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Court: Vermont can’t exclude Catholic school student from college tuition program

Denver Newsroom, Jan 20, 2021 / 12:23 am (CNA).- A federal court of appeals has sided with a Catholic high school student who challenged a State of Vermont policy that excludes students at private religious secondary schools from a no-cost college credit program.

“Today’s decision levels the playing field by ensuring that Vermont parents and students who have chosen a faith-based education can enjoy the same publicly available opportunities as their neighbors,” Jake Warner, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said Jan. 19.

Amy Hester, a senior at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, is a plaintiff in the case with her parents and the Catholic Diocese of Burlington, which runs the school.

As a student at a private religious high school, Hester was excluded from the Vermont Education Agency’s Dual Enrollment Program. The program allows high school students to take college courses with tuition paid by the state. Students from public schools are eligible, as are students from secular private schools and homeschooled students.

The State of Vermont pays tuition for dual enrollment credit directly to the post-secondary institution, and makes no payments to high schools at all. Religiously affiliated colleges that offer religious coursework can take part in the dual enrollment program and so receive state funding.

While a lower court rejected a request for a preliminary injunction against the policy, Hester has “a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment claim,” Judge John M. Walker Jr. of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said Jan. 17, as reported by the Vermont newspaper the Battleboro Reformer.

Judge Steven Menashi, in a concurring decision, said Hester had a clear likelihood of successfully arguing that her exclusion from the dual enrollment program “violates her First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.”

The court ordered the Vermont Secretary of Education to allow Hester to participate in the program. It granted a preliminary injunction pending the final resolution of the case.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys, including those from the Alliance Defending Freedom religious freedom legal group, welcomed the decision.

“Vermont officials can’t treat people of faith as second-class citizens by excluding them from generally available public benefits,” Warner said. “When the government allows same-district students from public schools, secular private schools, and homeschools to participate in its dual enrollment program but excludes only students from religious private schools, it discriminates against religious students.”

Thomas E. McCormick, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Battleboro Reformer that the ruling would impact students who live in a town without a public high school and instead attend an approved independent high school.

The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice had filed a brief supporting the student’s claim that the rule violates the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution. The dual enrollment program is open to “similarly situated schools and students attending such schools.”

“(R)eligious entities and their adherents cannot be excluded from or disadvantaged under public programs and benefits based on their religious character,” the brief said.

The appellate court had granted a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs on Aug. 5, citing a recent Supreme Court decision that could further change the legal thinking about funding for religious private schools.

In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Montana state constitution’s ban on public funding of religious institutions violated the First Amendment and constituted “discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them.” The case concerned a 2015 state scholarship program funded by tax credits that state officials had said could not be used by students at religious schools.

Did you miss us on Sunday? Or want to remember what we prayed?




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Pause for Prayer: WEDNESDAY 1/20

 On this Inauguration Day I offer you this excerpt from a prayer written in 1791 by John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore.
We pray you, O God of might, wisdom, and justice,
through whom authority is rightly administered, 
laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, 
assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude 
the President and Vice President of these United States, 
that their administration may be conducted in righteousness, 
and be eminently useful to your people, over whom they preside; 
by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; 
by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; 
and by restraining vice and immorality.
Let the light of your divine wisdom 
direct the deliberations of Congress, 
and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws 
framed for our rule and government, 
so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, 
the promotion of national happiness, 
the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; 
and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.  
We pray for the governor of this state, 
for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, 
and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, 
that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, 
to discharge the duties of their respective stations 
with honesty and ability. 
We recommend likewise, to your unbounded mercy, 
all our fellow citizens throughout the United States,  
that we may be blessed in the knowledge 
and sanctified in the observance of your most holy law; 
that we may be preserved in union, 
and in that peace which the world cannot give; 
and after enjoying the blessings of this life, 
be admitted to those which are eternal. 
(Here's the full text of Carroll's prayer.)


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This pro-life Democrat is worried about the next Catholic president

Denver Newsroom, Jan 19, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- A former U.S. representative who was known as one of the last standing pro-life Democrats in Congress said he is worried about the example a Catholic president who is also pro-abortion will have on young Catholics. 

“I'm afraid that there's a lot of talk about Joe Biden being our second Catholic president,” said Dan Lipinski, a former U.S. representative for the third district of Illinois, on the southwest side of Chicago.

“It's going to be very clear early on if he does move on the executive orders, with respect to abortion, that's going to be very problematic, especially as a Catholic.”

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to repeal several pro-life policies put in place by the Trump administration, including the Protect Life Rule and the expanded Mexico City Policy. Biden has also pledged to repeal the Hyde Amendment and codify Roe v. Wade into law.

Among other things, these changes would allow for taxpayer funding to groups that perform abortions, both domestically and overseas. 

Lipinski said that his own Catholic faith influenced him during the 16 years he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, including by shaping his pro-life beliefs. Lipinksi was known as one of the last standing pro-life Democrats in Congress, voting against the party line on numerous legislative issues involving abortion.

“I knew that I was never going to change my position on abortion and in protecting lives. I knew that from the beginning,” Lipinski said in an interview with CNA, citing his Catholic faith in influencing his pro-life convictions.

“Honestly I just never believed that it was worthwhile to protect a seat in Congress, to protect my position in Congress, no matter how much I loved the job and was honored to represent the people of the third district. It just wasn't worth it to me to give up what I knew was right.”

Lipinski said he believes Catholics should allow their faith to influence all aspects of their lives.

“We all fall short, but we're all called to always, in everything we do, put our Catholic faith first and have that really inspire and guide what we do,” he said. “Certainly that extends to life as an elected official.”

While some Catholics argue that they are personally pro-life, but do not want to impose their values on other people, Lipinksi rejected this line of thinking.

“If you truly believe that the baby in the womb is a human person, can't compromise that away. You can't say, ‘well, not everyone believes that, so I'm not going to support that.’ You have to do everything you can to protect that life,” he said.

At the end of his time in Congress, Lipinksi was one of the sole Democrats opposing the party’s abortion stance. But it wasn’t always that way.

He remembers having several pro-life, Democratic colleagues during his first years in the House.

“I was still in the minority, but I always like to point out to people that back in 2009, the first time the Affordable Care Act - or Obamacare - passed the House, there was the Stupak–Pitts Amendment.”

The Stupack-Pitts Amendment prevented taxpayer dollars from being spent on elective abortion or insurance that covered elective abortion, and Lipinski said 64 Democrats voted for it.

“I think there may be a handful, a small handful, of Democrats who would support that in the House today,” he said. “With my loss last year and Collin Peterson in Minnesota, there really are no Democrats left that are 100% pro-life.”

“I'm very concerned about the direction the party has gone when it comes to the abortion issue, when it comes to family issues, protection of religious liberty,” he said. “The party really needs to … at the very least recognize people who are pro-life and respect their position, and at the very least not support taxpayer funding of abortion.”

Lipinski lost his seat last March in a primary race against Marie Newman, after pro-abortion groups contributed to a coalition giving more than $1.4 million in funding to Newman. 

The congressman said the night he knew he lost the primary was difficult for him. But he actually remembers the next day best.

“The next day I had people contacting me and thanking me for standing up for my principles, staying true to my Catholic faith, and I knew that God was calling me to something bigger,” he said. 

Lipinski said he is working on a book about being Catholic in the public square today, “and encouraging Catholics to stay true to their Catholic faith in a world right now that’s very tough and a very bipolar, tribal society where Catholics don't fit in neatly to either two tribes.” 

The book is an extension of a commencement address he delivered at Ave Maria University in 2019.

“As a former college professor, I especially want to reach out to young Catholics. I think these days, especially,” Lipinski said. “They need to have good examples, and they're really thirsting for a better understanding of what it means to be Catholic, and encouragement to be Catholic.”

“We are a very divided country right now. Catholics don't fit neatly into either party. I think that Catholics have really an opportunity to be a witness for every aspect of Catholic social teaching,” he said. “Obviously, the right to life is the most important, but the dignity of every individual, and what the government can do to uphold that dignity in a lot of different ways.”

This interview originally aired on Catholic News Agency’s podcast, CNA Newsroom. It has been adapted for print. 

Connecticut assisted suicide bill would not safeguard against coercion, opponents say

Hartford, Conn., Jan 19, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- Disability advocates criticized a Connecticut assisted suicide bill for failing to safeguard against coercion and for promoting the idea that the terminally ill are a burden on their caregivers.

“No amount of safeguards can counter the social stigma of needing help with intimate care, of having to rely on others for support, of seeing your caregivers are tired, and wondering whether the world would be better off without you,” Cathy Ludlum told the Hartford Courant.

Ludlum is the leader of Second Thoughts Connecticut, a group of disability advocates who oppose assisted suicide.

She added that the timing of the bill was suspect, as constituents are not allowed to gather and share their testimonies at public hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One has to wonder why you’re pushing it through during COVID-19 when constituents have less access to legislators and public hearings,” she said.

Various assisted suicide bills have been proposed in the state starting in 2013, though none have been passed into law.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D), co-chair of the state legislature’s public health committee, told the Hartford Courant that this bill was a priority for his committee, and that “nothing of real consequence” had been changed in the bill since its previous introduction other than some tweaks that reflect “some of the learning we’ve had from experience of other states.” Assisted suicide is when a patient is given lethal drugs by their doctor that they must administer to themselves in order to end their life. It is legal in nine U.S. states, including California, Oregon, Colorado, and Maine, as well as in the District of Columbia.

Typical requirements that must be met for a patient to be allowed to request assisted suicide include mental competency, a prognosis of six months or fewer to live, and the approval of at least two doctors, though these requirements vary by state. Disability groups are frequently vocal opponents of assisted suicide legislation, which they argue targets vulnerable populations including the disabled, the ill, the elderly, and the poor. Patients rights advocacy groups have also pointed to cases in which ill patients were offered assisted suicide instead of treatment because it was the cheapest option.

Thomas E. Sullivan, a cardiologist in Massachusetts, told the Hartford Courant that one of the main reasons people request assisted suicide is because they feel they are a burden on their caregivers. Other reasons people frequently give include loneliness, depression, dementia, and a loss of control. But instead of offering to kill these patients, they should be cared for by “physiatrists and other disability care specialists and when appropriate, the role of hospice, palliative and compassionate experts who routinely perform these functions in a most humane manner,” Sullivan said. In written testimony for a 2019 bill in Connecticut that proposed legalized physician assisted suicide, provided to CNA, Ludlum said she feared that people with disabilities would be disproportionately nudged toward assisted suicide instead of being provided with appropriate psychological and emotional support. Under that year’s legislation, Ludlum said she could be considered a candidate for assisted suicide, because without a feeding tube and respiratory support, she likely would die. “What is to prevent someone like me from showing up at a doctor’s office and saying, ‘I have had enough. I will be stopping all my treatment’?” she said.

Ludlum said she was concerned that someone with a disability “would be more likely to get compassionate nods of approval” for assisted suicide, rather than offers of psychological help or palliative care.

Steinburg told the Hartford Courant that he did not think the disability community did “a particularly good job of either reading the actual language of the bill nor having evaluated the actual experience of states that have passed such legislation, where I’ve yet to see any real significant pattern of abuse, of coercion.”
“We’re talking about a very small population of terminally ill patients, not the disabled community. We go out of our way in the language to do everything we can to assure that no family member or friend is coercing the person involved. So it really disappoints me that they continue to, in my mind, blindly oppose this legislation,” he added. Lisa Blumberg, a Hartford-area attorney, told the Hartford Courant that she opposed the bill because the language of the bill only took into account the patient’s competence for choosing assisted suicide at the time of the prescription of the drugs, instead of at the moment when they would take them. “We don’t know if a patient is competent when he takes them. We don’t know if he is having bad day. We don’t know anything. We cannot afford to just have faith,” she said.



The night before seems sometimes 
as important as the day to follow:
Christmas Eve
New Year's Eve
the Night Before the Fourth... 
Tomorrow's an important day, Lord,
and tonight's Inauguration Eve
and so we come to you in prayer...
Keep watch tonight, Lord,
over all the people of America
and all who depend on our nation 
for security and help...

Keep watch through this night, O Lord,
over the hearts of all Americans:
   hearts filled with new hope
   hearts heavy with disappointment
   hearts swelling with pride
   hearts hard with anger
   hearts determined to succeed
   hearts bent on resistance
   hearts fearful of the future
   hearts ready to begin again 
   hearts divided, confused and unsure
   hearts united, in trust, in you...
On this eve of the inauguration
and through the night ahead,
we pray you move in our hearts, Lord,
with mercy, blessing, peace and healing,
and every other gift we need
to face, to live, to fulfill the day 
that waits to dawn tomorrow...

Protect us all, Lord, while we're awake
and watch over us as we sleep
that awake, we may keep watch with you
and asleep, rest in your peace...

Lord, Keep Us Safe by Darren Bartlett


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Cathedral in Ohio vandalized with message 'Jesus is Black'

Toledo, Ohio, Jan 19, 2021 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- Police in Toledo, Ohio are investigating an arson attack on Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral involving an attempted fire and a spray-painted message on the outer walls reading “Jesus is Black.”

A man whom police identified as a suspect in the vandalism attack fatally shot a Toledo police officer Monday afternoon during a standoff at his home, police say.

Suspect Christopher Harris shot and killed 24-year-old Officer Brandon Stalker as Stalker attempted to arrest Harris, local media reported. Stalker leaves behind a fiancee and a child.

Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo on Tuesday afternoon issued a statement expressing “profound sorrow” at the officer’s death.

“Together with all people of good will, I am deeply grateful for the selfless generosity of the men and women in uniform who daily risk their own lives to protect and serve us all. Together, may we all commit ourselves to increased prayer and action to bring about an end to violence and all its underlying causes,” Thomas wrote.

“May Officer Brandon Stalker rest in the arms of our loving Father.”

The initial vandalism incident, which left an estimated $5,000 in damage, happened shortly before 2:30 am Jan. 18, WTOL11 reported. A neighbor said he saw a lone man outside the church, and called the police when he saw the fire.

According to WTOL11, fire crews on the scene did not find active flames, but did find evidence of a flash fire at the front entry doors which had extinguished itself. The fire damage was confined to the outer doors and trim.

The Diocese of Toledo in a Jan. 19 statement issued before media reports of the shooting thanked first responders and encouraged anyone with information about the incident to contact the Toledo Police Department.

“We are alarmed and heartsick by what occurred at the mother church of the Diocese of Toledo, a sacred building, a house of worship and an historical, architectural and spiritual treasure,” the statement read.

“As the damage to the Cathedral is assessed, there is an ongoing investigation to determine whether the acts were religious, racial or ethnic in nature and we will continue to cooperate with authorities...Together with all Catholics, Christians and people of faith we denounce any such acts of vandalism.”

Several incidents of racially-motivated graffiti left on church buildings have been reported throughout the United States since last summer, when protests erupted throughout the country in response to the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on June 1, 2020 was tagged with various graffiti, including profanities, “No justice, no peace,” and “BLM” (Black Lives Matter).” The name of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in May 2020, was also written on the stairs outside the cathedral.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver was defaced with graffiti during a racially-charged protest the same day, with rioters spray-painting slogans such as “GOD IS DEAD” and “PEDOFILES” [sic] on the church’s exterior.

St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon, California on Sept. 25, 2020 was defaced with graffiti depicting “pentagrams, upside down crosses, white power, swastikas,” as well as slogans such as “Biden 2020,” and “BLM”.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral was again targeted Jan. 1 by protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter Brooklyn and Justice for George, the New York Post reported. Police found the phrase “ACAB,” a derogatory phrase aimed at police, spray painted on the church.




US recognizes China’s treatment of Uyghurs as ‘genocide’

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 19, 2021 / 11:18 am (CNA).- The United States has declared that the Chinese government’s actions against the Uyghur population amount to genocide and crimes against humanity.

“I have determined that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet posted shortly after noon on January 19.

“These acts are an affront to the Chinese people and to civilized nations everywhere,” said Pompeo, on his last full day as secretary of state. “The People's Republic of China and the CCP must be held to account.”

The Chinese government admitted in October 2018 that “re-education camps” for members of the Uyghur Muslim population had been established in Xingjiang. The camps were first spotted on satellite imagery in 2017.

The highest estimate sets the total number of inmates in the camps at 3 million, plus approximately half a million minor children in special boarding schools for “re-education” purposes. Survivors have reported indoctrination, forced abortions, beatings, forced labor, and torture in the camps.

In a statement published to the Department of State website, Pompeo further outlined his allegations against the People’s Republic of China.

“After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that since at least March 2017, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has committed crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” said Pompeo.

He specifically cited the “arbitrary imprisonment” of more than a million Uyghurs; the continued use of forced sterilization, torture, and forced labor; and “the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.”

Pompeo said he believes “this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state.”

“The governing authorities of the second most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remold the international system in their image,” he said.

Pompeo, speaking on behalf of the United States, called for the People’s Republic of China to “immediately release all arbitrary detained persons” and to “abolish its system of internment, detention camps, house arrest and forced labor; cease coercive population control measures, including forced sterilizations, forced abortion, forced birth control, and the removal of children from their families; end all torture and abuse in places of detention; end the persecution of Uyghurs and other members of religious and ethnic minority groups in Xinjiang and elsewhere in China, and afford Uyghurs and other persecuted minorities the freedom to travel and emigrate.”

The secretary of state also requested that “all appropriate multilateral and relevant judicial bodies” to work alongside the United States “to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities.” The Department of State will continue to investigate the situation in Xinjiang, he said, and will make this evidence available to other authorities as well.

The sanctions against those who are promoting atrocities in Xinjiang will remain, said Pompeo.

“The United States has worked exhaustively to pull into the light what the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi Jinping wish to keep hidden through obfuscation, propaganda, and coercion,” said Pompeo.

“Beijing’s atrocities in Xinjiang represent an extreme affront to the Uyghurs, the people of China, and civilized people everywhere. We will not remain silent. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future,” he said.

The Trump administration in recent months has cracked down on imports from China suspected to be produced with forced labor.

In August, President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign stated that the treatment of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang amounted to genocide.

“The unspeakable oppression that Uighurs and other ethnic minorities have suffered at the hands of China’s authoritarian government is genocide and Joe Biden stands against it in the strongest terms,” said campaign spokesman Andrew Bates at that time.

Joe Biden invites congressional leadership to church service ahead of inauguration

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2021 / 10:45 am (CNA).- President-elect Joe Biden invited both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to attend a church service with him on Wednesday morning ahead of his inauguration, Punchbowl News reported on Tuesday. 


The service will take place at the Catholic Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in downtown Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are all expected to attend. 


Biden will be just the second baptized Catholic to serve as president of the United States, preceded only by John F. Kennedy. Pelosi herself is also a baptized Catholic. 


A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the service, including whether or not the service was a Mass. 


Punchbowl News characterized the invitation as an olive branch from Biden to Republicans, in an effort for him “to get off on the right foot with the congressional leadership, at least publicly” as he begins his presidential term. 


McConnell and Schumer will switch Senate leadership roles after Democrats gained an effective majority in the chamber; Georgia’s two new Democratic Senators-elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock will be sworn in to the Senate on Wednesday, along with California’s Alex Padilla, who was appointed to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate. 



.@WashArchbishop Cardinal Gregory is set to deliver the invocation at a memorial service for those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 before this Wednesday’s inauguration.

— DC Archdiocese (@WashArchdiocese) January 18, 2021  


Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, will also deliver the invocation at a memorial service at the Lincoln Memorial on Tuesday to honor the nearly 400,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. Biden and Harris are expected to attend.  

Biden taps supporter of contraceptive mandate to HHS position

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2021 / 10:25 am (CNA).- President-elect Joe Biden will nominate a supporter of the contraceptive mandate to a top position at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), he announced on Tuesday.


On Tuesday, Biden announced that he would nominate Dr. Rachel Levine, a biological man identifying as a transgender woman who has served as Pennsylvania’s health secretary since 2017, to be HHS Assistant Secretary for Health. Before serving as Pennsylvania’s health secretary, Levine served as the state’s physician general.


Levine has been outspoken on social issues, supporting gender-transition surgery and the contraceptive mandate while opposing a proposed 20-week abortion ban.


Levine’s nomination to HHS, along with that of Health Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra, signals that social issues could be priorities at the agency for the next several years. These might include pro-LGBTQ policies, funding of abortion providers, and religious freedom conflicts with Catholic organizations.


Regarding the Obama-era HHS contraceptive mandate, Levine in 2017 called it “immoral and unethical” to allow for religious exemptions to the mandate. Hundreds of non-profits and businesses—including the Little Sisters of the Poor—had objected to the mandate and the Obama administration’s opt-out process for objecting non-profits.


After the Trump administration announced in 2017 that religious employers and other organizations morally opposed to the contraceptive mandate could receive exemptions from it, Levine issued a sharp statement in opposition.


“It is immoral and unethical to give any employer the ability to take away access to health care from an entire gender,” Levine said as Pennsylvania’s acting health secretary, in 2017. “We cannot allow women's health to be reduced to one issue or be jeopardized in any way.”


Levine also wrote an op-ed against the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama-era rules on transgender accommodation.


In Feb., 2017, the Trump administration said it would stop defending the Obama administration’s transgender bathroom policy in court; the policy had directed schools to allow students to use gender-specific bathrooms according to their gender identity, and not their biological sex.


In an op-ed for the Patriot-News, Levine wrote that “[t]he decision by the Trump administration to roll back the most basic protections for transgender and gender expansive youth is heartbreaking.”


“To Pennsylvania's transgender and gender expansive youth and their families who are worried or concerned, I want you to know that Governor Wolf's administration has your back,” Pennsylvania’s then-physician general wrote.


In 2016, Levine spoke out against a 20-week abortion ban that criminalized abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. The bill also banned the “dilation and evacuation” abortion procedure.


Levine said at the time that the bill “punishes women whose pregnancies have complications.”


“Women and their families, when faced with a devastating diagnosis of a significant fetal anomaly, have the right to make the decision which is appropriate for them, in consultation with their doctors,” Levine said.


Levine’s family moved their mother out of a personal care home early in the COVID-19 pandemic, because of the high spread of the virus; the decision invited some media scrutiny.


Levine was also questioned for the state’s policy of requiring nursing homes to accept recovering COVID patients from hospitals, although the state health secretary responded that asymptomatic staff at the homes—not patients discharged from hospitals—were the primary spreaders of the virus there.


If Levine is confirmed to HHS, along with Becerra, they together could craft policy to influence a number of issues including abortion, gender-transition surgery, and the contraceptive mandate.  


While California’s attorney general, Becerra fought aggressively in favor of an abortion coverage mandate that religious employers were not exempt from, and continued the prosecution of pro-life activist David Daleiden.


If confirmed as Health Secretary, Becerra—a Catholic—could reignite a number of Obama-era policies that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Catholic groups were opposed to.


These might include resurrecting court battles with the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Catholic groups that opposed the Obama administration’s procedure by which to “opt out” of the contraceptive mandate. The groups said that the policy still required them to provide coverage for contraceptives through their employee health plans, which they morally objected to.


Other HHS policies could include re-imposing the full transgender mandate—a requirement that doctors perform gender-transition surgery upon the referral of a mental health professional—and various requirements of religious groups that receive HHS grants, such as adoption agencies having to match children with same-sex couples.