Bishops Are Behind the 'Let Women Die' Act and the Push Against Birth Control--Even As They're Under Fire for Sex Abuse Scandals
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Last week, the House's passage of the now-notorious H.R. 358 -- also known as the "Let Women Die" bill -- caused deserved outrage. But the bill's connection to the high-ranking Catholic group that fought for its passage, even while the American church is fighting a horrific new sex abuse scandal, hasn't been given the attention it deserves.
The new bill (which the president has vowed to veto) would essentially obliterate abortion coverage by both public and private insurers, and most egregiously get hospitals off the hook for refusing to perform abortions for women whose lives are in immediate danger. It would literally allow hospitals to let women die with impunity.
H.R. 358's easy passage by a majority in Congress (with some defecting Democrats in the ranks) delivered another shock of sexism in a political landscape that has been assaulted by one anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-women's health measure after another, all firing in a succession of rapid shots from statehouses across the nation as well as from DC. Helping to man the artillery is a largely disgraced Catholic hierarchy.
This momentum for misogyny has been painted as having mostly arisen from the Tea Party and the extremist evangelical megachurch Pat Robertson types. But these anti-choice forces are not alone, and they are not solely responsible: rather the (all-male, it should go without saying) Council of Catholic Bishops has aggressively, relentlessly, and successfully lobbied for many of the worst of the measures in the "War on Women."
During the health care debates of 2009, this group was instrumental in pushing for anti-abortion language. At the time, NPR reported that Democrats found them to be "a lobbying force of unexpected influence" that had decided after budget cuts to focus their "strongest efforts" almost entirely on abortion issues rather than waste time on say, helping the poor.
Specifically, their aims have included the one-two punch of pushing for the "let women die" clauses and anti-abortion measures of H.R. 358, as well as the alarming new fight against coverage for contraception, which would deprive the overwhelming majority of the Catholic public that uses birth control with coverage for birth control.
The council has done this without being questioned by the mainstream media even in the long shadow of scandal, even though much of the American Catholic hierarchy's capacity to treat issues of sex appropriately has been thrown into serious question by the seemingly never-ending child sex-abuse travesty.
Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check(who has been on this story for years) points out the obvious connection that many are missing. The very same week a bishop was indicted for failing to report sexual abuse in his diocese in Kansas City was the week that H.R. 358 came through Congress with heavyhanded lobbying by that very bishop's colleagues.
Taking lewd photographs of young girls and covering it up. Raping young boys and girls and covering it up. Getting women pregnant and covering it up.
There is a sustained pattern of institutionalized corruption and immorality by any measure and these men are allowed to declare themselves the moral arbiters of the most private decisions made by women and their families?
Here is the dramatic opening of the news story about the indictments in the Kansas City Diocese from the New York Times:
A bishop in the Roman Catholic Church has been indicted for failure to report suspected child abuse, the first time in the 25-year history of the church’s sex abuse scandals that the leader of an American diocese has been held criminally liable for the behavior of a priest he supervised.
The indictment of the bishop, Robert W. Finn, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by a county grand jury was announced on Friday. Each was charged with one misdemeanor count involving a priest accused of taking pornographic photographs of girls as recently as this year.
Earlier in the autumn, a similar court case occurred in Philadelphia. (A monsignor, not a bishop, was the highest-ranking official there to be charged.) The major revelation during these proceedings was a secret file of sexual abuse the church kept from the public; a quietly institutionalized method of covering up crimes instead of protecting the most vulnerable.
So yes, bit by bit, there are beginning to be legal ramifications beyond shame for these coverups. But why doesn't the stigma extend to the bishops' lobbying efforts?
Jodi Jacobson is right. It's been years since the systematic coverup of these kinds of cases (and far worse ones) in the Church was exposed, and yet this story shows the pattern persists. Nonetheless, instead of focusing on reform from within, Robert Finn's fellow bishops seem intent on womb-policing and urging elected officials to carry on a policy of disregarding women's lives.
Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, wrote about why American Catholics are for the large part at odds with their clergy:
The Catholic bishops’ actions show an unhealthy obsession with sexual issues. They appear to be hell-bent on wasting real and political capital on dictating to all Americans what their sexual choices should be. In their campaign to impose their will on others, they are willing to stoop to new lows.
The arguments that the USCCB has made are not scientifically, medically or legally sound. The bishops, having failed to convince the majority of Catholics on issues related to reproductive health and sexuality, are attempting to use Congress to impose their personal beliefs on all Americans. The bishops should stop forcing their personal beliefs on others and allow women and their doctors to make healthcare decisions. It’s time for us to respect the consciences of all and support people’s right to make their own decisions about their lives and health.
If you think these kinds of laws being passed are symbolic posturing, think again. They have real-life effects. Consider the case last year of the Arizona nun who was excommunicated from the church after approving one of the life-saving abortions being targeted by H.R. 358.
Last November, a 27-year-old woman was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. She was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and she was gravely ill. According to a hospital document, she had "right heart failure," and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was "close to 100 percent."
The patient, who was too ill to be moved to the operating room much less another hospital, agreed to an abortion. But there was a complication: She was at a Catholic hospital.
The hospital officials knew that church doctrine would have them let both mother and child die. But they searched for an exception and thought they found one: "Sister Margaret McBride, who was an administrator at the hospital as well as its liaison to the diocese, gave her approval" for a lifesaving abortion. The woman survived, but the nun was excommunicated.
A nun who saved a woman's life was excommunicated. Many of the priests implicated in sex abuse scandals -- priests accused of child rape -- have not been excommunicated. The church devoted time and money to the nun's case, while sparing the priests.
And the governing bodies in charge of these decisions are walking the halls of Congress, pushing for policies that "protect life" by ruining the lives of women and children.