Weekend reading, 5/20/16: on Zika, tolerance, and a Canadian problem

Every Friday, I serve up three of my favorite posts from other blogs for you to read over the weekend, after you’ve caught up on Leaven for the Loaf. Have a good weekend!


Wall Street Journal: “Sisters Act Two: Back in the Habit” (wsj.com)

“As HHS works out the technical details of a new accommodation, its political instinct will be to enforce militant cultural liberalism….so why not crush the Little Sisters and their old-fashioned morals now?But better, not least for the temper of U.S. politics, to abide by America’s tradition of religious pluralism. HHS and the White House admit a more tolerant solution is possible.” Read the rest of the post.

Simcha Fisher: “That death may march in the shade” (aleteia.com)

(Editor’s note: I featured this earlier on Leaven’s Facebook page, but this post is worth sharing again.) 

“Sara Mujica of Danbury, CT is seventeen and pregnant. A pretty common story. What is unusual about her, at least in the U.S., is that she has Zika virus. She caught it in Honduras, where she travelled to visit her boyfriend. She started showing symptoms of the disease just after she found out she was pregnant….She says: ‘I have Decided to keep my Baby , Because it’s what God has given to me & I am taking Full Responsibility Of MY Actions &  I do NOT believe in Abortion so I would never do that.’

“The Giant Internet Hand of Spanking sprang into action and declared that Mujica is an opportunist, a liar, a cheat, a fraudster, a hypocrite, and of course a slut and a whore….Most of all, she should get an abortion. She must get an abortion. They could easily forgive her for all her missteps, as long as she makes the only responsible choice now.” Read the full post.

Margaret Dore: Canada has a problem as it tries to codify assisted suicide (alexschadenberg.blogspot.ca)

(Editor’s note: After a pro-assisted-suicide decision by Canada’s Supreme Court, the nation’s lawmakers are attempting to make laws to codify the decision. Dore,  an attorney and anti-euthanasia activist, warns that what’s under consideration violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.)

“People who sign up for assisted suicide or euthanasia do not necessarily intend to go through with it. Maybe it was somebody else’s idea, maybe they were ambivalent or maybe they signed up ‘just in case’ things get bad. A patient can also change his or her mind. There are many people, including heirs, who can benefit from a patient’s death. If the patient was tricked, objected or struggled, who would know? [This] bill is a response to the Canadian Supreme Court decision, Carter v. Canada, which envisioned a ‘carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards.’ The bill has no such system.” Read the rest of the post.


No repeal of buffer zone in 2016

As yet unbuffered: peaceful witness outside a Manchester NH abortion facility.
As yet unbuffered: peaceful witness outside a Manchester NH abortion facility. Ellen Kolb photo.

In a repeat of a 2015 vote, the New Hampshire Senate on May 5 refused to endorse repeal of a law permitting abortion facilities to establish buffer zones within which First Amendment activities are barred.

The ought-to-pass motion on the repeal bill, HB 1570, failed on a 12-12 vote. The bill was then tabled.

No votes shifted from 2015’s repeal effort. Continue reading “No repeal of buffer zone in 2016”

Buffer zone lawsuit dismissed; pro-life witness continues; abortion facilities may attempt to enforce “zones”


In a March 31 order, federal judge Joseph Laplante dismissed the Reddy v. Foster case that challenged a New Hampshire law permitting anti-First Amendment “buffer zones” outside abortion facilities. Laplante ruled that the pro-life plaintiffs lacked standing to bring suit, since no zones have been posted since passage of the law in 2014 and therefore no one has been prosecuted to any extent.

Photo by Beth Scaer
Photo by Beth Scaer

Peaceful pro-life witness not otherwise proscribed on public sidewalks and rights-of-way outside abortion facilities in New Hampshire remains protected where no buffer zone is posted. No First Amendment rights were struck down in Laplante’s decision.

A bill to repeal the buffer zone law will get a Senate committee hearing at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 5, in room 101 of the Legislative Office Building in Concord.

The buffer zone law permits abortion facility operators to post a zone around their facilities of up to 25 feet within which no demonstration, including silent prayer, may take place. The 25-foot zone may include public sidewalks and rights-of-way.

Court: no enforcement = no grounds for litigation

The buffer zone law has been on hold since shortly after the Reddy v. Foster case was filed.  Abortion facility operators, together with the New Hampshire Attorney General and other defendants, either agreed to refrain from enforcement or were ordered by the court to refrain, pending resolution of the case. With the March 31 dismissal, those agreements are dissolved and abortion facility managers are free to post buffer zones.

Laplante’s decision to dismiss the case did not reach the point of addressing First Amendment implications of the law. He found that plaintiffs’ lack of standing to bring the lawsuit was sufficient grounds for dismissal, regardless of other legal issues. “Before the Act can be enforced…one of the clinics must demarcate a zone…[and post] tje appropriate signage,” he noted in his ruling.

Laplante left open the possibility of future litigation in the event any New Hampshire abortion facility establishes a buffer zone. “Once a zone is in place,” wrote Laplante, “[plaintiffs] and others in their position would still have an opportunity to seek injunctive relief….At that time the court would have before it sufficient factual developments to conduct a proper McCullen type of review.”

McCullen v. Coakley was the unanimous 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law.

What now? Some personal observations, not to be confused with legal advice

I am not a lawyer, and this should not be construed as legal advice. Read that line twice. …but as one of many pro-life Granite Staters, this is how I see the dismissal of Reddy v. Foster. Any attorney who finds a serious error here needs to point it out to me.

  • Abortion facilities are still places where peaceful pro-life witness is essential. Lives at all stages are at stake.
  • Peaceful and otherwise legal pro-life witness on public property is not affected around any abortion facility that does not have a posted buffer zone.
  • Where there IS a zone, peaceful witness might or might not trigger enforcement; that’s strictly up to the abortion facility staff.
  • If police are called, and a law enforcement official asks the pro-life witness to knock it off, the pro-life witness who chooses noncompliance runs the risk of being cited for violation of the buffer zone law (among other things). A written warning is supposed to come before a citation. The citation would be for a violation-level offense and carry a minimum fine of $100.
  • By the way, one of the conditions in the Statement of Peace for 40 Days for Life is cooperation with local authorities.
  • A pro-life witness who finds her or his First Amendment rights chilled by enforcement of the buffer zone law, as opposed to the threat of enforcement, should run – not walk – to the nearest attorney with experience in defending the First Amendment rights of pro-life people.
  • I have thought since the law was passed that it’s a good idea for pro-life witnesses to work in pairs. I’m even more convinced of that now. I may have to give up solo 7 a.m. vigil hours during 40 Days for Life.  It makes sense to have multiple pro-life witnesses who can attest to the circumstances surrounding any event or challenge.
  • The biblical admonition to be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves is apt. Be careful as well as prayerful out there.

 

Cardinal O’Connor: “Too many people have sacrificed for too long to give up now”

The brief quotation from the late John Cardinal O’Connor that I used yesterday prompted me to go back and re-read the complete homily from which it was taken. The Cardinal preached this homily on Epiphany Sunday, a little more than a week after the murder of two abortion facility employees in Boston in 1994. Boston’s Cardinal Law had called for a temporary suspension of peaceful pro-life demonstrations in the wake of those murders (and Bishop O’Neil of New Hampshire followed suit). In New York, Cardinal O’Connor took a different approach.

After the recent shootings that killed three people and wounded nine others at a Colorado abortion facility, Cardinal O’Connor’s words sound as fresh as if they were written today. The complete text of the homily is on the EWTN web site. Here’s an excerpt.

It is this sense of the sacredness of every human life that has prompted my very close friend, His Eminence Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston, to denounce unconditionally the recent killings and woundings that took place in two abortion clinics in his archdiocese. I joined him in that unconditional denunciation and expressed my deep sorrow for the victims and their loved ones, as I have done on previous occasions. Indeed, on this current occasion I have repeated publicly what I have said before and mean, with every fiber of my being: “If anyone has an urge to kill an abortionist, kill me instead.” That’s not a grandstand play. I am prepared to die if my death can save the life of another.

Cardinal Law, one of the strongest pro-life leaders in the United States, knows the situation in Boston as I and others do not, and has called for a moratorium on pro-life demonstrations outside abortion clinics…It is quite possible that were I the archbishop of Boston I would be inclined to call for such a moratorium in the Boston area, at least for a period of time, while trying to sort things out. Indeed, I intend to borrow at least one page from Cardinal Law’s book and ask that every week a different pastor in each of the 19 regions of the Archdiocese of New York schedule a period of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the cause of human life. I would ask, however, that this be in addition to any prayer vigils that responsible individuals or groups believe that they should conduct legally and non-violently within the Archdiocese of New York in the vicinity of abortion clinics.

The rosary vigils led by my brother bishop in Brooklyn, Bishop Thomas Daily, are wonderful examples of peaceful processions and prayers in the vicinity of abortion clinics. I cannot imagine that any people of good will could object to them, and certainly no one would deny their constitutionality. To my knowledge, prayer vigils held here in New York have been equally peaceful and non-violent.

Here in the Archdiocese of New York, however, I too would be prepared to call for a moratorium on these peaceful prayer vigils on condition that a moratorium be called on abortions. The first is within my power, to call a moratorium on prayer vigils, although I would respect those who might disagree with me and carry out such vigils anyway.

The second, a moratorium on abortions, is obviously not within my power, but only within the power of those who operate abortion clinics. Perhaps during a moratorium on both abortions and prayer vigils here in New York, both sides could meet to determine whether there is anything that can legitimately be the subject of dialogue.

…The New York Post of Jan. 5, 1995, editorially asked, “Why the readiness to tie the Boston killings to the pro-life movement?” The Post answered its own question: “To marginalize the movement in the eyes of the general public.” And it concluded: “Thus far, moreover, the effort seems to be working—which is a pity.” I would like to believe, however, that the current outcries against the pro-life movement are a reflection of frustration rather than a concerted effort to marginalize millions of non-violent, peaceful people whose only sin is their love for every human life, the life of every baby, the life of every mother. If there is a concerted effort, however, I cannot believe it will “work” for very long. Too many wonderful people in the pro-life movement have sacrificed too much for too long to give up now.

…I do not pretend to have a monopoly on how best to save human life. Only Jesus is the expert, and he did it only by dying on a cross.

Little Sisters and other resisters

Pope Francis visiting Little Sisters of the Poor. Photo from littlesistersofthepoor.org.
Pope Francis visiting Little Sisters of the Poor. Photo from littlesistersofthepoor.org.

My mom, God rest her, once quipped that the three biggest lies in the world are “the check is in the mail,” “of course I’ll love you in the morning,” and “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” I can add a fourth to the list: “They’re coming for your birth control” – a lie that has gained some currency, as a quick Web search will verify.

Brace yourself for more. A year and a half after the Hobby Lobby cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced it is taking up more challenges to the contraceptive mandate of the so-called Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (The ghost of George Orwell groans with every repetition of that title. I’ll use “Obamacare,” hardly a slur if the President takes as much pride in the law as he says he does.) The Little Sisters of the Poor, among others, will argue that they should not have to be involved in employees’ decisions to use contraception. The Administration holds an opposing view.

Inconvenient truths


The they’re-coming nonsense ignores a few facts: people who don’t want to pay for someone else’s contraception or abortion-inducing drugs are not “coming to take” them; access does not mean “free”; religious liberty under the First Amendment includes religious practice, not mere freedom to worship – at least until and unless the Supreme Court chooses to eviscerate the First Amendment; Americans with religious objections to contraception (myself, among others) want not to be forced to subsidize or provide it to others.

Recall that in this context, “religious” isn’t limited to Catholic. The Hobby Lobby case was won by evangelical Protestants, and the companion Conestoga Wood Products case involved Mennonites. Recall as well that those cases were decided on extremely narrow grounds, with the Court majority acknowledging that it was not addressing the First Amendment issues raised by the plaintiffs. Instead, the decision rested on a statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It was left to Justice Ginsburg and the other three Justices in the minority to say that the First Amendment didn’t protect the plaintiffs in their claim at issue. One more Justice being swayed to that view could make the Little Sisters’ case what Hobby Lobby was not: a landmark in constitutional law.

At issue

I am indebted to SCOTUSblog.com and Helen Alvare, Esq. of Women Speak for Themselves for their research and reports on the cases to be heard by the Court. I am mentioning only a few of the issues. Any errors in the following summary are my own.

The Little Sisters are arguing that their sincerely-held religious beliefs, no less than those of the Hobby Lobby plaintiffs, are protected by RFRA. In order for the federal government to prevail, if the Court limits itself to the actual issue in question, it would have to show that the Obamacare contraceptive mandate and the Administration’s efforts to “accommodate” religiously-affiliated employers do not amount to a burden on the Little Sisters’ free exercise of their religious beliefs. Further, the government would have to show that it has a compelling interest in forcing the Little Sisters to violate those beliefs. It would have to show that there is no other way to get “free” contraceptives to the Little Sisters’ employees.

The federal government is quite comfortable making all those arguments. The President and his HHS secretaries – first Kathleen Sebelius, Obamacare’s virtual doula, and now Sylvia Burwell – will litigate challenges to the mandate regardless of time or cost required.

About that “accommodation” for religiously-affiliated employers: employers who provide health care for workers are supposed to advise insurers, or the agencies administering health insurance, to cover contraception as a “preventive” health care item. To accommodate employers like the Little Sisters, the Administration crafted a regulation that allows those employers to advise the government of its objections to the contraceptive mandate, but then requires the employers to provide the government with all the information it needs to provide contraceptive coverage to employees.

The Administration calls this an opt-out for employers. Nope, assert the plaintiffs. Under the accommodation, the government simply turns around and does the paperwork that makes contraceptive coverage part of the health insurance plan provided by the employer. The employer is thus forced to be a party to providing something in violation of the employer’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. To compound the burden on the employer, there are financial penalties for failure to cooperate with the mandate.

We’ve met you halfway, say the feds. You don’t get to tell us what constitutes a violation of our religious beliefs, say the plaintiffs.

Back to “They’re coming for your birth control”

Nowadays, when I hear anything about a threat to women’s basic preventive health care, I immediately go on high alert. The currency of language regarding health care has become so debased that no one can or should take it at face value. “Threat to basic preventive care” has become code for “someone’s trying to get out of paying for your contraception” – a far cry from denying “preventive” care.

The Little Sisters of the Poor are nuns, for God’s sake (literally). They care for the elderly poor. Their vision statement sounds like something that ought to be encouraged: “to contribute to the Culture of Life by nurturing communities where each person is valued, the solidarity of the human family and the wisdom of age are celebrated, and the compassionate love of Christ is shared with all.

”

These are the women who are challenging the mandate. Theirs is the ministry that will be crippled if they have to pay fines. These are the people the Administration and other mandate supporters want to force into compliance. The Sisters take a vow of obedience, all right, but in doing so the Sisters in the U.S.A. didn’t surrender their constitutional rights.

Most inconvenient truth of all, in the face of the mandate: women aren’t broken and they don’t need to be fixed. Calling contraception “preventive” health care is the same as saying that women in their childbearing years are defective. Treating contraception as a choice, an option, is far different from treating it as a public health imperative.

It just might take a group of nuns to drive that point home.