The pro-life Democrat and the archbishop

BillRitterThe 2006 elections were marked in part by the successes of more than a few pro-life Democrats. Some have wondered how their rhetoric will match up with their voting records. When the House passed a recent bill to expand federal funding of stem-cell research that destroys embryos, 16 pro-life Democrats, including the newly elected Heath Shuler, joined 158 Republicans in voting against it. Bill Ritter, the new governor of my home state of Colorado, also ran as a pro-life Democrat. But in his State of the State address, he announced plans to restore state funds to clinics that perform abortions, without funding the abortions themselves. The Denver Post's religion reporter Eric Gorski wrote about how Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput feels about the plan (he's not a fan) and Ritter's defense of same. It's easy in a story like this to demonize Chaput or Ritter, but Gorski gives both camps their say and refrains from weighing one side over the other:

Only family-planning groups that show they can segregate state funds from money spent on abortions would be eligible, [Ritter spokesman Evan] Dreyer said. An amendment to the state's constitution forbids the use of state dollars to subsidize abortion directly or indirectly.

"The archbishop and the governor agree on certain aspects of this issue," Dreyer said. "The governor believes strongly it is good public policy to attempt to reduce unintended pregnancies, and that is his goal."

Calling out Ritter is in keeping with Chaput's belief that Catholic politicians must adhere to church teachings in their public life in order to remain true to the faith. The Denver prelate has gained a national reputation for his willingness to speak out.

Chaput wrote his thoughts out in a column for the Denver Catholic Register. Rather than quoting only from the parts critical of Ritter -- as many reporters would do -- Gorski mentions that Chaput praised Ritter's desire to improve health care and education and that he lauded the "good will, good sense and hope" contained in the State of the State speech. He also mentions that Chaput noted Ritter's "engaged and active" Catholic faith and Chaput didn't question Ritter's pro-life credentials during the campaign.

Still, Chaput wonders whether it will be possible to segregate state funds from abortion services under the new plan:

"What his words do actually mean will become clear in the demands he places on Planned Parenthood for proof that state funds truly are segregated from abortion services and don't materially support the killing of unborn children," Chaput wrote.

But Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains may not seize the opportunity if the restrictions are lifted, given the high costs of restructuring to meet the state's demands and other factors, said spokeswoman Kate Horle.

She said Planned Parenthood also would be reluctant to take resources from smaller clinics statewide that currently receive state money for family planning.

"While I recognize it's Bishop Chaput's religious prerogative to want to believe Planned Parenthood somehow wants to increase the abortion rate in Colorado -- which is what he implies -- what we have always done is try to make sure every child is a wanted and a loved child," Horle said.

I'm not sure I excerpted the best parts -- so I encourage you to read the whole story. Gorski got good quotes from all concerned parties and enlightened readers about a complex topic. There are politicians of all stripes and religious leaders of all stripes. Reporters should make sure they don't just rely on politicians' self-descriptions or religious leaders' analysis when covering religion in public life.

Photo via Bouldair on Flickr.

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