Texas bishops cut ties with Texas Right to Life

Pro-life supporters stand with signs along the street in front of Southwestern Women's Surgery Center in Dallas in 2013. (CNS photo/Larry Smith, EPA) 

In a surprising move last week, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, the church’s public policy voice in a state of more than eight million Catholics, directed all parishes to refrain from activities with Texas Right to Life, the state’s oldest and largest pro-life organization.

“Texas Right to Life often opposes the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and has implied that the bishops do not faithfully represent Church teaching,” the bishops wrote in a parish advisory. They went on to highlight three main areas where Texas Right to Life has misrepresented Catholic positions or made misleading attacks on Texas legislators.

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On pro-life issues, the bishops cited Texas Right to Life’s opposition to incremental reforms to reduce abortions like H.B. 200, a state ban on partial-birth abortion, arguing that such an approach is in keeping with the guidance of St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.”

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops directed all parishes to refrain from activities with Texas Right to Life.

On end-of-life issues, the bishops countered Texas Right to Life’s suggestions that the church supported legislation allowing euthanasia and “death panels.” The bishops stated that “the legislation reflected the long-standing Church teaching requiring a balance of patient autonomy and the physician conscience protection.”

Perhaps most topical, with Texas political primaries looming on March 6, was the bishops’ disapproval of Texas Right to Life’s voter guide, a scorecard that they say unfairly assesses legislators based not on their actual voting record “but rather upon whether the legislator has followed voting recommendations of Texas Right to Life.”

Joe Pojman, the executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, one of the statewide pro-life groups that remains largely consistent with the bishop’s positions (Texans for Life Coalition is the other), echoed that sentiment in an interview with America: “The Texas Right to Life scorecard is very misleading because it is not based on actual votes on the House and Senate floors. It doesn’t accurately characterize what happened.”

The bishops’ advisory has garnered its share of backlash.

While the communications director for the Texas bishops, Helen Osman, told America there has been an “overwhelmingly positive response” to the bishops’ advisory, it has also garnered its share of backlash.

Responding with its own statement—which mentions neither the Texas bishops’ conference nor the advisory by name—Texas Right to Life said that it was “disappointed but not surprised by recent politically motivated attacks.”

But as reported in the Austin American-Statesman, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin maintained that the timing of the release was purely coincidental.

“We were working on this for a while,” said Bishop Vásquez. “It has nothing to do with the primaries or the elections going on.”

Republican State Representative Matt Rinaldi, the pro-life whip during the last session of the Texas legislature, issued a four-page letter to Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas, defending Texas Right to Life, speculating that lay staff and not the bishops themselves were responsible for the advisory and asking the the bishops’ conference to consider rescinding the advisory.

Conservative groups like Texas Right to Life are upfront about their aim to advance their legislative agendas and political candidates.

On Twitter, Mr. Pojman called Mr. Rinaldi’s letter “rife with inaccurate and misleading statements.”

The disagreement highlights the rift in the Texas pro-life movement, an ideological and political struggle that might be categorized as one of absolutist demands versus pragmatic steps and incremental gains.

Conservative groups like Texas Right to Life and its ally, Empower Texans, a free-market advocacy group, are upfront about their aim to advance their legislative agendas and political candidates. Texas Right to Life has endorsed primary challengers to four Republican legislators who had received a 100 percent rating on Texas Right to Life’s own scorecard for their pro-life activity in the last legislative session: Representatives Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, Wayne Faircloth of Galveston, Dan Flynn of Canton and Chris Paddie of Marshall. When asked why the group opposed Mr. Flynn, despite his perfect score, Texas Right to Life political director Luke Bowen said, “Dan Flynn supported and propped up moderate [Republican] House leadership that obstructed strong Pro-Life bills.”

The divergence in Texas might be viewed as a microcosm of the larger national debate over what it means to be pro-life.

Across the divide are the bishops’ conference and pro-life groups like Texas Alliance for Life and the Texans for Life Coalition, which, according to the bishops’ advisory, “engage in respectful legislative advocacy.”

The divergence in Texas might also be viewed as a microcosm of the larger national debate over what it means to be pro-life, as showcased last fall when Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City was elected over Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Archbishop Naumann’s approach of elevating abortion as the primary pro-life focus stood in tension with Cardinal Cupich’s preference for promoting a “consistent ethic of life,” a term coined by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, which prescribes a more holistic strategy on pro-life issues—including not only abortion but also capital punishment, euthanasia, nuclear proliferation, immigration and environmental concerns, among other issues.

While that discussion continues nationwide, pro-life advocates in Texas continue their work, even if divided. Looking toward the primary elections and beyond, Mr. Pojman of Texas Alliance for Life said he is focused on educating voters and trying to counter what he considers misinformation promulgated by Texas Right to Life.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Mr. Pojman told America. “As a pro-lifer, we must put partisanship behind us, regardless of the author of a bill or the political party that’s supporting it.”

Speaking for the bishops’ conference, Ms. Osman said, “As far as the bishops are concerned, parishes should continue to advocate for legislation that has a comprehensive approach to issues of human life.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jim Lein
5 months 2 weeks ago

I may have missed it but I didn't see a clear statement on the church's favoring government programs like food and medical care and welfare benefits. This is most likely the main sticking point for Texas Right to Life. The article seemed to talk around this.

Dionys Murphy
5 months 1 week ago

Perhaps they could rename themselves the "Texas Right to Birth" group.

Kristin Wiener
5 months 2 weeks ago

This is a small, positive step in the right direction, however there are many pseudo-Catholic "pro-life" groups out there who are nothing but fronts for far right political advocates. They falsely criticize anyone who doesn't agree with their opinions, which have little if nothing to do with ending abortion. Groups like this make the pro-life movement look ridiculous and disingenuous. Again, if these so-called "right to life" groups were actually interested in saving unborn lives, they would be encouraging people to vote blue. Only Democrats nare interested in enacting the kind of reforms that would prevent abortions (instead of simply criminalizing them and driving them underground).

ALFRED CHAVEZ
5 months 2 weeks ago

I don't know about voting "Blue;" Dems have been in the forefront of absolute freedom to abort, even to partial-birth abortions. But I agree that right-leaning Republicans have often demagogued the issue of abortion in order to further aims that are antithetical to a true pro-life agenda.

BTW, look up the American Solidarity Party. I'm hoping it gains traction; its positions reflect those of the Church better than any other party's.

Jim Lein
5 months 2 weeks ago

Dems are for choice--and for helping woman feel able to choose to give birth. That seems the Christian way. The other way, the legalistic way, seems Caesar's way. Our society is not pro-life, not pro-pregnancy, not pro-babies, not pro-breastfeeding, not pro-children. We continue to favor assault weapons over children. And that is the Repub way. It's easy to advocate law change and to cut services for women in poverty or in a struggle with an unwanted pregnancy. All men, especially Republican men, should take care not to contribute to unwanted pregnancies. We guys are of course responsible for all unwanted pregnancies, for leaving women on their own to deal with the situation. We could end unwanted pregnancies. We could help, not force, women we impregnate see their way to give birth. One way is not cutting government programs that help those in need.

Nora Bolcon
5 months 2 weeks ago

Ahhh Truth. Thanks to you Jim.

There is no indication that stricter abortion laws lower abortion rates, statistically speaking. Unfortunately, because in most countries where abortion is difficult to access, so also is birth control, and most countries where abortion is easily accessible, so is birth control, there is no way to be certain if abortion would lower or raise if access to birth control was easy but access to abortion were very difficult or criminal. There currently is no evidence that difficult access to abortion lowers it at all, on a global scale.

It is more likely that abortion would increase in developed countries if abortion were made illegal, even if birth control access is still fairly easy. This is because many older pregnant women who fear having a downs fetus would abort early if they knew they could not get an abortion after waiting for an amnio. Since downs is fairly rare and most later abortions are done due to an unhealthy fetus, many more healthy fetuses would likely be aborted when still in the first trimester with abortion pills which would be as impossible to control illegally as any other illegal street drug.

Dionys Murphy
5 months 1 week ago

Thank you, Jim and Nora, for your balanced and honest look at what drives the perceived need for abortion in the United States.

Randal Agostini
5 months 2 weeks ago

This is unfortunate - the father disowning his children. It is odd to read this on the day where the gospel is the story about the Prodigal Son. Is church hierarchy too close to government? Does Church hierarchy see it's role as end provider for government? There is something presented in these facts that does not display the Love of God, which is unconditional. Something is very wrong.

ALFRED CHAVEZ
5 months 2 weeks ago

?? Explain, please?

Randal Agostini
5 months 2 weeks ago

A Pastor is a Minister in charge of a Church. We believe that a Christian Pastor is a servant to his flock - to care for and to guide. Jesus is all the example that we need.

Mike Macrie
5 months 2 weeks ago

Has the Catholic Church got themselves caught between a rock and a hard place between Catholic Pro Life Republican Groups and the Catholic Democratic Pro Immigration Groups ? The past political support from the American Conference of Bishops have been to throw their support to Republicans. Now what when Republicans want to deport Catholic Immigrants ?

Yvette Tran Pereira
5 months 2 weeks ago

Another attempt by America Magazine to pretend it even likes or cares about Catholics. Laughable. Fr.James Martin's pulpit, America Magazine. Spread heresy. To be immigrant and read this nonsense from this site pretending to care. Love in Truth is better than pushing us off the cliff with your stories and phony parables.

Dionys Murphy
5 months 1 week ago

HERESY! HEEEEEERESY!! That's what people shout when they can't make any attempt at a cohesive argument against something. You should probably, if you consider yourself a Catholic, do some basic self-education about Catholic teachings regarding the garment of life and what pro-Life actually means within Catholic theology. It seems the only person pushing people off cliffs is you.

B Hagel
5 months ago

There is no tension between “pro-life republicans” and “anti-immigration democrats”. The abortion rate decreased during the presidency of Obama. Check it out. Women do not want to abort their babies. Poverty or lack of support is the often cause of a terrible choice, which I believe ultimitly leads to depression, self loathing and mental illness. Our church has always supported universal Heath Care. Missionary nurses and Catholic hospitals are super traditional. Republicans WAKE UP, and become the party you were meant to be!

Bob Hunt
4 months 3 weeks ago

Abortion rates have been consistently falling since Reagan, regardless of who was president. I agree that poverty and lack of support is often the cause of terrible choices, but the Dems aren't helping people out of poverty. If anything, they're making it easier to stay in poverty. Look at the demise of the US inner cities, all run by Dems for decades.
Yes, the Church has supported universal healthcare, but that's not necessarily the same thing as government-run healthcare. In fact, the Church supports the concept of subsidiarity, meaning handling things at the local level usually makes for better solutions. Missionary nurses and Catholic hospitals are great, but lots of Dems would close Catholic hospitals for not allowing abortion, sterilization, and sex-change operations. They're constantly under attack by the ACLU.

B Hagel
5 months ago

There is no tension between “pro-life republicans” and “anti-immigration democrats”. The abortion rate decreased during the presidency of Obama. Check it out. Women do not want to abort their babies. Poverty or lack of support is the often cause of a terrible choice, which I believe ultimitly leads to depression, self loathing and mental illness. Our church has always supported universal Heath Care. Missionary nurses and Catholic hospitals are super traditional. Republicans WAKE UP, and become the party you were meant to be!

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