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Obama Urged to Focus on Poverty, Not Marriage March 3, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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The Obama administration should focus on reducing family poverty in federal programs such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), not on promoting marriage and fatherhood, say researchers and advocates from universities and national organizations who have jointly published a position paper, Reduce Poverty Using Proven Methods: Eliminate Federal Funding of “Marriage Promotion” and Staff HHS with Appointees Who Value All Families, “http://”>/www.unmarried.org/images.

The authors report that from 2006 to 2010, TANF was permitted to award $750 million in grants to support projects promoting healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood. But they point out that no research supports the idea that marriage and fatherhood help alleviate poverty.
The focus on family structure endorsed by the Bush administration and its appointees is misplaced. Family structure has become less important in economic status since the 1980s. Although many factors that affect family structure–single parenting, divorce, cohabitation, LGBT parenting–have increased in the last fifty years, the welfare of children has actually improved.
The focus should be directly on poverty, say the authors. This means that administrators of programs like TANF should be committed to serving the needs of children in all family structures. Alleviating poverty should prioritize proven methods, such as increasing cash benefits; providing childcare and job skills training; improving educational opportunities; raising the federal minimum wage; empowering unions; attacking discrimination of all kinds; and creating decent jobs.
They call for an immediate stop to allocating federal funds for the promotion of marriage and fatherhood and for the removal of all references to and allocations for it in future legislation. No more federal money should be diverted from the real needs of children and of families, no matter how they are constituted.

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The House Gets It Right February 28, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the omnibus funding bill–not the budget that the President is sending to Congress today, but a bill appropriating money for federal agencies to keep operating until September 30, the end of fiscal year 2009. The bill now goes to the Senate and could be swiftly signed by the President if there are no amendments to debate.
The omnibus funding bill includes an increase in funds for family planning programs, such as Title X at home, and the United Nations Population Fund abroad. It fixes a problem with the price of birth control for family-planning clinics and student health centers, a problem that meant increased prices for contraception just when we didn’t need increases.
Perhaps most encouraging to CFI supporters of real sex education for adolescents, the omnibus spending bill cuts funds for so-called “abstinence-only sex education” by $14 million.
The bill increases spending on domestic programs by eight percent for the current fiscal year. For reproductive health, they got it right!

Obama gets it right! February 5, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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Although President Obama intends to continue faith-based social service programs, his administration is quite clear about separating religion from public schools.

The so-called stimulus package intended to promote economic recovery passed by the Democrats in the House of Representatives last week bans money for school renovation from being spent on facilities that allow religious worship.Funds may not be used for the “modernization, renovation, or repair” of facilities that allow “sectarian instruction, religious worship, or a school or department of divinity.”

The package passed by the House includes $20 billion for public school infrastructure renovations, of which $6 billion would go to institutions of higher education where the restrictions against divinity schools or departments would apply.

Conservatives groups are expressing outrage at what they see as curbs on religious liberty in higher learning, but constitutional law experts say conservatives don’t have much legal basis for complaint.After all, President Obama himself formerly taught constitutional law.

“In the year of our Lord” unnecessary relic, says CFI Task Force chair February 4, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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The Center for Inquiry is looking forward to how President Obama will strengthen the separation of church and state with his judicial appointments.  In the realm of keeping government neutral in matters of religion, it is important that all branches of government convey a message to nonbelievers and minority religions that they are no less a part of the community than are the majority Christians in our nation.

Thus, while the practice of issuing presidential proclamations designating the year of the proclamation as the “in the year of Our Lord” is not as grave a threat to government neutrality in matters of religion as would be the restoration of official prayers in public schools or exempting religious books from sales tax but imposing those taxes on secular books, it is still a practice that should now be retired.  The phrase “in the year of Our Lord” is the English translation of the Latin “anno domini.”  This is an unambiguous reference to Jesus.

Government is supposed to be neutral as between believer and nonbeliever and as between one religion and another religion.  This phrase shows a predisposition to belief over nonbelief and to Christianity over Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, and all the other minority religions.

Again, this is not the most pressing issue on which the future of secular government versus theocracy balances.  However it is an unnecessary relic of the Christian tradition that, ultimately, should not find expression in official government proclamations.

Edward Tabash

Chair, First Amendment Task Force, Center for Inquiry, Council for Secular Humanism.

Beware these bills! February 2, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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Bills by the hundred are introduced daily in Congress. Many of them concern trivial and local matters like recognition of local heroes and support for specific individuals, but some malicious bills are slipped in, hoping that no-one will notice.

Recent examples are the House and Senate bills S.270 and H.R. 605, mentioned in the following post “When Two Bills Look Alike.”  S.270 and H.R. 605 are two versions of a bill purporting to help pregnant women. Don’t be deceived–these bills are sponsored by Democrats for Life and supported  by the U.S.Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  They don’t provide funds for contraception and real sex education, but refer throughout to “unborn children,” an common anti-abortion tactic to promote an emotional response to pregnancy.  The bills are intended to coerce women into bearing children, whether they want to or not.

Last week another no-good, very bad bill was introduced in the Senate–S.346, sponsored by Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. This bill would extend the protection of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to what are called “preborn persons.”  They mean fetuses, but deliberately don’t use the correct scientific term.  If  by any chance this bill were to become law, it would change the constitution so that a fetus would be a person and abortion would become murder.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of these bills. At the moment they are all three in committee, a common graveyard for unpopular bills. Let’s hope they stay there.

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When two bills look alike February 2, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Commentary.
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When you see two bills whose titles look almost the same, you think they must be the same bill. There’s a bill that’s just been introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R. 605, that says it is intended to “provide for programs that reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.” Looks good—why would anyone oppose such a bill?

But then you find that newspaper editorials and bloggers are praising another bill, which claims to “provide for programs that reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents.” That looks good too. Are they the same bill?

No, they are essentially different. It’s important for secular humanists to know that the first bill is sponsored by Democrats for Life, an anti-abortion group sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. Its shorter title is “The Pregnant Women Support Act.”

The second bill, known for short as “The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” is a significant attempt to seek middle ground between the anti-abortion and pro-choice forces. It is supported by a group called Third Way, which like the Center for Inquiry, brings reason to bear on divisive social problems.

The similar naming of the bills is tactically intended. You’re supposed to be confused and not recognize the differences between them. The first bill (which has a companion in the Senate, S.270) has just been introduced in the 111th Congress (the one that started January 3, 2009) and is now in committee. The other bill was introduced in 2007 during the 110th Congress by Representatives Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Tim Ryan of Ohio and will shortly be introduced again.

We’ll focus on the Ryan-DeLauro bill—remember it’s called “The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.” Its first and major emphasis is on the reduction of unintended pregnancies by education of vulnerable women, involvement of parents, and extending coverage of contraception through Medicaid and Title X of the Public Health Service Act. These provisions follow the logic of contraception: if you want to reduce the number of abortions, prevent pregnancy in the first place.

The Democrats for Life bill doesn’t do that. Although research shows that contraception reduces the probability of abortion by 85%, religious doctrine forces anti-abortion activists to oppose contraception as well as abortion. They also support abstinence-only sex education, which is now widely rejected as a failure.

The language of the Democrats for Life bill betrays its intent: it replaces scientific words such as fetus with “unborn child,” so that pregnant women will have an emotional reaction to their situation. It provides grants for the purchase of ultrasound equipment, widely used in Crisis Pregnancy Centers in coercive attempts to persuade women against abortion.

The Ryan-DeLauro bill is not all about preventing pregnancy or offering abortion services. It embraces a compromise (the Third Way, remember?) by also offering support to women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term, especially students in institutions of higher education. It increases support for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, and the food stamp program, and funds free home visits for teenage and first-time mothers which includes contraceptive counseling.

Watch for the Ryan-DeLauro bill when it is introduced in Congress. Don’t be deceived by similarities in title with the other bill—the Ryan-DeLauro bill combines prevention and support in a positive package that affirms the value of women and children alike.

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Plea for End to the Hyde Amendment January 16, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements, Commentary.
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On December 12, 2008, our OPP director, Toni Van Pelt, was among a group who met with Melody Barnes of the Obama transition team to urge an end to the Hyde Amendment, which restricts access to abortions for women enrolled in Medicaid. After the meeting, the 119 organizations, including the Center for Inquiry,  in the National Network of Abortion funds sent this letter to Ms.Barnes.

Fund abortion. Protect dignity and justice for all women.

January 8, 2009
Melody Barnes
Dear Director Barnes:
Thank you for taking the time to meet with members of the reproductive health and rights community on Friday, December 12, 2008. We appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Obama-Biden Transition Project’s information-gathering process. We look forward to working with you and the new Administration to ensure real reproductive choices for all women.
We wish to underscore the importance of our request that President Obama strike language in his first budget that blocks women’s access to abortion care, including restrictions on abortion funding for Medicaid-eligible women and Native American women (the Hyde Amendment), disabled women covered under Medicare, federal employees and their dependents (FEHB), residents of the District of Columbia, Peace Corps volunteers, and women in federal prisons. Women in the military and military families are also negatively affected by abortion funding bans. Though attached to different funding streams, we consider these restrictions to be a single issue requiring consistent and equal treatment by President Obama.
For more than thirty years, the Hyde Amendment and other funding restrictions have affected the poorest and most vulnerable of low-income Americans, with a disproportionate impact on women of color and immigrant women. The Hyde Amendment denies abortion access to the seven million women of reproductive age who are currently enrolled in Medicaid. These funding restrictions are the most detrimental of all attacks on safe, legal abortion care, and represent a clear violation of low-income women’s human rights.
In addition, abortion funding restrictions marginalize abortion care and disregard the fact that it is an integral part of the continuum of women’s reproductive health care.
By striking funding restrictions, President Obama can place abortion back in the context of health care, thereby setting a new tone and signaling to Congress his commitment to comprehensive women’s health care.
Further, this early commitment will bolster the efforts of our diverse and growing grassroots advocacy campaign as we continue educating the public and Members of Congress about the urgent need for a full repeal of these restrictions. There is precedent for a President who supports reproductive freedom to take this action, and we look forward to working with and supporting President Obama as he takes this step.
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Today, more than ever, low-income women in the United States must have access to the resources that allow them to determine the size and timing of their families. Many of these women are already balancing the demands of jobs, children, school, diminishing paychecks, and the disproportionate burden of an economic downturn. Funding restrictions are often insurmountable obstacles for women with limited resources. Removing them is the first step to true health care reform, to abolishing class- and race-based discrimination, and to placing control, dignity, and self-determination back in the hands of the women to whom it belongs.
The signatories of this letter are members of a diverse and growing coalition of organizations who have come together to fight restrictions on abortion funding in order to ensure true access to abortion for the most marginalized women in our society. The Hyde – 30 Years is Enough! Campaign is coordinated by the National Network of Abortion Funds and was formed to mark the 30th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment in October, 2006. Since that time, the seventy organizations and more than 100 abortion Funds of the Network have worked to educate the public about the impact of funding restrictions and build public support for their repeal. These organizing efforts are successfully laying the groundwork for public support for an end to these damaging and discriminatory restrictions.
We look forward to continuing this conversation with the new Administration and encourage you to contact us with any questions. In the meantime, we thank you again for your commitment to women’s health and well-being.
Sincerely,
National Network of Abortion Funds

Want to find what’s on the CFI/OPP blog? January 8, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Uncategorized.
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If you are using Internet Explorer, in the righthand column of the front page click on Feeds–Full.  You will be able to select by date and title. The posts will be arranged on the left.

Please note: this doesn’t work if you are using Mozilla Firefox. Sorry.

New Feature January 6, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Annoucements.
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Check out our new page “Happening Today”.

Want to live for ever? January 5, 2009

Posted by Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy in Weekly Update.
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Try religion.

A HHS Healthbeat segment from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises “spiritual living.”  A researcher at Yeshiva University looked at eight years of data on 92,000 people in the Women’s Health Initiative database, supported by the National Institutes of Health (that’s the database, not the researcher).

The researcher said: “Those women who said they  attended religious services at least once per week had a 20 percent reduced risk of dying.”

If you want to know more (and who doesn’t want to reduce the risk of dying?), go to http://www.hhs.gov/news/healthbeat/2009/01/20090102a.html.