1. Abortion and America’s Phony ‘Pregnancy Crisis’, Contrary to the CDC’s claims, maternal mortality rates haven’t changed much since 1999., By
Allysia Finley, The Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2024, Pg. A17, Opinion
The U.S. has a “pregnancy crisis,” according to liberal medical experts and the press. They’re referring to America’s supposedly soaring maternal mortality, not its declining fertility.
The U.S. stands out “among high-income nations for its alarming incidence of maternal deaths despite substantial health care spending,” the American Medical Association says. The group, like other activists, invokes U.S. maternal mortality to advocate expanded government welfare programs and abortion access.
“Evidence and experience show us conclusively that the risk of death during or after childbirth is approximately 14 times greater than the risk of death from abortion-related complications,” the AMA says. Democratic states echo this claim in a friend-of-the-court brief in FDA v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, which the Supreme Court will hear Tuesday. Justices who were about to overturn Roe v. Wade would have “blood on their hands,” the medical journal Lancet warned in a May 12, 2022, editorial.
As with the Covid pandemic, experts are using bad data to drive a political agenda. A new study this month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows that oft-cited U.S. maternal-mortality statistics are inflated owing to discrepancies in how pregnancy deaths are recorded.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System reports that maternal-mortality rates in the U.S. have roughly tripled since 2001, to 32.9 per 100,000 live births in 2021. This is nearly three times as high as rates in other developed countries—but, as the study concludes, it’s largely a statistical artifact.
Deaths among pregnant women or new mothers are often classified as “maternal” even if they owe to other causes, such as cancer or pre-existing conditions. The culprit is a check box that states added to death certificates in 2003 to identify women who had died while pregnant or between 42 days and a year of when their pregnancy ended.

Whatever your views on abortion, claims that restricting it will cause maternal mortality to increase—a 2021 study by University of Colorado researchers projected that banning abortion nationwide would lead to a 21% increase in “pregnancy-related deaths”—are unfounded because data on such deaths are grossly inflated.
In any case, comparing the process of bringing a new life into the world to terminating one may strike many Americans as morally offensive. When progressives can’t persuade the public, they invoke questionable science and try to get courts to impose the policies they favor. The result is a crisis of credibility for the liberal public-health establishment.
2. Legislative update: The 5 states taking up private school choice bills in 2024, By Kate Quiñones, Catholic News Agency, March 25, 2024, 6:00 AM
The school choice debate continues to resonate across the nation following a record year in 2023, when 20 states expanded school choice programs, with 11 states enacting “universal” school choice by allowing all students to use state tuition assistance to attend nonpublic schools.
More than 13.7% of Catholic school students nationwide use school choice program funding to help with tuition, according to the latest data from the National Catholic Education Association. In Ohio, Florida, Indiana, and Arizona, more than half of students attending Catholic schools receive tuition aid from school choice programs.
Popular programs include publicly funded “education savings accounts” (ESAs) as well as tax credit scholarships, which allow taxpayers to receive tax credits when they donate to private school scholarship programs. 
In addition, private school vouchers draw from public funding set aside for the particular child’s education. Charter schools and open-enrollment public schools also enable parents to pick the school they think is best for their child. 

3. Pope Francis skips Palm Sunday homily at start of busy Holy Week that will test his health, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, March 24, 2024, 1:31 PM
Pope Francis decided at the last minute to skip his homily during Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, avoiding a strenuous speech at the start of a busy Holy Week that will test his increasingly frail health.
Hobbled by bad knees and persistent respiratory problems, Francis also didn’t participate in the procession of cardinals around the obelisk in the piazza at the start of the Mass. Instead, the 87-year-old pontiff blessed the palm fronds and olive branches carried by the faithful from the altar.
Francis had been expected to deliver a homily halfway through the service and a prepared text had been distributed to journalists. But when an aide presented Francis with his glasses to begin reading, the pope made clear he wouldn’t deliver the remarks, leaving the crowd waiting in silence.

4. The Endgame in the Battle Over Abortion, The arc of the fetal personhood movement signals where Republicans may be headed, By Mary Ziegler, Politico, March 24, 2024, 7:00 AM, Opinion
To many Americans, the notion that a court could effectively shut down in vitro fertilization in Alabama came as a shock. But such a ruling was only a matter of time after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.
The Alabama Supreme Court set off the controversy last month when it ruled that the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act treats a frozen embryo as a “child” or a “person.” The fallout from the ruling was swift. Fertility providers across the state paused IVF services, citing legal risk. Republicans scrambled to respond, with Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, declaring his support for IVF and Alabama Republicans rushing to pass a bill that would offer some protections for the procedure.
Yet despite Republicans’ efforts to distance themselves from the Alabama court’s ruling, it is the logical outcome of a strain of legal reasoning that began more than 50 years ago. In fact, the Alabama ruling provides a roadmap for where the anti-abortion movement is now headed. That destination is enshrining “fetal personhood” as the law of the land, giving fetuses the same rights as all other persons under the 14th Amendment — an outcome that would have extraordinary consequences.

In the post-Dobbs era, the landscape on abortion has already shifted significantly. And anti-abortion abolitionists have gained a larger audience. Why? Some of the reasons are practical: The majority of abortions in the United States involve two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, that can be shipped in the mail. The mainstream anti-abortion movement has announced its support for prosecuting doctors who perform abortions and a broad network of those deemed to “aid or abet” abortion seekers.
But what happens if abortion seekers order pills from a state that shields its physicians from criminal charges — or even from another country? Abolitionists insist that punishing abortion seekers is thus a practical necessity. And they argue it is a constitutional and Christian imperative, too. If equal treatment for the fetus requires the state to prosecute abortion as it does homicide, then why wouldn’t women also be punished for abortions? Why wouldn’t the disposal of an embryo during IVF procedures amount to murder, as Speaker Mike Johnson was asked ( and refused to answer)?
Perhaps these questions will remain academic. The Supreme Court has not weighed in on the question of fetal rights, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a key vote in abortion cases, even suggested in Dobbs that the Constitution was “neither pro-life nor pro-choice.” At least for him, personhood arguments wouldn’t seem to work in the short term.
The longer term is a different story. American conservatism has changed in ways that have changed the drive for fetal personhood. The Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling has energized anti-abortion groups that have plans to win judicial recognition of constitutional fetal rights — even as voters have pushed back against abortion restrictions.
When the time is right, these groups will argue that originalism requires state and federal courts to hold that personhood under the Constitution begins the moment an egg is fertilized. And if that opportunity comes, the key question remaining for many personhood proponents will be clear: Who will be punished for harming those persons, and how much?
Mary Ziegler, Martin Luther King Professor of Law at UC Davis and the author of Roe: The History of a National Obsession, is a 2023-2024 Guggenheim fellow. Her book on the fetal personhood movement is under contract with Yale University Press.
5. The Supreme Court’s latest abortion case has an obvious answer, By The Washington Post, March 23, 2024, 7:00 AM, Editorial
The Supreme Court declared nearly two years ago, when it overruled Roe v. Wade, that the rules on abortion were now up to the states — but as the justices hear a critical case this week regarding the pill mifepristone, reproductive rights rest yet again in their hands. The good news is, this isn’t a hard one.

The Supreme Court must now consider whether to side with the 5th Circuit judges or with the doctors and scientists at the FDA on a subject about which judges generally know little and doctors and scientists a lot. But before the justices even reach that debate, they must settle another: Does the litigant in this case even have standing, the legal right to sue? Resolving this question is simpler than it sounds.
To have standing, the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine must show existing or imminently impending injury caused by the broader availability of mifepristone. Yet they, emergency room doctors, neither use nor prescribe mifepristone. So they’ve settled on claiming hypothetical injury: If some unspecified member of their group has to treat patients who have taken mifepristone, that member could suffer harm. It should be no great harm to doctors, who have sworn to care for those in need, to treat those suffering side effects from any duly prescribed medication.

The science, unsurprisingly, is on the scientists’ side. Study upon study has shown that fewer than 1 percent of mifepristone patients need hospitalization. The FDA has received reports of 28 deaths out of the 5.6 million who have used the drug between its 2000 approval and last summer, and even these can’t be confidently attributed to the drug. The rest of the world has been engaged in similarly rigorous research and has come to the same conclusion. At least 94 countries have approved the pill, and increasingly they’re putting it on their essential medication lists.

The Supreme Court pronounced less than two years ago that courts have little business meddling in democratically decided abortion rules. Now, its justices are asked to decide whether courts have any business overruling the scientific judgment of an executive agency — and, in so doing, curb patients’ ability to access mifepristone regardless of their states’ laws. The answer should be obvious.
6. Gender Ideology Invades the Foster Care System, Washington and Oregon put kids in hotels rather than with parents who doubt the new orthodoxy., By Sierra Dawn McClain, The Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2024, Pg. A13, Opinion
State agencies in the Pacific Northwest are deeming people unfit to be foster or adoptive parents unless they pledge to abide by new orthodoxies on gender and sexuality.
Shane and Jennifer DeGross live west of Seattle in Kitsap County, Wash., and have two children. Between 2013-22, the family fostered four girls: a newborn for three months, two toddlers for about two years each, and a third toddler for two weeks.
In 2022 they applied to renew their license, which expires every three years. During the process, they learned about new regulations requiring foster parents to “support a foster child’s SOGIE”—an acronym for “sexual orientation and gender identity/expression”—“by using their pronouns and chosen name, and respecting the child’s right to privacy concerning their SOGIE.” The regulations also direct foster parents to “connect a foster child with resources that supports and affirms their needs regarding race, religion, culture, and SOGIE.”

Oregon has adopted similar regulations requiring prospective parents to “respect, accept and support” a child’s “sexual orientation, gender identity [and] gender expression.” Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Johannes Widmalm-Delphonse, who represents the DeGrosses, said his organization has received more than a dozen complaints from Oregon and Washington residents experiencing similar discrimination. Staff at private licensing and adoption organizations said they too have seen religious applicants rejected for refusing to affirm the state’s views.
ADF also represents Jessica Bates, an ultrasound technologist, widow and mother of five in Malheur County, Ore. The state denied Ms. Bates’s application to adopt, citing her unwillingness to take a child to hormone shot appointments—a hypothetical scenario her certifier had asked her about during a phone call. “It was shocking that this was going to be the deal breaker,” Ms. Bates told me.

Officials in the Pacific Northwest apparently think they know better. Agencies in Washington and Oregon continue to make fewer homes and families available to children in foster care. “Every child deserves a loving home,” said Ms. DeGross. State officials, she says, are “putting their ideology above the needs of kids.”
Ms. McClain is the Journal’s Joseph Rago Memorial Fellow.
7. Is Religious Liberty ‘Under Attack’ in Ukraine?, No, but the country faces a dilemma in how to deal with an Orthodox church controlled by Russia., By
Jillian Kay Melchior, The Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2024, Pg. A11, Opinion
Opponents of U.S. aid to Ukraine claim the country persecutes Christians. “When American leaders frame this as a war for democracy and human rights, it would be good if the recipient of the aid was a little bit more careful of human rights, including religious liberties,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R., Ohio) says in an interview this week. Ukraine “is doing some pretty bad stuff,” he adds, citing “news reports of priests being investigated, church assets being seized and priests being arrested.”

This narrative—the product of a public-relations and lobbying campaign—sounds bad. But it’s false, and Americans in particular should appreciate Ukraine’s dilemma. After Sept. 11, the U.S. sought to safeguard religious freedom while protecting itself from Islamic terrorism. Ukraine seeks to uphold religious liberty while addressing Russia’s power over the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which supports the Kremlin.
The story begins in the Soviet Union. After the 1917 revolution, Orthodox Christians went underground and proved resilient under persecution. Stalin concluded that if he couldn’t extinguish Christianity, he would co-opt it instead. Beginning in 1943, he re-established the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church and reopened churches and seminaries—under state control. This official religious life “could be surveilled, regulated, taxed and, most critically, used to accomplish political goals,” writes Kathryn David, a U.S. State Department historian.
After the Soviet collapse, evidence emerged of extensive ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the KGB. 

Ukraine’s Parliament is considering legislation to address national-security risks posed by religious organizations that maintain ties with Russia. Mr. Yelenskyi said to the extent that there is “a small restriction on religious freedom” it should be imposed by law and minimize the “burden on the freedom of conscience of ordinary people.” Ukraine is still drafting the legislation and has yet to publish it, but I reviewed the most recent version under consideration.
The bill wouldn’t establish new crimes or criminal penalties. It would prohibit Ukrainian religious entities from affiliating with religious organizations that are based or have a management center in a country waging armed aggression against Ukraine. It would also prohibit religious entities from spreading propaganda, including material calling for the destruction of Ukraine, genocide of the Ukrainian people, and Russia’s violent conquest and occupation of other states.

The evidence doesn’t support the accusation that Ukraine is persecuting Orthodox Christians. The national-security threat posed by some factions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is genuine, and Ukraine is addressing it in a careful, measured way. There’s a coordinated campaign to convince U.S. voters and lawmakers otherwise, and they shouldn’t be fooled.
Ms. Melchior is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.
8. A Chinese pastor is released after 7 years in prison, only to find himself unable to get an ID, By Huizhong Wu, Associated Press, March 23, 2024, 11:54 AM
Unable to buy a train ticket, or even see a doctor at a hospital, a Chinese pastor found that even after his release from prison, he is not quite free.
The Rev. John Sanqiang Cao was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison while coming back from a missionary trip in Myanmar. Now back in his hometown of Changsha in southern Hunan province, he is without any legal documentation in his country, unable to access even the most basic services without a Chinese identification.
“I told them I’m a second-(class) Chinese citizen, I cannot do this, I cannot do that,” Cao said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I’m released, I’m a free citizen, why should there be so many restrictions upon me?”
Cao, who was born and raised in Changsha, had dedicated his life to spreading Christianity in China, where the religion is strictly regulated. He had studied in the U.S., married an American woman and started a family, but said he felt a calling to go back to his home country and spread the faith.
It’s a risky mission. Christianity in China is allowed only in state-sponsored churches, where the ruling Communist Party decides how Scripture should be interpreted. Anything else, including clandestine “house” churches and unofficial Bible schools, is considered illegal, though it was once tolerated by local officials.
Cao was undeterred, citing the courage of Chinese Christians he had met who spent time in prison for their faith. During his years in China, he said he had set up some 50 Bible study schools all across the country.
In the years leading up to his arrest, he had started bringing Chinese missionaries to parts of northern Myanmar that had been impacted by the country’s civil war. They focused on relief work, campaigning against drug use, and setting up schools in areas bordering China.
It was in coming back from one of these crossings that he was detained in 2017. He was sentenced to seven years on a charge of “organizing others to illegally cross the border,” which is usually reserved for human traffickers.
His family and supporters had advocated for Cao’s sentence to be reduced, but to no avail. Cao was a prisoner of conscience, according to the federal U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which also called for his freedom.

9. Vatican reins in German bishops amid dispute over national reforms, By Elise Ann Allen, Crux, March 23, 2024
Late Friday evening, the Vatican announced that after holding an all-day working session with members of the German bishops, the latter have assured their national reform process will be in keeping with Canon Law and will not move forward without the Holy See’s approval.
In a statement published at 8 p.m. local time, the Vatican announced that earlier that day, representatives of the Roman Curia and the German Bishops Conference (DBK) met at the Vatican to continue a process of dialogue that began in 2022 over controversial reforms in the local German Church.

10. Putting chaplains in public school is the latest battle in culture wars, By Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post, March 22, 2024, 10:58 AM
Lawmakers in mostly conservative states are pushing a coordinated effort to bring chaplains into public schools, aided by a new, legislation-crafting network that aims to address policy issues “from a biblical world view” and by a consortium whose promotional materials say chaplains are a way to convert millions to Christianity.
The bills have been introduced this legislative season in 14 states, inspired by Texas, which passed a law last year allowing school districts to hire chaplains or use them as volunteers for whatever role the local school board sees fit, including replacing trained counselors. Chaplain bills were approved by one legislative chamber in three states — Utah, Indiana and Louisiana — but died in Utah and Indiana. Bills are pending in nine states. One passed both houses of Florida’s legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
The bills are mushrooming in an era when the U.S. Supreme Court has expanded the rights of religious people and groups in the public square and weakened historic protections meant to keep the government from endorsing religion. In a 2022 case, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch referred to the “so-called separation of church and state.” Former president Donald Trump has edged close to a government-sanctioned religion by asserting in his campaign that immigrants who “don’t like our religion — which a lot of them don’t” would be barred from the country in a second term.

Some experts on church-state relations say the pushback may reflect Americans’ complex and inconsistent relationship with the role Christianity should play in a pluralistic country. Polls show a majority of Americans say that the government should enforce church-state separation and oppose the government ever declaring an official U.S. religion. Yet, in a 2022 Pew Research poll, a strong minority, 45 percent, said the country “should be a Christian nation.”

11. French bishops’ conference blueprint revised after Vatican scrutiny, By Luke Coppen, The Pillar, March 22, 2024, 1:58 PM
A revised blueprint for streamlining the French bishops’ conference will be submitted to Rome after the Vatican raised “unexpected” objections to an earlier plan.
Speaking at a plenary assembly in Lourdes March 22, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort said that the bishops had expected the Vatican to approve new statutes for the French bishops’ conference after they endorsed them last November. 
“But the Holy See sent us some unexpected comments,” the French bishops’ conference president said. “We had to take them on board, and we did so wholeheartedly.” 
Moulins-Beaufort indicated that Rome had called for the bishops’ collegial responsibility to be emphasized more clearly in the new structure.
The intervention is notable given current tensions between Rome and bishops across the border in Germany over plans to create a decision-making body of bishops and lay people that the Vatican fears could dilute episcopal responsibility.
The French bishops approved the revised bishops’ conference statutes at their March 19-22 meeting and will resubmit them to Rome for recognitio, or formal approval.

12. West Virginia governor signs vague law allowing teachers to answer questions about origin of life, By Leah Willingham, Associated Press, March 22, 2024, 6:19 PM
West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed a law Friday that supporters say promotes the free exchange of ideas in science classrooms, despite objections from opponents who said the vaguely worded measure could allow for the incursion of religion into public schools.
The legislation allows public school teachers to answer student questions “about scientific theories of how the universe and/or life came to exist.”
It was proposed after Republican Senate Education Chair Amy Grady, a public school teacher, said fellow educators have told her they don’t feel comfortable answering questions about theories outside evolution because they don’t know if doing so is permissible.

13. A Pakistani court sentences a woman to life in prison for burning pages from Islam’s holy book, By Associated Press, March 22, 2024, 3:05 AM
A Pakistani court sentenced a Muslim woman to life in prison after finding her guilty of burning pages of Islam’s holy book, a prosecutor said Friday.
Under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, anyone found guilty of insulting the religion or religious figures can be sentenced up to death. While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, just the accusation can provoke riots.
Government prosecutor Mohazib Awais said the woman, Aasiya Bibi, was arrested in 2021 on blasphemy charges after residents claimed she desecrated the Quran by burning its pages. Awais said the judge announced the verdict Wednesday in the eastern city of Lahore. He said Bibi, who has the right to appeal, had denied the charge during her trial.
A Christian woman with the same name was acquitted of blasphemy in 2019 after she spent eight years on death row in Pakistan. She moved to Canada to escape death threats from Islamic extremists upon her release. Wednesday’s case involved a different woman.
Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.
Earlier in March, another court in Gujranwala, Punjab province, sentenced a 22-year-old student to death and gave a teenager a life sentence in two separate cases after finding them guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
14. Texas medical panel won’t provide list of exceptions to abortion ban, By Jamie Stengle, Associated Press, March 22, 2024, 4:04 PM
A Texas medical panel on Friday rebuffed calls to list specific exceptions to one of the most restrictive abortions bans in the U.S., which physicians say is dangerously unclear and has forced women with serious pregnancy complications to leave the state.
The head of the Texas Medical Board also said that wider issues surrounding the law — such as the lack of exceptions in cases of rape or incest — were beyond the authority of the 16-member panel, twelve of whom are men. Only one member of the board is an obstetrician and gynecologist.
“We can only do so much,” said Dr. Sherif Zaafran, the board’s president.
The public meeting dealt new discouragement and anger to opponents who have urged courts and Texas lawmakers for nearly two years to clarify exceptions to the state’s ban. In December, Kate Cox, a mother of two from Dallas, sued the state for the right to obtain an abortion after her fetus developed a fatal condition and she made multiple trips to an emergency room.

15. Youngkin’s first step toward control of health board is antiabortion pick, Yesli Vega drew controversy over abortion remarks in her 2022 congressional campaign. She is the first of four appointees Youngkin will name this year to the state Board of Health, ushering in a new majority., By Jenna Portnoy, The Washington Post, March 22, 2024, 3:27 PM
Gov. Glenn Youngkin has appointed an antiabortion former congressional candidate to a board that over the years has found itself at the center of a firestorm over abortion access, which the governor has sought to limit.
While the Board generally does not have oversight authority over health care providers, including those who perform abortions, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have at times handed the panel influence over the procedure. The General Assembly passed legislation directing the board to wade into abortion regulations in 2011, for example, tasking the board with putting strict restrictions on clinics, a move that led to tense protests.

In an interview this week, Vega said she opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

16. Wyoming governor vetoes abortion restrictions, signs transgender medical care ban for minors, By Mead Gruver, Associated Press, March 22, 2024, 5:49 PM
 Wyoming’s governor on Friday vetoed a bill that would have erected significant barriers to abortion, should it remain legal in the state, and signed legislation banning gender-affirming care for minors.
The abortion bill rejected by Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, would have required facilities providing surgical abortions to be licensed as outpatient surgical centers, adding to their cost and the burdens they face to operate.
Women would have had to get ultrasounds no less than 48 hours before either a surgical or pill abortion to determine the fetus’s gestational age and location and viability of the pregnancy.
Abortion is legal in Wyoming pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging new laws to ban the procedure. The bill was aimed at the state’s only full-service abortion clinic, Wellspring Health Access.

Gordon said in announcing the veto that the measure would have “properly regulated” clinics. But he said amendments added by lawmakers made it vulnerable to legal challenge.
“The state is closer than ever to a decision on the constitutionality of abortion in Wyoming,” Gordon said in a statement, adding that the bill “had the potential to further delay the resolution of this critical issue for the unborn.”

While rejecting the abortion bill, Gordon signed into law a measure that makes Wyoming the latest state to ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors, saying he supports the bill’s protections for minors. He added, however, that he also thinks such legislation amounts to the government “straying into the personal affairs of families.”
At least 24 states have adopted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming medical care for minors, and most of those states have been sued. A federal judge struck down Arkansas’ ban as unconstitutional. In Idaho and Montana, judges’ orders are in place temporarily blocking enforcement of the bans.
Wyoming lawmakers also passed bills this session enforcing parental rights in education. Gordon said the Legislature needs to “sort out its intentions” on parental rights.
TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
Subscribe to the TCA podcast!

“Conversations with Consequences” is a new audio program from The Catholic Association. We’ll bring you thoughtful dialogue with the leading thinkers of our time on the most consequential issues of our day. Subscribe today or listen online and enjoy our entertaining and informative weekly episodes.