Anti-Abortion Postcard Campaign Stirs Up Catholics

Andy Birkey

Roman Catholic bishops throughout the United States are planning a postcard campaign days after the inauguration as part of an attempt to block the Freedom of Choice Act. One Minnesota priest is breaking rank, and getting flack.

Roman Catholic bishops throughout the United States are planning a
massive postcard campaign days after the inauguration as part of an
attempt to block the Freedom of Choice Act, known as FOCA, a
reproductive health initiative supported by President-elect Barack
Obama.

But one Minnesota priest is breaking ranks with the national
campaign, raising the ire of local and national pro-life Catholics,
including some who are calling for his excommunication from the church.

“Our nation and new president will be challenged by ongoing wars, an
economy in severe recession, ballooning deficits, high unemployment and
an environment and health care system in crisis,” wrote the Rev.
Michael Tegeder of St. Edward’s Church in Bloomington. “Yet at this
very moment the Catholic bishops have declared that they have this more
pressing need.”

That need is to organize a postcard campaign targeting legislators and Obama over abortion legislation.

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FOCA will stir a heated debate in upcoming months. Obama pledged to
sign it if Congress passes it. “The first thing I’d do, as president,
is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That’s the first thing that I’d do,”
he told Planned Parenthood supporters at a campaign event in 2007.

FOCA would essentially codify the reproductive rights that were interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade.

The bill reads:

“A government may not deny or interfere with a woman’s
right to choose to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy prior to
viability, or to terminate a pregnancy after viability where
termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or
discriminate against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph
in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or
information.”

Tegeder penned his opinion in a letter to the Star Tribune,
targeting the bishops’ intent to pressure Obama on FOCA. Tegeder said
that among the many problems with the postcard campaign, the bishops
are attacking Obama instead of finding common ground.

“We can do many positive things. Indeed, Obama has stated that he
wants to reduce the number of abortions. We should work with him on
doing this,” Tegeder wrote. “During this season of goodwill, let us
offer our new president some and hold back on the confrontation. And to
the bishops: Your Graces, remember grace.”

Tegeder’s words directly confront his boss, the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, John Neinstedt.

“When I signed up 35 years ago to be a priest, little did I realize
that postcards would be an essential tool of ministry in the Catholic
Church,” said Tegeder. He pointed to Neinstedt and his postcard
campaigns pushing a Republican-led same-sex marriage ban several years
ago.

“To someone who did not see this as necessary, it seemed a waste of
time and money. It also generated some unnecessary ill will,” wrote
Tegeder.

Neinstedt recently weighed in on the FOCA debate and seems to be
enthusiastically in support of stopping the legislation. “In effect,
FOCA would certainly be a boon to the abortion industry with the
government forced to condone and promote such procedures,” Neinstedt wrote on the Archdiocese Web site. “It is hard to imagine a more radical piece of pro-abortion legislation.”

While the Archdiocese hasn’t publicly commented on Tegeder’s letter, members of the laity have. One Catholic blogger called for his excommunication.

Another is initiating a postcard campaign of her own, directed at
Tegeder. “Reducing abortions is not an acceptable goal. Stopping
abortion entirely is,” wrote a St. Paul Catholic blogger. “Education is a large part of the effort. Father [Tegeder] may need some help understanding this.”

Another Minnesota Catholic blog wrote that Tegeder “not only endangers his own immortal soul, but also those of his parishioners.”

Tegeder has been a controversial member of Minnesota’s Catholic
hierarchy. He has supported moves toward inclusion of gays and lesbians
in the church, opposes the church ban on priests marrying, and once
called Neinstedt “self-righteous” and “a bully.”

News Health Systems

Anti-Choice Group Files Lawsuit Over Newly Signed Law That Protects Illinois Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

The policy, which is an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, requires physicians and medical facilities to to provide patients upon request with information about their medical circumstances and treatment options consistent with "current standards of medical care," in cases where the doctor or institution won’t offer services on religious grounds.

CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to clarify the scope of SB 1564 and which groups are opposing it.

A conservative Christian legal group has followed through on its threat to use litigation to fight against a new state policy that protects patients at religiously-sponsored hospitals in Illinois.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on Friday filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Winnebago County against Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Bryan A. Schneider, the secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation.

Rauner, a Republican, signed the contested policy, SB 1564, into law on July 29.

The ADF, which warned Rauner about signing the bill in a publicized letter and statement in May, filed the complaint on behalf of several fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers. These included the Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford and Aid for Women, Inc. Anti-choice physician Dr. Anthony Caruso of A Bella Baby OBGYN—also known as Best Care for Women—was also named as a plaintiff.

“Alliance Defending Freedom is ready and willing to represent Illinois pro-life pregnancy centers if SB 1564 becomes law,” the group said in May. The ADF wrote on behalf of several anti-choice groups, claiming SB 1564 violated the Illinois state law and constitution and risked putting federal funding, such as Medicaid reimbursements, in jeopardy.

In February 2015, state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) introduced the policy, which is an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

The revised law requires physicians and medical facilities to provide patients upon request with information about their medical circumstances and treatment options consistent with “current standards of medical care,” in cases where the doctor or institution won’t offer services on religious grounds.

The new policy also gives doctors and medical institutions the option to provide a referral or transfer the patient.

Unlike an earlier version of the legislation, the version passed by Rauner does not require hospitals to confirm that providers they share with patients actually perform procedures the institutions will not perform; they must only have a “reasonable belief” that they do, Rewire previously reported.

As previously noted by Rewire:

Catholic facilities often follow U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops religious directives that generally bar treatments such as sterilization, in vitro fertilization, and abortion care. The federal Church Amendment and some state laws protect these faith-based objections.

The plaintiffs, which are also being represented by Mauck & Baker LLC attorney Noel Sterett, argued in a statement that the Illinois Constitution protects “liberty of conscience,” and quoted a passage from state law that says “no person shall be denied any civil or political right, privilege or capacity, on account of his religious opinions.”

Illinois Right to Life and the Thomas More Society joined the ADF in protesting the bill. The Catholic Conference of Illinois (CCI) and the Illinois Catholic Health Association (ICHA) initially protested the bill after it was introduced early last year. However, the two groups later negotiated with the ACLU to pass a different version of the bill that was introduced.

In support of the bill around the time of its introduction in early 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois pushed its Put Patients First initiative to help stop the use of religion to deny health care to patients. The advocacy group noted that patients who are miscarrying or facing ectopic pregnancies, same-sex couples, and transgender people and persons seeking contraception such as vasectomies and tubal ligations are particularly vulnerable to these harmful practices.

A new study, “Referrals for Services Prohibited in Catholic Health Care Facilities,” set to be published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health in September, suggested that Catholic hospitals often “dump” abortion patients and deny them critical referrals as result of following religious directives outlined by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Recent figures from an ACLU and MergerWatch advocacy group collaboration suggest Catholic hospitals make up one in six hospital beds nationwide.

News Human Rights

Lawsuit: Religious Groups Are Denying Abortion Care to Teen Refugees

Nicole Knight

The suit accuses the federal government of paying millions to religious grantees that refuse to provide unaccompanied minors with legally required reproductive health services.

Two years ago, 17-year-old Rosa was raped as she fled north from her home country in Central America to the United States. Placed in a Catholic shelter in Florida, the teen learned she was pregnant, and told shelter officials that if she couldn’t end the pregnancy, she’d kill herself. She was hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. Upon her release, the facility in which she’d been originally placed rejected her because of her desire for an abortion, according to a federal lawsuit filed Friday. So did another. Both, reads the lawsuit, were federal contractors paid to care for unaccompanied minors like Rosa.

Rosa’s story is one in a series sketched out in a 16-page complaint brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The suit accuses the federal government of paying millions to religious grantees—including nearly $20 million over two years to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)—that refuse to provide unaccompanied minors with legally required reproductive health services, including contraception and abortion. The grantees are paid by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to house and care for young refugees.

The lawsuit, brought in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, amounts to a fresh test of the degree to which Catholic organizations and other faith-based groups can claim exemptions from federal laws and regulations on religious grounds.

“Religious liberties do not include the ability to impose your beliefs on a vulnerable population and deny them legal health care,” said Jennifer Chou, attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, in a phone interview with Rewire. “The government is delegating responsibility … to these religiously affiliated organizations who are then not acting in the best interest of these young people.”

Mark Weber, a spokesperson for the HHS, which includes the ORR, told Rewire via email that the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

Escaping turmoil and abuse in their home countries, young refugees—predominantly from Central America—are fleeing to the United States, with 33,726 arriving in 2015, down from 57,496 the year before. About one-third are girls. As many as eight in ten girls and women who cross the border are sexually assaulted; it is unknown how many arrive in need of abortion care.

The federal ORR places unaccompanied minors with organizations that are paid to offer temporary shelter and a range of services, including reproductive health care, while the youths’ applications for asylum are pending. But documents the ACLU obtained indicate that some groups are withholding that health care on religious grounds and rejecting youths who request abortion care.

The 1997 “Flores agreement” and ORR’s contracts with grantees, which the ACLU cites in its lawsuit, require referrals to “medical care providers who offer pregnant [unaccompanied immigrant minors] the opportunity to be provided information and counseling regarding prenatal care and delivery; infant care, foster care, or adoption; and pregnancy termination.”

In 2016, the federal government awarded 56 grants to 30 organizations to provide care to unaccompanied minors, including 11 that the ACLU claims impose religious restrictions on reproductive health care.

In one case, ORR officials struggled to find accommodations for 14-year-old Maria, who wanted to end her pregnancy, according to the complaint. An ORR official wrote, according to a document the ACLU obtained, that the agency would have liked to transfer Maria to Florida to be near family, but “both of the shelters in Florida are faith-based and will not take the child to have this procedure,” meaning an abortion.

In another, the complaint reads, 16-year-old Zoe was placed with Youth for Tomorrow, a faith-based shelter in Virginia, where she learned she was pregnant. She asked for abortion counseling, which was delayed nearly two weeks, the complaint says. Learning of her decision to end the pregnancy, Youth for Tomorrow asked to transfer Zoe elsewhere because of its abortion prohibition, even though Zoe said she was happy at the shelter.

For vulnerable youths, such transfers represent a form of “secondary trauma,” according to the ACLU’s Chou.

“These women have already endured so much,” she told Rewire. “The process of transferring these youths from shelter to shelter tears them away from their only existing support system in the U.S.”

Federal officials, according to the complaint, were aware that the religious grantees would withhold abortion referrals. In one case, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston was awarded more than $8 million between 2013 and 2016, although it stated in its grant application that rape survivors wouldn’t be offered abortion care, but instead permitted to “process the trauma of the rape while also exploring the decision of whether to keep the baby or plan an adoption.”

The lawsuit also claims that a contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops included language requiring unaccompanied minors who were pregnant to be given information and counseling about pregnancy termination, but the ORR removed that language after the USCCB complained.

The USCCB did not respond to Rewire‘s request for comment. But in a letter last year to the ORR, the USCCB and five religious groups, including some ORR grantees, wrote they could not facilitate health-care services for unaccompanied minors that run contrary to their beliefs.

The lawsuit is the second the ACLU has filed recently against the federal government over religious privileges.

Last month, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act suit demanding that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services release complaints against federally funded Catholic hospitals, where patients have reported being denied emergency medical care in violation of federal law.

In 2009, the ACLU also sued the federal government for allowing USCCB to impose religious restrictions on a taxpayer-funded reproductive health program for trafficking survivors. In 2012, a district court ruled in the ACLU’s favor, and the government appealed. The First Circuit Court of Appeal later dismissed the case as “moot” because the government did not renew USCCB’s contract.

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