The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November elected Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City as chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Archbishop Naumann, known to endorse ultraconservative views on abortion and the role of the Catholic hierarchy in American politics, was elected over Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. Similarly conservative on the issue of women’s autonomy, Cardinal Cupich contextualizes antiabortion policies with other issues such as access to healthcare and income inequality. The election, the first time in nearly 40 years that the bishops did not elect a cardinal to the position, suggests that the USCCB favors a hardline approach on abortion to one that expands the ambit of “pro-life” advocacy to societal issues. Archbishop Naumann is openly critical of prochoice Catholic politicians, calling them “cafeteria Catholics,” and asserts that abortion is the greatest “moral crisis of our time.” The appointment elevates Naumann’s definition of pro-life to a position of public prominence in advance the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae.
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The Oireachtas’ Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution has made its final report, recommending the complete repeal of its namesake constitutional amendment that currently supports the country’s near-total ban on abortion. In addition to the repeal, the committee has recommended the decriminalization of abortion and a number of legislative goals including termination without restriction up to 12 weeks into pregnancy and abortion without restrictions or time limits for cases of fatal fetal abnormality. The committee has also recommended establishing access to free contraception and improving sex education in schools. The committee chair, Senator Catherine Noone, recognized the groundwork of the Citizens’ Assembly on the eighth amendment, saying, “What is clear to me is that two inclusive processes—one made up of citizens, the other of politicians—have now concluded their deliberations and have both recommended a change in our constitution, some access to terminations and a greater focus on women’s health and experience.” The report will be debated by the Oireachtas in the next legislative session, and Ireland will hold a referendum in summer 2018 on whether to repeal the eighth amendment.
Archbishop Thomas Luke Msusa of Blantyre has publicly criticized the Malawi government’s proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which would legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities and when the physical or mental health of the woman is at risk. The current law in Malawi proscribes abortion in all circumstances except when the life of the pregnant individual is at risk and the country currently has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The Guttmacher Institute reports that the majority of abortion procedures in Malawi are performed in unsafe conditions and estimates that complications from clandestine abortions account for between six and 18 percent of maternal deaths in the country. The move to liberalize abortion laws in Malawi is reportedly in line with a popular and governmental initiative to address women’s rights and obligations from international treaties. Despite the human rights implications, Archbishop Msusa has condemned the move as a sidelining of religion in the regulation of morals and called for a referendum on the issue.
An effort to liberalize abortion access in South Korea is gaining public momentum following an official petition that gained nearly a quarter-million signatures in 30 days. The current law criminalizes abortion in most circumstances and requires married women obtain permission from their spouse to access abortion care. The strength of the petition spurred the Seoul Archdiocese’s Committee For Life to issue an official response in which it denigrated women’s right to bodily autonomy. The committee’s chairman, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, described calls for abortion access selfish at a forum of the National Assembly in November. The country is regarded as one of the least equal in the world from the perspective of gender equality.
In October 2016, nationwide protests in Poland ended a proposed ban on abortion in the country put forward by the right-wing Law and Justice Party. The party, closely allied with ultraconservative members of the Catholic hierarchy in Poland, suggested it would support an abortion ban shortly after it gained a majority of seats in the government. As the proposed ban approached a vote, 143 protests formed in cities across Poland, and thousands of individuals went on strike or wore black to work in protest. Following the success of the protests, ultraconservative Catholics and politicians have moved towards more subtle restrictions on abortion access. In August, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo wrote in the Gosc Niedzielny, a conservative Catholic magazine, that she would support a ban on “eugenic abortion.” In October, a legal opinion written by a group of ultraconservative Catholic lawyers closely connected to members of the Law and Justice party was leaked; the opinion suggested prosecution for anyone providing information about how to access abortion services abroad. Around the time of the leak, the Polish government began seizing shipments of medical abortion supplies.
On October 6, 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules expanding the ability for corporations to seek exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement. Later that month, the University of Notre Dame announced that it would end contraception coverage for students, faculty and staff on its insurance plans in accordance with its view of “the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.” This announcement was met with protests from students and employees of the university. Georgetown University, which only began offering contraceptive coverage on its health insurance plans after the creation of the Affordable Care Act, was similarly expected to end coverage and also met with protests. Both universities have now announced that they will not end coverage of contraceptives. Notre Dame publicly stated that it “made the decision not to interfere with the provision of contraceptives administered by insurance administrators and funded independently,” with its president adding that “the university’s interest has never been in preventing access to those who make conscientious decisions to use contraceptives.” Georgetown updated its health insurance website in early December without making an official comment, and the updated language makes clear that contraceptive coverage will be continued.