At the start of this year's legislative session in Annapolis, I had a chance to spend some time with a Baltimore woman who is trying to bring some good out of a profound loss. Stephanie White's 21-year-old daughter, Denise Crowe, died in 2006 after receiving an overdose of anesthesia while undergoing an abortion.
White, who is now raising her grandson, is convinced her daughter would be alive today if the state's abortion clinics were regulated as ambulatory surgical centers and not merely as doctors' offices as currently prescribed. She is working closely with the Maryland Catholic Conference to pass a law that would enact tighter regulations. (Click here to read an in-depth story about White's ordeal).
As reported in today's Catholic Review, it looks like White's legislation is being stalled in the General Assembly. The grieving mother told me she won't rest until the regulations are changed. She believes the bill is worthy of support among pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike.
At a time when South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard just signed a bill instituting a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion (the longest in the country), our representatives can't even agree to require abortion clinics to enact the most basic emergency procedures and safety requirements.
Maryland has no waiting period and no parental consent for minors seeking an abortion. Its parental notification law has such a big loophole that a 13-year-old girl can get an abortion without ever telling her mother or father. Maryland is one of just four states that do not collect any abortion statistics and one of 17 states that fund abortion with taxpayer dollars through Medicaid.
As White pointed out during emotional hearings on the regulation of abortion clinics, the bill she supports would not close abortion facilities. It would simply hold them more accountable. No matter your position on abortion, that seems like it's not asking much. Is it?
Here's a video report taken from one of my conversations with White.
March 24, 2011 08:00
By George Matysek
Major news out of Baltimore. A federal court just struck down a Baltimore law that required the posting of specific signs at pro-life pregnancy centers .
Here's a clip from a story I just finished for The Catholic Review:
U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled Jan. 28 in Baltimore that it is unconstitutional to require pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs with language mandated by the government.
The ruling was a major victory for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which had challenged a Baltimore City law passed in 2009 requiring the posting of signs at pro-life pregnancy centers stating that they do not provide abortion and birth control.
The archdiocese argued that such signs were a violation of First Amendment rights and that the law unfairly targeted pro-life pregnancy centers while no such signs were required of pro-choice centers indicating which services they don’t provide.
“The Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable,” Judge Garbis wrote. “Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ it is for the provider – not the government – to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods.”
Judge Garbis said the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, “require a ‘pro life’ pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.”
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, who had actively campaigned against the law when it was being considered by the Baltimore City Council, called the ruling a “clear victory both for pregnant women in need of assistance and for First Amendment principles we treasure in a free society.”
In a written statement following the ruling, the archbishop said crisis pregnancy centers were an “integral part” of the archdiocese's efforts to help women looking for help carrying their babies to term.
“In Baltimore, these centers assist thousands of women every year who are trying to embrace the gift of life in their unborn children,” Archbishop O'Brien said. “And this ruling allows the important and compassionate work of these pro-life pregnancy centers to continue without interference from Baltimore City which sought to target these centers because they are pro-life.”
The archbishop added that “The ruling also upholds the constitutional rights under the First Amendment that protect private citizens such as those who work and volunteer in pregnancy centers from having to convey a government-mandated message.”
David W. Kinkopf, an attorney with Gallagher, Evelius and Jones who represented Archbishop O'Brien at an Aug. 4 hearing in Baltimore on the issue, said the ruling was a “great victory” for pro-life pregnancy centers and the Freedom of Speech.
Kinkopf noted that the ruling holds that because the city was regulating “core-protected speech” and not merely “commercial speech,” there was heightened scrutiny under the First Amendment.
“We think the judge got it right when he basically said there's no place for the government to single specific speakers out for unfair speech regulation,” Kinkopf said. “The kind of speech these pregnancy centers are engaged in is not commercial speech -it's deeply personal, moral and very important speech that deserves the full protection of the First Amendment.”
to read the rest. The Catholic Review will have much more on this story.
January 28, 2011 07:41
By George Matysek
This story just broke in Baltimore. I'm working on it now, but here's a quick snip from a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis.
The judge ruled today that it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL to require pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs with language mandated by the government. The Archdiocese of Baltimore had challenged a Baltimore City law passed in 2009 that required the posting of such signs.
Stay tuned. Much, much more to come!
The Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable. Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is "pro-life" or "pro-choice," it is for the provider--not the government--to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods. The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a "pro life" pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.
- Marvin J. Garbis, United States District Judge
UPDATED: Here's a link to the complete story
January 28, 2011 05:26
By George Matysek
There are many parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that strongly support the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville is one of the most passionate. For the 25th year, students from the all-girls school have participated in the march - traveling to the capital in six buses Jan. 24.
Check out the following video report on the school's appearance at the march and be sure to read this week's Catholic Review for full coverage of the March for Life. We feature a compelling story about a Hunt Valley woman who has a very personal experience with abortion.
January 27, 2011 12:17
By George Matysek
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland's former lieutenant governor, is weighing in on Sarah Palin's new book, "America by Heart."
Townsend, a Catholic, is particularly concerned that the former Alaska governor has criticized President John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. It was in that landmark address that Kennedy asserted that he should be judged by his political views and not his Catholic faith.
Palin argues that Kennedy “essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are.” Instead of embracing faith as a part of what defined him, Palin argues, Kennedy ran from it -- failing to reconcile his private faith with his public role.
In a Dec. 5 opinion piece in The Washington Post, Townsend defends the assassinated president, her uncle. She says Palin's argument "seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office."
A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.
If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate's religious affiliation to be "reconciled." My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.
Kennedy cited Thomas Jefferson to argue that, as part of the American tradition, it was essential to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the political realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care. No one, Kennedy pointed out, asked those who died at the Alamo which church they belonged to.
But Palin insists on evaluating and acting as an authority on candidates' faith. She faults Kennedy for not "telling the country how his faith had enriched him." With that line, she proceeds down a path fraught with danger - precisely the path my uncle warned against when he said that a president's religious views should be "neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office."
Townsend contends that her famous uncle "was courageous in arguing that government funds should not be used in parochial schools, despite the temptation to please his constituents." She argues that although many Catholics would have liked the money, Kennedy "wisely thought that the use of public dollars in places where nuns explicitly proselytized would be unconstitutional."
When Townsend ran unsuccessfully for the governor's office in 2002, my former editor and I had a chance to interview her for a profile in The Catholic Review. Interestingly, back then, although Townsend vehemently opposed vouchers that could help parents choose which schools to send their children, she favored providing public funds to continue a state program that earmarked money for nonreligious textbooks in Catholic and other nonpublic schools.
"It's proved helpful to the citizens of this state, to the children of this state," she said, "and I think when we see programs that help the kids I think we should continue them."
Townsend has often been a lightening rod within the Catholic Church. An incredibly staunch supporter of keeping abortion legal, she has spoken dismissively of American bishops who defend the sanctity of life and who hold politicians accountable, saying they have "lost their way."
In the election issue of The Catholic Review eight years ago, Townsend said she favors "choice" because she believes "women can make the best decision on what they should do with their bodies." Asked twice whether there are any restrictions on abortion -- any at all -- that she would support, she dodged the question by saying repeatedly, "I trust women."
In that interview, Townsend said her call to public service grew out of the Catholic commitment to reaching beyond oneself.
"I was always taught by the nuns to do your duty and to figure out what your talents are and how best to use them," she said. "Part of it is to figure out how you can, as the Bible says, love your neighbor. And I think I've discovered that public life and public service is the best way to use my talent."
What do you think?
Is asking a candidate about his or her faith laying down a religious test for office? Was it fair for us to ask Townsend and other candidates about how their faith shapes their approach to leadership and public life? Is faith such a fundamental part of what defines a person that it makes it fair game in evaluating a candidate? Where do you draw the line?
I really want to hear from you.
December 05, 2010 08:41
By George Matysek