The Iowa Senate simply did not have enough time to consider the nomination of a Catholic priest to the state’s Board of Medicine, which is composed of ten seats, including three for non-physicians. Because of that, Monsignor Frank Bognanno is now an active, albeit temporary, board member. The Iowa Senate revisits the nomination in January when the body resumes work, and Bognanno could get a three-year term. But for now, he’ll serve for the rest of 2012.
Bognanno’s nomination to the Board of Medicine, however, could be a problem for women’s health in the state because Bognanno is anti-abortion which means he may also be anti-contraception. Republican Governor Terry Branstad nominated Bognanno after Senate Democrats flatly rejected his previous choice of Colleen Pasnik, a “feverishly” anti-abortion activist. But Bognanno may be just as anti-abortion as Pasnik. Not only did Bognanno join Pasnik as “part of a group that urged the board to reject a Planned Parenthood abortion-pill dispensing system,” he’s already admitted that he would come down on the anti-abortion side if he can find room for interpretation in state law.
According to the Des Moines Register,
“In an interview shortly after Branstad nominated him, Bognanno described himself as “absolutely pro-life,” but said he could fairly apply state law. The medical board, which licenses physicians, sometimes gets involved in the abortion issue when abortion opponents seek ways to limit the procedure. Bognanno’s Catholic faith condemns abortion, and he said that if the law allowed room for interpretation in a case, he would come down on the pro-life side.”
The issue here is that most anti-abortion advocates already believe that state law is wrong and that we should be following Biblical law. As a Catholic priest, Bognanno is required by church law to oppose abortion and contraception. Will he really be able to “fairly apply state law” as he says? Or is that just his way of making himself seem like a nominee the Senate can approve? Once he is approved, Bognanno can vote based on his religious beliefs all he wants, which could put the lives and health of women in Iowa at serious risk.
This also sounds like a violation of the separation of church and state because Branstad has selected a Catholic priest to serve on a state board. He didn’t choose just a Catholic citizen. He chose a priest who takes orders from the bishops, who take their orders from the Pope. Conservative Republicans have been furious about President Obama ordering insurance companies to offer contraception services to female employees of religious institutions. This nomination may be a clear Republican response that they want religion to dictate medical and health policy. I have no doubt that Bognanno is a respected clergy member, I simply doubt that he can objectively protect the health of women. The State Board of Medicine should make decisions based on what is best for people’s health. They should not make decisions based on what someone’s religion says.