CNA News

Subscribe to CNA News feed CNA News
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: 1 hour 19 min ago

Trump calls for 'culture that cherishes innocent life' in SOTU address

Wed, 02/06/2019 - 13:00

Washington D.C., Feb 6, 2019 / 11:00 am (CNA).- The president’s annual state of the union address received a divided response after highlighting life issues. The chamber of the House of Representatives showed a clear divide in the legislature over President Trump’s call for a late-term abortion ban, with pro-life advocates offering their own reactions after the speech.

 

In the speech, delivered Tuesday evening, Trump encouraged lawmakers to choose “results” over “resistance” while making the traditional call for bipartisan cooperation.

 

After speaking about his legislative priorities for the coming year, including renewed calls for physical barriers on the southern U.S. border with Mexico and a nation-wide paid family leave program for parents, the president turned to recent abortion legislation at the state level.

 

“There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days,” the president said, referencing the passage of the Reproductive Health Act recently passed by the state of New York.

 

That measure has been the subject of fierce criticism for allowing the possibility of effective abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

 

“Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth,” said Trump. “These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world.”

 

The president also referenced recent failed legislation in Virginia which would have allowed for mothers to terminate an unborn child even during labor. Citing the defense of the measure by embattled governor Ralph Northam, Trump called the bill a means to “execute a baby after birth.”

 

Regarding his own legislative suggestions for Congress, the president called for new laws to ban late-term abortions, saying he wished to see “a culture that cherishes innocent life.”

 

“Let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children -- born and unborn -- are made in the holy image of God.”

 

“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”

 

The proposal was greeted with a decidedly mixed reaction by some lawmakers, with Republicans standing in favor of the proposal.

 

While many Democrats, including a large block of women representatives who sat as a group dressed in white, remained seated with their arms folded, others, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), applauded.

 

Manchin later told RealClearPolitics that “late term abortions are just horrific...totally just wrong.”

 

Pro-life advocates were swift to praise the president’s speech.

 

Tom McClusky, the president of March for Life Action, said in a statement that he was pleased Trump spoke strongly in “condemning the extremist abortion propositions out of New York and Virginia.”

 

“The American consensus opposes abortion after the first trimester, yet some politicians continue to embrace and perpetuate an unprecedentedly radical pro-abortion agenda,” said McClusky, noting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) invited Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen as her guest to the speech.

 

These politicians are “out of touch with the American people,” said McClusky. “It is time for politicians, regardless of party, to stand up in favor of protecting innocent life."

 

Ashley McGuire, senior fellow at the Catholic Association, agreed with McClusky, describing the call to end late-term abortions as a “welcome change from the left’s celebration of third-trimester abortions and infanticide.”

 

While much of the state of the union address appeared to highlight divisions between the two parties, there was considerable applause for the president’s condemnation of anti-Semitism.

 

“We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed,” Trump said. “With one voice, we must confront this hatred anywhere and everywhere it occurs.”  

 

Judah Samet, who survived the anti-Semitic terrorist attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October, attended the speech as a guest of the president. That attack left 11 people dead. Samet is also a survivor of the Holocaust and was imprisoned in a concentration camp.

 

The president's legislative agenda and his call for increased cooperation will both be tested in the coming weeks. Congress and the president have until Feb. 15 to agree funding arrangements for parts of the federal government in order to avoid another partial shutdown.

Illinois bishops blunt in joint statement on pot proposal

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 22:15

Chicago, Ill., Feb 5, 2019 / 08:15 pm (CNA).- Citing “rampant” drug use in modern society and a commitment to the common good, the six Catholic bishops of Illinois are speaking out against the the state’s efforts to legalize recreational marijuana.

“Proponents of legalization say marijuana is not addictive, yet peer-reviewed research concludes that it is,” the bishops wrote in a Feb. 4 joint statement released by the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

“Proponents also say that most people who use marijuana will not move on to harder drugs, yet other studies note that most people who are addicted to other drugs started with alcohol and marijuana,” they wrote.

The push to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Illinois is being led by State Sen. Heather Steans and State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago democrats, who said Jan. 29 that they hope to introduce a formal bill to the legislature soon.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Illinois since 2013. Ten states and the District of Columbia have so far legalized recreational use of marijuana, though its use remains illegal under federal law.

The state lawmakers’ bill would allow Illinois residents 21 and older to buy and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana; nonresidents would be allowed to buy and possess half that amount, GateHouse Media Illinois reports. The legislation would also expunge the records of citizens harmed by low-level marijuana convictions, the lawmakers say.

Illinois’ bishops acknowledged that marijuana-related convictions have led to racial disparities in jail and prison populations, and many people are “trapped” in the state’s criminal justice system due to marijuana infractions.

“We recognize the truth of that premise, while observing that recent sentencing reforms should soon reverse that trend, since possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana now results in a ticket of up to $200 and no jail time,” the bishops wrote.  

Lawmakers have said that the push to legalize marijuana is partly aimed at eradicating the black market for the drug. The bishops warned that a black market could continue to exist to sell marijuana at a lower price, and to underage customers.

Lawmakers hope to tax recreational marijuana use in the state to the tune of $350-750 million.

“As lawmakers consider this issue, it is important to remember they are not only debating legalization of marijuana, but also commercialization of a drug into an industry the state will profit from,” the bishops wrote.  

“In seeking the common good, the state should protect its citizens.”

The Chicago Tribune reports that marijuana legalization has the support of Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, and the measure is expected to pass this spring and take effect by next year.

“We ask lawmakers to say ‘no’ to legalization of marijuana, as Pope Francis explained in 2014 when speaking about marijuana and other recreational drugs,” the bishops concluded.

They quoted the words of the pope: “To say this ‘no,’ one has to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities. If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction.”

Catholic bishops in other states and countries have recently spoken out to oppose the legalization of marijuana.

Canada legalized recreational marijuana nationwide late last year, prompting the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to underline “the ethical problems involved with the recreational use and abuse of this drug” in Oct. 2018.  

The Canadian bishops lamented the “growing problems of a society more and more dependent on drugs and alcohol,” and said that businesses and governments who wish to exploit sales of cannabis for commercial interests or tax revenue are “jeopardizing the pursuit of the common good.”

In the state of Colorado, Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila signed a petition in May 2017 to put an end to April 20th (4/20) rallies in the city’s downtown, which featured widespread public marijuana smoking and trashing of Denver’s Civic Center Park. Organizers of the event are expecting 65,000 people for 2019’s rally.

Traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot in Colorado.

 

 

Catholics in Maryland protest assisted suicide bill

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 19:01

Annapolis, Md., Feb 5, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An assisted suicide bill has been introduced in the Maryland legislature, and opposed groups have criticized the bill for its lack of safeguards.

"As Catholics we stand firm with our partners across the state to strongly oppose this legislation," Jennifer Briemann, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said Feb. 1.

"Our state has repeatedly rejected this group’s agenda and with good reason: assisted-suicide threatens Maryland’s most vulnerable, putting those with disabilities, the elderly, our veterans, and those battling prescription drug addiction at grave risk.”  

The “End-of-Life Option Act” was introduced in both houses of the Maryland General Assembly last week. House Bill 399 is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 15, and Senate Bill 311 Feb. 19.

This is the fourth attempt in five years to legalize assisted suicide in the state. The move is being supported by the Compassion and Choices, an Oregon-based group that advocates for assisted suicide. Similar bills were introduced 2015, 2016, and 2017 but were withdrawn before they could be voted down.

If passed, the bill would permit doctors to prescribe lethal medications to patients with a terminal illness and six months left to live. The bill would overturn a 1999 Maryland law that banned assisted suicide, and it would protect from prosecution doctors who prescribe the drugs.

As in previous years, the bill is opposed by the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition, of which the Catholic conference has been a long-time member. The bills have also been opposed by groups such as the Maryland Psychiatric Society and Baltimore City Medical Society.

"We encourage everyone who is passionate about this issue to join the MAPAS coalition, sign up for alerts and follow the coalition on social media to stay up-to-date on action on this bill," said Briemann. "The coalition is the best resource for information on the fight against PAS and the primary voice in Maryland in opposing this predatory practice."

According to the Catholic Standard, the bill has been criticized for its potentially dangerous flaws. The MCC found that, under the bill, no assessment screens for depression nor is there a supervisor to ensure a patient is not pressured into the process. The bill also does not require a medical professional to be present during the suicide, or a contingency if the attempt is unsuccessful.

In a Jan. 31 statement, MAPAS said the plan cannot be truly fixed because there is no set of safeguards which fully protect vulnerable people from abuse or negligence.  

“There is no legislative solution to the fact that doctors cannot accurately predict a 6 month terminal diagnosis. There is no way to cover up in legislation that patients in states where this is legal are requesting the lethal drugs because they feel like they are a burden on their family, not because they are in pain.”

Assisted suicide is legal by law in the District of Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Vermont, Hawaii, and Colorado; and in Montana through a state supreme court ruling.

According to MAPAS, Dr. Joseph Marine, an associate professor of medicine at John Hopkins, said this kind of end-of-life care is dangerous to Maryland, noting other states have already witnessed its ugly effects.

“We are already seeing reports of insurance companies in some states declining to cover the cost of life-extending treatments, and instead paying for these drug overdoses that end a patient’s life.”

Archbishop cautions against US withdrawal from missile treaty

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 19:00

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2019 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Timothy Broglio, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference international justice and peace committee, has expressed his unease at the United State’s decision to withdraw from a Reagan-era nuclear arms treaty.

 

In a statement released by the USCCB on February 5, Broglio, who is Archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services of the United States, highlighted the important function the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty has played in regulating the spread of nuclear arms in recent decades.

 

“I regret to learn of the U.S. government’s intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty that has served for over thirty years to reduce nuclear arsenals between the U.S. and Russia significantly,” Broglio said in the statement.

 

“Coupled with the news of the Russian reaction to this decision I am concerned for the potential of a new arms race created by these decisions,” he continued, and asked that Catholics and others around the world “join in prayer for renewed, earnest dialogue” between world leaders.

 

“May efforts on the part of all of us foster hope and encourage the aspiration of all peoples to live in peace and security,” said Broglio.


The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 between the Soviet Union and the United States. It banned land-based missiles that had a range between 310 and 3,400 miles, and resulted in thousands of missiles being destroyed.

 

President Donald Trump announced on Friday that the United States would be pulling out of the treaty. The administration has argued that the geopolitical landscape has changed dramatically since the treaty was signed, and that Russia had long since ceased to abide by the treaty’s terms.

 

“We cannot be the only country in the world unilaterally bound by this treaty, or any other,” Trump said in a statement announcing the change.

 

The U.S. formally suspended the INF Treaty on Sunday, and will officially leave in six months.

 

Trump said that the United States would “move forward with developing our own military response options,” and would work alongside NATO and other countries to “deny Russia any military advantage from its unlawful conduct.”

 

According to the U.S. government, Russia has been in violation of this treaty since at least 2014, including working to build an intermediate-range missile. This violation was identified five years ago.

 

With Russia’s non-compliance, the administration argues, the U.S. is the only country in the world prevented from developing these missile systems.

 

China, which is not part of the INF Treaty, possesses intermediate-range missiles that would be able to strike U.S. territories and military bases in the Pacific Ocean, seen by military strategists as a significant tactical advantage.

 

Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies, told CNA that the teachings of the Church recognize the “duties of governments to protect their citizens from unjust aggressors,” which means that war can happen “when necessary.”

 

Petri said that the magisterial documents of Vatican Council II urged against the creation of weapons stockpiles, and said that they were not an effective deterrent against wars.

 

“Essentially,” said Petri, “the Council Fathers thought every arms race is a trap.” He also noted that “weapons of mass destruction—whether biological, chemical, or nuclear—are also immoral precisely because their destruction is not only grave and lasting but is also indiscriminate. Countries who possess these weapons have a serious responsibility before God and the world.”

 

Petri said that while the Church does not support the use of weapons of mass destruction, and “generally” is in favor of wide-scale disarmament, “it’s understood that the world lacks any super-authority to enforce such disarmament on countries and, increasingly, terroristic organizations.”

 

“So the Church leaves the negotiation of deterrence, disarmament, and weapons production in the hands of those whose vocation it is to oversee the common good: namely, government leaders,” he added.

 

Petri told CNA that we should “understand that disarmament and weapons management is a real concern, especially when there are countries and malefactors with ill intent that must be considered.”

 

“We continue to pray for the peace that only Christ can give, which is far more satisfying and enduring than simply the absence of war.”

Trump admin: Reuniting migrant families may not be possible

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 17:51

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2019 / 03:51 pm (CNA).- In a court filing last week, the Trump administration argued that it may not be possible to reunite thousands of migrant parents with their children, who are living in sponsor homes, and that such reunions could be “disruptive and harmful” to the children.

“It would destabilize the permanency of their existing home environment, and could be traumatic to the children,” said Jonathan White, deputy director for children's programs at the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, according to the Associated Press.

He argued that removing children from sponsor homes “would present grave child welfare concerns” and said the agency should focus its resources on reuniting children in government custody with their parents, rather than children who are currently with sponsors.

Last May, the Department of Homeland Security began referring all people crossing the U.S. border illegally to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. As a result, thousands of families were separated, as children cannot legally be held in federal jails with their parents.

A U.S. District judge has ordered the Trump administration to stop separating children from their parents at the border, and to reunite those who are separated. The ACLU is pushing for the court order to apply to children who were released to sponsors before the June 2018 ruling.

However, Jallyn Sualog, deputy director of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in the filing Friday that the office lacks the personnel and resources to track and find all of the children.

As a result, reuniting them all with their parents may not be “within the realm of possible,” HHS said, according to NBC News.

Sualog said the government does not have the legal authority to remove the children from their sponsors, and that “doing so would be so disruptive and harmful to the child.”

Most of the children are currently with relatives, the Associated Press reported – 49 percent of those released to sponsors in the 2017 fiscal year were placed with their parents, 41 percent with a close relative, and 10 percent with a distant relative, family friend or someone else.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose longtime criticism of U.S. migration policy has become more prominent under the Trump administration, has repeatedly rejected the practice of separating children and parents.

“Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God,” Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, said in June 2018.

Separating families at the U.S. border “does not allay security concerns,” he said, adding, “Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring.”

In June 2018, the United Nations human rights office condemned the U.S. practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the border as “a serious violation of the rights of the child.”

Sen. Booker quizzes judicial nominee on 'sin' and same-sex marriage

Tue, 02/05/2019 - 16:15

Washington D.C., Feb 5, 2019 / 02:15 pm (CNA).- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) used a confirmation hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee to question a judicial nominee about her views on the “sinfulness” of same-sex marriage.

 

Booker, who recently announced his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, put the questions to Neomi Rao during a Feb. 5 hearing.

 

Roa has been nominated by President Trump to replace Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

Roa currently serves as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has taught law at George Mason University. She previously served in the White House counsel’s office under president George H.W. Bush and as a staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

Citing the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state laws prohibiting homosexual intercourse, Booker quoted an article in which Rao said the decision “eschewed older traditions in favor of an emerging awareness of the meaning and the scope of liberty.”

 

The senator asked what Rao’s views were on how the Supreme Court should have decided past cases related to the criminalization of same-sex relationships.

 

After she affirmed the precedent set by the court’s decisions, Booker then asked Rao “Are gay relationships, in your opinion, immoral?”

 

Rao questioned the relevance of the question, given her commitment to following the clear precedent of the law. Booker replied that the personal opinion of the nominee was important and that to believe gay relationships were immoral would be similar to believing “African-American relationships are immoral.”

 

After affirming that she did not think that gay relationships are immoral, Booker pressed Rao, asking if she believed they are “a sin.” Rao replied that her “personal views on any of these subjects are things (she) would put to one side” and that she would follow precedent when making rulings.

 

“So you’re not willing to say here if you believe it is sinful for two men to be married?” Booker asked.

 

Rao again stated that she intended to follow all Supreme Court precedent when it came to making decisions on the Court of Appeals, and that she would put any of her personal views “to one side.” She declined to comment on whether she believes gay marriage to be sinful.

 

Rao has not publicly commented on her religious beliefs. She is the daughter of parents who immigrated to the United States from India. President Trump announced her nomination at the White House’s celebration to mark Diwali, a major Hindu religious festival.

 

Booker also asked Rao if she had ever employed an “LGBTQ law clerk.”

 

The nominee reminded the senator that she had never previously served as a judge, and so had never employed law clerks. She did said she did not question her staff about their sexual orientation.

 

“I take people as they come,” Rao said. “Irrespective of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I treat people as individuals.”

 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took offense with Booker’s questioning, particularly the question of whether Rao believes that homosexuality is a sin.

 

Cruz said that there is “a growing pattern among Senate Democrats of hostility to religious faith,” said Cruz, adding that he was “deeply troubled” by what Booker had asked Rao.

 

“In my view [a nominee’s view of sinfulness] has no business in this committee. Article VI of the Constitution says there shall be no religious test for any public office,” said Cruz. He reminded the committee that “we have [already] seen Senate Democrats attack what they characterized as religious dogma,” alluding to the questioning given to now-Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing.

 

The Senate Judiciary Committee should not be a “theological court of inquisition,” said Cruz, and should instead focus on a nominee’s record, not her religious beliefs.

 

The American Bar Association said on Monday that they rated Rao to be “well qualified” for the position.

 

Booker was not the only member of the Senate to question Rao about LGBT rights during the confirmation hearing.

 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) also questioned Rao about her beliefs regarding the rights of LGBT persons. In response, Rao stated that she believes everyone, regardless of sexuality, is deserving of dignity and that she would follow legal precedent.

 

Hirono, together with Senator Kamala Harris, (D-CA), had previously questioned judicial nominee Brian Beuscher over his membership of the Knights of Columbus.

 

Last month Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) proposed and passed a unanimous consent resolution in the Senate condemning religious tests for candidates for office. Hirono called that resolution part of an “alt-right agenda.”

Medical care for abortion survivors blocked by Senate Democrat

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 19:26

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2019 / 05:26 pm (CNA).- Senate Democrats rejected on Monday an effort to ensure that babies who survive abortion attempts receive medical care.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) introduced the Born-Alive Survivors Protection Act, and looked to pass the bill Feb. 4 via unanimous consent. That process means one senator can stop the vote by raising an objection.

“You’re either for babies or you’re defending infanticide,” Sasse said Monday before the vote.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) objected to the bill, bringing the effort to a conclusion.

Sasse announced last Thursday that he would seek to pass the bill through a roll call vote. Sasse said that he expected the bill to pass unanimously.

“I’m going to be asking unanimous consent--for senators to come to the floor,” he said on Thursday.

“I’m going to ask all 100 senators to come to the floor and be against infanticide. This shouldn’t be complicated.”

Sasse’s move to fast-track the bill was sparked by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D)’s comments regarding a proposed bill that would have eased restrictions on third-trimester abortions in the state. Northam, speaking in a radio interview on WTOP, described how a baby surviving a botched abortion would be given “comfort care” while a woman and her doctor discussed whether or not to provide additional medical intervention.

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act would penalize doctors who do not attempt to provide medical care to an infant born alive after an abortion with up to five years in prison. The bill also requires that an infant born in an abortion clinic be transferred to a hospital. A woman attempting to procure an abortion would also be granted civil cause of action against the medical professional performing the abortion, and would not be subject to criminal penalties.

On Friday, Sasse told CNA that he did not think there was “any legitimate argument” that could be made against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. And while he said that he hoped the bill would be passed unanimously, he said that if anyone were to come forward against the bill, that they do so on the Senate floor prior to the vote.

"(Senators) need to show what side they're on,” Sasse told CNA last week. “It's a pretty simple question: are you on the side of these vulnerable little babies, or are you on the side of Gov. Northam and his defense of infanticide?"

Despite Sasse’s insistence that this legislation is commonsense, and the fact that the bill does not limit abortion rights or create any new regulation for abortion providers that would impede their ability to perform abortions, opposition was expected.

A similar bill was passed through the House of Representatives along nearly total party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor of passing the legislation joined by only six Democrats. One of the Democrats, Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), later said that he had misunderstood the bill and would not have voted for it.

Sasse’s bill is co-sponsored by more than two dozen Senate Republicans. The House version of the bill was co-sponsored by 146 members. One Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), joined 145 Republicans as co-sponsors.

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act is Sasse’s second recent use of unanimous consent in the senate. In January he submitted a resolution underscoring the constitutional prohibition of “religious tests” being imposed on candidates for public office, specifically clarifying that membership of the Knights of Columbus is not a disqualification from holding public office.

That resolution was sparked after Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) questioned a judicial nominee about belonging to the Knights of Columbus and suggested that the group held “extreme” positions on social issues.

Although that resolution passed with unanimous consent, Hirono later took to the Senate floor and stated that she felt Sasse was embracing the “alt-right’s position” by supporting the Knights of Columbus.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, head of the U.S. bishop’s religious liberty committee, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday asking them to end the practice of asking “discriminatory questions” and to “refrain from further imposing religious tests on judicial nominees.”

Kurtz singled out the Knights of Columbus questioning as a “religious test” that was being unfairly imposed on Catholic nominees.

“Not only are religious tests unconstitutional and unjust, they are an attack on all people of faith and those with no faith at all,” said Kurtz. “Religious tests tell not only Catholics, but all Americans, that they cannot both serve their country and live out their convictions.”

 

Commentary: Defending life is a culture war worth fighting

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 18:48

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2019 / 04:48 pm (CNA).- In a radio interview last week, the embattled governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, outlined his support for a controversial state abortion bill. Speaking about the bill, he outlined a “discussion” about the fate of children who survived in-labor abortions, appearing to many to support to a measure that would offer infanticide by another name.
 
Northam remains in the news for other reasons. But the weight of his comments, and the unexpectedly transparent image they offer of “pro-choice” ambitions, will not disappear from the public agenda.
 
Scientific fact, not just consensus, has long since established that a new life begins at conception.
 
That children in the womb are alive is not a matter of scientific dispute. Leaving aside the bedrock argument that each new zygote possesses a unique genetic code, from the earliest weeks of pregnancy demonstrable signs of life in a developing baby are obvious: brain function, heartbeat, functioning nervous system are all detectable at early gestational ages.

Medical advances now mean that children can, and routinely do, survive outside the womb at ever earlier gestational ages. Birth at 26 weeks, less than two-thirds of the way through pregnancy, now comes with a near 80% chance of survival.
 
In the face of these facts, the pro-abortion argument is no longer about about whether developing unborn children are human beings - if it ever really was - but about which people are “persons,” with lives deserving of legal protection.
 
Personhood was recognized as the essential criterion in the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, in which Justice Blackmun conceded that the argument for legal abortion collapses if the unborn child is a person under law.
 
Thanks to science, dividing human life from human personhood is the last philosophical refuge of the pro-abortion lobby, and one with even darker implications than denying that unborn life exists  in the first place.

For sure, some rights are qualified by our ability to exercise them. Children do not attain full exercise of their rights, like voting, until a certain age, though this does not mitigate their legal personhood. The founding dogma of our nation includes certain “inalienable rights,” the first of which is life.
 
But if the right to life is not inalienable from conception itself, when then is it acquired?
 
Popular sentiment, at least among media and cultural elites, now places the right to life as a consequence of birth. But in our medical age, what does that even mean?

The media has no shortage of coverage of babies “born twice” thanks to life-saving prenatal surgery outside the womb: which birth is supposed to confer personhood under law?

If the first, does the baby retain its new rights when it returns to the womb? Most worryingly – can the right to life be lost once attained?
 
If it is the second, does the child being operated on outside the womb not actually exist in law, and what exactly is different about the second birth - other than the intention of the mother to give birth?
 
What made Northam’s remarks so chilling was the implication that in some circumstances, a newborn baby might be considered a non-person with regards to the right to life, until mother and doctors had finished “discussing” the fact of his live birth. Personhood, it seems, would be conferred only if they reached consensus that the wriggling, squirming, “comfortably” swaddled, inconvenient newborn child should be accomodated.
 
Northam showed a terrible kind of honesty by implicitly recognizing that it isn’t the fact of birth but the intention of the mother to give birth that matters to some. He also demonstrated that for many on the “pro-choice” side of the debate, some children are simply “un-viable,” as lives or as persons, in or out of the womb.
 
In the context of a child already born, as in Northam’s example, the argument against life is clear: some people are simply too disabled to be recognized as people.
 
In Iceland, children with Down syndrome are disappearing as a result of enhanced screening offered by their health service.

The results are often equated to “eliminating” the syndrome, such rhetoric is a chilling illustration of the equation of killing and curing in modern progressive thought: “Only the strong survive” has gone from a brutal evolutionary observation to a policy position.

When Roe was decided 40 years ago, the life and rights of “un-persons” in the womb could be debated in a context that was, literally, out of sight. Today this is no longer possible. Once the discussion leaves the ultrasound screen and the delivery room, it is impossible to hide the attack on life behind the rhetoric of “women’s rights.”

The march towards a cultural, legal, and moral acceptance of euthanasia has given rise to a new trend of thought, in which the value and the right to life of undisputed persons is assessed by criteria every bit as nebulous and lethal as the “health and welfare” criteria pertaining to abortion.
 
Examples from the Netherlands and Belgium are stark, with the elderly and infirm literally fleeing the country in fear for their lives. Persons in law they may be, but if they are old enough, sick enough, unconscious enough, they are treated as sufficiently lesser persons, in order to permit the ending of their lives - killing as curing.
 
Many in the Church are squeamish about being perceived as “culture warriors” or “politicians.” But the old perception of a culture war fought on grounds of conservatism vs progressivism is long out of date.

The fight isn’t about who is right and who is wrong, it’s about who lives and who dies.

In that, no one can be neutral, no voice silent, and no weapon left unused.

 

'Heat is a human right'- Power restored to Brooklyn jail after week without heat and lights

Mon, 02/04/2019 - 15:48

New York City, N.Y., Feb 4, 2019 / 01:48 pm (CNA).- Power and heat were restored Sunday to a federal detention center that had been without electricity and mostly unheated for a full week.

The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, had until Feb. 3 only backup power after a Jan. 27 electrical fire disrupted power in the building. The U.S. Department of Justice announced Feb. 3 that power and heat had been fully restored to the building by Sunday evening.

More than 1,600 inmates are incarcerated at the facility; most of them are awaiting federal trials and have not yet been convicted of crimes.

During the week-long ordeal many inmates had no heat, hot meals, or lights in their cells, according to the New York Times. Some were also reportedly without hot water.

The federal Bureau of Prisons denied that heat and hot water had been affected in housing blocks, the New York Times reported on Feb. 1, though accounts from prisoners, visitors to the prison, and staffers said that cells were unheated.  

The inmates were on partial lockdown for several days.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), who toured the facility, described conditions in the unheated cells as a “nightmare,” akin to “living in a closet without lights.”

Winter temperatures in New York plunged last week to as low as 2 degrees Fahrenheit; New York City officials sent blankets and hand warmers to the facility on Feb. 2. Aid groups sent socks, sweatshirts, and extra blankets.

Inmates who use electrical sleep apnea machines were at an elevated risk of stroke without the machines, and inmates were unable to request prescription refills, including for psychiatric medicine, the New York Times reported.

The Bureau of Prisons said it worked as quickly as possible to resolve electrical and heating issues at the jail, although protesters said that jail officials did not work quickly enough, and complained Friday when it appeared that electrical contractors left the job site in late afternoon. Justice Department officials have promised a thorough investigation.

Protesters attempted on Sunday to enter the jail. They were deterred by police and corrections officers, some of whom used pepper spray to deter the demonstrators, who mostly returned to protesting after the melee. Some of the protesters said they were relatives of men incarcerated at the detention center.

As they attempted to enter the jail, some demonstrators chanted “heat is a human right.”

In 2014, Pope Francis called on “Christians and men of good will” to “improve prison conditions, with respect for the human dignity of the people deprived of their freedom.”

“The deplorable conditions of detention which are observed in various parts of the planet, are often genuinely inhuman and degrading deficiencies, often the result of the penal system, at other times due to the lack of infrastructure and of planning, while in more than a few cases they represent the arbitrary and unscrupulous exercise of power over people deprived of freedom.”

Fordham University theologian Charlie Camosy told CNA that “If you are leading a life in which you feel comfortable and at home in our current culture, then there is a good chance you aren't living out the fullness of the Gospel.”

“It is deeply counter-cultural, but Christians are called to see the Face of the Lord in prisoners, who are among the ‘least ones’ that Jesus explicitly mentions in Matthew 25. What we do to prisoners we do to Christ. A shocking thing to think about when we think about the inmates at MDC Brooklyn,” Camosy added.

At the Brooklyn jail, inmate cells face the outside of the building. While power was out, inmates could often be heard and seen banging loudly against narrow cell windows from darkened cells, on some occasions waving small lights and appearing to be shouting.

After power was restored, inmates flicked the lights in their cells on and off, while protestors gathered in the streets below cheered.

 

 

Catholic school students, diocese sue over exclusion from Vermont college program

Sun, 02/03/2019 - 18:25

Burlington, Vt., Feb 3, 2019 / 04:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Diocese of Burlington is joining two students and their parents in filing a federal lawsuit challenging a Vermont policy that excludes students at private religious schools from taking part in a college credit program.

The Dual Enrollment Program in Vermont allows high school students to take college courses funded by the state. Students from public schools are eligible, as are students from secular private schools, and homeschooled students. However, attendees of private religious high schools are excluded from the program.

Eligibility for the program mirrors the criteria for a separate Town Tuitioning Program, which does not include private religious schools due to a 1999 Vermont Supreme Court decision which held that the use of public funds to pay tuition at private religious schools was a violation of the state constitution.

But plaintiffs in the lawsuit say the dual enrollment situation is different, since the state is paying for college courses, not the tuition for a religious high school.

Two students from Rice Memorial High School, along with their parents and the Diocese of Burlington, which runs the school, filed the federal suit on Tuesday.

“Vermont is discriminating against students purely based on which kind of school they come from,” said Christen Price, legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the students, parents and diocese in the lawsuit. “Vermont’s program includes public, private secular, and home-school students. Only students from private religious schools are completely excluded.”

“Students should have every opportunity to pursue their educational goals. That’s especially true in this case, where the government isn’t spending any money on religious education,” Price said.

Alliance Defending Freedom pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. In that case, the court ruled that a state cannot deny public benefits to religious entities simply because they are religious.

“The government is constitutionally required to treat religious people equally,” Price said, adding that “a state cannot discriminate against students by excluding them from generally available public benefits simply because they attend a religious school.”

Vermont Secretary of Education Dan French said this week that he was not sure how many schools were excluded from the program, the Burlington Free Press reported.

 

A look at the Catholics who made final religious vows in 2018

Sun, 02/03/2019 - 05:57

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2019 / 03:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Last year at least 240 Catholic men and women professed perpetual religious vows in the U.S., and a new survey provides a statistical snapshot of who they are and where they came from.

Those who made final vows tend to be cradle Catholics with multiple siblings and attended Catholic schools.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University sought information from superiors of religious institutes on religious professions in 2018. The center analyzed the results in a report for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations.

Researchers received responses from 530 of 730 major superiors, a response rate of 71 percent, who reported 240 members who professed perpetual vows in 2018. Of these, researchers secured responses from 162: 92 sisters and nuns and 70 brothers and priests.

About 80 percent of religious institutes reported that no one professed perpetual vows in 2018. About 13 percent had one member profess, while seven percent reported two or more.

The average age of respondents was 38, with a median age of 35. The youngest was 22 and the oldest was 75. About 70 percent said their race or ethnicity is white. About 16 percent identify as Asian, and 10 percent as Hispanic.

More than two-thirds of respondents were U.S.-born, with Vietnamese-born being the second highest, with eight respondents.

About 90 percent were baptized Catholics as babies, while 10 percent are converts. Among these converts, the average age at adult conversion was 19.

For 78 percent of respondents, both parents were Catholic. Only about 20 percent were only children, with 18 percent having one sibling, 34 percent having two or three siblings, and 45 percent having four or more.

Respondents were somewhat more likely to have attended a Catholic elementary school and a high school compared to Catholic adults overall, and much more likely to have attended a Catholic college. Fifty percent of newly professed religious attended Catholic elementary school, 38 percent attended Catholic high school, and 36 percent attended a Catholic college.

The respective figures for Catholic adults overall were 39 percent, 19 percent, and 10 percent.

About 23 percent of respondents earned a graduate degree before entering the institute, and more than 71 percent had at least a bachelor’s degree.

For the nine percent of respondents who said educational debt delayed their entrance application for their religious institute, their delay in application averaged about 1.4 years and they had to pay down an average of about $35,000. Family members, friends and co-workers tended to be the most common sources for their debt relief.

At least 85 percent of respondents served in church ministry. About half served as lector, while slightly fewer were altar servers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. About 40 percent worked in faith formation, catechesis, or RCIA, youth or campus ministry, or music ministry. About 25 percent worked in some kind of social ministry while one in six taught at a Catholic school.

About half participated in a youth ministry or youth group, while 33 percent participated in a young adult ministry. About 20 percent participated in World Youth Day, while slightly fewer participated in a Franciscan University of Steubenville high school youth conference.

About 90 percent had a regular private prayer life before entering the institute, with two-thirds taking part in Eucharistic Adoration, praying the rosary, or attending retreats.

Half of respondents were 19 years old or younger when they first began to consider a religious vocation. They were most likely to be encouraged by friends, other religious, or parish priests, rather than family members. About half said at least one person tried to discourage them from discerning a religious vocation, with women more likely to say so. Friends, school classmates, parents or other relatives tended to be most likely to discourage prospective religious, though friends, parents and relatives were also among the most likely to encourage discernment.

Almost all took part in a vocation program or experience during discernment.

 

Bishop Daly: Pro-choice pols should not receive Eucharist

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 13:24

Spokane, Wash., Feb 2, 2019 / 11:24 am (CNA).- The Bishop of Spokane said Friday that that politicians who publicly support abortion should not receive the Eucharist in his diocese.

“Politicians who reside in the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, and who obstinately persevere in their public support for abortion, should not receive Communion without first being reconciled to Christ and the Church,” Bishop Thomas Daly wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to his diocese.

“Efforts to expand access to abortion, allowing murder of children up to the moment of birth is evil. Children are a gift from God, no matter the circumstances of their conception. They not only have a right to life, but we as a society have a moral obligation to protect them from harm.”

“The Church’s commitment to the life of every human person from conception until death is firm. God alone is the author of life and for the civil government to sanction the willful murder of children is unacceptable. For a Catholic political leader to do so is scandalous,” Daly said.

The bishop’s letter came as abortion bills have been at issue in several state legislatures, and amid calls from some Catholics, and at least one bishop, for the imposition of canonical sanctions on New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed on Jan. 22 a bill that significantly expanded legal protection for abortion in his state. Daly did not shy away from that controversy.

“The champion of this abortion legislation is Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic and governor of New York. Governor Cuomo frequently cites his Catholic faith in support of legislation he favors. His public witness as a Catholic politician, coupled with his stalwart support of abortion, is unacceptable,” the bishop said.

Cuomo’s own bishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, has said that he does not intend to impose measures of ecclesiastical discipline on Cuomo, saying that while he opposes Cuomo’s public support for abortion, he does not believe imposing canonical or sacramental disciplinary measures will have effect on the governor.

Excommunication or other disciplinary measures “would be completely counterproductive, right?” Dolan said on his radio show Jan. 29.
 
“Especially if you have a governor who enjoys this and wants to represent himself as a kind of martyr to the cause, doing what is right. He is proud to dissent from the essentials of the faith. He’s proud with these positions."

"For me to punish him for it? He would just say, ‘Look at the suffering this prophet has to undergo,' the cardinal added.

Daly’s letter cited canon 915 of the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which says that Catholics “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Daly did not mention the penalty of excommunication, a penalty Dolan said had been suggested by many Catholics for Cuomo.

At least one U.S. bishop has called for Cuomo’s excommunication. On. Jan. 31, Bishop Eduardo Nevares, auxiliary bishop of Phoenix, tweeted: “I am compelled to raise my voice in calling on Cardinal Dolan, and ALL CATHOLIC BISHOPS to EXCOMMUNICATE the ‘Catholic’ Governors and ALL other ‘Catholic’ Politicians who are promoting the most VILE, HIDEOUS and YES, DEMONIC practice of MURDERING the NEW BORN BABIES.”

But some canon law experts have said that penalty is unlikely to be legally applicable to the governor’s situation, calling instead for the application of canon 915, which is not the same as excommunication.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Spokane told CNA that Daly’s letter “is not commenting directly on any one politician in his diocese but making clear that it is important to understand that the Catholic faith and public abortion advocacy are incompatible. The principle is that if one persists in a public way in supporting abortion access they should refrain from receiving Holy Communion.”

“In the case of a politician who is concerned that his or her voting record on abortion or another essential teaching of the Church might preclude them from receiving Communion, that person should speak with their pastor for guidance.”

The spokesman told CNA that the individual application of canon 915 would be a matter addressed directly with any particular politician to whom it might apply.

Daly concluded by encouraging Catholics “to turn to our Lord in prayer for our political leaders, entrusting them especially to the intercession of St. Thomas More, a public servant who preferred to die at the hands of civil authorities rather than abandon Christ and the Church.”

“Let us also keep the unborn, as well as all pregnant mothers, in our prayers.”

Sen. Sasse: Virgina Gov. Northam is a 'creep' with 'no regard for human dignity'

Sat, 02/02/2019 - 01:00

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2019 / 11:00 pm (CNA).- Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) told CNA that he thinks that embattled Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), should step down from office or face a bipartisan-led recall campaign.

Northam has been the subject of sustained criticism following his public defense of a proposed bill to allow in-labor abortions in the state. On Friday, a photograph from his 1984 medical school yearbook was published, which identified Northam as one of two figures: one wearing blackface costume and the other Ku Klux Klan robes.

In a Friday interview with CNA Sasse, said that, following his comments on abortion, the photograph was yet another sign that Northam had “no regard for human dignity.”

“Thirty-five years before he was defending infanticide it looks like he was in a racist photo,” Sasse told CNA. “This guy is a creep, and it's inexcusable.”

While many prominent Democrats declined to comment on Northam’s support for the abortion bill, members of his own party have joined calls for his resignation, including his predecessor as governor, Terry McAuliffe, along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

“If he still has a job on Monday morning, I think Republicans and Democrats should be working together in Virginia to get signatures for a recall petition," said Sasse.

Northam issued an apology Friday evening for the picture, saying he was “deeply sorry.” He also said that in his comments on WTOP, he was referring to babies who were born with deformities.

While many are now speculating that Northam could resign as early as this weekend, Sasse told CNA that his unfitness for public life is apparent from his abortion comments alone.

“Gov. Northam's comments [on the Virginia abortion bill] were essentially a defense of the idea that after a baby is born and she's alive and on that table, doctors would, bizarrely, keep her warm and give her a little bit of comfort while there was a debating society conversation about whether or not infanticide was appropriate for this moment,” said Sasse.

On Wednesday, Northam spoke on radio station WTOP in favor of the Repeal Act, a bill that would have relaxed laws regarding third-trimester abortions. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being carried out while a mother was in active labor.

When questioned about this provision in the bill, Northam said that such a case would see the newborn infant be given “comfort care” while a discussion ensued about whether or not to pursue medical intervention. The bill eventually was tabled.

Sasse described Northam’s comments as “crazy” and told CNA they are an indication that Northam “shouldn’t be in public life.”

The new congressional session has seen Sasse take a leading role the issues of religious liberty and the defense of the unborn.

In December, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) questioned a judicial nominee from Omaha about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organisation, suggesting his membership could disqualify him as a judge.

In response, Sasse submitted a unanimous consent resolution in January defending the group and underscoring the constitution prohibition of “religious tests” being imposed on candidates for public office. This measure was passed, though Hirono called it an “alt-right” agenda.

Sasse, who is not Catholic, told CNA that he was inspired to write the resolution by the oath of office he swore to defend the Constitution, which forbids religious tests, and that he feels the oppression of any religious group is “a sign that everybody’s religious liberty is at risk.”

Additionally, he added, “I represent a whole bunch of Catholics.”

Nebraska is nearly one-quarter Catholic.

The Knights of Columbus does "unbelievable good work on behalf of their neighbors,” Sasse said. The senator characterized the questions from Harris and Hirono as an attempt to “institute a religious test for being a judge,” which is “an attack on people in my state.”

After the resolution passed, Hirono said that Sasse was “embracing” an “alt-right position” with his resolution--something the Nebraska senator said was “crazy stuff” and "absolutely" an act of cowardice.

"It is truly bizarre for her to double down and now try to call Catholics racist because they're exercising a constitutional right to love their neighbor,” he said.

Sasse said it is notable that Hirono did not take the floor to object to his resolution when it was being considered, and instead took to the Senate floor “when nobody else was back in town.”

“[Hirono] made this bizarre speech implying that people in the Knights of Columbus are not just religiously bigoted, but also racist--I don’t know how to make any sense of the kind of stuff she’s saying, but she didn’t come to the floor and say it in front of her colleagues,” said Sasse.

“I’d love it if she would.”

“These people need to check their consciences. We believe the reason you're in public life is to maintain a framework of ordered liberty and to celebrate human dignity. That's what American public life is about,” Sasse added.

“The laws exist to protect the most vulnerable among us, and then people can go out and love their neighbor and serve in their community and join the Knights of Columbus and be entrepreneurs and invite people to your church or synagogue. That's what America is about, and you have to start with a clear understanding of defending human dignity, and that starts first and foremost with defending the most vulnerable"

On Monday, Sasse will attempt to get another bill passed by unanimous consent: the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. This bill would penalize doctors and medical professionals who do not provide medical care to infants who survive abortions.

"I don't think there's any legitimate argument that can be made to oppose my legislation," Sasse told CNA. While he hopes that none of his colleagues will object to his bill, if they do, he said, they should “do it in front of the 320 million Americans that are their bosses.”

"And they need to show what side they're on. It's a pretty simple question: are you on the side of these vulnerable little babies, or are you on the side of Gov. Northam and his defense of infanticide?"

Sasse told CNA that it is clear where he stands.

“We believe,” he said, “in the dignity of everybody."

La. law regulating abortion clinics may head to US Supreme Court

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 20:01

Washington D.C., Feb 1, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Abortion rights' advocates have asked the US Supreme Court for an emergency stay of a Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The bipartisan law, known as the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, or Act 620, was effectively upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Jan. 18 when it rejected a petition to rehear a challenge to the law.

A three judge panel of the court had already upheld Act 620 in September 2018.

If the stay is not granted, the law will take effect Feb. 4.

The Louisiana attorney general, Jeff Landry, has filed the state's opposition to the emergency stay application. He argued the court is unlikely to reverse the Fifth Circuit's decision, and that there is no likelihood of irreparable injury if the law is allowed to take effect.

“As we have argued throughout this litigation, we firmly believe that Act 620 contains common-sense requirements that will protect the health and safety of Louisiana women,” Landry said Jan. 31.

Act 620 was authored by Democratic State Rep. Katrina Jackson, who authored the legislation and is chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. She has said the law is about “the safety of women.”

It was passed in 2014 by an 88-5 vote in the Louisiana House, and a 34-3 vote in the Senate.

The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act requires that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

The law also clarifies that informed consent protections also apply to chemical abortions, procured by ingesting mifepristone, and that chemical abortions must be reported anonymously to the Department of Health and Hospitals, which already tracks surgical abortions. Doctors who perform more than five abortions per year must also maintain proper licensing.

When the Fifth Circuit upheld Act 620 in September, it found that the law does not impose a substantial burden on women seeking to procure abortion.

Landry stated that plaintiffs challenging the law – who say it would leave only one doctor in the state able to perform abortions – have misrepresented “the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning in upholding Act 620.”

“As the Fifth Circuit explained, one plaintiff physician unilaterally refused to submit documentation necessary for him to obtain admitting privileges,” Landry noted. “Another physician at the same clinic threatened to cease performing abortions if Act 620 goes into effect, albeit with shifting justification, and despite his already having admitting privileges that comply with Act 620.”

The attorney general continued: “Plaintiffs refuse to grapple with those facts, and instead engage in ad hominem attacks on highly respected Fifth Circuit judges. We will continue to fight to defend our laws.”

Act 620 was challenged in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2016 Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

In that case, the high court struck down a Texas law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and abortion clinics to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers. In the 5-3 vote, the majority found that the law put an “undue burden” on a women’s right to an abortion, posing a “substantial obstacle” to that right without showing the necessary benefits of its regulations to women’s health.

Considering Louisiana's law in light of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Fifth Circuit wrote that “the facts in the instant case are remarkably different from those that occasioned the invalidation of the Texas statute in WWH.”

“Here, unlike in Texas, the Act does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women under WWH and other controlling Supreme Court authority. Careful review of the record reveals stark differences between the record before us and that which the Court considered in WWH.”

“The Louisiana Act passes muster even under the stringent requirements of WWH,” wrote Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith.

Similarly, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in September ruled that Missouri may enforce its own law mandating that doctors who perform abortions have hospital privileges and that abortion clinics to have the same standards as similar outpatient surgical centers.

The Eighth Circuit also cited the Hellerstedt case, saying that decision analyzed purported benefits of the law at issue related to abortion in Texas, not Missouri, and that it found courts should consider the asserted benefits of a law.

Fifth Circuit Judge James L. Dennis dissented from the court's decision not to rehear the challenge to Act 620, asserting it is “in clear conflict” with the Hellerstedt decision and that “the panel majority’s attempt to distinguish WWH is meritless because it is based on an erroneous and distorted version of the undue burden test required by WWH and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey.”

When the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act was passed in 2014, there were five abortion clinics in Louisiana. By the time the Fifth Circuit upheld the law in September 2018, there were three, in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport.

The day before it declined to rehear the challenge to Act 620, the Fifth Circuit vacated a previous injunction barring Texas from stripping Planned Parenthood affiliates of Medicaid funding.

Circuit Judge Edith Jones affirmed that Texas has the right to exclude a healthcare provider from Medicaid funds, and criticized the Planned Parenthood affiliates’ argument that the Office of Inspector General has insufficient expertise to determine the qualifications of abortion providers.

Bill to ban common abortion procedure advances in North Dakota

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 19:01

Bismarck, N.D., Feb 1, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A bill outlawing dilation and evacuation abortions passed the North Dakota House of Representatives Thursday.

The practice is the most common type of abortion performed in the second trimester.

After the Jan. 31 House vote, which was 78-13, the bill proceeds to the Senate and then the Republican governor.

Under the bill, doctors performing a dilation and evacuation abortion outside of emergency cases would be charged with a felony. Offenders could be punished by a $10,000 fine and up to five years' imprisonment. Women who procure or attempt to procure the procedure could not be prosecuted.

If passed into law, the bill would not become effective until the state attorney general recommends that it is “reasonably probable” that it would be upheld as constitutional.

Similar laws in other states have faced legal challenges from abortion rights' proponents.

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit recently heard oral arguments over an analogous law in Arkansas.

Mississippi and West Virginia have already enacted laws banning dilation and evacuation abortions, and an Ohio law against the procedure will take effect in March.

Similar laws face injunctions in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

North Dakota's fole abortion provider is the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo.

Another pro-life bill was approved by the state House Jan. 28 by a 73-16 vote. This bill would oblige abortion providers to inform women receiving chemical abortions that if they change their mind, they could still carry out a live birth.

If a woman has only taken mifepristone, the first medication for chemical abortion, taking progesterone can stop the abortion.

Ethical concerns raised as human embryonic gene editing continues in US

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 18:01

New York City, N.Y., Feb 1, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A scientist at Columbia University in New York is conducting controversial gene-editing experiments on human embryos, according to a recent report from NPR.

Dieter Egli, a developmental biologist, is experimenting with CRISPR technology to edit genes in order to prevent certain hereditary genetic diseases and mutations, such as blindness or cystic fibrosis.

In his lab, Egli uses human ova and sperm, along with the CRISPR tool, to create genetically edited embryos. He told NPR that the human embryos that he creates and edits are not allowed to develop beyond a day.

This kind of research is currently banned from receiving federal funding, but can be conducted using private funding. The Food and Drug Administration prohibits gene modification on viable human embryos, which means any genetically modified human embryos must be destroyed, rather than brought to term.

While Egli said that he wants to use the research to prevent diseases, some scientists worry about the ethical implications of such research if it were used haphazardly.

Already in China, a scientist has been condemned both by his university and by civil authorities for creating genetically modified babies, using CRISPR, for seven couples. Researcher He Jiankui claimed in November that these embryos had already resulted in the birth of a set of genetically modified twins, though there has been no independent confirmation of his claim.

In a letter signed by 120 Chinese scientists, He was condemned for ignoring ethical guidelines. The letter called the gene manipulation a “Pandora’s box,” and said “The biomedical ethics review for this so-called research exists in name only. Conducting direct human experiments can only be described as crazy.”

Fyodor Urnov, associate director of the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Seattle, told NPR that he found it “really disturbing” that gene-editing research was continuing in the United States.

"As we've learned from the events in China, it is no longer a hypothetical that somebody will just go ahead and go rogue and do something dangerous, reckless, unethical," Urnov says.

One of the biggest ethical concerns of the medical community regarding gene editing is that it could lead to the creation of “designer babies” and a society in which genetically modified people are seen as superior to genetically unedited people.

"Anyone with a connection to the Internet will be able to download the recipe to make a designer baby," Urnov says. "And then the question becomes: 'What's to prevent them from using it?' As we learned in the past year: apparently nothing."

Catholic bioethicists have previously raised serious concerns about gene-editing research and technology.

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Director of Education for The National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA in 2017 that embryonic gene editing is morally objectionable because it treats “very young humans...not as ends, but as mere means or research fodder to achieve particular investigative goals.”

At the time, he was responding to news that a team of scientists at Oregon Health and Science University had used CRISPR to edit the genes of human embryos. While gene editing may have laudable goals, such as preventing diseases, the means of killing human embryos cannot justify those intrinsically evil ends, he said.

“Their value as human beings is profoundly denigrated every time they are created, experimented upon, and then killed. Moreover, if such embryos were to grow up, as will doubtless occur in the future, there are likely to be unintended effects from modifying their genes,” Fr. Pacholczyk added.

While gene editing research is beginning to be explored and discussed in various countries throughout the world, most places have urged extreme caution and have laws in place that thus far prohibit genetically edited pregnancies.

Urnov told NPR that the research should be stopped until every ethical dilemma can be addressed.

"We need to hit the pause button and keep it pressed until we understand how do we proceed in a way that minimizes the risk of people going rogue," Urnov says.

J. Benjamin Hurlbut, an associate professor of biology and society at Arizona State University, told NPR that he would also urge extreme caution for gene editing technologies.

"If we've learned anything from what's happened in China, it's that the urge to race ahead pushes science to shoot first and ask questions later," he told NPR. "But this is a domain where we should be asking questions first. And maybe never shooting. What's the rush?"

 

Colo. sex ed bill advances despite vocal opposition

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 12:22

Denver, Colo., Feb 1, 2019 / 10:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A controversial sex ed bill was approved by a Colorado House committee this week, despite significant concerns voiced by Coloradans at a hearing at the state legislature.

“Many parents are very concerned about what this would mean for their children, especially those in public schools, who will be faced with this,” said Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, adding that the content of the sex ed curriculum under the bill is an open question.

House Bill 1032 would ban on abstinence-only sex education in favor of “comprehensive sex education.” On Wednesday, the Colorado House of Representatives’ Health and Insurance Committee heard 10 hours of written and spoken testimony from more than 300 people on the bill.

Foes of the bill significantly outnumbered supporters among the speakers, but the Democrat-controlled committee voted shortly before midnight to pass the bill by a vote of 7-4, split along party lines.

Many speakers worried that if the bill becomes law, school districts will teach children about sex acts and relationships that contradict their religion.

Responses to bill critics claimed the curriculum would be age-appropriate and exclude “more egregious things,” but this is not stated anywhere in the bill, said Kraska.

“It’s disingenuous for people to say nothing bad will be taught when we don’t know what the curriculum will look like in Colorado,” Kraska said, adding that teachers too could have concerns about the bill’s mandates.

“Depending on the kind of curriculum that is used, there might be other subject matters that teachers might be uncomfortable teaching,” she said.

The bill’s text says that nothing in it shall be construed to prohibit discussion of individuals’ “moral, ethical and religious values” related to relationships, sexuality, or family formation.

However, the bill summary says that comprehensive sex education “prohibits instruction from explicitly or implicitly teaching or endorsing religious ideology or sectarian tenets or doctrines, using shame-based or stigmatizing language or instructional tools, employing gender norms or gender stereotypes, or excluding the relational or sexual experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals.”

In an interview earlier in January, Kraska encouraged a skeptical approach to such language, saying it means in effect “that people or families with certain beliefs and teachings about sex, relationships and gender (like those of the Catholic Church) are basically wrong in their beliefs and teachings.”

This will likely stigmatize these students and families, she said.

Kraska lamented that the Jan. 30 committee hearing did not look more closely at the ability of parents to opt out of the sex education lessons for their children.

The opt-out clause “isn’t an adequate response for parents who have legitimate concerns,” she said. It only applies to human sexuality instruction and does not allow parents to opt out of curriculum that deals with sexuality and gender.

The bill explicitly says a school is not required to give written notification to parents “for programming on gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, or healthy relationships that occurs outside the context of human sexuality instruction.”

Even where the opt-out clause applies, schools don’t distribute information uniformly and nothing is done in a uniform manner across the state, Kraska said.

Kristi Burton-Brown, a constitutional attorney, told legislators she saw legal trouble in the bill’s simultaneous claim to teach an undefined “healthy relationship” while simultaneously banning any teaching of gender norms.

“Legally, this presupposes that a relationship based on gender norms cannot be healthy,” Burton-Brown objected, saying this is viewpoint discrimination regarding what would be taught to children about their own parents.

While religious neutrality is neutral, she said, religious bias is not. The bill’s phrasing about viewpoints that cannot be taught is a form of religious bias, she argued. Parental rights are also affected by the bill’s limited parental notification provision.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has opposed the bill on multiple grounds and encouraged Coloradans to contact their legislators. In a Jan. 28 letter, he said “public schools would have to promote abortion as an equal option to life, and parents wouldn’t be notified before lessons were presented on gender-identity and sexual orientation.”

According to Kraska, the bill would require that pregnancy in curricula be addressed by teaching abortion, adoption, and raising the baby as equal options. This concern was also raised by parents at the hearing.

Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, argued that in her interpretation the bill does not promote abortion, the Denver Post reports.

Several Colorado students who backed the bill said they had received deeply inadequate sex ed in school.

Gianella Millan, an 18-year-old graduate of a Denver charter school, said that “withholding information… does not keep young people from having sex.”

“It can and does put them in risky situations,” she said, according to the Denver Post.

Father Daniel Nolan, F.S.S.P., assistant pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Littleton, Colo., spoke at the hearing.

“Bullying of any kind is inappropriate and needs to be addressed,” he said, adding “I do not think endorsing LGBT relationships as safe and health is the answer.”

Nolan voiced concerns concern about studies showing abuse is higher in same-sex relationships. Official endorsement of such lifestyles as safe and healthy will affect a student’s right to disagree, he said.

“Students will be subjected to emotional and psychological pressure from the state,” he warned, saying that the government of Colorado will become “the bully on a massive scale.”

Legislators sought out Nolan’s thoughts on additional aspects, including whether a putatively comprehensive sex education could exclude non-physical aspects of sex. There was also a provocative question from Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, the first transgender legislator elected in Colorado.

“As a Catholic priest, are you abstaining from sex?” Titone asked Nolan, prompting groans from the crowd and loud boos. The hearing chair had to rap the gavel several times to call the room to order.

“Well, I am a handsome man,” joked Nolan, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

“To follow up the question, which was my main point, you seem to be an expert on the topic, how did you become an expert on the topic?” Titone asked.

“I hear confessions,” Nolan replied, drawing laughs from the crowd.

“I sure didn’t see that response coming!” Titone said in a tweet after the hearing. “Although I’m pretty sure that testimony from the confessional is not the type of ‘expertise’ that will help young people practice safe sex.”

Backers of the bill include Planned Parenthood, the largest performer of abortions in the U.S. and a major distributor of contraceptives, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Kraska voiced hope that parents will continue to speak against the bill, engage with elected officials and “make their voice heard.” Even though the bill passed out of the first committee despite opposition from the “vast majority” of citizens who spoke, the bill “still has a way to go.”

“What was amazing to see is that so many people showed up and took an interest in the process and made their voice heard,” she said.
 

Michigan Catholic schools find formula to boost enrollment

Fri, 02/01/2019 - 05:28

Grand Rapids, Mich., Feb 1, 2019 / 03:28 am (CNA/EWTN News).- As Catholic schools in many areas of the country struggle to keep attendance up, one Michigan diocese has enjoyed a significant boost in enrollment, after the local bishop introduced a plan to prioritize Catholic education.

“[Catholic schools] are at the heart of the mission of the Church,” said David Faber, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Grand Rapids.

“Catholic schools are good all around, not only for the Church, but for the community and the good of our country,” he told CNA.

Faber said the recent growth in Catholic school enrollment followed a 15-year period of decline. The decrease had been due to a drop in the state’s economy, a reduction in church attendance, and the Michigan Blaine Amendment that bans the state from providing funds to Catholic schools, he said.

But over the past four years, the diocesan school district has overcome obstacles, adding 254 new students for a total of 6,555 students. Faber said the diocese is currently seeing the biggest preschool class in 21 years and the biggest kindergarten class in six years.

He attributed the growth to the efforts of Bishop David Walkowiak, who in 2015 created the Bishop’s Catholic Schools Initiative, a program that classified Catholics schools as a high priority in the diocese.  

Bishop Walkowiak “really believes that Catholic schools are the single most effective means the Church has created for evangelization,” he said. “He wanted every child to have the opportunity for a Catholic education. The same opportunity that he had.”

The program consisted of three parts, Faber said. “One was to increase affordability through scholarships, the second part was to grow our professional capacity in our office of Catholic schools, and the third party was to plan for the future vitality of our schools.”

The diocese tripled its need-based Bishop Scholarship and created the Welcome Scholarship, which is given to any first-time families attending Catholic schools or families returning to Catholic schools after a major absence. The Welcome Scholarship can range from $250-$1000 depending on the grade level.

In addition, Grand Rapids Diocese created a marketing team for diocesan schools, hiring an admissions enrollment field consultant, a marketing communications coordinator, and several admission advocates.

This year, Faber said, the diocese is launching a new five-year strategy, “Catholic Schools: Bridging Faith and Future,” to extend and build on the success of the previous initiative.

Developed over the last three years by three rounds of community forums, with input from all the deaneries of the diocese, the five-year plan looks to unite the diocesan schools by strengthening programmatic excellence, accessibility, sustainability, and Catholic mission.

Faber said the plan emphasizes the need “to make Catholic schools a ministry of all Catholics in the diocese.” As part of this focus, Catholic parishes without schools are required to give 4 percent of their offertory to aid diocesan schools. This will gradually increase to 8 percent.

While funding education is a sacrifice, the superintendent said, there are numerous studies showing statistical evidence that Catholic schools benefit the Church and broader community.

Catholic school students are more likely than their peers to graduate high school, attend college, and be civically engaged with politics, he said, and Catholic education is associated with an increase in Mass attendance after high school, discernment to the religious life and priesthood, and eventual salaries and charitable donations.

“An education centered in Christ offers the best possible learning environment, in which students achieve more in school and life, feel welcomed and cherished, develop creativity and character, and grow in faith and grace – leading to outcomes that are second to none,” he told MLive.

 

Sen. Ben Sasse seeks to fast-track bill to protect abortion survivors

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 19:12

Washington D.C., Jan 31, 2019 / 05:12 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) has announced that he will introduce the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to the Senate on Monday, and is calling for a voice vote to pass the measure.

Sasse announced on Thursday that he is beginning the Rule 14 process, which would bring the bill directly to the Senate floor and bypass the normal committee consideration of a piece of legislation. He said that he hopes his bill will be passed by a unanimous voice vote.

“On Monday evening, I’m going to be asking unanimous consent--for senators to come to the floor,” he said. “I’m going to ask all 100 senators to come to the floor and be against infanticide. This shouldn’t be complicated.”

Sasse started his floor speech by referencing the “morally repugnant” comments made on Wednesday by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). In a discussion on a WTOP radio show, Northam addressed questions regarding a bill that would have allowed abortion throughout an entire pregnancy in the state, even when a woman had already gone into labor.

"The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother," he said.

The proposed bill was tabled later that day, amid an outpouring of criticism over the remarks by Northam and comments by the bill’s sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax).

“Let’s really be clear about what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about fourth-trimester abortion, or what anyone in the normal world calls ‘infanticide,’” said Sasse, in reference to Northam’s comments.

“This should be so far beyond any political consideration,” he said. “We’re talking about a tiny life that has done nothing wrong to warrant being left to die, cold and alone on a table.”

Sasse stressed that all of his colleagues should be able to say that killing a newborn baby is wrong, and that “this doesn’t take any political courage.”  

The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act would penalize doctors and medical professionals who do not provide medical care to infants who survive abortions. The bill is co-sponsored by more than three dozen Republican senators.

The House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and has 131 co-sponsors, including one Democrat, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL).

Although Sasse emphasized that a voice vote should not be complicated, there is a significant chance the bill will run into opposition. When the House of Representatives voted on their version of the bill in January 2018, all but five Democrats voted against it.

Cases where infants have survived late-term abortions are rare, but do occur. Pro-life activist Gianna Jessen was born in an abortion clinic following a failed saline abortion attempt when her mother was 30 weeks pregnant.

In 2013, Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for killing babies who had survived abortion attempts at his clinic, as well as one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient who died of an overdose in 2009. He is now serving several life sentences.

Virginia bishops ‘distraught’ at abortion bill, governor’s comments

Thu, 01/31/2019 - 16:45

Richmond, Va., Jan 31, 2019 / 02:45 pm (CNA).- Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond issued statements Thursday condemning a proposed abortion bill in the Virginia legislature and comments made by the state’s governor.

 

“This bill rightfully failed--but I am, along with so many people of good will, distraught that this bill was introduced in the first place,” said Burbidge in the statement released January 31.

 

“It could have paved the way for babies to suffer a violent and gruesome death moments before birth and could have been harmful to women,” he added.

 

The bill, introduced by Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax), became the subject of heated debate after video circulated of Tran answering questions about the scope of the proposed law.

 

During questioning by House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R) on Tuesday, Tran said that there was nothing in the bill that would prevent an abortion being performed while a woman was in active labor.

 

On Jan. 30 Gov. Ralph Northam (D) appeared on WTOP radio to support the bill and described what some of the its provisions would have meant in practice, including in-labor abortions.

 

Northam said that if a baby were sufficiently disabled at birth, it could be “kept comfortable” and might be resuscitated if the mother wished, and there could be a “conversation” between doctors and the mother.

 

Burbidge called the remarks a “staggering admission” about the proposed fate of children, one that “reflects a new level of deep-rooted animus against the inherent goodness of every child.”

 

The combination of Northam’s comments and the bill’s provisions are a sign of “how far abortion advocates are willing to go in taking the life of a precious child,” said Burbidge.

 

In his own statement, Bishop Knestout called the proposals “horrific,” “outrageous,” and “vicious,” and said that there is “no place in a civil society for this sort of thought and action.”

 

The Richmond bishop called statements made by Northam and Tran “equally disheartening and reprehensible.”

 

“We should not be legislating in favor of abortion, let alone third trimester abortions, at all,” said Knestout, adding that “all our actions and decisions should be life-giving.”

 

After the bill failed to make it out of legislative committee and was tabled by a 5-3 vote on Wednesday, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Del. Dawn Adams (D-Richmond) said that she would not have supported the bill had she understood its provisions better.

 

Adams said in a letter to her constituents that she believed the bill merely repealed pro-life reforms introduced in 2012, and was surprised that “it sought to do much more.”

 

Adams apologized for failing to “exercise due diligence” before agreeing to co-sponsor the bill

 

“Had I researched each line of removed language, I would have seen that, and known that there was more research to be done,” she said, adding that she is still in favor of abortion rights.

 

While many characterized Northam’s radio comments as an implied endorsement of infanticide, a Catholic bioethicist told CNA that he did not believe the governor explicitly went that far.

 

Dr. Joe Zalor, an ethicist at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told CNA that he did not see the comments as discussing infanticide, per se, but he did find the bill itself to be “highly problematic” and he is glad that it was tabled in committee.

 

Zalor drew a distinction between circumstances were a may have child survived an abortion and when it was born with such a severe condition that it was medically dying of natural causes from the moment of birth.

 

“There’s nothing morally wrong if you have a child with a very severe illness and there’s really nothing that medicine can do--it is admissible (...) to give the child comfort care and let them die a natural death in the arms of their parents,” explained Zalor.

 

Infanticide, he said, involved the taking of deliberate action to hasten the death of the infant.

 

Zalor said that he believes this bill, and similar legislation being considered in other states, is “the culture of death being exposed for what it is.”

 

“And it’s very, very ugly. A silver lining to this may be that people are waking up.”

 

Pages