Stemming the opposition

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For the third time, the Obama White House has taken the quiet approach to hot-button Life Issue by making its intentions known late of a Friday afternoon. On January 23, there was its decision to reverse the so-called Mexico City policy of not funding international agencies that provide abortions or information on obtaining them. On February 27, there was the announcement that it would review the so-called Conscience Clause, permitting health care workers to refuse to provide care on religious grounds. And two days ago came the expected announcement of its reversal of the Bush administration’s ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Yep, there’s a pattern here.

Naturally, the pro-life community hasn’t missed what’s going on and isn’t happy about it, but the larger ongoing question for all of us has to do with how much deference the state owes religious scruples. We’ve long since had to respect religious scruples when it comes to children saying the Pledge of Allegiance and conscientious objectors serving in the armed forces. But religious pacifists don’t get to withhold that portion of their federal taxes that go to the Defense Department. Political, ethical, and prudential judgments are involved as well as points of constitutional, statutory, and common law.

In the stem cell case, two Obamaite religious figures, Thomas Reese, S.J. and Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary, offer common ground approaches in today’s WaPo “On Faith” chatathon. Meanwhile, on hand for the White House ceremony announcing the reversal tomorrow will be Sen. Orrin Hatch, the conservative Republican whose support for embryonic stem cell research has been staunch. Like most other Mormon politicians, Hatch is untroubled by religious scruples because LDS doctrine holds that ensouled life does not begin until the above-pictured agglomeration of cells known as a blastocyst implants in the womb, and embryos used in stem cell research are obtained prior to implantation. This is annoying to Catholic and Protestant pro-lifers, but hey, that’s Mormonism for you.