court for decades to come as three of the Supreme Court’s more liberal justices could retire (PDF) in the next four years.  For that reason an editorial in USA Today, and an article in the LA Times that Amie blogged about this weekend, both argue that Roe vs. Wade in particular, and other major court issues as well, hang in the balance this election:

The focus on Roe is particularly acute this year because the
shrinking number of justices who have upheld abortion rights in recent
cases are among the court’s oldest members. Justice John Paul Stevens is 88; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 75 and has had major health problems. In addition, Justice David Souter
is rumored to be weighing retirement. Abortion-rights opponents talk
hopefully of being within one or at most two new justices of
overturning Roe and allowing states to again outlaw abortion altogether.

The two candidates have a different opinion on the kinds of justices they would appoint to the Supreme Court:

McCain has said repeatedly he would nominate justices in the mold of President Bush’s appointees,
John Roberts and Samuel Alito, “who have a proven record of strict
interpretation of the Constitution.” Among his most crowd-pleasing
lines with GOP primary audiences was, “One of our greatest problems in
America today is justices that legislate from the bench, activist

Obama has held up as his model Earl Warren,
the chief justice who steered a fractured court to the unanimous
decision in 1954 that outlawed segregated schools. Warren also presided
over an era of the court’s expansion of protection of civil liberties
and civil rights in numerous other areas.

“Part of the role of the courts,” Obama has said, “is going to
protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the
outsider, the minority, those who are vulnerable, those who don’t have
a lot of clout.” He has also said that he “would not appoint somebody
who doesn’t believe in the right to privacy,” the legal doctrine that
is the foundation of Roe v. Wade.


A Closer Look at the “Rape Exception” in the South Dakota Abortion Ban Proposal

Cara at has taken a critical look at the rape exception included in the South Dakota abortion ban on the ballot next month.  Cara responds to anti-choice arguments that abortions are used to cover up incest and rape so a ban on abortion would actaully deter rape and incest, effectively labeling advocates of reproductive choice co-conspirators in rape and incest.  She also questions the argument that a new rape reporting law included in the ban that shifts the burden of reporting from the victim to the doctor would actually ease trauma for the victim:

Yet again, anti-choicers are co-opting feminist language to further
their agenda, by claiming they know what is best and most empowering
for women without bothering to ask them first (and assuming it would be
the same answer from all women if they had). This stuff is disturbing
enough when they’re merely patting us on the head and telling us that
they know we’ll be happier if only we accept our rightful punishments
for sex, but they’re taking it to a whole new, misogynistic level when
using the same tactics to speak specifically about rape victims.


For Many Rape Victims Treatment and Support Services Fall Short

The LA Times reports on a study conducted in Illinois that identified 10 services that should be provided for victims of rape “such as rape crisis counseling and preventive treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.”  Of 156 responding hospitals fewer than 1 in 10 offered all of the services:

All of the emergency rooms provided medical care to assault victims,
but just two-thirds offered rape crisis counseling and only 40% made
emergency contraception available to their patients. Roughly two-thirds
reported that they tested and treated for sexually transmitted
infections, and less than one-third provided precautionary HIV

Other studies have shown similar results. A national study published in
2007 in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy looked at the
treatment provided to almost 180,000 sexual assault or rape victims
nationally in 2003. Antibiotic treatment to protect against sexually
transmitted infections was provided in less than 10% of cases. A 2004
study of Pennsylvania emergency departments, published in the
International Journal of Fertility and Women’s Medicine, found that
less than half routinely offered emergency contraception counseling.


Plan a Family, Save the World

An editorial in the Seattle Times argues in favor of improving access to family planning services around the world, itemizing its numerous benefits, and asks the reader to “[i]magine the next president of the United States moving decisively to
slow down the world’s population growth as it arcs from today’s 6.7
billion toward a predicted and perilous 9.2 billion by 2050.”

A replacement fertility rate for the world would be roughly 2.1
children per woman — the current U.S. rate. Yet in sub-Saharan Africa,
the rate is 5.4. In parts of Asia it’s almost as high — reflecting, in
the words of New York demographer Joel Cohen, “cultures in which the
survival of women depends on having a large number of children, and the
prestige of men on having a large number of wives who have many

There’s overwhelming evidence that family-planning services help
women and couples prevent unintended (and often high-risk) pregnancies,
with a byproduct of higher infant-survival rates and sharply reduced


Infertility Patients Caught in the Legal, Moral and Scientific Embryo Debate

An interesting story in the LA Times takes a look at the tough decisions infertility patients and their loved ones must make about the fate of embryos they have created but do not plan to use.  While voters in Colorado will be deciding when life and personhood begin in a ballot measure this November “infertility patients nationwide — whose feelings about abortion run
the gamut — are finding themselves ensnared in a debate about when
life begins.”

“They are in the middle of this ideological war, although they may not
be aware they are in the middle of a war,” says Renee Whitley,
co-chairwoman of the national advocacy committee for Resolve, an
organization supporting people with infertility. “This is the politics
of embryos.”


Obama Argument Against McCain Health Care Plan Examined

The CNN Truth Squad took a look at Senator Barack Obama’s claim that the $5,000 tax credit the McCain plan offers is not enough, Obama says that “the average cost of a family health
care plan these days is more than twice that much — $12,680. So where
would that leave you? Broke.”  The CNN Truth Squad found the claim to be accurate “[i]n the narrow set of circumstances Obama lays out.”


Nobel Prize for Medicine Goes to Discoverers of HIV and HPV

The scientists who discovered two of the world’s most devastating sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, which causes AIDS and HPV, whcih causes cervical cancer, the second most common cancer among women, Harald zur Hausen of Germany and the French researchers Françoise
Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, were announced Monday as the winners
of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine

In its citation, the Nobel Assembly said Barré-Sinoussi’s and
Montagnier’s discovery was one prerequisite for the current
understanding of the biology of AIDS and its antiretroviral treatment.
The pair’s work in the early 1980s made it possible to clone the
HIV-1 genome.

The assembly said zur Hausen “went against current dogma” when he
found that oncogenic human papilloma virus, or HPV, caused cervical
cancer, the second most common cancer among women.

“His discovery has led to characterization of the natural history of
HPV infection, an understanding of mechanisms of HPV-induced
carcinogenesis and the development of prophylactic vaccines against HPV
acquisition,” the citation said.

The award to Barré-Sinoussi was something of a milestone. Only seven
women had won the medicine prize since the first Nobel Prizes were
handed out in 1901.

The last female winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
was the American researcher Linda Buck, who shared the prize in 2004
with Richard Axel. They won for their work in studying odorant
receptors and the organization of the olfactory system in human beings.