News Articles

LIFE DIGEST: Pro-choice politicians, Pope differ on excommunication over abortion

WASHINGTON (BP)–Should there be excommunication of politicians for supporting abortion rights? Not in America, 18 Roman Catholic members of Congress have told Pope Benedict XVI.

The group of Democrats in the House of Representatives issued a May 10 statement taking issue with the Pope’s recent comments that elected Catholic officials who support abortion would be candidates for excommunication from the church and exclusion from communion.

The Pope responded May 9 to a reporter’s question about whether he supports a threat by Mexican bishops to excommunicate members of the Mexico City legislature who voted in April to legalize abortion in the capital city.

“Yes, this excommunication was not an arbitrary one but is allowed by Canon (church) law which says that the killing of an innocent child is incompatible with” taking communion, he told reporters.

The Mexican Catholic leaders “did nothing new, surprising or arbitrary,” the Pope said, according to Reuters News Service. “They simply announced publicly what is contained in the law of the church … which expresses our appreciation for life and that human individuality, human personality is present from the first moment (of life).”

The Catholic representatives, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, said in their statement that promoting “respect for life and for the dignity of every human being is, as our church has taught us, our own life’s mission.” That calling should not prevent them from supporting abortion rights, they suggested.

“The fact is that religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America -– it also clashes with freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution,” they said. “Such notions offend the very nature of the American experiment and do a great disservice to the centuries of good work the church has done.”

The other members who signed the statement are Reps. Joe Baca, Anna Eshoo, Linda Sanchez, Hilda Solis and Mike Thompson, all of California; Tim Bishop, Maurice Hinchey, Carolyn McCarthy and Jose Serrano, all of New York; Joe Courtney and John Larson, both of Connecticut; Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin, both of Rhode Island; Betty McCollum of Minnesota; Jim Moran of Virginia; Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, and Tim Ryan of Ohio.

CALIF. COURT OKS EMBRYONIC RESEARCH — The California Supreme Court May 16 gave the go-ahead for the state’s multi-billion dollar embryonic stem cell research institute, declining to hear an appeal of rulings against opponents of the institute.

Some taxpayer and religious groups had filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 71, the 2004 initiative that passed, granting $3 billion in bonds over 10 years for both embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. The initiative established the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“This is the end of the road,” Dana Cody, executive director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, which was part of the lawsuit, told the Los Angeles Times.

The first bonds are expected to be issued in July, the newspaper reported. Despite the delay, the research at the institute has gone forward, with a total of $158 million in funding from state loans and private donations, the Times said.

Late last year the institute released a report stating that any cures from embryonic stem cell research are more than a decade away. The report said it is “unlikely” the research institute “will be able to fully develop stem cell therapy for routine clinical use during the 10 years of the plan.”

ABORTION TRUMPS RELIGION -– A woman’s right to abortion eclipses a doctor’s freedom of religion, a pro-choice leader has argued to the Canadian Medical Association.

Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, wrote May 9 to complain about a CMA policy permitting physicians to refuse to refer women to other doctors for abortions.

“A physician’s religious and moral beliefs should not jeopardize a patient’s access to needed care,” Saporta wrote. “The CMA should not allow physicians to treat abortion referrals differently than referrals for other health care services. A patient’s needs must remain paramount.”

She called for the CMA to change its policy, saying it violated the association’s ethics guidelines. A delay for a woman in undergoing an abortion could threaten her health, she said. If doctors will not refer for abortions, they should not be a part of the public health system, Saporta said.

CMA President Colin McMillan denied his organization’s policy violates its Code of Ethics, according to the National Post. “Nor does it treat women unfairly or impede their access to critical health care,” he said in a written statement.

Williard Johnston, president of Canadian Physicians for Life and a Vancouver doctor, also took issue with Saporta’s complaint.

“Now is not the time for us to be weakening the conscience protection for health care workers with the huge changes we are facing with technological capabilities,” Johnston said, the Post reported. “Now is the time to be strengthening conscience protections so that people who find themselves uncomfortable with procedures should have their rights protected.”

In April, abortion rights advocates issued a report showing access to the procedure had fallen in the last three years. The research showed 15.9 percent of Canadian hospitals perform abortions, down from 17.8 percent, according to the Post.

CLEARED AT LAST -– Pro-life leader Joseph Scheidler and his allies gained May 8 the final victory in their two-decade-old legal battle with the abortion rights movement.

Federal judge David Coar dismissed an injunction against Scheidler, the Chicago-based Pro-life Action League, Operation Rescue and others, bringing a close to a case that began with a National Organization for Women lawsuit in 1986 and that went to the U.S. Supreme Court three times.

In its final opinion in the case, the high court ruled 8-0 in February 2006 that Scheidler and other protesters outside abortion clinics are not extortionists under a federal anti-racketeering law. The justices returned the case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent it to Coar for dismissal, which occurred a year later.

The NOW suit produced a nationwide injunction against demonstrations at abortion clinics and hefty fines against pro-lifers.

“NOW and the abortion centers tried everything they could to stop us,” Scheidler said in a written release, “but in the past twenty-one years, hundreds of abortion providers have quit, over a thousand abortion clinics have closed, numbers of abortions have dropped significantly and public opinion has shifted to pro-life. We have won in every quarter. And our mission continues until abortion becomes history.”

Supporters of the pro-life demonstrators always contended the case was about free speech more than abortion. During the lengthy process, animal rights and disability rights activists, death penalty foes, anti-war protesters and the AFL-CIO filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Scheidler and the others.
— With reporting by Michael Foust