A conflict of interest? New Mexico Catholic Conference lobbyist's self-interest

The 1500-strong, pro-life rally at the New Mexico State Capitol on January 22, 2014 received only passing mention in the media and, to the extent that it did, was given an interesting spin.  The New Mexican’s coverage opened with: “New Mexico’s three Catholic bishops made no mention Wednesday of the legalization of same-sex marriage when they met with dozens of state lawmakers. Instead, the bishops focused their attention on five other measures, notably a constitutional amendment that would pour about $100 million more each year into early-childhood education.”[i]
 
What was this?  In addition to his work as a lobbyist for the New Mexico Catholic Conference, Allen Sanchez is the president and CEO of St. Joseph Community Health (SJCH).  This is an organization that was founded with (and largely runs on) money from the sale of St. Joseph’s hospital in Albuquerque…although Sanchez’ “compensation” comes from Catholic Health Initiative, a multi-state health system.
 
SJCH has three objectives, namely home visits, an “enhanced” referral service, and advocacy. 
 
These three areas of activity are related.  SJCH’s home visit program is modeled after a Los Alamos Foundation program called First Born.  First Born intervenes early in new parents’ lives with weekly visits, providing support of numerous kinds.  Among the outcomes of the First Born programs is “An increase in the number of resilient parents who… do not have unintended pregnancies.”  This would suggest birth control counseling.  
 
Now, SJCH only says that it models its own home visit program after First Born.  Nowhere does SJCH say that its program contains family planning counseling and, as SJCH does not receive government money, there’s no reason it should. However, we come to the last objective of SJCH: advocacy.  In 2013, this advocacy had two interests, one of which was lobbying for a constitutional amendment to allow income from the NM Land Grant Permanent Fund to be used for Early Childhood Development Programs.
 
The proposed legislation does not specify which programs it would support but from Allen Sanchez’ remarks after the pro-life Mass, it would seem he is forwarding the Los Alamos Foundation’s studies and practical conclusions – which are from a secular perspective – as a basis for placing the New Mexico Catholic Conference and the force of the pro-life community not only behind this legislation but behind the First Born program or something similar.
As Sanchez is one of the primary proponents of this legislation - and may even stand to benefit from it, through the work of SJCH - this raises several concerns.
 
The first is that, as the Church learned with the HHS Mandate debacle, government programs have their own value system and do not operate according to Church or to pro-life values.  There is no guarantee (and every expectation) that, like the First Born program, any state-supported early childhood development intervention will include family planning counseling and all that signifies. (One can foresee other consequences that would have moral implications, as well, but this one is the most obvious.)
 
Secondly, the Church, as reflected by the New Mexico Catholic Conference, appears to be abdicating the formation of young families to a secular system.  However well-intentioned such a system may be, it further insinuates the (godless) government intimately into the lives of citizens – who will NOT be taught sacrificial fidelity or the inviolable dignity of each human person or any of a million, subtle other truths that have far more real-world impact on poverty and human development than mere “healthcare.”  
 
Thirdly, while one may appreciate the “seamless garment” line of reasoning that there are many urgent and important “pro-life” considerations besides abortion and contraception (and euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research), the pro-life community was called together at the state capitol in sad commemoration of Roe v Wade and the millions of abortions that have resulted in its wake.  Usurpation of this event for another agenda is no more appropriate then if pro-lifers were to use a wage-theft rally for anti-abortion purposes.  
 
Finally, the political supporters of this constitutional amendment seem to be mostly pro-abortion, progressive Democrats (many Catholic).  The New Mexican’s coverage of the state’s 2014 pro-life rally and the New Mexican bishops’ involvement was all about the proposed constitutional amendment – nothing about abortion.  Has there been a concerted effort among interested parties to push this amendment forward with as little public discussion as possible?  .
 
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of the four-volume 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organzing among Religious Bodies.
 
[i] Milan Simonich, “Bishops weigh in on early education, marijuana; mum on gay marriage,” The New Mexican, 1-22-14 http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/legislature/bishops-weigh-in-on-early-education-marijuana-mum-on-gay/article_4c0322ae-3637-5d29-9791-840fb49ce83b.html
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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