Boehner and McCotter Pledge a “Culture of Life”

During the stimulus debate, House Minority Leader John Boehner criticized the Medicaid expansion of contraceptive services–now included in the President’s 2010 budget–as "wasteful spending."

But he may have had other reasons for opposing the provision: opposition to birth control on ideological grounds. 

In a letter sent on February 17, 2009, by Boehner and his colleague Thaddeus McCotter, Chair of the House Republican Policy Committee, to His Eminence Justin Frances Rigali, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the two leaders pledge:

"We will, as Pope Benedict XVI exhorted during his apostolic visit to the United States last year, "proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and promote a culture of life."

The letter largely focuses on the commitment of the Republican leadership to opposing the Freedom of Choice Act (which has not been introduced and is not likely to be introduced any time soon), and to fight any efforts to "weaken" the:

"Hyde Amendment, the Dickey/Wicker Amendment, the Hyde/Weldon Conscience Protection Amendment, and the Kemp-Kasten Amendment."

On the face of it, the letter echoes the Republican party’s long-standing opposition to a woman’s right to choose abortion, the party’s support for expanded "conscience clauses," and limits on federal research involving human embryos. 

The Hyde Amendment, for example, excludes abortion from the comprehensive health care services provided to low-income people by the federal government through Medicaid (though exceptions are allowed for victims of rape or incest, and for life endangerment).  Kemp-Kasten "prohibits foreign aid funding for any organization that, as determined
by the President, supports or participates in the management of a
program of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization," a law that was used fallaciously by the Bush Administration to withhold funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 

The Hyde/Weldon Amendment prevents federal, state and local governments
from requiring health care entities to provide or pay for certain abortion-related
services, allowing health insurance companies and HMOs to refuse to provide coverage
or pay for abortions without reprisals.  And
the Dickey/Wicker Amendment restricts the use of federal funds for embryonic research.

But by invoking a "culture of life," this letter goes further in raising questions about whether two principal leaders of the party actually are signaling their opposition to any form of contraception that falls outside the definition of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The concept of a "culture of life" as defined by the Catholic Church leaves
little room for debate on women’s access to contraception.  "Culture of life" is a term used in moral theology as shorthand for the concept that human life, at all stages from conception through to natural death, is sacred.

The Church therefore not only rejects the internationally accepted medical definition of pregnancy as beginning after a fertilized egg successfully implants in the uterine lining, but greatly expands the definition of abortion to include any action interfering with a fertilized egg.  Because of this, supporting a "culture of life" as defined by the Church implies opposition to all forms of contraception including birth control pills, intra-uterine devices, injections, and emergency contraception because these may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.  By contrast, medical bodies such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization define abortion as a means of ending pregnancy after implantation.

The Republican party has never officially declared opposition to birth control per se, at least to my knowledge, though there is no question that many within the party have done their utmost over the years to limit access to contraception here and abroad.  Certainly, one could infer such a position from their manipulation of data during the Bush Administration under the Centers for Disease Control; their placement during the Bush era of ideological opponents in key positions throughout Health and Human Services, at the Food and Drug Administration, at USAID, and in the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator; their vociferous support for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs so deeply discredited by the evidence; and their opposition to expanding provisions that would allow women easier access to contraception, among many other actions.

Still, even despite all this, the sweeping nature of the promise made to "promote a culture of life" made by Boehner and McCotter caught me off guard.  So I called the Minority Leader’s office to ask: "Is John Boehner signalling opposition to basic forms of contraception and to the concept of family planning?"  His press secretary said he "could not speak to Boehner’s personal position," to which I responded that the letter was not about personal but about policy positions.  The press secretary promised to get back to me but never did.

So the question remains: Does the leadership of the House Republican Party oppose access to basic contraceptives?  I would still like to know the clear answer. 

I think this letter provides further evidence that the real issue is not, and
never has been "abortion," because contraceptives are the very means
through which women and men throughout the world can freely and
responsibly plan their families, and the means through which women
everywhere are able to avoid the unintended pregnancies that can lead
to an abortion in the first place. 

And in some ways, it would be a relief to find out the answer was "yes."  We could then all stop the charade that these guys really are concerned about "reducing abortion," and focus on more clearly on their real position: the control of women. 

We therefore need to be highly vigilant any time the term "abortion" is invoked.  The constant re-definition of "pregnancy and abortion" by the religious right is just one more
in the legion of efforts to erode reproductive rights and the right of women to
choose whether and when to become pregnant and whether to bring a pregnancy to term. 

It’s about ideology.  One set of ideologies.  And in a pluralistic society the government has no role in promoting one set of religious beliefs over all others.


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  • invalid-0

    Jodi, you write “The Church. . . expands the definition of abortion to include any action interfering with a fertilized egg.” Actually, the pill inserts and physicians desk references say that these pills can act as abortifacients (preventing the fertilized egg from implanting on the uterine wall). “Abortifacient” means that it causes an abortion. If the fertilized egg is not a life, then there is no abortion; but the drug companies (with no ties to the Catholic Church) declare these can cause an abortion to the already fertilized egg. Even the idea of an “emergency contraceptive” is incorrect. They are actually used in a way that should be labeled “emergency abortifacents.” That’s an important reason why no Catholic in good standing should take these, nor should any Catholic physician or pharmacist be forced to dispense this stuff.

  • jodi-jacobson

    indicates a pregnancy begins *after* implantation.

    Your definition of *life* and the equivalency of a fertilized egg with a sentient person is neither shared by the majority of medical associations nor by the majority of Americans. Moreover, it is a religious definition. You have every right to adhere to this definition in your personal life. In a pluralistic society in which there are other faith traditions and in which women are moral agents with basic human rights, you have no right to impose your beliefs on others.

    So there are several issues on which we disagree here. One is the issue of when “life” begins, on which there is theological and practical disagreement and on which we disagree on allowing individuals according to their own faith to make this determination. Another is the definition of pregnancy. A third is whether you get to decide or individual women (and men) get to decide on their reproductive and sexual lives. And a fourth is whether consistent and effective use of basic contraceptive methods reduce unintended pregnancies.

    The beauty of living in this country is that in such matters, you can live by your principals in this contested area, and I and others can live by ours. Where we clash is in the insistence of making it your way or no way.

    With all best wishes, Jodi

  • invalid-0

    I totally agee with you Jodi, They are trying to control women period. Good article. They did not call you back because it is almost a conspirancy against women by the Vatican. Isn’t it like this in all religions now?
    I guess we women are scareing them and they are trying to find a way to hold us back, the jerks. They are not getting me, no way!

  • invalid-0

    There is, unfortunately a bill making itself through the Arizona house that does just this, essentially defines many forms of birth control as abortion. It is bill number 2456 and, due to democratic govenor Janet Napolitano moving to Washington as Homeland Security chief, there is a great amount of fear that this awful bill will actually pass, since we now have a Republican Governor.

    The bill requires 24 hour waiting time for abortion, prescribes what a doctor must tell a woman about the abortion and the law (such as getting support from the father), allows for lawsuits by many people if the doctor fails or allegedly fails to properly inform the woman of the detailed list of items set forth by the legislature, requires notarized parental consent and makes legal a consience clause equal to that Bush put through in his midnight regulations.

    It is an awful law. But the real crux of the matter is set forth in the definitions- and I set forth the key definitions below:

    “Abortion” means the use of any means to terminate the clinically diagnosable pregnancy of a woman with knowledge that the termination by those means will cause, with reasonable likelihood, the death of the unborn child. Abortion does not include birth control devices, oral contraceptives used to inhibit or prevent ovulation or conception or the use of any means to increase the probability of a live birth, to preserve the life or health of the child after a live birth, to terminate an ectopic pregnancy or to remove a dead fetus.”

    The original version of the law which was deleted- while still bad news stated:

    “Abortion does not include birth control devices or oral contraceptives that inhibit or prevent ovulation, fertilization or the implantation of a fertilized ovum within the uterus.”

    Notice the key difference between the deleted section- the deleted section made it very clear that contraceptives were not abortion. But the language which was changed in committee would define an abortion as anything that might interfere with the fertilized egg implanting in the uterus.

    Additionally, the other definitons in the proposed bill make it very clear that this is indeed the intent.

    “Unborn child” means the offspring of human beings from conception until birth.”

    “Conception” means the fusion of a human spermatozoon with a human ovum.”

    Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the equivalent of a stealth egg as person law.

    Here are the Republican committee members (all Democrats abstained and boycotted the hearing) who put their ideology and their personal religious beliefs ahead of the interest of their constituents- we need to shine a light on these tactics and the people who support them.

    I have already registered my extreme displeasure with my reps and intend to continue to do so. And I intend to work very hard to see that these people are not returned to the legislature when their terms are up.

    Frank Antenori Y
    Doris Goodale Y
    Rick Murphy Y
    Steve Court Y
    Nancy K. Barto Y

    You may additionally reserach all the bill’s sponsors on the AZ legislative site.

    This subterfuge must be exposed and held up to the light of day,it is outrageous.

    PS Please forgive any typos- I am still hopping mad.

  • invalid-0

    Sorry, as I said, I make typos when I’m mad.

    The bill is number 2564 (not 2456 as I typed above)

  • invalid-0

    Your summation that defining life as beginning at conception is ‘my’ definition or a ‘religious’ definition is neither fair, nor my basis for stating it in the first place. Doctors have consistently defined it as such- and not at the time of implantation (which seems to be a common strategy of ‘pro-choice’ proponents). I believe that is why Arizona bill# 2564 that one poster cited was changed- to more accurately reflect the science on when human life begins- and then to protect it.
    You said to me: “women are moral agents with basic human rights, you have no right to impose your beliefs on others.” First, you break your own rule by attempting to impose your belief on me and others- that I have no right to impose my beliefs on others. It’s a self-refuting argument. Second, science has proven that gender (as well as a person’s DNA, etc.) are determined at conception. What about females that have been already conceived; what about 2, 6, & 9 month female preborn babies? Why are they not “moral agents with basic human rights?” As a side note, if you determine true science, merely by what you claim the ‘majority’ of scientists say, that’s very shaky when it comes to life and death. If half the doctors/scientists say the fertilized egg is a life (or that a 3 week old fetus is actually a pre-born baby- as evidenced to them by clear, visible research from ultrasounds, etc.), and half the doctors/scientists say it isn’t (by being unable to believe there is clear evidence)- shouldn’t that give you pause for thought; maybe since there is disagreement, the common sense approach would be a move to the scientific side of caution (life begins at conception)- because if we’re wrong and go the other way, we actually destroy life. It seems the logical conclusion. Have you ever thought of it in that way? Thanks and best wishes to you Jodi as well.

  • invalid-0

    I have read your posts here on the forum before- you simply are not worth replying to, as you do not deal with reality. I leave you to your church- leave me to mine

    • invalid-0

      still sound mad.

  • invalid-0

    Were you forced to have an abortion? (That’s the only way my religion could have hurt your right to yours.)

    Life begins at birth and always has. Just try to take two deductions on your income tax while you’re pregnant!

    God obviously isn’t adverse to detroying zygotes and embryos, as about half are spontaneously aborted naturally. Often the woman doesn’t even know she’s pregnant, just a period a bit late.

    As for fetuses, there was nothing reported about God protecting the unborn from Noah’s flood. Surely the unborn weren’t wicked. Guess God doesn’t care; why should you?

  • invalid-0

    I don’t really give a darn what you people think- just stop trying to impose your crazy beliefs on the rest of us.
    PS your snide remarks say volumes about your arguments and the lack of logic or realism in them.Rationality is not your strong suit is it?

  • invalid-0

    Long Live President Barack Obama!

    Barack Obama is a racial-minority individual and does not like racism:

    There is bad news about Bill Clinton.

    It is opined that Bill Clinton committed terrifying, racist, hate crimes during his presidency, and I am not free to say anything further about it.

    Respectfully Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang, J.D. Candidate
    B.S., With the Highest Level of Academic Honors at Graduation, 1996
    Messiah College, Grantham, PA
    Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993

    (I can type 90 words per minute, and there are thousands of copies on the Internet indicating the content of this post. And there are thousands of copies in very many countries around the world.)
    ‘If only there could be a ban against invention that bottled up memory like scent & it never faded & it never got stale.’ It came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

  • otaku1960

     Everybody’s got one. Someone’s opining about Clinton "committing terrifying racist hate crimes"  is utterly meaningless without hard data behind it.  I’ve researched all the claims and there is nothing to them, nor the other claims the Clintons supposedly were responsible for several murders.  When you get right to the sources, you will also find they were started by right wing-nuts who hated Clinton. 

    Your grievance shall be avenged.

  • otaku1960

     really wish a "culture of life" in America, they can start by guaranteeing every child in this country adequeae shelter, nutrition, health care and education.  While those two focus on non-sentient fertilized eggs, too many children in America are going without.


    Your grievance shall be avenged.