Apr 19

And that was that.

I have devoted radio show hours to this topic regularly over the years, more so in the past couple of years and especially these past months. Always feeling, however, that it’s not enough, considering what’s going on in the world of persecution, massacre and genocide of Christians and other religious minorities, especially by ISIS. The terrorist group has also targeted other Muslims. Yet ‘the international community’ seemed not to be doing anything of consequence to stop it.

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has been a somewhat regular guest on the program and we’ve focused mainly on the latest update on the Genocide Resolution bill he sponsored. Over the months, he reported the bi-partisan bill was gaining greater support but still needed more. Finally, in mid-March, the House unanimously passed it, 393-0.

In a sign of overwhelming bipartisan unity, the resolution, H. Con. Res. 75, names and decries the ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities as “genocide.” By law, the State Department must make a genocide determination by March 17.

“It is my sincere hope that this trans-partisan resolution will further compel the State Department to join the building international consensus in calling the horrific ISIS violence against Christians, Yezidis, and others by its proper name: ‘genocide,’” Fortenberry said.

A rapidly expanding international coalition has recognized that ISIS is committing genocide. The European Parliament, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, Pope Francis, and presidential candidates in both parties, among many others, are standing in solidarity to name and decry this genocide.

“At a time of deep political division in our nation,” Fortenberry continued, “the House has spoken with one voice to properly recognize and condemn this genocide—a threat to civilization itself. The genocide resolution elevates international consciousness and confronts the scandal of silence and indifference about ISIS’ targeted and systematic destruction of these endangered communities. A bipartisan and ecumenical alliance has formed to confront ISIS’ barbaric onslaught.”

The State Department initially said Secretary Kerry needed more time to study the situation before making any designation, although the Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians presented a preponderance of evidence in their joint report, leading to one conclusion. The KofC launched an ad and a campaign to spread awareness about the genocide and engage people, citizens, organizations and members of government, in working to stop it.

Surprising nearly everyone (and likely some in the administration), Secretary Kerry came out a day later and publicly declared that what’s happening in the Middle East is, indeed, genocide.

“I sincerely hope that the genocide designation will raise international consciousness, end the scandal of silence, and create the preconditions for the protection and reintegration of these ancient faith communities into their ancestral homelands. Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslim minorities, and others, including Sunni Muslim communities who have suffered grievous harm, remain an essential part of the Middle East’s rich tapestry of religious and ethnic diversity. They now have new cause for hope.

Or so it seemed in the moment. Scholar George Weigel puts framework around the picture.

The new thing, and the welcome thing, in Secretary Kerry’s statement was the mention of Christians as targets of genocide.

That statement would not have happened without the relentless, persistent work of human rights campaigner Nina Shea, who has lobbied for redress for persecuted Christians in the Middle East with a tenacity that deserves the highest respect. It wouldn’t have happened without the leadership of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, who introduced the House resolution that passed on March 14 while Father (Douglas) Bazi (persecuted victim of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Erbil) looked on from the House gallery. And the Kerry statement wouldn’t have happened without the prod of a report, “Genocide against Christians in the Middle East,” prepared by the Knights of Columbus and the organization “In Defense of Christians:” a remarkably detailed account of anti-Christian persecution, destruction, and slaughter that was addressed to the Secretary of State and contained a legal brief arguing that the “G-word” should be invoked and the matter referred to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and the Security Council of the United Nations.

Father Bazi was aware that merely saying the “G-word” would change nothing on the ground for his people. But he welcomed the congressional resolution and the administration’s action because it called this ongoing atrocity by its proper name and would thus give his people hope that someone knew, and someone cared.

At minimum, passing the resolution and making the declaration would do that. But for crying out loud, it had to have carried some more weight in terms of aid, relief, action of some sort, one could reasonably expect.

One would have been heartbroken to have heard Nina Shea respond to that question on my radio program Monday that no, it had not changed anything. In fact, she said, on his visit two weeks ago to Baghdad, Sec. Kerry did not bring it up.

Why the silence? What difference, after all, did it make to declare that genocide was happening to populations of people at this time, this very moment?

…according to George J. Marlin, chairman of Aid to the Church in Need, there’s a sense that the declaration was the last the world will hear about it.

“It was like, ‘Okay, we’re done for the day. Let’s move on,’” Marlin said at a talk this week. “The question is what happens next.

“The Christian world, the Catholics in the United States, the bishops, have to bang the pots and pans loudly enough and say, ‘We are outraged by this. What is the West going to do?’” Marlin said…

“The first thing is humanitarian aid, which is very important, and to recognize that Christians are not going into the international camps,” he said, referring to a statement he made in his talk, that Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria fear the camps because of potential harassment from Islamic radicals in those camps.

Nina Shea told me on radio Monday that there’s been a “reckless disregard” for Christians in the UN refugee camps, who have been camping out near churches still remaining, for shelter against the ongoing persecution even in those camps.

This is unacceptable. If the government won’t act, the people who put them in office have to call them out on this humanitarian crisis. And meanwhile, do something else. Contact IDF, KofC, CNEWA, Aid to the Church in Need, Restore Ninevah Now, and Iraqi Christian Relief Council, among others, and let those in the path of genocide know help is on the way.

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Apr 17

Cost-benefit ratio, all things considered.

Politics being at least as much about perceptions as reality, the calculated risk Sanders took by leaving the campaign trail just ahead of the New York primary for a whirlwind trip to Rome for a Vatican conference on economy and social justice probably paid off in the media coverage and the sense of gravitas it may have given the Democratic Socialist who has admired Pope Francis for years and quoted Catholic Social Teaching for decades.

Politico reports

his appearance at a Vatican conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of an encyclical by Pope John Paul II to mark the end of the Cold War signaled his arrival as a globally respected voice on inequality and economic injustice, providing him with a stature that he couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of his long-shot presidential campaign. His message in the Eternal City was essentially the same stump speech Sanders delivers back home, only now it warrants a crush of foreign media attention, and puts the small-state senator in company with a pontiff he’s admired from afar for several years.

Saying it warranted a crush of foreign media attention creates that perception, merited or unmerited, as well as the much larger idea that Sanders is in the same league as Pope Francis. Then there’s this line:

In Rome, standing beside adviser Jeffrey Sachs — who helped arrange the trip — Sanders told reporters his interest in the pope’s politics is entwined with his policy thinking…

Popes don’t  have or ‘do’ politics. Their words, teachings and writings are cited by politicians though, and always selectively. The Politico piece notes the Vatican “is still starkly at odds with many Democrats”, but played up Sanders’ citations of Francis in campaign speeches.

The Pope was on his way to Greece and reportedly, there would be no meeting with Sanders and other participants of this gathering hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s encyclical, Centesimus Annus, a gathering that included Bolivian President Evo Morales, another Democratic Socialist. But somehow, Sanders’ and Francis’ paths crossed.

The BBC reports the pope strongly discouraged anyone from reading politics into the encounter.

Pope Francis says a brief meeting with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders just “good manners” and not political interference.

They met early in the lobby of the Pope’s residence before he left to meet migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos.

“If anyone thinks that greeting someone is getting involved in politics, I recommend that he look for a psychiatrist,” Pope Francis added.

If anyone reading that reporting knows how unlikely it would have been that it was a chance encounter, it’s clear that someone, somehow arranged it. The fact that Sen. and Mrs. Sanders were staying at the Casa Santa Marta inside the Vatican walls was itself, interesting. As the BBC notes, it’s “the same guest house where the Pope lives.”He had been in the the Vatican to attend a conference on economy and social justice and stayed at the same guest house where the Pope lives.

For his part Mr Sanders said it was an “honour” to meet him.

“I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history,” he told Associated Press news agency.

“I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed,” Mr Sanders added.

Scholars at the Acton Institute suggest that, with Sen. Sanders’ interest in papal teachings on social justice, he should learn some lessons from Vatican documents and some papal teachings he cites.

At a very superficial first glance, and as Sanders himself has claimed, the Catholic Church would seem to support the candidate’s passionate quest for greater income equality and social harmony. Yet even his own supporters are blissfully unaware of what socialism is, and the nefarious means, as defined by the Italian theorist Antonio Grasmci, needed to achieve such objectives: the negation of private property, the traditional family and organized religion, especially Christianity. While socialists rarely mention these obstacles anymore, their overcoming remains necessary to achieve the socialist vision of a completely egalitarian society.

But the whole trip was rushed, as the Politico piece points out.

Everything about the trip was a hurried affair, from the questions raised about who exactly invited him to the finishing touches he put on the speech during his dead-of-night charter flight to Rome from New York.

Very little got reported about that. And only slightly more on what his rival, Hillary Clinton, was doing while Sanders was on his Vatican trip.

Just when we think this campaign season can’t get curiouser.

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Apr 03

But it put some important questions into the arena of public debate.

No matter how to whatever degree Donald Trump’s campaign has tried or managed to change the wording and intent of his response to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about punishing women who have abortion if it were to become illegal, the correction will not catch up with the original statement. Matthews set up a ‘gotcha’ trap and Trump walked right into it. The news cycles ever since have fed on the resulting sound bites, and will continue to for months now that the hot button candidate has stumbled on the hot button issue.

So let’s clarify, and set the record straight, apart from whatever Donald Trump or any other political candidate, politician, or activist might say.

This came up as an abortion activist ploy in 2007, which I wrote about in a now defunct publication, as soon as it came out that pro-lifers were being ambushed with a variation on Matthews’ question. It was a new tactic to silence them, and at first, it seemed to work (and history has seemingly repeated itself in this political moment).

Here’s what I wrote then:

The question is simple and blunt: “If abortion is criminalized, what should the penalty be for a woman who has one?” It’s amazing the abortion movement has taken more than three decades to come up with it, but even more dumbfounding that they see it as the “eureka!” moment, the great trump card that will, they believe, stop pro-lifers in their tracks.

This is their new strategy?

“Gotcha!”

(Nine years ago, I could never have imagined the pun in that line “the great trump card” the abortion movement was playing.)

Continuing:

Now, they have begun to ambush pro-life people outside abortion clinics with a camera, drop the big question about making women criminals, and post the video online.

Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen hardly contained her enthusiasm over this new strategy in her piece titled “How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?” (Newsweek, August 6, 2007). It starts with the description of a YouTube “mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic” in Illinois. “The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations”.

Quindlen relishes this story. Especially reporting these responses by pro-lifers: “I’ve never really thought about it”. “I don’t have an answer for that”. “I don’t know”. “Just pray for them”.

End of Newsweek snip, at which point I say:

This is unacceptable. Her cynicism? [No.] That’s the level of discourse we get in the media these days. The ambush tactic? [No.] That’s the type of attack we can expect in the abortion battle at this point. But Quindlen’s report on the inability of committed pro-lifers to answer the big questions that still confuse this culture is totally beyond the pale. Because the debate has shifted dramatically in recent years, especially since South Dakota [passed an abortion ban], the pro-life movement owns the argument. There is not one question they should fear, and not one answer the abortion movement can honestly claim as validation for what they do.

But this isn’t about honesty. It’s about talking points and spin control. Now they’re spinning this myth that pro-lifers want to criminalize abortion, and make women criminals for getting one illegally.

Quindlen declared it triumphantly: “A new public-policy group called the National Institute for Reproductive Health wants to take this contradiction and make it the centerpiece of a national conversation, along with a slogan that stops people in their tracks: how much time should she do?” They are celebrating their cleverness.

But consider the big picture…

This much Quindlen gets right: “If the Supreme Court decides abortion is not protected by a constitutional guarantee of privacy, the issue will revert to the states. If it goes to the states, some, perhaps many, will ban abortion”.

But she draws a false conclusion: “If abortion is made a crime, then surely the woman who has one is a criminal”. Wrong. Not one state has written or planned language in abortion ban legislation that would consider — or allow anyone to consider — the woman a criminal for having an abortion. The party guilty of a crime would be the abortionist. Quindlen and her abortion-backing colleagues came up with this false dichotomy. They propose that, by their logic, the woman is a criminal. And they’re pinning that tortured logic on pro-life people.

At least on the ambush video and in print articles like Quindlen’s. That is, until she inadvertently stumbles on the truth: “Lawmakers in a number of states have already passed or are considering statutes designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned”, Quindlen writes. “But almost none hold the woman, the person who set the so-called crime in motion, accountable”.

Exactly.

Get it straight, pro-life people, pro-abortion people, media who write about the issues and ask candidates about them, politicians who are asked those question, and voters confused by the breathless news cycles.

Here’s the truth:

Pro-life legal experts, legislators and advocates know that women are already victims in abortions. Whether the abortionist is a doctor or a back-alley hack, they would be held accountable for breaking the law wherever abortion is banned. This is information all pro-life people need to understand thoroughly.

The South Dakota abortion ban, House Bill 1215, states in Section 4:

“Nothing in this Act may be construed to subject the pregnant mother upon whom any abortion is performed or attempted to any criminal conviction and penalty.

“The South Dakota legislators who drafted it had already crafted legislation to protect women in the earlier informed consent law, HB 1166. Here is one of its provisions:

“Require that the State create a written disclosure form that requires the abortion doctor to provide the mother, in person, with all of the risks of abortion to the mother and her unborn child. Require that this disclosure take place before the woman pays for the abortion and before she is taken to the procedure room. Require that the mother must also be provided sufficient time for personal review and discernment.”

In other words, a standard informed consent that any medical procedure requires. Planned Parenthood immediately took the law to court and blocked its enforcement. Their argument before the district judge and then the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals was that the abortionists’ freedom of speech (i.e., not to tell women about all the risks) trumped the women’s right to know.

Which got virtually no coverage outside the pro-life world and social media.

Quindlen’s article in Newsweek wraps up with this: “The great thing about video is that you can see the mental wheels turning as these people realize that they somehow have overlooked something central while they were slinging certainties.”

Actually, abortion activists have been slinging their own certainties for decades. It’s only a matter of time before a video turns up that captures their wheels turning, while the most committed abortion supporters confront a few questions and see whether there are any true epiphanies.

(That was eight years before the undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees answering questions about obtaining and making available for sale baby body parts after abortions.)

In 2007 through present times, one could and can ask…

Questions like: “If the abortion movement is really all about ‘choice’, why are you so opposed to actually giving women one, by following the standard medical procedure requirement of obtaining ‘informed consent’?” “When informed consent laws in different states actually make it close to passage, why do you fight them so vigorously?” “If you really are ‘pro-choice’, what do you have against giving women a two- or three-day consideration period … or even 24 hours … after allowing her to know all her options?”

(These aren’t actually answered, or even confronted.)

The Newsweek column concludes that “there are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can’t countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can’t have it both ways.” But that is wrongheaded and illogical. This is the abortion movement contriving an untenable calculation.

Americans United for Life Senior Counsel Clarke Forsythe published this clarification in April 2010 about states not prosecuting women even before Roe v. Wade. It’s very thorough and should be read now.

The political claim—that women were or will be prosecuted or jailed under abortion laws—has been made so frequently by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and NOW over the past 40 years that it has become an urban legend. It shows the astonishing power of contemporary media to make a complete falsehood into a truism.

For 30 years, abortion advocates have claimed—without any evidence and contrary to the well-documented practice of ALL 50 states—that women were jailed before Roe and would be jailed if Roe falls (or if state abortion prohibitions are reinstated).

This claim rests on not one but two falsehoods:

First, the almost uniform state policy before Roe was that abortion laws targeted abortionists, not women…

Second, the myth that women will be jailed relies, however, on the myth that “overturning” Roe will result in the immediate re-criminalization of abortion. If Roe was overturned today, abortion would be legal in at least 42-43 states tomorrow, and likely all 50 states, for the simple reason that nearly all of the state abortion prohibitions have been either repealed or are blocked by state versions of Roe adopted by state courts. The issue is entirely academic. The legislatures of the states would have to enact new abortion laws—and these would almost certainly continue the uniform state policy before Roe that abortion laws targeted abortionists and treated women as the second victim of abortion. There will be no prosecutions of abortionists unless the states pass new laws after Roe is overturned.

This political claim is not an abstract question that is left to speculation—there is a long record of states treating women as the second victim of abortion in the law that can be found and read. (emphasis added)

So media have the task, embedded in their profession, to find and read it.

Meanwhile, more from my article in 2007.

The week the Quindlen column came out in Newsweek, two post-abortive women, Georgette Forney and Janet Morana, co-directors of the ‘Silent No More Awareness Campaign’, reacted to the continuing deceit of the abortion movement in public statements. “To Anna Quindlen and anyone else I would say that women are already serving time for abortion right now in our own prisons”, Forney said. “No condescending dismissal of women’s torment by abortion ideologues can diminish the daily punishment of guilt, shame, and remorse post-abortive women experience.”

Morana made it clear what the overwhelming majority of pro-life people believe: women who have abortions are frequently victims as well because of the way abortion businesses sell abortions to them with misinformation….”The abortion profiteers and their shills in the press have been telling society for years that whatever it is that abortion terminates, it’s not a baby,” she said.

“This propaganda onslaught has taken its toll on women who believed that lie and who emphatically state today that had they known that their child was not just a “clump of tissue,” as abortionists told them, they would have never aborted,’ Morana added.”

This is going to remain a big issue in Election 2016. Good.

Abortion activists want to put the big questions out there. Let them be prepared to answer them, to carry the argument through to its logical conclusion. Why does an abortionist have more of a right to remain silent about abortion risks than the woman patient does to receive it, when her health is at stake?

(Re: informed consent law claims by Planned Parenthood and NARAL)

Why did NY Salon’s abortion forum, titled ‘What’s So Bad About Abortion?’ refuse any participation to the women from ‘Silent No More’, who could actually answer that question? Why does NY Salon’s website claim the group “believes passionately in free speech and discussing ideas robustly” but they would not allow Forney to discuss the idea that abortion is bad for women? After all, they already stacked the forum with four abortion advocates, from NARAL, the National Abortion Federation and a British abortion business. But the forum did not include any women who have had abortions and regret that decision. So, did they really want to know what’s so bad about abortion, after all?

Furthermore.…Why has the abortion movement turned its back for so long on Norma McCorvey after she was useful as “Jane Roe”, after she turned pro-life and Catholic and began to work so hard to inform the public about the impact of abortion? Do abortion activists realize that “reproductive rights” is a euphemism to fool the public into blanket acceptance of all contraception and abortion, or are they deluded as well? Although, if they’re deluded, they can’t answer that.

There’s a principle in law and logic that applies here. Never ask a question you can’t answer.

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Mar 31

She has a way.

Using the present tense for the nun who has passed into eternal life seems only fitting. Because she’s present on decades of air waves that continue to broadcast her shows in daily programming on the television and radio network she founded, she’s in booklets she wrote, long scattered across the world and now in the hands of people ‘in the desert, on mountains, in valleys’, as she once described her desire to reach people, ‘ to give courage, hope, strength’. And her voice is always resonating with the simple message at the center of everything she taught and said before rendered silent by debilitating strokes, and afterward in the witness of her constant suffering: ‘Jesus. Loves. You.’

Mother Angelica founded a monastery in the deep South decades ago out of great concern and reparation for the injustices carried out there through slavery, then segregation, discrimination and racial inequality, all of which she followed intently from her home in Ohio. It was the fulfillment of a promise to God for healing of an impairment, and both happened. From its very small and humble beginnings, the place was destined for big things, because the nun who ran it was a force of nature who wouldn’t be stopped from telling people in the world ‘Jesus. Loves. You.’ When network television aired a religiously themed program that corrupted the truth of the gospel, Mother Angelica decided to start her own. Construction workers building a garage for the nuns were tasked with turning it into a makeshift studio, get and set up some cameras and broadcast equipment, and beam a signal to carry the Eternal Word Television Network to whomever it would reach.

It reached me many years later, as I’ve shared here. As a woman broadcaster, I’m thankful to have watched and listened to her for so many years, seeing a woman of faith and conviction go live on the air with the ease of talking with the person in front of her about life and it’s ups and downs, faith fully authentic and alive and shared with what she never thought was courage because it came so naturally and from a deep place in her heart. She was truly Mother.

And she captivated people who knew nothing of the Catholic Church and probably didn’t want to, who happened onto her show by switching channels or tuning the dial, and something caught their attention there. That happened to people who were addicted to alcohol, porn, drugs, destructive behaviors, who stayed with Mother Angelica for the duration, and found healing. People who were lonely and abandoned, suicidal, happened upon her at just the right time to save their lives, and heal their hearts.

She talked about Jesus all the time, but in compelling and endlessly varied ways. The New York Times noted that Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said “she succeeded at a task the nation’s bishops themselves couldn’t achieve.” It cited a Time Magazine profile calling her “arguably the most influential Roman Catholic woman in America.” Fr. Mitch Pacwa, one of the longest running hosts of programming on EWTN and the one who took over Mother’s show when a debilitating stroke finally ended her ability to speak, called her A Strong Woman in Love with Jesus.

The network has long aired the classic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen series Life is Worth Living, as relevant now as ever. Bishop Robert Barron, whom many consider to be the ‘modern day Fulton Sheen’, founder of Word On Fire ministry and the host of the magnificent Catholicism series, simply and eloquently said this:

Against all odds and expectations, she created an evangelical vehicle without equal in the history of the Catholic Church. Starting from, quite literally, a garage in Alabama, EWTN now reaches 230 million homes in over 140 countries around the world. With the possible exception of John Paul II himself, she was the most watched and most effective Catholic evangelizer of the last fifty years.

But he acknowledged as well her scruffy ways, for which she was well known.

Mother Angelica wasn’t perfect—and she would be the first to admit it. Due to her lack of polish and advanced theological education, she sometimes said things that were insufficiently nuanced and balanced. And her hot temper, which gave fire to her evangelization, also at times led her to indulge in ad hominem attacks and unfair characterizations of her opponents’ positions. But these are quibbles.

Bishop Barron focused on

her instinct for the supernatural dimension of Christianity. Now I realize that such an instinct might seem rather obvious, but in the immediately post-conciliar years there was indeed a tendency to naturalize the supernatural, to reduce Christianity to the works of social justice and the cultivation of psychological well-being. Mother knew that a de-supernaturalized Christianity would in short order lose its soul and, paradoxically, its relevance to the world.

Tributes and memorials will continue to pour in from around the world, as Mother Angelica reached into the living rooms, on the dials and online in homes in the farthest flung places on the global Catholic network in many languages. She is laid to rest at the monastery she founded, this Friday. But she remains, with her way of challenging and encouraging modern culture to recognize the truth of human dignity, and the ever present love of God. Because she found a way to grow the EWTN media empire in the news world and geographical world, her voice will remain as long as signals will be broadcast, to do what Pope Francis so often encourages, to go out to the existential peripheries and create a culture of encounter.

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Mar 29

Justices want more information.

Coming less than one week after hearing the Little Sisters of the Poor case the U.S. Supreme Court took the unusual step

of asking for additional information, telling both sides to discuss alternative ways to avoid forcing religious women to provide services against their faith.
“This is an excellent development. Clearly the Supreme Court understood the Sisters’ concern that the government’s current scheme forces them to violate their religion,” said Mark Rienzi, lead attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “We look forward to offering alternatives that protect the Little Sisters’ religious liberty while allowing the government to meet its stated goals.”

As one journalist who has covered this story since the government issued the HHS mandate in January 2012, and the lawsuits against it that started coming within days or weeks, this threw me (and surprised a lot of court watchers and litigants involved in these cases). Because we’ve had over four years of dozens upon dozens of lawsuits in different courts at different levels making the case and elaborating the details abundantly clearly, that there are alternatives already in place and working to carry out the government birth control delivery scheme (such as government run programs themselves) while exempting major corporations and essentially one-third of Americans from this mandate already (info central has it all here).

But okay, this is good news, reflecting that justices aren’t buying the government’s claim that it already made an “accommodation” for the Little Sisters by having them sign a paper saying they object, but then explicitly granting a third party to provide the drugs and services to which they object in the first place.

Justices deliberating over this case must have finally seen through that smoke screen, because this request for new alternatives suggests a rejection of what the government claimed was an alternative, a false accommodation that wasn’t.

It’s a positive development, claims NRO.

Specifically, the Court wants to know if there are alternative means of providing contraceptives to employees without requiring the Little Sisters to participate in the process:

(snip from the court order):

“For example, the parties should consider a situation in which petitioners would contract to provide health insurance for their employees, and in the course of obtaining such insurance, inform their insurance company that they do not want their health plan to include contraceptive coverage of the type to which they object on religious grounds. Petitioners would have no legal obligation to provide such contraceptive coverage, would not pay for such coverage, and would not be required to submit any separate notice to their insurer, to the Federal Government, or to their employees. At the same time, petitioners’ insurance company—aware that petitioners are not providing certain contraceptive coverage on religious grounds—would separately notify petitioners’ employees that the insurance company will provide cost-free contraceptive coverage, and that such coverage is not paid for by petitioners and is not provided through petitioners’ health plan.” (emphasis added)

Before this order came out Tuesday, the court was already pretty much split 4-4 over the religious liberty test involved in the HHS mandate, and especially how it upheld (or didn’t) the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Justice Scalia’s untimely death impacts this decision most notably. But Justice Breyer struck some in the courtroom as unconvinced by the government’s arguments last week. If just one justice joins the four expected to uphold religious freedom rights violated by the HHS mandate, it could finally end this unbelievable saga of government infringement on one of the most basic, fundamental and cherished freedoms we have.

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Mar 14

If it is, he goes out with noble dignity.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio is young and could have a great future ahead of him in leadership, whether at the state or federal level. His candidacy for president took a precipitous turn recently and never recovered from the slide. He came out acknowledging his mistakes in judgment, a rare act of humility for a public servant and a candidate for the presidency, singular among a field who mostly don’t see themselves at all as a public servant, and some of whom seem to betray a sense of entitlement and aspiration to a high and mighty position of power.

When he was on the slide in recent weeks and even the past several days, pundits and analysts said he should get out of the race to save face from losing his home state of Florida, which would set back or negate his chances to run for governor of that state in the future, with a wide open road to future runs for higher office. Even his supporters started expressing that wish, so he wouldn’t stand to lose his own state. But Rubio  learned from listening to others than to his own heart and conscience.

With a couple of poor debate performances causing his slide in the polls, he took the bad advice to counter the verbal assault with low blows and to ‘punch back’, which he almost immediately regretted. As low as it got in an exchange with Donald Trump (a regular and a veteran in the arena of disgraceful assaults), Rubio knew he should never have gone there, and he publicly apologized. He exposed his regret at having humiliated himself, his family, his supporters, American voters and everyone involved in the process. It has been a rare public accounting for one’s errors of personal judgment, an examination of conscience that allowed him to express remorse and the will to serve as a public witness to higher goals.

It’s rare in a public official, a leader, especially one who seeks to be the top leader in the land. And before he exists the race, if he does after Tuesday’s elections, he deserves recognition and appreciation for this honesty and noble dignity.

On the eve of the Florida primary, a reflective Marco Rubio looked out at a roaring crowd of diverse supporters and, once again, expressed regret.

“The fact that I’m here now in front of those cameras comes with responsibility, and I’ll confess, I’ve learned that myself,” the Florida senator said…

He ran through the list of people he embarrassed with his bawdy rumble with Donald Trump — his children, his wife, his young supporters.

“I felt terrible about it,” Rubio said. “I realized that win or lose, there are people out there that see what I’m doing and follow it as a role model.”

After days of unflinching optimism on the campaign trail, the gravity of Tuesday’s Florida primary appeared to bear down at one of Rubio’s last stops of the day. And potentially, one of the last stops of his presidential campaign…

“Leadership is not about going to angry and frustrated people and saying, ‘You should be even angrier and more frustrated, and you should be angry and frustrated at each other,’” Rubio said. “That is not leadership. You know what that is? That’s called demagoguery, and it is dangerous.”

He lamented Trump’s over-the-top style, from his use of profanity — “we have never had a presidential candidate that has to be bleeped out” — to his apparent willingness to pay the legal fees for a supporter who sucker punched a protester.

“I know there are people that like this stuff because he says what they want to be able to say,” Rubio said. “Presidents can’t say whatever they want to say. You have to be honest, you have to be correct and you have to be truthful. But you can’t say whatever you want to say.”

There’s a significant lesson in that. A great sign of maturity as a citizen, and a candidate for high office.

Later Monday, Rubio’s bus pulled up to a crowd of hundreds gathered on a brightly lit, outdoor basketball court in West Miami, where Rubio would hold his potentially last rally as a presidential candidate. He hopped up on the bed of a pick-up truck and used a bullhorn to address the enthusiastic crowd, as a giant American flag hung on a building behind him.

It was a homecoming of sorts, given that Rubio said he used to play basketball in this park and it’s an area where he campaigned to run for city commissioner two decades ago.

“And this is the park I wanted to be in tonight, on the eve of the most important election in a generation, in the state that always makes the difference…

Speaking more in Spanish than in English, Rubio thanked the community for their support over the years. He had fun joking around with the crowd — especially in Spanish — and appeared more relaxed and at ease than he has in days.

“No matter where I’ll go or where I’ll be, I will always be a son of this community,” he told them. “I will always carry with me the hopes and dreams of generations who made possible the hopes of mine.”

A while back, in the thick of the debate season and beginning of the caucuses and earliest primaries, someone asked him what his reaction would be to losing. Without a pause, he instinctively responded that God’s will would be done, and that’s all that mattered. On this eve of what may be the ultimate Super Tuesday of this election year, Rubio seemed more at peace than he has in many months.

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Mar 08

Not Donald Trump.

There are too many initiatives, publications and organized efforts around those three words to get into here. But it’s growing, this counter-appeal to voters to direct their energies around a tried and true reform candidate that appeal to their passions more than their anger.

This one by two top Catholic scholars, signed onto by nearly three dozen other top names in academia and scholarship and leadership, is short, succinct and sobering. I saw it within minutes after it posted, know both writers as well as many of the signatories to the appeal, and realized what a new moment it represented.

Though National Review Online devoted a whole symposium and special edition ‘Against Trump‘, with top commentators and writers contributing provocative essays on the theme, and CatholicVote.org broke from tradition and went so far as to issue the public statement ‘Not. Trump.‘, and individual writers of exceptional depth and experience have issued their own strong statements, this was something different. It is extraordinary.

Here’s the essence:

In recent decades, the Republican party has been a vehicle — imperfect, like all human institutions, but serviceable — for promoting causes at the center of Catholic social concern in the United States: (1) providing legal protection for unborn children, the physically disabled and cognitively handicapped, the frail elderly, and other victims of what Saint John Paul II branded “the culture of death”; (2) defending religious freedom in the face of unprecedented assaults by officials at every level of government who have made themselves the enemies of conscience; (3) rebuilding our marriage culture, based on a sound understanding of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and (4) re-establishing constitutional and limited government, according to the core Catholic social-ethical principle of subsidiarity. There have been frustrations along the way, to be sure; no political party perfectly embodies Catholic social doctrine. But there have also been successes, and at the beginning of the current presidential electoral cycle, it seemed possible that further progress in defending and advancing these noble causes was possible through the instrument of the Republican party. That possibility is now in grave danger. And so are those causes.

Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to be president of the United States. His campaign has already driven our politics down to new levels of vulgarity. His appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice are offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility. He promised to order U.S. military personnel to torture terrorist suspects and to kill terrorists’ families — actions condemned by the Church and policies that would bring shame upon our country. And there is nothing in his campaign or his previous record that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments…

The two highly esteemed writers acknowledge Trump supporters’ concerns, with due respect.

We understand that many good people, including Catholics, have been attracted to the Trump campaign because the candidate speaks to issues of legitimate and genuine concern: wage stagnation, grossly incompetent governance, profligate governmental spending, the breakdown of immigration law, inept foreign policy, stifling “political correctness” — for starters. There are indeed many reasons to be concerned about the future of our country, and to be angry at political leaders and other elites.

However, they contend, there are other candidates more worthy of support who address these concerns without the ‘vulgarity’ and ‘demagoguery’.

And they conclude with this appeal:

Mr. Trump’s record and his campaign show us no promise of greatness; they promise only the further degradation of our politics and our culture. We urge our fellow Catholics and all our fellow citizens to reject his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination by supporting a genuinely reformist candidate.

Signed, Princeton Professor Robert P. George, and Ethics and Public Policy Center Distinguished Senior Fellow George Weigel. And nearly three dozen signers after them.

That is a snapshot that at least offers clues to where we are in American politics in this most unusual, defiant season. This appeal to voters is at least one piece of a puzzle as yet so incomplete, it remains incoherent. And with a hold that remains, so far, only tenuous.

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Feb 18

And one fewer Justice on the high court.

On Thursday of last week, Women Speak for Themselves (WSFT) launched a campaign, loosely aligned with Valentine’s Day weekend and beyond, to ‘show a little love to the Little Sisters‘. It coincided with a new website for WSFT, loaded with resources and links to amicus briefs its founder filed at the Supreme Court, including this latest one on behalf of the Little Sisters in their struggle to uphold their religious freedom rights. Two days later, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, great religious freedom defender, suddenly and unexpectedly died.

Why are the Little Sisters of the Poor even in court in the first place? Especially the court system at different levels, reaching all the way to the Supreme Court, doing whatever they can to save their nearly two centuries long ministry to the poor from the threat of government overreach that threatens their services and institutions? Why would the government even do that?

Let’s review. (It’s stunning that we’re still in this situation more than four years after the federal fiat known as the HHS Mandate was issued by the administration’s Department of Health and Human Services, as a contraception delivery scheme slipped into the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.)

For clarity and accessibility, this HHS Info Central has it all: graphics, charts, court challenges, case names and dates and outcomes or facts about pending hearings. It’s a ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ snapshot of the HHS Mandate in Obamacare.

The Little Sisters of the Poor represent the most emblematic case. By far.

In November 2015…

the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns facing tens of millions of dollars in IRS fines because they cannot, according to their faith, include contraceptives in their employee health plan. This is the second time the Sisters have been forced to ask the Supreme Court for protection against the government’s HHS Mandate. The Court’s decision will finally resolve the crucial question of whether governmental agencies can, wholly without legislative oversight, needlessly force religious ministries to violate their faith.

Yes, that’s explicitly the situation.

The Little Sisters, who care for more than 13,000 of the elderly poor around the world, had no choice but to appeal to the Supreme Court due to the government’s refusal to exempt them from the HHS mandate, which is currently in its 9th unacceptable iteration. The mandate forces the Little Sisters to authorize the government to use the Sister’s employee healthcare plan to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs – a violation of their faith – or pay massive fines, which would threaten their religious mission. The Supreme Court entered a temporary order protecting the nuns in January, 2014, but the government has continued litigating, asking lower courts to remove that protection. (emphasis added)

“As Little Sisters of the Poor, we offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they are welcomed as Christ. We perform this loving ministry because of our faith and cannot possibly choose between our care for the elderly poor and our faith, and we shouldn’t have to,” said Sr. Loraine Marie Maguire, Mother Provincial of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “All we ask is that our rights not be taken away. The government exempts large corporations, small businesses, and other religious ministries from what they are imposing on us – we just want to keep serving the elderly poor as we have always done for 175 years. We look forward to the Supreme Court hearing our case, and pray for God’s protection of our ministry.”

They don’t want to be in court. They didn’t pick this fight. They’re about the last people in public service the government should be forcing to deliver contraception and morning after pills in their healthcare plans. And yet, here we are.

So with the Supreme Court taking on the case again, legal scholar Helen Alvare saw the opportunity to present a real challenge to the government’s claim or defense that it has a “compelling interest” in a mandate that burdens religious freedom, one of a two-prong test the Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires for government to enforce anything that violates so fundamental a protected liberty.

First, fleshing out the contents of the “compelling state interest” requirement will provide much-needed guidance in future religious freedom cases. Lawyers are accustomed to encountering compelling state interest analyses in due process and equal protection cases involving fundamental constitutional rights and suspect classifications. There are a significant number of cases interpreting the meaning of a “compelling state interest” in the areas of speech or racial discrimination. But there are fewer in the area of religious freedom…

Second, a “compelling state interest” analysis in the context of a mandate case would shed light on the government’s tendency – especially when contraception programs are concerned – to make extravagant claims without empirical foundation, while threatening the religious freedom of institutions providing unparalleled amounts of service to women. Governments at both the federal and state level have fallen into the habit of using contraception to “signal” their commitment to women’s rights. The facts on the ground, however, are much more complex.

Enter Women Speak for Themselves, which started as an open letter in response to high level women in government purporting to represent women’s rights and claims on services that really didn’t represent vast numbers of American women outside the Washington beltway and across the country. Helen Alvare was co-author of that letter with another lawyer, Kim Daniels. The open letter turned into a grassroots movement that has spread across the country, across demographics and age groups and backgrounds of women engaging these issues at their most local levels and on the national level, through media and initiatives that allow them to contribute to and change the conversation by sharing their lived experiences. It’s a remarkable range of stories from women speaking for women and their families and health and rights.

The Little Sisters are among those for whom they speak. These nuns don’t seek nor want the spotlight, but Pope Francis paid them a surprise visit last September while in DC during his US apostolic journey, and House Speaker Paul Ryan featured them as his guests among invited attendees – in a moment of irony – to President Obama’s final State of the Union Address in January.

Interestingly, the American Spectator noticed, and pointed out that Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the one who granted them a temporary injunction against punitive fines for not following the mandate, as they pursued permanent relief. Her vote will be needed again when the case is argued before the Supreme Court during Holy Week, in March 2016. Because if she comes down on the liberal side of reading religious freedom as applied to this case, and the court votes 4-4 in the absence of Justice Scalia, religious liberty will face a ‘calamity‘.

The Little Sisters would be forced to violate their faith by subsidizing the distribution of abortifacients, sterilization, and contraceptives to their employees or face ruinous IRS fines. The government exempts a wide variety of religious ministries from the contraception mandate. But the Obama administration insisted that this organization run by Catholic nuns, which has been providing free health care to elderly patients of every race and religion since 1839, is somehow not eligible for the usual exemption. Incredibly, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the government.

…Before Justice Scalia’s tragic death, there was a reasonable chance that the Little Sisters and six other organizations with which the Court consolidated their case might prevail.

Now, unless one of the four liberal justices — Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor — casts an uncharacteristically nonpartisan vote, a 4-4 vote is all but inevitable.

For once, instead of Justice Anthony Kennedy holding the pivotal swing vote, it may rest with Sotomayor. Or Chief Justice John Roberts, who can work to sway the court in a couple of directions to avoid a calamity.

In the immediate aftermath of Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the Little Sisters of the Poor (with the help of technically proficient friends) released this new website making this whole story much pithier and easier to grasp than ever. Have a look, it’s all there.

Who they are:

The Little Sisters of the Poor have dedicated their lives to living with and caring for the elderly poor. They have been focused on service, not advocacy or policy, and, in this case, they’ve exhausted every option possible before going to court.

What this case is about:

After promising that the Little Sisters’ religious beliefs would be protected, the government created a new regulation requiring the Little Sisters to change their healthcare plan to offer services that violate Catholic teaching. But 1 in 3 Americans do not have a plan that is subject to the mandate HHS is fighting so hard to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to follow. Exxon, Chevron, and Pepsi — as well as other large corporations — are exempt from the mandate, because they never changed their plans and are grandfathered. And the government is not even requiring our own US military to provide these services through their family insurance.

The government is arguing that since it has offered to reimburse the costs of the services it wants the Little Sisters to provide, they should have no moral objection to offering them. The Little Sisters are saying this is not about money, but conscience, and whether they should be forced to change their healthcare plan to offer services they have a moral objection to when those services could be provided more effectively through the government’s healthcare exchange.

And what the solution may, or can, be.

There is an easy solution that protects the Little Sisters’ religious freedom and the right of the government to offer these services to women who want them. Rather than trying to force religious plans to offer these services, the better solution is for the government to provide these services through the ACA healthcare exchange to any employees who want them but can’t get them through employer plans.

The Little Sisters are not trying to prevent the government from providing these services, but object to the government’s insisting the Little Sisters provide them (especially since the government has already refused to ensure that those free services are provided to one in three Americans). Giving all women access to contraception through the healthcare exchange is a simpler and fairer way for the government to provide these services to more women while protecting the religious freedom of the Little Sisters, who never wanted this fight and just want to get back to caring for the elderly in need.

They can use all the help and advocacy they can get. Women Speak for Themselves is providing the vehicle, and the avenue. It’s up to people to drive it home.

 

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Feb 09

High profile surrogates sound desperate, reach a new low.

That’s saying something for a woman candidate for president who earned and embraced the enthusiastic endorsement of the largest abortion provider in the world. But since that endorsement last month, Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers have continued to drop.

So over the weekend before Tuesday’s first election of the long primary season, two very high profile women of Hillary’s generation came out to stump for her, one on the campaign trail and the other on a popular liberal television show, and both in tandem delivered a memorable message that was shocking, revealing, and ultimately counter-productive. They were both condemnations of young women who don’t support Hillary Clinton. And did more than opposition candidates to damage her and the cause of women’s best interests.

The New York Times calls it a “rebuke” in the headline over the story of a generational clash, in which two “feminist icons”, Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinam “called on young women who supported (Democratic Socialist candidate Bernie Sanders) to essentially grow up and get with the program.” As the caption on the photo tells it:

Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, told young women it was their duty to support Hillary Clinton in her presidential run at a rally in New Hampshire on Saturday.

That alone is, these days, unwise and unhelpful enough. But then she said this:

“We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done,” Ms. Albright said of the broader fight for women’s equality. It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”

That was a stunner. Over the years, I’ve occasionally noted or lamented the final public end of a notable and esteemed public figure in broadcasting, other media, sports, politics or elsewhere where that person had made a name, record and reputation for a long time, only to go out sadly repudiated and disgraced by a random remark that was politically incorrect. Though I didn’t always agree with or appreciate Madeleine Albright’s statements or actions on a given policy, she served nobly and honorably at times for ‘the least of these’, as in her tenure as Ambassador to the United Nations under the Clinton Administration, when she issued a stinging rebuke to the UN Secretary General and the U.S. for their neglect to engage over war crimes in the genocide in Rwanda. She said then:

My deepest regret from my years in public service is the failure of the United States and the international community to act sooner to halt these crimes.

Which reflected deeply held principles about human life and the protection of vulnerable, innocent people.

That’s a far cry from what she said over the weekend to scold young women who don’t back Clinton’s candidacy, and warn them of the consequences.

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”

How threatening, extreme and desperate that sounds. And how revealing of the whole false feminist, “pro-choice” agenda of Planned Parenthood and establishment abortion activists who actually only contend that there’s one choice, and it’s theirs. If your choice is pro-life, another candidate who didn’t get the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, you’re not only wrong and need to be rebuked, you’re going to hell.

Women are smarter than that, they know that they really do have choices and will make them according to what they determine is best for themselves, their health, their future and family, and without the dictates of angry, authoritarian women who tell them that women still need to follow ‘groupthink’ to be empowered. That just doesn’t work anymore. Years ago, former NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan watched the March for Life on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, saw the tens of thousands of enthusiastic participants and said “There are so many of them and they are so young.”

They are not about to buy into threats of damnation for not backing the abortion movement’s godmother, Hillary Clinton, to be president of the United States.

And especially not responsive to ridicule by feminist movement founder Gloria Steinam, who appeared on the Bill Maher show and said that women become more active in politics as they get older, and that young women were supporting Sen. Sanders because the young guys were.

“When you’re young, you’re thinking ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’”…

To which Maher instantly replied that if he’d said that, he’s be smacked for such an offensive remark.

This is not helping women and women know it. They’ve either been through the feminist movement and had abortions and suffered the damage of that, or they’ve learned from those who have. They know they have choices and the best place to find options and alternatives for their health is with the true women’s movement of these times, in pregnancy health centers, and women’s health clinics, and organizations like Women Speak for Themselves.

One Democratic network news contributor said the barrier to the White House had been broken by Barack Obama. Then she shrugged off the Hillary Clinton candidacy saying it wasn’t necessary to vote for her just to prove a point that’s been made.

To insinuate, or worse, to state it as blatantly as Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinam did so unwisely, that it’s now the necessary duty of women of all ages to vote for Mrs. Clinton to get the first woman president, betrays the agenda and ideology of the false women’s movement that promotes the idea of true freedom of choice, without backing it, no matter what women choose for themselves.

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Feb 08

“It’s hard to overstate how extreme Mrs. Clinton’s new position is.”

But Bill McGurn does a good job conveying the idea.

Today Mrs. Clinton’s formula is safe, legal, unlimited—and federally subsidized. We saw this new Hillary Clinton at a Planned Parenthood rally in New Hampshire this month, where she said she favored “safe and legal abortion” and denounced the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion.

“I will always defend Planned Parenthood and I will say consistently and proudly, Planned Parenthood should be funded, supported and protected, not undermined, misrepresented and demonized,” Mrs. Clinton said. In return, Planned Parenthood rewarded her with the first presidential primary endorsement in its 100-year history.

This is not where American women, in the majority of the general population, want to go.

I began this post a while ago, had no time to finish it, and now the New Hampshire primary is here. Mrs. Clinton will by all accounts lose it to Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, no pro-life advocate himself. Because of her falling poll numbers across the board of pollsters and demographics of those polled, she’s taking a page from Barack Obama’s playbook, and instead of moderating closer toward the ideological center, she’s tacking left. He had nothing to lose when he did it, and he’s enjoying the last months in the office of the presidency. She has everything to lose, namely that office which she seeks wholeheartedly.

This is how to lose it, or at least…it doesn’t help.

Amy Chozick of the New York Times recently described the relationship this way: “the Clinton campaign has functioned almost as a marketing arm for Planned Parenthood.” Remember, this is an organization that reports performing 323,999 abortions and taking in $553.7 million in subsidies from Uncle Sam in fiscal year 2014-15. Though these tax dollars are not earmarked for abortion, money is fungible.

It’s a curious reversal. For one thing, Mrs. Clinton’s shift comes at a moment when even some pro-choice advocates admit to queasiness over Planned Parenthood after undercover videos were released last year showing its officials sipping wine as they chat about prices for, say, an intact fetal heart. The pro-choice community also includes those who support abortion rights but do not believe either Planned Parenthood or abortion should be subsidized with tax dollars.

It’s also a big shift from last July, when Mrs. Clinton repeated her safe, legal and rare formula to the New Hampshire Union Leader and said she found the Planned Parenthood videos “disturbing.” But plainly not so disturbing that she would let it get in the way of the $20 million Planned Parenthood will spend this election cycle.

It calls to mind the old saying ‘Dance with the one who brought you.’ Even if steps get entangled, and you both fall.

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