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Military makes policy providing abortions for service members permanent

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center in New York City. / Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 4, 2024 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is making permanent a policy to provide abortions in certain circumstances to service members even in states where abortion is illegal.

The policy, which has been in place since 2022, was made final in a rule posted in the federal register on Monday.

Under the rule, the VA is authorized to perform abortions on service members and their family members in its health care facilities in cases of rape, incest, and to preserve the life or health of the mother. The rule also allows VA facilities to provide service members with abortion counseling.

Though the policy has already been in effect on a temporary basis, the new rule will take permanent effect on April 3. The department reported providing 88 abortions under this policy in the first year of it being in effect.

This is in addition to a U.S. military policy laid out by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in October 2022 that provides paid leave and travel cost reimbursements for service members seeking abortions.

Will VA doctors be forced to commit abortions?

The rule has been criticized as not having any conscience protections for doctors or health care workers who object to providing abortions.

In its final rule, the VA responded to those accusations, saying that the VA “adheres to all applicable federal laws relating to employee rights and protections, including protections based on an employee’s religious or conscience-based objection to abortion” and that it “has a policy in place for reasonable accommodation requests, where employees may request to be excused from providing, participating in, or facilitating an aspect of clinical care, including reproductive health clinical care authorized by this rule.”

The VA said that “if excusal is requested, supervisors should grant interim excusal for employees from duties or training regarding reproductive health care while requests are being processed.” 

Though the VA says that supervisors should grant excusals, it does not appear to mandate that conscience objections be respected. 

Is this legal? 

The U.S. Senate rejected a resolution by Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville to overturn the VA rule in a 51-48 vote in May 2023. However, some experts believe that military expenditures on abortion violate the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal tax dollars from being used for abortion.

Though he said he believes the rule is illegal, Robert Destro, former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under the Trump administration, told CNA that making the rule permanent makes it very hard to reverse.

According to Destro, reversing the rule would likely now require litigation or perhaps an act of Congress.

For its part the VA explicitly said in its rule on Monday that it “is not subject to the Hyde Amendment,” which it says “addresses federal funds available to the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education in legislation on annual appropriations,” not military spending.

When it comes to providing abortions in states where it is illegal, the VA argues that abortion is “medically necessary and appropriate” for the health of VA beneficiaries and that the “supremacy clause of the United States Constitution prohibits states from restricting federal agencies and their employees acting within the scope of their federal authority from providing abortion services.”

Will this impact U.S. military readiness? 

As the U.S. military is undergoing a dramatic shortage of recruits, leading some to label the problem a national “crisis,” Destro said that the military’s abortion policies indicate that it is “more concerned about sex than they are about readiness and weapons.”

“Abortion advocates think that access to abortion paid by government will improve recruiting. It doesn’t,” he said, adding that the “hyper sexualizing” of the military is “destroying the military’s ability to recruit.”

Nonetheless, the military’s new abortion policies received praise from progressive groups such as the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), which celebrated the rule as a “critical action” in a press release published Monday.

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the NWLC, argued in the statement that “access to abortion is necessary for the health and safety of veterans — and for all people — to determine their futures.” 

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, head of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has previously strongly condemned the military’s new abortion policies, saying in an April 2023 letter that they are “morally repugnant” and that they “fail to incorporate basic conscience protections” for military commanders and VA employees.

“To deny the life of a baby in utero is to deny the Incarnation, and thus, the very source of our hope for salvation,” Broglio wrote.

Indiana Catholic couple ‘living every parent’s nightmare’ after transgender custody case

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty's Lori Windham joins Montse Alvarado, president and COO of EWTN News, and Josh Payne, a lawyer with Campbell Miller Payne, on “EWTN News In Depth” on March 1, 2024. / Credit: “EWTN News In Depth”

CNA Staff, Mar 4, 2024 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

An Indiana Catholic couple is in the grips of a “nightmare” after their son was seized from them when they refused to adhere to his chosen transgender identity, an attorney told EWTN News on Friday.

After Mary and Jeremy Cox didn’t use the pronouns requested by their teenage son when he began to identify as a girl, Indiana Child Services removed their son from his home. The parents sought legal action and their case, M.C. and J.C. v. Indiana, is now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite no evidence of abuse or neglect, the Coxes’ son has not been returned to them. The attorney for the Cox family, Lori Windham, told “EWTN News in Depth” anchor Montse Alvarado the couple is “living every parent’s nightmare.”

Windham, vice president and senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, explained that the Coxes’ son “was removed from their care by state officials even after they investigated for months and found out that these were fit parents.”

“They had not abused or neglected him in any way,” she said of the parents. “[Indiana] still used the disagreement over gender as a reason to keep him out of their home until he turned 18.”

“What’s shocking is the Indiana courts upheld this, and now the Supreme Court is their last stop and their last hope to make sure this doesn’t happen again to others,” she said.

Windham said she hopes the court will “wipe this stain off of Mary and Jeremy’s record.”

“They have other young children at home. They don’t want something like this to happen again,” she said. 

The parents hope the Supreme Court will “send a clear signal to lower courts and to states that you cannot interfere with parental rights, you cannot interfere with religious liberty by removing kids from the home of loving parents just because they disagree over gender,” she said.

Three additional cases related to transgender rights have been appealed to the Supreme Court. In November, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed to the nation’s highest court to block a ban on transgender surgeries for minors in Kentucky. The group also appealed to reverse a similar law in Tennessee. Another appeal asks justices to allow Idaho’s ban on gender transitions for minors to take effect after a lower court judge blocked it earlier this year.

Josh Payne, a lawyer with Campbell Miller Payne, a law firm that helps “detransitioners” sue their doctors for pushing gender transition surgeries, filed a friend-of-the-court amicus brief in the transgender-related Supreme Court case that began in Idaho. 

These detransitioners, who are often minors, believed that gender-affirming care would resolve their gender dysphoria and allow them to live healthy lives but later felt “misled into these procedures,” Payne explained on “EWTN News in Depth.”

Their clients, he said, detransition after they realize “that they were misled into these physical changes to their bodies that did not help their mental health, gender dysphoria problems, but instead simply left them with mental anguish and in many cases, without their natural, healthy bodies and without their body parts.”

They are now “seeking justice,” Payne said, and hoping that others won’t make the same mistakes they did. 

The testimonies, Payne said, “put a face to why these regulations are so necessary and so important in the lower courts.”

Indiana is not the only state where parental rights are under threat, Windham said. 

“California and Washington have both passed laws that authorize state officials to take custody or to refuse to tell a parent where a child is for the purpose of allowing that child to access what they deem ‘gender-affirming care,’” she noted. 

“Other states, like Maine, are considering similar bills,” she added. “What we’ve said all along about the Coxes’ case is that if this can happen in Indiana, this can happen anywhere.” 

Supreme Court says states cannot remove Trump from 2024 ballot

U.S. Supreme Court building. / Credit: Steven Frame/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 4, 2024 / 12:33 pm (CNA).

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Monday that states cannot remove former President Donald Trump from the ballot ahead of the 2024 elections.

The 9-0 decision, issued Monday morning, reversed a December 2023 ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court that had disqualified Trump from that state’s ballot. That order had directed state authorities to not list him on the 2024 presidential ballot and to not count any write-in votes for him.

The Colorado decision claimed the state had the authority to bar Trump from the ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment for his role in allegedly inciting an insurrection against the federal government on Jan. 6, 2021.

After the Colorado ruling, an Illinois judge issued a similar order, while Maine’s attorney general said the state would bar Trump from the ballot. Several other states signaled similar plans

The Supreme Court justices this week argued that while states have the authority under the 14th Amendment to bar individuals from state office, they do not have the power to bar anyone from federal office, with that authority being held by Congress alone.

“Nothing in the Constitution delegates to the states any power to enforce Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates,” the court wrote. “It would be incongruous to read this particular amendment as granting the states the power — silently no less — to disqualify a candidate for federal office.”

“We conclude that states may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state office. But states have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the presidency.”

While the decision was unanimous, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson issued a separate concurring opinion in which they said that while they agree states do not have the authority to keep individuals from federal office, they believe that authority is held by other federal powers in addition to Congress.  

The decision comes as Trump is widely expected to dominate the Super Tuesday Republican primaries this week. Trump has won every state Republican primary thus far, losing only one primary in Washington, D.C., to former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley on Sunday.

Leading Haley by more than 60 percentage points in the latest 538 poll, Trump is expected to once again be the Republican Party’s candidate for president in 2024, setting up a rematch between Trump and President Joe Biden in November. 

Historic Notre Dame College in Ohio to close this spring after 100 years

A view of the Notre Dame College administration building from the south, including its tower. / Credit: Josephgg216, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

CNA Staff, Mar 4, 2024 / 09:15 am (CNA).

After more than 100 years in Ohio, Notre Dame College (NDC) will shut its doors this year, joining a growing list of small Catholic colleges that have closed in recent years.

Though the school has been struggling with debt for the past few years, the announcement was sudden, falling just months before the end of the college’s final semester. Rising costs and declining enrollment contributed to the school’s closure.

“Throughout this long process, we evaluated every possible option to continue the mission of Notre Dame College,” said Terri Bradford Eason, the chair of the school’s board of trustees, in a Feb. 29 press release

“Our primary focus has been to ensure our students can successfully continue their education, graduate, and — in the tradition of the Sisters of Notre Dame — live a life of personal, professional, and global responsibility,” she continued. 

“We are all saddened by the need to make this decision, but rest assured that as we move forward, we are doing everything we can to ensure a smooth transition for our students to continue their education,” Interim President John Smetanka said in the release

NDC, which was established in South Euclid, Ohio, in 1922, was a women’s college until 2001.

Through an agreement with nine colleges and universities, NDC students will be able to complete their college education through a “teach-out” program or as a transfer student. 

“We need to make sure that they’re going to land somewhere, so they can finish their education … and emotionally, to support them too,” Lisa Mobley, a biology laboratory technician at NDC, told local news station WKYC Studios

“This is a big blow to a lot of the students,” she continued. “They were very happy here and now it’s cut out from underneath them.” 

Ursuline College in Cleveland is one of several schools that are taking on NDC students.

“Notre Dame College, its alumni, faculty, staff, and students have been a tremendous asset to Northeast Ohio for more than 100 years,” Sister Christine De Vinne, OSU, Ph.D., president of Ursuline College, said in a Feb. 29 press release

“We mourn the loss of our sister institution and are committed to assisting its students during this challenging time,” De Vinne continued. 

Ursuline will offer a “teach-out” program designed to minimize the impact of the school closure on students by accepting a large amount of the credits that students have already earned at NDC.

“It’s a very labor-intensive process to articulate the programs,” said Kathryn LaFontana, Ursuline’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, in the press release. 

“But we’re happy to help Notre Dame students, especially those close to graduation, finish their degrees, in a similar time frame at a similar cost.”

Students in good standing with more than 60 credits — about two years of classes — will be guaranteed admission to the partnered universities, where all the credits will transfer over and tuition cost will be comparable. Students with fewer credits can transfer to one of the colleges or universities and receive the same benefits as the teach-out program. 

Notre Dame College joins Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in New Hampshire and Cabrini College in Pennsylvania, both of which announced their closures last year and will graduate their final class in spring 2024. 

Though several Catholic colleges are closing this year, many are thriving, and one STEM-based Catholic university is set to launch this fall. Meanwhile, Catholic trade schools are sprouting up across the country.

Church Militant to shut down following $500,000 defamation lawsuit brought by priest

St. Michael's Media founder and CEO Michael Voris during an interview for local television news before the "Bishops Enough Is Enough" rally at the MECU Pavilion Nov.16, 2021, in Baltimore. / Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 14:22 pm (CNA).

Church Militant, the controversial Catholic media outlet that has for years maintained a reputation for combative and antagonistic coverage of Catholic figures and issues, will cease operations next month following a $500,000 defamation judgment against it.

Boston-based law firm Todd & Weld said in a press release this week that Church Militant had “agreed to the entry of a judgment against it in the amount of $500,000” in a defamation lawsuit brought by Father Georges de Laire, the judicial vicar of the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire.

The media outlet had run an article in 2019 titled “NH Vicar Changes Dogma Into Heresy,” one in which the author, canonist Marc Balestrieri, claimed to “have talked to a number of anonymous sources who allegedly made negative comments about Father de Laire both personally and professionally,” the law firm said.

De Laire brought suit against both Balestriei and Church Militant over the article. In the course of the lawsuit, both the writer and the outlet were “unable to identify a single source who said anything negative about Father de Laire,” Todd & Weld said.

The law firm said the article had been written in “an attempt to discredit Father de Laire” and the Diocese of Manchester.

Todd & Weld said in the press release that St. Michael’s Media, the parent company of Church Militant, “will cease all operations of Church Militant by the end of April 2024.”

Church Militant did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday regarding its reasons for shutting down. Asked for insight into the company’s decision, Howard Cooper — a founding partner of Todd & Weld — declined to speculate.

“Questions about Church Militant’s thinking will need to be answered by them,” he told CNA.

Late last year, Church Militant founder Michael Voris resigned over a “morality” violation, with Voris at the time alluding to “horrible ugly things” he had done, though he did not go into specifics at the time.

“I need to conquer these demons,” he said of his decision to resign. “The underlying cause of it has been too ugly for me to look at.”

The Washington Post reported last week that staffers had “complained that Voris had sent shirtless photos of himself to Church Militant staff and associates” prior to his resignation.

Voris founded St. Michael’s Media in 2006. The company launched Church Militant — originally titled Real Catholic TV — in 2008. 

Catholic priest finds kidney donor through parishioner

null / Credit: Chaikom/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Father Tim O’Sullivan is a parochial vicar at St. Ephrem Catholic Church in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. He first arrived to the parish in 2001 and says he considers it home.

In 2017, the priest began to have several health issues that led to him undergoing 11 different surgeries in a matter of 15 months. 

“The doctors say all the anesthesia that was in my system eventually took its toll on my kidneys,” O’Sullivan told Trish Hartman of Channel 6 Action News.

This led O’Sullivan to being on dialysis for five years. 

In November 2023, he decided to write a letter in the parish bulletin letting parishioners know that he was in search of a kidney donor. Despite having several people reach out, none were a match.

“A couple people in the parish did call but were not qualified for some reason or another,” he said.

It wasn’t until January that O’Sullivan received the good news — he had a donor.

Albert Stanley, 46, of South Philadelphia, died on New Year’s Day after suffering several strokes and a brain bleed. His sister, Christine Moretti, is a parishioner at St. Ephrem’s. After seeing on her brother’s driver’s license that he was an organ donor, she contacted O’Sullivan. 

“He had multiple people in his family that were not matches, so in speaking with him, of course, this would be the miracle that we need,” Moretti told Channel 6 Action News.

On Jan. 3, O’Sullivan received the call that Stanley was a match.

He received both of Stanley’s kidneys and is no longer on dialysis. O’Sullivan is still recovering but hopes to be offering Mass again at St. Ephrem’s in April. 

Stanley’s mother and sister said that knowing his organs saved someone else’s life has given them comfort in their grief.

“It was already a comfort knowing that he would live on through others. But to know that it’s someone so close — part of our parish, that my kids interact with — was very meaningful to me,” Moretti said.

O’Sullivan shared that the family’s decision was “humbling” and was a “very generous decision, even in the midst of a mother’s worst grief.”

Experts warn of ‘inhumane’ treatment of embryos, ‘evil’ circumstances surrounding IVF

Heritage Foundation researcher Emma Waters speaks to Prudence Robertson on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” Feb. 29, 2024. / Credit: “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly”

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

A Catholic moral theologian this week warned that in vitro fertilization (IVF) “separates the things that God wanted to be together” while another expert spoke out against the “inhumane” treatment of the hundreds of thousands of human embryos produced by IVF. 

The Alabama Supreme Court has sparked a national debate on the ethics surrounding IVF following the court’s recent decision that ruled embryos are considered children under state law.

“EWTN Pro-Life Weekly” anchor Prudence Robertson spoke to Emma Waters, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, about the ethical implications of IVF and its effects on marriage and society.

“In a normal in vitro fertilization process, clinicians will create anywhere between 15 to 20 embryos at a time,” Waters explained.

Embryos are then tested for genetic issues, and parents have the opportunity to choose the sex of the baby, she explained. After this, wanted embryos are either implanted into the intended mother or frozen for a later time. 

But unwanted embryos are “routinely destroyed or donated to science, where they’re also later destroyed after having inhumane testing done to them,” Waters pointed out.

Because of the high cost of IVF, which averages about $19,000, many couples choose to discontinue the process, resulting in the embryonic children being destroyed. 

Nearly 80,000 infants born were conceived through such alternatives to sex, according to the most recent data from 2020. But reports say that between 400,000 and 1.5 million frozen embryonic children are preserved in laboratories in the U.S. today. 

Father Ezra Sullivan, OP, a professor of moral theology and psychology at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, told Robertson that the Church is outspoken against the mass “production of children” through IVF. 

When asked what might be done about the thousands upon thousands of embryonic children now in existence in labs throughout the U.S., Sullivan called it an “irresolvably evil” situation.

“Should we try to allow parents to conceive these children, since they already exist?” he asked. “Should we baptize them — and in that moment of baptism, the embryo, unfortunately, cannot survive?”

“There’s no definitive resolution because it’s a situation that John Paul II would say is irresolvably evil,” he continued. “There’s no way to solve it without some kind of moral problem arising.”

IVF has “totally upended society’s understanding” of what it means to procreate, Waters said. 

Children “can be created at will by any adults who simply have the right parts whether they come from themselves or they come through sperm and egg donation,” she explained. 

Sullivan, meanwhile, noted that IVF “breaks apart” the “marital bond” because it creates a child “outside of the marital act, within a hospital or laboratory.” 

“The issue of IVF is sensitive because a lot of people are having trouble conceiving in this time, ” he said. “But ultimately the Church says that we want to go the natural route.”

IVF separates ‘the things God wanted to be together’

While “conception is difficult” for a variety of reasons, Sullivan noted that IVF “separates the things that God wanted to be together: love and marriage, conception, procreation in the very marital act.” 

“One of the difficulties that we need to accept as human beings is that we’re weak, we’re imperfect,” Sullivan noted. “And sometimes when, for instance, we have trouble conceiving, sometimes that’s our body’s way of saying that maybe we need to find another way to give life to the world, another way to serve others.” 

The Alabama ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by three couples after their IVF-created embryos were accidentally destroyed at the lab where they were stored. 

During the discussion of the issue on “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” Dr. Joseph Meaney, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, defended the Alabama ruling.

Meaney said the decision “recognizes that human life begins at conception” and that “children should be protected no matter where they are, in their mother’s womb or in the laboratory.”

“In fact, it points out that the in vitro fertilization process kills huge numbers of children at the embryonic stage,” he said.

The ruling limited the protection of these embryos to legal protection against cases where clinics were negligent. But the Alabama Legislature has since defined protections for IVF after three clinics in the state paused their in vitro services.  

In the wake of the controversy, several top contenders for the 2024 U.S. presidential election have voiced their support for IVF. 

Donald Trump came out strongly against the Alabama Supreme Court ruling on social media, saying he supports IVF “in every state in America.” 

Trump’s lone remaining rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she conceived her son through artificial insemination. She said that “Alabama needs to go back and look at the law” that fueled the court’s decision. 

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, told EWTN White House correspondent Owen Jensen this week that he disagreed with the Catholic Church’s position on IVF.

Catholics express concern over eroding ‘brain death’ standards

Patient in a hospital bed. Via Shutterstock / null

CNA Staff, Mar 2, 2024 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A broad coalition of 151 Catholics including medical professionals, bioethicists, and scholars released a joint letter this past week expressing concern about new guidelines issued by a major neurological society regarding “brain death” — a hotly contested topic in the medical community and among people of faith.

The signers of the letter contend that the current guidelines regarding brain death from the American Association of Neurology (AAN), released in 2023, could lead in practice to patients being incorrectly pronounced “brain dead” and subsequently having their organs removed while still alive.

The Catholic Church has long supported — with Pope Francis carrying on the tradition — the idea of freely given organ donation as an act of charity for others.

However, the signers of the February letter contend that because of what they see as ambiguity in U.S. law and medical practice regarding the declaration of brain death, Catholics ought to remove themselves from their state’s organ donation registry and create advance directives refusing organ donation until those ambiguities are resolved.

The signers of the letter — which encompass a range of views on the validity of brain death — encouraged those engaged in Catholic faith formation and pastoral guidance to reiterate the importance of “moral certainty” that a person has died.

“All agree that the BD criteria found in the guidelines and used in current clinical practice do not provide moral certainty that a patient has died,” the signers wrote.

The statement was prepared by Joseph Eble, a physician and president of the Tulsa Guild of the Catholic Medical Association; John Di Camillo, an ethicist of The National Catholic Bioethics Center; and Peter Colosi, a philosophy professor at Salve Regina University.

What is brain death?

Brain death, also called “death by neurologic criteria,” is a commonly accepted practice of declaring a person dead based on the loss of brain function rather than the stoppage of the heart and breathing. A “brain dead” person on a ventilator may appear, at least to the untrained eyes, to still be alive.

While legal standards for determining brain death differ from country to country, in the U.S. the law relevant to brain death is the 1981 Uniform Determination of Death Act, which states that an individual who has sustained “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem, is dead.” All 50 states have adopted the UDDA into their own laws, with a few variations in the language used.

According to a 2020 study, brain deaths made up 2% of all deaths at U.S. hospitals between 2012 and 2016. In the United States, 70% of organ donors were declared dead using BD criteria in 2021, the February statement notes.

What has changed?

Ever since the concept of brain death was first introduced in 1968, the medical community has debated what exactly it entails.

The previous AAN guidelines, released in 2010, did not mandate tests for complete cessation of brain function beyond what can be diagnosed bedside, such as an electroencephalogram.

Further, AAN’s 2023 guidelines, announced in October, state that neuroendocrine function can persist in patients with permanent injury to the brain and “is not inconsistent with the whole brain standard of death.” The signers of the February statement note that AAN’s guidelines are “commonly accepted criteria for determinations of BD throughout the United States and are considered the most rigorous and comprehensive.”

When similar guidelines were introduced last year, the bishops of the United States weighed in, expressing concern that the rewrite “would replace the standard of whole brain death with one of partial brain death.”

“Nothing in Catholic teaching provides support for lowering the criterion to something less than ‘irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain,’” the bishops wrote.

“We are opposed to lowering that standard in the absence of compelling scientific evidence.”

The Catholic view

While the term “brain death” is not found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II asserted in 2000 that, if properly diagnosed, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain function seems a valid way to assess with “moral certainty” that a person has died. Moral certainty, the saint said, “is considered the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action.”

Catholic doctors and ethicists today largely echo the former pontiff in stating that brain death, when properly diagnosed, is not a “kind” of death; it is simply death, period.

However, brain death remains a hotly debated topic among some Catholic medical professionals and ethicists, partly because brain-dead donors are, today, the primary source of organ transplants. Organs such as the heart, lungs, and pancreas can be — and are routinely — harvested from brain-dead donors as close to the time of death as possible.

In his 2000 address, John Paul II stressed the importance of only removing organs from people who have definitively died. The pope’s speech built upon his writing in the 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae in which he decried any practice whereby “organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor,” calling such a practice a form of “furtive ... euthanasia.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its 2018 Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, states that the “determination of death should be made by the physician or competent medical authority in accordance with responsible and commonly accepted scientific criteria.”

Catholic bishops object to Senate IVF bill, warn against deaths of preborn children

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on protections for access to in vitro fertilization on Feb. 27, 2024, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 1, 2024 / 19:00 pm (CNA).

Catholic bishops are urging lawmakers to oppose a bill that would create a federally sanctioned right to access in vitro fertilization (IVF) — a fertility treatment that has resulted in the deaths of millions of human embryos in the United States.

The bill, called the Access to Family Building Act, was introduced by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois. This legislation would establish a federally protected right to IVF access, preempting state-imposed restrictions.

“We can understand the profound desire that motivates some of these couples to go to great lengths to have children, and we support morally licit means of doing so,” the heads of four United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

“The solution, however, can never be a medical process that involves the creation of countless preborn children and results in most of them being frozen or discarded and destroyed,” the bishops emphasized.

The four signatories were Bishop Michael Burbidge, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop Robert Barron, who chairs the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth; Archbishop Borys Gudziak, who chairs the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Kevin Rhoades, the chairman of the Committee for Religious Liberty.

IVF, the bishops warned, is “a threat to the most vulnerable of human beings.” They further rebuked the IVF industry as one that is “built on millions of children who are created to be destroyed or abandoned.” 

“Contrary to what some have claimed, a position that supports legal enshrinement of IVF, however well-intended, is neither pro-life nor pro-child,” the bishops added. “Approaches such as investing in life-affirming research on infertility, or strengthening support for couples who desire to adopt, would be better to explore.”

IVF is a fertility treatment in which doctors fuse sperm and eggs to create human embryos and implant them in the mother’s womb without a sexual act. Embryos that are intended to be implanted at a later date are frozen. Undesired embryos are routinely destroyed or used for scientific research, which kills those preborn children.

Duckworth’s IVF bill was introduced in response to an Alabama Supreme Court decision, which ruled that human embryos are legal persons under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. With significant Republican support, both chambers of the Alabama Legislature passed a bill that would shield IVF clinics from criminal and civil liability in cases of embryo deaths.

Because of an objection on the Senate floor from Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Mississippi, the bill was blocked from advancing via unanimous consent and must go through the committee process before it can receive a vote. 

Hyde-Smith claimed that the bill, dubbed the Access to Family Building Act, would go “far beyond providing legal access to IVF.” She suggested that it would force religious groups to facilitate IVF procedures and cover such procedures in their insurance plans. She also said it would legalize human cloning, three-parent embryos, and gene-edited designer babies.

Duckworth rejected that characterization, claiming the legislation would simply prevent states from restricting access to IVF procedures. She said it would not force anyone to provide them or cover them. 

“This bill does three things and three things only,” Duckworth said in response to Hyde-Smith. 

“It protects the right of individuals to seek assisted reproductive technology without fear of being prosecuted,” Duckworth continued. “...It preserves the right of physicians to provide that assisted reproductive technology without fear of being prosecuted. And it also allows insurance companies to cover assisted reproductive technology.”

Hyde-Smith and dozens of other Republicans continued to emphasize that they support access to IVF despite the destruction to human life that is integral to the process. Several lawmakers have even suggested that supporting IVF is pro-life. 

“I support the ability for mothers and fathers to have total access to IVF and [to bring] new life into the world,” Hyde-Smith said when objecting to the proposal. “I also believe human life should be protected.”

Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina, has already introduced a resolution that would affirm the House of Representatives’ support for IVF. Supporters of IVF include former President Donald Trump, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is the main House Republican political action committee.

Alabama Senate passes IVF protection bill amid Catholic outcry

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Mar 1, 2024 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

The Alabama Senate unanimously passed a bill granting immunity to in vitro fertilization (IVF) providers in cases of death or injury to unborn babies during the IVF process.

The Republican-majority Senate passed the bill in a 32-0 vote on Friday, just over a week after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that unborn babies conceived through IVF are human children protected under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

Introduced by 10 Republican state senators, the bill bypasses the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act to ensure that “no action, suit, or criminal prosecution shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity providing goods or services related to in vitro fertilization.”

Similar to its counterpart in the House, the proposed bill will be retroactive and is scheduled to automatically expire on April 1, 2025.

According to USA Today, lawmakers aim to get the bill to the governor’s desk to be signed into law by Wednesday. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, has not yet signaled whether she intends to sign the bill.

What is IVF?

IVF is a fertility treatment in which doctors fuse sperm and eggs to create human embryos and implant them in the mother’s womb without a sexual act. Embryos that are intended to be implanted later are frozen. Undesired embryos are routinely destroyed or used for scientific research, which kills those preborn children.

This has led to the killing of millions of human embryos and 1 million embryos being kept frozen in labs indefinitely.

The Catholic Church is staunchly opposed to IVF because it separates the marriage act from procreation and destroys embryonic human life.

Snead slams Alabama legislature's 'panicked reaction'

Speaking with “EWTN News in Depth” on Friday, Carter Snead, director of Notre Dame’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture said the bill's passage indicates a “very strange, panicked reaction” from Alabama lawmakers who are now on the cusp of providing “blanket immunity to an entire industry in the state of Alabama without any kind of nuance, without any complexity, without any subtlety.”

Snead said that the IVF protections enshrined by the bill are “unjust” to both unborn babies and IVF patients.

“It’s strange to single out one industry, one aspect of medicine, for this kind of civil and criminal immunity,” the Alabama native added.

“It’s unjust from the perspective that it singles out in vitro embryonic human beings and it puts them beyond the protections of the law. It’s also unjust to the families … because there are people who want to build their family using IVF, and now there’s nothing they could do if someone in the IVF context tortuously harms or destroys their unborn child, so long as the unborn child has not yet been transferred to her mother’s uterus.”

In an earlier email referenced on X, Snead lamented that “For a state legislature that has courageously defended the intrinsic equal dignity of every human being regardless of age, size, location, condition of dependence, or social status, this is a shocking error in judgment.”

What does the Church in Alabama have to say?

As both Democrats and Republicans rush to support IVF, Donald Carlson, a representative for the Diocese of Birmingham, told CNA that the Catholic response to IVF is very “straightforward.”

“Human life begins at conception and that life has to be protected in all its forms,” Carlson said.

Carlson said the diocese would not condone the legislation because it contrasts with clear Catholic teaching on IVF.

Birmingham Bishop Steven Raica, Carlson noted, recently called the longing for children “a truly noble desire” but said that “while the in vitro fertilization industry presents itself as the only solution for couples yet unable to have children, the practice is fraught with many unintended consequences and unfettered risks that often are overlooked.”

“That’s really his thoughts on this,” Carlson said. “Bishop Raica encourages couples to continue in their journey towards fulfilling their dreams to have a family and to seek ethical ways to accomplish that goal.”