Alexia Kelley: Obama’s Poor Choice for “Common Ground” Post at HHS

Frances Kissling

Can pro-family-planning religious groups expect a fair deal from Alexia Kelley, a director who believes that birth control, even for married couples, is immoral?

President Barack Obama’s appointment of Alexia Kelley, founder of
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, as director of the
Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
took the pro-choice movement by surprise. On Thursday, the day that
news of the appointment leaked out, Marcia Greenberger, co-president of
the National Women’s Law Center and a quintessential Washington
insider, told me that she "hadn’t heard anything about it till today,
and we are trying to get to the bottom of it."

What Greenberger
and others will want to know is why the post, which includes oversight
of the department’s faith-based grant-making in family planning, HIV
and AIDS and in small-scale research into the effect of religion and
spirituality on early sexual behavior, has gone to someone who both
believes abortion should be illegal and opposes contraception. That’s
right — Kelley’s group of self-described progressive Catholics takes a
position held by only a small minority, that the Catholic church is
right to prohibit birth control. Were there no qualified religious
experts who hold more mainstream views on family planning and abortion,
views that are consistent with those of President Obama?

The HHS budget for family-planning services grants to faith-based and
community groups is more than $20 million. Can pro-family-planning
religious groups expect a fair deal from a director who believes that
birth control, even for married couples, is immoral? Will programs that
provide contraception to adolescents get funded? Obama’s Feb. 5
Executive Order establishing a new Office of Faith-Based and
Neighborhood Partnerships gave the office and its 11 satellites in
federal agencies a policy role on the issues that are at the core of
HHS’s sexual and reproductive health work: addressing teen pregnancy
and reducing the need for abortion. How can an opponent of the single
most effective way to do both — contraception — lead that effort in
HHS enthusiastically and effectively?

Through Catholics in Alliance, Kelley has sought to narrow the
interpretation of common ground on abortion to efforts to reduce the
number of abortions by providing women who are already pregnant with
economic support for continuing the pregnancy and making adoption
easier. While pro-choice advocates have been in the forefront of
efforts to increase funding for women and children and for pre- and
postnatal care, few researchers believe that if pregnant women get the
level of support common grounders are talking about, they will jump at
the chance to have babies. If one is really serious about making it
possible for women to avoid abortion, contraception is the single most
important component of any program.

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Kelley and other moderately
progressive Catholic and evangelical groups owe their pull in the
Democratic Party to the disappointment of 2004. They seized on the
Democratic defeat in the 2004 elections as a means to push the party to
the right on sex and reproduction. Democrats, stung by their near miss
in Ohio, desperate to attract swing voters, eager to prove that they
were "sensitive" to religion, took the bait.

With support from George Soros and Michael Kieschnick, the founder
of Working Assets and Credo Mobile, groups like Sojourners, Faith in
Public Life and Catholics in Alliance entered the electoral arena.
Catholics in Alliance and its sister organization, Catholics United,
were active in voter registration and organizing Catholic voters in
swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2006 and 2008. Presenting
themselves as more Catholic than the pope — faithful to church
teachings on contraception, abortion and everything else the majority
of Catholics have long rejected — the groups insisted in press release
after press release that good Catholics could vote for pro-choice
candidates, so long as those candidates were also working to reduce the
number of abortions. After all, they admitted, it was simply not
possible in the current environment to make abortion illegal, so the
next best option was pushing the numbers down.

In part, Kelley’s
appointment is the usual political payback. Catholics and evangelicals
including Kelley provided abortion cover for the president and for
candidates like Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. A Democratic governor
from a red state famous for the ferocity and electoral strength of its
social conservatives, Sebelius won a second term in a landslide in
2006. Catholics in Alliance campaigned for her reelection. Though she
faced heavy fire from the religious right when she was nominated,
Sebelius is now the HHS secretary.

Kelley is a distinguished
advocate of healthcare reform and the rights of poor people. For almost
a decade, she worked for the Conference of Catholic Bishops on the
Campaign for Human Development, a grant-making program roundly
condemned by conservatives as too progressive. She entered electoral
politics in 2004 when she served as the DNC liaison to the religious
community. In 2005, she founded Catholics in Alliance. She has much to
offer in government — but not at HHS. There are 10 other government
agencies that have faith-based offices. A far less controversial
placement could have been found at Labor, Housing and Urban
Development, or the Department of Education.

A heated exchange about the appointment between Jon O’Brien,
president of Catholics for Choice (disclosure: I was president of CFC
for 25 years) and Catholics in Alliance/Catholics United is
representative of the struggle between religious progressives who
support gay marriage and reproductive freedom and those like Kelley who
think war and abortion are the same evil. O’Brien was the first
pro-choice leader to criticize Kelley’s appointment, and he went after
her with a vengeance. In a press release,
he called Kelley’s "abortion reduction rhetoric … simply a newly
packaged antiabortion message," claimed the group used "flawed economic
data to support anti-poverty measures as a means to reduce the number
of abortions," and asserted the current policy fascination with "common
ground" has devolved "into an abandonment of ideals."

CFC backed
up its assertions about the anti-family-planning and antiabortion
agenda of Kelley and Catholics in Alliance with a report titled "The Trouble With Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good."
The report asserted that the Catholic Alliance’s "position on abortion
is firmly planted on the far right … In its own words: ‘Catholics in
Alliance is pro-life. We support full legal protection for unborn
children as a requirement of justice and as a matter of essential human
rights.’" In a 2006 Voter Guide, Catholics in Alliance made a
disturbing equation between war and abortion, saying that Catholics
need to "build the essential conditions for a culture of life, to end
affronts to human life such as poverty, abortion, torture and war."

Statements like this undercut the alliance’s claim that its efforts
at common ground seek to end the "culture war" that surrounds abortion.
In response to the Catholics for Choice press release, Jennifer Goff, a
spokeswoman for Catholics in Alliance, said her group "is working
toward reaching common ground in order to make real progress on the
moral and political challenges our country faces instead of resorting
to spurious attacks
launched by those who are more concerned with inflaming the culture
wars than effecting positive change." Chris Korzen, executive director
of Catholics United, characterized O’Brien’s opposition and the CFC
report as "simplistic," "incendiary" and "a roadblock to progress."

most serious charge against Kelley is that under her leadership
Catholics in Alliance used “flawed economic data to support
anti-poverty measures as a means to reduce the number of abortions.”
The misuse of research to promote ideology is a serious charge and if
true would disqualify Kelley from an appointment that requires
adherence to evidence-based policy setting. During the Bush
administration, ideology was often a substitute for science, especially
in the reproductive health field. Obama has promised a return to
scientific integrity.

The charges relate to an August 2008 study by Penn State political
science professor Joseph Wright commissioned by Catholics in Alliance.
Called "Reducing Abortion in America: The Effect of Socioeconomic
Factors," the study is a perfect example of advocacy research gone
awry. It claims that analysis of state level data on abortion from 1982
to 2000 shows that spending money on programs for job creation, primary
and prenatal healthcare, and the nutrition program known as WIC (Women,
Infants, and Children) substantially reduced abortion rates in states
where such measures were taken. Given Kelley’s opposition to family
planning, it’s the only hope she has that a credible argument could be
made that abortions can be significantly reduced without family

In November, following the elections, the study was
removed from the Web site and later replaced with a new version that
plays down the claims of significant reductions in abortion rates based
on spending for programs such as WIC. The new version
attempts to correct a series of serious methodological and
interpretation errors in the original study. Social science researchers
on both sides of the abortion issue expressed concerns about the study,
and one coauthor, Professor Michael Bailey of Georgetown University,
removed his name from the revised report. Given the serious
methodological weaknesses of the first study, there is little reason to
assume a second take by the same author can be trusted.

leaders other than O’Brien have not yet commented on the Kelley
appointment; most are still reeling from Dr. Tiller’s murder. One hopes
they will turn their attention to this appointment and demand a review
of Kelley’s qualifications for this post. Pro-choice groups also
contributed to the president’s election. They deserve appointees who
agree with the platform on which the president ran. The pro-choice
movement’s recommendations for pro-choice appointees to the faith-based
office’s advisory council were ignored. Now, after the Kelley
appointment, the mission going forward must be to ensure that any
additional staff members appointed to faith-based centers in
Cabinet-level agencies reflect the pro-choice, pro-family-planning
values of the administration. As Greenberger and others try to get to
the bottom of the Kelley appointment, greater oversight of, and
consultation on, future appointments need to be secured.

This post first appeared on Salon.

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.

Roundups Politics

Trump Taps Extremists, Anti-Choice Advocates in Effort to Woo Evangelicals

Ally Boguhn

Representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to its shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the organization's president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance at a question-and-answer event on Tuesday.

Making a play to win over the evangelical community, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump met with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders on Tuesday for a question-and-answer event in New York City and launched an “evangelical advisory board” to weigh in on how he should approach key issues for the voting bloc.

The meeting was meant to be “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future,” according to a press release from the event’s organizers. As Rewire previously reported, numerous anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ leaders—many of them extremists—were slated to attend.

Though the event was closed to the media, Trump reportedly promised to lift a ban on tax-exempt organizations from politicking and discussed his commitment to defending religious liberties. Trump’s pitch to conservatives also included a resolution that upon his election, “the first thing we will do is support Supreme Court justices who are talented men and women, and pro-life,” according to a press release from United in Purpose, which helped organize the event.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, told the New York Times that the business mogul also reiterated promises to defund Planned Parenthood and to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.

In a post to its website, representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to their shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.” The post went on to note that Trump had also said he would appoint anti-choice justices to federal courts, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Just after the event, Trump’s campaign announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board. The group was “convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America,” according to a press release from the campaign. Though members of the board, which will lead Trump’s “much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month,” were not asked to endorse Trump, the campaign went on to note that “the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”

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Much like the group that met with Trump on Tuesday, the presumptive Republican nominee’s advisory board roster reads like a who’s-who of conservatives with radical opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality. Here are some of the group’s most notable members:

Michele Bachmann

Though former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that “women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care” while arguing against the ACA during a 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, her views on the government’s role in restricting reproductive health and rights don’t square away with that position.

During a December 2011 “tele-town hall” event hosted by anti-choice organization Personhood USA, Bachmann reportedly falsely referred to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and joined other Republican then-presidential candidates to advocate for making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. During the event, Bachmann touted her support of the anti-choice group’s “personhood pledge,” which required presidential candidates to agree that:

I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.

Such a policy, if enacted by lawmakers, could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. A source from Personhood USA told the Huffington Post that Bachmann “signed the pledge and returned it within twenty minutes, which was an extraordinarily short amount of time.”

Bachmann has also claimed that God told her to introduce a measure to block marriage equality in her home state, that being an LGBTQ person is “ part of Satan,” and that same-sex marriage is a “radical experiment that will have “profound consequences.”

Mark Burns

Televangelist Mark Burns has been an ardent supporter of Trump, even appearing on behalf of the presidential candidate at February’s Faith and Family Forum, hosted by the conservative Palmetto Family Council, to deliver an anti-abortion speech.

In March, Burns also claimed that he supported Donald Trump because Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported Black “genocide” (a frequently invoked conservative myth) during an appearance on the fringe-conspiracy program, the Alex Jones show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump,” said Burns, according to the Daily Beast. “He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind … a party that is okay with the genocide of Black people through abortion.”

Burns’ support of Trump extended to the candidate’s suggestion that if abortion was made illegal, those who have abortions should be punished—an issue on which Trump has repeatedly shifted stances. “If the state made it illegal and said the premature death of an unborn child constituted murder, anyone connected to that crime should be held liable,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal in April. “If you break the law there should be punishment.”

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), which, according to its mission statement, exists to “teach Christians worldwide who they are in Christ Jesus and how to live a victorious life in their covenant rights and privileges.” Outlining their opposition to abortion in a post this month on the organization’s website, the couple wrote that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. “As the author of life, God considers an unborn child to be an eternal being from the moment of its conception,” explained the post. “To deliberately destroy that life before birth would be as much premeditated murder as taking the life of any other innocent person.”

The article went on to say that though it may “seem more difficult in cases such as those involving rape or incest” not to choose abortion, “God has a plan for the unborn child,” falsely claiming that the threat of life endangerment has “been almost completely alleviated through modern medicine.”

The ministries’ website also features Pregnancy Options Centre, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Vancouver, Canada, that receives “financial and spiritual support” from KCM and “its Partners.” The vast majority of CPCs  regularly lie to women in order to persuade them not to have an abortion.

Kenneth Copeland, in a June 2013 sermon, tied pedophilia to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, going on to falsely claim that the ruling did not actually legalize abortion and that the decision was “the seed to murder our seed.” Copeland blamed legal abortion for the country’s economic woes, reasoning that there are “several million taxpayers that are not alive.”

Copeland, a televangelist, originally supported former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary, claiming that the candidate had been “called and appointed” by God to be the next president. His ministry has previously faced scrutiny about its tax-exempt status under an investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into six ministries “whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles.” This investigation concluded in 2011, according to the New York Times.

James Dobson

James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family (FoF), previously supported Cruz in the Republican primary, releasing an ad for the campaign in February praising Cruz for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” As Rewire previously reported, both Dobson and his organization hold numerous extreme views:

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the … Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Robert Jeffress

A Fox News contributor and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress once suggested that the 9/11 attacks took place because of legal abortion. “All you have to do is look in history to see what God does with a nation that sanctions the killing of its own children,” said Jeffress at Liberty University’s March 2015 convocation, according to Right Wing Watch. “God will not allow sin to go unpunished and he certainly won’t allow the sacrifice of children to go unpunished.”

Jeffress spoke about the importance of electing Trump during a campaign rally in February, citing Democrats’ positions on abortion rights and Trump’s belief “in protecting the unborn.” He went on to claim that if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Hillary Clinton were elected, “there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history.”

After Trump claimed women who have abortions should be punished should it become illegal, Jeffres rushed to defend the Republican candidate from bipartisan criticism, tweeting: “Conservatives’ outrage over @realDonaldTrump abortion comments hypocritical. Maybe they don’t really believe abortion is murder.”

As documented by Media Matters, Jeffress has frequently spoken out against those of other religions and denominations, claiming that Islam is “evil” and Catholicism is “what Satan does with counterfeit religion.” The pastor has also demonstrated extreme opposition to LGBTQ equality, even claiming that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.

Richard Land

Richard Land, now president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was named one of Time Magazine‘s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005 for his close ties with the Republican party. While George W. Bush was president, Land participated in the administration’s “weekly teleconference with other Christian conservatives, to plot strategy on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.” Bush also appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2002.

According to a 2002 article from the Associated Press, during his early academic career in Texas, “Land earned a reputation as a leader among abortion opponents and in 1987 became an administrative assistant to then-Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who fought for laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion” in the state.

Land had previously expressed “dismay” that some evangelicals were supporting Trump, claiming in October that he “take[s] that [support] as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”


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