Commentary Religion

De-fund “Immoral Institutions?” Let’s Start with the Archdiocese

Lon Newman

Let us call upon Cardinal Dolan, the USCCB, and their political allies to practice what they preach. Eliminating public funds and taxpayer support for organizations criminally convicted of protecting child predators will prove they are standing on principle.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who has problems of his own in Milwaukee, is leading a procession of lawsuits opposing a national requirement of health insurance companies to cover contraceptives.  The cardinal called it a “totalitarian incursion against religious liberty.” His principle argument, is that religious institutions should not “… be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization,” because it “…  violates their religious beliefs.”

On that principle, legislators across the country are working to deny state and federal funding to organizations that provide contraceptive services. These lawmakers and their political allies echo the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) reasoning that it is unjust to force taxpayers, employers, or members of the Church to support institutions or their affiliates which are committing acts they decry as “intrinsically evil.”

The morality of contraception has been debated for generations, but what if we apply Cardinal Dolan’s reasoning where the question of morality and legality is indisputable?

Recent polling shows that 80 percent of American Catholics find contraception morally acceptable and almost all Catholic women who have had sex have used a method forbidden by the Church.

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On the other hand, protecting sexual predators is neither moral nor legal. At the same time the anti-contraception lawsuits were filed, a Wisconsin court ruled that the Green Bay Archdiocese illegally concealed sexual assaults of children and put other children at risk. If it is the bishops’ principle to stop federal and state funding for institutions and affiliates that have acted immorally, we can begin where there is no question of legality or morality. Let us deny funding to institutions, like the Green Bay Archdiocese, that have been convicted of conspiring to protect child sexual predators.

The bishops have tried and failed to make a credible cost or health argument against contraception even among their parishioners. Family planning saves taxpayer dollars and insurance premium increases for contraceptive coverage would be nominal.  Failing at persuasion, they turn to federal courts. They demand a series of exemptions for employers and institutions in the name of religious freedom:

The bishops invoke the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in their insistence on being awarded federal grant funds without anti-discrimination protections for women, sexual assault victims, and homosexuals. The demands reveal that Dolan’s defense of civil rights begins and ends with imposition of his narrow institutional authoritarianism even on employees or students or women who disagree. This profoundly contradicts the individual liberty protections guaranteed by our Bill of Rights.

The bishops’ central argument is that we must enforce a standard of de-funding institutions engaged in actions they disapprove. Let us call upon Cardinal Dolan, the USCCB, and their political allies to practice what they preach. Eliminating public funds and taxpayer support for organizations criminally convicted of protecting child predators will prove they are standing on principle.

News Abortion

Why You Won’t Hear About Abortion From Arizona’s Largest OB-GYN Network

Nicole Knight Shine

MomDoc imposes a virtual gag order on employees when it comes to abortion care, as a half-dozen former OB-GYNs, nurse practitioners, and support staff told Rewire in a series of interviews.

The voice on the other end of the phone is friendly, but unhelpful, when a Rewire reporter says she’s six weeks pregnant and would like an abortion.

“We don’t provide that,” Marie says.

Marie makes appointments for MomDoc, Arizona’s largest women’s health network. MomDoc is owned and run by Mormons who ascribe to a belief that opposes abortion in nearly all cases.

“Can you tell me where I can get an abortion?” the reporter asks.

Marie says she can’t. “I’m sorry,” she adds.

MomDoc imposes a virtual gag order on employees when it comes to abortion care, as a half-dozen former OB-GYNs, nurse practitioners, and support staff told Rewire in a series of recent interviews by phone and email. What they described affords a window into the workings of a private medical practice, one that opposes abortion care and attempts to suppress abortion access on religious grounds.

What MomDoc represents is a real-life test case pitting the power of religious beliefs against the provision of basic health information about a procedure that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 30 percent of all U.S. women will have before age 45.

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It’s good business to oppose abortion in the sprawling Phoenix basin, home to the largest concentration of Mormons outside of Utah, according to the most recent U.S. Religion Census.

MomDoc CEO Nick Goodman didn’t respond to repeated requests for interviews and comment.

Started in 1976 by two Mormon OB-GYNs, MomDoc has 21 offices that operate under various names, such as Goodman & Partridge, MomDoc Midwives, MomDoc Women for Women, and Mi Doctora. MomDoc health-care centers offer reproductive services like birth control, and accept Medicaid patients, which means MomDoc is paid with federal dollars.

That Arizona’s largest OB-GYN practice opposes abortion care disturbs pro-choice advocates in a state where reproductive health access is constricted by forced waiting periods, parental consent requirements, and state-directed counseling intended to discourage patients.

Ethical guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a professional organization of 57,000 members, advise physicians who object to abortion on religious grounds to notify patients beforehand and to refer them to abortion providers.

“You need to give your patients all the options so they can make their own choice,” Julie Kwatra, legislative chair of the Arizona chapter of ACOG, told Rewire in a phone interview. “Not telling a patient information is in opposition to every rule of medicine.”

In 2012, Arizona’s right-leaning legislature instituted a religious privilege law that shields health-care professionals who hold religious beliefs from losing licensure.

These protections, critics argue, further stigmatize a legal medical procedure that’s already under attack in GOP-held legislatures nationwide.

MomDoc’s website and advertisements make no mention of its faith-based opposition to abortion rights, pro-choice advocates note.

“Drive down the freeway and every other billboard will be a MomDoc billboard on how they provide midwife care and how they really care about the family,” Kat Sabine, executive director of NARAL Arizona, said in a phone interview with Rewire. “To me it’s almost like locking down and cordoning off abortion care even more than it is in the community.”

By asking its employees to refrain from discussing abortion care, MomDoc runs counter to prevailing professional health-care norms to inform and refer patients, explained Lori Freedman, author of Willing and Unable, a book about doctors’ constraints on abortion.

“I think there’s an ethical problem there—this is information patients would want,” Freedman said a phone interview with Rewire.

It’s impossible to know how many religiously run practices across the country try to silence employees when it comes to abortion care. The executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the group has not polled its 2,500 members on whether they refer patients to abortion providers, but said the organization’s overall position is “abortion hurts women.”

A recent attempt to muzzle a Washington, D.C., OB-GYN grabbed national headlines after her employer told her not to “put a Kmart blue-light special on the fact that we provide abortions.” Although the facility where the provider works doesn’t restrict access to abortion care, the case and MomDoc’s policy are both rooted in a federal measure called the Church Amendment.

Adopted in 1973 shortly after the landmark Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, the Church Amendment offers protections for health-care workers at federally funded institutions who object to participating in abortions for moral or religious reasons. Attorneys for a Washington OB-GYN are arguing in a complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights that those protections also extend to doctors who wish to speak up in favor of abortion.

MomDoc’s abortion taboo pervades its hiring and employment practices, former employees told Rewire. They asked Rewire not to reveal their names, fearing employment reprisals. Local OB-GYNs familiar with MomDoc, or whose colleagues had interviewed with the practice or work there, helped to corroborate these accounts.

“They brought it up at the [job] interview,” said an OB-GYN who worked for nearly five years in MomDoc clinics in the Arizona towns of Gilbert and Queen Creek. “They said they don’t do abortions, don’t talk about it, don’t refer [patients].”

The OB-GYN and others felt the prohibition was a condition of employment, saying that those who opposed MomDoc’s staunch anti-choice stance “got screened out.”

Once hired, the former OB-GYN said of abortion, “I talked about it, I know other doctors talked about it.”

Indeed, the former MomDoc OB-GYN said of discussing abortion care with patients: “I would always start off telling the patient, ‘I’m not supposed to talk about this, but I will.’” 

The former OB-GYN told Rewire that she’d caution patients to stay mum, and not tell her employer.

“Kind of saying, if you tell them I did [discuss abortion], I’m going to deny it,” the former OB-GYN explained, adding that discussing abortion wasn’t something she felt would lead to her termination.

The day-to-day reality of MomDoc’s abortion taboo seemed to depend on the employee’s position. Support staff described to Rewire how supervisors and team leads imposed an ongoing gag order on abortion.

“I was told in my training that abortion was not something we did, it was not something we promoted, it was not something we referred [patients to],” said an employee who worked in surgery and referrals from 2011 to 2012.

“They told us every conversation was recorded,” said a 72-year-old former appointment setter who worked for six years in MomDoc’s corporate office in Chandler, where she was told not to provide abortion information to callers. She said she’d occasionally “sneak in” a referral to an abortion provider.

“I worked in the medical field for 35 years, and I have never been told I can’t discuss a procedure,” the former scheduler said.

Asked how the policy was enforced, a former OB-GYN said, “I don’t remember anything being in my contract about abortions; it was more of a verbal thing.”

At times, the application of the anti-choice policy seemed uneven. A former nurse practitioner, who worked in Goodman & Partridge and MomDoc facilities from 2013 to 2014, said she was warned in a job interview not to talk about Plan B, emergency contraception that helps prevent pregnancy, rather than abortion.

“I was never told that directly that I couldn’t refer patients to abortion providers,” she recalled in a phone interview. “I had patients that did choose abortion, and I referred them.”

In the end, what the former employees described perhaps exposes the practical limits of imposing a religious gag order on a legal health-care procedure on staff who may not share their employer’s beliefs. Those in a position to do so may merely pay lip service to the prohibition.

“Obviously, when you have a crying teenager in front of you,” a former MomDoc OB-GYN said, “you’re going to help them, you’re going to refer them.”

Commentary Politics

Trial Balloons and Hot Air: Don’t Let Biden and Schumer Fool You on ‘Mainstream’ SCOTUS Nominees

Jodi Jacobson

Both Schumer and Biden seem to agree that what we need to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a "mainstream" nominee for the Court. I call foul.

Read more of our articles on Justice Antonin Scalia’s potential successor here.

Over the last two days, both Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Vice President Joe Biden have weighed in on the kind of nominee they think President Obama should recommend to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

And as things go, it is no accident that these two men, leaders in the Democratic Party with direct access to the president, said basically the same thing within a couple of days of each other. They are either floating trial balloons—testing public reaction—for the White House or trying to influence the president’s decision. Either way, they are using their positions and their access to the media as a way of sending a message.

And either way, I call foul.

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Both Schumer and Biden seem to agree that what we need now is a “mainstream” nominee for the Court.

In an interview on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos last Sunday, Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he expects President Obama to nominate a “mainstream” justice, citing the potential to win support of “mainstream Republicans.”

“I think the president, past is prologue, will nominate someone who is mainstream,” Schumer stated. As the New York Times reported:

“When you go right off the bat and say, I don’t care who he nominates, I am going to oppose him — that’s not going to fly,” he said, criticizing the majority leader Mitch McConnell for pledging to block any nominee. “A lot of the mainstream Republicans are going to say, I may not follow this.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden echoed Schumer’s statement in an interview aboard Air Force Two:

“This is a potential gigantic game changer” for the philosophical makeup of the court, Biden said in an interview with The Washington Post and Politico. “And my advice is, the only way we get someone on the court, now or even later, is to do what we’ve done in the past…we have to pick somebody, as the president will, who is intellectually competent, is a person of high moral character, is a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind, and is a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda.

These comments are so full of potentially meaningless and yet potentially profound code and buzzwords, I don’t know where to start.

First of all, what exactly these days is a “mainstream Republican” and where do they live? Is Biden referring to the senators who joined a party-line vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act? Is he talking about the “moderate” GOP party-line vote to impose a 20-week abortion ban? Which of the Republicans that voted against Obama’s nominees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are the moderate ones? Which of the ones that have held up judicial nominees for over two years are “mainstream”? How is opposing all attempts by the White House and Democrats to pass paid family leave a “mainstream” position, especially in light of the fact that this policy is supported by a wide majority of Americans? Are the mainstream the ones that continue to block the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Second, does Vice President Biden mean to suggest that a justice who perhaps believes that women have rights to their own bodies cannot be “intellectually competent … a person of high moral character … a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind … a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda”? Is promoting public health an agenda? Are basic human rights a specific political agenda?

Is Biden suggesting, no matter how subtly and in meaningless Beltway-speak, that a jurist who pays heed to overwhelming medical and public health evidence on the role that both contraception and abortion play in improving public health, women’s health, and infant and child health is not “mainstream” and otherwise has an agenda?

Does a jurist with roots in a specific community and with an understanding of the law’s differential impact on people of different races, classes, and privileges come with an agenda?

Given that the white population will soon be the minority, who is “mainstream,” the white guy or the person of color?

Let’s face facts: What is considered “mainstream” for both of these men is not necessarily based on the needs and priorities of the average American. Schumer is only “mainstream” in that he is a white male senator in a legislative body that is dominated by white male senators (the Senate is 80 percent male and 94 percent white) and in that he takes huge amounts of funding from Wall Street. “Mainstream” for Schumer might well be translated to mean someone who won’t seek to curb the influence of big money in politics.

Likewise, Joe Biden is only “mainstream” on many issues insofar as they can be comfortably navigated within the Old Boys Clubs of which he is a longstanding member, one of which is the Senate and the other of which is the group of Catholic Democrats that remain beholden at some level to the most-conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was Biden, who as a Catholic is highly ambivalent about reproductive health care, played leading roles in the Obama administration’s decisions on the Stupak Amendment in the ACA, and in the “contraceptive accommodations” made to religious groups, among many other things.

The carve-outs never satisfied the rabidly right-wing bishops and led to continuing lawsuits and ever greater demands of exemptions. This is not a “mainstream” position, especially if you consider that 98 percent of Catholic women (and 99 percent of all women) who have ever had sex have used modern forms of birth control. The only mainstream position on birth control and abortion is the one that recognizes both the public health and social science evidence, the rights of women as people, and the fact that an overwhelming majority of women use birth control and one third of women in the United States have abortions. There is nothing mainstream about white, religious men ignoring that fact or pretending that they know better.

The only reason they suggest that someone who does not have any record of supporting evidence or rights might (and it’s a highly questionable assumption) get approved by the GOP-led Senate is because the Republicans themselves are not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, and are only interested in someone with an agenda to protect their interests.

In my definition, someone who, as Biden suggests, “is intellectually competent, is a person of high moral character, is a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind, and is a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda,” is a person who recognizes that human rights, evidence, and justice should be of central concern to the Supreme Court. When I hear Biden use these words, I hear echoes of his 2007 statement that Barack Obama was the first “mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” It sounds to me that “mainstream” is someone comfortable to the white men in power.

The word “mainstream” is now meaningless. The media won’t challenge it because most of the reporters are stuck in a white male corporate bubble and spend their time at parties at the vice president’s residence. You can’t depend on them to challenge the very notion of what it means.

When you hear a white male senator or a white male vice president—both of whom have vested interests in agendas that do not represent either the interests of the greater number of people in this country, and/or also ignore solid scientific evidence—use terms like “mainstream,” know one thing: They are not swimming in the same stream as the rest of us.