News Religion

ELECTION 2012: USCCB Faces Criticism from Parishoners, Other Bishops for Partisanship

Robin Marty

Catholic bishops went all in this election season. Will they learn anything from their defeat?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spent more time and political capital than ever before in trying to influence the 2012 elections. Framing the Democratic party’s platform as an “assault on religious freedom,” letters from local bishops were read in churches and inserted in weekly bulletins, while Catholic voter guides and even voter registration forms were left on tables or in pews across the country.

None specifically told a parishioner to vote for a particular candidate by name, of course. But each spoke of the dangers of putting your immortal soul in danger by casting a vote for a candidate who supported abortion rights, end of life decisions, or any deviation from a traditional man and woman marriage.

Megan Smith, domestic program associate for Catholics for Choice was unsurprised by the failure of the USCCB to get their agenda accepted and passed by their congregations.

“It didn’t matter how much the bishops spent,” Smith said via press release. “All of these state contests have proved what polling data already showed us—Catholics overwhelmingly leave the hierarchy’s prepackaged voting guides behind when they enter the voting booth.”

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In the wake of large electoral losses, parishioners are speaking out to reject the bishops’ overstepping in political matters, too. One letter writer in Peoria, responding to overtly partisan electioneering by one Illinois Bishop.

I share no candidate’s stand on all issues, nor do I share Bishop Jenky’s obvious partisanship. My Catholic Democrat vote goes to those candidates who I believe most likely to provide our country with continued security and economic growth for all, giving proper consideration for our poor, our elderly, our chronically ill, our uninsured and overburdened, hardworking people. Many of these support our Catholic faith spiritually and financially and should not be bullied/coerced by Bishop Jenky’s partisan stance.

The Catholic church spent hundreds of thousands of dollars this cycle, especially when it came to direct campaigning against ballot initiatives such as marriage rights or abortion limits. Perhaps now those financial resources can go back to carrying for the needy instead, and the bishops can stay out of the political arena? Even their own members implore them to consider it. One Jesuit Father encourages as much, writing in the National Catholic Reporter:

[W]here do the bishops go from here? Some of the bishops will blame Catholic pro-choice politicians and urge excluding them from Communion. The nuns, priests and theologians who urged voters to consider a wide range of justice issues will also be blamed. These bishops will see no need for a change in political strategy. “The bishops need to be tougher; dissidents need to be punished; full speed ahead!”

Many bishops, who stayed quiet during the election, are tired of the notoriety that the political bishops invite.  They prefer that their parishes be free of partisan politics. But since the media has trouble covering silence, the political bishops get all the ink and airtime. This makes it look like these bishops are speaking for all the bishops.

Hopefully, behind closed doors, some bishops will acknowledge that the current strategy is not working and ask, “Is there a better way? Is there a plan B?” Here I am writing as a political scientist, not as a priest or theologian. I am not challenging church teaching; I am questioning political strategy.

I do not claim to have an infallible strategy for the bishops, but after such a momentous defeat, it is time for the bishops to reexamine their political strategy. The current strategy is not working and there is no indication that it will work any better in the future.

The parishioners have spoken. Will the bishops listen?

Analysis Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats Employ ‘Dangerous,’ Contradictory Strategies

Ally Boguhn & Christine Grimaldi

Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.

The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.

DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.

Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishing its policy goals.

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Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue. When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”

Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.

“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.

Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”

“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.

While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”

Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.

Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”

Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.

Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.

Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”

Despite what Jackson described as a commitment to the constitutionality of her laws, the Supreme Court in March blocked admitting privileges from taking effect in Louisiana. Louisiana’s law is also nearly identical to the Texas version that the Court struck down in June’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.

Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”

She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.

“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”

The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.

Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active” chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.

Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.

As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.

Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.

Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.

Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”

Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.

“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.

She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.

Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.

“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.

Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”

That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.

“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”

Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.

“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”

To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”

“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”

“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Kaine Calls for Congress to End Recess to Combat Zika

Ally Boguhn

Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump punted when asked about his own plan to combat Zika if he was in office today.

This week on the campaign trail, both Democrats and Republicans at the top of the ticket weighed in on combatting Zika, and the Donald Trump campaign released a list of economic advisors that failed to include a single woman.

Kaine Calls for Congress to End Recess to Combat Zika

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, said that “Congress should not be in recess when Zika is advancing,” during a speech in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Tuesday.

The Virginia senator reportedly went on to urge Congress to “pass a $1.1 billion bill to combat Zika without what he called the ‘poison pill’ of anti-abortion language added by House Republicans,” according to the Orlando Sentinel.

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Kaine had previously voiced support for ensuring that Zika funding could go to Planned Parenthood—something that the version of the Zika bill blocked by Democrats would have prevented. He was one of more than 40 Senate Democrats to add his name to a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) this week urging “both the Senate and the House back into session to pass a real and serious response to the burgeoning Zika crisis.”

Republicans criticized Kaine for not voting through that bill, accusing him of playing politics with the vote. “With new cases of the Zika virus being reported in Florida every day it is becoming clear that with his party-line vote to block crucial Zika funding Tim Kaine put his loyalty to the Democrat Party over the health of Sunshine State residents,” said Republican National Committee spokesperson Natalie Strom in a statement to the Miami Herald. “He owes the hardworking people of Florida an explanation for his playing politics at their expense.”

Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Trump punted when asked by West Palm Beach’s CBS 12 about what his own plan to combat Zika would be if he was in office today.

“You have a great governor who’s doing a fantastic job, Rick Scott, on the Zika,” said Trump. “And it’s a problem. It’s a big problem. But I watch and I see. And I see what they’re doing with the spraying and everything else.” 

“And I think he’s doing a fantastic job, and he’s letting everyone know exactly what the problem is and how to get rid of it. He’s going to have it under control, he probably already does,” added Trump.

When the reporter pressed Trump to discuss whether a special session should be held by Congress to review a bill to help combat Zika, Trump again said he would leave it up to the Florida governor. “I would say that it’s up to Rick Scott. It depends on what he’s looking to do because he really seems to have it under control in Florida,” said Trump.

No Women Made Trump’s List of Economic Advisors

Trump’s campaign released a list of economic advisors Friday who had one noticeable trait in common: they were all men.

“I am pleased that we have such a formidable group of experienced and talented individuals that will work with me to implement real solutions for the economic issues facing our country,” said Trump in a press release announcing the list. “I am going to be the greatest jobs President our country has ever seen. We will do more for the hardworking people of our country and Make America Great Again.” 

According to the release, “Additional members of the Advisory Council will be added at later dates.” Many in the media have noted that in addition to the lack of women on the council, there are also very few actual economists.

The gender disparity in Trump’s current list of economic advisors mirrors a similar lack of representation of women discussing the topic in the media. According to a recent study conducted by media watchdog Media Matters for America, in the second quarter of 2016 women appeared as guests in less than 25 percent of analyzed evening and prime-time television discussions focused on the economy.

Though there is a gender gap in economics, 32.9 percent of those earning doctorates in the field are women, according to a 2014 report from the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession. 

As the Washington Post’s Jim Tankersley and Jose A. DelReal reported, in contrast, Clinton’s “economic advisers include several longtime Democratic policy hands … and several women, including Ann O’Leary, Maya Harris, Neera Tanden, Heather Boushey and Laura D’Andrea Tyson.”

The lack of women on Trump’s list, however, isn’t surprising given that the Republican nominee was also unable to name a single woman he would consider appointing to his cabinet if elected, other than his daughter, when asked about it this week.

“Well, we have so many different ones to choose,” said Trump when asked which women he would name to his cabinet. “I can tell you everybody would say, ‘Put Ivanka in, put Ivanka in,’ you know that, right? She’s very popular, she’s done very well.”

“But there really are so many that are really talented people,” he continued without offering any serious candidates.

What Else We’re Reading

Though both House Speaker Ryan and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have both already offered Trump their endorsements, the Republican nominee said that he is “not quite there yet” on endorsing them.  

During a CNN town hall event on Tuesday, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson admitted that his head has “been in the sand” when it comes to law enforcement “discriminating” against people of color.

Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti reported that Kaine “is expected to play a major behind-the-scenes role on the money circuit, in addition to his public campaigning.”

Roll Call’s Simone Pathé asked whether Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ (R-TN) “abortion hypocrisy” will haunt his primary race.

The State of Texas has agreed to modify its voter identification law ahead of the November election.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler fact-checkedDonald Trump’s revisionist history of mocking a disabled reporter.”

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