“Morals” and “Faith” Far From Monolithic on Abortion, Stupak Amendment and Health Reform

Robin Marty

A backlash is growing against recent effort by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to impose ultra-conservative Catholic ideology on U.S. public health policy and women's rights as a growing number of faith leaders speak out.

In the wake of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, much attention has been paid to the pressure placed on key congress people by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who rallied to have abortion rights rolled back as part of health care reform.  But the religious institutions are not a monolithic entity, and as the magnitude of the impact Stupak-Pitts would have on health care is realized, more and more faith leaders are speaking out against it.

Minnpost, a Minnesota-based online news site, reports that key figures in the religious pro-choice movement are beginning to move their members to ensure their voices are heard as well.   Kelli Clement, co-chair of the Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice , leads the call:

No person I’ve ever known thinks that abortion is something a woman wants to do. It’s a terribly difficult choice. It’s a sacred choice. But no one chooses for you. No church. No insurance company and certainly the Congress shouldn’t get to choose for me.

"I want lawmakers to uphold their oaths," said Clement. "I want them to uphold the rights of other people. Abortion is a legal form of medical care. It’s federally protected. I want it supported."

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Backlash in Minnesota isn’t coming just from pro-choice religious groups, but from politicians as well.  Former Minnesota State Senator Dave Durenberger spoke scathingly on the National Institute of Health Policy site regarding what he sees as an overstep of the Catholic Bishops authority in pushing the amendment into the health care reform debate.

"As a Catholic Republican," stated Durenberger, "I am puzzled by the way in which mere mortals can shift the moral priorities of a Church over what, for a 2,000-year-old religion, is a relatively short period of time. As a new member of the U.S. Senate, I stood proudly with my Church in opposition to the expansion of the nuclear arms race, in definition of a just war, in efforts to reduce racial and economic discrimination and enact historic civil rights legislation.

How did a national law to prevent insurance companies, whose premium costs are defrayed in part by tax subsidies, from providing medical services related to abortion get to be a higher public priority for all Americans, not just Catholics, than financing access to health care services? Especially when it is unlikely this law will have that great an impact on the number of abortions performed in this country."


As more people continue to speak out against the role the Catholic Bishops had in instituting this extremely flawed amendment, will we see it removed from the health care debate?  Only time will tell.

Commentary Race

Moving Forward: A Joint Statement From Cecile Richards and Monica Simpson

Monica Simpson & Cecile Richards

"The people we serve need us to change our approach in order to secure reproductive health, rights, and most importantly justice," say Simpson and Richards. "We jointly commit to being in better service to those goals and standing in community together."

Editor’s note: The following statement was submitted to Rewire by Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, and Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in response to the ongoing conversations about Planned Parenthood’s recognition of the work of reproductive justice leaders and organizations.

This summer, we found ourselves in a much needed, public conversation about the limitations of the pro-choice label, the important work of reproductive justice organizations, and the ways Planned Parenthood has fallen short in recognizing the contributions and framework of the reproductive justice movement. All of this led us to step back and think about how we could better work together.
 
A few weeks ago, we joined leaders from several reproductive justice organizations in Washington, D.C., and had a positive meeting about our desire to work more closely together to improve the lives of the communities we serve and advocate for daily.​ It was an honest conversation about some of the challenges in our working relationship, but more importantly, we agreed to an ongoing conversation and next steps to move our collective work forward.
 
We left our meeting hopeful and committed to building a stronger partnership, working together as we explore how an intentional and mutually beneficial relationship translates into action. The people we serve need us to change our approach in order to secure reproductive health, rights, and most importantly justice. We jointly commit to being in better service to those goals and standing in community together.
​​

Monica Raye Simpson is the executive director of SisterSong, the National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

News Law and Policy

Unanimous Supreme Court Strikes Massachusetts Buffer Zone Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

According to the Roberts Court, Massachusetts had not shown that it tried to address clinic protests in a less restrictive means than enacting a fixed 35-foot buffer zone.

On Thursday, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court held that a Massachusetts law that provides for a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics is unconstitutional.

The decision reverses a federal appeals court decision that had held that the buffer zone was constitutional.

The ruling, while unanimous, did not throw out buffer zones around abortion clinics entirely. According to the Court, the Massachusetts buffer zone law violates the First Amendment because it burdens more speech than necessary.

According to the Court, clinics should rely first on existing laws like local traffic ordinances to keep clinic protesters at a distance. Furthermore, the Court said, Massachusetts had not shown that it “seriously undertook” efforts to address clinic protests and blockades with the legal tools already available prior to enacting the buffer zone. Therefore, the Court held, the state could not show that the law at issue was narrowly tailored enough to meet the requirements of the First Amendment.

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“Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks—sites that have hosted discussions about the issues of the day throughout history,” the Court wrote. “But here the Commonwealth has pursued those interests by the extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers. It has done so without seriously addressing the problem through alternatives that leave the forum open for its time-honored purposes.”

Reproductive health and rights advocates expressed disappointment in the decision Thursday. “No one should be physically attacked or threatened for simply seeking out healthcare. Buffer zone laws, like the one in Massachusetts, create a safe space, which allows reproductive healthcare facilities to meet the needs of patients, including contraception, cervical cancer screenings, and abortion care.” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, in a statement following the opinion. “These facilities are often the only places where low-income women can access these critical services. Despite this disappointing decision, we will continue to work with advocates and policymakers to ensure that Latinas and their providers can seek and provide care without fear of violence, threats, or intimidation.”

Since enactment of the Massachusetts law, at least four states or local municipalities have enacted buffer zone laws.

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