Catholic colleges and other religious employers in California have a new ally in their fight against the state’s newly applied abortion mandate in health plans.

Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal agency, wrote to Department of Managed Health Care Director Shelley Rouillard to protest her decision that all abortions are “medically necessary” so must be covered in state-approved health plans.

Federal law prohibits California from forcing state residents to pay for abortions if it wants to drink from the federal spigot, Kirsanow said:

California is displaying just such contempt for religious liberty through the enforcement of the [state-level] Knox-Keene Act in defiance of the [federal] Weldon Amendment. California may be free to do so. What California may not do is take billions of dollars in federal money while flouting a federal statute that forbids it from discriminating against individuals and organizations that do not wish to pay for or facilitate abortions. …

The issue here is less what California law requires, but what federal law requires. However, it is also questionable whether the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan of 1975 actually requires health plans to cover abortion as a basic health care service, or whether that is a recent interpretative gloss on the statute. …

Abortion services are not specifically listed as “basic health services.” In fact, it appears that the word “abortion” only appears twice in the text of the entire Knox-Keene Act, and it is not in regard to requiring plans to cover abortions.

Kirsanow notes that California’s interpretation of the Weldon Amendment’s reach has changed over the years:

If California believed from 2005-2008 that the Weldon Amendment prohibited it from discriminating against people and institutions that conscientiously objected to facilitating or performing medically necessary abortions, why does it today claim that the Weldon Amendment does not prohibit it from requiring conscientious objectors to fund elective abortions?

Kirsanow wrote a similar letter to the District of Columbia, whose city council is considering an abortion mandate in health plans, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Read Kirsanow’s letter to Rouillard.

h/t Alliance Defending Freedom

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The University of California-San Francisco’s new online abortion course raises serious concerns about whether its format and curriculum will interfere with its ability to safely and effectively teach its subject matter, experts on massive open online courses (MOOCs) and medicine told The College Fix.

The sheer size and non-simultaneous nature of MOOCs are inherent limitations that are especially problematic for abortion as a medical matter, said Rachelle Peterson, a research associate at the National Association of Scholars who studies MOOCs and took one offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a research project.

The course’s website says that “Abortion is safe and has lower morbidity and mortality than childbirth,” but those are general findings, not necessarily applicable for every abortion, Peterson said.

“[B]ecause the practice of medicine requires a wealth of knowledge that is then applied to each specific case, this MOOC will offer limited value to the practice of medicine and could actually jeopardize health,” said Peterson in an email.

The Daily Beast reported in October that an estimated 3,000 people have signed up for the free course, and one of its creators, professor of obstetrician and abortion activist Jody Steinauer, said its purpose was to “inspire” students to “increase access to safe abortion and decrease stigma about abortion.”

Since the course is open to anyone, a student considering an abortion may decide that having one would be a safe, advisable decision, without taking personal factors into account, Peterson said.

“The decision to have an abortion is a deeply tragic one; a woman facing such a decision deserves personal counsel and advice, not broad, aggregate statistics presented impersonally in a pre-recorded video,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the deficiencies in the class format are exacerbated by the lack of rigorous analytical demand placed on students. The only assessments – multiple-choice questions and two peer-reviewed essays – do not hold students to a high standard of careful analysis of presented data, she said.

It’s not clear whether students are expected to be able to perform abortions upon completion of the class, but if the course does “attempt to teach procedures for performing surgical abortions, this would present a serious danger,” Peterson said.

The course presents some people as “experts” whom students should look at skeptically, said Rebecca Oas, associate director of research for the Center for Family and Human Rights Institute, a Catholic organization advocating “the dignity of the human person.”

Oas, who has a Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology and is herself taking the university’s abortion MOOC, cited Rebecca Gomperts as one such questionable expert. Gomperts’ Women on Waves organization helps women perform chemical abortions on themselves in countries where it’s illegal.

“It is evident in many of the interviews [with the course’s creators] that one of the goals of the course is to ‘de-medicalize’ abortion – that is, to take it out of the context of the doctor-patient relationship and out of a regulated health care system,” Oas said in an email.

“The instructors discuss obtaining illegal abortion drugs from black market sources and inducing abortions outside a clinical context using directions obtained online from dubious and legally problematic sources,” Oas said. “Encouraging this kind of medical vigilantism is simply irresponsible.”

Oas has previously catalogued abortion advocates’ use of “stealth training” to provide access to abortion through workshops on “miscarriage management” – using a papaya to simulate a womb – among other methods.

The abortion class implies that the medical community approves of the de-medicalization of an inherently medical procedure, misleading future health care workers, Oas said.

That not only gives credibility to those who sell fake or contaminated drugs to women or give them potentially deadly instructions on dosage and complications, Oas added – it hurts the credibility of the healthcare system and its regulatory institutions.

More troubling than the limitations of the course’s online format is the bias in the curriculum, Peterson and Oas said separately.

Peterson said the course blurs together medical information and political advocacy. While a MOOC can convey information like an encyclopedia does, simply listing procedures and their uses or risks, “conveying information is very different from presenting arguments in favor of abortion,” she said.

Oas said that “while the instructors acknowledge that the subject matter is ‘sensitive,’ the pro-life perspective is excluded except when filtered through the words of those who disagree with it.”

College Fix reporter Genevieve McCarthy is a student at Thomas Aquinas College.

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A pro-family group is trying to get St. Norbert College in Wisconsin to drop Gloria Steinem as a speaker for an April event, citing her abortion-rights advocacy.

The school describes Steinem as a “founder of the women’s movement,” advocate for “social justice” and “spokeswoman on issues of equality,” but doesn’t mention her abortion advocacy.

TFP Student Action, a project of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, is gathering signatures to pressure St. Norbert to cancel Steinem’s talk. As of Wednesday afternoon, the petition has reached two-thirds of its 20,000-signature goal.

Calling Steinem “a radical pro-abortion promoter,” the group lists several of Steinem’s public quotes that are at odds with Catholic teaching:

[T]he invitation is causing confusion and scandal.  Pro-life students and alumni are deeply troubled by the decision which, if not canceled, will give a Catholic platform to a notorious activist who publically promotes the killing of innocent children. …

How on earth can a woman like Gloria Steinem who has such a public pro-abortion and anti-Catholic record be invited to give a lecture at a Catholic institute, which ought to be a cornerstone in the defense of innocent life and moral values?

Read the petition.

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A trend seen by prolife activists that frequently engage college students on campuses nationwide is the growing acceptance of post-birth abortion, or killing the infant after he or she is born, campus prolife outreach leaders tell The College Fix.

Anecdotal evidence by leaders of prolife groups such as Created Equal and Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust said in interviews that not only do they see more college students willing to say they support post-birth abortion, but some students even suggest children up to 4 or 5-years-old can also be killed, because they are not yet “self aware.”

“We encounter people who think it is morally acceptable to kill babies after birth on a regular basis at almost every campus we visit,” said Mark Harrington, director of Created Equal. “While this viewpoint is still seen as shocking by most people, it is becoming increasingly popular.”

Campuses where the high school, college students, local activists and staff members of Created Equal have encountered this opinion include Purdue, University of Minnesota, and University of Central Florida. And at Ohio State earlier this year, the group captured a debate on video between one of its members and an older woman on campus who defended infanticide.

“This is the whole problem with devaluing human life at any stage—it will naturally grow to include other groups of humans; in this case, born humans as well as preborn humans,” Harrington said. “[I] talked with one young man at the University of Minnesota who thought it was alright to kill children if they were under the age of 5 years old, as he did not consider them persons until that age.”

Kristina Garza, spokeswoman for Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, a prolife organization that often sets up anti-abortion displays on campuses along the West Coast, said her group also frequently encounters college students who accept infanticide.

“For those who are firmly for abortion, because they understand it kills a human being, it’s very easy for them to accept killing a human being after birth,” Garza said. “There is this notion that is common on campus, that it’s OK to kill babies because somehow we don’t become human until we are self aware.”

“A common number that is going around is 4 years old,” she adds.

As for the trend, Garza said there’s an explanation for it. For one, the arguments put forth by Peter Singer and other philosophers who support infanticide are given as reading assignments to college students.

Singer wrote in 1979 that “human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons … [therefore] the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

“He has been saying things like this since the 70s, but I think it has been more recently that this type of ideology is being promoted on college campuses,” Garza said. “When he said this stuff, there was a very select few who accepted it. But nowadays, we have become so desensitized, and college students lacking in a moral fiber easily accept this kind of strange ideology.”

But prolife advocacy and engagement on campuses has helped turn students away from pro-choice stances, she adds.

“While the number of students who believe it is OK with killing children after birth is growing, the number of students who accept that life beings at conception is also growing, and that is growing at a larger and faster rate than those who accept infanticide,” Garza said.

“The trends I am seeing is it’s not so much students are better grounded in morals, it’s that we as a prolife movement have done our job in presenting a better argument, and we are pushing people out of the middle,” she said. “We are seeing more students who see the logic and choose to be anti-abortion.”

Yet staunch opposition to the prolife philosphy remains.

Asked about the incident at Ohio State, at which a woman responded to a prolife display by defending infanticide, a pro-abortion activism group at the campus stated its views were similar to those of the woman in the clip.

“As for post-birth abortion, I would imagine that my colleagues would think the ‘post-birth’ part was largely irrelevant, as we believe very strongly in abortion on demand, without apology, and it’s plain and simple that we should look to the woman’s morals and not shove our opinions where they, frankly, don’t belong,” Devin Deitsch, leader of VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood at Ohio State University, said in an email to The College Fix.

“Speaking as the primary leader of VOX, I assure you we are very pro-choice,” Deitsch also noted. “… We are not here to advocate for women to get abortions, we advocate for her ability to make that choice without fear, heckling, or barriers. Essentially, we ask for a woman (and her body) to be respected. Nothing more, nothing less.”

College Fix reporter Mairead McArdle is a student at Thomas Aquinas College.

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IMAGE: Created Equal Facebook screenshot


The Penn Democrats wrote an op-ed in defense of “reproductive rights” for the Daily Pennsylvanian, arguing that women have the right to employer-paid abortion drugs and that abortion-clinic safety rules are “unnecessary.” Fair enough.

But these defenders of bodily integrity make a curious case for their contention that America’s abortion laws are “decades behind many other countries”:

While European countries provide free access to contraceptives and encourage comprehensive sex education, in America, women’s health care autonomy is limited by the religious and moral views of others.

The Penn Democrats are either woefully ignorant of Europe’s abortion laws or masters of omission, because America is far more permissive of abortion than most of Europe.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Cynthia Allen made this point in a Tuesday column on the Texas governor’s race, pitting pro-life Republican Greg Abbott against Democrat Wendy Davis, who made her name on a filibuster of a Texas bill to ban late-term abortions:

In Western Europe — a bastion of liberalism that many progressive policymakers look to with admiration — abortion laws are far more restrictive than those in the U.S.

In Germany, women seeking first-trimester abortions are subject to a mandatory three-day waiting period and a counseling session. Abortions after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are forbidden except in cases of grave threat to the mother’s physical or mental health. France’s laws are similar.

Other nations like the Netherlands, which requires a five-day wait, and the United Kingdom make abortion illegal after viability, generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks.

Davis’ absolutist position on abortion puts her to the left of the Netherlands, home of legalized prostitution, marijuana bars and physician-assisted suicide.

Are the Penn Democrats saying they’d rather have stricter laws on surgical abortion in tandem with wide access to birth control? Probably not, because then they would sound like Republican Rep. Cory Gardner in the Colorado Senate race.

Read the Daily Pennsylvanian op-ed.

CORRECTION: The original article incorrectly said Rep. Cory Gardner was a candidate in the Colorado governor’s race. He is a candidate in the Senate race. The article has been updated to reflect this.

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Employees of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles are taking their fight against state-mandated abortion coverage in their insurance plans to the federal government.

The Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a formal complaint Thursday with the Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of seven employees of the Catholic university, telling the department that federal law bars states from discriminating against insurance providers who offer plans without abortion coverage.

The alliance on Thursday also told Pennsylvania State University it should reverse a decision to remove Bibles from hotel rooms that was prompted by an atheist group’s earlier complaint that allowing Bibles violated the First Amendment.

The California Department of Managed Health Care did an about-face last month and rejected insurance plans it had already approved for Loyola and Santa Clara University, saying they must cover all abortion, not just elective abortion. Its rationale was that all abortions are “medically necessary.”

The so-called Weldon Amendment blocks states from receiving certain federal funds if they discriminate against insurance providers for not covering abortion.

The California department “purports to be interpreting and applying the law of California, a state that receives an enormous amount of ‘funds made available in this Act’ in this and recent appropriations” of Congress, the letter told the Department of Health and Human Services. “The need to remedy this discrimination is urgent because it is immediately depriving [the employees] of a health plan that omits elective abortions.”

In a Sept. 8 response to a letter from the alliance and foundation that California was not only violating federal law but also misinterpreting its own state constitution, Shelley Rouillard, director of the California department, didn’t specifically counter those groups’ analysis.

Rouillard said California law dating to 1975 “requires health plans to cover abortion as a basic health care service” and the state constitution requires them to “treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally.” Her response was included in the groups’ complaint to the federal government.

“No state can ignore federal law and continue to unlawfully receive taxpayer money,” said the alliance’s Casey Mattox in a press release. “So California has a choice: Stop forcing these employers to cover abortion or forfeit the tens of billions of dollars it receives under the condition that it follow the law.”

Liable for ‘Viewpoint Discrimination’ Against Bibles

In its letter to Penn State protesting the school’s removal of Bibles provided by Gideons International from two campus hotels, the alliance reminded the school that it had previously and successfully sued the school for its speech code and “zone” policies and for denying alumni the right to include “religious inscriptions” on alumni-purchased bricks on campus.

But the alliance told President Eric Barron it was writing in a “spirit of cooperation” to counter the legal analysis provided the school by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Supreme Court precedent “affirmatively mandates accommodation” of religions under the First Amendment’s establishment clause, and Penn State had been “merely accommodating the religious needs and desires of many of its guests” by allowing the Bibles in rooms.

Both federal appeals court that have considered how public universities may accommodate religion – in the context of “clergy-led prayers” at graduation – have ruled that the First Amendment does not mandate universities become a “religion-free” zone, the letter said. The atheist group’s view that Bibles in guest room drawers are “offensive” has no bearing on Penn State’s legal obligations, it said.

The school may have even “exposed itself to potential liability” by caving to the atheist group’s demands, the letter said. “Presumably, the guest rooms include a variety of printed materials” that are not religious in nature, meaning Penn State has illegally shown “hostility towards religion” and “engaged in viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the First Amendment.

The alliance noted that the U.S. Navy recently reversed a decision to remove Gideons-provided Bibles from base lodges following a warning from the same atheist group and an opposing letter from the alliance making the same points that it told Penn State.

Penn State shouldn’t let itself “be browbeaten” by the atheist group “into taking unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional actions,” the alliance’s David Hacker said in a press release.

Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)

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