Catholic Extremists Swift-Boat Sebelius

Cristina Page

If Kathleen Sebelius is a "fake" Catholic for supporting reproductive health and unintended pregnancy prevention, then so are most American Catholics.

Are you a "fake" Catholic? Don’t worry, the majority of Catholics
are. That’s at least according to the religious right which has taken to
doling out titles like "alleged Catholic." The most recent Catholic to
earn the epithet is Kathleen Sebelius – current Governor of Kansas and
Obama’s choice for Secretary of HHS. Her nomination has drawn fire from
right wing Catholic groups including the Catholic League and the American Life League, which refer to her as an "alleged Catholic."  After Catholics United came to her defense, Life News, an "anti-abortion" online news site, labeled it "fake Catholic."

According to these extremists, to be a "real" Catholic one must
agree with the U.S. Bishops, and through them, the Vatican, on every
issue, but especially on abortion. Kathleen Sebelius is pro-choice, as
are the majority of U.S. Catholics. But Bishops who don’t live in the
real world where people juggle complicated lives, are free to be moral
scolds. For these doctrinal purists, you’re either with us or against
us. And lately the Bishops enemy’s list grows: John Kerry and recently Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, among the high value targets. And so they oppose Sebelius who the archbishop of Kansas City said should refrain from receiving communion.

The sad irony is that the Bishops end up in cahoots with pro-life
extremists who shun even those fighting to reduce the number of
unintended pregnancies. Sebelius, for instance, while pro-choice, has
achieved many of the goals the pro-life community supposedly endorses.
While Governor she has focused on preventing unwanted pregnancy,
resulting in a dramatic 10% decline in abortion rates during her time
in office. (Genuine pro-lifers, those who actually seek to lower
abortion rates, will find much in her record to commend.)

But results matter little for the religious right, and so they wage
war on her nomination to head the Department of Health and Human
Services (and on any group that supports her).  No matter that she
expanded access to adoption and provided pregnancy support for
low-income women. No matter that Sebelius has a nuanced view of
abortion, one that differentiates between personal morality and public
necessity. Sebelius says, "Personally I believe abortion is wrong.
However, I disagree with the suggestion that criminalizing women and
their doctors is an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing
the number of abortions in our nation." Sebelius may well be an
interesting figure for the times. She appears to understand both sides
of this fierce struggle, and, better than most, might be able to push
ahead a common ground approach. This is among the qualities that makes
her a particularly important candidate for this important job.

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It should come as no surprise that the locked-in-a-time-capsule
groups attacking Sebelius are the very same resisting every effort to
reach common ground. They appear too invested in their struggle to
actually embrace solutions. But their very resistance may have advanced
the common ground case, which has been swept in with President Obama.
The attacks on Sebelius has prompted the nascent common ground movement
to take a step together. Both sides have come together to defend her.
The pro-choice side welcomes Sebelius. Leading Christian leaders
"dedicated to common ground solutions to reduce the number of abortions
in America" spoke out today via press release stating,

"[Sebelius] is a Democratic Governor who has been elected by wide
margins in a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats two
to one. Her nomination has already won not only the support of
Democrats, but also praise from Republican pro-life senators such as
Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts and governors such as Sonny Perdue of
Georgia. Her record and her relationships with leaders in both parties
are proof that pro-choice and pro-life leaders can work together to
advance a pro-family agenda."

And yet, in a relentless, ad hominen attack, the religious right
dwells on circumstantial connections, hoping to imply dark motives.
Kathleen Sebelius once stood in a room with an abortion provider who
won, in a fundraising auction, a chance to meet her. Seems guilt by
acquaintance is the right’s new cudgel, so be careful who you Facebook

For Sebelius’ upcoming Senate confirmation hearing, the religious
right has chosen Senator Tom Coburn as its hatchet man. Coburn is the
redmeat  "pro-lifer," the kind with a decidedly pro-death streak: he’s
called for abortion providers to get the death penalty, leads campaigns
against the condom (in doing so he also held up legislation that helped
uninsured women dying of cancer pay for treatment) and opposes the
cancer-preventing HPV vaccine among other career highlights. (Even
though he’s a Baptist, on these points, Coburn qualifies as a "real"

If falling in line with the US Bishops is a requirement for being a
"real" Catholic, that’s bad news for Catholics, as well as for the
Church which, on this issue, seems to ever more devoutly move to the
fringe of American life. According to a poll of Catholic voters
taken by Catholics for a Free Choice in the 2008 election, 73% say
Catholic politicians should be under no religious obligation to vote on
issues the way the bishops recommend. And like Sebelius, the majority
of Catholics are pro-choice (58%). They vehemently disagree with the
Church on birth control – the church opposes every form but the
as-ineffective-as-it-is-unpopular natural family planning.  In
fact, three-quarters of Catholics want health insurance plans to cover
contraception. Nearly 80% of Catholics oppose pharmacists who refuse to
fill birth control prescriptions. A comfortable majority, 64%, oppose
abstinence-only education, another favorite of the moralizing bishops,
and their activist enablers. Based on these numbers, the Church might
want to reconsider its campaign to deny  pro-choice Catholic public
officials the eucharist. The Church may refer to pro-choice politicians
as extremists but the majority of Catholic congregants agree with
pro-choice politicians like Sebelius on every one of these issues.

Sebelius thus represents the mainstream view of Catholic believers.
And so the Catholic clergy and its political arm, the so-called
‘anti-abortion" movement, misleads and incites. It creates a
caricature. This may be effective with some, but they are fewer and
fewer. Indeed, deriding moderate politicians like Sebelius marks the
Church as out of step with the majority of Catholics. The Church has
been reduced to focusing on issues that most Catholics, and most
Americans, no longer consider most important, if they ever did.

In the last election, abortion didn’t even make it in the top ten
on the list of Catholic voters’ priorities. Instead, the most important
issues for Catholic Americans were, in order of importance: improving
the nation’s economy; protecting the US from terrorism; resolving the
war in Iraq; making health care more affordable; and protecting social
security. The Church has been noticeably absent in the public discourse
on these issues making its rabid attacks on even moderate pro-choice
officials seems all the more extraneous. (Those who would argue that
Catholic hospitals help make healthcare more affordable by offering
charity care should know that a study
showed that non-sectarian hospitals were three times more likely to
provide charity care than religious hospitals–the bulk of which are

Meanwhile, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops returns to the
same well. As Time magazine exposed last week, it has been staging a
massive campaign against a non-existent abortion bill–a costly and
useless campaign intended to foment anger among the trusting faithful.
Campaigning against a fictional bill instead of focusing on the
real-life struggles of ever-more-pressured Americans.  (And, while
fiddling with the sex lives of Americans, the Bishops have failed to
tend to their own business. A survey
by researchers at Villanova University found 85 percent of Roman
Catholic dioceses responding had recently discovered embezzlement of
church money. One in Delray Beach, Fla., involved two priests who spent
$8.6 million on trips to Las Vegas, dental work, property taxes and
other expenses over four decades.)

With campaigns like the one against Sebelius, the Catholic right
wing is succeeding at making the Church less and less relevant to the
majority of the faithful. But then perhaps the church realizes the deep
danger to the religious right posed by the rise of Catholic moderates
like Sebelius. 

Analysis Politics

Paul Ryan Uses Falsehoods Behind Texas HB 2 to Push Yet Another Abortion Restriction

Ally Boguhn

In a CNN town hall Tuesday night, Paul Ryan agreed with an audience member's baseless sentiment that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics" in its Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling.

During a CNN town hall on Tuesday night, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) pushed falsehoods about the anti-abortion provisions at the center of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt being necessary for patient health and safety. Ryan nonsensically then used the decision as a launch point to promote House Republicans’ Conscience Protection Act, which passed in the House Wednesday evening and supposedly shields those who object to abortion from discrimination. The only things Texas’ provisions and the legislation have in common, however, is that they’re all about blocking access to abortion care.

Town hall audience member and executive director of New Jersey Right to Life Marie Tasy claimed during the event Tuesday that the Supreme Court had struck down “commonsense health and safety standards at abortion clinics,” in its landmark ruling against two provisions—the admitting privileges and surgical center requirements—of Texas’ HB 2.

“Absolutely,” Ryan said in response to Tasy’s remarks. “I agree with that.”

But the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe. As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

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Despite this, Ryan then used the falsehood at the center of HB 2 as a call to action for yet another anti-choice restriction: the Conscience Protection Act. After fielding the question from Tasy about how anti-choice issues could be advanced in Congress in the wake of the Court’s decision, Ryan pivoted to claim that the government is “forcing people to conduct [abortion] procedures”:

Actually, tomorrow we are bringing a bill that I’ve been working on called the Conscience Protection Act. I’m pro-life. I think you probably know that. And I would like to think we could at least get consensus in this country that taxpayers shouldn’t be funding abortions. That the government shouldn’t be forcing people to conduct procedures, especially health-care workers, against their own conscience.

Our First Amendment is the right of conscience, religious freedom. Yet our own government today, particularly in California, is violating that right and not allowing people to protect their conscience rights, whether they’re Catholic hospitals or doctors or nurses. Tomorrow we’re bringing the Conscience Protection Act to the floor and passing it. It’s Diane Black’s bill. And it is to give those citizens in America who want to protect their conscience rights their ability to defend those rights. That is one thing we’re doing tomorrow to protect the conscience, because I believe we need to cultivate a culture of life. And at the very least, stop the government from violating our conscience rights.

Ryan would go on to make similar remarks the next day while speaking on behalf of the bill on the House floor, though this time he added that the “bill does not ban or restrict abortion in any way …. All it does is protect a person’s conscience.” 

As Rewire‘s Christine Grimaldi previously reported, the Conscience Protection Act would codify and expand on the Weldon Amendment. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against any health care entity-including physicians, health-care professionals, hospitals, and insurance plans, “on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.”

The Weldon Amendment currently must be passed each year as part of annual appropriations bills.

Grimaldi noted that the act “would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care.”

Ryan proposed similar conscience protections as part of his recently released health-care plan, though, as Grimaldi wrote, “the Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.”

But those whom Ryan and his colleagues are claiming to defend already have protections that impede access to abortion care, according to critics of the measure.

Ryan, for example, suggested in both his CNN appearance and his House floor speech the next day that California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under “basic health services” violates “religious freedom.” But a June investigation by the HHS Office for Civil Rights into whether California’s requirement violated the Weldon Amendment rejected similar complaints by anti-choice group Alliance Defending Freedom.

“Let’s be very clear—right now, current law says that hospitals, insurers, and doctors may refuse to perform an abortion or provide coverage for abortion, which already greatly limits women’s access to legal procedures,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) Wednesday, speaking after Ryan on the House floor during remarks before the Conscience Protection Act passed.

“More importantly, when a woman’s health is in danger, providers would not be required to act to protect the health of that mother. This bill would allow them to refuse to … facilitate or make arrangements for abortion if they have a moral objection to it,” continued Schakowsky. “They could also refuse to provide transportation to another hospital if a woman is in distress if that hospital provides abortions.”

Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, explained in a statement following the passage of the legislation in the House that the measure is about blocking access to abortion. “The Conscience Protection Act is dangerous, discriminatory legislation designed to block women’s access to abortion care,” said Ness.

“For example, a hospital could rely on the Conscience Protection Act to turn away a woman in an emergency situation who needs an abortion or refuse to provide a woman information about her treatment options. This legislation is a license for providers to discriminate against women and undermine their access to essential, constitutionally protected health care,” Ness said.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Selects Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to Join His Ticket

Ally Boguhn

And in other news, Donald Trump suggested that he can relate to Black people who are discriminated against because the system has been rigged against him, too. But he stopped short of saying he understood the experiences of Black Americans.

Donald Trump announced this week that he had selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) to join him as his vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, and earlier in the week, the presumptive presidential nominee suggested to Fox News that he could relate to Black Americans because the “system is rigged” against him too.

Pence Selected to Join the GOP Ticket 

After weeks of speculation over who the presumptive nominee would chose as his vice presidential candidate, Trump announced Friday that he had chosen Pence.

“I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate,” Trump tweeted Friday morning, adding that he will make the official announcement on Saturday during a news conference.

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The presumptive Republican nominee was originally slated to host the news conference Friday, but postponed in response to Thursday’s terrorist attack in Nice, France. As late as Thursday evening, Trump told Fox News that he had not made a final decision on who would join his ticket—even as news reports came in that he had already selected Pence for the position.

As Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson explained in a Thursday commentary, Pence “has problems with the truth, isn’t inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn’t understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs.” Jacobson further explained: 

He has, for example, eagerly signed laws aimed at criminalizing abortion, forcing women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds, banning coverage for abortion care in private insurance plans, and forcing doctors performing abortions to seek admitting privileges at hospitals (a requirement the Supreme Court recently struck down as medically unnecessary in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case). He signed a ‘religious freedom’ law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons and only ‘amended’ it after a national outcry. Because Pence has guided public health policy based on his ‘conservative values,’ rather than on evidence and best practices in public health, he presided over one of the fastest growing outbreaks of HIV infection in rural areas in the United States.

Trump Suggests He Can Relate to Black Americans Because “Even Against Me the System Is Rigged”

Trump suggested to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he could relate to the discrimination Black Americans face since “the system [was] rigged” against him when he began his run for president.

When asked during a Tuesday appearance on The O’Reilly Factor what he would say to those “who believe that the system is biased against them” because they are Black, Trump leaped to highlight what he deemed to be discrimination he had faced. “I have been saying even against me the system is rigged. When I ran … for president, I mean, I could see what was going on with the system, and the system is rigged,” Trump responded.

“What I’m saying [is] they are not necessarily wrong,” Trump went on. “I mean, there are certain people where unfortunately that comes into play,” he said, concluding that he could “relate it, really, very much to myself.”

When O’Reilly asked Trump to specify whether he truly understood the “experience” of Black Americans, Trump said that he couldn’t, necessarily. 

“I would like to say yes, but you really can’t unless you are African American,” said Trump. “I would like to say yes, however.”

Trump has consistently struggled to connect with Black voters during his 2016 presidential run. Despite claiming to have “a great relationship with the blacks,” the presumptive Republican nominee has come under intense scrutiny for using inflammatory rhetoric and initially failing to condemn white supremacists who offered him their support.

According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Tuesday, Trump is polling at 0 percent among Black voters in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

What Else We’re Reading

Newt Gingrich, who was one of Trump’s finalists for the vice presidential spot, reacted to the terrorist attack in Nice, France, by calling for all those in the United States with a “Muslim background” to face a test to determine if they “believe in sharia” and should be deported.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton threw her support behind a public option for health insurance.

Bloomberg Politics’ Greg Stohr reports that election-related cases—including those involving voter-identification requirements and Ohio’s early-voting period—are moving toward the Supreme Court, where they are “risking deadlocks.”

According to a Reuters review of GOP-backed changes to North Carolina’s voting rules, “as many as 29,000 votes might not be counted in this year’s Nov. 8 presidential election if a federal appeals court upholds” a 2013 law that bans voters from casting ballots outside of their assigned precincts.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the election goals and strategies of anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony List, explaining that the organization plans to work to ensure that policy goals such as a 20-week abortion ban and defunding Planned Parenthood “are the key issues that it will use to rally support for its congressional and White House candidates this fall, following recent setbacks in the courts.”

Multiple “dark money” nonprofits once connected to the Koch brothers’ network were fined by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week after hiding funding sources for 2010 political ads. They will now be required to “amend past FEC filings to disclose who provided their funding,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Politico’s Matthew Nussbaum and Ben Weyl explain how Trump’s budget would end up “making the deficit great again.”

“The 2016 Democratic platform has the strongest language on voting rights in the party’s history,” according to the Nation’s Ari Berman.