New Testimonies Posted

Two new testimonies have been posted to the North Dakota Catholic Conference website.

House Bill 1383 – is an anti-loitering bill. The conference is concerned that it could be used a tool to harass pro-life prayerful persons, sidewalk counselors, the homeless, persons with mental illnesses, and religious minorities.

House Bill 1386 – is a bill to give enhanced legal rights to persons based on sexual orientation and “gender identity.”

Column: Time to Fund Alternatives to Abortion

For years, the state of North Dakota has quietly fought the culture of death by caring for pregnant women and their children, while at the same time addressing the root causes of poverty.  The program is called the Alternatives to Abortion program.  It reimburses pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, and maternity homes for services to pregnant women and women who think they might be pregnant.  It does not cover the full cost of providing those services.  It does not even come close.  It does, however, provide the agencies with some revenue to help them continue and expand their good work.

Using state funds to combat abortion in this way makes sense.  For one thing, the official policy of the state of North Dakota is to favor childbirth over abortion.  Furthering this policy cannot be done by restrictive legislation alone.  We must respond to the factors that contribute to a woman thinking that abortion is an option.  In other words, we must go after the “demand” for abortion. Finally, we cannot ignore that there is a war upon children in the womb.   Court decisions, federal policies, and cultural trends that threaten unborn lives demand a state response, including expenditures to fight for life.

The program uses federal funds from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, sometimes known as the “welfare block grant.”  Congress established TANF so states could have wide discretion to confront the causes of poverty, including out-of-wedlock pregnancies and unstable family relationships.  The same factors in a woman’s life that lead her into an unplanned and crisis pregnancy are often the same factors that lead women and their children into poverty, such as the lack of parental guidance, education, housing, health care, and work, as well as domestic abuse, absent boyfriends, addiction, and substance abuse problems.  Each time an abortion alternatives agency provides a woman with life-affirming alternatives it is also helps ensure that that woman and her child do not end up in poverty.

By all measures, the program is a success.  The number of women served has steadily increased through the years.  In 2011, the state awarded the Village Family Service Center with administering and advertising the program.  The number of women served soon doubled, serving 1194 women in the 2015 fiscal year. Meanwhile, both the percentage of pregnant women in the state choosing abortions correspondingly declined and has reached a historic low. Women accessing the services appear to choose adoption at a surprisingly high rate and almost never choose abortion

By helping women who think they are pregnant, but are not, the agencies also help prevent subsequent “scares” without resorting to demeaningly throwing contraceptives at women in the manner of Planned Parenthood.  Women who have a false pregnancy test are counseled about their needs.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the number of teenage pregnancies has declined during the same years the state has funded the program.
Two major threats to the program have loomed for several years.  One has probably abated. The other is more concerning than ever before.

For years, abortion activists have tried to stop states from using TANF funds to help pro-life pregnancy centers.  They started with a series of “exposes” that implied, but never proved, that the recipients of the funds used lies and high-pressure tactics to persuade women not to have abortions.  They also implied that using TANF funds for these purposes took away cash assistance from poor families.  In truth, cash assistance is set separately and the money used for abortion alternatives is “extra” money in the TANF block grant.

The second prong of attack was a campaign to convince the Obama administration or a future Clinton administration to issue rules preventing TANF funds from being used for abortion alternative programs.  With the election of Donald Trump, that threat appears to have gone away for now.

The second looming threat comes from the program’s success.  As mentioned, the number of women served has doubled in recent years.  However, the amount of money allocated for the program has remained the same since 2007.  As a result, the administrators had to slash reimbursement rates several times.  In the 2015 fiscal year the program actually ran out of money before the end of the year.  The state renewed the program for 2016, but only at the same amount as in previous years.  Already, the program is on course too serve 150 more women than last year with the same amount of dollars.

It is time for the North Dakota legislature to substantially increase funding for the alternatives to abortion program.  The state is facing a budget crisis.  The alternatives to abortion program is funded with federal dollars that are already available to the state.  Moreover, it is one of the smallest budget items in the state budget, coming to only $250,000 a year.  The state can afford to at least double that amount.  After all, we are talking about real alternatives to abortion.  We are talking about real help for women and children in the womb.

Catholic Bishops — Abortion Decline Due to State’s Commitment to Human Life

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 4.19.08 PMBismarck, North Dakota -Bishop John Thomas Folda of Fargo, speaking as President of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, issued the following statement about the record low abortion numbers in North Dakota:

Forum Communications is reporting that the number of abortions conducted in North Dakota in 2015 was a record low.

This is good news.  Abortion destroys human life while wounding women and society.  

Raw numbers alone, however, do not tell the whole story.  According to the numbers provided by the state Department of Health, 6.77% of pregnant women in North Dakota had an abortion in 2015.  This is the lowest percentage since 1998, the earliest year for which we have such information.

This percentage continues a downward trend that started fifteen years ago.  It is a testament to the hard and often difficult work of pregnancy centers, adoption agencies, maternity homes which have expanded and touched so many women and children during these years.  It is also a testament to the commitment of North Dakotans to the culture of life at every level. 

In this special Holy Year of Mercy, let us rededicate ourselves to continue to build a world where every human life is respected.

Catholic Conference: Supreme Court Decision Disappointing But No Direct Impact on North Dakota Law

logosharpsmallBismarck, North Dakota -Christopher Dodson, Executive Director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference issued this statement on the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a Texas law requiring abortion physicians to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

“Although today’s Supreme Court decision is a setback for women’s health and common sense, it should have no direct impact on North Dakota law.

“The opinion upholds facts found by a trial court in Texas concerning a Texas law’s impact in Texas.  The facts are very different in North Dakota.

“To name just two of the differences: the Texas law purportedly caused many abortion clinics to close.  No abortion centers have closed in North Dakota due to this state’s law.  In Texas, some abortion providers could not obtain admitting privileges.  All of North Dakota’s abortionists have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

“North Dakota’s law has not placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and has, if anything, furthered women’s health in cases of emergencies.

“For further information, we concur with the statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Supreme Court decision: http://www.usccb.org/news/2016/16-079.cfm.”

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Keywords: North Dakota Catholic Conference, abortion, health care, pro-life, Texas abortion law, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, U.S. Supreme Court

Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori to Congress: Support the Conscience Protection Act

handsCardinal Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop William E. Lori – as chairmen of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, respectively – wrote to the U.S. House of Representatives, March 31, urging support for the Conscience Protection Act of 2016 (HR 4828).
The Conscience Protection Act, they wrote, is “essential legislation protecting the fundamental rights of health care providers…to ensure that those providing much-needed health care and health coverage can continue to do so without being forced by government to help destroy innocent unborn children.”
HR 4828 has a “modest scope,” they noted. “While existing federal laws already protect conscientious objection to abortion in theory, this protection has not proved effective in practice… The Conscience Protection Act will address the deficiencies that block effective enforcement of existing laws, most notably by establishing a private right of action allowing victims of discrimination to defend their own rights in court.”
Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Lori recalled the Hippocratic oath’s rejection of abortion in the profession of medicine, indicating that the Act will benefit not only Catholic medical professionals but “the great majority of ob/gyns [who] remain unwilling to perform abortions.”
Finally, they explained that conscience protection facilitates access to life-affirming health care: “When government…mandates involvement in abortion as a condition for being allowed to provide life-affirming health care services, it not only undermines the widely acknowledged civil rights of health care providers but also limits access to good health care for American women and men.”
The full text of their letter is posted at:
For more on the bishops’ promotion of conscience rights, including a recent video about a nurse who was coerced to take part in a late-term abortion, visit:

Statement on Supreme Court’s Decision to Not Hear Heartbeat Ban

Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to consider North Dakota’s ban on abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.  The law had been enjoined by a federal district court.  On appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction, stating that current Supreme Court rulings gave it no other choice.  However, three of the justices questioned the current application of the viability standard and urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its rulings.

Pro-life organizations and legal observers held different opinions on the wisdom of pursuing an review at this time.

Putting aside the question of whether the Supreme Court should have considered this case at this time, the North Dakota Catholic Conference looks forward to, and advocate for, a time when every human life can be protected by law.  In the meantime, the Catholic Church will join with others of good will, of any or no faith, in building a culture of life.gavel1

Surrogacy Law in North Dakota

Getty Images

Getty Images

The case of a California woman who may be sued if she does not abort one of the three children she is carrying has led to questions about whether the same situation could arise in North Dakota.

For those unfamiliar with the case, a man in Georgia entered into a surrogacy agreement with a woman in California.  She was implanted with three embryos fertilized in vitro using the man’s sperm and another woman’s eggs.  The surrogacy contract contained a provision allowing the man to demand a “reduction” in the number of fetuses.  The man is now attempting to exercise that provision. The woman is refusing, saying that no matter what the contract says, she will not abort one of the children.  She has filed a lawsuit contending that the surrogacy contract violates her rights of due process.  The man is expected to counter-sue and argue that the contact provision is enforceable.  Under California law, if the child is not aborted, the man will be the legal parent of all three children and can place any of them for adoption.  The woman has stated that she would be willing to adopt the third child.

There is a similar case, also in California, in which a woman was implanted with two embryos, but one of them split, creating a set of identical twins in a set of triplets.  As in the other case, the woman has been asked to abort one of the children.

In both cases, the women are getting support from pro-life advocates, who oppose any right to abort, and some pro-abortion advocates, who oppose any attempt by a third party to direct what happens to “a woman’s body.”  I will write more on the irony of that scenario, but first, could this happen in North Dakota?

The short answer is: no. North Dakota law has only three statutes on the subject, but they are very confusing.  Thankfully, the legislative history is clear and provides guidance on interpreting the legislation.  The bottom-line is that surrogacy agreements are void in North Dakota.  Although they are not illegal, such agreements have no force of law.  If the situation happening in California had happened here, the man would have no legal right to insist on anything from the surrogate.  Conversely, the surrogate would have no legal right to sue for renumeration from the man.  The surrogate would be the legal mother of the child when he or she is born.

There is an exception to this rule.  If the child was conceived in vitro from the sperm and egg of a married husband and wife and that child was implanted in another woman, that woman is considered a “gestational carrier” and would not have legal rights as a parent.  This law was passed so that the biological parents would not have to adopt the child from the carrier.

Whether these gestational carrier agreements are enforceable is not clear.  The law only expressly addresses the legal parentage of the children of gestational carrier agreements, not the enforceability of any other aspects of the agreement.  The way I read the law, except when regarding parental determination, these agreements should be considered unenforceable,.  I have, however, heard others claim that the law makes gestational carrier agreements legally enforceable.

All this may sound confusing, but it could get worse.  Surrogacy advocates are pushing nationwide for commercial surrogacy laws like that in California.  Much of the push for commercial surrogacy comes from the unregulated fertility industry and the homosexual community.  Women’s groups have been split.  Some support surrogacy as a logical extension of the reproductive rights ideology. Other groups express concern about the exploitation of women’s wombs and eggs.  Still others contend that even if surrogacy is legal, it should stop short of permitting a party to demand an abortion because the “right” to abort should include the right not to abort.

This last group can’t see the irony of its position.  If they insist on holding to the fiction that no other human life is involved, they have no reason to oppose a contractual demand to abort.  After all, to them it is only “tissue.”  Some holding this position assert that the principle of autonomy means that only the woman can decide what to do with “her body.”  If that was true, however, then nothing about a surrogacy contract should be enforceable.  The only consistent position of the abortion-rights crowd would be the position of North Dakota law — all surrogacy contracts are void.

Washington Misses Opportunity to Protect the Freedom to Serve

A statement by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
The bishops of the United States are gravely disappointed that the 2016 omnibus funding bill did not include the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA).  While the omnibus bill certainly addresses other critical issues, the modest reform that ANDA represents — to make federal conscience laws on abortion workable and enforceable — was an urgent legislative priority in these final months of the year.
Many Catholic and other institutions, including those that provide health care and other human services to the poor and vulnerable, have joined in our support of ANDA.  Without ANDA, these caring organizations face legal threats to their very existence, as they lack clear and enforceable protection for their freedom to serve the needy in accord with their deepest moral convictions on respect for human life.  Such threats to conscience also pose a threat to the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society–the poor and the sick, as well as the unborn.
 I am deeply concerned that a foundational principle that has received long-standing, bipartisan support in the past has suddenly become partisan.  No one should be forced by the government to actively participate in what they believe to be the taking of an innocent life. This is not about “access” to abortion. The principle at stake is whether people of faith and others who oppose abortion and abortion coverage should be compelled to participate in them. Federal law has long supported the rights of conscientious objection, and even in recent years, President Obama and many members of Congress have publicly declared their support for these existing laws. ANDA merely sought to give them a more consistent means of enforcement.
Despite this, ANDA was caught in the partisan polarization gripping Washington. To those who supported ANDA, we offer our gratitude and applaud your commitment to maintaining our national consensus in support of conscience protection.  To those who opposed ANDA, we urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to reconsider your position, which stands in opposition to even the modest enforcement of a venerable principle that is rooted in the constitution and has long enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.
We join Pope Francis in “call[ing] for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States,” a cooperation that must be undertaken “with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.”  [Address to Congress, Sept. 24, 2015]  We call upon our elected officials to rise above partisan divisions and to renew their support for this most basic right. ANDA should be enacted as soon as possible. Without it, current federal conscience laws are, now for the first time, being enforced erratically or not at all in places such as California.
The mission of the Church in the public square is to witness to the dignity of every human life and advocate for the freedom to act in accord with one’s moral and religious convictions in defense of those lives, no matter how young or vulnerable. We will continue to reach out to the White House and Congressional leaders untiringly until proper protections are guaranteed.

Protecting the right of conscientious objection to abortion

physicianThe U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking for your help in urging Congress to protect the right of conscientious objection to abortion.
 
Can you imagine if you had spent years training to help the sick as a nurse – only to find that to keep your job, you must take part in the killing of a defenseless five-month-old unborn child? This happened to Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, RN, who was forced by her employer to participate in a late-term abortion against her deeply held pro-life beliefs. What’s worse, she found she had no right to go to court to keep this from happening to others. Check out this Youtube video to hear from Cathy about the situation.
 
The need for the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) has grown more urgent since last year, when the state of California started forcing almost all health plans in the state, including churches, to pay for elective abortions.
 
As we approach the Dec. 11 deadline for Congress to agree on a “must pass” year-end spending bill, we are working to include ANDA as a part of the package. To send a message to your members of Congress, go to www.nchla.org/actiondisplay.asp?ID=292.
 
Thanks for your help with this.

Action Alert: Allow States to Not Fund Abortion Clinics

health_care-255x255A House vote is expected today on an important effort to support those states which choose to deny Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers. Please take a moment right now to click here to contact your Representative in Congress.

The “Women’s Public Health and Safety Act” (H.R. 3495), introduced by Sean Duffy (R-WI) will allow states to refuse Medicaid funding for providers that perform elective abortions such as Planned Parenthood clinics. In the wake of the release of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood’s willingness to perform late-term abortions and traffic in fetal organs, several states opted to reallocate Medicaid funds away from Planned Parenthood – only to be told by the Obama administration it sees their action as violating federal law. H.R. 3495 addresses this problem by enhancing “State flexibility” with respect to funding providers involved in abortions through Medicaid. Please contact your Representative immediately to urge support for H.R. 3495!

Thank you for responding to this urgent request for action, and for all that you do to help build the culture of life in law. Together we will be heard!