Ruth Kelly, myth-breaker

Late last year, when Italian philosopher and cabinet minister Rocco Buttiglione was denied the post of European Minister of Justice because his convictions on sexual ethics and marriage were unacceptable to a gaggle of libertine Euro-parliamentarians, there was a certain plausibility to the whole exercise – at least from the point of view of secularists, leftists, and the establishment European media. Buttiglione, after all, was a minister in a center-right Italian government; Buttiglione is a devout, intellectually astute Catholic whose thinking is shaped by natural law reasoning and Catholic moral theology; and it’s an article of faith in the left-leaning worlds of European secularism (which include most of the mainstream Euro-media) that Catholic + conservative = in vitro fascist.

Why, then, has Britain’s Ruth Kelly been getting the Buttiglione Treatment in recent weeks?

Who, you ask, is Ruth Kelly? Let me introduce you.

Born in Northern Ireland in 1968, Ruth Kelly is a graduate of Oxford and the London School of Economics, where she earned a master’s degree in the dismal science. After working as an economics correspondent for the (very left-oriented) Guardian, and later at the Bank of England, Kelly was elected to Parliament at age 29 in 1997 as a Labor Party candidate. Having held a series of sub-cabinet posts, Ruth Kelly was appointed to the cabinet last month by Prime Minister Tony Blair as Education Secretary. (At which point, observers remembered that Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, was another Oxford graduate who’d begun her ministerial career in the department 36-year-old Ruth Kelly now headed.)

Then came the Buttiglione Treatment.

The fact that Ruth Kelly doesn’t conform to certain feminist conventions – she’s a Catholic, a daily communicant, married once, the mother of four small children, and vigorously pro-life – evidently didn’t agree with one fellow-MP (another woman, no less), who labeled Kelly “that cow.” Kelly’s previous decisions to decline the Health and Overseas Development cabinet portfolios because those jobs would have entangled her with contraception and abortion didn’t sit well with the keepers of the feminist flame, either.

The British science establishment quickly went into its default mode in such matters: the Galileo case was back! A senior geneticist, Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge, told newspapers that it was “very worrying” that someone with Kelly’s religious convictions might, in overseeing government funding of scientific research, impede embryo-destructive stem-cell research, thus producing a “schizophrenic” and “confused” situation like that in the United States. (By which adjectives, Dr. Lovell-Badge apparently evidently means a situation in which the law requires that scientific experimentation take place within boundaries that protect innocent human life.) The Times of London summed up this change in the Ruth Kelly indictment by writing that “some MPs [Members of Parliament] fear her religion may cloud her judgment.”

“Cloud” was the give-away, of course. In an objective news story, that sentence would have concluded, “…inform her judgment.” But in the intellectually insular world of European secularism – which has many parallels on this side of the Atlantic – religious faith in general and Catholicism in particular are, by definition, obscurantist and irrational. How could Catholic moral theology “inform” anyone’s judgment? Catholicism, according to the settled mythology of the Euro-secularist left, clouds judgment. Or distorts judgment. Or replaces “judgment” with robotic obedience.

Inflamed by The Da Vinci Code, British conspiracy theorists are in a lather because Ruth Kelly has participated in activities organized by Opus Dei. What really earned Ruth Kelly the Buttiglione Treatment, though, is the fact that she’s a myth-breaker: day by day, her public life refutes the canard that serious public Catholicism in the 21st century means incipient fascism. For who could plausibly accuse this bright and accomplished  trade union member of being – gasp! – one of those dreaded conservatives? Conservatives and former Guardian writers don’t get elected Labor MP for Bolton West.

Ruth Kelly isn’t just a sign of contradiction for Britain’s secular left, though. What will accommodationist Catholic legislators in America – Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Mikulski, for example – make of a popular, competent, liberal, Oxford-certified Catholic woman and politician who’s convinced that Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae got it right?

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”