The Briefing 08-27-14

The Briefing 08-27-14

The Briefing


August 27, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Wednesday, August 27, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) California commitment to abortion overrules conscience of two Catholic universities

Our attention today first turns to the state of California where the administration of Governor Jerry Brown has now ordered two Jesuit universities, that is Roman Catholic universities, to offer full and unrestricted abortion coverage to all of the universities’ employees, including the dependents of those employees. Columnist Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times explains it this way,


With minimal fanfare, California state officials have nixed an underhanded effort by two Catholic-affiliated universities and their insurers to deprive the universities’ employees of insurance coverage for abortions.


Now, this is an opinion column but notice how the opinion of this particular columnist is announced right up front. The effort by these two Catholic universities, to act in a way consistent with Catholicism, is described as, “an underhanded effort.”


On Friday of last week the California department concerned with health care informed the state’s major health insurers by letter that provisions in health plans eliminating coverage of what is described as voluntary or elective abortions – or for that matter just limiting abortion coverage only to what it described as medically necessary abortions – now violates state law and the California constitution. As Hiltzik continues,


The effort became public only after Loyola Marymount started implementing the changes in 2013. The dropping of abortion coverage [she writes,] created an uproar among faculty on the Los Angeles campus, not least because of the vagueness of the provision’s language: [As Hiltzik explains,] coverage was to remain in place only for “therapeutic” abortions, a term that ostensibly meant those deemed medically necessary.


Hiltzik then points to California’s therapeutic abortion act, which was overturned by that state’s Supreme Court in 1972. It was supplanted by what is known as the reproductive privacy act in 2003. Stephen F. Diamond, a professor of law at Santa Clara University – he’s been following the controversy closely – said that the law that was passed in 2003 “guarantees a woman’s right to both terminate a pregnancy and to birth control.”


Back at the end of 2013 we discussed on The Briefing the controversy on the faculties of these two Catholic universities, in particular, Loyola Marymount there in Los Angeles. As we discussed then, the faculty was deeply divided over the announcement by the school’s trustees and president that coverage for elective abortion would be denied. When the president of the university, backed by the university’s board of trustees, announced the change in medical coverage, the faculty responded with a vote of 215 to 89, decrying the administration’s change of the policy. In response the university stated the obvious, that it was simply acting on obedience to Catholic moral teaching on the sanctity of human life and the issue of abortion. But the announcement handed down last Friday in California makes very clear that there is now no place in that state for an institution or organization that offers health care to its employees and is unwilling to pay for unrestricted abortion on demand.


The radical posture of California is made clear in the coverage of this controversy within the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. As that paper reports,


Until the current controversy arose, insurers in California had treated all abortions sought by women in their health plans as medically necessary.


That’s an interesting statement in itself. In other words, if the abortion is sought, it is by definition, medically necessary. As the paper continued in its report,


Insurance coverage for abortion is not mandated by the federal health care law [or by the laws of many other states]. But California guarantees abortion rights both by statute and by privacy protections in the state Constitution. The courts have also required the states medical care coverage for Medicare to pay for poor women’s abortions, overturning legislative attempts to cut off the funding.


A frankly horrifying quotation is found in the San Francisco Chronicle’s coverage when a woman identified as Beth Parker, chief counsel for Planned Parenthood in California, offered these words, and I quote,


Termination of pregnancy is obviously a basic medical service. Abortion can be elective, but it’s medically necessary if recommended by my physician to treat a medical condition.


The logical implication of that statement is horrifyingly clear. In this case, what is described as a “medical condition” can only mean one thing: pregnancy. Catholic News Agency reports that the Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a protest with the state government over this ruling. As the Catholic News Agency reports,


The two groups [that is Alliance Defending Freedom and the Life Legal Defense Foundation] said that the action is a “clear violation” of the federal Weldon Amendment, which bars states that accept federal funds from discriminating against institutions and health care entities that do not provide coverage of abortion or refer for abortions.


Matthew Bowman, identified as senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said,


When Congress enacted the Weldon Amendment, it sought to ensure that the government could never strong-arm pro-life employers into paying for abortion coverage; therefore, California’s decision is illegal.


He continued,


No state can ignore federal law in a pursuit to conform everyone to the state’s own ideology on abortion. Faith-based organizations should be free to operate according to the faith they espouse and live out on a daily basis.


If nothing else, this news from California reminds us once again of just how radically committed to abortion some governments now are, including some state governments; most especially in this case, the government of California. It also serves as a very poignant reminder of the fact that religious liberty requires essential and continual vigilance. And, though this particular policy refers to two Catholic institutions in California, this news should serve as ample warning to evangelical Christian institutions that we could be next on the line. That the protection that was now denied to these two Roman Catholic institutions can just as quickly, and just as arbitrarily, be denied to evangelical colleges and universities as well.


There’s also another major lesson embedded in this story. It has to do with that disturbance on the faculty when the university announced that it was determined, as a Catholic university, to act in accordance to Catholic moral teaching. It is incredibly telling that the faculty senate, of a supposedly Roman Catholic institution, would defy so openly the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. In this case we can look at these two Catholic universities, Loyola Marymount in particular, and see that in the present it is the victim of oppression coming from the state of California. That is an infringement of religious liberty we can only hope and pray will soon be reversed; but when it comes to that faculty vote, that’s an indication that this particular Catholic university has not been very Catholic in terms of the hiring of its own faculty. And that can’t be blamed on the state government of California. On that account, the trustees and administration of the university deserve full blame. If anything, that is an even bigger lessor for evangelical institutions to observe in this controversy.

2) Obamacare covers gender reassignment surgery in California

More news came recently out of California, but in this case it’s a story with direct implications for the rest of the country as well. The Daily Beast reports that Obamacare is now paying for gender reassignment surgery. According to the report by Anna Gorman of Kaiser Health News,


Among the less-talked-about implications of the Affordable Care Act is the relief it is providing to many transgender people, many of whom are low-income and who have struggled to obtain health coverage. Getting jobs [she explains] that offer insurance often has been difficult for transgender people and the cost of purchasing plans on the private market can be prohibitive.


Therefore, as she explains, a good number of those who have been seeking sexual reassignment surgery have been unable to obtain the surgery because of the daunting cost. Now, she explains,


Federal law prohibits health insurance companies from discriminating against transgender people, and it bars insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. [As she explains,] That makes it possible for more transgender people to purchase private plans. And in states that expanded their Medicaid programs, those with low incomes may get free coverage.


She goes onto detail that,


The federal anti-discrimination regulations have yet to be written, but California insurance regulators have said that companies must treat transgender patients the same as other patients. For example, if plans cover hormones for post-menopausal women, they must also cover them for transgender women. Medicare, the program for the elderly and disabled, lifted its ban on covering sex reassignment surgery earlier this year.

3) Former Johns Hopkins chief psychiatrist argues that surgery is not solution to transgenderism

But the whole reality of sexual reassignment surgery, as it is known, is called into question. Not only by those who are operating out of a Christian worldview but also by some mental health professionals. One of those is Dr. Paul McHugh, formerly the chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. As he writes,


Policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention.


Writing in the Wall Street Journal several weeks ago, he writes,


This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.


Dr. McHugh, again formerly the chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins, points to the fact that some of these grim psychological outcomes are the direct result of sex reassignment surgery. Furthermore, as he indicates, studies undertaken of children and teenagers – who describe themselves as transsexual – have pointed to the fact that in approximately 70-80% of the cases of these children, they spontaneously lost the impression that they were transgendered. As McHugh argues, it should be considered a form of child abuse to perform either surgery or hormonal treatments that could lead to sterility on children and adolescents who, 70-80% of the time, reverse their understanding of being transgendered. He cites studies undertaken by Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic that indicated that these 70-80% of children “spontaneously lost those feelings.”


In other words, the feelings of being transgendered.


In his column, he then offers this amazing paragraph. I quote,


We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into “sex-reassignment surgery”—launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as “satisfied” by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn’t have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a “satisfied” but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.


Just consider the moral weight of that paragraph. Here you have a former chief psychiatrist writing about his experience in the 1960s at Johns Hopkins University, one of the most respected medical centers in universities in the nation, which was the very first medical center to venture into what is called sex-reassignment surgery. But after they studied the results of their own surgery, they decided that it was not helpful to the patients, and that there was no “adequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.”


He then cited a study undertaken even more recently, in Sweden in the Karolinska Institute. As he says,


[It] produced the most illuminating results yet regarding the transgendered, evidence that should give advocates pause. The long-term study—up to 30 years—followed 324 people who had sex-reassignment surgery.


The surgery revealed that,


Beginning about 10 years after having the surgery, the transgendered began to experience increasing mental difficulties.


He writes with care and compassion about both teenagers and children experiencing a difficulty with their own biologically assigned gender. He writes about young men and women, including adolescence, who are, in his words,


Susceptible to suggestion from “everything is normal” sex education, amplified by Internet chat groups.


These patients he says, should not be subjected to what’s called “sex-reassignment surgery” but rather, in his words,


Treatments here must begin with removing the young person from the suggestive environment and offering a counter-message in family therapy.


He then writes about very young children, often prepubescent, who notice, in his words,


Distinct sex roles in the culture and, exploring how they fit in, begin imitating the opposite sex.


He then writes this,


Misguided doctors at medical centers including Boston’s Children’s Hospital have begun trying to treat this behavior by administering puberty-delaying hormones to render later sex-change surgeries less onerous—even though the drugs stunt the children’s growth and risk causing sterility. Given that close to 80% of such children would abandon their confusion and grow naturally into adult life if untreated, these medical interventions [he writes] come close to child abuse. A better way to help these children: with devoted parenting.


In an amazing final paragraph he then gets to the heart of the issue,


“Sex change” is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.


Now we should note a couple of things with very particular interest. One is the fact that this was not written by someone who has no direct experience with the issue. Dr. McHugh is the former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. We should also note that this report was not published in some kind of fringe periodical; it was published in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Furthermore, we should note instructively the compassion with which Dr. McHugh has written. And we should also respond with the same compassion to those who are struggling with this particular form of confusion. But as Dr. McHugh argues, and argues convincingly, two things are profoundly true. The first is that there is actually no such thing as gender reassignment surgery; it is biologically impossible, as he testifies here. The chromosomal structure of the individual doesn’t change, it is, as he explains, mostly just cosmetic surgery. On the other hand, there is another essential point, and that is the issue of compassion. True compassion, he argues implicitly in this article, isn’t in giving these people the opportunity to have sex reassignment surgery, much less as the news in California reminds us, paid for by Obamacare, we should instead reach out to these persons with compassion; understanding that what they are experiencing cannot be resolved by sex reassignment surgery. It cannot be resolved by hormonal treatments, true compassion, he makes clear in this case, does profoundly not mean giving people who demand sex reassignment surgery what they demand.

4) Twitter displaces TV and Facebook as medium for immediate news updates

Finally, thinking Christians should reflect on the changes in our news and media environment. Changes in how people receive news, and assimilate information, have to do also with the formation of worldview; not only the transmission of information. And for that reason, there is a particular news story having to do with the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri that should have our attention. The Financial Times in London reports that the TV networks found themselves far behind the social networks when it came to conveying information about what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri. One static stands out in the report by Hannah Kuchler published in the Financial Times. As she reports, there were almost one million tweets sent about the incident on Twitter before CNN had offered even 1 minute of coverage of the news story. That’s is almost 1 million tweets before there was even 1 minute of coverage on CNN, considered by many to be the cable network news of record.


There is another very interesting angle in this story and in the study behind it; the study was undertaken by the pew research center, asking the question why Twitter, they came to a very interesting conclusion. Twitter, rather than Facebook, was the medium of record and the medium of speed for the coverage of the Ferguson protest. But again, why? Well it has to do with the fact that Twitter appears to be almost architecturally constructed to covey this kind of news and information, and to allow the users to respond in a way that feels and seems appropriate. Not so much on Facebook. Why? Because on Facebook, the way to register interest is by clicking a ‘like.’ As it turns out, the story out of Ferguson wasn’t something that, at the emotional level, people felt like they could respond to with something called a ‘like.’ There was nothing to like about the story at all.


The upshot of the account from the Pew Research Center is reported in the Financial Times is this, Twitter it appears is now the medium of choice for the quick and almost immediate dissemination of news and information. It maybe be short and concise, limited to 140 characters as you’ll remember for each tweet, but it is immediate and it capture the attention of the world now. But when it comes to Facebook, that internet behemoth ­­ is simply not up to the task when it comes to covering news. And as for the TV network, even the cable TV networks; they are simply left behind in the dust. They will come along later to explain the story, and offer commentary, visuals, and an extended narrative, but in the immediacy of a news story, they simply are not there. Not there like Twitter, not there with almost a million tweets before they offered 1 minute of network coverage.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to


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Podcast Transcript

1) California commitment to abortion overrules conscience of two Catholic universities 

A women’s rights victory as California nixes an attack on abortion coverage, Los Angeles Times (Michael Hiltzik)

State reverses abortion decision at 2 Catholic colleges, San Francisco Chronicle (Bob Egelko)

Outcry flares over Calif. abortion push in Catholic colleges, Catholic News Agency (Kevin J. Jones)

2) Obamacare covers gender reassignment surgery in California

Obamacare Now Pays for Gender Reassignment, Daily Beast (Anna Gorman)

3) Former Johns Hopkins chief psychiatrist argues that surgery is not solution to transgenderism

Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution, Wall Street Journal (Paul McHugh)

4) Twitter displaces TV and Facebook as medium for immediate news updates

TV networks play catch-up to Twitter in Ferguson’s rolling story, Financial Times (Hannah Kuchler)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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