Mar 31

It’s not really news anymore that signup for healthcare as promised and touted by the president has hit another glitch. But that it did on deadline day generated at least some headlines.

Like Politico’s. The bottom line is more the story than the body of the story.

Public opinion polls have shown many Americans are still opposed to the law. A new Washington Post-ABC poll released Monday showed approval rising slightly, with 49 in favor and 48 opposed, but many other surveys have found more skepticism.

So, fair assessment is that we’re about evenly split over Obamacare. Allegedly.

The issues I have with it relate to life, true healthcare coverage and accessibility, and conscience rights, as regular readers here know. Those have been highlighted in the HHS mandate lawsuits over the past two years.

Here’s another detailed rundown of what’s wrong with the Affordable Care Act, which few people have actually read.

Once the Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010, the two chambers of Congress have held diametrically opposed views. The House, under Republican control since 2011, has voted many times to repeal the entire act; the Democratic-controlled Senate has resisted changes.

The Catholic bishops’ conference has not joined in either agenda. Supporters of national efforts to achieve universal health coverage for almost a century, the bishops have urged specific reforms in accord with the moral principles they articulated during consideration of the A.C.A. The bishops support basic, life-affirming health coverage for everyone, including immigrants; compliance with longstanding federal policies on abortion funding; and respect for rights of conscience.

The A.C.A. remains deficient in these areas. The bishops have urged Congress to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, including reform of the way our health laws treat immigrant families. On abortion issues—both federal funding and conscience rights—the implementation of the A.C.A. over four years has brought its defects into sharper focus.

One barrier to progress on the act’s problems regarding abortion is that many, including some Catholics, are confused about those problems or deny that they exist. Here, then, are the abortion-related problems the bishops’ conference finds in the A.C.A.

Click on that link.  Read the article. Rich Doerflinger counts the ways.

1) Under existing federal jurisprudence, federal funds appropriated by the A.C.A. are available for elective abortions.

He doesn’t just make the claim, he backs it up. Do read on, especially about the protections put in place and upheld for decades under the Hyde Amendment. It’s very instructive.

2) The act violates the policy of all other federal health programs by using federal funds for health plans covering elective abortions.

Here’s just a snip from that section:

The A.C.A. forbids insurers to inform consumers about their abortion coverage except as part of the long list of benefits provided to those already enrolling. It also forbids them to reveal how much of the enrollee’s premium will go into the separate account for abortions. Thus a common impression that enrollees will write a “separate check” for abortion, which pro-life dissenters might try refusing to sign, is apparently false—the funds are separated at the insurer’s end. Some states have said that every health plan on their exchange will cover elective abortions.

This is troubling in light of polling commissioned by the bishops’ conference during consideration of the A.C.A. Most survey respondents opposed measures that require Americans to support abortion with their tax dollars or their premiums; 68 percent said that if the choice were theirs they would not want abortion in their health coverage. On each question, women gave stronger pro-life responses than men. The majority of American women who oppose abortion coverage will now often face a sad dilemma: Either pay for abortions anyway or have greatly reduced options when looking for a health plan to meet their families’ needs.

Next:

3) The A.C.A. lacks important conscience protections.

Most of this is contained within the HHS mandate, a ‘birth control delivery scheme’ objected to by a great number of Americans for many reasons, most enumerated in those lawsuits linked above. But note this, which isn’t well known (along with most everything else in Doerflinger’s article):

More broadly, the final version of the A.C.A. deleted an important conscience provision from the original House-passed bill, which incorporated the Hyde/Weldon Amendment that has been part of Labor/H.H.S. appropriations bills since 2004. That law withholds Labor/H.H.S. funds from a federal agency or program or a state or local government that discriminates against health care entities that refuse to provide, refer for, pay for or provide coverage of abortion. Like the Hyde Amendment on funding, the Hyde/Weldon policy on conscience does not govern funds appropriated by the A.C.A.

And then:

4) Finally, it has been said that federal judges in Virginia and Ohio have ruled there is no abortion funding in the A.C.A. That is not quite true.

He explains. And then, the bottom line:

The great majority of American men and women do not want to support abortion with their taxes or health premiums. A recent poll of obstetrician-gynecologists showed that only 14 percent perform abortions, and the latest abortion statistics show abortion rates and the number of abortion providers at their lowest since 1973. To all but the most committed enthusiasts for abortion, that tipping point cannot arrive too soon.

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Mar 28

In a discussion about Tuesday’s oral arguments on two cases challenging the government’s coercive mandate, one legal counsel said “it was really oral arguments“.

The courtroom was lively and the justices engaged. A couple of pieces that pinpoint key moments to light.

Kathryn Lopez aptly refers back to the ‘parade of horribles‘ to describe the women justices’ engagement of the ‘what ifs’ involved in this case. Government attorneys tried to use it in their arguments.

One of the expected themes — because it was in the Department of Justice’s brief — during the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood case before the Supreme Court yesterday was the idea of a parade of horribles that would come should the companies win their religious-liberty claim. Ed Whelan has written about this here…in response to the brief. The way the argument goes is that if you let employers opt out of abortion-pill and contraception coverage next employers are going to claim religious objections to sexual-harassment laws, minimum-wage laws, Social Security taxes, and vaccine coverage.

As Ed points out:

“The fact that the Obama administration has provided an exemption from the HHS mandate for houses of worship and the so-called “accommodation” rule for religious nonprofits shows that it recognizes that the HHS mandate substantially burdens religious exercise. Nothing comparable exists for DOJ’s examples.”

The “burden” test is essential to these cases and the whole HHS birth control delivery scheme. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (known by shorthand as RFRA) which passed with full bipartisan support under the Clinton administration, holds a two-pronged test, that government cannot restrict religious freedom unless it produces convincing evidence of a compelling reason to do so,  and it is pursuing that action by the least restrictive means possible.

The government cannot pass that test on either count on the HHS birth control delivery mandate. Their attorneys have failed to produce anything approaching convincing evidence that they can pass that test, time and again, in the many lawsuits across the country over the past two years.

But here’s the real money moments in the dramatic exchanges in the high court Tuesday. Justice Anthony Kennedy was grilling the government’s attorney on whether allowing this mandate to go forward could extend government powers to authorize the compulsion to pay for abortions on a broader scale, since government attorneys had at that point conceded that IUDs can be abortifacents, and IUDs were part of the mandated coverage. The US Solicitor General (Don Verrilli) objected, saying current law “is to the contrary.”

But Kennedy persisted, saying the government was making a legal case that would permit that.

Verrilli continued to resist Kennedy’s simple hypothetical question, treating it as though he could not answer it unless there were really such a law on the books…

And then the chief justice intervened:

Chief Justice Roberts: I’m sorry, I lost track of that. There is no law on the books that does what?

Verrilli: That makes a requirement of the kind that Justice Kennedy hypothesized. The law is the opposite.

Roberts: Well, flesh it out a little more. What—there is no law on the books that does what?

Verrilli: That requires for-profit corporations to provide abortions.

Pay attention to this line of questioning.

Justice Kennedy began to speak at this point, and Chief Justice Roberts cut him off by pursuing Verrilli like a hound who has treed a raccoon:

Roberts: Isn’t that what we are talking about in terms of their religious beliefs? One of the religious beliefs is that they have to pay for these four methods of contraception that they believe provide abortions. I thought that’s what we had before us.

What Kennedy treated as hypothetical, in other words, Roberts pointed out is not hypothetical at all. It’s actual. It is this case. Hobby Lobby is an abortion case (emphasis added), and at this moment in the argument, Roberts may just have sewn up Kennedy’s vote. Not because Kennedy is morally perturbed by abortion itself; I doubt he is, much. But because he is probably very concerned, and rightly, with a regulatory mandate that forces people to violate their religious beliefs about the sanctity of life by providing and paying for abortions. Roberts spoke circumspectly about the employers’ “religious beliefs” about the drugs and devices that cause abortion, and it was right for him in this context not to say more. But they do cause abortion, and so this is, in a way that should be very important to Justice Kennedy, an abortion case.

Conclusion at this point:

Yes, this is an abortion case, and a religious freedom case, and a government-overreaching-its-authority case.

The Supreme Court will rule in June.

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Mar 24

Or put bluntly, the government mandate to violate your conscience.

It’s as simple as that. No matter how much spin has been spun, and there has been much, it comes down to this.

Do Americans enjoy religious-liberty protections when they are at church, or do Americans enjoy religious-liberty protections when they are Americans?

That’s it. The Supreme Court hears oral arguments this week on that question.

Hobby Lobby is owned by a trust controlled by the Green family, observant Christians who make a point of carrying their faith into the marketplace, stocking Christian products and closing their stores on Sundays. They refuse to comply with parts of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, specifically the provision of products that they regard as actual or potential abortifacients, including intrauterine devices and the so-called morning-after pill, both of which can function to prevent an embryo from implanting in the uterus and thus surviving. Whether these products are properly regarded as abortifacients is a matter of some controversy, but the relevant question is not a technical one about the mechanisms by which these drugs and devices prevent pregnancy. Federal law protects religious liberty with no proviso that matters of conscience must be argued to the satisfaction of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists before legal protections kick in.

Now here’s the money paragraph, the important explanation of the whole thing that helps understand what’s at stake in the claims to protection against government encroachment of religious freedom and conscience rights. Those claims are grounded in the Constitution and RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

While the issue is at heart a constitutional one, Hobby Lobby is not in this instance appealing to the First Amendment but rather to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed by a unanimous House, a near-unanimous Senate, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and certified as constitutional as applied to the federal government in a 2006 Supreme Court decision. The act sets a high standard that the federal government must meet when it burdens the free exercise of religion and was enacted in response to court decisions that had narrowed First Amendment protections. It is intended to reinstate the “Sherbert test,” which holds that in a case in which the involved parties hold a sincere religious belief and the federal government places a substantial burden on the exercise of that belief, then the federal government must both prove a “compelling state interest” in burdening religious exercise and — perhaps most important in this case — demonstrate that it has sought to secure that compelling interest in the least restrictive fashion.

That’s a two-pronged test the government cannot possibly pass in imposing the HHS mandate.

While it is hardly obvious that there is a compelling state interest in subsidizing access to contraception, which is widely available and inexpensive (a woman who required an emergency dose of Plan B once a quarter would still spend more annually on toothpaste), it is entirely implausible that the least restrictive way of achieving that subsidy is a nationwide legal mandate for coverage of those products at no out-of-pocket expense by every employer in the country offering health insurance — and the federal government will penalize them if they don’t offer it.

So…

Whatever the federal government might have done differently, the express purpose of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is to prevent it from doing what it has done in the Affordable Care Act: ride roughshod over the free exercise of religion whenever doing so proves politically convenient.

The case is about more than the Green family and Hobby Lobby. There are in fact 94 related cases involving 300 plaintiffs representing nearly half the states, from Southern Baptists such as the Greens to Catholic nonprofits and Amish cabinetmakers. The objections to the ACA mandate are neither narrow nor sectarian.

Split decisions from the appellate courts all but guaranteed a Supreme Court hearing of the issue, which will begin tomorrow. The decision will be only incidentally about what kind of health insurance we have — it will be about what kind of country we have.

So here we go.

Whatever the federal government might have done differently, the express purpose of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is to prevent it from doing what it has done in the Affordable Care Act: ride roughshod over the free exercise of religion whenever doing so proves politically convenient.

The case is about more than the Green family and Hobby Lobby. There are in fact 94 related cases involving 300 plaintiffs representing nearly half the states, from Southern Baptists such as the Greens to Catholic nonprofits and Amish cabinetmakers. The objections to the ACA mandate are neither narrow nor sectarian.

Split decisions from the appellate courts all but guaranteed a Supreme Court hearing of the issue, which will begin tomorrow. The decision will be only incidentally about what kind of health insurance we have — it will be about what kind of country we have.

This is about that, and more.

The United States is one of the most religiously diverse nations on earth. People of a vast array of traditions of faith live here in a harmony that would have been unthinkable in most of the world for most of human history.

One of the ways America has fostered and protected this diversity is by nurturing a robust understanding of religious liberty that includes granting certain exemptions to people who need them in order to be true to their religious faith. Religious exemptions protect people in situations where legislative or executive acts might otherwise unnecessarily force them to violate their consciences…

The United States is one of the most religiously diverse nations on earth. People of a vast array of traditions of faith live here in a harmony that would have been unthinkable in most of the world for most of human history.

One of the ways America has fostered and protected this diversity is by nurturing a robust understanding of religious liberty that includes granting certain exemptions to people who need them in order to be true to their religious faith. Religious exemptions protect people in situations where legislative or executive acts might otherwise unnecessarily force them to violate their consciences.

In a free, representative republic, it’s hard to imagine why or how government acts would possibly force citizens to violate their consciences. Surely, that cannot stand.

The reason that government is likely to lose in the Hobby Lobby case, however, is that there are so many ways for the government to distribute these drugs—on its own exchanges, through the Title X family-planning program and by cooperating with willing distributors—that do not require the forced participation of conscientious objectors. That presumably is why an effort is now being made to cut back on the robust conception of religious freedom that once united Americans of all faiths and even unbelievers.

The Establishment Clause argument should also fail. That provision exists to prevent the establishment of a national religion or the granting of superior standing to a religion that happens to have the support of most citizens. It would be perverse for a court to use it to punish the laudable practice—dating all the way back to George Washington’s decision to excuse Quakers from his army—of accommodating the free exercise of religion by protecting people whose religious beliefs or practices are not shared by the majority from being compelled even in the absence of a compelling reason to violate their consciences.

The two-pronged test of proving a compelling government interest in pursuing an edict that requires citizens to violate their religious beliefs, and then proving that the means of doing so constitute the least restrictive means possible to do so, is a test the government cannot pass with the HHS mandate, without the help of an activist court.

Oral arguments begin. The court ruling will come later. Stay tuned.

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Mar 10

Who believes media accounts that the Chinese government has eased it?

For the past two years in particular, in American politics, we’ve heard a lot of allegations about certain parties carrying out a ‘war on women’ and it’s becoming a campaign slogan. That’s dishonest, disingenuous, and distracting from the real and very terrible war on women being carried out by the Communist Chinese government.

What some political groups or organizations in the U.S. see as an opportunistic way to turn people’s opinions against other groups that think differently on pro-life issues is nothing compared with the reality of powerful authorities in other countries whose thinking on women and babies and human life has led to terror and horrific violence against their own people.

This must stop, but can only be stopped by being exposed, revealed, known about, talked about and acted on. China is not the only place where human rights abuses like this are happening. But it’s one to focus on.

International human rights activist Reggie Littlejohn was my guest on radio for an hour to talk about this human rights crisis, and her work as founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, an international coalition to expose and oppose forced abortion, gendercide and sexual slavery in China. She focused on the crisis, and politely answered my questions about her work, putting emphasis where it belong.

It belongs on both. The horrific crimes against humanity, the real ‘war on women,’ wouldn’t be getting much attention if not for Reggie’s amazing background and ongoing, tireless, relentless efforts.

Have you ever heard that every day, about 590 women end their own lives in China? Because the Chinese government enforces its one-child policy through brutal forced abortions, at any point through nine months of pregnancy. Because when a woman is discovered to be ‘illegally pregnant’ without a license or official permission, she is dragged off to a clinic where she may likely suffer barbarian acts to kill the child she’s carrying, sometimes dismembering it inside her womb if the child is older in weeks or months, larger, and the drugs given to the woman to induce pregnancy don’t work. Because the one-child policy has led to such overwhelming gendercide against baby girls in China that now there are 37 million more men than women there, resulting in an aggressive sex-trafficking industry targeting the women and girls who are still around.

Look at the facts, the faces and names and the unnamed, the horrors of the reality of what’s happening every day in China. And let’s all do something to stop it.

Because, as Reggie states:

It does not matter whether you are pro-choice or pro-life on this issue. No one supports forced abortion, because it’s not a choice. China’s One child Policy causes more violence against women and girls than any other official policy on earth.

We can save them, one girl and woman at a time if necessary. And wholesale policy change if possible.

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Mar 03

With over ninety lawsuits in courts for over two years contesting the government’s violation of the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, this one may be emblematic.

The Little Sisters of the Poor, and order of nuns founded in the 1800′s to care for the elderly sick and the poor, have to go to court again to fight for the right to continue to do so. As Congressman Jeff Fortenberry told me on radio Monday, “they were already providing affordable care!” And doing so long before the president’s law by that name required compliance in providing drugs and services that violate consciences.

Understand the basics here, because the Little Sisters’ case starkly reveals them.

Under RFRA [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act], the government must establish it has a compelling interest to infringe upon the religious liberty of its citizens. The HHS mandate asserts that the government has a compelling interest to require that all employers provide health insurance that covers contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The government claims such coverage is on par with preventive medical practices such as immunizations and cancer screening.

From a medical perspective this is ludicrous. Preventive medicine prevents disease and maintains health. Pregnancy is not a disease and fertility is not a disorder.

Full stop here. Because enough said. The Little Sisters – and all the other groups pursuing lawsuits to defend their right to continue doing their work and providing the healthcare coverage they were providing and applying their principles and moral beliefs to their work and services – are not trying to change what has already been easy access to birth control and morning-after pills. They’re trying to preserve their rights as they stood before the HHS mandate came out of nowhere and required coercion in a birth control delivery scheme that made these drugs part of the federal healthcare plan, masquerading as ‘women’s preventive health’.

And though this is an ‘aside’ to the main argument of government coercion to violate consciences, the HHS slipping in these drugs under that umbrella term bears scrutiny. So consider this aside:

Rather than maintaining health, contraception takes a perfectly healthy reproductive system and renders it non-functional. The methods used to achieve this state of sterility are fraught with health risks. The government’s own information page on contraceptives indicates they are associated with substantial risks including blood clots, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and liver cancer. Recent studies have demonstrated the use of hormonal contraceptives double the risk of transmission of the AIDS-inducing HIV. Women who use hormonal contraceptives increase their risk of the most aggressive form of breast cancer by at least 100 percent. The increase in breast cancer risk is greater the younger women are when they begin using hormonal contraceptives.

Some women choose to accept these risks and utilize hormonal contraception in order to be sexually active and avoid pregnancy. This is an elective lifestyle choice and not a necessary medical intervention. The government should have no more interest in whether or not women are accessing contraception to avoid pregnancy than whether or not women are using Lasik to improve their vision or using Botox to get rid of their wrinkles.

So, getting back to the two-prong test of RFRA, the first one was just addressed, that the government does not have a compelling interest to infringe on the religious liberty of its citizens.

However…

Even if we were to allow that there is some government interest in ensuring all women have access to highly risky elective medical procedures, the HHS mandate fails to meet the second demand of RFRA that the government utilize the least restrictive means to satisfy its compelling interest. Since 1970, the federal government has funded contraception through a program known as Title X. When the HHS mandate was first introduced, supporters were quick to claim that virtually every American woman utilized contraception and supported their assertions with data from the Guttmacher Institute. There were many problems with their analysis of the Guttmacher Institute statistics, especially when it concerned the number of Catholic women utilizing contraceptives, but the information did indicate that access to contraception is not a problem for American women. Title X funding of women’s health clinics is working as intended. Therefore, the push to force all insurance policies to include coverage for contraception is addressing an access problem that does not exist. The least restrictive course of action would be to continue the current Title X funding mechanism and avoid infringement upon anyone’s religious liberty.

On March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments in two key cases challenging the constitutionality of the government’s HHS mandate.

In the meantime, all sorts of injunctions have been granted to employers and organizations to stave off the harsh impact of this mandate until it’s settled by the high court. That includes the New Year’s Eve injunction granted the Little Sisters by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Followed by the full Supreme Court ruling continuing that relief until the 10th Circuit took up the case again.

Now the Little Sisters have gone back before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking justice.

“We are thrilled the Supreme Court temporarily protected the Little Sisters from having to violate their conscience or pay crippling IRS fines. We are hopeful the Tenth Circuit will give them more lasting protection,” said Mark Rienzi, Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for Little Sisters of the Poor. “The federal government is a massive entity that has lots of ways to deliver contraceptives to people–it doesn’t need to force the Little Sisters to participate.”

The injunction from the Supreme Court provided the Little Sisters short-term protection from being forced to sign and deliver the controversial government forms authorizing, ordering, and incentivizing their health benefits administrator to provide contraceptives, sterilization, and drugs and devices that may cause early abortions. Instead, the Little Sisters simply had to inform HHS of their religious identity and objections.

In a USA Today column in the midst of this ongoing struggle, Kirsten Powers – who believes in government mandated birth control delivery on the face of it – called on the administration to give the Little Sisters of the Poor a break.

This is a very strange case. The government has argued that signing the form is meaningless because the nuns’ insurer, the Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, is exempt from the mandate. Yet it has fought the Sisters all the way to the Supreme Court to make them sign it. What’s going on?

The government’s brief to the Colorado court provides a clue. It drips with contempt. The Obama administration finds the nuns’ complaint “implausible” and alleges that the Sisters are “fighting an invisible dragon.” Oh, you silly, simple-minded nuns! Just stop imagining things and do what the government tells you.

The Sisters reject the government’s contention that the form does nothing, as did all six lower courts to consider the claim in other church plan cases. They are wise to be leery of Uncle Sam’s intentions.

The dismissive tone of the administration’s brief is consistent with its overall attitude toward religious liberty issues throughout the implementation of the contraception mandate. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius never bothered to consult the Justice Department to determine whether the mandate was consistent with the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, despite requests from Congress.

When asked whether she consulted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over their complaints about an effort to find an “accommodation,” Sebelius said she didn’t. Considering it was the primary group complaining, why not?

These are questions I’ve been asking for the past two years, and few in big media have bothered to. I’m glad Powers asked.

The administration’s indifference to religious liberty complaints is not limited to issues arising from Obamacare. In 2011, the government made the argument in Hosanna-Tabor v. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that churches do not have special rights under the First Amendment but merely association rights, like unions. Justice Antonin Scalia called this “extraordinary,” and Justice Elena Kagan said it was an “amazing” claim. Another word that comes to mind is “disturbing.” A unanimous court rejected the administration’s claim.

However, nine days after that unanimous Supreme Court ruling rejected the administration’s claim to the right to infringe on religious freedom in Hosanna-Tabor, the HHS mandate was issued. This is, in a word, relentless.

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Mar 01

Some big questions have demonstrably true answers. But when they don’t fit powerful narratives, some powerful people are making the questions irrelevant.

Or coming up with pragmatic answers, you know, whatever works at the moment to dodge the truth.

As the Planned Parenthood president just did this week, saying that when life begins is not really relevant to the abortion debate.

“It is not something that I feel is really part of this conversation,” Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos on Thursday. “I don’t know if it’s really relevant to the conversation.”

When pressed, Richards said that in her view life began for her three children when she delivered them.

She explained that the purpose of her organization is not to answer a question that “will be debated through the centuries,” but to provide options for pregnant women.

People who choose to deny the facts may find them debatable or beyond their ability to debate, or just reduce them to an incoherent diversion.

But it is not debatable when life begins. It is scientific fact.

Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards dodging the question of human life by saying it’s irrelevant to the abortion debate is seriously dishonest and disingenuous, at best. It provides the occasion to recall former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the original architects of the abortion movement in America, telling the story behind the lies and deceptions for many years after his conversion. Late in his life, in a dramatic effort to help secure legislation in South Dakota that would strengthen informed consent laws, he made this video admission that as one of the original founders of NARAL, they made up the numbers and the ‘facts’, to ‘save abortion at all costs.’

His lesson about the importance of devising and driving a narrative “at all costs” applies to the whole choice movement, and Richards’ response reveals where incoherence inevitably leads.

It happens in other kinds of politics, too often. Remember Hillary Clinton facing a congressional task force inquiry into what really happened in the notorious Benghazi attacks, finally and angrily shouting ‘what difference does it make?

Political commentator Charles Krauthammer says there’s all the difference.

There’s a difference between the truth and a lie. The difference is that people in high office with public trust ought not lie. And if it was a lie, for whatever political or other reason, it shouldn’t have happened, and the administration itself should have traced it down and corrected it. And they didn’t. And that’s what is disturbing and remains disturbing.

And some people are still seeking the truth about that.

Ans, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught, there is an eternal truth, and it applies to all social issues. And those who seek it will find it.

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Feb 17

If the Catholic Church is so out of touch and irrelevant, why the concerted efforts at the UN to drive out the Vatican’s influence?

This goes back years. Why now? And what’s behind this latest attack?

As faithful Catholics continue to contend with last week’s incendiary United Nations report attacking the Church for her teachings on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, it may be time to look closely at the real agenda at the United Nations.

For more than two decades, the UN has dedicated itself to attempting to diminish the influence of the Church on life issues. We need to begin to understand why.

In an October 2013 Crisis article entitled “Kicking the Church out of the UN,” Austin Ruse, the president of Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), suggests that the reason for the hostility directed at the Church is because the Church has obstructed the goals of the population control zealots at the UN. “Starting at the Cairo Conference in 1994, the Church has been able to block an international right to abortion … the Holy See has consistently handed the Catholics for Choice, the Norwegians, the United Nations Population Fund and all the other uglies at the UN defeat after defeat.”

It is likely that last week’s UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report was payback. Despite its non-voting status at the United Nations, the Holy See has stood as the major barrier to the UN goal of universal access to abortion and contraception for young girls and women throughout the world. While the Church was unable to convince all countries—including the United States—of the evils of abortion, the Vatican, as a sovereign state, continues to play an important role at the negotiating table in areas in which the Church has a stake in helping to ensure the right to life and the dignity of the person.

The UN has attempted to end that influence.

This is so implausible, given the foundations of the United Nations on the dignity and rights of all human beings, universally.

But here we are.

So who’s looking out for whom? Sr. Mary Ann Walsh puts it well, and succinctly.

Sexual abuse of a minor is a sin and a crime and no organization can become complacent about addressing it. The Catholic Church has certainly done more than any other international organization to face the problem and it will continue to lead in doing so…

A report from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Unfortunately the report is weakened by including objections to Catholic teaching on such issues as gay marriage, abortion and contraception. This seems to violate the U.N.’s obligation from its earliest days to defend religious freedom. In 1948, the organization adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights that declared that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Certainly the U.N. charge to defend religious freedom includes defending the Church’s right to determine its own teachings. Defense of religious freedom is no small matter in a world where people, including children, get murdered for simply going to church. That’s what happened last September when militants killed 81 people, including children, attending Sunday school at a Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is correct to voice concern over sexual abuse and is to be commended for its efforts. It would have credibility, however, if it also worked to protect the most basic right of a child: the right to live. Would that it made headlines because of concern for minors being trafficked in the world’s sex trade and children dying from starvation and dysentery from impure water. When the U.N. committee strays into the culture wars to promote abortion, contraceptives and gay marriage, it undermines its noble cause and trades concern for children to concern for organizations with other agendas. What a lost opportunity.

So what’s the upshot?

…the secular human rights regime believes it is at the brink of final victory in these matters. (It has believed so for about 50 years now.) The forces of obscurity are in retreat and religion no longer dictates people’s lives, at least in the civilized West. The Catholic Church, in particular, is on the ropes, a victim of its own sins and intransigence. Why not put an end to its obstructionism once and for all? This would help the cause of progress, and actually be a good thing for the Church, too.

The committee no doubt expected the negative reaction of the Vatican to last week’s report. But it may have been surprised that so many in the elite media objected too. The Economist criticized the report for being sloppy and taking positions on issues where consensus is lacking. The Atlantic’s Emma Green complained that the report inappropriately critiqued deeply-held religious beliefs. And the Boston Globe’s John Allen argued that the report would only confirm the opinion of skeptics that the UN is motivated by politics and secular ideology. Perhaps the final victory is still a ways off.

One of sound mind and clear reasoning can only hope. Or better still, hope that perhaps there will be no victory at all for the aggressors against the greatest defender of human dignity and human rights around the world.

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Jan 28

It takes many forms, and it snakes its way through cultural relativism. But it’s alive and very active.

The topic is probably worth a book, certainly a long article or series. For purposes of a manageable blog post for now, let’s look at some recent events in light of other related events and see how the pieces fit together to form a picture.

Fr. Robert Barron is the force and the voice behind the Catholicism Series. So he’s an important voice to listen to when he speaks out about some recent anti-Catholic outbursts, and why they should bother everyone.

Last week two outrageously anti-Catholic outbursts took place in the public forum. The first was an article in U.S. News and World Report by syndicated columnist Jamie Stiehm. Ms. Stiehm argued that the Supreme Court was dangerously packed with Catholics, who have, she averred, a terribly difficult time separating church from state and who just can’t refrain from imposing their views on others. Her meditations were prompted by Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s granting some legal breathing space to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were objecting to the provisions of the HHS mandate. As even a moment’s thoughtful consideration would reveal, this decision hadn’t a thing to do with the intrusion of the “church” into the state, in fact just the contrary. Moreover, the appeal of American citizens (who happen to be Catholic nuns) and the decision of a justice of the Supreme Court in no way constitute an “imposition” on anyone. The very irrationality of Stiehm’s argument is precisely what has led many to conclude that her column was prompted by a visceral anti-Catholicism which stubbornly persists in our society.

Clearly and correctly stated. This is true.

The second eruption of anti-Catholicism was even more startling. In the course of a radio interview, Governor Andrew Cuomo blithely declared that anyone who is pro-life on the issue of abortion or who is opposed to gay marriage is “not welcome” in his state of New York. Mind you, the governor did not simply say that such people are wrong-headed or misguided; he didn’t say that they should be opposed politically or that good arguments against their position should be mounted; he said they should be actively excluded from civil society! As many commentators have already pointed out, Governor Cuomo was thereby excluding roughly half of the citizens of the United States and, presumably, his own father, Mario Cuomo, who once famously declared that he was personally opposed to abortion. Again, the very hysterical quality of this statement suggests that an irrational prejudice gave rise to it.

This needs to be addressed and confronted. Fr. Barron takes us back through historical anti-Catholicism and it’s good to remind Americans of what it was.

But…

What is particularly troubling today is the manner in which this deep-seated anti-Catholicism is finding expression precisely through that most enduring and powerful of American institutions, namely the law. We are a famously litigious society: The law shapes our identity, protects our rights, and functions as a sanction against those things we find dangerous. Increasingly, Catholics are finding themselves on the wrong side of the law, especially in regard to issues of sexual freedom. The HHS mandate is predicated upon the assumption that access to contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs is a fundamental right, and therefore to stand against facilitating this access, as the Church must, puts Catholics athwart the law. The same is true in regard to gay marriage. To oppose this practice is not only unpopular or impolitic, but, increasingly, contrary to legal statute. Already, in the context of the military, chaplains are encouraged and in some cases explicitly forbidden to condemn gay marriage, as this would constitute a violation of human rights.

And this is why the remarks by Andrew Cuomo are especially chilling. That a governor of a major state — one of the chief executives in our country — could call for the exclusion of pro-lifers and those opposed to gay marriage suggests that the law could be used to harass, restrict, and, at the limit, attack Catholics. Further, the attitude demonstrated by the son of Mario Cuomo suggests that there is a short path indeed from the privatization of Catholic moral convictions to the active attempt to eliminate those convictions from the public arena. I would hope, of course, that it is obvious how this aggression against Catholics in the political sphere ought deeply to concern everyone in a supposedly open society. If the legal establishment can use the law to aggress Catholics, it can use it, another day, to aggress anyone else.

Which recalls Martin Niemoller’s ‘First They Came…”

Which precisely gets to the point of the Nazi Holocaust and the belief in ‘lebensunwertens lebens’, or ‘life unworthy of life’, when an entire class of human beings can be denied any human rights when another class has power over them.

And that gets to this past week’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade in America, 41 years of abortion on demand. And President Obama’s remarks to observe that anniversary. And Fr. Barron’s assistant Brandon Vogt taking those remarks to task, challenging the message.

Here’s the message:

Statement by the President on Roe v. Wade Anniversary

Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health. We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom. And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children. Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

Here’s Brandon Vogt’s challenge:

Though relatively short, the President’s statement is packed with several confusing assertions. I’d like to respond to some of them:

“[W]e recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.”

It’s true that every woman should have liberty to make decisions regarding her own body, but not the body of another. Modern embryology affirms that a new human life is created at fertilization (i.e., conception.) Therefore abortion intentionally destroys the life, and thus the body, of an innocent human being. We all should have choices, but nobody should have the freedom to murder anyone else.

“We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care.”

Everyone agrees that women (and men) deserve safe, affordable healthcare. That’s not the question. The question is whether the restrictions put in place by Roe v. Wade constitute healthcare. Unfortunately, they primarily concern the right of mothers to uninhibitedly take the life of their children. It’s not healthcare to disrupt a healthy and normally functioning process (e.g., pregnancy) nor is it healthcare to destroy the health of unborn babies.

“[We reaffirm a woman’s] constitutional right to privacy”

Like many Constitutional rights, the right to privacy is not absolute. In the eyes of the law, what a woman does with her own body in her own environment is her own concern. Yet when her choices threaten the lives of innocent others, the common good trumps her right to privacy. We all intuitively understand this. It’s why we agree that invading drug labs trumps a drug dealer’s right to privacy. The same principle applies here: women have a right to privacy, but not at the expense of innocent lives.

“[We reaffirm a woman’s] right to reproductive freedom.”

I agree! Women should be completely free to reproduce however and, with certain qualifications, wherever and with whomever they will. But Roe v. Wade doesn’t concern reproduction at all. It regards what happens *after* reproduction occurs, after a new, unique, individual human has already been produced by his or her parents. I agree we should promote reproductive freedom but not the freedom to terminate any resulting children.

This is intellectual honesty we seldom see, directed at each line of the president’s remarks. This is engagement we need.

“[We resolve to] support maternal and child health”

I struggle to see how the Roe v. Wade decision supports child health when it seems that 100% of the children it directly affects are no longer alive.

Yet it doesn’t support maternal health either. By violently disrupting a healthy bodily function, abortion leads to increased depression, cancer, mental illness, future pregnancy complications, and more.

Also, note the President’s chilling word choice here. He didn’t resolve to support women’s health, but specifically “maternal” health. The word maternal connotes motherhood, and you can only be a mother if you have a child. This subtle choice insinuates that the President knows well that pregnant mothers carry children, not some abstract clump of cells, and therefore abortion is not a neutral surgical procedure. It involves a mother intending the death of her child.

“[We resolve to] build safe and healthy communities for all our children.

Again, I struggle to see how the Roe v. Wade decision supports children. Abortion doesn’t result in safe and healthy communities for children. It results in less children.

“Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.”

I wholeheartedly agree! And that’s why Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The misguided court decision crushes the rights of unborn citizens for the sake of born citizens. It smashes their freedom and opportunity on the altar of false liberty. Everyone in this country deserves the same rights—men, women, and children—especially the smallest and most vulnerable among us.

Argue with that, and you are defending age discrimination, among other class distinctions.

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Jan 22

Human dignity and human rights, “for all God’s children.”

How ironic that the day set aside to honor Dr. King is only a few days before the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade anniversary. What would he say?

Alveda King, the niece of MLK and a dedicated pro-life advocate, notes her uncle was strongly pro-life.

“Were he alive today, he would be working to secure peace and justice for those in the womb and healing for a nation that is still pained by over 53 million missing lives,” King says. The toll abortion has taken on the African American community is enough to shock the conscience of every American.

According to the US Census Bureau, African Americans comprise 12.4% of the American population; however, over 30% of the nation’s abortions are done on black women. Recently released data from the New York City Department of Health shows the Big Apple hitting a 40% abortion rate. As if that number wasn’t appalling enough, when the data is broken down all racial lines, around 60% percent of New York City’s abortions are done on black women. In other words, 1,448 African American babies are aborted for every 1,000 born. Among black teens in New York City, that number jumps to a staggering 72% abortion rate or 2,360 abortions for every 1,000 babies born.

Read that. Engage this issue.

Center for Disease Control data shows that since Roe vs. Wade (1973) abortion has been the leading cause of death among African Americans. More African Americans have lost their lives to abortion than to heart disease, cancer, accidents, violent crimes or AIDS- combined.

Let that sink in. It’s not a coincidence.

African Americans are a prime target of the abortion industry. In analyzing the location of the nation’s abortion centers, some have found a disproportionate number situated in majority-black neighborhoods. One such center was that of Kermit Gosnell, the disgraced abortionist from Philadelphia who is now charged with murder after the deaths of at least two women and seven newborn infants at his facility.

According to the Grand Jury report, the Gosnell abortion business preyed upon low-income black women. These women were subjected to absolutely deplorable conditions. Basic health considerations were ignored and abortions were being performed by unlicensed and even untrained staff using unsanitary surgical instruments.

That trial should have made a huge difference, one that’s bee overdue for decades.

The Gosnell case made national headlines but his business strategy of targeting low-income black women is not an anomaly in the abortion industry. This goes back to the beginning of the modern pro-abortion movement with Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, an unabashed eugenicist.

Despite its claims otherwise, the pro-abortion movement does a grave disservice to African American women and the greater African American community. Abortion advocates fail black women when they rally against common sense clinic regulations, which could have prevented the Gosnell tragedy. They fail black women when they work to undermine crisis pregnancy centers, which are an invaluable resource for so many low-income black women. And they fail the African American community by denying basic humanity to black babies in the womb.

Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly envisioned an America in which everyone would be free to share in the same opportunities as everyone else.

However…

In legalizing abortion-on-demand, the Court ruled that a group of people, namely unborn children, did not deserve any legal protection whatsoever. For this reason, Roe vs. Wade is completely antithetical to King’s Dream.

Abortion has not made our society more equitable. In fact, it has done the opposite. Abortion has allowed society to arbitrarily decide whose lives are valuable and whose are expendable. True equality treats all human life the same, regardless of race, stage of development or condition of dependency. Abortion prevents millions of African Americans from sharing in King’s Dream and it must be ended.

That’s why they march, the pro-life movement who began giving voice to the voiceless on the first anniversary of Roe. Like King, they never gave up and never will. In fact, their ranks are only growing larger and younger and more determined. They’ve spread from the annual Washington DC rally and March for Life throughout the country to the West Coast Walk for Life.

The Chicago March for Life held last Sunday had a tenfold increase in participants over last year, and they were loud, joyful, exuberant, determined, happy, hopeful, positive, and very supportive. The plaza erupted at just about everything any speaker said, starting with the young African-American woman who was pressured to have an abortion but looked into a pregnancy help center where she found support and everything she needed to keep her baby, which wound up being babies when she learned she had twins. The beautiful little girls, Amelia and Olivia, were with her on stage as she spoke of hope and life and aid for women.

Two congressmen, Democrat Dan Lipinski and Republican Peter Roskam, spoke of bipartisan support for the protection of all human life and women’s health in Congress. They were brief but powerfully moving, invoking predecessors in the cause of human rights, including the drafters of the Declaration of Independence.

Dr. Martin Luther King invoked that, too. On many occasions. Because the majority of Americans still hold those truths as self-evident.

In one of his lesser known addresses, ‘Our God Is Marching On’, King explained why he and his movement marched.

He said “it is not an accident that one of the great marches of American history should terminate in Montgomery, Alabama.” In that city, “a new philosophy was born” of the struggle of the oppressed, one that united an entire community to squarely face the oppressors. And out of that struggle, he said, a powerful new idea was born, one “that electrified the nation and the world.”

And then “the conscience of America began to bleed.” And as a result “of this democratic spirit,” the nation finally forced Congress  to write legislation in the hope that it would eradicate “the stain of Birmingham”, of discrimination of a whole class of human beings by another class. And that legislation gave them some degree of “their rightful dignity”.

Once more the method of nonviolent resistance was unsheathed from its scabbard, and once again an entire community was mobilized to confront the adversary. And again the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land. Yet, Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. There never was a moment in American history more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger  at the side of its embattled [Blacks].

At the side of its embattled, oppressed fellow human beings discriminated against and denied human rights by a class of human beings who had the legal right to do so, until those laws changed.

That’s why they marched then, said Dr. King. That’s why they march today.

 

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Jan 15

This is about what’s being heard.

And news reporters heard different things about it, apparently.

They also use agenda driven language to report it, sometimes doing semantic gymnastics to cue readers to feel positive or negative to different groups, as Walter Lippman described in his exceptional little book Public Opinion.

The Hill reports that Justices appear split on clinic buffer zones.

The Supreme Court appeared split Wednesday during arguments over whether buffer zones around abortion clinics in Massachusetts violate free speech rights. The case centers on anti-abortion-rights activists who desire to speak to women as they enter reproductive healthcare clinics in the state. A 2007 law created a buffer zone around clinics in Massachusetts, mandating that protesters and would-be sidewalk counselors remain 35 feet away from entrances.

“The case centers on anti-abortion-rights activists who desire to speak to women as they enter reproductive healthcare clinics in the state.” That sentence alone is worth a post. Along with clarification on the buffer zone that forces “protesters” and “would-be sidewalk counselors” to remain as far from entrances as possible.

Back some years ago, media style books changed the identifier ‘pro-life’ to a variety of negative terms, even if they are bulky and transparent, like “anti-abortion-rights activists.” Although the term ‘pro-lifer’ had become a pejorative at that point, it still had to be changed, because someone of the opposite belief, cause or ideology would have to be “pro” something opposite, and they just couldn’t handle being “pro-abortion.”

If we are to level the playing field for public debate, what would be the equal and opposite term for people who favor abortion on demand? They’re never called “anti” anything, never called “activists”, and never associated with the word “rights” unless it’s attached to abortion. Such as, say, human rights. Because if there is a pregnant woman, there is a human life in her. The doctor treating her is treating two patients. The abortionist ‘terminates’ one of them, ending her or his life. But that’s the law, and we’re just talking about language for now. And we’ll get back to that buffer zone law in a moment. I just want honesty here.

So let’s use language that describes people fairly. Though that would require the acknowledgement by abortion-rights activists (yes, they are activists, too) that “people”, or let’s boil it down to ‘human beings’, have their lives ended in what that Hill piece refers to as “reproductive healthcare clinics”, a euphemism for abortion clinics. The life that reproduction started is not given “healthcare” in those clinics, it is terminated, ended, killed and discarded. Just to be clear.

And by the way, what makes a sidewalk counselor a “would-be” sidewalk counselor, other than the intention to sneer at the term and dismiss the likelihood such person would actually be on that sidewalk to provide something of aid to women within earshot, who made the choice to pay attention to them. It is, after all, about choice, isn’t it?

Over at Politico, they handled the same story a bit differently, saying Justices were “skeptical”, significantly so.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday showed significant skepticism about a Massachusetts law that restricts speech around abortion facilities, with justices suggesting that it could violate the First Amendment.

The Politico piece also uses the standard media language setting the scene and describing the players, but it’s more probing and analytical.

Here’s the setup:

Massachusetts, joined by the Obama administration during oral arguments, defended a state law that prohibits speech within 35 feet of an abortion facility entrance except for passersby and employees or other agents of the clinic or health care facility.

Opponents of the law, including a woman who regularly tries to conduct “sidewalk counseling” outside of a Boston clinic and who brought this case, say the exemption for employees creates an unconstitutional imbalance in speech. The woman, Eleanor McCullen, said her anti-abortion speech is limited while the speech of those who support the clinic is not.

But Jennifer Miller, who argued the case for Massachusetts, said the law restricts pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights speech in similar ways and that anything a clinic employee says inside the buffer zone is merely “incidental” speech.

Here’s some context and analytical reporting:

A key issue in the case, McCullen v. Coakley, is whether Massachusetts can differentiate between people who want to peaceably protest or consult people outside of the facility and those who intend to be violent or disruptive. Miller, as well as the Obama administration, argued that it is “enormously difficult” to make that distinction, so everything from loud protests to quiet conversations must be restricted.

Kennedy suggested they were exaggerating the difficulty.

“Even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked,” Kennedy declared, adding that he’s troubled that the Massachusetts law forbids even quiet talk.

“You said there is no guarantee of talking quietly?” he questioned to Miller. “Do you want me to write an opinion and say there’s no free speech right to quietly converse on an issue of public importance?”

Good question. I also learned today from the head of a legal firm that had counsel present in the courtroom that Justice Scalia continued what insiders call his “abortion distortion” line of question, probing a lawyer on his constant use of the term “protestors” for pro-life advocates, or activists, outside the clinics.

Politico continues:

The court’s makeup has changed significantly since the 2000 case, Hill v. Colorado, which created a floating 8-foot buffer zone around someone entering the clinic. Massachusetts’s law draws a fixed line, 35 feet away from the door, that no one but patients and employees can cross.

The court’s ideological center has moved since then, from former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to Kennedy. And the court now includes includes Alito — who strongly questioned the proponents of the Massachusetts law — as well as Roberts, Kagan and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Kagan, the newest justice, said she had no problem asking “everyone take a step back” outside of a high-tension facility such as an abortion clinic. But she questioned why Massachusetts needed as much as 35 feet.

Another good question.

And here’s an important point that must be made, and was made before the Supreme Court justices.

Mark L. Rienzi, the attorney representing McCullen, insisted that keeping the anti-abortion rights activists [or pro-lifers] so far away inevitably changed their speech, making it more confrontational.

“If you sent me 35 feet further back [from the lectern] and asked me to make my argument from there … you might hear me, but I would suggest you’d receive it quite differently,” he said.

Precisely. I’ve been at two of these locations before, seen the pro-life people praying, heard them talking quietly among themselves and to me, and whenever a car pulled up and a woman got out, rushed by an abortion clinic escort, I heard one or two pro-life people call out to them to offer help.

Much later, in a salon conversation with the young woman owner I’ve known for years and been friends with as long, this twenty-something single woman told me about going to a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic to get her refill of the pill, and she felt intimidated by ‘those people shouting at me from the other side of the parking lot.’  Knowing the perception and the reality, I casually mentioned that there’s an ordinance requiring them to be that far away, and they weren’t really yelling at her, but projecting their voices to be heard. Thinking she may be going in for an abortion, they wanted her to know there was help for women in a crisis pregnancy who had no other answer. They wanted to offer answers, I said, but couldn’t be heard unless they raised their voices on the other side of that ‘bubble zone’ (as it’s known in these parts) to call out to the women.

She listened, and seemed to deliberate over that.

Now, the justices will do the same.

“It’s plainly discriminatory for the government to say that abortion supporters can speak freely at a given place, but pro-lifers cannot,” said Fr. Frank Pavone, well-known head of Priests for Life. “Then again, bubble zone laws and abortion are based on the same illicit notion, namely that some people have rights and some people don’t.”

The Supreme Court will rule sometime before the end of the term in June.

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