1. Unraveling the Obamacare Mandate, By James C. Capretta, National Review Online, January 19, 2017, 4:00 AM.

The attempted imposition of the notorious Obama-era “HHS mandate” on religious organizations, especially Catholic institutions, reflected an attitude that has been pervasive during Obama’s presidency, which is one of barely concealed hostility toward persons or organizations holding on to traditional religious beliefs. It should be the first order of business of the incoming Trump administration to rid the federal government of this attitude and the associated policies that flow from it.

The Obama administration went out of its way to impose this requirement even on many Catholic institutions, such as universities and hospitals, knowing full well that the requirement violated fundamental teachings of the church. It then provided only the narrowest of exemptions to the general requirement and fought every legal challenge trying to provide greater latitude to religious organizations or employers with religious sensibilities.

The Obama administration seemed to have two motives for waging this entirely unnecessary fight. First, for ideological reasons, it seemed to want to take the position than any objection to the provision of free contraceptives was illegitimate and therefore not worthy of being accommodated. Second, for political reasons, the Obama administration found it useful to be in a fight over the provision of free contraception. During the 2012 presidential campaign, as the proposed rule was rolled out, supporters of exemptions from it were accused of waging a “war on women.”

To begin with, the new administration could issue a regulation that provides a blanket exemption to the mandate to any organization that can reasonably claim to have religious objections to compliance. That would immediately provide relief to all of the organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church that have been battling the Obama administration in court over this issue for several years.

The legal battles over the HHS mandate could have been avoided by the Obama administration if it had provided a reasonable and simple exemption from the rule to all organizations that have legitimate religious objections. No harm would have come from making this concession; contraceptive access would have remained well within reach of everyone in the United States, including those working for the exempt institutions. But making that concession would have required the administration to retreat from its crusade against traditional religious belief. It wasn’t willing to do that.

The plaintiffs trying to get relief from the HHS mandate did the country a tremendous service.


2. Anti-Abortion Effort Gathers Steam Ahead of Trump Presidency, Research Finds, By Reuters, January 19, 2017, 6:06 AM.

Fifty new abortion restrictions were passed last year in 18 of the 50 U.S. states, where legislators introduced more than 400 measures aimed at limiting abortion access, according to The Century Foundation, a U.S.-based public policy research group.

The study found that 32 states tried to ban all or some abortions.

Efforts to restrict abortion have been gaining momentum, the foundation report said. The 334 restrictions passed by states in the past five years account for a third of all restrictions enacted since 1973.

Facilities providing abortions numbered about 1,700 in 2011, down from 2,900 three decades earlier, it said.

More than a third of U.S. women of reproductive age now live in counties with no abortion clinic. In counties with abortion services, Planned Parenthood clinics are the leading providers, according to the findings.

In the midwestern state of Missouri, which has strict abortion regulations, one licensed abortion provider remains open.

Half of all women nationwide getting abortions have incomes below the federal poverty level, and roughly half paid out of their own pocket.

Along with the Hyde Amendment that bans use of federal funds to pay for abortions, 25 states ban coverage of abortions in private health insurance plans.


3. Does defunding Planned Parenthood really threaten women’s health?, By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, January 18, 2017, 3:56 PM.

Congressional plans to strip Planned Parenthood of federal dollars have gained considerable media attention in recent weeks, leading to speculation about the impact that such a move would have on women’s health.

Both the House and the Senate have passed measures to set up a vote to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds, which mostly come in the form of Medicaid reimbursements. According to its FY 2014-15 report, the organization and its affiliates received almost $554 million in taxpayer dollars, 43 percent of its total revenue.

The main argument against Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is that it is the nation’s largest abortion provider, performing around 330,000 abortions per year, and the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal dollars from directly paying for abortions.

In his town hall comments, Speaker Ryan stressed: “We don’t want to effectively commit taxpayer money to an organization providing abortions, but we want to make sure that people get their coverage.”

“We believe that this can better be done by putting that money in federal community health centers,” he added. “They are vastly bigger in network, there are so many more of them, and they provide these kinds of services without all the controversy surrounding this issue.”

According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, such health centers are publicly-funded and exist in all 50 states, almost 10,000 in total, compared to around 650 Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide. The health centers served over 24 million people in 2015, while Planned Parenthood says it serves around 2.5 million per year.

There are also thousands of other rural health clinics that offer services including primary care and first response, as well as some vaccinations, though these facilities are not required to offer as many services as federally qualified health centers are. Some 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. also offer help for expectant mothers. 

These health centers do not perform abortions but they do provide services like pre-natal and perinatal care, diabetes screening, pap smears, checkups and mammograms, something Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has admitted her clinics do not provide, despite claims that they do. Planned Parenthood only provides referrals for mammograms, not the procedures themselves.

Ultimately, Charlotte Lozier Institute believes women will be able to access the care they need through other clinics. The number of Planned Parenthood patients has decreased recently and their total “prenatal services” are down 44 percent since 2010, they said. And according to the pro-life group Live Action, Planned Parenthood provides only 2 percent of the nation’s clinical breast exams and 1 percent of the nation’s pap smears.

If the organization’s current federal funding were redirected to community health centers, those centers would see an average patient increase of two per week and almost surely would be able to meet the increased need.

And the centers have been growing, Charlotte Lozier Institute says, treating almost two million new patients and growing by 430 new centers in 2015.


4. Sex abuse advocacy group SNAP sued by former employee, By Dennis Coday, National Catholic Reporter, January 18, 2017.

A former employee of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is suing the advocacy group, claiming she was fired after she learned that SNAP’s principal officers collude with attorneys representing sex abuse survivors and that SNAP accepts financial kickbacks for referring abuse victims to attorneys.

The filings say Hammond was fired after she “learned … [that] SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors — it exploits them. SNAP routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations.’ In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church. These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

The court filing says that SNAP claims nonprofit, tax exempt status as an organization with the purpose of providing “support for men & women who have been sexually victimized by members of the clergy” and that its “mission is to meet the needs of membership through moral support, information & advocacy,” it is in fact “a commercial operation motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”


5. Congress urged to keep health care gains, protect life, conscience rights, By Catholic News Service, January 18, 2017.

According to the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic policy committee, a repeal of the federal health care law should not take place without immediate passage of a plan that preserves people’s access to adequate health care and also protects human life, conscience rights and the poor.

“Important gains brought about by the Affordable Care Act must be preserved” as millions of people now rely on the law for their health care, said Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

At the same time, he said, any replacement measure also must safeguard human life from conception to natural death, protect conscience rights and provide adequate health care for immigrants, the poor and others on society’s margins.

Dewane made the comments in a letter sent to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

“We remain committed to the ideals of universal and affordable health care and to the pursuit of those ideals in a manner that includes protections for human life, conscience and immigrants,” Dewane told the lawmakers.


6. Messages for Our Noisy Age in Scorsese’s “Silence”, By Ann Corkery, Real Clear Religion, January 17, 2017.

We live in such a harsh and noisy age that silence can sometimes seem unbearable.

But there’s a particular type of silence that is most disconcerting of all. It’s a silence we all can experience—non-believers certainly, but believers, as well.
It’s God’s silence in response to the violence and persecutions that ravage our world. It’s God silence in response to our seemingly unanswered prayers.

Or it’s what we take to be God’s silence.

That’s the “Silence” in Shusaku Endo’s historical novel and Martin Scorsese’s recently released movie adaptation of the book.

Non-believers point to this silence, sometimes with contempt, in making their case against God’s existence, but even the most devout believers have experienced that silence. Saint Teresa of Calcutta certainly did—for the last 50 years of her life—as her letters and diaries make painfully clear. The martyrs depicted in “Silence” most certainly did while experiencing the brutal persecutions of Christians in 16th and 17th century Japan.

“Silence” at once enlarges our capacity to empathize with the Jesuit priests and Japanese Christians who stepped on the fumie and reduces our ever-ready inclination to judge and condemn.

That’s part of the beauty and truth of Shusaku Endo’s book and Martin Scorsese’s film.

The issues of religious persecution, martyrdom and apostasy are all too real—from Syria to Iraq to Nigeria and other corners of the world today. Stepping on the fumie can take less graphic, more intimate forms in even the most peaceable societies, where it’s easier—more tempting—to deny faith on a daily basis in order to maintain comfortable private lives and a tranquil public life.

“Silence” helps us explore whether we have stepped on our own private fumie in our daily trials. Do we not face religious persecution of a different kind in today’s public square, and how do we respond? And what is our response to those deemed to have fallen short? Is there redemption beyond betrayal? Have we not all raged against the silence?

Yes, “Silence” teaches us that God works in the silence and our suffering, but it teaches us more: that we are so much more than what is evident on the surface, that we are all weak and fragile, and that we owe it to ourselves, our neighbors and God to focus less on God’s silence and more on ours. To be less ready to judge and condemn and more ready to accept that there’s something greater at work in the world, in our brothers and sisters, than we’ll ever know. Christian, Jew, Muslim or pagan, secular or sectarian, Republican or Democrat, left or right, Trump or Clinton or Obama… whatever—we all only see through a glass darkly. At times, God’s silence may be God’s testimony and our silence is itself a witness, for good or ill.

It doesn’t require a “spoiler alert” to share the novel’s last, beautiful words. “Even now I am the last priest in this land,” says Rodrigues. “But our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of Him.”