Catholics United launches pro-life attack on Romney

Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally on April 20 2012 in Tempe Arizona Credit Gage Skidmore CC BY SA 20 CNA US Catholic News 7 16 12 Mitt Romney speaking to supporters at a rally on April 20, 2012 in Tempe, Ariz. | Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A Democrat-leaning Catholic group that has supported pro-abortion rights politicians is attacking former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney over controversial reports claiming he had stock ownership in a medical waste disposal firm that discards aborted unborn children.

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, writing at the Catholics United-run group blog "Our Daily Thread," cited Security and Exchange Commission filings apparently showing that Mitt Romney was involved in investment firm Bain Capital's purchase of stock from the Stericycle medical waste disposal firm after his February 1999 retirement from management.

Stevens-Arroyo said "it is fair to ask what being 'opposed to abortion' means to a candidate who assisted this biowaste company in growing to be the largest in the country and made tens of millions from the deal."

He charged that Stericycle "directly cooperated in abortion business" because abortion clinics would not have stayed open without waste disposal.

He then stated that Catholic opposition to abortion is "a fundamental principle of our doctrinal teaching" and noted canonical provisions that excommunicate any Catholic involved in the procurement of abortion.

Stevens-Arroyo questioned whether Romney deserves "a single Catholic vote" for allegedly owning a company that profited from abortions.

But the Romney campaign maintains he left Bain Capital in February 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics full time.

The Obama campaign contends that since Romney's name appears on documents filed with the  Securities and Exchange Commission in November 1999 that he was still involved with Bain Capital., a project of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, said July 12 "None of the SEC filings show that Romney was anything but a passive, absentee owner during that time, as both Romney and Bain have long said.

It is unclear whether Romney could have known of Stericycle's involvement in the disposal of fetal remains, as pro-life advocates' own activism did not begin until recent years.

StopStericycle, a Philadelphia-based volunteer group opposed to the company's involvement in abortion, formed in 2010. It is further researching Romney's role in Stericycle's ownership, the group's director Michael Marcavage told CNA.

Stericycle's accounts department has told StopStericycle researchers that its present-day clients include over 500 Planned Parenthoods, affiliates of the largest abortion provider in the U.S. The company's website claims over 528,000 customers worldwide.

While the documents continue to be an area of controversy, Stevens-Arroyo himself was noncommittal towards criticizing President Barack Obama's own position in favor of legal abortion and embryonic stem cell research in a July 16 e-mail interview with CNA.

"(A)lthough Mr. Obama coincides with Catholic teaching on many areas, I have considered that as a non-Catholic it is wrong to impose on him obedience to the Church," Stevens-Arroyo said.

"As president, he takes an oath of office to uphold the law of the land and abortion is the law of the land. The right to an abortion has been enforced by every president, both Republicans and Democrats, since Roe v. Wade."

Stevens-Arroyo did not give direct responses to questions about whether the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade, whether doctors who perform abortions should be criminalized, and whether Democrats and Republicans should work towards that goal.

Catholics United, publisher of "Our Daily Thread," is not known for criticizing President Obama's support for legal abortion. It is one of several Democrat-leaning Catholic outreach groups founded after Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry lost the 2004 election and the Catholic vote in a campaign dogged by controversy over his support for abortion.

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Catholics United has also defended Kathleen Sebelius, who is now Secretary of Health and Human Services. In 2008 Sebelius was rebuked by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City for her support for abortion rights and her acceptance of political contributions from abortionist George Tiller.

Though President Obama's Catholic defenders are selective in their criticisms, the controversy over Stericycle could prove significant in the 2012 presidential election among pro-life voters skeptical of Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.

The facts and the interpretations of Romney's involvement in Stericycle are already politically charged.

An attack using Stericycle could discourage some pro-life voters already wary of Romney's record. He supported Roe v. Wade as late as 2002, but he has said he changed his mind on abortion in 2004. He also backed embryonic stem cell research before turning against it and vetoing several Massachusetts bills that favored the research.

CNN correspondent John King reported on July 13 that insiders with Bain and the Romney campaign strongly believe that "either the Obama campaign or a Democratic ally" want to use the Stericycle investment against Romney late in the campaign but "cannot do so with any credibility" if it is certain that Romney left the company in February 1999.

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