In Good Faith: Obama and the Pope Consider Areas of Agreement

Chris Korzen

Obama is in Rome to meet with the Pope, with whom he disagrees on some fundamental moral concerns. Had this precluded such an encounter, the fertile common ground that they share on progressive values would lie fallow.

In early seventies, the Democratic Party made a fateful decision to
begin building a new coalition, as one commentator put it, of "young people, college-educated suburbanites, and feminists."
This might not have been a bad idea had the party not deliberately
stopped reaching out to many people of faith – Catholics in particular
– in the process.

The historical context of this decision isn’t insignificant. The
party’s support for the Civil Rights Movement had cost it the support
of many white Southern Democrats, and mounting backlash against
perceived cultural excesses of the 1960s exposed a deepening cultural
divide – a divide deepened further by showdowns over in vitro
fertilization, The Pill, and, of course, abortion rights. Democratic
strategists presumably believed that a smaller but more ideologically
homogeneous tent was the real ticket to success, and that socially
moderate Americans (formerly core partners in the New Deal coalition)
would be little more than monkey wrenches in the cogs of progress.

By 2004 it was clear just how poorly advised this 30-year-old
strategic shift was. It was then that so-called "values voters" helped
Republicans run the table, with John Kerry – the first Catholic
presidential nominee since JFK – losing members of his own church by 5
points. If you want to know why Kerry lost Ohio, look no farther than
the state’s large percentage of white working-class Catholics, who
voted against him by a margin of 55% to 44%.

President Obama owes his victory in part to many factors beyond his
control: a tanking economy, an unpopular Republican Party, an
opponent’s mind-bogglingly disastrous campaign, to name a few. But make
no mistake about it – without Obama’s ability to reach across
ideological lines and unite disparate groups behind common values, the
Republicans would surely have emerged victorious last November.

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Proponents of the "small tent" strategy are livid now that the
common ground values which put Democrats back in the White House in the
first place are playing a vital role in the Obama government. Many feel
that those who harbor moral concerns about abortion don’t deserve a
role in helping to craft social policy. More extreme voices write off
the values of large swaths of the American public categorically,
calling people of faith backward-thinking, dismissing even moderate
pro-lifers as woman-haters or terrorists.

That these moderate voters also disdain the divisive tactics of the
religions right and are swayable on health care and clean energy is, to
the small-tenters, irrelevant. Because they don’t subscribe to the far
left’s "do what feels right" dogma, many average Americans aren’t even
allowed in the campground.

President Obama is now in Rome for an historic meeting with Pope
Benedict XVI, with whom he admittedly disagrees on some fundamental
moral concerns. Had their disagreements precluded such a encounter, the
fertile common ground that the pope and the president share on
progressive values like economic justice, concern for the earth, health
care for all, and workers’ rights would lie fallow. The pope’s sweeping
indictment of unregulated free market capitalism and support for a new
economic world order – issued earlier this week in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate – would have little relevance to U.S. public policy.

If the subject of abortion is broached at the meeting at all, it
will almost certainly not arise in the context of abortion rights
restrictions or public support for contraception. On these issues, both
men recognize the convictions of the other, and realize the overriding
importance of more positive productive conversation. Speaking with religion reporters last week, the president pointed to several possible ways to break the stalemate and find common ground on abortion:

On the idea of helping young people make smart choices so
that they are not engaging in casual sexual activity that can lead to
unwanted pregnancies, on the importance of adoption as a option, an
alternative to abortion, on caring for pregnant women so that it is
easier for them to support children, those are immediately three areas
where I would be surprised if we don’t have some pretty significant
areas of agreement.

Cynics on both extremes will see the president’s persistent support
for common ground as a political ploy intended to maintain popularity
among moderate voters. They’ll view today’s meeting at the Vatican as
little more than a photo op. But there’s another interpretation they
should pause to consider: that change doesn’t happen without the
support of the people, and the people won’t support change if it comes
packaged with hostility towards their beliefs. Mr. Obama made an
election night promise to be the president of all Americans. His
sincere and consistent efforts to speak – as well as to listen – to the
concerns of those who disagree is evidence that he is making good on
this promise.

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News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.


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