FaithWorld

Has U.S. abortion language created climate of violence?

The murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller has been condemned by prominent groups and activists on both sides of this divisive and emotive issue.

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But the language used by some opponents of abortion rights who reviled Tiller for his work providing late-term abortions remained very strong.

Take this statement by Dr. James Dobson, founder of the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family.

We are shocked by the murder of George Tiller, and we categorically condemn the act of vigilantism and violence that took his life,” Dobson said in a statement. He went on to say that the perpetrator must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

But he also said: “Tiller recently faced serious charges related to the killing of babies in violation of the law, by the most grotesque procedures administered without anesthetics or compassion.  We profoundly regretted the outcome of his legal case, believing the doctor had the blood of countless babies on his hands.  Nevertheless, he was exonerated by the court and declared ‘not guilty’ in the eyes of the law. That is our system, and we honor it.”

Gallup first: more Americans now “pro-life” than “pro-choice”

America may have a president and Congress that support abortion rights, but a new Gallup poll suggests that for the first time such a stance is not the majority view.

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Gallup said on Friday that a new poll, conducted May 7 to 10, found “51 percent of Americans calling themselves ‘pro-life’ on the issue of abortion and 42 percent ‘pro-choice.’ This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.”

The new results, obtained from Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50 percent were pro-choice and 44 percent pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46 percent, in both August 2001 and May 2002.”

Obama signals open to change on stem cell policy

U.S. President Barack Obama signaled on Tuesday that he would be open to policy changes on stem cell research if the science on adult stem cells determined that thorny ethical issues could be avoided without harming medical advancement.

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Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research earlier this month, angering abortion opponents but cheering those who believe the study could produce treatments for many diseases.

Asked at a White House news conference if he wrestled with the ethics of the issue, given the promise in adult stem cell research, Obama said:

Vatican edits pope on condoms and AIDS solutions

pope-in-planePope Benedict’s comments about condoms on his flight to Cameroon have made headlines worldwide. They have been quoted extensively on many websites run by news organisations and also by the Vatican. But that hasn’t stopped the same Vatican from editing them after the fact to try to make them sound more acceptable. (Photo: Pope Benedict answers questions in the plane to Africa, with Rev. Georg Gänswein (L) and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (C), 17 March 2009//Alessandro Bianchi)

The main change on the Vatican website comes in the most controversial part, where he says: “It (AIDS) cannot be overcome by the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.” This was criticised in Europe and the United States as going beyond a doctrinal question and spreading untruths about public health policies. Now the Vatican’s Bollettino (daily bulletin — here in the original Italian) has watered this down to have him say:   “On the contrary, the risk is that they increase the problem.” The Milan daily Corriere della Sera has the original transcript in Italian.

The Vatican editors also softened the pope’s talk about solutions. In the original, he said: “The problem of AIDS cannot be solved only with money …” In the new version, this comes out as: “The problem of AIDS cannot be solved only by advertising slogans …”

Obama’s stem cell switch another setback for U.S. conservatives

It’s another day in the life of the busy Obama administration.  In this case, it means another day of despair for America’s social and religious conservatives.

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President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research on Monday, angering abortion opponents but cheering those who believe further scientific investigations could lead to breakthrough treatments for many diseases. You can see our report here.

Since taking office on Jan. 20, Obama has also lifted a ban on funding for overseas groups or clinics that provide or counsel on abortion services, rescinded a Bush administration rule to protect health workers who refuse to provide services and information on moral grounds, and publicly backed the constitutional separation between church and state which he said America’s founding fathers “wisely drew.”

Nine-year-old’s abortion stirs Brazil debate

Stuart Grudgings in Rio de Janeiro writes: The Roman Catholic Church’s strong opposition to an abortion carried out this week on a nine-year-old Brazilian girl suspected to have been raped by her stepfather has highlighted the uphill struggle that abortion reform advocates face in the Latin American country.

The reaction of the archbishop in northeastern Pernambuco state, who excommunicated the mother of the girl and the doctors, was criticized by Brazil’s health minister as “extreme.” Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has described abortion as a public issue rather than a moral one, also weighed in, saying “medicine is more correct than the Church.”

Debate in Brazil about the long taboo subject of abortion — which remains illegal except in cases of rape and when the mother’s life is in danger — has sprouted in recent years. The country’s Supreme Court is due to rule this year on whether the exceptions can extend to anencephalic pregnancies, when the fetus has no brain. But despite a rise in the number of legal abortions in recent years, opposition to reform remains stiff — principally from the Catholic Church, but also among a majority of Brazilians, polls show. Pope Benedict made opposition to abortion the cornerstone of his visit to the world’s most populous Catholic country two years ago.

Obama work week one: pleases some religious activists, angers others

U.S. President Barack Obama has pleased some religiously motivated activists in his first week in office and angered others, setting the stage for “culture war battles” to come.

Obama courted voters of faith during his election and several groups were pleased by his decision on Thursday to close Guantanamo prison and bar harsh interrogation techniques of terrorism suspects that critics said amounted to torture.

“The religious community has labored faithfully for three years to end U.S.-sponsored torture. We are grateful today for this important step,” said Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

Cardinal Martino does it again

Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a “big concentration camp” is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn’t stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)

Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures,” he said at the time.

The “treated like a cow” remark was heard around the world and, needless to say, was not very appreciated in the White House. The Vatican had opposed the U.S.-invasion of Iraq in March of that year. In fact, a certain chill developed between Martino and then U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Jim Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran who later went on to become Bush’s Secretary for Veteran Affairs.

The irrelevant and the interesting in Obama’s religious views

There’s been a lot of discussion over the past few months on this and other blogs about Barack Obama and religion. Looking back at it now that the campaign is over and he is starting to shape his administration, it’s interesting to see how many of those discussions shed little light on what he would actually do. There were comments about him being a hidden Muslim, for example, or not a real Christian. That speculation seemed based on thin evidence and the assumption he was running for preacher and cleric-in-chief rather than president and commander-in-chief. As a journalist covering religion in public life, after learning whether a candidate professes a certain faith, I want to know how that faith will really influence his or her decisions in office. This is not necessarily the same as listing the soundbite positions used on the campaign trail. (Photo: Barack Obama at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, 15 June 2008/John Gress)

Seen from this point of view, probably the most interesting fact about Barack Obama’s religious views is one that rarely gets mentioned. It’s that he’s an admirer of the late American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). The President-elect has clearly named “America’s leading public theologian” as a major influence on his thinking. It comes out less in specific positions than in the way he looks at problems and discusses policies in terms with a ”Niebuhrian” ring about them.

In April 2007, Obama told David Brooks of the New York Times that Niebuhr was one of his favourite thinkers.  So I asked, What do you take away from him? Brooks asked:

U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench warfare” ahead?

The U.S. Democratic Party has gained a larger following over the past two decades but America’s ideological landscape has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. You can see the analysis here.

What is of interest for readers of this blog may be the implications of this “cultural trench warfare” — with neither side gaining much ground from the other — for red-hot social issues such as abortion rights and the future prospects for both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The Democratic Party’s advantage in party identification has widened over the past two decades, but the share of Americans who describe their political views as liberal, conservative or moderate has remained stable during the same period. Only about one-in-five Americans currently call themselves liberal (21 percent), while 38 percent say they are conservative and 36 percent describe themselves as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George W. Bush was first elected president, 18 percent of Americans said they were liberal, 36 percent were conservative and 38 percent considered themselves moderate,” the report, released late on Tuesday, says.