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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: 58 min 52 sec ago

'Endow' women's group launches outreach to Latinos, millennials

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 08:02

Denver, Colo., Jan 25, 2017 / 06:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an effort to meet the Church's growth in diversity, the Catholic women's apostolate Endow has announced a new program that will cater to various demographics in the church, including Latino women and millennials.

“With the advent of new technologies, rapidly changing social issues, and changing demographics in the Church, we recognize the need to remain flexible, leveraging the new tools and data available via digital to test unique approaches, while continuing to support the core audiences who have come to benefit from our ministry,” said Martha Reichert, the president of Endow, in a recent press release.

Endow was founded in 2003 in a collaborative effort between lay women and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. Now, the program is a leading women's apostolate that is present in over 130 dioceses and reaches approximately 33,000 women.

Endow's goal is to inspire, uplift and educate women through the teachings of the Catholic Church, mainly drawing from Pope St. John Paul II's “Letter to Women.” Their programs also offer a space for community and encouragement, where women from all areas of life can meet and learn more about themselves through the lenses of church teaching.

“Endow has paved the way over the last 15 years, bringing the Church's beautiful teaching on the 'genius' of women and the 'new feminism' to women all across the United States,” said Archbishop Gomez in the press release.

Now, Endow is revamping their outreach in a big way to include programs in Spanish, which has already been implemented in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – an area that is about 70 percent Latino.

“Through our Hispanic Program, developed on the ground in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and our new visual identity and social-data driven approach for online outreach, we believe we have found the right strategy to allow us to reach new women, while at the same time providing a better way to connect with our core constituency of women across the country,” Reichert stated.

So far, the program has produced about 45 groups, reaching over 2,000 women.

Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles spoke highly of Endow's new effort, saying that he has been inspired by the Latino program, and has high hopes for future endeavors.

“The great success of Endow's outreach to Hispanic women and parishes here in Los Angeles and throughout Southern California has been inspiring. I am hopeful that we can continue to grow and bring this beautiful teaching to Hispanic women in every diocese in the country,” Archbishop Gomez said.

In addition to the Hispanic program, Endow has also made steps to update the overall digital underworkings of the program, giving a facelift to their website and kick starting a newly revised social media strategy.

By implementing these steps, Endow hopes to also reach the new millennial generation of women in the Church, while maintaining their current audience of women.

Endow is hopeful that their new steps in creating a more diverse outreach will only bring more women together in the name of Christian education. More information about Endow can be found at www.endowgroups.org.

Snapchat's new guidelines will restrict sexually suggestive content

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 19:47

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 24, 2017 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- Snapchat users tired of frequently seeing scantily-clad members of the Kardashian family in Discover stories will be happy to hear that the popular social platform has heard their complaints.

In response to criticism and a lawsuit, Snapchat announced yesterday that it was updating its policies on its Discover section, which features syndicated snap stories from select publishers that are viewed by more than 100 million users every month.

The new guidelines more explicitly restrict news and photos that lack editorial value, and clarify ambiguous language regarding policies on stories containing nudity, profanity and violence.

Snapchat also created a tool that allowed publishers to prevent users under 18 from seeing certain content. The company has also reserved the right to block inappropriate content from users under 18.  

Social media experts told the New York Times that the changes could have a positive effect on potential advertisers, who now may be more willing to place stories in the cleaned-up section.

The changes came in response to a class action lawsuit that was brought against the company in July which alleged that the Discover section intentionally exposed minors “to harmful, offensive, prurient and sexually offensive content without warning minors or their parents that they would be exposed to such explicit content,” according to a report from the New York Times.

The lawsuit cited examples of offensive content, including a Buzzfeed story that featured sexualized Disney characters, and a story from Cosmopolitan about an artist who let others touch her inappropriately.

The lawsuit was dismissed in November, as both sides agreed to settle.

Also at this time, a separate petition was started against Snapchat by Malissa Richardson, a Millennial Snapchat user who said she was tired of seeing the “sexually explicit headlines and pictures” that “bombarded” the Discover section of her feed.

“I do not care to see articles about how to improve my sex life, how to lose my virginity, or what I should know about what guys like in bed. To me, that is offensive and disgusting. What frustrates even me more is that I am not the only person exposed to this pornographic material. I hate to think that my younger siblings, friends, and millions of other young people as young as 13 years old are exposed to this content multiple times a day without the option of blocking it,” Richardson wrote in the description of her petition on change.org.   

The campaign, entitled #NoThanksSnapchat, rapidly caught on, and easily surpassed its goal of 10,000 signatures overnight. The petition currently has more than 26,000 signatures.

Fight the New Drug, an organization that fights pornography addiction among young people, applauded Richardson’s efforts and Snapchat’s new guidelines in a recent blog post: “Moral of the story? Never be afraid to speak out and fight for real love, no matter what. You never know what kind of change it can create.”

 

US House votes to permanently ban federal abortion funding

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 17:28

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2017 / 03:28 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. House of Representatives passed its first major pro-life bill of the new year on Tuesday, one which would solidify in law the current policy of no federal funding of abortions.

The bill would “protect Americans’ conscience rights by ensuring that their hard-earned tax dollars are not used to fund the destruction of innocent life,” Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) said on the House Floor before the vote.

Federal funding for abortion is largely prohibited under the 40-year-old Hyde Amendment, named after its original sponsor Rep. Henry Hyde. However, that amendment has to be passed by Congress every year as a “rider” to appropriations bills, clarifying that the taxpayer dollars cannot abortions.

The amendment enjoyed decades of bipartisan support. The most recent Democratic National Committee platform, however, called for its repeal.

The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, passed Tuesday by a 238-183 vote and sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), would solidify this policy in law, so that it does not need to be annually reapproved by Congress.

It would expand on current protections against taxpayer funding of abortion to other areas, such as federal employee health plans. It would also extend to the Affordable Care Act, ensuring that no federal subsidies fund abortion coverage in plans offered on the exchanges.

A 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office found loopholes where insurers were not following the protocol to make sure abortions were billed and itemized separately from other health coverage paid for by federal subsidies, leaving open the possibility that federal dollars were funding abortions.

“More than 20 peer-reviewed studies show that more than two million people are alive today because of Hyde,” Rep. Smith stated on Tuesday.

He said there is a “megatrend” showing “that the American public not only does not support taxpayer funding for abortion but the public increasingly supports actions to protect unborn children and women from the violence of abortion.”

According to a Marist poll released earlier this week and commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, 61 percent of respondents opposed the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions. That included 53 percent of Millennials and even 41 percent of Democrats.

President Trump has signaled that he would sign the bill if it was passed by Congress. The Senate will have to pass it first.

Rep. Black stressed that pro-life women would be represented by the bill.

She recalled that “it was just a week ago that the groups of women marched in the streets of D.C. and other cities across the country,” referring to the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington where pro-life groups were explicitly denied official partnership in the march by its organizers.

“There were millions of pro-life women who were explicitly told that they were unwelcome at this event,” Black said. “So today, the people’s House is giving them and the more than 60 percent of Americans from all political persuasions who oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, a voice.”

As a registered nurse who worked for decades in health care, Rep. Black said she opposed abortion and any funding of the practice with tax money.

“During my years in the health care industry, I saw the joy in young parents’ eyes when they met their newborn for the very first time,” she said. “And sadly, I witnessed a young woman lose her life due to the effects of a botched abortion. These experiences inform my view that all life is a previous gift from God. I pray that in time, this truth will be reflected in our nation’s laws. But until then, can’t we at least do this much?”

Abortion is not women’s health care, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) insisted. “What we are vehemently opposed to is the killing of innocent lives,” she said, adding that “there is no place in the federal budget for abortion funding.”

“Madame Speaker, someday future generations of Americans will look back and wonder how and why such a seemingly smart and enlightened society could have permitted over 60 million children to be exterminated by abortion often with government enabling and subsidy,” Rep. Smith stated.

 

At Planned Parenthood, 'women's health' often does not include prenatal care

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 16:56

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2017 / 02:56 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Scalding new charges from a pro-life investigative group say that despite Planned Parenthood’s claims to be a premier women’s health care provider, the organization generally does not offer prenatal care.

“Planned Parenthood says it’s a champion of women’s health care, yet prenatal care, which is an essential service for expectant mothers, is virtually nonexistent,” said Lila Rose, president and founder of the group Live Action.

The group released a video Tuesday morning that it says will be the first in an “Abortion Corporation” series of reports investigating Planned Parenthood.

The video features audio of clinic workers allegedly telling Live Action representatives posing as potential clients that, contrary to advertisement, the clinics do not provide prenatal care.

“No, we don’t do prenatal services. I mean, it’s called ‘Planned Parenthood,’ I know it’s kind of deceiving,” one clinic worker at a Merrillville, Ind. clinic allegedly told Live Action.

“No, see, we don’t see pregnant women as a way of giving prenatal care. We see pregnant women, um, you know, if they are considering other options,” a Santa Fe, N.M. clinic worker allegedly told the group.

The report was conducted through phone calls, undercover visits to clinics, and investigations from the Live Action team. Inquiries were made of 97 clinics at 41 Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country. Only five of them said they offered prenatal care.

“We found that at all these facilities that prenatal care is virtually non-existent for mothers,” Rose stated.  

Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion organization, performing around 330,000 abortions annually. The group also offers contraceptives and abortifacients to clients, and on a much smaller scale, performs other services like cancer screenings and pap smears.

Despite the group’s claims, Planned Parenthood does not primarily offer “women’s health care,” but is rather a lobby for “abortion on-demand,” opposing even partial-birth abortion bans, Rose charged.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said in 2011 that “prenatal care” was part of “the kinds of services that folks depend on Planned Parenthood for.”

Yet as the group Americans United for Life noted in 2015, the number of prenatal services Planned Parenthood claimed to have offered fell drastically from 2009 to 2013, according to its annual reports. The organization reported offering 40,489 prenatal services in 2009, but only 18,684 in 2013.

And Richards has stopped touting the organization’s record on prenatal services in her interviews on why Planned Parenthood should continue receiving federal funding. Speaking with the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah last week, Richards discussed the services Planned Parenthood offers as including “well-woman visits,” “cancer screenings,” and STI/STD testing and treatment, but made no mention of prenatal care.

The organization has been at the center of controversy in recent years. A previous Live Action investigation showed clinics in six different states failing to report suspicious cases of statutory rape of minors seeking abortions.

Another investigation by the Charlotte Lozier Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom showed that, according to federal and state audits, taxpayer dollars were funding abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics, despite federal regulations which forbid federal funding of abortion.  

And in 2015, the Center for Medical Progress aired a series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood doctors discussing prices of fetal tissue from aborted babies with investigators posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company.

A movement is underway in Congress to strip the organization of federal funding and redirect the money to community health centers that do not perform abortions. President Donald Trump has voiced his support for such a measure.

Planned Parenthood claims that abortions account for only three percent of the total services they provide, although fact-checkers – at the Washington Post among others – have taken issue with that claim, pointing out that Planned Parenthood counts each small procedure like a pregnancy test or a pap smear as a service provided, but abortion accounts for much greater cost and revenue for the organization.

And while the organization performs only two percent of cancer screenings in the U.S. and one percent of pap smear tests, it performs 30 percent of abortions in the country, Live Action says.

“Our investigators who wanted to keep their babies were turned away by 92 out of 97 Planned Parenthood centers. It’s clear that despite its claims, abortion is the priority and the only option for pregnant women that visit Planned Parenthood,” Rose said.

 

Poll: 6 in 10 Americans favor 20-week abortion ban

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 20:07

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2017 / 06:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ahead of the 44th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. a survey shows a “consensus” favoring a 20-week abortion ban, which President Trump has pledged to sign into law if passed by Congress.

“There is a consensus in America in favor of significant abortion restrictions, and this common ground exists across party lines, and even among significant numbers of those who are pro-choice,” Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson stated Jan. 23.

“This poll shows that large percentages of Americans, on both sides of the aisle, are united in their opposition to the status quo as it relates to abortion on demand. This is heartening and can help start a new national conversation on abortion.”

A new Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus surveyed over 2,700 adults on abortion restrictions like bans on taxpayer funding of abortions and laws restricting elective abortion to the first trimester of pregnancy.

The poll was released days ahead of Friday’s March for Life, the 44th annual pro-life march in Washington, D.C. held on or around Jan. 22 since 1974. It commemorates the date the Supreme Court decided a woman’s right to an abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22, 1973.  

Almost six in ten Americans (59 percent) supported a ban on abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with an exception of when the life of the mother is at stake, according to the poll.

“Pain-capable” legislation enacting a similar ban has been passed by the U.S. House and in 19 states. Medical research has shown that unborn babies can feel pain at around 20 weeks of pregnancy.  

There was “strong support across the board” for this ban in the poll, Andrew Walther, vice president of communications and strategic planning for the Knights of Columbus, said in a conference call with reporters, including among “a majority of those who identify as pro-choice.”

63 percent of African-Americans and 58 percent of Latinos favored such a ban, poll numbers showed, and even 49 percent of Democrats supported it. 59 percent of Independents favored the ban.

Almost three-fourths of respondents favored restrictions on abortion either to the first trimester of pregnancy (22 percent), in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother (30 percent), only to save the life of the mother (12 percent), or never under any circumstances (10 percent).

Over one in three thought restrictions limiting abortion to the first trimester except to save the life of the mother to be an “immediate” priority.

There was a “groundswell of support across a number” of demographics for abortion restrictions, Walther said, including among many African-Americans, Latinos, and even a significant portion of political Democrats.

The vast majority of African-Americans (79 percent), Latinos (79 percent), and political Independents (72 percent) wanted “significant restrictions” on abortion like limits to the first trimester, or bans except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake, the poll revealed.

Since 2008, poll respondents favoring one or all these restrictions has totaled “consistently about three-quarters or better,” Walther explained.

Also, a majority of Americans do describe themselves as “pro-choice,” the poll revealed, with 52 percent saying they were “pro-choice.” 42 percent of respondents said they were “pro-life.”

However, the survey shows that “when we go beyond those labels” of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” that Americans identify with and start “asking questions about what people actually feel in terms of their positions,” Barbara Carvalho, director of the Marist Poll explained on the conference call, “there’s actually a consensus that people really do want restrictions” on abortion.

“A lot of people” who identify as “pro-choice” may not favor legal abortion in all scenarios, Walther explained, and may actually want significant restrictions on when it can take place.

And, when respondents were asked about their “intensity” for their pro-life or pro-choice position, pro-lifers were “about 10 points more intense in that support” than pro-choicers, Walther said, revealing “stronger intensity on the pro-life side.”

While the majority of Millennials said they were “pro-choice,” a majority of them wanted abortion limited either to the first trimester (23 percent) or to cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother (29 percent).

Almost six in ten Millennials supported a 20-week abortion ban, and almost just as many non-practicing Catholics (61 percent) as practicing Catholics (62 percent) supported the ban.

Almost six in ten Americans expressed “moral objections” to abortion, including 59 percent of political Independents, 63 percent of African-Americans, 62 percent of Latinos, and even 40 percent of Democrats. Half of Millennials said abortion was “morally wrong.”

Half of respondents said abortion “does more harm than good” to a woman’s life in the long-term, including more Millennials (44 percent) who said it does than who said it improves a woman’s life (40 percent).

Other restrictions, like on taxpayer funding of abortion, were met with widespread support in the poll.

61 percent of respondents – including 87 percent of Trump supporters and 39 percent of Clinton supporters – opposed taxpayer funding of abortions in the U.S., which is currently policy under the Hyde Amendment.

The No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, expected to be voted on by the House on Tuesday, would solidify this provision in law, as it currently must be passed every year by Congress as a budget rider.

Regarding the direct taxpayer funding of abortions in foreign countries – prohibited in U.S. foreign assistance by the Helms Amendment – 83 percent of respondents opposed such funding.

President Trump signed an executive order on Monday reinstating the Mexico City policy, which prohibits U.S. assistance to international non-governmental organizations that perform or “promote” abortions.

Doctors and medical providers who conscientiously refuse to perform or participate in abortions should be allowed to do so, 6 in 10 respondents said, including 45 percent of pro-choice respondents and 62 percent of Independents.

Other recent polls on abortion have shown a majority of Americans in favor of some restrictions, though to what extent they support these restrictions is not always clear. Earlier in January, a Quinnipiac poll showed 34 percent of Americans saying abortion should be “legal in most cases,” while 32 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases. However, statistics show that the vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy.

In that same poll, Americans were equally divided on a 20-week abortion ban in their home state, with 46 percent both supporting and opposing such a ban.

Back in October, a Pew Research poll showed 36 percent of Americans saying abortion should be legal in most cases, with 22 percent saying it should be legal in all cases. 23 percent said it should be illegal in most cases, and 14 percent said it should be illegal in all cases.

The Marist Poll numbers also broke down the views of practicing and non-practicing Catholics on the issue.

Six in ten practicing Catholics said they were pro-life while 37 percent said they were pro-choice. However, among non-practicing Catholics those numbers switched, with 64 percent identifying as pro-choice and 31 percent as pro-life.

84 percent of practicing Catholics said abortion should be limited to the first trimester of pregnancy, allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, or not allowed at all. 71 percent of non-practicing Catholics favored some or all of those restrictions.

Pro-lifers carve space for themselves at Women’s March

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 13:52

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2017 / 11:52 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid signs proclaiming “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries,” “#IstandWithPlannedParenthood”, and a host of other homemade posters ranging from the snarky to the explicit at the Women’s March on Washington, pro-life women staked a spot in support of women’s dignity – and against abortion.

Their presence became a point of contention earlier in the week after pro-life feminist organization New Wave Feminists had their partnership in the Women’s March revoked for their pro-life views.

The withdrawal of partnership status, however, didn’t stop pro-life women from joining in the Women’s March on Washington, nor from promoting their pro-life views.

“Since when do we wait to be invited to stuff?” Destiny Herndon de la Rosa, president of New Wave Feminists, said to CNA at the Women’s March. “If you don’t feel like you have a spot carved out, then be the one to forge that platform, be the one to carve out that spot.”

The Women’s March on Washington was held Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. While the march was held primarily to support women and other groups seen as marginalized within American society, organizers said the event was also meant to send a “bold message” on a variety of topics. Earlier in January, the group released a list of guiding principles –  including “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”

More than 100 organizations, including Planned Parenthood, were listed as official partners of the main Washington, D.C. March. Originally the list included New Wave Feminists and other pro-life organizations such as And Then There Were None, but their status was removed because of their pro-life stance.

The Women’s March on Washington drew at least an estimated 400,000, with hundreds of thousands of participants in similar marches around the country.

Reagan Barklage, Midwest Regional Director for Students for Life of America, said the opposition to the pro-life message was felt by herself and other pro-life women with whom she marched.

“It was ridiculous and it was just really vulgar and disgusting to see the signs these women had, the chants they were saying,” Barklage told CNA. The group’s presence and pro-life banners drew stiff backlash, she recalled. Some men tore up Barklage’s signs, while others “spit on one of our staff and shoved the megaphone into her face.”



The opposition became even more physical as march participants shoved and pushed over Barklage and former Planned Parenthood manager and And Then There Were None president Abby Johnson, who is pregnant with twins.

“It was really intense and it was crazy,” Barklage recounted.

Despite the pushback, Barklage told CNA the pro-life message needed to be heard at the Women’s March. “We actually wanted to partner with them before we knew that abortion was going to be involved.”

After Planned Parenthood was announced as a partner and abortion became a part of the event’s platform, she continued, Students for Life solidified their determination to participate and to represent women who have been harmed by abortion.

“We are going to represent women who have been betrayed by abortion and the preborn women who don’t have a voice.”

Barklage added that the group ended up technically leading the Women’s March, jumping in front of the crowd with banners stating, “Abortion Betrays Women.”

Hernon de la Rosa told CNA that while initially the response to their anti-abortion position was negative and lead to the removal of their partnership status, the New Wave Feminists actually received support in the face of opposition.

She pointed in a Facebook post to a message she had received from one of the organizers of the Pussyhat Project, a cat-ear hat knitting project organized for the March. De la Rosa recounted that one of the organizers asked New Wave Feminists to march with them, explaining that she was pro-life herself and had chosen life during an unplanned pregnancy.

Throughout the March, New Wave Feminists and other pro-life groups near them received sharp questions and some derisive looks, but they also received numerous messages of encouragement and support from fellow protestors. During the course of the rally, several people asked if they could take a “I am a Pro-Life Feminist” sign for themselves, sharing that they were pro-life. Similar shows of support and requests to join were also experienced by pro-lifers marching with Students for Life of America.

Other protestors, like Jennifer – a pro-choice participant in the March from Chicago – told pro-life feminists that while they were not pro-life themselves, they were happy to see a pro-life contingent at the Women’s March. “It’s just frustrating because it’s not an either or-situation –  it’s just another way to divide us,” Jennifer told CNA of the march’s opposition to pro-life groups. “They should be here. We should welcome each other.”

Pro-life women also held their own events outside of the Women’s March in support of women. The Archdiocese of Washington hosted an online Women’s Rosary the morning asking women to “pray a rosary in thanksgiving for the gift of the feminine genius and for the grace to become guardians of culture.”

“It is sad that all women are not included in the March for Women tomorrow, and we felt like we wanted to do something that celebrated all women,” Kim Fiorentino, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, said in the Archdiocese’s publication, The Catholic Standard. “We believe the Blessed Mother is a wonderful role model for all women, and we know she intervenes for us.”

Cessilye Smith, a doula and representative of New Wave Feminists, told CNA that despite varying opinions, there is much that people at the march had in common. She pointed to her own belief that “every life is valuable from the womb to the tomb” and added that that belief in a consistent ethic of life drives her to help address other women’s issues, such as providing food and financial support to help women choose life during a crisis pregnancy.

“We have so much more in common than we do apart,” Smith exclaimed. “We can really get some things done, we can really provide excellent resources and excellent care for the whole woman and her baby.”

Cardinal Wuerl prays for unity at Inaugural Prayer Service

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 13:24

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2017 / 11:24 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious leaders gathered in prayer for the country and the Trump administration on Saturday, continuing a decades-old tradition of national prayer at the start of a new presidential term.

“Almighty God, You have given us this good land as our heritage. Make us always remember Your generosity and constantly do Your will,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. prayed the “Prayer for Our Country” near the end of the National Prayer Service for the 58th Presidential Inaugural.  

The National Prayer Service at the Presidential Inauguration is a tradition that dates back to 1933 with the inauguration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Religious leaders gather to pray for the new president and his administration at the beginning of their term.

Saturday’s prayer service at Washington National Cathedral in Northwest Washington, D.C. featured calls to prayer from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders, as well as prayer by Hindu, Sikh and Ba’hai leaders.

President Trump and his wife Melania were present, along with Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen. Several nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor were also present in the audience.

The service was preceded by a choral prelude including the Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Catholic Church choir, from their parish in Southeast Washington, D.C., performing Gospel pieces.

Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, began by praying for God to “take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us.”

Alveda King, niece of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, led a “Prayer for Those Who Govern.”

Archbishop Demetrios of America, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, prayed for God to “deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you have given us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good.”

Near the end of the service, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. led the “Prayer for Our Country.”

“Bless our land with honest industry, sound learning, and an honorable way of life. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance; and from every evil way,” he prayed.

“Make us who come from many nations with many different languages a united people.”

On Friday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York read from the Book of Wisdom at the Presidential Inauguration on Capitol Hill, minutes before Trump took the Oath of Office and was sworn in as the country’s 45th president.  

Pope Francis asked President Trump to remember the poor as president, and promised him his prayers in a Jan. 20 message.

“At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding farsighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide,” Pope Francis said.

 

President Trump restores pro-life Mexico City Policy

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 12:00

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2017 / 10:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday, President Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, an international pro-life regulation that is generally seen as an indicator of an incoming president’s views on abortion.

The executive order was signed January 23, one day after the anniversary of the far-reaching Roe v. Wade decision that mandated legal abortion throughout the U.S.

Originally instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Mexico City Policy states that foreign non-governmental organizations may not receive federal funding if they perform or promote abortions as a method of family planning.

In the years that followed, the Mexico City Policy has become emblematic of a new president’s stance on abortion. Incoming presidents generally overturn or reinstate the policy within their first week of office, symbolizing the stance that they will take on abortion issues over the course of their presidency.

President Bill Clinton overturned the policy on January 22, 1993. President George W. Bush reinstated it January 22, 2001. President Barack Obama once again rescinded it on January 23, 2009, drawing swift criticism from the Vatican.

Restoring the policy was not among Trump’s campaign promises, leading to some concern over whether he would institute the policy if elected.

Trump did make other pro-life campaign promises, including pledges to nominate pro-life Supreme Court justices; sign into law a ban on late-term abortions; defund Planned Parenthood and reallocate funding to community health centers that do not perform abortions; and make permanent a ban taxpayer funding of abortion.

 

Want to get close to your (Heavenly) Mother? Check out this book.

Sun, 01/22/2017 - 18:00

Ann Arbor, Mich., Jan 22, 2017 / 04:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- For Catholics, it’s fairly par for the course to be questioned by non-Catholics about the Blessed Virgin Mary at some point.

And that’s probably because the Catholic Church has a lot to say about her. Church teaching holds that Mary was conceived without sin, that she maintains perpetual virginity, that she conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that she was assumed into heaven, among many other things.

A new book, the Manual for Marian Devotion, provides the context and answers for all kinds of questions about Marian doctrine, as well as prayers and stories for growth in personal devotion.  

The Manual was produced by TAN Books in conjunction with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist, and so has a touch of Dominican flavor throughout.

“They wanted it to reflect the charism and the spirituality of our community to a certain extent, so it was really great to work with them,” said Sr. Albert Marie, who along with another Dominican Sister helped write the book.

The manual is divided into two sections. The first part provides explanations of Marian teachings and doctrines, while the second includes various Marian prayers and stories of Marian miracles for personal devotion.

“It’s not an aggressive apologetics, it’s just: this is what the church teaches, this is why it’s beautiful, this is how it can touch your life,” Sr. Albert Marie told CNA.

It also differs from a Marian consecration book, such as the one by St. Louis de Monfort, in that it provides context and information about Mary rather than focusing on one particular path of devotion, Sr. Albert Marie said.

“This might be coming out of my own personal prayer life and spirituality, but before I do something - whether it’s a particular prayer or devotion - I want to know the why and the big picture before I’m taken by the more particular details,” she said.

“I think there’s a lot of people in the Catholic Church who are growing up realizing that the Catholic Church is beautiful, or who are interested in Mary, but need a little more of that intellectual formation to see where exactly does she fit, or how clearly do we think about her,” which is where the manual can be particularly helpful, Sr. Albert Marie added.

One of the biggest roadblocks to Marian devotion for some people is that they seem to get caught up in the otherness and special graces granted to Mary, which can make her seem distant or inaccessible, Sr. Albert Marie said.

But the faithful shouldn’t be intimidated by Mary, she added. She received special graces necessary for her particular role, but her privileges do not mean that she “shines down on us” as something separate and different forever, but rather as someone who paved the way to Christ and to Heaven.

Mary also provides women with a unique example of Christian holiness, she said.

“The way that a mother models to her children what it means to be an adult woman, there’s a way that Mary’s privilege and holiness...gives us an image of Christian holiness to move towards,” she said.

The manual also comes during the 100th anniversary year of the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Portugal, in which Mary appeared to three children for six months in 1917. She brought messages about the importance of prayer and making reparation for sin, as well as messages about the World Wars and the future of the Church. During the sixth and final apparition, on October 13, the sun appeared to miraculously dance in the sky.

This anniversary year is important because it’s a time in which the whole Church turns with special and renewed devotion to Mary, Sr. Albert Marie said.

But her favorite Marian miracle described in the manual is much less dramatic than Fatima or some of the other more well-known Marian miracles, she said.  

It’s called “She Helps the Friars Preach”, and recalls a simple story of a Dominican Friar who decided at the last minute to ditch his prepared sermon in favor of one that was divinely inspired.

A Cistercian monk who witnessed the small miracle said he could see Mary next to the friar, holding up a book. The Cistercian said the preachers seemed “to speak better and with greater profit to souls, and farm more fervently than he had done for a long time.”

It’s a simple story, but close to Sr. Albert Marie’s heart in her roles both as a Dominican and as a teacher, she said.

“That’s one story that will never be brought for anyone’s canonization, nothing will be done with it, it’s just the testimony of one person,” she said. “But it’s an example of that very simple presence and help of Mary in daily life.”

Sr. Albert Marie also said that she hopes the different stories of Marian miracles and the different quotes about Mary from various saints will help readers foster their own unique relationship with their Mother.

“For everyone who reads the manual or prays to our lady, there’s going to be a particular feel to that relationship, and it’s going to be unique because it is a personal relationship between them and with her,” she said.

The manual is available through TAN books on their website at: https://www.tanbooks.com/index.php/manual-for-marian-devotion.html. It is the second in a series of devotional books being produced by the publisher.

Virginia bishops: Death penalty won't heal a broken world

Sun, 01/22/2017 - 08:17

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2017 / 06:17 am (CNA/EWTN News).- For two Catholic bishops in Virginia, the execution of a man convicted of brutally killing a family of four was a time to reflect on God’s mercy.

“Our Creator, who made us out of love for love, has dominion over all life,” Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond and Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington said in a joint statement Jan. 18.

“As children of this loving, merciful God we are led to a profound respect for every human life, from its very beginning until its natural end.”

They said that the death penalty should be abandoned because the state can protect itself in other ways.

“Our broken world cries out for justice, not the additional violence or vengeance the death penalty will exact,” Bishop DiLorenzo and Bishop Burbidge said.

The state of Virginia on Wednesday executed by lethal injection Ricky Gray, age 39.

He and his nephew went on a killing spree in January 2006, murdering seven people in a six day period, CNN reports.

He was convicted of killing a family of four who left their front door open on New Year’s Day 2006. The family had been beaten, bound, and repeatedly stabbed. Their house was then set on fire.

The death sentence concerned the murders of 9-year-old Stella Harvey and her 4-year-old sister Ruby. He was also sentenced to life in prison for killing their parents.  

Gray had issued a public apology in the days before his execution, saying, “I’m sorry they had to be a victim of my despair.”

“Remorse is not a deep enough word for how I feel. I know my words can't bring anything back, but I continuously feel horrible for the circumstances that I put them through. I robbed them from a lifelong supply of joy,” he said in an audio message posted on a website advocating his clemency.

Bishop DiLorenzo and Bishop Burbidge also reflected on the victims.

“We again express profound sorrow and offer our continued prayers for all victims of violence, whose lives have been brutally cut short, and their loved ones, whose grief continues,” the bishops said.

“We pray for a change of heart and a spirt of remorse and conversion on the part of the perpetrators of this violence and ask God to give all of us the grace to work for peace and respect for all life in our communities and our Commonwealth.”

Gray also confessed to the November 2005 killing of his own wife.

His attorneys had filed constitutional challenges with the U.S. Supreme Court against the execution, citing the failure of the lethal drug cocktail to make prisoners unconscious during executions in the states of Alabama, Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma. The Supreme Court denied a stay of execution.

Lawyers had also appealed his sentence on the grounds that jurors did not receive a clear explanation of the severe abuse that shaped his life and his use of PCP and the drug’s potential to cause psychosis.

Gray’s nephew, Ray Dandridge, is serving a life sentence due to other killings.

 

 

Cardinal Dolan prays for wisdom as Trump takes office

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 16:47

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2017 / 02:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York prayed for God’s wisdom as Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday.   

“Give us wisdom, for we are Your servants, weak and short-lived, lacking in comprehension of judgment and of laws. Indeed, though one might be perfect among mortals, if wisdom which comes from You be lacking, we count for nothing,” Cardinal Dolan prayed from the ninth chapter of the Book of Wisdom at the 58th Presidential Inauguration on Friday, on the steps of the West Front of the U.S. Capitol building.

Republican Donald Trump took the Oath of Office administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. An official estimate of the Inauguration attendance was not made, although estimates revealed the attendance to be significantly less than President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were in attendance, as well as Barack Obama. Former vice presidents Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney were also present.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke amidst a noticeable chorus of “Trump!” chants from the crowd.  

The prayers at the Inauguration were openly Christian, with a reading by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an invocation by Pastor Paula White-Cain of the New Destiny Christian Center, and benedictions by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rev. Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse, and Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International.

In his Inauguration reading, Cardinal Dolan prayed for God’s wisdom for the country.

“Send her [wisdom] forth from your holy heavens, from your glorious throne dispatch her, that she may be with us and work with us, that we may grasp what is pleasing to you,” he read. “For she knows and understands all things, and will guide us prudently in our affairs and safeguard us by her glory. Amen.”

Chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) called the ceremony a “celebration of democracy” and praised the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power between rivaling parties and administrations that dates back to the beginning of the country.

President Trump, in his First Inaugural Address with former President Obama seated behind him, cited the peaceful transfer of power but immediately pledged to return power “to you, the people.”

“For too long,” he said, “Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed.”

He described a bleak picture of “American carnage” outside of Washington, D.C.:

“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation. An education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge. And the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”

“This American carnage stops right here, and stops right now,” he said.

President Trump pleaded with Americans to look to the future and promised to put “America first” economically and in foreign policy.

“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” he said. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.”

He promised to “get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”

Regarding foreign policy, Trump promised to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.”

And the new president cited the Bible in promoting a “solidarity” among Americans, albeit one first rooted in patriotism and “allegiance” to the country.

“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other,” he said. “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”

“The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” He promised that America “will be protected by God.”

“A new national pride will stir ourselves,” he said, “and heal our divisions.”

“Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same American flag.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., in a blog post on Friday, quoted from the “Prayer for Government” written by the first bishop in the U.S., Bishop John Carroll, for the first president George Washington, in 1791, in his prayer for the Inauguration.

“We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude President Donald Trump of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality.”

 

Social doctrine is about solidarity, Catholic leaders insist

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 13:08

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2017 / 11:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholics must fight the societal ills of contempt, poverty, and unemployment through solidarity, recent speakers at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. insisted.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, quoted the Gospel of Luke in his Jan. 17 address to Catholic University students on “bringing America together.”

“We're sought. We seek others,” he continued. “If we want to change public policy and we want to change American culture, it’s not good enough to burn a bunch of money to help poor people. What are you going to do today to need somebody at the peripheries of society?”

Brooks gave the first CEO lecture of 2017 at the Busch School of Business and Economics, in which he emphasized the importance of work in human dignity.

There are many poor or unemployed persons living “at the periphery” of society who “we prefer not to see,” he said, asking the students in attendance, “If all the poor people in Washington, D.C. suddenly disappeared, how would your life change?”

“I daresay that most of you, your friendships wouldn’t change,” he answered to the students, adding that “really, intimately,” their lives would “not change very much” without the poor nearby.

“This is a country that has split in two so much” that “we don’t need the poor,” he said. “We don’t need millions and millions of our fellow Americans in any meaningful way.”

One in six “able-bodied men” are not even looking for work, he noted, and rising rates of alcoholism, drug overdoses, and suicides among white working-class middle-aged men without college degrees are “unseen and unheard.”

Yet this phenomenon of not “needing” the poor is toxic to society, he said, because “we need every human.” Every person “has the same inherent dignity,” he insisted.

“That is the source, all the politics aside, of the divisiveness” in society, he said, of “what’s pulling us apart.” The problem of “contempt” for fellow human beings, what he described as “the utter conviction of the worthlessness of another human being” is also at the heart of societal problems.

How can Catholics fight this? By going to the peripheries, befriending those with whom they disagree, and creating jobs that give human dignity back to the poor and the marginalized, he said.

He used the example of a program of the New York -based Doe Fund “Ready, Willing & Able,” which helps formerly homeless persons by employing them.

They “get back on their feet through work, through ordinary, sanctified, hard, honest work,” Brooks said. “That’s the equalizer. Human dignity is equalized when we all work in a sanctified way.”

The previous week, on Jan. 10, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego and Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston addressed a conference on “Erroneous Autonomy: The Dignity of Work.”

When global markets and institutions are divorced from morality, human dignity is threatened, they insisted. Catholic social teaching challenges the autonomy of markets by emphasizing the dignity of the worker and the right of workers to organize to protect their rights, they said.

“Increasing international trade and financial relationships, combined with rapidly advancing technological innovation and the world of the internet, have produced what we call globalization,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

“This development has produced enormous amounts of wealth but not a fair and just distribution of the proceeds,” he added.

Three current social trends are operating apart from morality and pose special dangers to the common good, Bishop McElroy observed.

“The first of these is the drive for the sovereignty of markets. The second is the technocratic paradigm which seeks dominance over the environment and culture. The third, and most worrying, is nationalism.”

“In a very real way they have been evacuated of moral substance and operate autonomously from any moral anchors as principles of politics and governance in our national life,” he said.

Globalism was said by St. John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus annus to “lack morality,” Cardinal O’Malley noted. Thus, leaders “have the responsibility to establish a moral framework which can assess and direct the purposes and the consequences of globalization.”

Human dignity is “the cornerstone” of the Church’s social teaching, Cardinal O’Malley said, citing Pope Francis.

“This means that each individual is to be protected by a moral framework of human rights and that the work a person does, whether manual labor, mining, or intellectual and professional work, is understood as an expression of their dignity.”

The Church must work with unions to ensure the dignity of workers is protected against markets that are separated from morality, Cardinal O’Malley maintained.

“The case for unions is rooted in the Catholic sense of our responsibilities to each other as members of the human family; we are not to be left alone in society and or in the economy,” he said.

“We are called to support the right of workers, all workers, private and public sector workers, to organize and be represented in the marketplace and in negotiations by an institution, the union, which gives workers leverage and a voice in the major decisions affecting them and their families.”

Pope Francis “has been a strong public advocate for the dignity of labor, including making interventions when companies were intending significant elimination of jobs,” he continued, noting that the Pope “has argued strongly that in the midst of the forces of technology and globalization, people cannot be reduced to arguments for greater efficiency.”

Health care, the minimum wage, and immigration are all present-day issues closely tied to Catholic social teaching and the dignity of the worker, Cardinal O’Malley explained.

“Debates about minimum wages are most relevant to those closest to poverty,” he said. “Catholic teaching about the option for the poor places us in support of reasonable initiatives to raise the minimum wage.”

“Affordable health care is foundational for the well-being of individuals and families and lack of health care directly threatens human dignity,” he said, emphasizing that “our moral obligation not to abandon people in their times of need is clear.”

Just this past week, the U.S. bishops’ conference asked Congress not to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having a replacement plan in place that would ensure health care coverage for those who most need it.

“While every country must balance numerous factors in determining immigration policy, particularly with regard to security, our national history and our principles call us to be a welcoming society,” Cardinal O’Malley continued.

“For decades the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference has called for systematic immigration reform, including protection of undocumented individuals and families.”

US abortion rate keeps declining – but what's behind it?

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 02:04

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2017 / 12:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A reported drop in the United States abortion rate by the Guttmacher Institute is good news to pro-life leaders, who nevertheless acknowledge that optimism should be tempered.

“The news that there may be fewer abortions taking place in the United States is a great start to the New Year, though we have to take the abortion industry’s claims with a grain of salt,” the acting president of Americans United for Life, Clarke Forsythe, stated.

The accuracy of the numbers could have been affected by the lack of a “national reporting requirement” for clinics, he said.

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, echoed that claim, saying the numbers were “good news” but cautioning that “a confluence of factors” was behind them.

Abortion rates in the U.S. fell to their lowest recorded level since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, the Guttmacher Institute, which provides research and analysis to “advance sexual and reproductive health and rights,” said in a report released Jan. 17.

The rate of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in the U.S. fell by 14 percent from 2011 to 2014, Guttmacher reported, with the current rate at 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. There were 926,200 recorded abortions in 2014 overall, they said.

And the number of pregnancies ending in abortion, excluding miscarriages, also fell by 11 percent since 2011, the report noted.

This continued a marked decline in the abortion rate, which had already dropped by 13 percent between 2008 and 2011. The overall abortion rate has seen a steady decline since 1980-81 when it was at its peak of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women, NPR reported.

Pro-life leaders have welcomed the overall finding of a smaller abortion rate, although they raised some questions about the accuracy of the report.

“That’s the core question,” Chuck Donovan of the Charlotte Lozier Institute told CNA of the accuracy of the numbers. For instance, he noted that California has no reporting of abortion numbers from its state health agency. The report itself states that “we obtained responses from only 58% of facilities that we believed provided abortions in 2014.”

This points to a “crying need” for better reporting of abortion numbers on a state and national level, Donovan said.

Nevertheless, among all the sources that are reporting abortions, they show a sharp decline in the abortion rate, he emphasized, from state reports to Guttmacher’s report to reports by the Centers for Disease Control.

The biggest cause driving the decline, Guttmacher suggested, could have been the use of contraceptives.

Dr. Rachel Jones, principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, told CNA, “we think the most important contributing factor is improvements in contraceptive use … That couples are using contraception more effectively, and in particular, there are indicators that more women are using long-acting methods such as IUD.”

There was increased utilization of certain contraceptive devices such as intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). The “reliance” on those two devices had increased by 130 percent between 2007 and 2009 and “continued, albeit at a slightly slower pace, through 2012,” the Guttmacher Institute said.

Jones added that “fewer women were getting pregnant in 2014 than in 2011…we think this is because the best available evidence suggests that more women are using highly-effective methods and therefore there [are] fewer unintended pregnancies. So that means more of the pregnancies that do occur are intended. And so, by default, these women chose to get pregnant and they choose to have a baby.”

Other, smaller causes for the decline in the abortion rate could have been state laws restricting abortions or regulating abortion clinics, Guttmacher said.

“Improved contraceptive use in recent years has led to a decline in the U.S. unintended pregnancy rate, suggesting that women are increasingly able to plan their pregnancies and therefore have a decreased need for abortions,” they stated.

“However, the wave of abortion restrictions passed at the state level over the last five years could also have contributed to the decline by making it more difficult for women to access needed services in highly restrictive states.”

19 states have passed “pain-capable” bills, or 20-week abortion bans, since 2010. Regulations of abortion clinics have also been passed by several states in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell incident, in which the Philadelphia abortionist was convicted in 2013 on three counts of first-degree murder of babies and prosecutors described his clinic as a “house of horrors” full of serious health violations.

There are a “whole host of factors” that could be behind the abortion rate decline, Donovan said. “We think there’s an awful lot going on.”

He pointed to surveys showing young people trending more pro-life, due to an increase in the use and quality of ultrasounds that show a baby in the womb. The violence of abortion would also be a turn-off to many young people, he said. A higher percentage of unintended pregnancies are being carried to term, he added.

Teenage sexual activity has overall decreased, Donovan said, pointing to numbers from the Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention showing the percentage of high school students who had ever had sex declined from 54 percent in 1991 to 47 percent in 2013.

There have also been “changing understandings of abortion,” Camosy said. The unborn child was formerly referred to as a “clump of cells,” but the rise of technology such as 3D ultrasounds have enabled people to see a living, moving child in the womb.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards attributed the decline to contraceptives, NPR reported. "It shows that we're finally doing a better job of helping women get access to birth control that's affordable and that's high-quality,” Richards said.

In the Guttmacher report, there was a 14 percent increase in “early medication abortions” that were “in non-hospital facilities,” like the use of the RU-486 pill in the first eight weeks after gestation. Donovan admitted this is a “worrisome number.”

It is also a “clarion call” for better tracking of the number of abortion injuries, he insisted, as the RU-486 pill can be taken by a mother at home and the complications or injuries arising from it are “outside of the clinic.”

And only just over half of states require reporting of abortion complications, he said.

Overall, the numbers reflect progress, Donovan said, pointing to factors like more resources for pregnant women as driving more women to carry their children to term.

Kickbacks for suing the Church? Lawsuit claims major misbehavior at SNAP

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 19:02

Chicago, Ill., Jan 19, 2017 / 05:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A former employee of the controversial Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests has filed a lawsuit claiming wrongful termination for challenging the organization’s misbehavior, including alleged kickbacks from attorneys who were suing the Church on behalf of sexual abuse victims.

In the lawsuit, Gretchen Rachel Hammond, a past development director of SNAP, claimed to have been fired after coming to learn “SNAP does not focus on protecting or helping survivors – it exploits them.”

Although the plaintiff “had explicitly stated to potential donors that SNAP did not engage in kickback schemes,” Hammond’s discoveries while employed there allegedly showed otherwise – and the reputed proof is on an external hard drive.

“SNAP routinely accepts financial kickbacks from attorneys in the form of ‘donations.’ In exchange for the kickbacks, SNAP refers survivors as potential clients to attorneys, who then file lawsuits on behalf of the survivors against the Catholic Church,” the lawsuit charges. “These cases often settle, to the financial benefit of the attorneys and, at times, to the financial benefit of SNAP, which has received direct payments from survivors’ settlements.”

Hammond’s attorneys filed the lawsuit against SNAP on Jan. 17 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. Hammond was employed at SNAP from July 2011 through February 2013, the complaint said.

The lawsuit prompted a flat denial from SNAP president Barbara Blaine.

“The allegations are not true. This will be proven in court. SNAP leaders are now, and always have been, devoted to following the SNAP mission: To help victims heal and to prevent further sexual abuse,” she said in a statement provided to CNA.

According to the SNAP website, Blaine herself says she was abused as an eighth grader by a priest who taught at her Catholic school.

The lawsuit claimed that the organization receives “substantial contributions” from attorneys sometimes totaling more than 40 or 50 percent of its annual contributions. A prominent Minnesota attorney who represents clergy abuse survivors reportedly donated several six-figure annual sums, including over $415,000 in 2008. Other unnamed attorney-donors who represent abuse survivors reportedly came from California, Chicago, Seattle, and Delaware.

Hammond claimed that the SNAP leadership provided a list of attorneys who were regular donors and “ordered Plaintiff not to reveal to anybody that SNAP received donations from attorneys.”

The lawsuit alleges that during 2011 and 2012, SNAP “concocted a scheme to have attorneys make donations to a front foundation” in order to conceal attorneys’ “kickbacks.”

SNAP describes itself as “an independent, confidential network of survivors of institutional sexual abuse and their supporters” who aim to protect the vulnerable, heal the wounded and expose the truth in an effort to “hold church institutions responsible for enabling abuse and shielding predators.”

Despite the organization’s self-portrayal, the lawsuit charged, “SNAP is a commercial operation motivated by its directors’ and officers’ personal and ideological animus against the Catholic Church.”

The lawsuit cited an April 26, 2011 email from executive director David Clohessy recommending an abuse victim pursue a claim against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee: “every nickle [sic] they don't have is a nickle [sic] that they can't spend on defense lawyers, PR staff, gay-bashing, women-hating, contraceptive-battling, etc.”

Hammond’s lawsuit questions the organization’s treatment of victims. It claims that SNAP “callously disregards the real interests of survivors” and pressures them to “pursue costly and stressful litigation” instead of the survivors’ best interests.

SNAP allegedly uses publicity about victims’ lawsuits to drive fundraising. The group “regularly communicates” with victims’ attorneys, often receives drafts of complaints and “other privileged information” which it would allegedly use “to generate sensational press releases on the survivors' lawsuits.”

“SNAP and survivors’ attorneys would often base their case filing strategy on what would generate the most publicity for SNAP – instead of the best interests of the survivors,” the suit charges.

It cites an email of SNAP leaders discussing whether publishing a newsletter item would prompt more donations or upset abuse survivors. One leader said: “my initial response is that we err on the side of using it to raise money.”

The lawsuit suit claims the organization would “ignore survivors who reached out to SNAP in search of assistance and counseling” and had no grief counselors or rape counselors on payroll at relevant times.

The suit says Hammond helped the organization improved its donation-tracking software system, streamlined its donor list, and helped raise its Better Business Bureau ranking and received a raise for this work.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff oversaw the fundraising for SNAP’s trip to The Hague where the group filed charges against Pope Benedict XVI in the International Criminal Court. SNAP, together with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked the court to investigate Pope Benedict and other Vatican leaders for crimes against humanity related to sex abuse by U.S. clergy.

Hammond reportedly raised “some $1 million” during and after the trip for a public relations campaign premised on these charges.

SNAP allegedly used the funds “for lavish hotels and other extravagant travel expenses for its leadership.”

In May 2013 the international court dismissed the case as outside its jurisdiction.

The suit also recounts SNAP’s alleged efforts to counter a blogger critical of the organization, and gives what it claims to be background of several trials and legal disputes involving SNAP and priests accused of abuse.

The suit claims that when Hammond attempted to confront superiors about the practices, they engaged in retaliation resulting in the firing. Now, the lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and other relief.

Hammond, who identifies as a transgender woman, is currently a journalist for the Chicago LGBT newspaper the Windy City Times.

CNA contacted attorneys for Hammond but did not receive comment by deadline.

 

College group sues after being denied grant for pro-life speaker

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 08:01

Denver, Colo., Jan 19, 2017 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A Colorado chapter of a national pro-life collegiate group is suing Colorado State University, after the school denied the organization funding for a campus event.

Last September, the CSU chapter of Students for Life applied to the university for a “Diversity Grant” to host a speaker from the Equal Rights Institute on the topic of abortion and bodily rights.

The grant is funded by student activity fees, which are mandatory for all enrolled students.

According to the CSU website, the purpose of the Diversity Grant is to “enhance the educational and cultural aspects of the university community and raise the awareness of differing perspectives.”

The grant was denied to the pro-life group because the proposed speaker did not appear “entirely unbiased as it addresses the topic of abortion,” and therefore the diversity grant committee worried “that folks from varying sides of the issue won’t necessarily feel affirmed in attending the event,” the national branch of Students for Life reported on their website.

“That was the wrong answer,” the group said.

The university is being accused of denying free speech, and a lawsuit was filed Jan. 17 on behalf of CSU Students for Life by lawyers from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Emily Faulkner, 21, has been president of CSU Students for Life for more than a year and is named as plaintiff in the suit.

Faulkner told a local news station that the lawsuit “is about free speech.”

She also said that the university routinely funds events for other groups without making the same requirements that are being imposed upon CSU Students for Life.

CSU Students for Life hosted the event on campus anyway, with funds raised by the organization rather than by the Diversity Grant.

“Universities should encourage all students to participate in the free exchange of ideas, not play favorites with some while shutting out others,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement.

“Colorado State University funded the advocacy of its preferred student organizations but has excluded Students for Life from consideration based purely upon the viewpoint expressed in its funding request to bring a speaker to campus. Because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, courts have repeatedly rejected this discriminatory treatment as unconstitutional.”

CSU spokesperson Mike Hooker told CBS Denver that they were not aware of the lawsuit until this week and that they are reviewing claims and issues raised, and will respond accordingly. Hooker says the university does not typically comment on pending litigation.

The story behind sex change surgery you haven't heard

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 05:04

Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 19, 2017 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- You've probably heard of Bruce Jenner.

Now referred to as Caitlyn Jenner, the high-profile Olympic athlete with a famously dramatic family had a very high-profile surgical sex transition from male to female – including a cover on Vanity Fair magazine and the now-canceled docu-series “I am Cait.”

You probably haven't heard of Bruce Reimer.

Bruce and his twin brother Brian were born in Canada in the 1960s. At the age of seven months, the otherwise healthy boys were circumcised. But the doctors used a new method of circumcision, involving an electric cauterizing needle, on Bruce. An accident occurred, completely burning off the little boy's penis.

Brian's operation was canceled, but his parents were devastated.

The Reimers decided to take Bruce to Dr. John Money, a psychologist and sexologist at Johns Hopkins they had seen on T.V.

Dr. Money had a theory that aside from reproductive and urinary functions, gender was a social construct. Until the Reimer twins, he had largely worked with intersex cases – children born with ambiguous genitalia or abnormal sex chromosomes.

But the Reimer twins – otherwise healthy and biologically normative – were the perfect experiment on which to test his theory of gender fluidity. Brian would be raised as a boy, and Bruce would from now on be called Brenda, and raised as a girl.

The Reimers agreed, and insisted on girl's clothes and socialization for Brenda throughout childhood. They never told the twins about the accident, or about Brenda's biological sex.

The twins were brought in for a yearly observation with Dr. Money, who dubbed the case a wild success by the time the twins were nine years old.

“No-one else knows that she is the child whose case they read of in the news media at the time of the accident,” he wrote.

“Her behavior is so normally that of an active little girl, and so clearly different by contrast from the boyish ways of her twin brother, that it offers nothing to stimulate one's conjectures.”

What the Doctor didn't tell

Deacon Dr. Patrick Lappert is two things you wouldn't necessarily expect to occur in tandem – a plastic surgeon, and a deacon for the Roman Catholic Church.

These two roles give him a unique understanding of the human person, both physically and metaphysically. They've also given him a unique perspective on transgendered persons, and the current cultural movement to support surgical sex changes.

Dr. Lappert was asked to speak at the recent Truth and Love conference for Courage in Phoenix. He included the case of the Reimer twins during his talk, “Transgender Surgery and Christian Anthropology.”

The on-paper success of Brenda Reimer as a lovely and well-adjusted little girl did not match the lived reality of the child, Dr. Lappert said. Brenda Reimer was a rambunctious tomboy – shunned by the boys for wearing dresses, and by the girls for being too wild.

“She was very rebellious. She was very masculine, and I could not persuade her to do anything feminine. Brenda had almost no friends growing up. Everybody ridiculed her, called her cavewoman,” Brenda's mother, Janet, recalled in an interview with BBC News.

“She was a very lonely, lonely girl.”

During the twins' yearly checkup and observation, Dr. Money would force the twins to strip naked and engage in sexual play, posing in positions that affirmed their respective genders. On at least one occasion, this sex play was photographed.

By their teenage years, the twins were strongly opposed to going to their checkups with Dr. Money.

By age 13, Brenda was suicidal.

By 15, the Reimer's stopped taking the twins to Dr. Money and revealed the truth to Brenda – he was biologically male. He fully embraced his male identity, chose the name David, and began hormone therapy and a surgical genital reconstruction. He dated and married a woman, whose children he adopted.

But the wounds of his traumatic childhood were deep for both David and his brother. Both suffered from depression. After 14 years, David's wife divorced him. Then Brian died from a drug overdose. Not long after, in May 2004, David committed suicide. He was 38 years old.

Despite everything, Dr. Money never printed any retractions of his studies, or added any corrections.

“He never said a word, never took any of it back,” Dr. Lappert said.

Which is hugely problematic, because this study is still frequently cited as a successful gender transition by the medical community at large, including the society of plastic surgeons to which Dr. Lappert belongs, he said.

“I put this case out there as an example, to show you the foundation – the sand upon which this whole thing is built,” Dr. Lappert said.

“We have to understand this as we’re talking about the human person as a unity of spirit and form, that there is an integrity to the maleness and femaleness with which we are made.”

One of the biggest problems with transgender sex change surgeries is that they are permanent and irreversible in any meaningful way, Dr. Lappert said.

“There’s nothing reversible about genital surgery – it's a permanent, irreversible mutilation of the human person. And there’s no other word for it,” he said.  

“It results in permanent sterility. It’s a permanent dissolution of the unitive and the procreative functions. And even the unitive aspect of the sexual embrace is radically hindered if not utterly destroyed,” he said, because of the inevitable nerve damage that occurs during the surgery, and because the brain will always register the genital nerves as coming from their organ of origin.

In other words, nerves connected to a vagina will always register with the brain as a vagina, even if they are now part of a surgically constructed penis, and vice versa.

Another major issue is that sex change surgeries seek to solve an interior dysfunction with an external solution.

“Underneath it all, you're trying to heal an interior wound with exterior surgery,” Dr. Lapper said. 

The shocking Nebraska law that barred a nun from teaching

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 18:46

Lincoln, Neb., Jan 18, 2017 / 04:46 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Sister Madeleine Miller’s efforts to substitute teach in a Nebraska public school ran afoul of a century-old law that left her bewildered – and prompted the state legislature to take another look at the law’s dark past.

“I was just shocked,” she told the Lincoln Journal-Star. “It was 2015. How could that possibly be legal or constitutional?”

Sr. Miller, 37, is a member of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Norfolk, which requires its sisters to wear their habit at almost all times in public.

She had applied to Norfolk Public Schools as a public school substitute due to a lack of openings in Catholic schools. The school district told her she couldn’t wear her habit if she was hired.

“I could have been arrested, jailed, fined or had my license taken away if I had tried to teach,” Sr. Miller told the Associated Press.

The 1919 law was backed by the Ku Klux Klan and other anti-Catholic groups. Violations are criminal misdemeanors. Teachers who violate the law face a one year suspension for the first offense, then lifetime disqualification from teaching on a second offense.

The law would also ban yarmulkes and burqas.

At one time 36 states have had similar legislation. Now, only Nebraska and Pennsylvania still bar religious garb for public school teachers. Oregon was the most recent state to repeal the law, in 2010.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer has proposed a bill to end the law, saying it violates teachers’ free speech rights and compounds Nebraska’s teacher shortages in 18 fields.

Many groups have supported the repeal of the law, including the Nebraska Catholic Conference, the Thomas More Society, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, and the Nebraska State Education Association.

Because she could not find a job in the eastern Nebraska school district, Sr. Miller moved to her order’s convent in Winnebago, Neb. to work at a Sioux City, Iowa Catholic school.

She holds a Nebraska teaching certificate, a bachelor’s degree from Nebraska’s Wayne State College, and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.

Sr. Miller said her goal in teaching is to help students learn, and “not to make converts.”

“I think everyone should have a right to work in their professional capacity regardless of their faith tradition,” she said. “You do what you're hired to do and you go home. And everyone should have that right.”

Does defunding Planned Parenthood really threaten women's health?

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 17:56

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2017 / 03:56 pm (CNA).- Congressional plans to strip Planned Parenthood of federal dollars have gained considerable media attention in recent weeks, leading to speculation about the impact that such a move would have on women’s health.

Both the House and the Senate have passed measures to set up a vote to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds, which mostly come in the form of Medicaid reimbursements. According to its FY 2014-15 report, the organization and its affiliates received almost $554 million in taxpayer dollars, 43 percent of its total revenue.

The measures have been hailed as a victory by pro-life groups, and lamented as an attack on women’s health care by those who support abortion.

But beneath the hype, what exactly would happen if federal funding were pulled from Planned Parenthood?

Years of controversy

The main argument against Planned Parenthood’s federal funding is that it is the nation’s largest abortion provider, performing around 330,000 abortions per year, and the Hyde Amendment prohibits federal dollars from directly paying for abortions.

Medicaid reimbursements and federal health grants are not supposed to go directly toward abortions, although a recent report by the Charlotte Lozier Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom claimed that, according to federal and state audits, taxpayer dollars were funding abortion-related services.

In New York, “hundreds of thousands of abortion-related claims were billed unlawfully to Medicaid” over a four-year audit, the report said. One audit in Nebraska “found a Planned Parenthood affiliate spending federal funds on abortion expenses” like “physician fees” for an abortionist and “employee travel” and “on-call” work time involving abortion procedures.

Planned Parenthood claims that abortions account for only three percent of the total services they provide, although fact-checkers – at the Washington Post among others – have taken issue with that claim, pointing out that Planned Parenthood counts each small procedure like a pregnancy test or a pap smear as a service provided, but abortion accounts for much greater cost and revenue for the organization.

During a town hall last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan explained that even if federal dollars are not going to direct payment for abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics, the current revenue may be fungible – it frees up other resources for Planned Parenthood to perform abortions.

Additionally, the organization has come under fire for multiple controversies in recent years.

A 2015 Alliance Defending Freedom report claimed that Planned Parenthood clinics in several states were not reporting suspected cases of sexual abuse of minors as they were supposed to by law.

Planned Parenthood doctors were also shown on undercover camera in 2015 discussing prices for the body parts of aborted babies with actors posing as representatives of a tissue procurement company. Those videos shone a light on the organization’s role in the fetal tissue trade.

These controversies have strengthened calls for defunding. According to polls released by the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List earlier this month, a majority of respondents in states that will be “battleground states” in the 2018 Senate races – like North Dakota, Florida, and Ohio – opposed taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.  

Providing alternatives

In his town hall comments, Speaker Ryan stressed: “We don’t want to effectively commit taxpayer money to an organization providing abortions, but we want to make sure that people get their coverage.”

“We believe that this can better be done by putting that money in federal community health centers,” he added. “They are vastly bigger in network, there are so many more of them, and they provide these kinds of services without all the controversy surrounding this issue.”

According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the Susan B. Anthony List, such health centers are publicly-funded and exist in all 50 states, almost 10,000 in total, compared to around 650 Planned Parenthood clinics nationwide. The health centers served over 24 million people in 2015, while Planned Parenthood says it serves around 2.5 million per year.

There are also thousands of other rural health clinics that offer services including primary care and first response, as well as some vaccinations, though these facilities are not required to offer as many services as federally qualified health centers are. Some 4,000 crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. also offer help for expectant mothers.  

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the “main purpose” of federally qualified health centers “is to enhance the provision of primary care services in medically-underserved urban and rural communities.”

These health centers do not perform abortions but they do provide services like pre-natal and perinatal care, diabetes screening, pap smears, checkups and mammograms, something Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards has admitted her clinics do not provide, despite claims that they do. Planned Parenthood only provides referrals for mammograms, not the procedures themselves.

Would Planned Parenthood survive?

Removing federal funding from Planned Parenthood would not necessarily mean that the organization would shut its doors.

From 2011-2015, Planned Parenthood’s annual reports indicate that its revenue exceeded expenses by more than $300 million.

The organization also fundraises, and claims that the threat of defunding has considerably upped contributions from private donors.

The Congressional Budget Office in 2015 considered the potential consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood for a year. It found that it was uncertain whether the organization would be able to replace the lost funding.

“If none of the federal funds were replaced,” the budget office said, some customers wouldn’t receive any services that they would have received at Planned Parenthood, while others would go to other clinics accepting Medicaid payments.

“If almost all federal funds were replaced, CBO expects that most Medicaid beneficiaries currently served by Planned Parenthood would continue to obtain services from Planned Parenthood, but at no cost to Medicaid,” they said.

Is it enough?

If Planned Parenthood did close its doors, would federally qualified health centers and pregnancy centers be able to handle an influx of patients seeking health care other than birth control or abortions?

When “family planning clinics” in Texas and Wisconsin closed due to state funding cuts, the number of women utilizing services like cancer screenings and checkups at clinics also went down, said Professor David Slusky at the University of Kansas.

But in those cases, there were cuts in funding in addition to redirecting some of the remaining state funds to health centers. In contrast, the current plan proposed by Congress would not cut funding, but simply redirect it.

Slusky told CNA that it is not clear from his research whether health centers would fill health care “gaps” left by the closure of some Planned Parenthood clinics. Part of this would depend on what other clinics were receiving funding. It is possible that some women would forego cancer screenings and other forms of care if they have to travel a greater distance to find a clinic.

Knowledge of other options would be key. Women going to Planned Parenthood clinics may not necessarily know of other crisis pregnancy centers, writes research analyst Dr. Jeff Pauls.

Many women he interviewed for his work “were unaware of the idea of the Pregnancy Help Center, although they occasionally referenced government health clinics as an alternative to Planned Parenthood.”

The women were not necessarily admirers of Planned Parenthood, he wrote, saying that they “are most troubled by the waiting room practices demonstrated by the long waits, non-confidential medical conversations, and the general fear and mistrust of the low-income people who are frequent customers.”

Ultimately, Charlotte Lozier Institute believes women will be able to access the care they need through other clinics. The number of Planned Parenthood patients has decreased recently and their total “prenatal services” are down 44 percent since 2010, they said. And according to the pro-life group Live Action, Planned Parenthood provides only 2 percent of the nation’s clinical breast exams and 1 percent of the nation’s pap smears.

If the organization’s current federal funding were redirected to community health centers, those centers would see an average patient increase of two per week and almost surely would be able to meet the increased need.

And the centers have been growing, Charlotte Lozier Institute says, treating almost two million new patients and growing by 430 new centers in 2015.

The institute also pointed to a website showing locations of health centers and pregnancy centers and the services they offer, GetYourCare.org.

“Voters agree: taxpayer dollars would be better spent on community and rural health centers that provide comprehensive, whole-woman care,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “Abortion giants like Planned Parenthood do not need or deserve taxpayer dollars.”

 

US bishops: Health care should be truly universal, affordable

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 15:47

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2017 / 01:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Any changes to health care law under the new administration should not abandon the principal of genuinely affordable health care for everyone, said the U.S. bishops in a letter to Congress.

In American policy, they said, “we must not see health care as a luxury, but as a necessary building block to help individuals and families thrive and contribute to the good of the community and the nation.”

“We recognize that the law has brought about important gains in coverage, and those gains should be protected,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida said in a Jan. 18 letter to members of Congress.

He wrote in his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

For the U.S. bishops, any repeal of key provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act should not take place “without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their wellbeing.”

President-elect Donald Trump, in a press conference last week, pressed for a speedy repeal of the health care legislation commonly known as Obamacare. He has also spoken of replacing the legislation with his own proposals that promise “insurance for everybody” and “much lower deductibles,” CNN reports.

However, some Congressional Republicans have voiced concern about any vote that would end major parts of the 2010 law that covers 20 million people without providing an alternative, creating widespread disruptions.

The U.S. bishops emphasized that health care reform “should be truly universal and it should be genuinely affordable.”

“Every person is made in the image of God and possesses inherent dignity,” Bishop Dewane’s letter said. “A just community strives to see and address the needs of those who struggle on its margins, and each segment of society is called to build toward a common good that creates and maintains conditions aimed at true human flourishing.”

He cited Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris, which spoke of the right to life and the right “to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services.”

Pope Francis echoed these words in May 7, 2016 remarks to a doctors’ group: “Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.”

The bishops’ letter to Congress noted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ support for the general goal of the 2010 health care law, but added that the conference in the end opposed its passage “because it expanded the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion, and it failed to provide essential conscience protections and access to health care for immigrants.”

“We remain committed to the ideals of universal and affordable health care, and to the pursuit of those ideals in a manner that includes protections for human life, conscience and immigrants,” the letter concluded. “We urge you to approach the important debates in the days ahead seeking also to honor these principles for the good of all.”

 

'Conscience in Residency' project supports doctors in training

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 02:40

Austin, Texas, Jan 18, 2017 / 12:40 am (National Catholic Register).- When it came time for medical student Ashley Stone to apply to OB/GYN residency programs, she was determined that nothing would stand in her way – including her Catholic beliefs on contraception, sterilization and abortion.

“I’m normally really stubborn,” said Stone, 27. “[I thought] ‘It’s my right to go wherever I want.’”

Still, she wanted to get some advice from her medical school program director before she turned in her application.

“Here’s the thing: I don’t want to do these things because of my beliefs,” Stone told her director.

“Well,” her director told her, “you can’t come here.”

To be rejected out of hand by her own institution was frustrating, admits Stone, now a second-year resident at the University of Texas at Austin. But it was a frustration she was prepared for.

The negative reaction to her pro-life beliefs was “always apparent,” she said. “Even just going into the medical field in general [not necessarily OB/GYN specifically], you’re not ‘mainstream’” if you’re pro-life.

And that’s the inspiration behind the “Conscience in Residency” project. Created and managed by a small group of residency students scattered across the country, Conscience in Residency (CIR) is a web-based project that provides a network for residents “who want to practice medicine according to logical, well-formed, evidence-based judgments,” the site explains. It also provides research on subjects ranging from contraception and sterilization to gender-identity issues and homosexuality, giving residents facts to rely on when they have a challenging conversation about their beliefs.

“[Residency is] the most difficult period in being or becoming a physician,” said Cara Buskmiller, an OB/GYN resident at St. Louis University, who supervises the website.

“As a [medical] student, you’re not responsible for prescriptions. You can say what you think, and it doesn’t affect your becoming a physician. In residency, the program controls you a lot more. If your program is not open to you choosing things to do and not to do, you’re stuck.”

“Residents … are the bottom of the barrel: When the attending [physician] says, ‘Jump,’ they have to say, ‘How high?’ They have no protection,” agreed Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists.

Providers’ Rights

“In many residency programs, there’s tremendous pressure to participate in abortions. In some residency programs, even though it’s not legal, they’re actually required to participate. The laws in place right now have no private right of action [for residents].”

If “private right of action” is a phrase that rings a bell, it’s because of the Cathy DeCarlo case.

In 2009, DeCarlo – a nurse at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital – was forced to assist in an abortion in violation of her religious beliefs. When she took her case to court, it was thrown out because she had no private right of action.

This is precisely why Harrison urges support for the “Conscience Protection Act,” which would give health care providers the ability to file a civil suit if they feel discriminated against for their beliefs – as DeCarlo did, when she was threatened with charges of insubordination and patient abandonment if she did not participate in the abortion. Currently, health care providers who face discrimination for exercising their consciences have only one recourse: to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Conscience Protection Act is more needed than ever, in light of the recent redefinition of “sex discrimination.” Section 1557 of the outgoing administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act extends protections on the “basis of sex” to include – among other things – abortion. That means that a patient of a pro-life physician could sue for discrimination if the physician declines to perform a requested abortion.

“What we desperately need is a real protection of conscience, in law, that says we have the right to conscientiously object to the taking of human life – and a private right of action,” said Harrison. “Then we, as citizens, can protect ourselves.”

Foresight and Courage

In the meantime, CIR strives to provide solid research that residents can use to explain why they will not perform certain services or write certain prescriptions – and it provides support to medical students concerned about landing in a program that is receptive to their pro-life beliefs. In other words, said Buskmiller, it is a source of foresight and courage.

It was her own experience in medical school that showed her how desperately important foresight is for pro-life medical students and residents.

She was scrubbed up and prepared to assist on a caesarean section – but what followed was the patient’s tubal ligation. “The attending physician handed me a clamp. Suddenly, I’m holding a tube while they’re tying it off. Before I could do anything, it was over.”

Horrified, Buskmiller went to confession and had a long conversation with the priest. “My will was not there, but I sure didn’t say anything [to object],” she told him.

Grateful for the grace of confession, Buskmiller used that experience to spur her to have more courage – and to plan better for other situations that might try to force her to act against her conscience.

Though abortion, sterilization and abortifacients may be challenges specific to OB/GYN residents, many residents face similar challenges to their consciences, Buskmiller pointed out. Psychiatric interns might work with patients considering surgery to alter their bodies to resemble the sex they identify with, or recovering from it, for instance, and surgery residents might be faced with the surgery itself.

Recent legislation makes the situation seem bleak, but Buskmiller noted that it may actually be improving. An older attending physician once asked her how many pro-life residents were in training with her, and she counted between 15 and 20.

Pleasantly surprised, the physician said that there had been only eight during his own time as a resident.

And, Harrison pointed out, 85% of OB/GYNs do not perform abortions. “That’s a very reassuring number,” she said. “That tells me I am not in the minority; I am actually in the majority.”

Those kinds of facts are vital for health care providers to keep in mind – and perhaps especially for residents. It gives them solid ground to stand on – and it helps them realize that they are far from alone.

“The big myth is that somehow abortion is needed for medical care. It’s not needed for medical care,” emphasized Harrison.

“Chile has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world, and abortion has been illegal since ’89. Same with Ireland – excellent maternal medical care, with no abortion [which remains illegal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save a mother’s life].”

“You don’t have to take the life of a patient to do excellent medical care,” she added.

“And that’s the truth.”

 

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