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Bishop urges Senate to remedy health care for the ‘common good’ — Updated

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — After the Senate voted July 25 to proceed with the health care debate, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Fla., urged senators of both parties to “work together to advance changes that serve the common good.”

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

A rainbow shines over the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 24. (CNS photo/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

The statement from Bishop Dewane, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the health care reform proposals currently under consideration would “harm millions of struggling Americans by leaving too many at risk of losing adequate health coverage and continue to exclude too many people, including immigrants.”

“We are grateful for the efforts to include protections for the unborn, however, any final bill must include full Hyde Amendment provisions and add much-needed conscience protections. The current proposals are simply unacceptable as written, and any attempts to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act) without a concurrent replacement is also unacceptable,” he said in a July 25 statement.

During the procedural vote on the Senate floor, 50 Republicans voted yes and two GOP senators — Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted no, along with the Senate’s 48 Democrats. The tiebreaking vote was necessary from Vice President Mike Pence, as president of the Senate.

The vote to debate health care legislation took place after months of ongoing discussion and leaves Senate Republicans with a few options, including completely replacing the health care law, or voting for what has been described as a “skinny” repeal that would remove parts of the Affordable Care Act. They also could pass a measure that would repeal the current law without implementing a replacement.

Late July 25, the Senate voted down one of these proposals in a 57-43 vote with nine Republicans voting against it. The proposal — an updated version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act — would have done away with the ACA’s tax penalties for those not buying insurance, cut Medicaid and allowed insurers to sell cheaper policies with less coverage. It also included $100 billion in extra funds to help people losing Medicaid.

Senators were expected to vote on a “repeal-only” proposal July 26 that also was likely to face defeat since many in both parties have spoken against repealing the ACA without a replacement plan.

As votes were being cast, all eyes were on Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who returned to the Senate floor just days after being diagnosed with brain cancer, and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, who had not assured the Senate of his vote prior to the tally.

Just prior to the procedural vote, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, majority leader, urged fellow senators not to let this moment slip by.

“All we have to do today is to have the courage to begin the debate,” he added as protesters yelled in the background: “Kill the bill, don’t kill us.” “Shame.”

“Will we begin the debate on one of the most important issues confronting America today?” he asked before answering: “It is my hope that the answer will be yes.”

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, minority leader, stressed that Democrats had been locked out of the recent health care debate and he warned that the Republican plan will “certainly mean drastic cuts” in Medicaid and would cause many to lose health care insurance.

McCain urged his colleagues to “trust each other” and “return to order” after casting his vote to move the debate forward.

In his July 25 statement, Bishop Dewane said, “There is much work to be done to remedy the ACA’s shortcomings” and he called on the Senate to make the necessary changes.

He also stressed that “current and impending barriers to access and affordability under the ACA must be removed, particularly for those most in need. Such changes can be made with narrower reforms that do not jeopardize the access to health care that millions currently receive,” he added.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said in a July 26 statement that she was disappointed with the Senate’s vote to attempt to repeal and replace the ACA “without a clear plan to protect access to affordable health care coverage.”

She said that throughout the health care reform debate, Catholic Charities has insisted that any reform must protect those who have health care coverage and provide more health insurance to those without it.

“We urge senators to work together to reject dramatic cuts to Medicaid coverage and provide a health care bill that truly expands coverage, reduces costs and respects human life and dignity, especially for those who are most in need,” she said.

 

Carolyn Mackenzie contributed to this report. Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

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House committee approves measure to repeal D.C. assisted suicide law

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee voted July 13 in favor of an amendment to repeal the District of Columbia’s assisted suicide law. The measure still faces a vote by the full House and Senate before being sent to President Trump.

The day before the vote, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan sent a letter to members of the committee urging them to “nullify the D.C. City Council’s deceptively named ‘Death with Dignity Act’ that legalizes the dangerous and unethical practice of doctor-assisted suicide.”

he House Appropriations Committee voted July 13 in favor of an amendment to repeal the District of Columbia's assisted suicide law. (CNS photo/Lawrence Looi, EPA)

The House Appropriations Committee voted July 13 in favor of an amendment to repeal the District of Columbia’s assisted suicide law. (CNS photo/Lawrence Looi, EPA)

The amendment to the fiscal year 2018 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill looks to repeal the assisted suicide law, which went into effect this past February. It was introduced by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Maryland, who told the committee there is “nothing dignified about suicide” in his opinion.

Harris represents the First District of Maryland, which includes the entire Eastern Shore.

Harris also called the act “bad policy” and said that “physicians were playing God” by prescribing lethal medications to terminally ill patients who want to end their lives.

The legislation permits physicians in the District of Columbia to legally prescribe lethal drugs to patients who have been deemed mentally competent and who have received a terminal diagnosis of six months or less.

In his July 12 letter to House Appropriations Committee members, Cardinal Dolan said the law was “seriously flawed” and said it “poses the greatest risks of abuse and coercion to those who are poor, elderly, disabled, members of a minority group, or without access to good medical care.”

The cardinal, who is chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, also told committee members that the law could cause the deaths of many people who are not terminally ill and it also “reflects a bias against persons with disabilities and serious illness.”

He went on to say the legislation “undermines the very heart of medicine. Doctors vow to do no harm, and yet assisted suicide is the ultimate abandonment of their patients. Seriously ill patients, who are often depressed, need our authentic support, including doctors fully committed to their welfare and pain management as they enter their final days.”

The National Right to Life Committee similarly sent a July 12 letter urging House committee members to vote for the amendment to repeal the assisted-suicide measure.

In a statement, the group said the pro-life movement is as “concerned with protecting the lives of older people and people with disabilities as it has been dedicated to protecting unborn children from abortion.”

J.J. Hanson, president of the Patients Rights Actions Funds, praised the committee’s vote to repeal the assisted -suicide measure, saying: “We welcome any efforts at the congressional level to halt assisted suicide policy which will only put vulnerable D.C. residents — the terminally ill, the disabled and the poor — at risk.”

The D.C. Catholic Conference, which represents the public policy interests of the Catholic Church in the District of Columbia, joined a broad-based coalition of other groups in opposing the assisted-suicide measure when it came up for a vote.

After the City Council approved it, the Catholic conference issued a statement saying the bill “imperils residents particularly those who are sick, elderly, disabled, and uninsured in our communities. It allows for coercion and abuse including third-parties administering the lethal drugs to patients who may or may not be incapacitated and or even requesting assisted suicide.”

The District is the nation’s seventh jurisdiction to allow doctors to assist the terminally ill to kill themselves. Six states — Vermont, Oregon, Washington state, Montana, California and Colorado — also have legalized allowed assisted suicide.

Similar physician-assisted suicide laws have been introduced and have failed in 22 states.

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Catholic convocation: Combination pep rally, retreat inspires leaders

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Catholic News Service

ORLANDO, Fla. — From July 1-4 the main floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Orlando was transformed into a huge parish hall with places for worship, prayer, discussion, and even coffee and doughnuts during the “Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America.” Read more »

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Supreme Court levels ‘playing field’ state grants to religious schools

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court June 26 said a Lutheran preschool should not be excluded from a state grant program to refurbish its playground surface just because it is a religious entity.

“The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in the court’s opinion.

Activists rally outside U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 26 after the court sided with Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., which sued after being denied a state grant for creating a safer playground. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

Activists rally outside U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 26 after the court sided with Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., which sued after being denied a state grant for creating a safer playground. (CNS photo/Yuri Gripas, Reuters)

The court’s decision reverses a ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had sided with the state’s 2015 decision to exclude the school from obtaining grant funds.

Roberts said the appeals court decision made it clear that the Trinity Lutheran preschool was “put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit,” and the answer they were given was: “No churches need apply.”

At issue in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer was the school’s denial of grant reimbursement to nonprofit groups for the cost of purchasing and installing playground surfaces using recycled tires through a state program.

Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources, which administers the playground resurfacing program, ranked Trinity Lutheran’s grant application fifth out of the 44 it received. The department, which funds 14 grants, said it denied the school’s application because the state constitution prohibits state funds from going “directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

For Trinity Lutheran, the bigger issue was the school’s constitutional right to the free exercise of religion, which was a key point in oral arguments presented to the court in April.

The court’s opinion noted that the school was not claiming “any entitlement to a subsidy” but was asserting its “right to participate in a government benefit program without having to disavow its religious character.”

It also said the case indicated discrimination against religious exercise not just in “the denial of a grant, but rather the refusal to allow the church, solely because it is a church, to compete with secular organizations for a grant.”

The court stressed that this case was unlike Locke v. Davey, a 2004 court ruling which said federally funded scholarships were not required to go to college students who were receiving divinity degrees. In the preschool case, the playground grant was not related to religion.

Roberts, writing the court’s 19-page opinion, said the student in question in the Davey case was not denied a scholarship because of who he was but “because of what he proposed to do, using taxpayer funds in a clergy training program.” In the playground resurfacing case, Roberts wrote: “There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is — a church.”

Roberts’ opinion states from the outset that he did not concur with footnote No. 3. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch made similar distinctions. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan concurred in full with the opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a 27-page dissenting opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The footnote in question says: “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination,” which may limit the scope of the ruling.

Sotomayor said the court described the Lutheran school decision as “a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground,” but she warned that the “stakes are higher.”

She said the court’s ruling “profoundly changes” the relationship between church and state “by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church.”

Hannah Smith, senior counsel at Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm, called the court’s decision “good for kids and good for religious liberty.”

Becket filed a filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the school’s behalf as did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Missouri Catholic Conference, the National Catholic Educational Association, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America and the Salvation Army.

“This decision is significant because seven of the justices agreed that churches can’t be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to widely available public safety benefits,” said Smith.

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Church leaders welcome leaked HHS draft lifting contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON — A leaked draft rule from the Department of Health and Human Services exempting religious groups from the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act was welcomed by church officials and attorneys representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the groups that challenged the mandate at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said in a June 1 statement that the leaked draft has “yet to be formally issued and will require close study upon publication,” but it provides encouraging news.

“Relief like this is years overdue and would be most welcomed,” he said. Read more »

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Backgrounder: Long-awaited executive order on religion has unclear path ahead

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — At a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, President Donald Trump told a group of religious leaders: “It was looking like you’d never get here, but you got here, folks,” referring to their presence at the signing of the executive order on religious liberty.

Maybe some in the group wondered where “here” was since they hadn’t even seen the two-page executive order they were gathered to congratulate and only knew the general idea of it from a White House memo issued the previous night with just three bullet points.

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

People recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of a presentation on religious freedom at St. Patrick Church in Smithtown, N.Y., in 2016. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The order didn’t seem to part any seas to make an immediate path to religious freedom, especially since it places decisions for how this will play out in the hands of federal agencies and the attorney general.

Catholic leaders in general seemed to view it with cautious optimism, praising the order as a first step but not the final word.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who attended the White House ceremony also celebrating the National Day of Prayer, said immediately after the event that he had yet to see the entire executive order. He defined the principle of it: “There should not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when people are exercising their religious freedom in the public square or institutions they run.

The two-page order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” was posted on the White House website hours after it was signed. It is half the length of a leaked draft version of this order published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine. The order signed by the president is short on specifics and far less detailed than the leaked draft.

It devotes the most space to a promised easing of the Johnson Amendment, a 1954 law that bans churches and nonprofit organizations with tax-exempt status from taking part in partisan political activity. Although it would take an act of Congress to do away with this regulation, Trump can direct the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce it.

Many people likely aren’t familiar with the amendment by name, or they weren’t before this executive order, but they support the idea of it, according to a May 4 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll shows 71 percent of Americans favor the law, as do most all major U.S. religious groups Only about one-third of white evangelical Protestants favor allowing churches to endorse candidates, compared to 56 percent who oppose it. Also, just 23 percent of white mainline Protestants, 25 percent of Catholics and 19 percent of black Protestants support churches endorsing political candidates.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport May 4 on his way back to his diocese for a confirmation Mass, Cardinal DiNardo said the amendment was likely more important to evangelical Christians than Catholics because, as he pointed out, the Catholic Church “has the tradition of ‘Faithful Citizenship,’” which he said puts the Johnson Amendment in a bigger context.

“Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops’ quadrennial document on political responsibility, guides voters not according to the stances of specific political candidates but Catholic social teaching.

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email to Catholic News Service that the order’s emphasis on weakening the Johnson Amendment did not seem particularly significant, noting: “it is already the case that the relevant agencies and officials are highly deferential — as they should be — to churches and religious leaders, especially when it comes to what’s said in the context of sermons and homilies.”

Commenting on another major point of the executive order, relief to employers with religious objections to include contraception coverage in their employees’ health care plans, Garnett called it “a good thing — and long overdue,” but he also noted that “such regulatory relief was already probably on its way, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decisions.”

In a statement after the order was signed, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price promised to take action “to safeguard the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans who provide health insurance to their employees.” The promise didn’t give any specifics.

The lack of details in the order even caused the American Civil Liberties Union, which had been poised to sue, to change its course. In a statement issued hours after the order’s signing, ACLU director Anthony Romero said the order had “no discernible policy outcome.”

“After careful review of the order’s text, we have determined that the order does not meaningfully alter the ability of religious institutions or individuals to intervene in the political process,” he said.

But the group also stands ready to sue the Trump administration if the order generates any official government action. Religious groups, for opposite reasons, likewise stand ready to see if the order has any teeth.

As Knights of Columbus Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said in a statement: “This order marks an important step in restoring those constitutional principles guaranteed to every American,” with the added caveat, “There is still work to be done.”

 

Contributing to this story was Chaz Muth.

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Cardinal says Trump’s religious freedom order begins to relieve burden of HHS mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Many religious leaders viewed President Donald Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, which he signed in a White House Rose Garden ceremony May 4, as a step in the right direction.

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

President Donald Trump shows his signed Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty during a National Day of Prayer event at the White House in Washington May 4. (CNS/Jim Lo Scalzo, EPA)

In a ceremony for the National Day of Prayer prior to signing the executive order, Trump told the assembled religious leaders: “We’re taking big steps to protect religious liberty” and he assured them the government “won’t stand for religious discrimination.”

Three religious leaders, including Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, offered prayers during the ceremony. Just prior to the event, Cardinal Wuerl and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, met with Trump about the order.

In an interview with Catholic News Service at Reagan National Airport just after the White House ceremony, Cardinal DiNardo said the meeting with the president was brief but productive.

Earlier, in a statement, the cardinal said the executive order “begins the process of alleviating the serious burden of the HHS mandate,” referring to the mandate issued by the federal Department of Health and Human Services requiring most religious employers to provide coverage of artificial birth control for their employees even if they morally oppose it.

But Cardinal DiNardo also stressed that the U.S. bishops will “have to review the details of any regulatory proposals.”

The text of the order, “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” states that cabinet offices “shall consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate.”

During the White House ceremony, Trump told some of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the crowd: “Your long ordeal will soon be over.” The sisters are just one of the groups that challenged the federal contraceptive mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mother Loraine Marie Maguire, superior of the Little Sisters’ Baltimore province, said in a statement that the sisters are “grateful for the president’s order and look forward to the agencies giving us an exemption so that we can continue caring for the elderly poor and dying” without fear of government punishment.

Another aspect of the order is a weakening of what Trump called the “unfair” Johnson Amendment during the May 4 event. The 1954 amendment bans churches and nonprofit organizations of all types from participating in partisan political activity at the risk of losing their tax-exempt status.

Trump told the religious leaders that the order’s attempt to lessen restrictions of the amendment will be “giving our churches their voices back.”

The order states the Treasury Department shall ensure and “respect and protect the freedom of persons and organizations to engage in religious and political speech.” 

It also calls for department officials to “not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization” for speaking about “moral or political issues from a religious perspective.”

Regarding religious liberty, the order is not very specific. It states: “In order to guide all agencies in complying with relevant federal law, the attorney general shall, as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in federal law.”

Cardinal DiNardo, in his statement, stressed that in recent years, “people of faith have experienced pressing restrictions on religious freedom from both the federal government and state governments that receive federal funding.”

He noted that church agencies have specifically experienced such a restriction in adoption, education, health care and other social services, where he said “widely held moral and religious beliefs, especially regarding the protection of human life as well as preserving marriage and family, have been maligned in recent years as bigotry or hostility.”

“But disagreement on moral and religious issues is not discrimination; instead, it is the inevitable and desirable fruit of a free, civil society marked by genuine religious diversity,” he added.

Cardinal DiNardo told CNS that the executive order emphasizes that there should “not be an overly intrusive federal government” involved when a person or group is exercising one’s faith.

He also said the president seems to be putting some of these religious liberty issues directly in the hands of federal departments and the attorney general, which he called “an important dimension” and a “good way to have this unpacked.”

The White House did not release the full text of the order prior to its signing. A draft of an earlier version of the order, which included stronger language, was leaked and published Feb. 1 in The Nation magazine.

Regarding the new order, Cardinal DiNardo said in his statement that the bishops will “continue to advocate for permanent relief from Congress on issues of critical importance to people of faith,” noting that religious freedom is “a fundamental right that should be upheld by all branches of government and not subject to political whims.”

Richard Garnett, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said in an email that the order will likely be viewed as a commitment from the administration that it wants to protect religious liberty. “In terms of specifics, however, the order does very little and does not address a number of pressing and important questions.”

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, also welcomed the order and said the organization “looks forward to reviewing the details” of it with the hope that applying it will “allow Catholic Charities agencies to continue to serve all their clients in accordance with their inherent dignity while at the same time preserving the freedom of these agencies to serve in conformity with our beliefs.”

 

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Catholic leaders praise stays of executions for Arkansas death-row inmates

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Catholic leaders praised the federal and state rulings that granted stays of executions for a group of Arkansas death-row inmates during the week of April 17.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pictured in a 2013 photo. Arkansas, which has not executed anyone in more than 12 years, plans to execute eight death-row inmates in a period of 10 days this April before one of the state's lethal injection drugs expires. Hutchinson in late February set the four execution dates for the eight men between April 17-27. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pictured in a 2013 photo. Arkansas, which has not executed anyone in more than 12 years, plans to execute eight death-row inmates in a period of 10 days this April before one of the state’s lethal injection drugs expires. Hutchinson in late February set the four execution dates for the eight men between April 17-27. (CNS photo/Shawn Thew, EPA)

“After the darkness of Good Friday has come a great light,” Karen Clifton, executive director of the Catholic Mobilizing Network against the Death Penalty, said in an April 16 statement. She said the plan to execute these men in such a short period of time brought about “an extraordinary response from so many people calling for a culture of life and an end to this practice of retribution.”

A federal judge’s April 15 ruling stopped the state from executing six of the inmates with a preliminary injunction handed down in response to a lawsuit filed by the inmates, who claimed the executions were unconstitutional because of their rapid pace and the ineffectiveness of the lethal injection drug midazolam. They claimed the sedative drug doesn’t always work and causes those who are being executed to feel pain from the use of other two lethal injection drugs.

The previous day, an Arkansas judge, responding to a lawsuit from two pharmaceutical companies, issued a temporary restraining order on the state’s executions based on evidence the state may not have obtained midazolam properly.

The state and federal judges’ rulings are both under appeal by the state. A significant delay in these arguments could indefinitely halt these executions since the state’s supply of midazolam will run out at the end of the month and state officials have said they have no source to obtain a further supply of the sedative.

But even with the court-issued stays, the executions are still possible before the end of April if the cases are sent to the Supreme Court and it sides with the state of Arkansas in its appeal.

Arkansas officials originally scheduled eight executions from April 17-27. Two of the inmates were granted stays of execution outside of the federal judge’s April 15 decision.

These executions were announced months ago by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said they had to be done in quick succession to use the state’s final batch of the midazolam before it expired at the end of April.

Many people have demonstrated against the state’s plan to execute these man in such quick succession, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In an April 13 statement, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged the state’s governor to reconsider the scheduled executions and reduce the sentences to life imprisonment.

“May those in Arkansas who hold the lives of these individuals on death row in their hands be moved by God’s love, which is stronger than death, and abandon the current plans for execution,” he wrote.

The bishop said the timing for these executions “was not set by the demands of justice, but by the arbitrary politics of punishment,” referring to the state’s supply of the sedative used in executions. “And so, in a dark irony, a safeguard that was intended to protect people is now being used as a reason to hasten their deaths.”

After the rulings temporarily halting the executions were issued, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, thanked all of those who had “prayed and worked so hard to prevent these scheduled executions from taking place.”

“Let us continue to pray and work for the abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas and throughout the country,” he said in a statement. He also urged for prayers for “healing for the victims of the horrific crimes” and for the perpetrators of these crimes, saying: “The Lord never gives up on anyone and neither should we.”

 

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New U.S. health care bill withdrawn after if falls short of votes in the House of Representatives

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, who is president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association, doesn’t mince words when it comes to the American Health Care Act, which was short of votes and withdrawn by House Republicans late March 24.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended March 24 that President Trump withdraw the American Health Care Act when it didn't have enough votes in the House. (CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan recommended March 24 that President Trump withdraw the American Health Care Act when it didn’t have enough votes in the House. (CNS/Joshua Roberts, Reuters)

Two days before the GOP legislation was set for an initial vote in Congress and then delayed due to last-minute wrangling and efforts to gain support, she described the bill as a disgrace, a pro-life disaster, a huge step back, catastrophic for Catholic social teaching and something that would do incredible damage.

The woman religious, who heads an organization of more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the United States, has a vested interest in the nation’s health care and she also knows the ins and outs of health care legislation from working behind the scenes “forever,” as she describes it, on the Affordable Care Act.

At the time that the ACA was being drafted, some Catholic organizations opposed key elements of the measure. Once it became law, more than 40 lawsuits were filed to challenge the subsequent Department of Health and Human Service’s mandate requiring that insurance plans include coverage for artificial birth control, sterilization and drugs that lead to abortions.

Sister Keehan is quick to point out that the health care legislation signed into law seven years ago is far from perfect, but she says it was an “incredible step forward.”

“I do recognize the political conflict and the imperfections in the bill, but when you can make insurance that much better for people who have it and give 20 million Americans insurance, that is a huge step forward,” she said March 21 in her Washington office.

At a 2015 Catholic Health Association gathering in Washington, President Barack Obama thanked Sister Keehan for her steadiness, strength and “steadfast voice.”

“We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her,” he said.

The immediate repeal and replacement of the ACA was a key promise of President Donald Trump’s campaign, but the GOP health care measure has faced opposition from both conservative and moderate Republicans. Trump told House Republicans that he will leave ACA in place and move on to tax reform if they do not support the new health care legislation.

Watching the GOP efforts to repeal and replace the ACA has been hard for Sister Keehan mainly because she and other health care leaders were not consulted in the process.

“We should never, ever throw together a bill that’s going to be such a profound impact on the people of this country in this short of time and without any input from those who care for them,” she said.

The work on these two health care bills couldn’t have been more different, she pointed out, noting that prior to the ACA launch she felt like she “lived in committee rooms” because she was constantly meeting with committees, groups and subgroups at the White House and Congress.

With the GOP health care plan, she said there wasn’t any opportunity for hospital groups or the American Medical Association to give any advice.

“We’ve just been dismissed,” she said, noting that she attended a few small group meetings on Capitol Hill but “they were not meetings to get our input on what ought to be done with the bill but meetings to tell us what was going to be done.”

“This has just been railroaded through Congress,” she added.

While the U.S. bishops have applauded pro-life elements of the American Health Care Act, they also have criticized other elements and expressed concern for its impact on the disadvantaged.

In a March 17 letter to House members about the GOP measure, Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said the inclusion of “critical life protections” in the House health care bill is laudable, but other provisions, including those related to Medicaid and tax credits are “troubling” and “must be addressed.”

He said the bill’s restriction of funds to providers that promote abortion and prohibiting federal funding for abortion or the purchase of plans that provide abortion “honors a key moral requirement for our nation’s health care policy.” But he also criticized the absence of “any changes” from the current law regarding conscience protections against mandates to provide certain coverage or services considered morally objectionable by employers and health care providers.

“The ACA is, by no means, a perfect law,” Bishop Dewane said. “The Catholic bishops of the United States registered serious objections at the time of its passage. However, in attempting to improve the deficiencies of the ACA, health care policy ought not create other unacceptable problems, particularly for those who struggle on the margins of our society.”

Main provisions of the new House bill include: eliminating the mandate that most individuals have health insurance and putting in its place a new system of tax credits; expanding Health Savings Accounts; repealing Medicaid expansion and transitioning to a “per capita allotment”; and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions.

Sister Keehan said she thanked Bishop Dewane for his letter to Congress and said the bishops had carefully gone through the legislation measure by measure on a number of issues. She also noted that she knows people in the pro-life community either think the new bill is strong enough or not doing enough.

As she sees it, the bill is “a pro-life disaster in the fact that when you take health care away from people, you take life.”

“If you want to really, really strengthen the pro-life culture in this country, you make sure people know that their lives and the lives of their children are so valued by our country,” she said, which means providing quality maternity and pediatric care and offering programs like Head Start and food stamps.

Although she said under the ACA no federal funds could be spent on abortion, a nonpartisan government agency in an assessment of the law in 2014 said abortion coverage was available in some plans. Sister Keehan also said the law included help for pregnant mothers to get drug rehabilitation, housing and maternity care, which are not included in the new bill.

“I don’t find this a pro-life bill at all from every perspective,” she added about the new measure.

When asked if there was a silver lining with people at least talking about the need to provide insurance for all Americans, Sister Keehan said the health care crisis for so many people doesn’t give “the luxury of time.”

“To be the only industrialized nation in the world that does not guarantee all its citizens health care is a disgrace,” she said, adding: “We are at a real crossroads in our country’s sense of its responsibility to its people.”

 

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Democratic filibuster looms as senators quiz Gorsuch about abortion, religious liberty

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON— As the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, moved into the March 23 testimony phase with those for and against his nomination taking the floor, the Democrats announced plans to filibuster his nomination.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, announced on the Senate floor he would oppose Gorsuch’s nomination by joining other Democrats in a filibuster. This means Gorsuch will need 60 votes to be confirmed by the Senate, and with only 52 Republicans, this would be unlikely.

Schumer said that during the hearings Gorsuch was “unable to sufficiently convince me that he’d be an independent check” on the presidency.

One way around the filibuster is if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, makes a rule change, allowing Gorsuch to be confirmed with 51 votes. A vote to confirm the judge for the high court is scheduled for April 3.

The third day of confirmation hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee for Judge Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee failed to spark high drama. Read more »

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