I’m a writer, pro-life activist, and slow-but-steady hiker in New Hampshire. (More here about all that.) My attitude is summed up by something Pope Francis once said: “Do I, a Catholic, watch from the balcony? You can’t watch from the balcony! Get involved! Give it your best.

A little win for the Little Sisters at the Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court tiptoed its way through a jungle of administrative law to hand another victory to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Some people just can’t stop insisting that nuns help provide birth control. In this case, it was the state of Pennsylvania, which deservedly lost on a 7-2 vote.

Or, in the words of a headline from CNBC (a business network, mind you): “Supreme Court says Trump administration can let religious employers deny birth control coverage under Obamacare.”

Let me fix that for them: “Supreme Court tells Pennsylvania to get its hands out of nuns’ pockets,” or “Supreme Court recognizes religious liberty interests of Catholic women,” or “Supreme Court says government cannot impose ruinous fines on Little Sisters of the Poor,” or even “Supreme Court lets employers stay out of employees’ private decisions involving sex.”

CNBC, and other media outlets with the same approach, had lots of options. They went with “deny birth control.” Posted with this photo is a screenshot of the Facebook preview of the CNBC story, but I’m not going to provide a direct link. I’m not going to share lousy coverage.

CNBC photo of U.S. Supreme Court steps
CNBC’s misleading headline. (CNBC photo; screenshot from Facebook)

Here’s a news flash that CNBC may or may not have had time to notice: the decision in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania was about as narrow as it could be. So was Hobby Lobby, come to think of it, another prominent anti-mandate decision.

Broadly, the Obamacare contraceptive mandate requires that contraception be a covered expense under health insurance. Employers with religious objections to helping anyone procure contraception have had to fight to escape the mandate, even though such employers care enough about their employees to offer health insurance as a benefit in the first place. The Hobby Lobby decision protected privately-held companies. Other entities, like the Little Sisters, have had to wage their own fight.

In the most recent Little Sisters case, the Court hewed closely to the administrative objections raised by Pennsylvania: did the federal government have a right to grant the Little Sisters an “accommodation” – i.e. an exemption – from the Obamacare contraceptive mandate? The Supreme Court has spoken: yes, the federal government does have such a right, under laws and regulations currently in effect.

Of course, if Congress changes those laws and regulations, the Little Sisters will be right back in court.

I would have loved to see a broad and uncompromising affirmation of the First Amendment rights of people who on religious grounds want nothing to do with anyone’s contraception. The Court chose to be less sweeping, but a weakly-founded win is still a win.

The federal government’s ability to issue “accommodations” is intact. That’s something to tolerate, not celebrate.

Religious freedom deserves constitutional protection, not little carve-outs. I’ll save my wholehearted celebration for the day when the First Amendment trumps the contraceptive mandate decisively, beyond the whims and opinions of legislators, bureaucrats, and even the headline writers at CNBC.

Text of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania

Faith and Wonder Amid “Littleness”

It’s Good to Be Here by Christina Chase (Sophia Press, 2019)

Christina Chase’s book “It’s Good to Be Here” is as straightforward and challenging as the subtitle promises: “a disabled woman’s reflections on God in the flesh and the sacred wonder of being human.” This is not a book for the bedside pile, to be picked up at odd moments. I tried that, but “It’s Good to Be Here” demanded more from me. Chase drew me into sharing her reflections, not just observing them. Each chapter provoked thought as well as prayer.

The declaration “it’s good to be here” is strong stuff, coming from a woman living with physical challenges in a culture that devalues disability. Fortunately for herself and her readers, Chase doesn’t look to culture for validation. “When we think of living divine lives in a sanctified place, we may think of a world with no imperfections…[n]o suffering. However, that is not the definition of a sanctified place, of a holy place in which God dwells. For Christ dwelt here.”

This is neither a memoir nor a how-to manual for dealing with adversity. The book jacket calls Chase a “twenty-first century Thérèse of Lisieux,” and while the comparison is apt in some respects – chronic illness, profound faith in God, appreciation of The Little Way – Chase’s voice is very much her own. As I pondered her words, I felt as though I were with a down-to-earth mystic filled with warm good humor (though not flippancy).

Take time with this book. Haste will not do it justice.

Review originally published at Amazon.com.

USCCB leads petition drive to FDA: keep COVID-19 vaccine free from abortion connection

Originally published at Leaven for the Loaf.

letter to the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from a coalition of concerned Americans has urged that any vaccine being developed for COVID-19 be derived from ethical sources, without use of cell lines derived from aborted human beings. An associated email petition drive organized through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) invites the general public to send the same message to the FDA.

The April 17 letter says in part, “To be clear, we strongly support efforts to develop an effective, safe, and widely available vaccine as quickly as possible. However, we also strongly urge our federal government to ensure that fundamental moral principles are followed in the development of such vaccines, most importantly, the principle that human life is sacred and should never be exploited.”

The letter, released by the USCCB, is signed by several USCCB members as well as by physicians and other health care professionals, medical ethicists, and pro-life activists.

NOT A HYPOTHETICAL SITUATION

According to the letter, the concern over how a COVID-19 vaccine is to be derived is based on work that is already happening. Practical decisions are being made now. 

We are aware that, among the dozens of vaccines currently in development, some are being produced using old cell lines that were created from the cells of aborted babies. For example, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. has a substantial contract from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and is working on a vaccine that is being produced using one of these ethically problematic cell lines. Thankfully, other vaccines such as those being developed by Sanofi Pasteur, Inovio, and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute utilize cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods.

It is critically important that Americans have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically: no American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience. Fortunately, there is no need to use ethically problematic cell lines to produce a COVID vaccine, or any vaccine, as other cell lines or processes that do not involve cells from abortions are available and are regularly being used to produce other vaccines.

from coalition letter to FDA, 4/17/2020

SHARE THE MESSAGE 

Share this letter and petition as you see fit. The online petition has a clear message, but includes space for your own words. 

Petition: https://www.votervoice.net/USCCB/Campaigns/73486/Respond?fbclid=IwAR1hxb17qXYhIVy8a099oh7PPJh_YBXRi6vJZGV-DvXwP13lXJadrhmlV-Q

This is not about whether vaccines in general are a good idea. (I am grateful for some and reject others.) This is about refusing to embrace abortion in order to cure or prevent COVID-19. 

I wish the letter had been unnecessary. The people who signed it clearly saw the need, though. All of them live and work in the real world with real people. They take things like pandemics seriously. 

They have the right idea. I’m with them.

Image in post header by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.