Bishops in Texas have told parishes in the state to not to participate in the activities of one of the state’s largest pro-life organizations.
The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a statement on Feb. 22 stating that Texas Right to Life “has implied that the bishops do not faithfully represent Church teaching” and parishes should not host the organization.
“As a bishop, I have a responsibility to teach and to govern and to sanctify. When an organization says that my brother bishops and I are not teaching the authentic magisterium of the Church on matters of life, when they say that and it causes dissension and harm, I have an obligation to speak to that by speaking the truth on these matters,” Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth told Crux.
Olson ordered the bishops’ conference statement be announced from every pulpit in his diocese and be available in the parish bulletin and on the parish website.
The Texas Catholic Conference statement said part of the dispute is rooted in Texas Right to Life’s rejection of incremental pro-life reforms, “which improves the current situation but does not reform the status quo as much as we might desire.”
But the bishops also had more serious concerns.
“The bishops have been compelled to publicly correct Texas Right to Life’s misstatements on end-of-life care and advance directives, in which Texas Right to Life implied that the legislation the bishops were supporting allowed euthanasia and death panels rather than the reality that the legislation reflected the long-standing Church teaching requiring a balance of patient autonomy and the physician conscience protection,” the statement said.
“Finally, Texas Right to Life publishes a scorecard that purports to show which Texas legislators are pro-life. We believe this publication is not based on a fair analysis of a legislator’s work, but rather upon whether the legislator has followed voting recommendations of Texas Right to Life. Unfortunately, a number of legislators who have consistently voted for pro-life and end of life legislation have been opposed by Texas Right to Life,” the bishops said.
Texas Right to Life did not respond to a request for a comment from Crux, but issued a statement on Feb. 24 saying it was “disappointed but not surprised by recent politically motivated attacks” and said they “are unafraid to forge ahead with focused determination in the wake of political attacks from those who work to keep the Austin Establishment and lukewarm incumbents in power.”
“Uncharitable mischaracterizations of our political and policy goals serve only to dissolve the spirit of collaboration that yielded recent legislative victories to protect the most vulnerable in our state—victories that were hard-fought against the leadership of the Texas House,” the organization said.
The Houston-based Texas Right to Life is one of three major pro-life organizations in the state of Texas. The other two are the Austin-based Texas Alliance for the Life and the Arlington-based Texans for Life Coalition.
The bishops said the other two organizations are “consistent with the bishops’ positions” on life issues.
“Texas Alliance for Life and Texans for Life Coalition work very well together with the Catholic bishops, and it is our goal to have all the groups working together,” said Joe Pojman, the Executive Director of Texas Alliance for Life.
“Texas Right to Life do not have the same vision and they tend to not work with the Texas bishops on pro-life issues and with Texas Alliance for Life and Texans for Life Coalition, and that’s very unfortunate,” he told Crux. “We have an obligation to pool all our resources, because the abortion industry, which is very powerful in Texas and across the country including Planned Parenthood have vast resources and I think we have an obligation to pool ours to counter that, but unfortunately it’s not worked out very well.”
Pojman said his organization is non-sectarian but is happy to work with the Texas Catholic Conference because it is “the most effective pro-life organization in the Texas legislature.”
“Texas has done so much to protect unborn babies and their mothers from abortion, provide compassionate alternatives to abortion, and especially to protect patients at the end of life from euthanasia. That would not have been possible without the leadership and the resources that the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops,” Pojman said.
One conflict that has happened between Texas Right to Life and other pro-life organizations is over laws which, even if they pass the legislature, will be struck down in the courts.
“The United States Supreme Court prevents Texas from banning most abortions,” Pojman said. “That’s just the reality, many states have passed laws that try to ban all abortions, or most abortions. They very quickly get struck down in the federal courts.”
Pojman said Texas Right to Life are advocating for laws that clearly are not able to withstand a federal court challenge.
“That’s counterproductive, and it’s a shame when it’s so predictable,” he told Crux. “That means that the bad precedents that the Supreme Court has laid down over the years get reinforced. It also means that the State of Texas, our taxpayers, have to reimburse the attorneys’ fees for the abortion providers who sue to strike down these laws, and that can run into the millions of dollars.”
Pojman said the pro-life movement has a “moral obligation” to be more prudent.
He said the bishops’ approach is pragmatic, while keeping the end goal in mind: “To protect each and every unborn child from abortion, to protect each and every vulnerable patient near the end of life from euthanasia, while working for laws that can be achieved.”
(In a Feb. 23 tweet, Texas Right to Life said: “We believe that all innocent human Life is sacred and must be protected. At Texas Right to Life, we believe that we must be grounded in prayer to build the Culture of Life and fight the forces of darkness.”)
The bishops’ intervention comes just before Texas primary season. Texas Right to Life has endorsed several primary challengers to legislators deemed not sufficiently pro-life, despite their pro-life voting record.
One example is Republican state legislator Charlie Geren of Fort Worth – called a “pro-life champion” and earning a 100 percent pro-life rating from Texas Alliance for Life, but being opposed by Texas Right to Life, which accused him of “thwarting life-saving measures while advancing anti-life ones.”
“We’ve been able to pass legislation that makes getting an abortion much more difficult in Texas, without passing something that will end up in court,” Geren told the Dallas Morning News. “The pro-life goal is to pass something that isn’t going to get thrown out. That’s not Texas Right to Life. They want it all, and they want it all now. I don’t disagree with where they’re trying to go, I just disagree with how they are trying to get there.”
Olson told Crux that as the Texas legislature approaches a new session, “it’s a time of our awareness on these issues and how they affect the political life of our society.”
“I think the Texas Right to Life has created a scorecard of votes which has misrepresented the true character of the activities that are going on in the Texas legislature,” Pojman said.
“We should not exploit the tragedy of those babies being killed by abortion for political means and I think that’s another part of what the bishops have pointed out. Yes, abortion is terrible, but we have to be honest about it,” he said.
Olson said the issue is no longer about human life, but political power.
“The political aspects of it right now are highly driven by money of special interests and then only secondarily is it about the issues of human life,” the bishop said. “This has become more about ideological factions trying to control the legislature with large amounts of money. It’s about power, control, and bullying.”
Christopher White contributed to this story.