You might recall September 6, 2007 testimony on Assembly Bill 377 and Senate Bill 129 presented to the Assembly Committee on Judiciary and Ethics by Kim Wadas, Associate Director, Wisconsin Catholic Conference. The WCC's position was that AB377 and SB129 requiring providing emergency contraception are consistent with the U.S. Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. The WCC took a "neutral" stance on the bills.
Madison Bishop Robert Morlino said he supported that stance only on the assumption it would not require individuals or institutions to participate in medical procedures to which they had ethical or moral objections. When a vote to amend the bill to make this explicit failed in the Wisconsin Assembly, Bishop Morlino of Madison wrote the Wisconsin Legislature.
The hoped-for effect of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference’s earlier stance of neutrality on this bill was to protect women who are the victims of rape, while also protecting the possible pre-born human being, by affirming the necessary conscience exemption for institutions and individuals with regard to the appropriate testing, so as to avoid abortifacient emergency contraception. It is my judgment as Bishop of Madison that the earlier position of neutrality did not have its hoped for effect, and so it is now moot, and this neutrality position has now expired.
Interviewed by Mr. Klein, LaCrosse Bishop Jerome Listecki explained his joining Bishop Morlino in opposition to the bill. That's the bishops of two of out of five Wisconsin dioceses.
Contacted by The Catholic Times, WCC executive director John Huebscher said the Catholic Conference is retaining its current stance of neutrality. “We respect the concerns raised in (Bishop Morlino’s) letter,” he said. “They certainly underscore the passion of the bishops in affirming human life. At the same time, the Catholic Conference has not changed its position on the bill.”
Heubscher added that there are no plans to revisit the matter as a conference.
What, I wonder, does it take to get something on the WCC agenda.
Heubscher said the WCC’s neutrality is based on the unanimous opinion of the state’s diocesan attorneys that a current conscience exemption contained in Wisconsin Statue [sic] 253.09 would allow Catholic hospitals and individual physicians to “opt out” of the possibly abortion-inducing treatment the legislation would require.
That section of the Wisconsin Statutes says in subsection (1),
No hospital shall be required to admit any patient or to allow the use of the hospital facilities for the purpose of performing a sterilization procedure or removing a human embryo or fetus. A physician or any other person who is a member of or associated with the staff of a hospital, or any employee of a hospital in which such a procedure has been authorized, who shall state in writing his or her objection to the performance of or providing assistance to such a procedure on moral or religious grounds shall not be required to participate in such medical procedure...
The Bishops' lawyers, presumably, have advised there are good grounds for saying "emergency contraception" is included within "removing a human embryo". Patrick McIlheran points out a couple of the bills' supporters assert "There is no medical evidence that emergency contraception ends a pregnancy." It all depends, of course, on what the meaning of "embryo" and the meaning of "pregnancy" is. I'd like to know more about the basis of the Wisconsin Bishops' lawyers' unanimous certainty. In Franz's article, one of the clients is not so sure.
While Bishop Listecki shares the lawyers’ opinion, he said he was breaking from the Catholic Conference’s stance of neutrality because “even legal opinions fall to (legislative) decisions that go contrary.”
To say nothing of court decisions.
According to Bishop Morlino, the fact that so many anti-life legislators refused to vote for an earlier version of the bill that included a conscience exemption amendment indicates that they consider the protection offered by Statute 253.09 to be inapplicable to the present situation. “If this were assured, there would be no reason why the Assembly would have rejected conscience clause exemption protection for the reasons they gave,” the bishop wrote.In addition to the two bishops,
Pro-Life Wisconsin legislative director Matt Sande agreed. He said in a Catholic Times interview that the current conscience clause contained in Statue 253.09 was “intended to keep physicians and hospital employees from being forced to participate in sterilizations and surgical abortions.” “It’s not going to be enough. That’s our opinion,” he said.His opinion is, at least, more consistent with what the statute literally says.
P.S. This brings to mind John Huebscher's "Eye on the Capitol" column in the spring of 2001 asserting Campaign reform won't hurt pro-life. He wrote as Executive Director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, described as "the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops", but,
First, a disclaimer. In my spare time, I serve on the Board of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an organization that supports the cause of campaign finance reform. So I do have a bias on the issue.There's an opposing view.
Some of my friends in the pro-life movement suggest that reform may pose difficulties for the pro-life cause.
If you take a look at the Wisconsin Bishops' June 2000 statement Renewing Participation in Public Life: A Call for Campaign Finance Reform, you'll notice that two out of the sixteen footnotes cite Wisconsin Democracy Campaign news releases. The Campaign now cites pro-life groups among the examples of the type of effort its version of campaign finance reform is meant to thwart. You might recall it claimed Bishop Morlino violated campaign finance laws.
It's as if Mr. Huebscher had the Wisconsin Bishops lobbying for him, rather than the other way around.