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What an abortifacient is -- and what it isn't

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"One of the well known truisms in ethics is that good moral judgments depend in part on good facts."

So wrote Dr. Ron Hamel, senior director of ethics for the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) in the January-February 2010 issue of their journal Health Progress.

This edition of Health Progress focused on emergency contraception, particularly on the just treatment of women who check into hospital emergency rooms after suffering rape.

Why the bishops will never be satisfied

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When Archbishop Timothy Dolan's initial reaction to President Barack Obama's compromise on the contraception mandate was "It's a step in the right direction," I knew it was too good to be true.

I knew this because, the night before the compromise was announced, I had listened carefully to Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the USCCB, imply that the bishops were seeking conscience exemptions for far more entities than Catholic institutions. As he said on PBS's "Newshour," the exemptions should cover "both religious employers and employers with religious people running them or other people of conviction who are running them."

Church's ban on contraception starves families and damages ecosystem

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Editor's note: Starting this week, Jamie Manson's column, Grace on the Margins, will be posted on Mondays.

As the battle over contraception coverage raged in our national debate last week, a small report on "PBS NewsHour" demonstrated the devastating effects that the Catholic church's ban on contraception has on poor nations.

The unconscionable consequences of conscience exemptions

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Of all of the reactions that I've read to the Department of Health and Human Service's refusal to change the rules on contraception coverage, I've noticed that few commentators have referred to the formal name of the government mandate the bishops are fighting.

The provision is called the Affordable Care Act. This new law is intended to ensure the just treatment of women and couples who cannot afford adequate medical treatment when it comes to contraceptives and who want to raise families in a safe, responsible manner.

Guns and poses: violent women dominate movies this month

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Is it me, or are a lot of young women kicking butt on the silver screen lately?

Today, not one, but two movies will be released that promise to deliver female lead characters with a supernatural command of martial arts and some very big guns.

The trailer to the forthcoming Haywire opens with a question: "She is our nation's most valuable weapon, so why did they betray her?"

Next, we see actress Gina Carano's character talking to a brute who is trying to coerce her into his car. After he strikes her, she retaliates with a series of sweep kicks, punches and, finally, a slap in the face with a gun that sends his teeth flying.

But that's only the beginning. What follows is a manic montage of Carano's extraordinary acts of violence against men. One is strangled, one is shot in the neck at close range, and another, after being knocked out, gets a steel storefront gate dropped across his abdomen. "You'd better run," Carano snarls at the trailer's conclusion.

Churches seek -- and find -- greater exemptions from employment laws

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They receive millions each year in state and federal aid.

They pay no taxes on their profits or on their houses of worship.

And now they want special exemptions from civil rights laws.

On Thursday, five U.S. bishops, including Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, deepened their union with right-wing religious organizations by signing an open letter titled "Marriage and Religious Freedom: Fundamental Goods that Stand or Fall Together."

The missive, which is addressed to religious leaders and "all Americans," is the latest addition to the ongoing push by conservative religious leaders to maintain what they see as their right to discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples.

Pushing away the marginalized to reach out to the fringe

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If Cardinal Francis George has proven anything over these past few weeks, it's not that he can tell the difference between white pride and gay pride.

When the cardinal attempted to make a connection between those fighting for equal rights for LGBT persons and those fighting for the right to assert the supremacy of the white race, he also demonstrated that he needs a history lesson.

In Uganda, sisters see education as key to empowerment

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Part two of a series. Read the first installment here.

In 2002, when Sisters of Mercy Margaret Farley and Eileen Hogan were assisting in the planning the first All Africa Conference: Sister to Sister (AACSS) program in Nairobi, Kenya, they could not have foreseen that, a decade later, they would be as active as ever in 13 countries throughout the continent.

Confronting AIDS in Africa, one sister at a time

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This column is part one of a series.

After a long career in the academy, most scholars look forward to a retirement free of the demands of teaching, writing and traveling.

For Margaret Farley, life as Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale University has meant deepening her commitment to confronting the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the continent of Africa.

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