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ACI Prensa's latest initiative is the Catholic News Agency (CNA), aimed at serving the English-speaking Catholic audience. ACI Prensa (www.aciprensa.com) is currently the largest provider of Catholic news in Spanish and Portuguese.
Updated: 2 hours 57 min ago

Third judge finds against conscience protection rule for medical workers

Wed, 11/20/2019 - 16:00

San Francisco, Calif., Nov 20, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A third federal judge has struck down the Trump administration’s conscience protection rule for medical professionals who object to abortions because of their religious beliefs. 

U.S. District Judge William Alsup ruled on Tuesday, Nov. 19, that the Department of Health and Human Services rule, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights in Health Care; Delegations of Authority,” was too broad and would have permitted medical professionals that were not doctors or nurses, such as ambulance drivers and receptionists, to refuse to do their jobs if they involved abortion.

Alsup, ruling for the District Court for Nothern California, is the third judge to block the rule. In early November, federal judges in Washington state and New York also moved to strike the rule. 

"An ambulance driver would be free, on religious or moral grounds, to eject a patient en route to a hospital upon learning that the patient needed an emergency abortion,” said Alsup in his ruling. Alsup sits on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Presently, there are certain legal protections for medical professionals and conscience rights. Conscience rights campaigners say that these laws are not always followed or enforced, and the new rule was designed to clarify rights and entitlements available to those who have had their consciences violated. 

In 2011, HHS issued a rule which “provided inadequate enforcement of conscience rights,” according to the Trump administration. That rule was based on three laws. The 2019 rule was based on more than two dozen statutory provisions that protect conscience rights.

In response to the 2019 rule, a coalition of 19 states, the District of Columbia, local governments, and pro-abortion groups including Planned Parenthood’s national federation and Northern New England affiliate, all sued the administration.

“This rule ensures that healthcare entities and professionals won’t be bullied out of the health care field because they decline to participate in actions that violate their conscience, including the taking of human life,” said Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino. “Protecting conscience and religious freedom not only fosters greater diversity in health care, it’s the law.”

“Laws prohibiting government funded discrimination against conscience and religious freedom will be enforced like every other civil rights law,” he added.

Tuesday’s ruling was in response to three lawsuits that were filed by the city of San Francisco, the state of California, and Santa Clara County, along with doctors and clinic workers. Prior to the ruling, San Francisco had already pledged not to protect conscience rights if the rule were to have gone into effect. 

California filed suit against the Trump administration three weeks after the rule was announced in May. In a statement announcing the suit, California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that the conscience rule was dangerous to American lives and that “a war is being waged on access to health care across our country.” 

After Tuesday’s decision, Becerra referred to the conscience protection rule as President Trump’s “heartless, unlawful attempt to restrict the healthcare rights of women, LGBTQ individuals, and countless others.” 

Becerra was joined in the suit by the attorneys general from several other states. According to a statement released by the city, San Francisico could lose up to $1 billion in federal funding if the rule comes into effect since the city does not intend to comply with the conscience protection laws.

The state of California could have lost nearly $78 billion in federal funding for not complying with the rule. 

The rule was due to go into effect on Nov. 22 and the administration is expected to appeal the decision. 

Greensburg adoption, foster program shuts down amid legal battle

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 20:35

Greensburg, Pa., Nov 19, 2019 / 06:35 pm (CNA).- Catholic adoption and foster care agencies in Pennsylvania are continuing to close their doors as Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS) continues a legal battle with the city of Philadelphia over the agency’s policy of not placing children with same-sex couples.

The Diocese of Greensburg announced Oct. 1 that it had closed its adoption and foster care program, which had been operating since 1954. The Greensburg program also provided adoption services for the Pittsburgh diocese.

“Due to a purely political attack on our ability to perform our adoption work, while at the same time being permitted to exercise our religious freedom, we have been frozen out of the major source of contracts related to these two fields of work,” said Monsignor Raymond Riffle, managing director of Catholic Charities of Greensburg.

The City of Philadelphia received an allegation in March 2018 that two of the Department of Human Services’ approximately 30 contracted agencies would not place children with same-sex couples as foster parents. After the department investigated, it stopped referring foster children to those agencies.

One of those agencies was Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CSS), that had been working with foster children since its founding.

Run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, CSS has noted that no same-sex couple has ever sought certification through the agency and been denied. If such a couple were to do so, the agency says it “would refer the couple to one of 29 other agencies in Philadelphia—several within blocks of Catholic’s headquarters.”

Referrals are common, the agency notes, and are routinely carried out for reasons including geographic proximity, a specific agency’s medical or behavioral expertise, language needs, or a specialization in pregnant youth or other types of foster situations.

CSS is now suing the city of Philadelphia, arguing that the city’s decision to stop foster referrals violates their religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.

Lawyers representing CSS noted that earlier this year, the city of Philadelphia put out an urgent call for 300 new families to become foster parents, due to a shortage of beds for children in the foster care system.

CSS has served approximately 120 foster children in about 100 homes at any one time and been in operation in the city for more than a century.

In April, the Third Circut Court of Appeals ruled that city contractors— including CSS— in Philadelphia must place foster children with same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide to hear the case as soon as Nov. 22, though it previously declined to review it.

Local media report that the Greensburg diocese, along with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services of the Diocese of Erie, sought a religious exemption from the state policy in 2018 but were denied.

According to TribLive, Greensburg Catholic Charities facilitated 167 adoption and foster care placements for both dioceses through its state contract, and also handled 158 adoption and foster care cases outside the state system, through a Harrisburg-based program known as Women in Need.

Adoption and foster care agencies have had to close in recent years for similar reasons in Massachusetts, Illinois, California and Washington D.C.

In Buffalo, New York, Catholic Charities recently ceased adoption and foster care work due to rules that would have forced the organization to violate their religious beliefs. Catholic Charities had done work with adoption in Buffalo for nearly a century before the rule change.

TribLive reports that as of now, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Harrisburg is still an adoption provider for the state, along with St. Joseph’s Center of Scranton.

The Supreme Court was asked to take up the case in July, after declining to hear the case last year.

Andrea Picciotti Bayer, legal advisor for the Catholic Association, told CNA that it is possible that the court could make a decision on whether to hear the case Nov. 22, though it’s a “total long shot.”

“The State of Pennsylvania has now joined the city of Philadelphia in demanding that faith-based agencies choose between meeting...the needs of vulnerable children and violating their deeply held religious beliefs on marriage and family,” she commented.

“Our hope is that the Supreme Court will review the case brought by Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia and find that the Constitution does not allow such invidiousness against faith-based organizations, so that champions of children like CSS can continue finding loving homes for needy kids in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching,” she said.

Federal judge allows Christian school's suit to go forward in voucher case

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 19:01

Baltimore, Md., Nov 19, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A federal district court judge on Thursday denied Maryland's motion to dismiss a suit by a Christian school against the state superindentent of schools. The school complains it was barred from a voucher program because of its religious beliefs.

Bethel Ministries, an ecclesial community that runs Bethel Christian Academy, filed a suit in June against the Maryland Department of Education.

The education department last year disqualified the academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today voucher program, which benefits low-income students.

The department had previously requested to see the student handbooks of schools in the program. Bethel’s handbook includes a statement of Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

In making its decision, the Department of Education cited a state law forbidding BOOST schools from discriminating in the admissions process on sexual orientation.

“Bethel has plausibly alleged that Defendants violated several of its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights in the course of deeming the school ineligible for BOOST,” Stephanie Gallagher, a judge of the US District Court for the District of Maryland, wrote in her Nov. 14 ruling allowing Bethel's suit to go forward.

“Bethel has consistently maintained that the school does not discriminate in student admissions on the basis of sexual orientation,” she noted, adding that in correspondence with the BOOST advisory board, Bethel explained “that it does not consider sexual orientation or sexual attraction when evaluating applications for admission.”

“In fact, Defendants have not identified any student that Bethel has discriminated against in admissions on the basis of sexual orientation. As such, Bethel alleged in its complaint – which this Court accepts as true at this stage – that it 'has not, and will not, discriminate against a student in admissions based on an applicant’s sexual orientation.'”

Gallagher wrote that Bethel “has plausibly alleged” that the education department “infringed upon several of its constitutional rights. Namely, Bethel has presented a plausible case that the Advisory Board’s determination of ineligibility was motivated by the school’s religious affiliation.”

“Bethel has plausibly alleged that Defendants deemed it ineligible for BOOST not because of evidence of discrimination in admissions, but because of [its] Christian identity. In other words, it is plausible that the Advisory Board, in determining that Bethel violated the nondiscrimination provision, unjustly conflated the school’s religious beliefs with discriminatory behavior.”

The judge concluded that “in ruling on Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, this Court must take as true that Bethel has not discriminated in admissions on the basis of sexual orientation, and thus, must reasonably infer that Bethel has complied with the nondiscrimination provision enforced by Defendants.”

Bethel families were notified that they could no longer use the voucher at the academy just a few weeks before the start of the 2018-2019 school year. At least six students were forced to leave the school because of the disqualification and its resulting lack of funding. One in five students at Bethel relies on some kind of financial aid.

In revoking Bethel's eligibility, the Department of Education also told the school that it must repay $102,600 it had already received from the voucher program.

Christiana Holcomb, a legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said after Gallagher's ruling that “we're pleased that the court has rejected Maryland’s attempt to shut down this case. Bethel Christian Academy offers an academically rigorous and caring Christian education in a diverse environment, but Maryland has refused to play by its own rules, expelled Bethel from a neutral government voucher program without just cause.”

“Maryland’s families deserve better; that’s why we’re grateful Bethel’s lawsuit can move forward,” she added.

Gallagher was appointed to the Maryland district court by President Donald Trump, and had been nominated to the same position by Barack Obama.

More funding needed to deliver real reform in prisons, Senate committee hears

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Nov 19, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- More funding for prisons is essential to properly implement criminal justice reform, the director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) told senators on Tuesday.

“We have never had adequate resources to provide all of the programs for all of the inmates,” Kathleen Hawk Sawyer, BOP director, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at a hearing on the oversight of federal prisons.

Referencing a 2018 criminal justice reform bill, Sawyer told the senators that “since you all support the First Step Act, I’m hoping the resources will come along with that.”

Sawyer faced tough questions from committee members on the racial disparity in the prison system, education and drug treatment for inmates to prevent their return to crime once they are released, and implementation of the First Step Act, signed into law by President Trump late last year.

The First Step Act provides funding for rehabilitation programs—such as education, drug treatment, and vocational training—in federal prisons to reduce the rates of recidivism, or former inmates reentering prisons for new crimes after they have served their term. It also supports inmates in their efforts to have a government ID once they leave prison.

The law also made reforms to the federal prison system, ending the shackling of pregnant prisoners, juvenile confinement, and limiting the geographical distance between a prisoner and their family.

Sawyer acknowledged challenges to the BOP in her written testimony before the committee, stating that “[t]he agency experienced over 30 years of rapid inmate population growth and prison construction, significant crowding, under-staffing, and strained budgets.”

In addition, the smuggling of drugs like fentanyl into the system remains a challenge, she said, along with an “aging infrastructure,”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) referenced a Department of Justice report that out of 220,000 former federal prisoners, more than half did not receive drug treatment during incarceration and 82% completed no technical or vocational training courses.

The programs are there, Sawyer answered, but she said the bureau cannot force inmates to participate. There are 86 residential drug treatment programs in 122 federal prisons, she said.

Congress could help by directing more resources to the federal prison system, she said, noting that there used to be 28,000 inmates in federal prison industries, and now just 11,000—programs “cut so badly” by Congress out of fear that inmates were taking jobs away from private sector employees.

A “starting place” for prison reform must be addressing the “stark racial disparity” in the system, Durbin said. “If we don’t get that right, nothing else is right about this system.” Sawyer agreed that it must be a priority.

Committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked about opportunities for faith-based groups to provide programs for inmates.

“Our faith-based programs are very critical to our operations, Senator,” Sawyer said, noting that the bureau relies on around 11,000 volunteers currently from faith communities.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) asked what was being done to make sure inmates were receiving incentives in prison programs. The First Step Act created incentives for prisoners to complete rehabilitation programs, with an earlier release being a possible benefit for eligible prisoners.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked about a reported denial of opportunities to worship for Muslim inmates at Danbury federal correctional institution, and if the BOP was ensuring equal opportunity for inmates to worship or meet with faith leaders.

Sawyer answered that the bureau was providing for visits by imams, various faith groups, wiccans, atheists, under the demands of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Bishop Flores: With respect to migration, uphold both law and compassion

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 17:05

Brownsville, Texas, Nov 19, 2019 / 03:05 pm (CNA).- In an interview earlier this month, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville urged that US immigration law be respected, but that that law also consider the reality facing immigrants.

“The United States has the responsibility to vet those who come into the country and to make sure the laws of the country are respected, but the laws ought to look at the human reality,” Bishop Flores told Border Report Nov. 7.

“We can be a nation of laws and still be a nation of compassion,” he added.

The Diocese of Brownsville comprises four Texas counties on or near the US-Mexico border, where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It has for years seen a rise in migrants and asylum seekers.

When the number of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border rose sharply in 2014, the diocese's prison ministry expanded to become “more of a detention center ministry,” Flores has said.

The diocese opposed a federal government plan to survey the land around a historic chapel which could lead to the construction of a portion of a border barrier between the United States and Mexico. A judge ruled in February that the surveying could go ahead, but the diocese has vowed to continue fighting the project.

Bishop Flores was among the 10 candidates nominated for president or vice president of the US bishops' conference. The Nov. 12 vote elected Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles as president, and Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit as vice president.

In the interview with Border Report, Bishop Flores noted that “the U.S. bishops have been asking for a number of decades in terms of re-calibrating how we have written our laws to more adequately reflect the current reality on the ground.”

He added: “In my view, sometimes immigration rhetoric in the country is fairly distant from the reality on the ground.”

The bishop said that “not all immigrants are the criminal element. The reality is the innocent immigrant is the one who is fleeing that reality. And right now the law does not have a way and we need to distinguish that.”

Bishop Flores said it is “heartbreaking to hear there’s a breakdown in society in other countries that’s causing people to move.”

He added that the Church “has the responsibility to call on governments of all kind to address the humanitarian [need] in a cooperative fashion because people deserve to be treated better than they’re being treated, no matter who they are and it really is beyond tragic.”

“There’s violence all over the world but the immigrant is a victim of violence in a particularly consistently brutal way. … We can’t pretend it’s not there,” he stated.

In recent months, the Trump administration restricted protections granted to asylum seekers in the US, cutting in half the time allotted them to prepare for their interviews.

It has also limited asylum eligibility to those who had already applied and been rejected for asylum in any third-party country passed through on their way to the US.

In August, the administration announced its intent to deny green cards and a path to citizenship to immigrants in the country legally who use public benefits.

And in January the Department of Homeland Security announced Migrant Protection Protocols providing that migrants arriving illegally or without proper documentation “may be returned to Mexico and wait outside of the U.S. for the duration of their immigration proceedings, where Mexico will provide them with all appropriate humanitarian protections for the duration of their stay.”

We serve everyone: Salvation Army responds to Chick-Fil-A donation cut

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 13:30

Washington D.C., Nov 19, 2019 / 11:30 am (CNA).- The Salvation Army has denied accusations that it is an anti-LGBT organization in the wake of the Chick-Fil-A Foundation publicly severing ties with the group.

“We're saddened to learn that a corporate partner has felt it necessary to divert funding to other hunger, education and homelessness organizations — areas in which The Salvation Army, as the largest social services provider in the world, is already fully committed,” they said in a statement on Tuesday.

The statement came in response to an announcement on Monday by the Chick-Fil-A Foundation that it would no longer donate to the Salvation Army or to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Instead, the foundation has pledged $9 million each to Junior Achievement, Covenant House International, and local food banks near new Chick-Fil-A locations.

Chick-Fil-A has faced controversy regarding its past charitable donations. In 2012, after the founder of Chick-Fil-A stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, there were calls for a nationwide boycott of the chain. This boycott largely failed, and Chick-Fil-A is now the third-largest restaurant chain in the country in terms of systemwide sales, trailing only McDonald’s and Starbucks. 

Both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army promote the Biblical belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Fellowship of Christian Athletes includes on its application for employment the organization's belief that God does not approve of same-sex relationships or premarital sex. 

The Salvation Army said that a large number of the 23 million people they serve each year are part of the LGBT community, and that “we believe we are the largest provider of poverty relief to the LGBTQ+ population.” 

The statement also condemned “misinformation” regarding the organization’s work, and that they serve everyone in need, regardless of their sexual orientation, religion, or gender identity. 

“We urge the public to seek the truth before rushing to ill-informed judgment and greatly appreciate those partners and donors who ensure that anyone who needs our help feels safe and comfortable to come through our doors,” said the statement from the Salvation Army. 

Fellowship of Christian Athletes did not respond to CNA’s request for comment in time for publication. 

Despite the changes in donations, at least one LGBT organization remains skeptical of Chick-Fil-A.

“Chick-fil-A investors, employees and customers can greet today’s announcement with cautious optimism,” said Drew Anderson, the director of campaigns and rapid response at GLAAD, said on Monday. 

GLAAD is an advocacy group for the LGBT movement. 

“If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families,” added Anderson. 

Anderson said that Chick-Fil-A’s past pledges have been empty promises. 

“In addition to refraining from financially supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations, Chick-Fil-A still lacks policies to ensure safe workplaces for LGBTQ employees and should unequivocally speak out against the anti-LGBTQ reputation that their brand represents,” he said. 

After Louisiana governor's election, hope for pro-life Democrats?

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 12:00

Baton Rouge, La., Nov 19, 2019 / 10:00 am (CNA).- Pro-lifers are hopeful that the re-election of Democrat John Bel Edwards as Louisiana governor could turn the tide in a party whose leadership has grown increasingly more pro-abortion with each election cycle.

John Bel Edwards was re-elected as governor of Louisiana on Saturday by a 40,000-vote margin, winning more than 51 percent of the state’s vote.

A Catholic, Edwards first ran for the office in 2015 on an explicitly pro-life platform and won more than 56% of the vote. His campaign aired a TV ad revealing that Edwards and his wife, then 20 weeks pregnant with their daughter, had discovered she had spina bifida in utero. They couple faced down encouragement from a doctor to abort their child.

Edwards signed a “heartbeat” bill into law earlier in 2019, banning abortions in the state as soon as a baby’s heartbeat is detected in utero—as early as six weeks gestation--with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Josh Mercer, editor of The Loop at CatholicVote.org, told CNA that Edwards’ signing the heartbeat bill into law proved his pro-life credentials and “made the difference” in what was “a tight race.”

Katrina Jackson (D), an outgoing Louisiana state representative and incoming member of the state senate, said that the “heartbeat” bill landed on Edwards’ desk as the state legislature was departing to focus on the election. Edwards signed it promptly despite widespread opposition. 

“What it said when he signed it that quickly without doubt, was that ‘I’m pro-life, and regardless of a campaign, regardless of pushback, regardless of what’s being said, I’m going to stand on that principle,’” Jackson said. 

“And do I think it made a difference in this election? I believe it did, because what it said to people is ‘I am who I say I am.’”

Edwards has also tried to link other issues with to his pro-life stance, and make it part of a broader platform.

Earlier this year he cited his administration’s three straight years of record numbers of foster care adoptions. Edwards also oversaw an expansion of Medicaid access in his state for adults making less than 138% of the federal poverty line. In 2018, he appeared with Vatican officials at the Louisiana Summit on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking, and in 2017 at the opening of a shelter for human trafficking victims in the state. 

In December of 2018, he told America magazine that "The idea of not doing the Medicaid expansion, I just couldn't reconcile that, because I am pro-life. And the pro-life ethos has to mean more than just the abortion issue. [Abortion] is fundamental, and I understand how important it is, but it's got to go beyond that. The job isn't over when the baby's born if you've got poor people who need access to health care."

“He is just the real deal,” Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told CNA of Edwards. “We like to think he’s the future of the Democratic Party.”

On marriage, Edwards in 2015 said that he personally opposed same-sex marriages but that marriage licenses from the state should not be denied same-sex couples, as the Supreme Court had ruled that it was the law of the land. 

He issued an executive order in 2016--later overturned in the courts--that established employment protections for state and state contractor employees, on the basis of many categories including sexual orientation and gender identity. The order included a religious exemption for churches and religious organizations.

Despite Edwards’ pro-life stance, questions remain of how a similar Democratic candidate might fare with leaders in the Democratic Party who may say there is no litmus test on abortion, but without the evidence to support such a claim.

At the national level, the Democratic Party has increasingly adopted an absolutist line on abortion in recent years to the alienation of millions of potential voters, say Day and Charlie Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University.

Edwards’ victory could “jolt” Democratic Party leaders “out of what is just an untenable position” on abortion, Camosy told CNA, calling the current party platform “about as extreme as it could possibly get.”

In 2016, the DNC platform called for the repeal of the Hyde and the Helms Amendments—policies barring taxpayer funding of abortions. President Obama’s 2012 faith outreach campaign director Michael Wear even called the platform “extreme” on abortion.

In 2017, DNC chair Tom Perez stated that “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health.” He subsequently met with Day after she requested a meeting on behalf of pro-life Democrats.

In the 2020 presidential election, Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment this summer after backlash against his decades-long support for the policy. Other candidates have called for taxpayer funding of elective abortions, federal statutory protections of abortion, or have even said that the mother should be able to choose abortion up until the birth of the child.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in September that “there’s room in our party” for pro-life candidates. However, the party’s most pro-life member in the House, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), has faced repeated primary challenges from an openly pro-abortion candidate and seen the chief of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) withdraw her participation in a fundraiser for him earlier this year after pressure from pro-abortion advocates. 

The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) on Monday announced a litmus test on abortion for any party candidates running for a state attorney general office, saying that it “will only endorse candidates who support the right to access abortion.”

“What is it saying about people like John Bel, and like me, and Senator Casey, and all the elected pro-life Democrats across the country, the Democratic voters who are pro-life?” Day asked. “If there’s a litmus test, does it apply to us too? That they don’t want our votes?”

While, according to one study, nearly seven in ten of the party’s voters identify as pro-choice, many voters might still be turned off by more extreme stances on abortion, Day and Camosy said. 

Gallup in 2019 reported that 45% of Democrats say abortion should be legal “under certain” conditions, and 14% say it should be illegal in all conditions. 

To what extent those “certain” conditions of legality amount to, however, is unclear. Gallup reported that 58% of Americans nationwide would oppose a “heartbeat” bill, such as the one Edwards signed into law. 

In 2018, Gallup reported that while 60% of Americans supported legal abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, nearly two-thirds of Americans wanted abortion to be illegal “in the second three months of pregnancy”; that support rose to 81% for illegality in the final three months of pregnancy. 

And in advance of the 2020 presidential election, pro-life Democrats in swing states—and even in some heavily-Democratic states—are reportedly disgusted by the party’s extreme support for abortion.

“We have pro-life democrats in New York who are just so upset about the trajectory the party has taken,” Day said. Earlier in 2019, the state’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that could allow for many late-term abortions even up until the birth of the child.

Even before the law was enacted, New York had one of the highest rates of abortion in the country, Day noted. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the state had the highest rate of abortions per 1,000 women age 15 to 44, in 2014, of all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

 “What has it done to address that?” Day asked.

A recent New York Times poll showed President Trump level with or beating Democratic frontrunners Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in key swing states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, although he was slightly behind Joe Biden in most of those states. Abortion “has got to be one of the major reasons why,” Camosy said.

In Wisconsin, Camosy said, he knew “without any hesitation at all that there’s a ton of religiously-minded Democrats who are Democrats mostly because they share their views on economics or about a social safety net or about supporting unions in particular, who would identify as pro-life or at least identify as abortion skeptical.”

These voters “in fact are totally turned off by what is in the Democratic Party’s platform.”

Yet for now, some pro-life voters are wary of a party whose leadership has supported abortion access at the top and whose presidential candidates support taxpayer-funded abortions and at least some late-term abortions. 

“Catholics long for the day when both parties nationwide try to outdo each other on the pro-life issue, but that day is sadly not here yet,” Mercer said.

Buffalo bishop says Pope Francis 'very understanding' after scandals

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 11:40

Buffalo, N.Y., Nov 19, 2019 / 09:40 am (CNA).- Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo has released a video statement following his recent ad limina visit to Rome with the bishops of New York. Bishop Malone used the message to insist he is “wholly committed” to the work of healing in the diocese.

In the video, released Monday, Malone said that each of the bishops was personally greeted by Pope Francis as they entered and left their audience with the Holy Father, and that the pope had shared his closeness to the people and diocese of Buffalo following a year of controversy.

“In a few words spoken privately to me, it was clear that the pope understands the difficulties and distress we here in Buffalo, and I personally, have been experiencing,” Malone said. “He was very understanding and kind.”

Malone’s future has been the subject of speculation following months of scandal. At the end of the New York bishops’ ad limina, rumors surfaced on social media that the bishop’s resignation was shortly to be accepted by the pope.

Last week, Kathy Spangler, spokesperson for the diocese, called the reports “false” and said Malone would be addressing his trip to Rome this week.

In November 2018, a former Buffalo chancery employee leaked confidential diocesan documents related to the handling of claims of clerical sexual abuse.

In August, a RICO lawsuit was filed against the diocese and the bishop, alleging that the response of the diocese was comparable to an organized crime syndicate.

Recordings of private conversations released in early September appeared to show that Malone believed sexual harassment accusations made against a diocesan priest months before the bishop removed the priest from ministry.

The contents of recordings of conversations between Malone and Fr. Ryszard Biernat, his secretary and diocesan vice chancellor, were reported in early September by WKBW in Buffalo.

In the conversations, Malone seemed to acknowledge the legitimacy of accusations of harassment and a violation of the seal of confession made against a diocesan priest, Fr. Jeffrey Nowak, by a seminarian, months before the diocese removed Nowak from active ministry.

In an Aug. 2 conversation, Malone can reportedly be heard saying, “We are in a true crisis situation. True crisis. And everyone in the office is convinced this could be the end for me as bishop.”

The bishop is also heard to say that if the media reported on the Nowak situation, “it could force me to resign.”

On October 3, the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, DC, announced that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn has been asked to lead an Apostolic Visitation – and canonical inspection – of the Buffalo diocese on behalf of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

That review concluded at the end of last month, with DiMarzio having made three trips to Buffalo, and interviewing more than 80 people before submitting his report to Rome.

On Monday, Malone addressed the status of that report, saying that he had met in Rome with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation, and that there would be “more on that to come.”

“I am of course aware of the intense interest in the results of the Apostolic Visitation recently conducted here and submitted to the Holy See,” Malone said. “The Congregation for Bishops has received the report, which is held in strict confidentiality. I had a brief discussion with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation. More on that to come.”

“I ask for your prayers and patience while the path forward is discerned. In the meantime, be assured that I am wholly committed to fostering the healing of victim survivors, rebuilding trust, and with our clergy and other Church ministers, renewing faith and carrying on the essential ministries that serve the needs of Catholics and of the larger Western New York community.”

Malone, 73, has led the Buffalo diocese since 2012. He was ordained a priest of Boston in 1972, and became an auxiliary bishop in that diocese in 2000, two years before a national sexual abuse scandal emerged in the United States, centered on the Archdiocese of Boston and the leadership of Cardinal Bernard Law. Malone was Maine’s bishop from 2004 until 2012.

Democratic AG group wrong to shun pro-life candidates, critics say

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 05:00

Washington D.C., Nov 19, 2019 / 03:00 am (CNA).- Pro-life Democrats and some election-minded politicos have faulted the decision of a Democratic state attorneys general organization to support only declared pro-abortion rights candidates.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association will require candidates to make a public pro-abortion statement if they want to receive backing from the group, the association announced. The association recruits candidates and provides financial support, data analysis, messaging work and policy position development.

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, pointed to the victory of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a pro-life Democrat, who won reelection by about 40,000 votes on Nov. 16.

Given his recent victory, Day told CNA, “it is clearly the wrong direction for the Democratic Attorney Generals Association to impose an abortion litmus test on democratic candidates. This is particularly concerning for a party that prides itself on diversity and inclusion.”

“Governor Edwards did not run from his pro-life position, he embraced it and was proud to promote a whole life agenda to protect and support life from womb to tomb,” Day continued. “This was a source of strength for his campaign. An abortion-rights candidate would have lost. Imposing a litmus test on candidates would force one-third of Democrats, who oppose abortion, out of the party and lessen the opportunity for Democratic gains.”

“We encourage [the Democratic Attorneys General Association] to reconsider this shortsighted and discriminatory policy and embrace a big tent policy of inclusion,” she said.

New York Attorney General Letitia James discussed the new requirement in a Nov. 17 video for the group.

“Attorneys general are on the front lines of the fight for reproductive freedom,” James said. “They have the power to protect your rights.”

Jim Hood, Attorney General of Mississippi, is the only Democratic attorney general to describe himself as a pro-life Democrat. There are 27 Democrats holding this office across the U.S.

Former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a two-term Democratic attorney general who lost her 2018 Senate re-election bid in a strongly Republican state, told the New York Times she thought the new policy was “wrongheaded.”

“There are very principled people, who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue for religious reasons and when you say you’re not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary,” she said. “You have to look at the totality of a candidate.”

She too cited the victory of Gov. Edwards of Louisiana. Edwards campaigned on issues including his opposition to abortion and his support for a state law barring abortion when the unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum of Oregon, a co-chair of the Democratic Attorneys General Association’s executive committee, voiced hope that other Democratic committees would follow the group’s example of exclusive support for pro-abortion candidates.

“We are going to be the ones to be right out in front and hopefully the other committees will follow right along,” she told the New York Times.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association policy change had been under consideration for three years. Officials with the group said the new rule will attract more diverse candidates and increase the number of women who run for attorney general. In 2017 the association pledged to ensure at least half of the party’s attorneys general will be women by 2022.

Sean Rankin, executive director of the association, contended the new requirement will increase “the size of the tent.”

“Even in states like Georgia, Texas and Arizona, we’ve run pro-choice candidates who’ve done extraordinarily well,” he told the New York Times.

While Democratic political candidates used to speak frequently of their support for legal abortion with the caveat that it should be “safe, legal and rare,” recent years have witnessed a strong turn within the party against any abortion restrictions.

Democratic presidential primary candidate and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has renounced his support for the Hyde Amendment, which bars most taxpayer-financed Medicaid funds for abortion.

In January a Virginia legislator put forward one of the most radical abortion bills in the country that would have removed most restrictions on second and third trimester abortions, including when the mother was in labor.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, explaining the bill on the regional radio station WTOP, said that under the legislation, a baby that survived a botched abortion would be made “comfortable” while the mother and doctor discuss whether or not the baby would be allowed to survive. He sparked a national uproar over his comments.

A New York law just signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo bars employers from enforcing certain codes of conduct or belief in the workplace with regard to “reproductive rights,” and requires them to inform employees of their right to abortions without fear of any workplace retaliatory action.

Several plaintiffs have challenged the law, saying it singles out pro-life and religious employers by refusing to exempt them. It forces these organizations to employ people who may have publicly defied the mission of an organization, such as a church employee who publicly opposes the teachings of that church on abortion or marriage.

Cuomo has also signed a law requiring contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in employee health plans and a law strengthening legal abortion in the event federal legal precedent is overturned or modified.

In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure requiring public universities to provide free access to drug-induced abortions for students and free abortion counseling services.

Kansas Catholic Conference says Medicaid expansion needs pro-life revisions

Tue, 11/19/2019 - 02:17

Topeka, Kansas, Nov 19, 2019 / 12:17 am (CNA).- As Kansas considers expanding its Medicaid program, the state’s Catholic Conference said its support is contingent upon the establishment of pro-life safeguards.

Last week, the Special Committee on Medicaid Expansion - a joint House and Senate panel - held two days of hearings discussing an expansion of KanCare.

Chuck Weber, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said in his Nov. 12 testimony that the conference cannot support the legislation unless it explicitly excludes the expansion of abortion coverage, includes conscience protections for healthcare organizations and individuals, and a state constitutional amendment is enacted to clarify that abortion is not a natural right.

There are currently an estimated 400,000 people enrolled in Medicaid in Kansas. The Medicaid expansion bill would extend eligibility to an additional 130,000 low-income adults and children, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

April Holman, executive director of Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, a coalition supporting the expansion, said there is an insurance gap where people cannot afford private health insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Weber said the current healthcare system needs to be revised, noting that hospital emergency rooms are required to accept all patients, and therefore become the primary healthcare access point for many uninsured people, which raises costs for everyone.

Even for those with health insurance, he said,  rapidly rising deductibles may lead to “crushing debt.”

But while the system needs to be updated, Weber said the proposal for Medicaid expansion presents “scientific and ethical” concerns.

The Kansas Catholic Conference will not support a Medicaid expansion proposal unless it clearly excludes expanding abortion coverage and includes conscience protections for healthcare institutions and professionals, he said.

In addition, the conference believes Kansas must adopt a state constitutional amendment clarifying that abortion is not a “natural right.” The conference believes this is necessary due to the Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt ruling earlier this year, in which the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a “natural right.”

Weber said the ruling established a right to “virtually unlimited abortion” and used radical language that may provide a legal gateway into physician-assisted suicide and irreversible gender transition procedures.

“This ruling raises the specter of publicly funded surgical and chemical abortion,” he said. “The medical community, not an unfettered and unregulated abortion industry, best provides authentic healthcare for vulnerable women and babies.”

During the hearing, the special committee approved a motion by Rep. Will Carpenter (R-El Dorado) to enable health care providers to decline treatments for reasons of conscience, and stating that the proposed expansion of Medicaid would not broaden abortion access, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

 

Washington DC drops bill to legalize sex trade

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 18:00

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A bill to legalize the buying and selling of sex in Washington, DC, will not move forward after widespread opposition and concern that the bill lacked enough support of the city council to be passed. 

The Community Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2019 (B23-0318) would have made the capital the first city in the United States to fully legalize prostitution. 

Councilman David Grosso (I-At Large), who authored the bill, said that he knew it would be an “uphill battle” to become law in D.C., but that he has not given up the issue. The Washington Post reported that Grosso thinks the bill should instead be placed on the ballot in the district and voted on by city residents. 

On November 1, Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who leads the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety, which hosted a hearing on the bill, told local media WAMU9 that the council would not vote on B23-0318 this year. 

“There were incredibly sharp divisions about what the path forward would look like,” said Allen. “It did not seem to be consensus at all, and I don’t hear the support from my colleagues.”

Despite the lack of further action on the bill, Allen said that he thought it had sparked a “very important conversation” that had given “a lot of voice to a community that is already very marginalized.” 

On October 17, D.C. Council held a 14-hour hearing that included passionate testimony from people on both sides of the issue. Testifying against passing the bill included the Archdiocese of Washington, former sex workers, and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and current sex workers in DC were among the many who testified in favor of the bill’s passage. 

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) reported that the majority of the feedback his office had received about the bill was negative. He rejected claims that he had somehow rigged the DC Council to be against the legalization of prostitution. 

Mendelson said the controversy over B23-0318 was “unusually large” and that it is very rare for a hearing to stretch 14 hours with many people opposed to the bill.

“We will continue to look for ways to best serve the interest of victims,” said Mendelson. “Addressing the issue of prostitution again in this form seems unlikely.”

Venerable Fulton Sheen to be beatified in December

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 16:42

Peoria, Ill., Nov 18, 2019 / 02:42 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Peoria announced Monday that Venerable Fulton Sheen will be beatified Dec. 21 at the city's Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

Sheen had been ordained a priest of the diocese in that cathedral Sept. 20, 1919.

“It seems entirely fitting that the Beatification will take place at the end of this 100-year anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood,” the Peoria diocese stated Nov. 18.

Sheen was born in Illinois in 1895, and was 24 when he was ordained a priest.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966. He retired in 1969 and moved back to New York City until his death in 1979.

Sheen was a beloved television catechist during the 1950s and '60s in the United States. His television show “Life is Worth Living” reached an audience of millions.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints promulgated a decree July 6 recognizing a miracle attributed to Sheen's intercession, which allowed for his beatification.

The miracle involves the unexplained recovery of James Fulton Engstrom, a boy born apparently stillborn in September 2010 to Bonnie and Travis Engstrom of the Peoria-area town of Goodfield. He showed no signs of life as medical professionals tried to revive him. The child’s mother and father prayed to Archbishop Sheen to heal their son.

The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002, after Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. In 2012, Benedict XVI recognized the heroic virtues of the archbishop.

The beatification follows legal battles in civil courts over the location of Sheen's body.

His corpse was transferred to the Peoria cathedral June 27 after a protracted series of suits.

Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham, Sheen’s niece and closest living relative, if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.

In September 2014, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended Sheen’s cause on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Peoria cathedral.

Our Lady unites the divided into the faithful, Cordileone says

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 16:30

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 02:30 pm (CNA).- Mary unites all of God’s children, sparking conversions among those of different faiths, said Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco on Saturday, Nov. 16.

The archbishop pointed to Mary as a force for conversion and unity among different peoples at the first-ever Mass of the Americas in the Extraordinary Form, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. 

“This Mass we celebrate today, the ‘Mass of the Americas,’ speaks profoundly to the power of our Mother to unite her children,” said Cordileone in his homily. “She stands there in every generation of the Church, interceding to her Son for her children, actively leading them to him, united as one in him.” 

The Mass of the Americas is a “twinned tribute” to both Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It was commissioned by the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, and was first celebrated Dec. 8, 2018, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Since its debut, it has gone on a “Marian unity tour” throughout North America, which included a stop in Washington, DC. 

The Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship’s website states that it is an organization dedicated to “open[ing] the door of Beauty to God” through providing resources for “more beautiful and reverent liturgies” as well as “energizing a Catholic culture of the arts.” 

It was no accident that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared as a mixed-race woman who could appeal both to native Mexicans and the Spanish settlers, and that her image resulted in the conversion of an entire country, explained Cordileone. 

“She appeared at a time of great conflict, turbulence and bloodshed, to form a new Christian people for her Son, not by the sword nor by human sacrifice, but by the love of a mother who identifies herself with her children,” he said. 

“After [the apparition] Mexico became Catholic: Our Lady of Guadalupe unites the Old World and the New, and so a new Christian people is formed from the two, a mestizo people; a new Christian civilization is born from the union brought about by her who is venerated as both la Morenita and la Inmaculada,” the archbishop said.

Cordileone also spoke about how the Church is open to all, regardless of their material worth, and that it is a chance for people to satisfy the innate human hunger for beauty. The archbishop pointed to the Extraordinary Form liturgy, music, and vestments as a form of assisting humanity in their desire for beautiful things. 

“Perhaps what the poor most lack in their lives is beauty: being dignified by that beauty which ennobles and elevates the soul, assuring them of their equal dignity as a fellow child of God whom God created in His image and likeness,” said Cordileone. 

Poverty, said the archbishop, is not just limited to a lack of material goods. “There is also spiritual poverty, a poverty of the soul. The absence of beauty and prevalence of the ugly eventually corrupts a soul, leading to spiritual misery,” he said.

Evidence of this spiritual poverty is found in increasing rates of depression, “irrational intolerance” of people with differing views, and predation of the less fortunate, he said. Despite living in the United States, “the most affluent society in the history of the world,” America is still overrun with “Anger, division, injustice and depression.” 

The Church’s three transcendentals of beauty, truth, and goodness are one way to combat this divide.

“We are happy to come together today to offer something beautiful to God and to express our love for the Mother of His Son: we give our best, because we are motivated by love, which settles for nothing less,” he said. 

“And here our Blessed Mother is once again uniting us: the poor with the well-to-do and the in between, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”

What the cluck? Chick-Fil-A sauces Christian charities

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 15:45

Washington D.C., Nov 18, 2019 / 01:45 pm (CNA).- American fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A has announced it will stop donating to two large faith-based charitable organizations, after years of criticism from LGBT groups.

On Monday, the Chick-Fil-A Foundation announced the organizations it would donate to in 2020. Notably, the foundation will no longer donate to the Salvation Army or to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Instead, the foundation has pledged $9 million each to Junior Achievement, Covenant House International, and local food banks near new Chick-Fil-A locations. 

“The Foundation will no longer make multi-year commitments and will reassess its philanthropic partnerships annually to allow maximum impact,” said the Chick-Fil-A Foundation in a press release. “These partners could include faith-based and non-faith-based charities.” 

Previously, the Chick-Fil-A Foundation had donated to support the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and had signed multi-year commitments with each organization. According to a statement provided to Business Insider from Chick-Fil-A, those deals were fulfilled in 2018 and were not renewed. 

The donations to Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes were earmarked for specific programs that would assist underprivileged children.

Both the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Salvation Army promote the Biblical belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. Fellowship of Christian Athletes includes on its application for employment the organization's belief that God does not approve of same-sex relationships or premarital sex. 

The Salvation Army denies allegations that it is an anti-gay organization, and says that its charitable services are available to all, regardless of sexual orientation. 

Chick-Fil-A has faced considerable controversy regarding its past charitable donations. In 2012, after the founder of Chick-Fil-A stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, there were calls for a nationwide boycott of the chain. This boycott largely failed, and Chick-Fil-A is now the third-largest restaurant chain in the country in terms of systemwide sales, trailing only McDonald’s and Starbucks. 

After the outcry in 2012, Chick-Fil-A announced that it would no longer be supporting some  organizations link to traditional views on marriage through its WinShape Foundation. The chain continued to provide support for both the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

Chick-Fil-A’s donation history has been cited in efforts to block the restaurant from opening locations in San Antonio and Buffalo’s airports. The opening of the company’s first restaurant in United Kingdom was met with extended protests by LGBT campaigners. The owners of the U.K. shopping center hosting the Chick-Fil-A announced that the lease would not be renewed after the six month trial. 

Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays to give the chain’s workers a chance to attend religious services and be with their families.

Lawsuit filed over latest New York abortion law

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 14:00

Albany, N.Y., Nov 18, 2019 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Several pro-life organizations in New York have sued the state over a law they say targets pro-life and religious employers, barring them from reflecting their core beliefs in hiring policies.

“No government has the right to tell pro-life or religious organizations they must hire someone who doesn’t agree with their core mission,” Ken Connelly, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, said Monday. ADF is representing the plaintiffs in the case.

On Novemebr 14, a New York-based crisis pregnancy center and Baptist church, along with a national association of pregnancy care centers, filed a lawsuit over New York’s new law SB 660, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on November 8. 

The law bars employers from enforcing certain codes of conduct or belief in the workplace with regard to “reproductive rights,” and requires them to inform employees of their right to abortions without fear of any workplace retaliatory action.

The law, plaintiffs say, singles out pro-life and religious employers by refusing to exempt them. It forces these organizations to continue employ people who may have publicly defied the mission of an organization—for example, an employee at a pro-life crisis pregnancy center who has an abortion, or a church employee who publicly opposes the teachings of that church on abortion or marriage.

“New York is directly demeaning religious pro-life pregnancy centers and other faith-based organizations—like religious schools, Catholic hospitals, and even churches—by ordering them to violate their beliefs in key personnel and leadership decisions,” Connelly said.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include CompassCare, a Rochester-based pregnancy center, First Bible Baptist Church in Hilton, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), an association of pregnancy care centers which has 41 member centers in New York.

Under SB 660, employers are prevented from taking adverse action against employees for “reproductive health” decisions such as having abortions. In addition, they cannot require employees to sign any document conditioning their employment upon such decisions, such as workplace codes of conduct prohibiting having an abortion.

This would mean that religious institutes and pro-life organizations, among others, could not institute workplace codes of conduct prohibiting abortion, nor could they terminate the employment of employees for having an abortion, in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure, or vasectomy.

Under the law, employers would have to notify employees of their rights in this regard, in workplace handbooks.

“SB 660 intentionally and by design sacrifices the associational, speech, and religious freedom of employers in New York State—including religious non-profits, churches, and schools— to the government’s desire to promote abortion rights by gutting the ability of pro-life employers to hire to their pro-life missions,” the plaintiffs’ brief states.

“To fulfill their missions, Plaintiffs hire employees who agree with, personally adhere to, and effectively convey organizational beliefs regarding reproductive health decisions, including but not limited to decisions related to abortion, contraceptive use, and sexual morality,” the brief says.

The bill was supported by Planned Parenthood as a measure that would protect women’s access to abortion.

“Gov. Cuomo’s message to pro-life New Yorkers is loud and clear: The abortion agenda of Planned Parenthood trumps the lives of the unborn, and anyone who disagrees will be forced to bow to the state’s orthodoxy by force of law,” Connelly said.

A spokesman for Gov. Cuomo told CNA that the governor “enacted the law to ensure employers cannot discriminate or interfere in the personal medical and reproductive health care decisions of employees, and we will vigorously defend the law and the important protections it provides to all New Yorkers."

The spokesman called the lawsuit "frivolous and quite frankly ridiculous, and we expect it to be dismissed by the court."

Cuomo, a Catholic, has signed into law a series of pro-abortion bills in 2019, of which SB 660 is the latest.

On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the state legislature passed—and Gov. Cuomo signed—the Reproductive Health Act (SB 240) to applause from observers in the gallery. The law granted almost unlimited access to abortion in New York.

The law codified Roe to keep abortion legal if the decision is overturned by the Supreme Court, and allowed abortions after 24 weeks gestation in cases of a lack of “fetal viability” or when the mother’s health is at risk—a broad exemption that critics said could allow for many abortions-on-demand up until the birth of the child.

Doctors would not have conscience rights to object to performing abortions, and abortions could be performed by non-doctors under the law, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York noted after the law’s passage.

Albany bishop Edward Scharfenberger warned that Catholic legislators’ support for the bill “threatens to rupture” their “communion” with the Church, and separately wrote Gov. Cuomo that “[a]lthough in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should ‘stand with Pope Francis,’ your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our Church.”

This year, Cuomo also signed a law requiring contraceptive and abortifacient coverage in employee health plans.

Alasdair MacIntyre: True friendships are rare, but possible

Sun, 11/17/2019 - 17:01

South Bend, Ind., Nov 17, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- For Aristotle, the definition of perfect friendship was so narrow that precious few could achieve it.

In order to have a perfect friendship between two people, Aristotle said that both must be models of goodness and virtue, willing the good of the other and loving each other for their own sake.

He also thought these levels of virtue and goodness could only be achieved by a narrow slice of the population: namely, the Greek male elite. Women, non-Greeks, productive workers, and slaves were, in Aristotle’s mind, unable to achieve the levels of virtue and goodness necessary for such friendships.

Such people could have other kinds of friendships, Aristotle said – friendships of utility or pleasure – but they could never have perfect friendship.

It was this view of friendship with which moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre took issue in his Nov. 8 address at the di Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture’s 20th annual conference, which this year had the theme of friendship.

“For (perfect) friendships, so Aristotle tells us, we have to be good in ways and to a degree that...if we’re honest, many of us know that we’re not,” MacIntyre said.

“Aristotle allows that...we can, without being good, participate in friendships of mutual utility or of shared pleasure, but even this should be depressing for many of us,” he added, “for what we need on the most important occasions when we need friendship...are friendships sustained by a good deal more than the possibility of mutual utility or of shared pleasure.”

MacIntyre pointed to other still unsatisfactory definitions of friendship, such as that from Dale Carnegie, who wrote the 1936 book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

But what Carnegie suggests will not help one have real friends, MacIntyre said, but will manufacture “a certain kind of superficial sociability, a sociability which no one of integrity could confuse with friendship.” Such friendships, he added, might be compared to someone who is a Facebook friend and nothing more.

Friedrich Nietzsche, on the other hand, concludes that “yes there are friends, but it’s error and deception regarding yourself that led them to you, and they must have learned how to keep silent in order to remain your friend.”

With these different definitions and ideas of friendship, what then does it mean to truly be a friend? While hoping to broaden the scope of friendship beyond that which is available to the Greek male elite, MacIntyre said there are still many types of relationships that, while friendly, are not true friendships.

Such relationships include, for example, those between coworkers, where a certain amount of friendliness is helpful in achieving common goals and completing tasks together, or relationships between parents and children, between siblings, or between members of groups such as rock climbers, people in a choir, or members of a surgical team, MacIntyre said.

Those in such relationships “only care for each other because they are collaborators in some particular role. They do not care for each other as she or he is in themselves, apart from whatever role they happen to be playing at any particular time. This alone is sufficient to distinguish such relationships from friendships,” he added.

With such relationships being so prolific in our lives, MacIntyre said some may be tempted to wonder what the use is of another kind of friendship after all.

In his response to this question, MacIntyre said that because human beings are dependent rational animals who need to be able to make good judgements about themselves and the world in order to flourish, a key element of true friendship then is the ability to tell one another the truth.

“Insofar as our minds are not so informed, we’re liable to go astray in a variety of ways, to be victims of ignorance, arrogance, deception and self-deception. We become unable to flourish and we become unable to recognize that we are unable to flourish. We make bad decisions, for we can hope to avoid bad decision making only by deliberating in the company of a certain kind of other,” he said.

This other - a true friend - must not only be a “perceptive inquirer” and “scrupulously truthful,” they must “care enough about us and about our flourishing as human agents to insist on us, too, being truthful, so with their help, we may become able to correct our mistakes and to free ourselves from our illusions.”

True friendships must also be uncalculating of the costs and benefits of the relationship, and must be relationships in which “each friend genuinely cares both for the other and for the good of the other and finds in this caring a sufficient reason for acting as she or he does,” MacIntyre added.

St. Thomas Aquinas, MacIntyre noted, was also able to “correct” some of Aristotle's deficiencies in his definition of friendship by recognizing that people possess various virtues in varying degrees, and that grace and charity can account for some of the ways baptized persons act that go beyond either their natural inclinations towards virtue or their moral education in the virtues, which allows for a broader understanding of friendship.

“So a more recognizable portrait of humanity emerges - and one sometimes wonders how many people Aristotle had actually met,” MacIntyre said.

This more recognizable view of humanity is “one in which moral education has become the work of a lifetime, and moral failure in this or that respect is a recurrent and characteristic feature of our lives. It matters, of course, that Aquinas writes as a Christian theologian and therefore is someone for whom their sinfulness is one of the key facts about human beings,” he added.

This more flexible view of humanity also allows that good friendships can be schools of virtue, rather than just something that occurs between two people who have already achieved perfect virtue, because these friendships are “a means to self-knowledge. Friendships survive and flourish...only if each friend can rely on the other's truthfulness. And without the self-knowledge that is one result of such truthfulness we're all of us apt to become victims of our own self-indulgent fantasies,” he said.

An additional key element of a true friendship is that it is a gift, MacIntyre said. A gift is freely given, and must be received. This means that one must be open to the possibility of friendship with others, and recognize the opportunity of friendship when it occurs.

This requires a responsiveness to others, as well as a willingness to be surprised or disappointed along the way, he noted. It means letting go of pride, or of greed or an unnecessary competitiveness with others, he added.

“Yet what above all else stands in the way of openness to friendship is insincerity,” MacIntyre said. An insincere person is an actor of sorts, he noted. An insincere person is not necessarily a liar, but they have convinced others and sometimes themselves that they are something or someone that they are not.

“An insincere person invites others to respond not to their reality, but the sometimes impressive fiction that they have constructed. So the other is put at a disadvantage and when the invitation extended to the other is or includes an offer a friendship, what is offered cannot, in fact, be friendship. For one is being invited to care for a fiction, not for a real human being,” he said.

A final characteristic of a true friend is that they care not only for their friend, but for all that their friend cares about, MacIntyre said, quoting Aquinas: "When the man has friendship for someone for his sake, he loves all belonging to it, whether children, servants or related to him in any way."

“Indeed, so much do we love our friends, but for their sake we love all who belonged to them,” MacIntyre said.

And so with these defining characteristics of a good friendship, they still may be difficult to find in today’s world, MacIntyre said, but they are possible and necessary for human flourishing.

“Each of us needs such others if we are able to deliberate well and to make good choices. Each of us needs such others if we are to achieve the self-knowledge without which we can’t flourish.”

Development of prison catechesis program draws strong support

Sun, 11/17/2019 - 05:05

Houston, Texas, Nov 17, 2019 / 03:05 am (CNA).- It took a Catholic evangelist just three days to raise the funds online for an apologetics and faith formation curriculum to distribute to prisons— a place where he says Biblical apologetics are sorely needed.

Michael Gormley, host of the podcast “Catching Foxes” and adult faith formation director for St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in the Houston area, told CNA that the goal of the curriculum is to weave the Gospel message with apologetics and Catechesis.

“There's such a need for Biblical apologetics [in prison],” he said.

“The majority of people are leaving the Catholic faith either for an anti-Catholic fundamentalist Christian faith, or for Islam. Islam is mostly big in the jails...and we have almost zero presence in jails. And it's shocking, it's just shocking.”

Gormley said the goal is to adapt a faith formation series that he originally created for Ascension Press.

He said he hopes to adapt the series to be more relevant to men and women in prison, offering instruction for those who want to learn more about Catholicism about how to frame their lives around Christian discipleship. He said he hopes to reach inmates who have already been inspired by prison ministry volunteers to say, “I’m interested in this Catholic thing, what’s next?”

“My hope is to be able to pull out a coherent curriculum from beginning to end, chopping the videos up and maybe adding new things into the mix as we go,” he said.

Gormley said the opportunity recently came “out of nowhere” to buy the rights to the series from Ascension, so he launched a GoFundMe page to raise the $10,000 necessary— and it took him only three days to reach the initial goal.

In fact, it only took one minute of the fundraiser being live for one donor to offer $5,000— half the funds needed.

Gormley stressed that although the campaign had reached its initial funding goal, the GoFundMe is still accepting donations because more is still needed to allow the project to continue.

Any additional funds beyond those used to buy the rights to the series, he said, will go directly to printing DVDs— Internet-based videos aren’t an option for prisons— as well as for workbooks and other production costs.

“On top of your donation dollars to all your different nonprofits, and churches, and charities, really keep an eye to prison ministries,” he said.

He said there are around 110 prison units in Texas, but only one full-time Catholic chaplain.

Gormley said he goes with a group to a prison every Monday, offering a few hours of instruction and Catechesis as well as a Communion service for the Catholic inmates. He said working with inmates has changed the way that he, an educator in the faith and an evangelist, goes about sharing his faith.

“It totally changed how I do everything in my life. From being a dad, to teaching my faith, living as a witness, evangelization, it turbocharged everything, because you see grace working right in front of your eyes.”

Gormley told CNA last month that the first time he went on a retreat at a prison, through a group called Kolbe Prison Ministries, he went to a maximum security unit in Texas.

The Jim Ferguson Unit, located in Midway, Texas, has a maximum capacity of 2,100 men and mainly houses violent and gang-affiliated prisoners.

Gormley said he remembers showing up for his first retreat at 5:00 in the morning, and he and his fellow participants prayed the prayer to St. Michael before going inside because they had heard that a group of “Satanist” inmates were cursing them and their ministry.

“When you walk into these prisons, you realize you're going in to serve, at least in my case, violent offenders, many of whom are of the population where there's a high recidivism rate,” he said.

“The beautiful thing about prison ministry, at least from my limited experience, is that 2 hours into the actual retreat, I was shocked at how mundane everything was,” he continued.

“There were guys that were super talkative, guys that were disengaged, guys who were listening and quiet, guys that were dominating the conversation, and everything in between, just like a normal men's retreat. And it was that...the men quickly became very normal in my eyes from the labels that they were beforehand.”

The vast majority of the inmates participating in the retreats, he said, are non-Catholic, and he said a significant majority of those non-Catholics are “fiercely anti-Catholic.”

A large number of Latino inmates that Gormley has encountered, who may have grown up Catholic, are now “extremely anti-Catholic,” he said.

The retreats are based on testimonies that are tied to larger themes, he said. In his role as a table facilitator at the retreats, Gormley leads discussions and often fields questions and challenges from inmates about aspects of the Catholic faith.

“Every single story is insane, amazing, sad, heartrending,” he commented.

Every single man he met in the unit, with one exception, had inadequate fathers, whether by neglect, abandonment, abuse, or a combination. Almost every one of the men joined gangs, because “if they didn't have fathers, they needed brothers.” Most of the men were abandoned by the gangs they joined, too, he said.

Gormley related the story of a man in the Ferguson Unit who had joined a white supremacist gang before being locked up.

At one of the prison retreats, the inmate stood up and told the other men at the prison that he was sorry for getting into fights with his black and Latino prison mates, because he realized on a prison retreat a year ago that he didn't hate people of different races— he hated his father, who had abandoned him years earlier.

He said he forgave his father a year ago, and then asked the other prisoners to forgive him. An African-American inmate then stood up and gave the man a hug, amid tears and applause from the other inmates.

“The whole rest of the retreat was like that, stories like that,” Gormley said.

 

As Pope Francis calls for a 'synodal' Church, some US dioceses are holding synods

Sat, 11/16/2019 - 16:00

Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- As some U.S. dioceses convene local synods to discuss topics ranging from the family to evangelization, bishops are preaching the need to discover a true sense of synodality.

Pope Francis has called in recent months for a more synodal Church, suggesting that “synods,” or gatherings intended for discussion and discernment of the Church’s direction, are an important aspect of an engaged and missionary Church.

At the annual fall meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore, Maryland, CNA spoke with bishops who have recently held synods or are preparing to hold them, asking them to explain what “synodality”is and  how the Holy Spirit was present at their gatherings.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit told CNA that a synod, to be an authentic exercise of discernment, has to begin with prayer, and interior conversion on the part of attendees.

A synod is not a democratic assembly to draw up a five-year plan, he said, but something much greater—a “vehicle” for the Holy Spirit to renew the church, if participants engage prayerfully to discern the will of God.

In November 2016, the Archdiocese of Detroit held a synod for the first time in almost 30 years.

Hundreds of people from around the archdiocese gathered to share thoughts on how the archdiocese could proclaim the Gospel better than it already was.

Several months afterward, Vigneron published his letter “Unleash the Gospel” as a result of the synod, outlining a pastoral plan for evangelization. Some critiques of the church he included in his letter were “a worldly notion of the church,” “fear,” and “spiritual lethargy,” while prescriptions included “docility to the Spirit,” “confidence in God,” and “apostolic boldness.”

Ultimately, the synod concluded that evangelization needs to become the very “form” of the Church in coming years, Vigneron said.

The archbishop added that the reason the archdiocesan synod was so successful was because of prayer and docility to the Holy Spirit.
 
“A synod in the history of the Church has been a privileged vehicle for the working of the Holy Spirit,” Vigneron told CNA.

Two years before the Detroit synod even took place, prayer groups were formed at the parish level to pray and fast for the upcoming gathering, asking the Holy Spirit to be present at the synod.

“We had some very extended periods of prayer and formation for anyone who was going to be a participant in the synod,” Vigneron said. “To come into the synod, a person has to undergo a conversion.”

The very “template” of a synod, he said, “is the Holy Trinity,” not a “democratic assembly.” In a synod, the bishop acts in the role of God the Father as the “leader,” allowing the lay faithful to act as a “communion of persons” while not hindering “his own setting of a direction,” he said.
 
As a result of the Detroit synod’s docility to the Holy Spirit, there has been an abundance of spiritual fruit in the archdiocese, Vigneron said.
 
“It was of inestimable worth for us to have a synod,” he told CNA on Tuesday, nearly three full years after the gathering. It “galvanized the diocese from bottom to top,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the church is preparing for a synod in 2021, through prayerful discernment, Archbishop Bernard Hebda told CNA.

In recent years, the archdiocese has dealt with the resignation of its archbishop, bankruptcy, and fallout from a serious sexual abuse crisis in the region.

Several years ago, in 2015, then-Archbishop John Nienstedt resigned after the archdiocese was charged with mishandling sexual abuse cases.

The years-long efforts to deal with the pressing clergy sex abuse crisis put other important priorities such as evangelization on the “back burner,” Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a June letter announcing the synod.
 
Now the church needs to turn toward these priorities without abandoning its work of rebuilding from the abuse crisis, he said.
 
“Without losing sight of either the critical importance of our Catholic schools or the urgency of creating safe environments and engaging in outreach to those who have in any way been harmed by the Church, we now need to be deliberate in moving forward on other fronts,” Hebda wrote.
 
A diocesan synod, Hebda said, draws from the 1983 revised Code of Canon Law and can be “a tool for the bishop to engage the People of God (laity, clergy, consecrated men and women, and bishops all walking together) in exercising the responsibility that flows from our common baptism, always in the hope of strengthening the communion that is the Church.”
 
In preparation for the synod, 20 listening and prayer events have been scheduled, seven of which have already taken place, Hebda told CNA. He plans to attend each session, with auxiliary bishop Andrew Cozzens attending most of them.
 
Each gathering lasts around three hours, he said, the first half of which is spent in guided prayer followed by small group discussions for the second half. Discussions feature participants sharing their view of God’s blessings and challenges in their lives, and where God is leading the church.
 
Attendance at the sessions has been greater than expected, Hebda said, and the results of the meetings will be collated for discussion at the parish level next fall.
 
Some of the main points of discussion have been concern for baptized Catholics who have drifted away from the faith—especially among youth and young adults—as well as “connecting catechesis and evangelization” and “the importance of liturgy as a means of drawing people to the truth of the faith,” Hebda said.
 
He emphasized trying to help the lay faithful listen to the Holy Spirit and to discover the “gifts” God is bestowing upon the lay faithful, and “seeing that as a possibility for really hearing what it is that the Lord wants us to know and to do.”
 
Healing from the abuse crisis has also been a point of discussion at the meetings, Hebda said, as at most events attendees hear from a “victim survivor of abuse.”

 

US bishops and Knights of Columbus voice solidarity with Iraq, Lebanon

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 18:28

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 04:28 pm (CNA).- The U.S. bishops and the Knights of Columbus have professed their solidarity with the people of Iraq and Lebanon, telling the Catholic patriarchs of the region that they are praying and working for peace and security.

“The Catholic bishops of the United States and the Knights of Columbus stand in prayerful solidarity with you and your people at this difficult time,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services U.S.A., and Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, said in a Nov. 13 letter.

Broglio signed the letter in his role as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace. Anderson heads the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world, with close to 2 million members worldwide.

“Today, in Lebanon and Iraq, we are witnessing critical moments as protests grow against corruption and foreign interference,” Anderson and Broglio’s letter said. “We pray that the effect of these protests will be a more just society for all the citizens of these two countries.”

Their Nov. 13 letter was addressed to the leading Catholic patriarchs of the region: Cardinal Bechara Rai, Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites and All the East; Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Primate of the Syriac Catholic Church; Patriarch Youssef Absi of Antioch of the Greek Melkites; Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldeans; and Gregory Petros XX Ghabroyan, Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church.

In their letter, Anderson and Broglio stressed the need for an outcome in Iraq and Lebanon that respects “the sovereignty and autonomy of these two countries.”

Protests in Iraq began in Baghdad Oct. 1 and have spread to the south of Iraq. They are dominated by young people who object to the poor response to government corruption and a lack of economic growth and proper public services. Protesters are calling for reform of the country’s sectarian power structure. They want the resignation of the Iraqi government, the Associated Press and Reuters have reported.

More than 300 Iraqis have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Anderson and Broglio’s letter cited Pope Francis. In the Oct. 30 Wednesday general audience, the pope called for the Iraqi government to “listen to the cry of the people who are asking for a dignified and peaceful life.”

On the matter of events in Lebanon, Anderson and Broglio acknowledged “growing instability” there but noted that the protests have generally not suffered from violent opposition.

They echoed the pope’s Oct. 27 Sunday Angelus address, in which he said that a resolution to the Lebanon crisis would work “for the benefit of the entire Middle East Region, which suffers so much.”

Protests in Lebanon began Oct. 17 after the government announced a new tax on internet-based calls made over WhatsApp. Lebanon has high levels of public debt and low employment. Protesters called for the removal of corrupt government officials.

Government riot police intervened after Hezbollah supporters attacked and injured non-sectarian protesters Oct. 24-25.

On Nov. 12 one protester, a supporter of Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, was shot dead in an altercation with soldiers. The soldier who fired on him has been detained.

Several leading politicians have warned that the protests are comparable to previous times of serious tension.

Lebanon’s caretaker defense minister Elias Bou Saab said the situation is “very dangerous,” Reuters reports. The unrest reminded him of the start of the country’s devastating civil war, which lasted from 1975-1990.

In their letter, Anderson and Broglio cited the words of Pope John Paul II: Lebanon “is more than a country, it is a message of freedom and example of pluralism for East and West.”

“We pray that peace and security may come to this region, and that those who have suffered so much may be able to rebuild their lives in an environment consistent with their rights to human dignity,” they added.

“We continue also to watch closely and with concern the situation in other countries in the region where so many have suffered from war and violence, and in the case of Christians, have been targeted often simply for professing their belief in Christ.”

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 destabilized the region and led to many Iraqis - Muslim, Christian and others - fleeing their country. A March 2011 revolt against Syrian President Bashar Assad quickly drew support from the U.S. and regional powers, with Russia and others siding with Assad against the rebels. The resulting civil war, which is ongoing, has killed an estimated 400,000 people and forced millions to become internally displaced persons or refugees who fled abroad.

As of Oct. 31 there were about 1 million U.N.-registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon alone, a country of fewer than 6.9 million residents. Its political and social systems are a sometimes delicate, always complex balance of rival factions splitting the loyalties of Christians and both Sunni and Shia Muslims.

In 2014, the Knights of Columbus launched an advocacy campaign for Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The organization has given about $25 million to support persecuted religious minorities from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region.

The fraternal organization launched a successful effort to secure the U.S. State Department’s recognition of the Islamic State group’s crimes against Christians, Yazidis and others in Iraq and Syria as genocide. In 2016 the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a resolution declaring that the Islamic State group had committed genocide. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry recognized the group’s actions as genocide as well.

Advocates of the official designation said it could aid investigation and indictment of those responsible for genocide and would emphasize the obligations of the U.S. government under international conventions against genocide.

In a separate Nov. 15 opinion essay at the New York Post, Anderson said that a mass exodus of Christians from the Middle East would be catastrophic.

“What happens in the next few weeks in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon is crucial for Mideast Christians — and the stability and pluralism of these countries and the wider region,” he said.

While Christians made up about 20% of the population a century ago, they are now 5% or less, he said.

“In Iraq, protesters are demanding an end to sectarian government and equal citizenship for all regardless of ethnicity or religion,” he said, blaming protester deaths on “Iran-backed militias.”

“The future of the Iraqi state hangs in the balance,” he continued. “Either it will become more sectarian under the influence of its more powerful neighbors — or it will become the pluralistic country sought by thousands marching in the streets, including Christians.”

In Lebanon, Anderson said, Christians fear an economic collapse that could result in the fall of the largely Christian Lebanese Army, resulting in crisis and mass emigration.

“Many Christians persecuted elsewhere in the region have fled to Lebanon,” Anderson said. “If Lebanon were to lose its gift for pluralism, that could spell the end of the concept in the rest of the region.”

Anderson also objected to incursions from Turkey in northeastern Syria.

He said the U.S. must play a “decisive” diplomatic role and must make the wellbeing and physical security of Christian communities in the Middle East “a permanent agenda item in all U.S. aid and military assistance discussions with regional governments.”

US House oversight committee hears testimony on abortion regulation

Fri, 11/15/2019 - 17:53

Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2019 / 03:53 pm (CNA).- Members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee heard testimony Thursday on abortion from a new mother, as well as a mother who aborted her child because of a fatal fetal diagnosis.

“I am here today as a mom, fighting for a future for her kids in which rights are not dependent on whether a person is wanted, but upon their humanity,” Allie Stuckey, a conservative Christian commentator, told members of the committee Nov. 14.

“With broken hearts, we knew that the greatest act of love that we could undertake as her parents would be to suffer ourselves instead to end the pregnancy, grant Libby peace, and spare her tiny, broken body a short life full of pain,” Jennifer Box, a mother of three who aborted one of her daughters, Libby, who was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, said.

Missouri’s abortion law, and the state’s last remaining abortion clinic, were in the spotlight at the hearing in the Democratic-controlled House on “State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care.”

Ahead of the hearing, the committee said that states "have been taking draconian steps to restrict their residents’ access to comprehensive reproductive health services, including abortion."

The committee heard the testimony of five witnesses, four of whom are supportive of abortion rights.

Both Box and Dr. Colleen McNicholas, OB/GYN, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, spoke to state laws or policies that they said were designed to coerce all abortion clinics in the state into closing.

Missouri enacted a law earlier this year that criminalized abortions after eight weeks gestation, and banned abortions conducted solely because of the baby’s race, sex, or diagnosis of disability. If the eight-week ban were to be overturned in court, that would “trigger” other bans set up in the law at 14, 18, and 20 weeks.

Currently, Missouri has just one abortion clinic open, and that is solely because of a court order.

In June, the state’s health department refused to reissue a license for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic after it submitted a “statement of deficiencies” to a court; the state cited an “unprecedented lack of cooperation” by the clinic in its investigation, along with “failure to meet basic standards of patient care” and lack of compliance with state safety regulations.

In one case, the state said, the clinic would not have been prepared to handle a case of “severe hemorrhaging” of a female patient that she later suffered at a hospital. The clinic also agreed to perform extra pelvic exams on women before refusing to do so, the state said.

The clinic did submit a “Plan of Correction” but it did not sufficiently address all the stated deficiencies, the health department said. The state’s Administration Hearing Commission conducted a hearing on the matter in October, and the clinic will remain open until a final decision is made.

McNicholas said on Thursday that the state “weaponized” the licensing process, and that officials “admitted under oath” that they targeted Planned Parenthood for extra scrutiny. Planned Parenthood did not want to perform the “extra” pelvic exam on patients that was unwarranted, she said.

In a later exchange with Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), McNicholas was questioned about efforts to fight against protecting babies who survive botched abortion attempts.

“There is no way to oversimplify the medical conditions” of second trimester abortions, she said, noting that the “Born-Alive” act which would require doctors to give standard medical treatment to babies surviving abortions makes such botched abortions seem like a “real thing.”

Stuckey testified in the minority.

Abortion advocates used to advertise “safe, legal, and rare” for the procedure, but now they champion abortion-on-demand through nine months of pregnancy, Stuckey said, despite evidence that doctors can feel a baby’s heartbeat at six weeks gestation, and that babies can feel pain at 20 weeks, and survive outside the womb as early as 21 weeks.

“In speaking of abortion, its defenders ignore the existence of the child entirely,” Stuckey said. “I am here as a woman who believes that female empowerment, equality and freedom are not defined by her ability to terminate the life of her child.”

“I’m here as a human being, horrified by the violence, the oppression and the marginalization of a defenseless people group based solely on where they reside, the womb,” Stuckey said.

Her testimony followed that of Box, who said she aborted her daughter because of a “fatal fetal diagnosis.”

In her testimony in February before a Missouri state house committee, Box said her daughter was diagnosed with Trisomy 18. She said she was first informed that he daughter was at “high risk” of the chromosome abnormality when she was 13 weeks pregnant, in a May op-ed for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the baby “would likely die within minutes or hours of birth,” if not before.

Most babies with Trisomy 18 die before birth, and only around ten percent survive the first year of life. Abortion rates are high for babies with fetal chromosomnal abnormalities such as Trisomy 18.

Fearing her daughter would have to endure a “life of immediate and repeated invasive medical intervention,” Box said she and her husband chose to procure an abortion.

However, she did not have insurance coverage for the abortion, Box said. According to the Guttmacher Institute, private insurance in Missouri only covers abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. A Catholic hospital which delivered her two other children refused to perform the abortion.

“My actual abortion procedure was the most compassionate care I have ever received from a. physician,” Box said. “Jake and I left that day knowing that we made the most loving and merciful choice for our daughter.”

In her op-ed in the Post-Dispatch, Box said she recently discovered she was pregnant but would not find out the results of pre-natal tests until she was 24 weeks pregnant. At the time, Missouri had just enacted several bans on abortions, including at 20 weeks post-gestation.

“When we got to the car I sobbed, ‘At 24 weeks it will be illegal in Missouri to have an abortion,’” Box wrote. “I don’t want to fly to Colorado to end this pregnancy if something goes wrong.”

“I speak for Libby,” she said on Thursday. “It is an honor to share her name with this committee and the country today. Libby Rose Box.”

“I have a rose tattoo above my heart so that she is with me every day. I am her mother, and she is my daughter and will always be my daughter. I made decisions from day one as her mother, and then made the most important decision of Libby’s life when together with my husband, we decided to terminate the pregnancy. It was a sacred, painful, personal decision.”

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center, testified that “it’s not lost on me” that abortion is under its gravest threat “on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, when some women first gained the right to vote.”

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