This time of year, it is fitting to look back – to check the mirrors, so to speak, before looking ahead.In 2007, these issues grabbed headlines.
Perhaps the most emotionally charged issue of 2007 was HB 288, the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act. The bill’s goal is to mandate hospitals to provide emergency contraception (EC) to sexual assault victims. EC inhibits or prevents ovulation, fertilization or implantation of a fertilized ovum. Catholic teaching holds that life begins at conception, so preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb is considered abortion.
Because sexual assault is an act of unjust aggression, Pennsylvania’s Catholic hospitals can and do administer EC when tests confirm that conception has not likely occurred; but, because there is no conscience exception in this bill, Catholic hospitals would be required to provide treatment that is not in accord with the Church’s teachings.
HB 288 was withdrawn due to lack of support, but the debate could resume.
The $75 million “Pre-K Counts” initiative provides pre-kindergarten education to four-year-olds, but it unfairly discriminates against existing church-affiliated pre-K programs. Providers cannot use these dollars to promote religious doctrine; therefore, faith-based pre-schools would have to stop being religious to participate in this program. Unfortunately, Pre-K Counts advocates gained enough support to pass it, but this debate is far from over. Many are pushing for mandatory, universal pre-K for all children. PCC expects to debate this again.
Two legislative proposals attempted to add “sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression” to the list of prohibited categories of discrimination. One was HB 302, the Children in Substitute Care Act; the other was HB 1400, an amendment to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA).
“Sexual orientation” in HB 302 is vague and undefined. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) is concerned that the ability of foster parents’ to freely “parent” a foster child could be compromised with no legal guidelines for what constitutes “discrimination.”
PCC is also concerned that the PHRA change would affect the Church’s employment practices, adoption or other Church operated ministries. The proposal would expose the Church to litigation for acting in a manner consistent with Church teachings.
These issues could come up again in 2008; but PCC and PCHA hope to push several others. Health care reform is one. The Vision for Health Care Reform calls for universal access to quality care for reasonable cost and a fundamental commitment to the sanctity and dignity of human life. Reform proposals will be evaluated with this Vision.
The Pennsylvania Marriage Protection Amendment is another issue. Efforts are ongoing to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution with a definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman and prohibit civil unions, or other marriage-like relationships.
And PCC will keep an eye on funding for school technology and special education, Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) and the Reliable Assistance for College Hopefuls (REACH) proposal that will provide scholarships for Pennsylvania students to attend college in the Commonwealth.
Checking the mirrors, 2007 was a busy year; looking forward, we are encouraged and ready for the debate. Log on to pacatholic.org and sign up to be part of the Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy Network to stay informed about these and other important issues.
PCC Column January 2008 by A. B. Hill, Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania.