Southern Religion

Health reform abortion complexities [Addendum]

While Steven Ertelt of argues that there is a single-shot, pro-abortion health care reform bill before the U.S. House of Representatives, the situation is actually so complex that Ezra Klein of the Washington Post offers a guide to public option compromises.

With regard to abortion alone, the matter is so complex and hotly debated that has an entire page devoted to Abortion statements.

Among House Democrats, the Associated Press reports, what the legislation means to abortion rights is a matter of debate. Clarifying matters, Catholic Anthony Stevens-Arroyo argues at On Faith in a painstaking analysis that the muddle of legislative opinions does not translate into support for “abortion on demand.”

The matter has been and remains, complex, nuanced, shifting.


Mark Silk explains how ant-abortion logic for opposing health-care reform would lead to support for abolition of Medicaid.


October 23, 2009 Posted by | Health, Medical Care, Politics | | Comments Off on Health reform abortion complexities [Addendum]

Unsafe abortion is still a matter of conscience

Legalization of abortion was not a radical goal, as Susannah Clark reminds us, reminding us in the British Guardian–not in 1967 when the British abortion act was passed. “Significant numbers of evangelicals, including high profile leaders,” supported passage of the act. One reason, also commonplace in that era among otherwise conservative Southern newspaper editorialists in the U.S., was concern about the dangers backstreet abortions and often deadly self-induced abortions to which the poor were prey. Although that was in the era before “life begins at conception” became something of a mantra.

She is responding to the Guttmacher Institute report, Abortion Worldwide: A Decade of Uneven Progress [Download .pdf ]. It finds that the number of abortions has fallen “from an estimated 45.5 million procedures in 1995 to 41.6 million in 2003.” Moreover, “abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in regions where it is broadly legal and in regions where it is highly restricted [40% of the world’s women live in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws]. The key difference is safety—illegal, clandestine abortions cause significant harm to women, especially in developing countries.”

The result is 5 million women treated for complications, 3 million women who suffer untreated complications and 70,000 deaths a year. Guttmacher’s solution is better access to contraception, better after-abortion care and expansion of legal access to abortion.

Clark, a researcher for the conservative, London-based Evangelical Alliance, writes:

I find myself agreeing with the evangelicals of 1967 and the evangelicals of today: I long to see a reduction in the number of abortions carried out each year, both in the UK and globally, but I am glad that there are safe services women can access if they do chose abortion. I may protest about the 200,000 abortions a year in the UK, but I’m glad there are also people speaking up for the 70,000 women who die each year, mainly in developing countries, from unsafe abortions – just as people spoke up for the impoverished women in England in 1967. Compassion lies at the heart of both concern for the mother’s safety, and a desire to see the number of abortions reduced.

October 21, 2009 Posted by | Health, Medical Care | , | Comments Off on Unsafe abortion is still a matter of conscience

A death every 12 minutes from lack of health insurance

While Baptist Press promoted Kelly Bloggs’ shrill, CounterFactual, anti-abortion attack on health care reform, Eduardo Peñalver of Cornell Law School struggled with the daily human-life cost of U.S. health policies. Writing for the Catholic site dotCommonweal, Peñalver cited a new Harvard Medical School study which says:

Nearly 45,000 people die in the United States each year — one every 12 minutes — in large part because they lack health insurance and can not get good care, Harvard Medical School researchers found in an analysis released on Thursday. “We’re losing more Americans every day because of inaction … than drunk driving and homicide combined,” Dr. David Himmelstein, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, said in an interview with Reuters

Those were not concerns for Florida Baptist Witness editor James Smith, who was consumed with a conjectural cost in unborn lives, with fantasies of rationed health care and with attempting to prove Obama dishonest in his abortion reduction policies. On that last point, Smith’s arguments finally relied so heavily on arguments made by the National Right to Life Committee that they become almost identical to them. And he closes with a risible reference to “the danger inherent to the elderly” of rationed health care, as if health care were not already rationed. tells us, and agrees, that no version of the health reform legislation proposes new health care rationing.

Peñalvers focused instead on the overarching life issue posed by the deaths of the uninsured and by abortion deaths. Both. He acknowledged the argument that those newly insured via health reform might use resources thus freed up to help pay for an abortion.

What he further considers, but Boggs and Smith do not, is the larger issue:

… wouldn’t this abortion-facilitating argument be equally true for any government subsidy of the poor? How, for example, is it different from saying that we should not give the poor food stamps because (for some undetermined number of people) that will free up money from their personal budgets that they will then use to go out and procure an abortion that they otherwise would not have been able to afford? Should we require food-stamp recipients to sign some pledge that they won’t use their private money to procure abortions? Given the various positions that Obama has taken to try to defuse the abortion issue in the health care context, that it may nonetheless indirectly subsidize abortions strikes me as a very odd argument against Catholics supporting health care reform.

It is similarly odd for Southern Baptists to lose themselves in sweeping claims that the president “and his base supporters in Congress” have an unacknowledged abortion agenda.

If the issue is indeed preservation of life, the Harvard study tells us there is a death every few minutes which suggests that it is not enough to seek fewer abortions.

September 20, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Churches, Health, Politics, Religion, SBC | , , , | 2 Comments

CounterFactual Kelly Boggs [Addendum]

“President Obama recently expressed his concern over mercenary medical professionals,” editor Kelly Boggs wrote in a Sept. 3 Louisiana Baptist Message editorial.

Boggs’ logic moved quickly to judgment of the presidents July 22 news conference:

The President offered no evidence to support his claim that dollar-drunk docs are performing all manner of unnecessary medical procedures. There were no statistics supporting his claim that patients are mere prey for money-grubbing physicians; not even an anecdote was offered.

Thus Boggs implied that no such statistics and anecdotes were readily available.

Before implying that the president was misleading us, Boggs had a journalistic obligation to look for statistics and anecdotes. Failure to do so is, among professional journalists, a form of disregard for the truth.

Looking just a little would have showed Boggs that his argument was not exactly right.

The Congressional Budget office estimates 16% of the Gross Domestic Product — about $700 billion a year — “goes to healthcare spending that can’t be shown to improve health outcomes.”

One readily discovered anecdote is Consumer Reports’ account of Ron Spurgeon’s unnecessary cardiac bypass surgery at Redding Medical Center in northern California. Spurgeon “and 344 others sued the hospital and eight cardiologists and surgeons for performing unnecessary procedures. The defendants ultimately paid $442 million to settle the suit.”

Neither the CBO numberss nor the availability of anecdotes should surprise anyone.

The problem to which Obama alluded is so commonplace that CBS had on June 10 ran a consumer-information feature warning that as many as 40% of all medical procedures are unnecessary and explaining how consumers can protect themselves.

But Boggs was in a hurry. The reality or lack thereof of greedy doctors wasn’t his primary concern. Abortion was. Having castigated Obama for lack of statistics and anecdotes, Boggs wrote:

But let’s assume for the sake of argument the president is correct and mercenary medicine is indeed out of control in America. The one area he needs to set his sights on cleaning up first is those physicians who perform abortions.

Boggs argues that “85 to 90 percent, and more, of all abortions are carried out as a result of convenience” and fuel “a lucrative industry.” Apparently to illustrate how lucrative, he wrote:

Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, rakes in more than a billion dollars every year. And while PP is the largest peddler of elective abortions, it is by no means the only one. Needless to say, there is a lot of money available to greedy doctors willing to perform an unnecessary medical procedure.

Not exactly.

It is true Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit corporation with a total budget of about $1 billion a year.

Yet as Wikipedia makes clear, Planned Parenthood’s budget isn’t the result of “raking in” abortion profits:

In 2007, contraception constituted 36% of total services, STI/STD testing and treatment constituted 31%, cancer testing and screening constituted 17%; other women’s health services, including pregnancy, prenatal, midlife, and infertility were 11%, and approximately 3% of total services involved surgical and medical abortions.
. . .
Planned Parenthood receives about a third of its money in government grants and contracts ($349.6 million in FY 2008). In the 2007–08 Annual Report, clinic income totaled $374.7 million and miscellaneous operating revenues $68.9 million. Planned Parenthood is also heavily sponsored by private individuals, with over 700,000 active individual contributors [.pdf] Large donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contribute a substantial part of the organization’s budget.

Undeterred by reality, Boggs charges on to his central point:

So, if President Obama is really serious about reforming health care by reducing the number of medically unnecessary procedures he will certainly call for the end of elective abortions, right?

That’s the first in a series of rhetorical questions with which Boggs hectors his readers. It’s rhetorical because Obama’s pro-choice views are well-known.

Boggs’ questions do bring us to his concluding erroneous argument — that health reform will use government funds to pay for abortion. His proof is an Aug. 5 news story:

In fact, the Associated Press recently reported, “Health care legislation before Congress would allow a new government-sponsored insurance plan to cover abortions…”

The ellipses are his, BTW, and the AP story is not exactly the final word .

On August 7 examined the same issue. It did so by way of evaluating a claim by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) that “The Democrat-backed health care reform plan “will require (Americans) to subsidize abortion with their hard-earned tax dollars.”

After exploring the matter in detail, PolitiFact concluded that “things could change as the health reform package works its way through Congress, but for now, we don’t see anything to support Boehner’s claim that taxpayers would subsidize abortions. And so we rule his statement False.”

Also not exactly right is Boggs’ conclusion that “If the president has his way, not only will medically unnecessary, elective abortion on demand continue unabated in America, it will be underwritten by the government and will likely only increase.”

Obama’s campaign commitment was to abortion reduction, an issue covered in detail by in a Sept. 14 Associated Baptist Press article by David Gushee, Joel Hunter and Ronald Sider.

The three wrote in rebuttal to a Baptist Press article, which they argue misportrayed the recently introduced Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act (H.R. 3312, referred to as the Ryan-DeLauro Bill).

Gushee, Hunter and Sider aren’t counterfactual. They don’t hector their readers with rhetorical questions. They do conclude:

Common-ground efforts to reduce abortion by addressing the circumstances that lead to it are consistent with the conviction that all life — the unborn, pregnant women, infants and children — is sacred. Honest dialogue about this innovative approach is imperative for those of us who aspire to protect life in concrete ways.

Plainly misrepresenting the content of the Ryan-DeLauro bill, and asserting in defiance of logic and evidence that it will increase rather than reduce abortion, does nothing to protect life. In fact, it does the opposite.

Likewise abortion reduction is President Obama’s clearly stated goal. Not exactly what Boggs says in his closing summary.

Addendum: Another anecdote

CounterFactual Boggs was so distressed at President Obama’s failure to offer anecdotes at his July 22 news conference that we’re adding another to the one already provided.

Adam Linker writes of a “physician who visited the emergency room when he came down with shingles. The doc, who teaches at Stony Brook University, got caught in a maze of over testing and ran up an unnecessary $9,000 bill.” The physician’s tale of expensive, time and money wasting, medically unproductive woe concludes:

One thing’s for sure: I’ve lost the smugness and condescension I often felt when listening to others’ stories about being trapped by the system and manipulated into excessively complex and specialized medical situations. Unlike most of my patients, I actually knew what my diagnosis was and what to do about it, but I learned how difficult it is to remain objective when you’re feeling very sick. Maybe I should have been more assertive. Instead, I wound up as a poster boy for excessive medicine. I understand now how all those people could have been so gullible, so easily manipulated by the system. Now that I’m one of them, that is.

Boggs and others may read Linker’s entire post here.

September 20, 2009 Posted by | Health, Religion, SBC | , , , | 3 Comments

Baptist Press -> SBC=GOP

Baptist Press and Richard Land have this week branded the Southern Baptist Convention “Property of the GOP.”

Friday BP published a GOP position piece headline Rep.: Health care plan would lead to abortion increase, based upon undocumented, unproven assertions of Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

The BP story refers to “a new poll released Thursday” without revealing that it is a Public Opinion Strategies poll. Public Opinion Strategies is “a national Republican political and public affairs research firm with its roots in political campaigns.”

Bruce Prescott objects that “the article is part of an ongoing campaign against health care reform by the fundamentalist leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. Central to that campaign was the delivery of more than a million signatures to congress opposing health-care reform. The petitions were delivered by Richard Land, head of the SBC’s wed-to-the-hip-of-the-GOP, tax exempt, political action arm.”

Prescott’s language is too little strident for our taste, and although we cannot defend the statistical assertions in that blog, the campaign he perceives does appear to be under way.

No surprise here, for the Religious Right of which Land is a well-recognized member has is well-understood as a creature of the Republican Party. Indeed, Bush-era White House visitor logs disclosed in response to a request from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington show that Religious Right leaders were frequently in and out. Of course. For as Mark Silk observes:

Their care and feeding has been important to Republican presidents since Reagan, and helps explain their domestication within the GOP.

Are Southern Baptists in general comfortable having the denominational voice raised in coordination with a campaign which included today’s 9/12 march, with all of its sponsoring groups? Some of those groups are remarkably secular and some are somewhat radical.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Politics, SBC | , , , | Comments Off on Baptist Press -> SBC=GOP

Mourn, yes, but inflame, no [Update: ‘Grudge’ killings]

Let us mourn the untimely death of anti-abortion activist James Pouillon, without creating the illusion of a war where there isn’t one.

The man arrested for Pouillon’s murder reportedly told Owosso, Mich., police he was also involved in the death that day of Mike Fouss, a gravel pit owner.

As of this writing, nothing actually explaining the motive for the killings available.

Randall Terry’s rush to declare Pouillon a martyr is heat without light.


AP reports Harlan James Drake, 33, has been charged with first-degree murder in association with a grudge-killing spree. Pouillon and Fouss were killed and there would apparently have been a third death had police not apprehended Drake after the second killing.

Drake “didn’t like the activist [Pouillon] holding a sign with graphic images of a fetus in front of students,” AP reported. The story goes on to say:

The gunman drove next to a gravel pit business and shot and killed the owner, who apparently also upset him, police said. Authorities believe they stopped a third slaying by catching up with the gunman before he could kill again.

”The defendant had ill will toward these three individuals — not for the same reason necessarily, but had a grudge,” said Shiawassee County Prosecutor Randy Colbry.

Read the entire story here.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | Crime, Politics, Religion | | Comments Off on Mourn, yes, but inflame, no [Update: ‘Grudge’ killings]

Obama settled the health-care/abortion issue (you may have missed it)

An unfazed President Barack Obama laid down the law on the role of abortion in health-care reform, immediately after S.C. Rep. Joe Wilson’s factually wrong and possibly censurable “lie” outburst.

There will be no federal funding of abortions or abolition of conscience laws.

From the transcript of Obama’s presentation:

THE PRESIDENT: … There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You lie! (Boos.)

THE PRESIDENT: It’s not true. And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up — under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.

Convoluted struggle over the issue will continue, as pro-life blogger Jill Stanek demonstrated today with her argument that Obama is merely attempting to create a myth. That view isn’t taking hold. Two big Catholic health care organizations were persuaded by Obama’s speech, as was the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Judging from the CNN poll and the Democracy Corps dial testing, so were Americans in general.


It is rare indeed for GetReligion to err, but they drifted away from the dock when suggesting President Obama said or implied that pro-life/anti-abortion advocates were spreading lies. Obama’s entire statement on that subject is excerpted above. He spoke of “misunderstanding.”

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Churches, Health, Law, Obama, Politics | , , , | 4 Comments

Catholic right drifts into troubled waters

Today’s NYT piece by David Kirkpatrick led both Grant Gallicho and Mark Silk to note how the Catholic right has put itself at odds with the church’s social justice position.

Gallicho, himself Catholic, analyzed the comments of Bishop Nickless of Sioux City. Nickless told the NYT:

Preserving patient choice (through a flourishing private sector) is the only way to prevent a health care monopoly from denying care arbitrarily, as we learned from HMOs in the recent past. While a government monopoly would not be motivated by profit, it would be motivated by such bureaucratic standards as quotas and defined ‘best procedures,’ which are equally beyond the influence of most citizens. The proper role of the government is to regulate the private sector, in order to foster healthy competition and to curtail abuses.

Gallicho responded:

Government monopoly?
Patient choice?
Does the bishop understand that in several states insurers operate virtual monopolies?
Or that many Americans have no choice when it comes to health insurance? That they take what they can get or else they go broke–or they can’t get it, suffer a catastrophic illness, and break the rest of us?
Are we to believe that the profit motive is better than “bureaucratic standards”?
Is that church teaching too?

Silk summarizes church teaching as recently reflected in Pope Benedict’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. Silk writes:

As I’ve pointed out here, the pope’s encyclical teaches that food, drinkable water, “basic instruction and elementary health care” are all “elementary and basic rights.” Sure there’s politics and prudential judgment involved in determining the best way to provide people with health care, but so is there in determining the best way to provide people with food and drinkable water and breathable air.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a Web site where it takes a stand for the broad, generous health care reform which church social policy implies. And against abortion. Which the Christian Right is attempting to use as a wedge issue by arguing there is unequivocal support for abortion in the various health reform proposals.

Carefully sorting abortion out produces equivocal results that do not support towering rhetoric from either side of the health reform debate. Consider the recent work of Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman on that issue.

As a result, Conservative Catholic bishops who are joining the Christian right on that may find themselves at odds with both church policy and reality.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Medical Care, Obama, Religion | , | Comments Off on Catholic right drifts into troubled waters

Catholic Bishops continue debate over church in public affairs

Debate over the University of Notre Dame’s awarding of an honorary degree to President Obama in May continues in conservative Catholic reaction to the announcement that Obama will deliver a eulogy at Senator Edward Kenndy’s funeral mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston.

Not that the debate ever quite stopped.

Archbishop John R. Quinn argues in the Aug. 31 issue of America magazine that had Notre Dame refused to award Obama an honorary degree, it would have done harm to the church’s and its mission by fostering “false messages” about itself. He argues instead for “a policy cordiality:”

It proceeds from the conviction that the integrity of Catholic teaching can never be sacrificed. It reflects a deep desire to enshrine comity at the center of public discourse and relations with public officials. It is willing to speak the truth directly to earthly power.
Yet the Holy See shows great reluctance to publicly personalize disagreements with public officials on elements of church teaching. And the approach of the Holy See consistently favors engagement over confrontation. As Pope John Paul II put it, “The goal of the Church is to make of the adversary a brother.”

Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne/South Bend, writing for the same issue, “restates his case against inviting the president to speak at commencement and awarding him an honorary doctor of laws.”

Grant Gallicho of dotCommonWeal writes:

While one might disagree with Bishop D’Arcy’s version of events, it’s tough to take much issue with the way in which he has voiced his displeasure. In other words, he’s never approached the unhinged shenanigans of some of the protesters at Notre Dame. (Speaking of, I never thought Randall Terry could jump the shark. Wow, was I wrong.)

Bishop Sheehan of Sante Fe in an interview with the National Catholic Recorder this week said:

I don’t feel so badly about Obama going [to Notre Dame] because he’s our president. I said we’ve gotten more done on the pro-life issue in New Mexico by talking to people that don’t agree with us on everything. We got Governor Richardson to sign off on the abolition of the death penalty for New Mexico, which he was in favor of. … We need to be building bridges, not burning them.

Expect more of this debate.

August 27, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Obama, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Catholic Bishops continue debate over church in public affairs

Both extremes of the is-abortion-covered debate are wrong

Beliefnet’s Steve Waldman digs deep into the facts of this debate and returns agreeing with us:

To understand requires us to take a journey into the legislative weeds but here’s my bottom line: those who claim abortion clearly is covered and those who say it clearly isn’t are both wrong.

His conclusion, fully stated, is:

We often think of abortion as a black and white issue. But when it comes to the question of whether health care reform bills “cover” or provide “taxpayer support for” abortion, there are many shades of gray. As of now, neither side is entirely telling the truth about what the bills do; on some aspects, Obama and his allies have misled, on others pro-lifers have. More important, some of this does not involve matters of “fact” or “truth” or “lies” but rather subjective judgment calls, a land where ideologues don’t function well but legislators must.

The entire column deserves a careful reading here.

August 26, 2009 Posted by | Health, Medical Care, Politics, Religion | , , | 1 Comment