Vermont Parochial School Sniffs Out Pro-Choice Director, Cancels Anti-Racism Event

Kathleen Reeves

This is not the first time a Catholic individual or organization has allowed intolerance to interfere with the Church’s message on loving our (black, gay, poor) neighbors, but it’s particularly embarrassing in this case.

Catholic Culture and the Burlington Free Press (here and here) report that a diversity awareness event scheduled at a Catholic school in Vermont was cancelled because someone remotely involved with the event is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. The event was to be held by Reading to End Racism, a national organization that combats racism through in-school programming.

The organization itself has nothing to do with reproductive or gay rights—it’s an anti-racism group. But it’s affiliated with the Vermont Anti-Racist Action Team, whose director apparently supports abortion rights and gay rights. One parent noticed, complained, and prevented all the students of Mater Christi from learning about racial tolerance.

This kind of vetting by Catholic schools has a serious cost. They’re denying their students valuable exposure to ideas and experiences—denying them the chance to become good stewards. This is not the first time a Catholic individual or organization has allowed intolerance to interfere with the Church’s message on loving our (black, gay, poor) neighbors, but it’s particularly embarrassing in this case.

What kind of a message does this send to the students of Mater Christi? Do they need to vet their friends, as well? What about their friends’ parents? Or their friends’ parents’ employers? (This could make for dysfunctional citizens in a state where gay marriage is legal.) Diversity of viewpoint, of course, is fine; Vermonters should not all be expected to have the same position on gay rights. But to silence a discourse on racism because of an undesirable “association” (as the superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Burlington, seeming pained, puts it) is antithetical to the spirit of education, parochial or public. 

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The head of VARAT, Paij Wadley-Bailey, embraces her “association”:

“VARAT also realizes that all of the oppressions are connected, whether it’s racism or sexism or homophobism or the right for a woman to choose. They are all connected, and how can you endorse one issue and not appreciate that oppression by any other name is oppression.”

Unfortunately, Mater Christi’s decision is part of a trend in the Catholic Church. By letting a few issues—namely those related to sex—trump all others, the Church is increasingly siding with the oppressor over the oppressed. It is, increasingly, a predictably reactionary force, and its schools, once renowned for educational excellence, risk losing credibility with this type of xenophobia.

Analysis Politics

Media Praising Lindsey Graham’s Abortion Call-Out Forget His Extreme Anti-Choice Record

Ally Boguhn

For weeks Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been condemning his fellow Republican presidential candidates for their extreme abortion stances. Yet Graham’s own record on abortion stands as a testament to anti-choice extremism—a detail media outlets have largely overlooked when reporting on the manner.

For weeks, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been condemning his fellow Republican presidential candidates for their extreme abortion stances, claiming that their refusal to offer exceptions for cases of rape and incest will make them unelectable. Yet Graham’s own record on abortion stands as a testament to anti-choice extremisma detail media outlets have largely overlooked.

Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s headquarters last Thursday, Graham veered off the day’s dominant subjects of discussion—foreign affairs and Israel—to once again call out his rivals with extreme anti-choice platforms that include no exceptions for abortions in cases of rape and incest. Noting the positions of many of his colleagues, Graham asked, “How many of you believe we’ve got a problem with young women as Republicans?”

“How about abortion?” the senator continued. “I believe that you can be pro-life and win an election. But if you are going to tell a woman who has been raped she has to carry the child of a rapist, you’re losing most Americans.”

“Ted Cruz doesn’t have an exception for rape or incest,” Graham added, claiming that if Cruz were to be the nominee for the general election, Democrats would use the issue to try to swing voters to their side. “It will be about the nominee of the Republican Party telling a woman who has been raped, you gotta carry the child of the rapist,” Graham said. “Good luck with that.”

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And some in the media cheered. At the Huffington Post, although it was noted that Graham was anti-choice, the outlet nevertheless ran with a headline claiming he had “just told a room full of donors to get real about rape and abortion.” Other outlets offered less laudatory coverage, but still no mention of Graham’s own extreme positions.

It wasn’t the first time. In late October, Graham made the same accusation about Republicans’ hardline stance against abortion exceptions during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “Anybody with that position will get creamed” in the general election, Graham told host Joe Scarborough. “I appreciate your passion for the pro-life issue but you’re outside the mainstream and you cannot get elected,” pointing to the “83 percent of the American people [who] feel like that goes too far,” he added.

Just as was the case with this week’s coverage, virtually no mention was made then of Graham’s own record. Even Rewire’s reporting left it out while discussing the issue in a campaign roundup.

Although it’s easy to pass over or take for granted Graham’s well-established history as an anti-choice advocate, his record is critical to understanding that the candidate’s attacks on his rivals in no way make him a more moderate option. Graham’s attempts to position himself as less extreme than other Republicans in order to appeal more broadly to voters and funders must be considered within the context of his background when it comes to reproductive health.

This June, Graham re-introduced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in an attempt to pass a federal 20-week abortion ban. The bill, which was based on the discredited theory that a fetus can feel pain at this point in a pregnancy, had passed earlier in the year in the House but ultimately failed amid heated debate over the measure’s burdensome exceptions for victims of rape and incest.

In a statement condemning Graham’s ban, Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, president of the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, explained that the measure had dangerous ramifications. “As an OB-GYN, I know firsthand the reasons why women may need abortion care after 20 weeks, and I have seen the pain that many of these women are in when confronting these decisions,” said DeFrancesco.

“Yet this ban would force physicians to deny services, even to women who have made the difficult decision to end pregnancies for reasons including fetal anomalies diagnosed later in pregnancy or other unexpected obstetric outcomes. This is simply cruel,” continued DeFrancesco. 

Graham’s version of the act contained no exceptions for fetal abnormalities—a point that Politico noted “threaten[ed] to hand political ammunition to Democrats trying to knock off GOP senators in purple and blue states that will decide Senate control after the 2016 election.”

Graham’s penchant for anti-abortion legislation does not stop there. On top of his long anti-choice voting record, during his time in the Senate the presidential candidate co-sponsored several extreme “personhood” bills such as the Life at Conception Act and the Right to Life Act, which would have granted legal protections to a fetus by redefining it as a person; would have consequently implemented a ban on abortions; and could have forbidden the use of many forms of contraception, including the pill and IUDs.

In 1999, Graham co-authored an early version of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which made it a crime to kill or injure a fetus “at any stage of development.” Although not explicitly anti-abortion in nature, Sen. Orin Hatch (R-UT), bragged to CNN in 2003 that a later version of the measure nevertheless “undermines abortion rights.”

As Imani Gandy has explained for Rewire, fetal homicide laws, or feticide laws, can be exploited by anti-choice proponents in order to push the aforementioned “personhood” agendaand pregnant people are often caught in the crosshairs. In many places, states push “efforts to criminalize the behavior of pregnant women and prioritize the rights of the ‘unborn’ over the rights of women,” Gandy pointed out, often leading states to take action against women struggling with drug use.

“Such approaches demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding about drug addiction and prenatal and maternal health, but underscore concerns that when it comes to pregnancy, the trend seems to be to do whatever it takes to protect the ‘unborn child’ at every stage of development, even at the expense of the woman carrying it,” explained Gandy.

Graham has also voted against allowing the very same kinds of exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother in various proposed measures and amendments that he is now criticizing other Republicans for opposing. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America’s candidate report, during his time in the House, Graham repeatedly voted against efforts to ensure Medicaid recipients could access abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother was in danger.

Media outlets should take Graham’s attempts to paint his rivals as too harsh on abortion with a grain of salt. When a candidate whose views on abortion are as extreme as Graham’s highlights how out-of-touch his opponents are with the U.S. public on the topic, it may be time to re-examine where each candidate stands and what moments of clarity from a candidate are worth praise.

Investigations Religion

West Virginia Women Speak Out About Extremist Anti-Choice OB-GYN

Sharona Coutts

Women in West Virginia are speaking up against Dr. Byron C. Calhoun, the prominent anti-choice OB-GYN who holds senior positions in West Virginia’s public health care and education institutions.

Read more of our articles on False Witness Dr. Byron Calhoun here.

To view the full False Witnesses gallery, click here.

Women in West Virginia are speaking up against Dr. Byron C. Calhoun, the prominent anti-choice OB-GYN who has been caught out lying about the risks of abortion on more than one occasion.

In addition to being affiliated with multiple extremist anti-choice groups, Calhoun holds senior positions in West Virginia’s public health care and education institutions.

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He is vice chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at West Virginia University, and serves as the only maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Charleston Area Medical Center (CAMC)—where many West Virginia women go for prenatal and birthing care.

That means Calhoun is the only expert available at the state’s major teaching hospital for women with high-risk pregnancies, including women carrying twins or triplets, as is the case for two of the authors of these open letters, who have granted Rewire permission to publish them.

The four authors are Margaret Chapman Pomponio, Lesly Messina, Christine Teague, and Jessica Gladwell. All are West Virginia residents. Pomponio, Messina, and Teague are affiliated with WV Free, a local reproductive rights organization. Gladwell, who is pregnant with triplets, is not affiliated with WV Free.

They addressed their letters to key decision makers at West Virginia University and CAMC, including Andrew Weber, vice president and administrator at CAMC; John Linton, the dean of the School of Medicine at WVU’s School of Medicine-Charleston; and Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean at WVU Health Services. So far, none of the women has received a response, they told Rewire.

In preparation for this article, Rewire reached out to both West Virginia University and CAMC. Neither replied to our requests for comment or to our questions about whether they have initiated any investigation or disciplinary proceedings against Calhoun.


“Calhoun is singlehandedly driving patients away from health care close to their homes, creating anxiety and possibly medical problems due to travel time; families suffer as a result.” —Margaret Chapman Pomponio

“My intention in writing this letter is not to open a discussion of the politics of abortion, but rather act in my duty as a woman and as a healthcare provider myself to express disdain.” —Christine Teague

“There is no question that he is dangerous to women’s health.” —Lesly Messina
“I never dreamed that my need for access to high-risk maternity care would place me in the care of a physician whose knowledge about the source of my employment causes me panic.” —Jessica Gladwell

Click here to download the PDF.