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In the last four months, three men were scheduled to be executed – Terrance Williams, Hubert Michael and Mark Spotz. Last minute appeals delayed those cases, which are now pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and a federal appeals court. Decisions will be made about these cases soon, meaning the death penalty will continue to be headline news in 2013. Nearly 200 others also sit on Pennsylvania’s death row.
The news of Pennsylvania opting out of its own state exchange was covered by Catholic News Service:
“PHILADELPHIA (CNS) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced Dec. 12 that the state would not set up its own health insurance exchange and instead join the federal exchange, which will cover elective abortions.
Just how the decision will impact such issues as abortion was not totally clear.”
Tell your senators and representative that programs serving working poor families must be protected from the “fiscal cliff.” In discussing the various proposals, programs that help families escape poverty and live in dignity should be strengthened.
Congressional leaders and President Obama continue to discuss a budget package to avoid the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year by replacing automatic tax increases as well as across the board spending cuts put in place last year. They are dealing with big numbers and important questions, however the record number of people living in poverty, and the millions more looking for decent work, should receive priority consideration.
Last week, Bishop Stephen Blaire, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Richard Pates Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote to Congress calling on Congress to avoid the “fiscal cliff” with a bipartisan and balanced agreement that raises adequate revenue and protects programs that serve families living in poverty. Read the letter HERE.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have launched a pastoral strategy addressing critical life, marriage and religious liberty concerns. The five-part strategy or call to prayer was approved by the bishops in November and is set to begin after Christmas. The overall focus is to invite Catholics to pray for rebuilding a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.
Campaign components include monthly Eucharistic holy hours in cathedrals and parishes, daily family rosary, special Prayers of the Faithful at all Masses, fasting and abstinence on Fridays, and the second observance of a Fortnight for Freedom.
In consultation with the USCCB and other pro-life groups after yesterday’s announcement, it appears that a legislative remedy can be found to assure that the federally administered insurance exchange can exclude elective abortion coverage.
Access to health care remains a priority concern for Catholics, but no health insurance program should include coverage of abortion. Simply put, pregnancy is not a disease and elective abortion is not health care.
The PCC will continue to monitor the developments on this issue and will post updates as they are available. Please click here to send a message to your representatives in support of legislation that removes taxpayer funded abortions from health insurance exchanges.
Governor Corbett announced this afternoon that Pennsylvania will not set up its own health insurance exchanges under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). In his statement, the governor said, “Healthcare reform is too important to be achieved through haphazard planning. Pennsylvania taxpayers and businesses deserve more. They deserve informed decision making and a strong plan that responsibly uses taxpayer dollars.”
The Catholic Church has long and consistently advocated for the reform of the American health care system. Access to health care is fundamental and necessary for human dignity. Yet concerns raised during the health care reform debate about conscience protection and coverage of elective abortion are not resolved. Without a state exchange, Pennsylvanians who qualify will be enrolled in the federal exchange, which will cover elective abortions. PCC, with other pro-life organizations, will explore every option to avoid the federal elective abortion provision. Some pro-life groups have suggested that there may be other opt-out actions that can be taken, and we will spend the coming days exploring those options.
If Pennsylvania had created its own exchange, it would have been able to opt out of this abortion coverage. As Pennsylvanians work with the state and federal government to address issues of cost and flexibility, we must also be concerned about taxpayers supporting the flawed and damaging idea that elective abortions are basic health care.
Hundreds of you have sent emails to the PA Board of Pardons and the Governor about the death penalty in recent months. You can send another message here.
Here is an update on the pending capital cases:
1) Terrance Williams: On September 28, 2012, Common Pleas Court Judge Sarmina ordered a stay of execution and granted the defense request for a new sentencing hearing. The prosecution filed an emergency petition with the Pa. Supreme Court to vacate the stay. The Pa. Supreme Court denied the emergency petition and ordered a briefing schedule to be set. Currently, there are consolidated appeals filed by the prosecutors to vacate Judge Sarmina’s order which are pending before the Pa. Supreme Court. To date, the Supreme Court has not set a briefing schedule in the appeals. There is no pending execution warrant for Mr. Williams.
2) Hubert Michael: On November 7, 2012, Federal District Court Judge Jones denied Michael’s request to reopen his federal appeal and denied the motion for a stay of execution. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit granted Michael’s request for a stay of execution and remanded the case to Judge Jones to address a technical matter related to the appeal issues. By order dated November 19, 2012, Judge Jones addressed the appeal issues discrepancy and the case was returned to the Third Circuit. According to the Third Circuit, it will be issuing “an expedited briefing schedule” to address Michael’s appeal issues, but to date no such schedule has been published. There is no pending execution warrant for Mr. Michael.
3) Mark Spotz: Execution date – January 8, 2013. Spotz’ direct and State post-conviction collateral appeals have been exhausted. However, according to his attorneys, he has never been afforded any federal review of his conviction and death sentence. On November 14, 2012, Spotz’ attorneys filed a motion for a stay of execution in Federal District Court to allow time to file a federal habeas corpus petition. To date, the prosecution has not responded to the defense motion.
The lawsuit filed by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Inc. and the Catholic Cemeteries Association of Pittsburgh against the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that threatens religious freedom was “dismissed without prejudice” by U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry on November 27. Bishop David Zubik issued the following statement:
While I am disappointed in the ruling that our lawsuit cannot proceed at this time based on the very narrow argument that we allegedly have no real damages yet from the Health and Human Services mandate, I am very encouraged that it was “dismissed without prejudice.” That means that we have every right to file again in the future.
We will now await in good faith the accommodation to religious freedom that the federal government has claimed it will offer. However, we must all be aware that no modification to the original HHS mandate in regard to religious freedom has yet been made.
Other courts have reached differing conclusions in the challenges to the HHS mandate, so this remains fluid. I do want to make clear, however, that we cannot and will not negotiate away our constitutional rights to religious freedom and religious expression.