in Catholic Circles

Opposition to Use of Fetal Cells to Develop COVID-19 Vaccines

Senior Catholic leaders in the United States and Canada, as well as anti- abortion groups, are raising ethical objections against promising COVID-19 vaccines manufactured using fetal cells derived from voluntary donations of post-abortion material. They have not sought to block government funding for the vaccines, which include two candidate vaccines the Trump administration plans to support and a third made by a Chinese company in collaboration with Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). They are, however, urging funders and policymakers to ensure that companies develop other vaccines that do not rely on such human fetal cell lines. In addition, they are asking the US government to “incentivize” firms to only make vaccines that don’t rely on fetal cells.

Cells derived from abor- tions have been used since the 1960s in vaccines, including current vaccines against rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis A and shingles. They have also been used to make approved drugs against diseases, including hemophilia, rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis. According to the World Health Organization, more than 130 candidate vaccines against COVID-19 are in development. At least five of these are reported to use one of two human fetal cell lines.

The Trump administration has restricted the use of human fetal tissue from abortions in biomedical research. It adopted a policy last year that forbids researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from using fetal tissue from abortions in their studies. It also imposed an extra layer of review on non-NIH scien- tists seeking agency funding to do research using such tissue. But the policy did not stop researchers from using decades-old fetal cell lines in COVID-19 research under Operation Warp Speed.

The Vatican approves of Catholics receiving vaccines manufactured using human fetal cells only in the absence of alternatives.

Legal Abortion Begins in Northern Ireland

SUCCUMBING TO MOUNTING legal pressure, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health authorized abortion services in the region, putting into force legislation that overturns one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.

Abortion in most cases up to 12 weeks became legal in Northern Ireland’s hospitals in October 2019. There are also provisions for pregnan- cies beyond that period in extreme circumstances, such as threat to the life of the mother. In April 2020, health officials finally signaled that abortions could go ahead, after allega- tions that antichoice politi- cians, including health minister Robin Swann, were stalling implementation of a ruling that provided for services to be introduced by the end of March.

Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK that banned abortions in almost all circumstances, until Labour MP Stella Creasy’s legislation was enacted. Before the laws went into effect, women in Northern Ireland seeking free abor- tions had to travel to England—a difficult trip made nearly impossible by COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Abortion services are available in the Republic of Ireland, but at a cost prohibitive for many women.

Abortion rights groups that brought pivotal pressure against the Department of Health are now calling on health officials to authorize the provision of telemedicine abortions, recently introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom. That would allow Northern Irish women in the early stages of pregnancy to self-administer abortion medication at home after a remote consultation with a doctor.

Justice Kavanaugh Tried to Sidestep Abortion Cases

IN A SERIES OF PRIVATE memoranda this spring, US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh urged his colleagues to consider avoiding decisions in major disputes over abortion and subpoenas for President Donald Trump’s financial records, CNN reported exclusively.

Kavanaugh wanted the justices to sidestep any ruling on the merits of a Louisiana law that could have closed abortion clinics in the state. On March 4, the Court’s last day of in-person oral arguments before isolating due to COVID-19 restrictions, they heard oral arguments in June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, a challenge to a Louisiana abortion law that requires physicians who perform abortions at clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

According to sources, in a series of private memos to his colleagues in mid-March, Kavanaugh began making his case for returning the dispute to a trial court judge to gather more facts on just how onerous the admitting privileges requirement was. Kavanaugh’s suggestion would have kept the law blocked in the short term while the case moved back through the legal system.

Throughout the recent Court session, CNN reports, as Kavanaugh revealed a desire to avoid certain thorny dilemmas, he also demonstrated a pattern of trying to publicly appeal to both sides. His style of accommodation was on display in recent disputes over gay and transgender workers and, separately, undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children.

The details show how the Court’s newest justice is approaching his role on the bench. Behind closed doors, he looks to please dueling factions as he seeks to move beyond the angry and defiant image he projected in 2018.

Polish Prochoice Activists Protest Abortion Ban in Defiance of Coronavirus Lockdown

AS POLAND’S PARLIAMENT pursued a controversial proposal to tighten what are already among the strictest abortion laws in Europe, dozens of women in cars and on bicycles protested in central Warsaw, honking horns and displaying posters against the law. Although public gatherings are banned, videos show people in the streets of Warsaw and Poznan following recom- mended social distancing and holding placards.

Activists feared that conservative politicians could take advantage of the coronavirus lockdown to prevent opponents from organizing large street protests as they did in 2016, when huge street protests caused the government to withdraw anti-abortion proposals.

There have also been protests online, and people are hanging flags in their windows. An online petition opposing the bills has gained more than 700,000 signatures, and people are sharing videos using #ProtestAtHome. Several opposition MPs joined, posting pictures on Twitter.

Catholic Organizations Receive Billions in Taxpayer-Funded Pandemic Relief Loans

THE US ROMAN CATHOLIC Church used a special and unprecedented exemption from federal rules to amass at least $1.4 billion in taxpayer-backed coronavirus aid through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Millions of dollars went to about 40 dioceses that have paid hundreds of millions in settlements or sought bankruptcy protection because of clergy sexual abuse cover-ups.

Faith-based organizations that promote religious beliefs aren’t usually eligible for money from the US Small Business Administration (SBA). But Congress let faith groups and other nonprofits tap into the PPP, a $659-billion fund created to keep small businesses open and Americans employed. The Trump administration then freed religious groups from a rule disqualifying applicants with more than 500 workers. Without this preferential treatment, many Catholic dioceses would have been ineligible because, accounting for their head offices, parishes and other affiliates, they typically exceed the 500-person cap.

The Associated Press, which broke the story, reported that a spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) acknowledged that its officials lobbied for the paycheck program, but said the organization wasn’t tracking what dioceses and Catholic agencies received. The federal government released PPP disbursement data after pressure from Congress and a lawsuit brought by news outlets. The AP analyzed the data, and acknowledged that its tally of Catholic-affiliated program recipients—between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion—is an undercount, because the Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference surveyed members and reported that about 9,000 Catholic entities received loans—nearly three times the number of Catholic recipients as the AP originally identified.

The Catholic News Service reported that the USCCB and several major Catholic nonprofit agencies worked to ensure that the “unique nature of the entities would not make them ineligible for the program” because of how the SBA defines a small business. Those conversations came just days after President Trump signed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included the Paycheck Protection Program. In addition, federal records show the Los Angeles Archdiocese, whose leader heads the USCCB, spent $20,000 to lobby the US Senate and House on “eligibility for non-profits” under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

How Trump and Biden Are Courting Catholic Voters

ONCE A RELIABLE DEMOCRATIC constituency, Catholic voters are seen as a key swing bloc by many political observers. The campaigns of President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are making efforts to attract and energize their kind of Catholic voters: those motivated primarily by abortion, and those who see in the last four years a turning away from caring for society’s most vulnerable and marginalized.

Biden speaks frequently about his own faith, while his campaign has messaged using “values” language into outreach aimed at traditional Democratic cohorts, such as women, Hispanics and LGBT people. The Trump campaign regularly highlights the president’s opposition to abortion as a reason for why he deserves the support of Catholics and evangelical Protestants, while the president himself was praised by New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a campaign-style conference call with Catholic school leaders and in a subsequent interview on Fox News.

In other election-related news, the University of Notre Dame, citing coronavirus safety concerns, has cancelled a presidential debate scheduled for September 29. Look for the next issue of Conscience in early fall, when we will explore issues Catholic voters face in this fall’s US elections.