Norwalk, Conn., Jan 17, 2009 (CNA) - By Jack Sheedy
Members of the Norwalk, Connecticut-based Gospel of Life Society are working to encourage medical practitioners to follow Catholic teachings when couples want to avoid contraception. One parish, St. Mary’s, has implemented a pro-life committee to recruit and educate practitioners about Natural Family Planning.
The committee now numbers about 30 health care practitioners and meets three times a year. Its first major event will be co-sponsorship of a seminar on Jan. 17 at the Villa Maria Guadalupe Retreat Center.
“For any problem a girl has, whether it’s cramps or [menstrual] irregularity or anything, [doctors] automatically say, ‘Here’s the Pill, take the Pill,’” said Eileen Bianchini, chair of the Gospel of Life Society that boasts about 400 members from 58 parishes in all dioceses of Connecticut.
Dr. Leonie S. Watson, a fertility consultant based in New Jersey, agreed. During a presentation she said, “When the patient wants to use natural family planning and doesn’t want to use contraception, the doctor says, ‘Here’s the Pill. For you, it’s necessary.’ No, it isn’t. But if [patients] don’t have anywhere to turn or they don’t know there’s an alternative, they’re stuck.”
Dr. Watson spoke on NaProTechnology (natural procreative technology), an emerging reproductive science that allows couples to achieve pregnancy naturally and women to be treated for a variety of gynecologic conditions. Central to NaProTechnology, and to Dr. Watson’s practice, is the Creighton Model, a system of natural family planning that involves detailed charting of a woman’s fertility cycles.
Father Greg J. Markey, Pastor of St. Mary Parish, started the Gospel of Life Society about nine years ago because he perceived a lack of involvement in pro-life issues in both the lay and clerical community. He said, “I was networking with other priests and saying, ‘Where is everybody on this?’”
Father Markey told The Catholic Transcript, “We started because there are so many Catholics out there but very little organization to keep us all networked. We have trouble keeping everybody moving on this issue. A lot of Catholics are not speaking up.”
He said Connecticut is one of the most pro-abortion states in the nation and many Catholics are poorly committed to pro-life causes.
“I think Catholics have become comfortable with dissent from Catholic teaching and that’s a real problem,” he said. “When we try to raise the issue, Catholics are just not responding.”
Father Markey said every Catholic is called to respond to pro-life issues. “We’re trying to encourage Catholics to know their faith and to act on their faith. It’s not enough to call yourself Catholic; you must truly be Catholic,” he said.
Dorothy Dugandzic, a fertility care practitioner and managing director of the St. Augustine Foundation, a Yonkers, N.Y.-based natural family planning center, met Father Markey about nine years ago. That meeting was the stimulus that led to the formation of the Gospel of Life Society.
“He was very concerned, and so was I, that there was not very much going on with natural family planning in Connecticut,” she told The Transcript. “He’s a die-hard NFP priest here in Connecticut and I’m happy to know him.”
Mrs. Bianchini said, “I think what he felt was needed in Connecticut was networking, that there were a lot of groups but they weren’t talking to each other. That’s what this group does, and that’s why we’re growing so fast.”
Mrs. Bianchini mails information to sponsors in 58 parishes each month, and the sponsors spread the word by publishing it in church bulletins, tacking it on bulletin boards or organizing local events.
“People like being networked. They like knowing about each other and knowing what’s going on and being empowered,” she said.
Barbara Costello is one of many members who belong to other parishes but drive to the meetings.
“There’s something very special about what’s going on at St. Mary’s in Norwalk,” she said. “It takes me an hour to get there but it’s worth it.”
She said she belongs to a pro-life group at St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield, but that one is run by laypersons. “At Norwalk, there’s a priest present,” she said. “The power of the [clergy] is there.”
Besides attracting medical practitioners Dr. Watson and Ms. Dugandzic, the Gospel of Life Society includes family practitioner Dr. Judith Mascolo of West Hartford and nurse practitioner Cortney Davis of Redding.
Ms. Davis wrote in an e-mail that the new medical committee looks for “new ways of reaching both doctors and clergy to keep them informed about pro-life and contraception issues, specifically that the NaProTechnology is available and that there are practitioners to whom couples and women might be referred.”
Information on the Gospel of Life Society is available from Mrs. Bianchini at www.stmarynorwalk.net/gospel_lifebox.html.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript, newspaper from the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut.
San Francisco, Calif., Jan 17, 2009 (CNA) - Pro-life advocates in San Francisco, citing signs of greater participation, expect a large turnout in the Walk for Life West Coast to be held on January 24.
A record number of buses reportedly have already been registered, with more registrants expected.
"We always have a flood of last-minute sign-ups," Walk for Life West Coast co-chair Dolores Muntean said, according to a press release. "I never want to predict turnout, but it is looking big this year."
"This is the 5th year and it has become part of the fabric of the city and the state," she continued. "People just plan to come as part of their January."
The event takes place two days after the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court pro-abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade.
Last year an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people attended the event, which includes a rally and walk along San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero.
The pro-life cause faces an entrenched culture of legalized abortion advocates in the Bay area. For years in San Francisco, no public official has been elected without endorsing abortion rights. In 2005, the first year of Walk for Life West Coast, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom spoke at a rally near the walk, condemning the event. The same year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared January 22 “Stand up for Choice Day.”
This year’s Walk comes days after President-elect Obama takes office.
Muntean tried to connect the two events, saying:
"Americans voted for our new president because they do care about justice - they wanted to shut the door permanently on the prejudice and injustice that is a blemish on our history. We hope President-elect Obama will bring the concern for Americans' well-being that he is showing in tackling the economy to bring justice to women in crisis pregnancies and to the unborn - the most vulnerable of all.”
Bristol, Conn., Jan 17, 2009 (CNA) - New conscience protection regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have been challenged in a new federal lawsuit filed on Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The HHS announced the rule change on December 18. The new rule reportedly clarifies the rights of health care providers to decline to participate in services to which they object in conscience. The rule will help protect those individuals and institutions in the medical field who object to abortion.
Acting on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), the ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal district court in the District of Connecticut. According to the ACLU, the suit argues that the rule significantly undermines access to essential family planning, reproductive and other health care services and information.
The rule “expressly permits a broad range of health care workers and facilities to refuse to provide services, information, and counseling, potentially even in emergency situations,” the ACLU suit claims.
The group also argues that the rule fails to require providers who have conscientious objections to notify their employers or their patients of their objections.
"For years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients' access to reproductive health care," said Jennifer Dalven, Deputy Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "The Bush rule takes patients' health needs out of the equation. We are asking the court to restore the balance."
"The Bush administration pushed through this rule as its parting shot against women's health," argued Mary Jane Gallagher, NFPRHA President & CEO. "This rule threatens access to contraception and leaves patients with few protections, especially low-income and uninsured women who rely on federally funded health centers for care."
The Connecticut Attorney General's Office and Planned Parenthood Federation of America with Planned Parenthood of Connecticut have also filed separate legal challenges to the HHS rule.
The NFPRHA reportedly represents “dedicated family planning providers” including private providers and state, county and local health departments.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt explained the rule’s necessity in a December HHS announcement, saying:
"Doctors and other health care providers should not be forced to choose between good professional standing and violating their conscience… This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Medical Association both support the regulation.
On Friday CNA spoke about the HHS rules with Father Thomas Berg, LC, Executive Director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person.
Fr. Berg said that in his understanding, the HHS rule does “nothing more than to give force to the previous rules that were already on the books, essentially enforcing regulations that should have been in force. Unfortunately, our culture coaxes us into a practice of not honoring the right to exercise conscience in health care.
“We are being coaxed into a culture that allows new pressures on Catholic health care workers to comply with practices and services that are contrary to their conscience,” he said.
“The right to conscience, the right to follow conscience in healthcare is a bedrock, a foundational issue in the practice of medicine. Healthcare professionals must exercise fidelity to their conscience’s determination every day,” Fr. Berg stressed.
“There is no reason why a certain portion of the healthcare profession should be constrained in their exercise of conscience by these kinds of cultural pressures,” he told CNA in a Friday phone interview.
Fr. Berg also authors the CNA column “With Good Reason.” In his December 9, 2008 column he also wrote about the HHS rules and the nature of conscience in medical ethics.
“The outright denial of free exercise of conscience in the healthcare field undermines the very practice of medicine as we know it. In the scenario where conscience rights are not protected, health care workers have no recourse; violation of their conscience is not a temporary limitation, but a shocking desecration of their most deeply held beliefs and moral convictions, and of the very virtue of justice on which our democracy stands,” he wrote.
In his Friday remarks to CNA, Fr. Berg said situations which depict people being totally denied medical services are implausible.
“In our culture today, that’s simply a non-argument.”
He mentioned the case of a Catholic hospital that does not want to administer ‘Plan B’ as part of their rape protocol. Should any woman come into the emergency room requesting such treatment, he said, “All she has to do is go down to the local pharmacy and buy Plan B.”
Another argument frequently raised by the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project is the distinction between individual and institutional rights of conscience. The project’s 2002 report “Religious Refusals and Reproductive Rights” advocated that individual conscience rights be emphasized and institutional rights minimized.
Fr. Berg questioned the extreme distinction between the two.
“In practice, that hard and fast distinction doesn’t work,” he argued. “It’s not the proper paradigm in a Catholic institution where personal exercise or personal set of values and institutional set of values and practices really are meant to be one and the same.”
“There’s meant to be kind of a communion of thought and practice, such that this hard and fast distinction falls to the wayside.
“Ideally, in the case of the Catholic health care worker, their conscience is being informed by the institution of the Church.”