(VIDEO) Listen to the Lives of Ordinary Catholics

Lon Newman

The president of Catholics for Choice, explores the political power and hierarchy of the Catholic Church, pointing to three questions on which to evaluate the Bishops' lobbying efforts and policy recommendations.

This article was originally published by Below the Waist.

Richard Doerflinger, speaking for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded to a Wall Street Journal article about Wisconsin’s Medicaid Family Planning expansion saying: “It reflects a view of women which is extremely dismissive . . .” Mr. Doerflinger goes on to recommend that the expansion be rejected because family planning advocates are only interested in a woman’s reproductive function and making sure it isn’t used.

Jon O’Brien Interview from Family Planning Health Services on Vimeo.

Family Planning Health Services, Inc. and the Wisconsin Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association are very proud to release this engaging video interview with Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. Mr. O’Brien explores themes of political power and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. He establishes a clear three-question structure within which legislators and the public can evaluate lobbying efforts and policy recommendations like Mr. Doerflinger’s:

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  1. Is it factually correct?
  2. Who does the speaker represent?
  3. What are the consequences to ordinary working people?

Mr. O’Brien says that good Catholics can support contraception. He describes the history of the Vatican’s Birth Control Commission which was: “far less than divine inspiration. It was a matter of stacking the deck!” Even though the outcome was pre-determined to oppose use of the birth control pill, according to O’Brien, education and dialogue . . . “changed the hearts and minds of the bishops” on the Commission. “Can you imagine how many lives could have been saved,” O’Brien asks, “if the Pope had enough faith in Catholics to accept the Commission’s recommendations?”

Mr. O’Brien’s emphasis throughout the interview is that the bishops and legislators must “Listen to the lives of ordinary Catholics. He says: “We are the ones who go to the ballot box.”  On reproductive health issues, according to O’Brien, “The bishops have failed to convince Catholics not to use contraception. So what do they do? They go off to Capitol Hill or to your state assembly and behind the doors they try to pressure legislators into not allowing access to family planning.” With no equivocation he says: “There’s something that’s downright wrong and un-American about that!

O’Brien states that the information that the hierarchy gives on contraception and condoms is inaccurate and that the bishops do not speak for Catholic voters. But to make his most important point on testing the validity of lobbying by the bishops against family planning, Mr. O’Brien praises the courage and example of Bishop Kevin Dowling from South Africa. Paraphrasing Bishop Dowling, who has differed with Church teachings on the use of condoms to prevent HIV/Aids, O’Brien says:  “Using condoms to prevent AIDs is not about preventing the transmission of life. It is about preventing the transmission of death.”

If we apply the test to Mr. Doerflinger’s statement regarding Medicaid family planning, it is factually incorrect, it represents the view of some (but not all) of the 350 U.S. Catholic Bishops, and the consequence would be to reduce access to health care for thousands of American women. 

News Human Rights

Black Lives Matter Activist Sentenced for ‘Lynching’ Released Due to Overcrowding

Nicole Knight Shine

Jasmine “Abdullah” Richards was convicted earlier this month under a California statute known until recently as “felony lynching," a law that criminalizes “taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer.”

California Black Lives Matter activist Jasmine “Abdullah” Richards, who was sentenced to 90 days in jail on a felony charge of “lynching,” was released Saturday from Lynwood’s Century Regional Detention Facility due to jail overcrowding, a Black Lives Matter organizer told Rewire Tuesday.

“Her release is hugely important to Black Lives Matter as she is one of our core activists and lead for Black Lives Matter, Pasadena chapter,” said Melina Abdullah, a Black Lives Matter organizer who said she met Richards nearly two years ago in Ferguson, where the death of the unarmed Black man Michael Brown galvanized activists across the nation.

Richards was convicted earlier this month under a California statute known until recently as “felony lynching,” a law that criminalizes “taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer.” Under the law, two or more people are defined as a “riot.”

The charges stem from when Richards, founder of Black Lives Matter Pasadena, attempted to intervene in a woman’s arrest following a Black Lives Matter peace march last August.

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Abdullah explained to Rewire that Richards had a protest-related misdemeanor charge that had to be paid at the time of her release.

On June 7, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu sentenced 29-year-old Richards to 90 days in county jail, with 18 days of credit for time served; three years of probation; and a year of anger management.

“The fact that she was also sentenced to three years probation … is clearly an attempt to hinder her activism,” Abdullah told Rewire Tuesday by email. “We will appeal her conviction and the movement will not be deterred, but will redouble our commitment to ending state-sanctioned violence.”

Activists earlier this month denounced the sentence as a “mockery of our justice system.” More than 200 activists rallied outside the courthouse during the sentencing, according to reports, clapping and chanting “Free Jasmine.”

Activists had called Richards’ arrest a “perverse” application of a law “intended to stop lynch mobs from forcibly removing detainees from police custody and engaging in public murders of Black people.” An online petition urging Lu to free Richards had gathered more than 80,000 signatures by the time of the sentencing.

Richards was the “first African-American ever to be convicted of the charge” of lynching in the United States, according to Pasadena Now. Activists called Richards the Black Lives Matter movement’s first political prisoner.

“To take this law, that was used allegedly to protect Black people from being lynched, and to turn around and use this law against a Black person who is actually speaking about the lynchings, the serial lynchings, that are going on at the hands of police, not just in Pasadena, but all over this country, is more than ironic, it’s disgusting,” Richards’ attorney, Nana Gyamfi, told Democracy Now! prior to the sentencing.

After the sentencing, Richards addressed the crowd gathered outside the Pasadena courthouse via her attorney’s speakerphone, saying “Thank you guys,” and “I love everybody.”

Richards was arrested two days after a Black Lives Matter peace march, when authorities said she tried to intervene as police officers apprehended a young Black woman in the park. Richards was a key organizer of the march, where activists were demanding justice for Kendrec McDade, an unarmed 19-year-old Black teenager who was shot and killed by Pasadena police in 2012.

Video of the incident shows Richards and other activists trying to intercede on the woman’s behalf, with voices that can be heard saying to authorities, “she’s only 130 pounds” and “she’s a petite girl.”

Pasadena police Lt. Tracey Ibarra said, “When the officers attempted to detain her [the suspect] then part of the Black Lives Matter protest group attempted to intercede,” as Pasadena Now reported last September.

Richards was initially charged with inciting a riot, delaying and obstructing peace officers, child endangerment, and felony lynching, but all but the lynching charge was dropped before the trial.

Her attorney said she was convicted by a jury that was about half white, with no Black jurors, though Black people making up 13 percent of the population in Pasadena and 8 percent in Los Angeles County.

News Race

Black Lives Matter Activist Sentenced to 90 Days for ‘Lynching’

Nicole Knight Shine

“We’re living in Orwellian times when a Black woman in a peaceful protest is sentenced to jail time for attempted lynching," Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, said in an emailed statement after the sentencing.

A California Black Lives Matter activist who faced up to four years of jail time for “lynching” was sentenced Tuesday morning to 90 days in county jail, a sentence activists denounced as a “mockery of our justice system.”

“We’re living in Orwellian times when a Black woman in a peaceful protest is sentenced to jail time for attempted lynching,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, said in an emailed statement after the sentencing.

Jasmine “Abdullah” Richards, 28, was convicted last week under a California statute known until recently as “felony lynching.” The law criminalizes “taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer,” defining two or more people as a “riot.” Richards had been arrested and charged after trying to intervene in a woman’s arrest following a Black Lives Matter march last August.

“It is clear that they messed up. It is clear that they know they just messed up,” Richards’ attorney, Nana Gyamfi, said on the Pasadena, California, courthouse steps after the sentencing, referring to the prosecution. “I got calls from people all over the country and all over the world.”

Richards addressed the crowd via her attorney’s speakerphone after the sentencing, saying “Thank you guys,” and “I love everybody.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elaine Lu had recommended a sentence of probation only, according to activists outside the courthouse Tuesday. Prosecutors countered by calling for six months of jail time. The final sentence was 90 days in jail, with 18 days of credit for time served; three years of probation; and a year of anger management.

Called the first political prisoner of the Black Lives Matter movement, Richards is also the “first African-American ever to be convicted of the charge” of lynching in the United States, according to Pasadena Now.

Those at the scene reported that more than 200 activists rallied outside the Pasadena courthouse before the sentencing, clapping and chanting “Free Jasmine.” Online, the hashtag #FreeJasmine trended on Twitter Tuesday morning.

In an online petition urging Lu not to sentence Richards to jail time, activists had called Richards’ arrest a “perverse” application of a law “intended to stop lynch mobs from forcibly removing detainees from police custody and engaging in public murders of Black people.” The petition had gathered more than 80,000 signatures by press time.

“To take this law, that was used allegedly to protect Black people from being lynched, and to turn around and use this law against a Black person who is actually speaking about the lynchings, the serial lynchings, that are going on at the hands of police, not just in Pasadena, but all over this country, is more than ironic, it’s disgusting,” Gyamfi told Democracy Now! prior to the sentencing. “It is demeaning to what little integrity the criminal justice system may have.”

The charges stem from an incident at a peace march in a Pasadena park last August, when authorities said Richards tried to intervene as police officers apprehended a young Black woman in the park. Richards, founder of Black Lives Matter Pasadena, was a key organizer of a march that day demanding justice for Kendrec McDade, an unarmed 19-year-old Black teenager who was shot and killed by Pasadena police in 2012.

Video shows Richards and other activists trying to intercede with police; voices can be heard saying “she’s only 130 pounds” and “she’s a petite girl,” regarding the woman police were detaining.

Pasadena police Lt. Tracey Ibarra told Pasadena Now last September, “When the officers attempted to detain her [the suspect] then part of the Black Lives Matter protest group attempted to intercede.”

Richards was arrested two days after the march.

Richards was initially charged with inciting a riot, delaying and obstructing peace officers, child endangerment, and felony lynching; all but the lynching charges were dropped before last week’s trial.

Gyamfi said her client was convicted by a jury that was about half white. There were no Black jurors, she said, despite Black people making up 13 percent of the population in Pasadena and 8 percent in Los Angeles County.

“It was very clear that it was not a jury anywhere near of Jasmine’s peers,” Gyamfi said.