Texas Lawmaker Goes to Bat for Embattled Pro-Lifers

by Stephen Wynne  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 27, 2018   

Backing follows bishops' ban on state's top right-to-life group

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AUSTIN (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Lone Star State lawmaker is pushing back against a Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) rebuke of the state's oldest pro-life group.

In a letter to Dallas Bp. Edward Burns on Monday, Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a pro-life Catholic, denounced the TCCB's recent "Parish Advisory" against Texas Right to Life (TRTL).

On Tuesday, Church Militant spoke with Rep. Rinaldi about the bishops' statement. The Dallas County Republican lamented the advisory as "inaccurate" and "confusing to pro-life Catholics," saying it will prove "discouraging to pro-life volunteers for the largest, strongest pro-life group in Texas."

Rinaldi told Church Militant he finds the attack especially strange, as it faults TRTL for championing pro-life measures similar to a dismemberment abortion ban recently backed by a series of state Catholic Conferences (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nebraska, Kansas, Michigan, West Virginia and Maryland). He expressed doubt the bishops would intentionally deceive Texas Catholics, instead suggesting they may be getting bad advice from lay staff inside the TCCB.

In his letter to Bp. Burns, Rinaldi called on "each of the TCCB's member clergy in the coming weeks to conduct a personal investigation of the facts without using the TCCB's lay staff as an intermediary." He also offered to facilitate a meeting between TCCB clergy and Texas Right to Life staff to close the breach opened by the bishop's statement.

Consistent with Catholic teaching, Texas Right to Life regards abortion — all abortion — as an intrinsic evil that demands resistance, not compromise.

Issued February 22, the statement severed ties with TRTL, warning parishes "not to participate in their activities or allow the organization to use parish sites" and listing three reasons for the TRTL ban:

  1. Conflicts on pro-life reform. The bishops complained the group "often opposes the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and has implied that the bishops do not faithfully represent Church teaching." Texas Right to Life rejects the bishops' "incrementalism" as a halting, soft approach.
  2. Conflicts on end-of-life reform. The bishops slammed TRTL's messaging on end-of-life care and advance directives as "misstatements."
  3. Texas Right to Life's voter guide. The group publishes an annual voter guide scoring Texas lawmakers according to their pro-life record. The bishops have denounced the guide as built on unfair analysis, and they maintain "a number of legislators who have consistently voted for pro-life and end of life legislation have been opposed by Texas Right to Life."

But political insiders suggest something else is at work, here. Texas Right to Life, headed by outspoken Catholic Jim Graham, is known for its no-holds-barred approach, exposing and condemning GOP Establishment leaders who obstruct pro-life legislation. The bishops, meanwhile — members of the Church Establishment — are cozy with Texas RINOs (Republicans in Name Only); Texas Right to Life's criticism, insiders say, threatens these political allies.

Texas Representative John Raney

Compounding the controversy, the TCCB's "parish advisory" came just days after another pro-life group, Texas Alliance for Life (TAFL), issued its own condemnation of Texas Right to Life for censuring state Rep, John Raney.

In its February 19 statement, TAFL described Raney as "a pro-life champion with an outstanding voting record," noting the Brazos County Republican "scored 100% on Texas Alliance for Life's Legislative Scorecard in 2017." But TAFL defends Raney for voting against a measure which would have banned late-term abortion in cases of "severe fetal abnormality."

It's here that the contrast between TAFL and TRTL comes into focus. Some observers characterize TAFL as weak on key life issues. For example, it justified Raney's vote, dismissing the proposed late-term abortion ban because it targeted cases when "the developing baby has a fatal condition that will cause the baby to die before birth or shortly after birth."

"Of the 55,287 abortions in Texas in 2015," TAFL argued, "only 16 fit that category."

But TRTL fought for the ban, insisting a bill that could save 16 unborn babies from being sliced apart or poisoned in the womb — regardless of how long they might live after their birth — is worth passing.

Texas Right to Life saw Raney's vote differently:

Raney was one of several liberal Republicans to support elective abortions on preborn children with disabilities. Because of an insidious loophole, current Texas laws do not protect unborn children with disabilities from late abortions, the point of development when these precious babies can feel the torturous pain of the procedure. The state protects all other unborn children from abortion after 20 weeks. During the 85th Legislature ... Raney blindly followed liberal House leadership to oppose and kill the amendment.

This "anti-Life vote has haunted Raney with grassroots as he faces three challengers in the upcoming Republican Primary Election," TRTL added.

Representative Rinaldi, meanwhile, is pushing Texas bishops to reconcile with TRTL. "I ask the TCCB to consider rescinding the inaccurate and deeply political advisory, which obfuscates the life issues for pro-life Catholics, further divides the pro-life movement and distances us from our common goal of eliminating abortion in Texas," he wrote in his letter Monday.

Consistent with Catholic teaching, Texas Right to Life regards abortion — all abortion — as an intrinsic evil that demands resistance, not compromise. Increasingly, the group's steadfast commitment to this principle is yielding enemies and allies; in the wake of last week's advisory, faithful Texas Catholics are questioning why their bishops are aligning its foes.

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