Commentary Religion

An Unethical Alliance? Catholic Bishops Behind Susan G. Komen Foundation Fiasco

Jodi Jacobson

A Reuters article now provides proof of what I have suspected for some time: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was involved in the whole Komen fiasco, on one hand forcing boycotts of Komen until it dropped Planned Parenthood and on the other taking millions of dollars in money from Komen.

On February 8th, during the height of the controversy that erupted when the Susan G. Komen Foundation suddenly decided to cut ties to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, I was listening to the Diane Rehm Show on “Religious Liberty, Politics and Women’s Health Care.”  Among the guests was Anthony Picarello, General Counsel of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Though I listened carefully to the entire program, my ears perked up particularly when Picarello made a comment on breast cancer in response to a question raised by Rehm about the Komen-PPFA fiasco to all three guests on the show:

Basically, what’s happened is the health care reform law provides for preventive services. That includes preventive services for women. The idea is to get out ahead of diseases with prevention, things like mammograms.

Picarello was doing two things here. One was to continue the Bishops false and medically- inaccurate claim that contraceptive care is not “preventive health care.” The other was to claim that mammograms are a breast cancer prevention strategy. They are not. In fact they are no more a prevention strategy than an x-ray is a prevention strategy for a broken bone. They are a diagnostic tool. Having a mammogram won’t prevent any breast cancer; it can however detect it.

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But the reason that this comment caught my attention was that this was the exact argument Komen was making about its decision on Planned Parenthood… because it wanted to go back to focusing on “mammograms.”  I wrote about the false mammogram excuse here.

In the anti-choice world, nothing is unrelated and no action not carefully planned. I immediately thought to myself… “the Bishops are involved in the Komen decision.”  The hiring of Karen Handel, an extreme right-winger, the sudden cut off by Komen of a long-time ally long-praised by the Foundation itself… it made sense to me that something bigger was behind all of it.  And the thought arose again when during the now infamous Darrell Issa hearing on religious liberty women’s health, the male religious right witnesses returned to the mammogram theme in talking about the kinds of health care they felt it would be appropriate to offer women (cause, you know, we are reduced to our breasts). Once again, I thought… there is something going on.

Well now, there is proof of the complicity of the USCCB in the whole Komen fiasco. An article in Reuters today provides documentation of the fact that the Catholic Hospital system is a recipient of large sums of money from Komen, and that while at the same time Catholic Hospitals were and are receiving these grants, the USCCB has been integrally involved in an anti-choice effort to boycott and stop people from contributing to Komen unless and until it cut off Planned Parenthood.

Like I said, nothing with anti-choicers is a coincidence.

David Morgan, a reporter with Reuters News Service who investigated links between the Bishops and Komen, writes:

Internal Komen documents reviewed by Reuters reveal the complicated relationship between the Komen Foundation and the Catholic church, which simultaneously contributes to the breast cancer charity and receives grants from it. In recent years, Komen has allocated at least $17.6 million of the donations it receives to U.S. Catholic universities, hospitals and charities.

While it was getting contributions, USCCB was using Komen as a proxy in its ground war against Planned Parenthood. Morgan writes:

Church opposition reached dramatic new proportions in 2011, when the 11 bishops who represent Ohio’s 2.6 million Catholics announced a statewide policy banning church and parochial school donations to Komen.

Such pressure, writes Morgan, “helped sway Komen’s leadership to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to current and former Komen officials. The decision, made public in January, and Komen’s reversal only days later, sparked an angry outcry from both sides of an intensifying American debate over abortion.”

Morgan goes on to document the history of the institutional church’s involvement in taking money from Komen while trying to influence it politically.

The earliest signs of discord came in 2005, when South Carolina’s Catholic diocese pulled out of the local Komen fundraiser. It was followed over the next four years by individual dioceses in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Missouri and other states, where bishops either spoke out against Komen or took steps to stem donations to the charity, mainly because of its Planned Parenthood link.

The momentum picked up in 2011 when top Ohio clerics met in Columbus. High on their agenda was the question of whether the state’s nine dioceses should participate in Komen fundraisers.

No Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio receive Komen money. But the bishops decided that diocese funds should no longer benefit the charity, for fear that money sent from local Komen affiliates to the Dallas headquarters could wind up in Planned Parenthood’s coffers or help fund research on stem cells collected from human fetuses, according to church officials.

The Ohio bishops would soon be joined by the North Dakota Catholic Conference, which cautioned its nearly 190,000 parishioners against donating to Komen. The charity’s officials in California also say they received their first request in two decades to meet with Catholic bishops, who expressed concern about Planned Parenthood but took no action.

The Ohio and North Dakota pronouncements nearly doubled the number of dioceses that have questioned Komen’s support for Planned Parenthood or severed financial ties with the charity, bringing the total to at least 23 of the 195 Catholic dioceses in the United States.

Morgan goes on to describe “a larger conservative shift within the American church since New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan became chairman of the Conference in November 2010.”

Under Dolan’s leadership, the conference last year set up a new ad hoc committee on religious liberty to oppose government policies that conflict with church teachings on abortion, contraception and gay marriage.

That move coincided with the rise of social conservatives in Congress and state legislatures during the 2010 elections and has gathered pace during the 2012 presidential campaign.

“It’s an ideal time for them to push both Democrats and Republicans to acquiesce to their demands, because nobody wants to be seen as disrespecting religion,” said Jon O’Brien of the advocacy group, Catholics for Choice, which opposes the Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage and family life.

And then, as Morgan writes, there is “the dilemma.” While blasting Komen for giving money to Planned Parenthood affiliates reaching low-income with few or not alternatives, the Church and its affiliates continued to take large sums of money from Komen. 

Morgan reports:

In Ohio, tens of thousands of dollars in Komen grants have gone to some of the same institutions that bishops there proposed as funding alternatives to Komen.

Georgetown University in Washington has received $15 million in Komen grants. Catholic institutions overall collected $7.4 million from the charity in 2011 alone, while Planned Parenthood’s receipts totaled $684,000 during the same year.

“Some outside observers say the money also raises ethical questions about the bishops’ opposition role,” Morgan writes.

“It is morally inconsistent, and difficult to explain, why you would condemn donations but continue to accept grants. It makes no ethical sense at all,” said Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics.

Some parishioners agree.

“It is blatantly hypocritical,” said Al Mancuso, a 42-year-old Cleveland resident who regularly attends church and volunteers at church functions but opposes the Ohio bishops’ stance on Komen and Planned Parenthood.

Michele Allen, a 40-year-old mother of two from Lyndhurst, Ohio, said: “This happens every election cycle. The church is a little too politicized. This association with the Republicans and all these pro-life issues around the primaries is too connected with politics.”

But Catholic officials, in their quest to push out other health care providers, leave women in large swaths of the country without access to contraception or abortion care, conveniently don’t see it a conflict.

“I don’t see any kind of ethical or moral concern here,” said the Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, an agency that analyzes healthcare and life science issues from the standpoint of church moral tradition.

“The concern is at the front end, when you’re donating money to an entity that’s taking that money and using it in a contradictory way.”

What the Bishops really want is control… complete control over the health care system, forming it to their ideology and turning medicine into a religious endeavor.  Then they can ensure that there are few to no options left for women to control their reproductive lives, decide on the number and timing of the children they have, or terminate an unwanted or life-threatening pregnancy… and they are using our tax dollars and charitable contributions to do it.

News Health Systems

Illinois Bill: Catholic Hospitals Must Inform Patients Where They Can Obtain Denied Care

Nicole Knight Shine

The legislation amends the state Health Care Right of Conscience Act to require religiously affiliated facilities to inform patients in writing about health-care providers "who they reasonably believe" offer procedures that the institutions will not perform.

Religiously affiliated hospitals in Illinois must advise patients where they can find treatments that the institutions won’t offer on religious grounds, under new legislation sitting on the governor’s desk.

The patient information measure, SB 1564, comes at a time when almost about 30 percent of hospital beds in the state—and one in six in the nation—are in Catholic institutions that bar certain reproductive health and end-of-life treatments, according to recent figures from the advocacy group MergerWatch.

The legislation amends the state Health Care Right of Conscience Act to require religiously affiliated facilities to inform patients in writing about health-care providers “who they reasonably believe” offer procedures that the institutions will not perform, or to refer or transfer patients to those alternate providers. Hospitals must do this in response to patient requests for such procedures. The legislation cleared the state house on a 61-54 vote and the senate on a 34-19 vote. Democrats control both chambers.

The office of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) did not respond to request for comment on whether he would sign the bill.

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.

Even so, growing concerns over facilities that deny treatment that patients want—and that doctors advise—has recently prompted lawmakers in Illinois, Michigan, and Washington state to advance patient information measures.

A Michigan lawsuit now on appeal alleges a Catholic facility caused unnecessary trauma by denying a patient treatment. In 2010, then-18-weeks pregnant Tamesha Means arrived at a Catholic hospital, Mercy Health Partners in Muskegon, Michigan, bleeding and miscarrying. On two occasions, the hospital turned away Means, as Rewire reported. It wasn’t until Means started delivering on her third hospital visit that she received treatment.

The Illinois legislation represents a compromise among the Illinois Catholic Health Association, the Illinois State Medical Society, and the Illinois affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), representatives from the groups told Rewire.

Lorie Chaiten, director of the ACLU of Illinois’ Reproductive Rights Project, said in an online statement that the legislation “protects patients when health care providers exercise religious refusals.”

Research indicates that patients aren’t always aware that religiously affiliated facilities don’t provide a full spectrum of reproductive health services, according to a 2014 paper published in Contraception.

Patrick Cacchione, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Health Association, said the organization, which represents the state’s 43 Catholic hospitals, opposed an early version of the bill requiring religious health-care facilities to give patients a written list of known medical providers that perform the treatments that the religious institutions oppose.

Cacchione said such a direct referral would have made Catholic hospitals “complicit.”

“We will provide all the information you need, but we will not make a direct referral,” he told Rewire in a phone interview Monday. The new version of the legislation does not require hospitals to confirm that providers perform the treatments; the facilities must only have a “reasonable belief” that they do.

He said Illinois hospitals are already doing what the legislation now requires.

Approximately one in five doctors surveyed at religiously affiliated institutions “had experienced conflict with the institution over religiously based patient care policies,” according to the 2010 paper, “Religious Hospitals and Primary Care Physicians: Conflicts Over Policies for Patient Care,” published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

In an emailed statement, Dr. Thomas M. Anderson, a Chicago radiologist and president of the Illinois State Medical Society, told Rewire, “The Society strongly believes physicians should be able to exercise their right of conscience and changes made to SB 1564 protect that right.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Ted Cruz Would Make a Terrible, No Good Supreme Court Justice

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Whoever is floating the idea of a Supreme Court Justice Ted Cruz really needs to stop.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

In “Dear God, who the hell asked you and why?” news, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) isn’t interested in becoming a Supreme Court justice. You can breathe a sigh of relief now.

Pretty sure we can lay to rest any notion that David Daleiden—he of the highly edited, widely debunked videos falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donation—is a citizen journalist. Because he isn’t. He really, really isn’t, as the Columbia Journalism Review points out.

If Scalia were alive, this death row inmate probably would not be.

Is “ban the box” the next big federal agency move by the Obama administration?

This story is just so tragic; unfortunately, similar stories are growing more common as religious institutions creep further into delivering social services. After entering a faith-based mental health facility, a young man attempted suicide after his mood stabilizers were replaced with Bible study and nutritional supplements.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging a Mississippi law that allows public officials and businesses to refuse to serve gay and transgender individuals.

Meanwhile, Alabama continues to be a hot mess of conservative political scandals.

group of constitutional law scholars is urging the administration to rescind a Bush-era memo they argue only encourages conservatives to bring more so-called religious freedom lawsuits—like the cases at issue in Zubik v. Burwell, for instance—in the future.

No, seriously, there are more lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act in the pipeline.

Conservative-led states cannot stop trying to defund Planned Parenthood reproductive health-care facilities. Ohio is the latest to try, which means another lawsuit. Of course.

Patricia Miller asks with whom Catholic bishops would ally in a Trump administration.

At least Susan B. Anthony List can now stop pretending its core mission was electing women.

Attorneys representing the State of Arkansas really want to cut off access to medication abortion for residents in their state.
There is nothing good about non-physician lawmakers passing anti-choice restrictions that are so muddled doctors are confounded as to how to comply with them.

Here’s the judicial fund questionnaire for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. “Bland as mayonnaise” comes to mind.

Rewire is going to talk more about this ruling in light of the Angel Dillard trial, but c’mon. A personal letter to an abortion provider suggesting she’ll get car bombed isn’t a threat, but playing NWA to cops is?