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December 2008 Archives
The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under American Cardinal William Levada, released a new analysis December 11 dealing with many of the thorniest issues in the bioethics world. Stem cell research, contraception, and new reproductive technoligies were the primary focus of the work. The document was approved by Pope Bendict XVI, and had been anticipated for some time.
Several of the US bishops responded approvingly toward the analysis, and noted that there are considerable unknowns with regard to many of these technologies. One new technique that has created considerable excitement in stem cell research circles over the past year is called "induced pluripotent stem cells" or iPS, in which embryonic-type stem cells are created from adult skin cells without the destruction of embryos. This technology, and related developments, are drawing interest across the research world because they are much less expensive than the early embryo-dependent techniques, and because they overcome the ethical concerns that had been raised by the destruction of human embryos. These techniques are not mentioned in the current Vatican document, leaving open a window of exploration for scientists into the therapeutic promise of such research for degenerative and other diseases.
"There really wouldn't be any moral objection whatsoever to how those stem cells would be obtained. How they would be used would fall under already existing principles," said Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Doctrine, quoted in an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Another issue that receives considerable attention in the new document is the use of morning-after contraceptives, the availability of which has been much-discussed as a focus of some legislation aimed at decreasing the incidence of abortion. The full mechanism of action for morning-after contraceptives is unknown, and there is no specific evidence that they block implantation. Furthermore, the two common morning-after regimens have been shown not to affect established pregnancies, so they do not induce abortion like RU486 does. The attempts by some conservatives to lump morning-after contraceptives in with induced abortion or IUD use is based only on the unproven possibility that levonorgestrel use may sometimes interfere with implantation. It could be argued that it is counterproductive to oppose the use of these medications because their role in preventing unintended pregnancy is an important means of decreasing the number of abortions, and the Vatican document is bound to stir controversy in this regard.
By Patrick Whelan, M.D.
There are two ways to look at abortion statistics: the total number, and the rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 child-bearing-aged women per year).
Number. Following the Supreme Court decisions in 1973, the total number of legal abortions rose rapidly during the Ford and Carter Administrations, as the number of illegal abortions fell. The total number of abortions continued to climb throughout the Reagan Administration and peaked in 1990 under President George H. W. Bush, at 1.61 million per year. The number of abortions declined significantly during the Clinton Administration, to 1.3 million a year. Complete numbers are not available for the presidency of George W. Bush, but it appears that the decline slowed significantly. In 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed in the United States.
Rate. The abortion rate (that is the number of abortions per 1,000 females aged 15-44) takes into account changes in population. The abortion rate began to decline starting in 1982, and the greatest decline occurred during the Clinton Administration. The graph below is a unique compilation of the Guttmacher Institute annual data from all 50 states under each of the last four administrations. Each curve shows the fall in the abortion rate as normalized to the rate at the beginning of each administration (ie. 1980 for Reagan, 1988 for Bush Sr., 1992 for Clinton and 2000 for George W. Bush).
We calculated that if the rate had continued to decline under President Bush at the same rate it fell under President Clinton, there would have been an additional 274,800 children alive at the end of 2005—the most recent year for which data are available. The clear conclusion is that the Democrats have a record of accomplishment when it comes to abortion, as demonstrated by the significantly steeper decline under President Clinton compared with the two Presidents Bush or President Reagan. Senators Obama and Biden have publicly committed themselves to advance abortion reduction measures in a new Administration, and the Catholic Democrats support this approach as the most moral and effective way to solve the abortion problem.
Annual reduction in abortion rate under four presidencies
President-elect Barack Obama has named four highly respected Catholic public figures to critical cabinet positions this past week. Nominated were Representative Hilda Solis to serve as Secretary of Labor, Senator Ken Salazar to head the Department of the Interior, Governor Bill Richardson at Commerce, and former Senator Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Rep. Hilda Solis has been very active in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, having been born to parents who were both immigrants from Central America. She has represented the east side of Los Angeles, California, since 2001 after serving in the State Senate. In California she helped lead a 1996 effort to increase the minimum wage, and in Congress she authored workforce training legislation. With regard to social issues, she was the author in 2006 of a bill entitled, "The Communities of Color Teen Pregnancy Prevention Act" that made note of the higher teen pregnancy rates in African-American and Latina girls. This legislation advocated utilizing community-based intervention programs, schools, and multimedia education campaigns to promote the reduction of unintended pregnancies. Her nomination was heartily greeted by a wide cross-section of labor unions.
Senator Ken Salazar from Colorado is descended from 19th Century Mexican immigrants to the United States and briefly attended St Francis Seminary in Ohio. His political career began as legal counsel to the governor of Colorado, who appointed him in 1990 to the cabinet-level position of Director of the Natural Resources Department. He has been credited with originating the "Great Outdoors Colorado Amendment," launching a major conservation program, and the "Youth in Natural Resources Program" sponsoring educational programs about the enviroment in Colorado public schools. When he was elected to the Senate in 2004, he won a decisive majority of Catholic voters in Colorado despite the opposition of some conservative religious leaders. As Secretary of the Interior, he will regulate the use of public lands for natural resource recovery by industry, and will manage the National Park system and the Fish and Wildlife Service. He inherits a department wracked by scandal, with allegations at multiple levels of self-dealing and catering to corporate interests at the expense of the taxpayers.
Governor Bill Richardson was a candidate for president, and has served at every level of government. He has a masters degree from Boston's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and has been involved in successful hostage negotiations around the world. Through his time as US Ambassador to the United Nations and as Governor of New Mexico (since 2003), he has been an ardent advocate for the poor. In his book, "Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life," he describes his upbringing in Mexico City and an appreciation of the extremes of poverty and wealth that have led to so much suffering in the world. As Secretary of Commerce, he will be involved in building a new economic order out of the ruins of the current economic crisis that will have far reaching effects on the health of economics in the US and around the world.
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was saluted by the Catholic Healthcare Association as an "extraordinary and capable" leader who has "an enormous understanding of health care delivery issues and the need for meaningful reform for American families and businesses." He was recently the author of a book entitled, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis," and has been networking with former colleagues in the Senate to build consensus on healthcare reform under the new administration. In his capacity as Secretary of Health and Human Services and Director of a new White House Office of Health Reform, Senator Daschle will quarterback efforts to implement health reforms that will seek to expand coverage to the 80+ million Americans who are without health insurance in the course of every year (and certainly more with the current steep economic downturn).
By Nancy Frazier O'Brien, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The number of Catholic members of Congress is slowing creeping higher, but the Catholic contingent, like the full Congress itself, has taken a decided turn toward the Democratic Party.
When the 111th Congress is sworn in Jan. 6, more than a quarter of its members will be Catholics, roughly matching the percentage of Catholics in the U.S. population and consistent with the statistical trends of the past decade.
Four years ago when the 109th Congress convened, it included 153 Catholics. Two years later there were 155 Catholics in the 110th Congress. But the new group of senators and representatives has 162 members who identify themselves as Catholics.
With nearly all the 2008 electoral battles settled by early December, and the Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama still not filled, the Catholic delegation included 17 Democrats and nine Republicans in the Senate and 98 Democrats and 38 Republicans in the House.
At the start of the 110th Congress in January 2007, there were 25 Catholic senators (16 Democrats and nine Republicans) and 130 Catholic representatives (88 Democrats and 42 Republicans). Two years earlier, the 109th Congress counted 24 Catholic senators (13 Democrats and 11 Republicans) and 129 Catholic House members (72 Democrats and 57 Republicans).
That's a far cry from the start of the 80th Congress in January 1947, when 11 senators and 67 House members were Catholic, according to an article by Jesuit Father Edward S. Dunn in the December 1948 issue of the American Catholic Sociological Review.
Only 26 of the 78 Catholic members of the 80th Congress were Republicans; one belonged to the American Labor Party of New York and the rest were Democrats.
"Catholics, then, make up 11.5 percent of the members of the Senate and 15.4 percent of the members of the House of Representatives," Father Dunn wrote. "This is not up to the ratio of Catholics in the total population, which is estimated at about 18 percent."
Today the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, based at Georgetown University in Washington, estimates that Catholics make up 22 percent of the U.S. population. But they are at least 26 percent of the Senate membership, depending on who fills Obama's seat, and more then 30 percent of the House membership.
The numbers are fluid, however, as members of Congress resign to take different posts and their seats are filled by others.
Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, for example, still officially represents Delaware in the Senate, although he plans to step down sometime before the Jan. 20 inauguration. A Catholic, Biden is to be succeeded by one of his top political aides, Ted Kaufman, who was appointed to the post by Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and is also a Catholic.
Among the Catholics who will have to resign from the incoming Congress if confirmed for Cabinet positions are Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, whom Obama has said he will nominate as interior secretary, and Rep. Hilda Solis of California, the president-elect's choice as labor secretary.
Other Catholic Cabinet nominees not serving in the 111th Congress include New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, expected to serve as commerce secretary; former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Obama's pick as secretary of health and human services; former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, to be nominated as agriculture secretary; and Rep. Ray LaHood, a Republican who has represented Illinois in Congress since 1994 but who did not run for re-election in 2008.
Depending on who gets appointed to fill the vacated seats of those in Congress, the number of Catholics could remain the same or even increase.
For example, the person most widely discussed to succeed New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Methodist who is to be nominated as secretary of state in the Obama administration, is Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the nation's first Catholic president. Another congressional seat needing to be filled will be that of Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's White House chief of staff, who is Jewish.
Overall, the religious breakdown in Congress has remained relatively stable in recent years. After the 162 Catholics, the religious denominations with the most members in the 111th Congress are Baptists, with 64; Methodists, with 55; and Jews, with 45.
Forty-two members of the 111th Congress identify themselves as either Protestant or Christian, with no denomination named, while seven said they had no religious affiliation.
Other religious groupings with more than a dozen members in the incoming Congress include Presbyterians (43); Episcopalians (39); Lutherans (24); and Mormons (13). Eight members identify themselves as belonging to an Orthodox church.
Two members of the incoming Congress are Muslim and two are Buddhist. The remainder are divided among more than a dozen other Christian denominations.
Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
There follows a list of all the Catholic Democrats in Congress:
Senate Democrats: Mark Begich, Alaska; Joseph Biden, Delaware; Maria Cantwell, Washington; Robert P. Casey Jr., Pennsylvania; Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut; Richard Durbin, Illinois; Tom Harkin, Iowa; Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts; John F. Kerry, Massachusetts; Mary Landrieu, Louisiana; Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont; Claire McCaskill, Missouri; Robert Menendez, New Jersey; Barbara Mikulski, Maryland; Patty Murray, Washington; Jack Reed, Rhode Island; and Ken Salazar, Colorado.
House Democrats: Jason Altmire, Pennsylvania; Michael A. Arcuri, New York; Joe Baca, California; Xavier Becerra, California; Timothy H. Bishop, New York; John Boccieri, Ohio; Robert Brady, Pennsylvania; Michael E. Capuano, Massachusetts; Dennis A. Cardoza, California; Christopher P. Carney, Pennsylvania; William Lacy Clay, Missouri; Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia; Jim Costa, California; Jerry F. Costello, Illinois; Joe Courtney, Connecticut; Joseph Crowley, New York; Henry Cuellar, Texas; Kathy Dahlkemper, Pennsylvania; Peter DeFazio, Oregon; William D. Delahunt, Massachusetts; Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut; John D. Dingell, Michigan; Joe Donnelly, Indiana; Michael F. Doyle, Pennsylvania; Steve Driehaus, Ohio; Brad Ellsworth, Indiana; Anna Eshoo, California; Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York; Charlie Gonzalez, Texas; Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona; Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois; John J. Hall, New York; Phil Hare, Illinois; Brian Higgins, New York; Maurice D. Hinchey, New York; Ruben Hinojosa, Texas; Tim Holden, Pennsylvania; and Paul Kanjorski, Pennsylvania.
Marcy Kaptur, Ohio; Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island; Dale E. Kildee, Michigan; Mary Jo Kilroy, Ohio; Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona; Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio; James R. Langevin, Rhode Island; John B. Larson, Connecticut; Daniel Lipinski, Illinois; Ben Ray Lujan, New Mexico; Stephen F. Lynch, Massachusetts; Dan Maffei, New York; Betsy Markey, Colorado; Ed Markey, Massachusetts; Jim Marshall, Georgia; Eric Massa, New York; Carolyn McCarthy, New York; Betty McCollum, Minnesota; James P. McGovern, Massachusetts; Michael E. McMahon, New York; Jerry McNerney, California; Charlie Melancon, Louisiana; Michael H. Michaud, Maine; George Miller, California; Harry E. Mitchell, Arizona; James P. Moran, Virginia; Patrick J. Murphy, Pennsylvania; and John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania.
Grace F. Napolitano, California; Richard E. Neal, Massachusetts; James L. Oberstar, Minnesota; David R. Obey, Wisconsin; Frank Pallone, New Jersey; Bill Pascrell, New Jersey; Ed Pastor, Arizona; Nancy Pelosi, California; Tom Perriello, Virginia; Charles B. Rangel, New York; Silvestre Reyes, Texas; Ciro D. Rodriguez, Texas; Lucille Roybal-Allard, California; Tim Ryan, Ohio; John T. Salazar, Colorado; Linda T. Sanchez, California; Loretta Sanchez, California; Jose E. Serrano, New York; Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania; Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire; Albio Sires, New Jersey; Hilda L. Solis, California; Bart Stupak, Michigan; Ellen Tauscher, California; Gene Taylor, Mississippi; Mike Thompson, California; Paul Tonko, New York; Nydia M. Velazquez, New York; Peter J. Visclosky, Indiana; Diane E. Watson, California; Peter Welch, Vermont; and Charles A. Wilson, Ohio.
"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."
First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama