in Catholic Circles

Illinois Bishop Threatens Prochoice Lawmakers

In June, Illinois governor Jay Robert “J. B.” Pritzker signed into law the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which repealed older restrictions and established “a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about one’s own reproductive health” in the state. The bill, passed by the Illinois General Assembly in response to the slew of restrictive laws intended to challenge Roe v. Wade in more conservative states, also established that “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights.”

Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who oversees the Springfield, Illinois, diocese, issued a decree vowing to refuse Holy Communion to any lawmakers who supported the legislation until such time as they publicly rescinded said support and proposed legislation to repeal the RHA. (Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich did not support the law but also did not see denial of sacraments as a constructive response, thus following the example of most US bishops in recent years.) Paprocki had warned House Speaker Michael Madigan of his intentions before the vote was held, but Madigan said he was not dissuaded, stating, “I believe it is more important to protect a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions.”

Catholics for Choice responded to the controversy with a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune and other area papers that applauded Catholic lawmakers in Illinois for refusing to be influenced by the bishops’ threats.

FOIA Docs Reveal Anti-Abortion Appointee’s “Creepy” Preoccupation

A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Department of Health and Human Services produced a spreadsheet used to track details about the pregnancies of immigrant children in the agency’s care. The newly obtained documents include multiple columns of information about each girl, including the circumstances of the pregnancy (rape or consensual activity), the location where the act occurred, if the minor had expressed a desire to obtain an abortion and, in some cases, details about menstrual cycles and miscarriage. Scott Lloyd, then head of the agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), had denied that the agency collected such information in a congressional hearing earlier this year. Lloyd, a Catholic anti-abortion activist, also denied personally contacting any minor children to talk them out of terminating their unwanted pregnancy. However, emails included in the document release show Lloyd referring to conversations he had with pregnant girls in at least one Texas shelter, which Lloyd also confirmed in depositions. Moreover, an ACLU lawsuit claims that details about menstrual cycles and gestational age provided the information Lloyd needed to block abortion access to immigrant girls, often detained or housed in states with gestational limits on the procedure. In at least one case, Lloyd ordered that a girl scheduled for release be detained longer to undergo anti-abortion “counseling.” The ACLU further alleges that Lloyd would require girls to tell their families in their home countries or their US sponsor families or both. As one ACLU attorney put it, “Scott Lloyd was creepily involved.”

Lloyd has since been reassigned to the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives, but immigrant rights groups are calling for a criminal investigation into his conduct as ORR chief. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Lloyd requesting he “clarify” his answers on whether he tracked menstrual cycles or personally contacted any of the pregnant minors.

The Battle for Abortion Rights Continues in Argentina

Though the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy (IVE) bill failed to pass Argentina’s Senate last fall, the National Campaign for the Right to Legal, Safe and Free Abortion has reintroduced legislation to legalize abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. On May 28, the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, thousands of women marched once again in Buenos Aires and around the country, waving the green flags that have come to represent the feminist and prochoice movement in the nation. Currently, abortion is only legal in cases of rape and cases in which the mother’s health is at risk. It is this latter exception that allows doctors who support abortion rights to invoke the “ILE protocol” for the lawful “interruption of pregnancy,” as the definition of health in the penal code aligns with that of the World Health Organization to include psychological and social dimensions. However, this interpretation, though legally defensible, is not held by all physicians. There are, in fact, entire hospitals that practice “conscientious objection” on matters of abortion, refusing to perform an abortion even in the gravest emergency cases when a woman will die without the procedure.

Though unlikely to pass, abortion rights advocates are glad that the IVE bill—along with wider campaigns such as #NiUnaMenos and Girls, Not Mothers, and the high-profile screening of the abortion rights documentary Que Sea Ley at the Cannes Film Festival—continues to push the issue into the spotlight. A presidential election will be held later this year, and leaders of the abortion rights movement point out that this is the first such election in which candidates are being asked to stake a position on the issue. A modest shift in the Senate would provide the opportunity for the IVE to pass, and support is increasing for this and for the Comprehensive Sex Education Program, which would incorporate pregnancy prevention into existing sex-ed programs.

SF Files Suit against HHS “Conscience” Rule as UCSF Nixes Affiliation with Catholic Group

The city of San Francisco filed suit against the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) after it implemented a new policy requiring that healthcare professionals be allowed to refuse to provide contraception or abortion care or referral for either. The agency’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) also rewrote its mission and vision statement to place heavy emphasis on its law enforcement role as related to “conscience and religious freedom” in healthcare. Further, all entities receiving HHS grants will be required to document their compliance with the rule or risk losing funding.

The chairmen of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Activities and Religious Liberty Committees jointly commended HHS for the move, calling for “swift action” against violators and pushing for legislation to codify the rule.

San Francisco immediately filed suit against HHS on the basis that the rule increases rather than decreases discrimination and places a practitioner’s religious beliefs above the health and safety of patients. The lawsuit describes the new policy as “a perversion of OCR’s mission, it is unlawful, and San Francisco will not abide it.”

The suit came amid controversy over the University of California San Francisco’s (UCSF) plans to affiliate with Dignity Health, following the merger of Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives. Critics argued that the bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for Catholic facilities would land UCSF providers in a tangle of ethical quandaries. Moreover, as a public institution, UCSF faced legal questions as to whether such an affiliation violates the California constitution, which dictates that “the university shall be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence,” prohibits public support of Catholic hospitals and bars the kinds of discrimination detailed in pending lawsuits against Dignity. UCSF posted a FAQ about its plans, assuring readers that the affiliation would not impact services for women or LGBTQ patients. After faculty, staff and students, as well as members of the University of California’s Board of Regents, “expressed strong concerns about a significantly expanded UCSF relationship with a health care system that has certain limits on women’s reproductive services, LGBTQ care, and end-of-life options,” however, the chancellor announced that would no longer pursue the affiliation.

“Fertility” App Developed by Catholic Group That Opposes Contraception/Abortion

Hundreds of thousands of women around the world have downloaded FEMM, an app that tracks fertility by collecting data about menstruation and sexual activity. An investigation by The Guardian, however, revealed that the app is funded by the Chiaroscuro Foundation, which supports organizations that oppose birth control and abortion rights, including Susan B. Anthony List and its associated Super-PAC Women Speak Out. The group’s president, Sean Fieler, has contributed millions of dollars to anti-abortion candidates running for federal office, as well as to local races in states hostile to abortion rights, including Alabama.

The app’s information library was found to promote “natural” birth control to avoid possible “illness and degrading health” caused by hormonal and other contraceptive methods. However, the featured “experts” are members of an organization called the Reproductive Health Research Institute, which is affiliated with other anti-abortion groups, sharing a New York street address and phone number with the World Youth Alliance. These experts are not OBGYNs and, in most cases, are not licensed to practice medicine in the US (where a majority of the app’s users reside).

Data Begin to Emerge on the Scope of Abuse

The scope of child sexual abuse in the Catholic church is slowly emerging, as individual dioceses begin to voluntarily release abuse data. In the US, 96 of 178 dioceses (54 percent) have made public the names of credibly accused clerics in lists totaling more than 2,600 individuals. While not revealing the identities of the accused, the US Council of Catholic Bishops has acknowledged that credible accusations have been lodged against 6,721 clerics since 1950. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has received 3,420 credible reports of abuse in just the past 10 years. These numbers likely contain significant overlaps, making an accurate tally impossible. Moreover, church leaders in many countries, including majority Catholic nations like France and Mexico, have yet to release any information to the public. Studies based on publicly available information have estimated that between 4 percent and 5 percent of clergy have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.