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Pelosi Ridicules Catholic "Conscience Thing"

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Nancy Pelosi frequently likes to remind us that she is a “devout Catholic,” yet she continually finds herself at odds with Catholic doctrine particularly as it relates to innocent human life.  The Church has long defended the right for health care providers to refuse to perform abortions or provide contraception devices and procedures as a right of conscience under First Amendment protections.  As part of the Democrats’ seizure of the health care industry with ObamaCare, Pelosi led the charge to attack the “Conscience Clause” protections originating in 1973 immediately following the Roe v. Wade decision, updated repeatedly over the years by Congress, and further clarified and strengthened in 2008 during the Bush Administration.   

As the Obama Administration ramps up for the implementation of ObamaCare, the issue has boiled up several times.  Most recently, the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration have spared over a mandate proposed by HHS that would require all private health plans to cover sterilizations and contraceptives, including those that cause abortion, under the broad definition of “preventive services.” 

Since the ObamaCare legislation also requires every citizen to buy health insurance, the government mandate would force Catholics to buy health care plans that violate Catholic doctrine.  Catholic insurance agents would face the additional dilemma of selling a product that violates the moral teachings of the Church, or change professions.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops objected to the newly proposed mandate as a violation of Conscience Clause protections and the First Amendment.  "Indeed, such nationwide government coercion of religious people and groups to sell, broker, or purchase 'services' to which they have a moral or religious objection represents an unprecedented attack on religious liberty," the bishops said.

As explained in an official CRS Report to Congress, the Conscience Clause provides that “public officials may not require individuals or entities who receive certain public funds to perform abortion or sterilization procedures or to make facilities or personnel available for the performance of such procedures if such performance ‘would be contrary to [the individual or entity’s] religious beliefs or moral convictions.’”

Because of ambiguities in the language of the ObamaCare legislation, House Republicans brought forward H.R. 358, The Protect Life Act, in October 2011 to preserve Conscience Clause protections for health care providers and to restate the ban on federal taxpayer funding for abortion.  The legislation was consistent “with the original Stupak Amendment” according to Joe Pitts (R-PA), a sponsor of the bill, as well as the co-author of the original Stupak Amendment offered in the House during the ObamaCare and supposedly affirmed by Executive Order signed by Barack Obama to pacify pro-life Democrats prior to the passage of ObamaCare.

The pro-abortion crowd renamed the bill the “Let Women Die Act.”  Pelosi characterized the legislation as “savage” and said, “When the Republicans vote for this bill today, they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor and health-care providers do not have to intervene, if this bill is passed. It’s just appalling.”  Pelosi made the outrageous claim even though H.R. 358 contained exceptions as found in the landmark Hyde Amendment for “abortions performed due to the child’s conception in rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.” 

The Protect Life Act passed the House on Oct. 13, 2011 by a 251-172 margin, with just 15 Democrats voting with the Republicans.  There are about 90 Democrats in the House that list “Catholic” as their faith, so Pelosi wasn’t the only Catholic Democrat that voted contrary to Church teaching.  Thus far, Harry Reid has blocked the Act from a vote in the Senate.

The Washington Post recently questioned Pelosi about the bishops’ concern over the proposed ObamaCare insurance mandate to cover contraception and abortion, and offered her a chance to back away from her over-the-top criticism of the Protect Life Act.  Instead she dug in her heels and blasted Catholic teaching yet again.   

According to the Washington Post, the former Speaker and current Minority Leader of the House Democrats said the Protect Life Act amounted to letting hospitals “say to a woman, ‘I’m sorry you could die’ if you don’t get an abortion.”  Those who dispute that characterization “may not like the language,” she said, “but the truth is what I said.  I’m a devout Catholic and I honor my faith and love it…but they (Catholics) have this conscience thing” that she insists put women at physical risk, although Catholic health care providers strongly disagree. 

During the campaign of 2008, Presidential Candidate Barack Obama was asked by Pastor Rick Warren, “At what point does a baby get human rights?”  Obama stoked an already smoldering controversy by evaded answering Warren’s question with his dismissive reply, “Answering that question with specificity is above my pay-grade.”  The dodge to Pastor Warren’s question became a campaign issue. And, Pelosi was drawn into it when subsequently on Meet the Press, Tom Brokaw asked Nancy Pelosi “if he (Obama) were to come to you and say, ‘Help me out here, Madam Speaker.  When does life begin?  What would you tell him?”

Pelosi replied, “As an ardent practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time.  And, what I know is that over the centuries the doctors of the Church have not been able to make the definition.” 

Immediately Catholic Bishops across America blasted Pelosi’s falsehood.  Charles J. Chaput, then the Archbishop of Denver and recently installed as the Archbishop of Philadelphia, published a condemnation of Pelosi’s comments the day following her Meet the Press interview.  “Abortion kills an unborn, developing human life.  It is always gravely evil, and so are the evasions employed to justify it,” wrote Chaput and Denver Auxiliary Bishop James Conley.   “Catholics who make excuses for it – whether they’re famous or not – fool only themselves and abuse the fidelity of those Catholics who do sincerely seek to follow the Gospel and live their Catholic faith,” the bishops’ joint statement adds.

Bishops Chaput and Conley blow apart Pelosi’s contention that her “study” of the teachings of Catholic theologians had revealed to her that Church doctrine is unsettled on the question of the beginning of life.  The Bishops’ explain that “ardent, practicing Catholics will quickly learn from the historical record that from apostolic times, the Christian tradition overwhelmingly held that abortion was grievously evil.”  In the absence of modern medical knowledge, the Bishops acknowledge that Church leaders grappled with the question of “animation” of the fetus, or when it became “ensouled.”  But, never has the Church questioned when life began or “the unique evil of abortion as an attack on life itself, and the early Church closely associated abortion with infanticide.”

That many Catholics, including many in elected office, take exception with and choose to live outside the teachings of the Church is obvious, but that is a far cry from latitude to redefine and falsely profess Catholic doctrine.  The Speaker of the House or even Minority Leader wields considerable power, but even these lofty positions don’t include theological credentials.  

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