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Iowa heartbeat abortion law struck down by state judge

Des Moines, Iowa, Jan 23, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Iowa judge struck down Tuesday a law basing an abortion ban on a fetal heartbeat, blocking the implementation of one of the strictest abortion bans in the U.S.

“I am incredibly disappointed in today’s court ruling, because I believe that if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then a beating heart indicates life,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement.

Polk County District Judge Michael Huppert decided the case immediately because no facts were in dispute, the Des Moines Register said.

His nine-page ruling, issued Jan. 22, cited a 2018 Iowa Supreme Court decision striking down a 72-hour waiting period for abortion, on the grounds that “a woman’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy is a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.” He said the law’s defenders didn’t identify a compelling state interest to bar abortions based on when a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The 2018 law would have required any women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound to determine whether a fetal heartbeat can be detected, a milestone usually detected around the sixth week of pregnancy. The legislation made some exceptions for pregnancies conceived through rape or incest, as well as fetal abnormality, or if a doctor determines that a woman’s life is in danger.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller declined to defend the law. Lawyers from the Chicago-based Thomas More Society argued on its behalf in court at no expense to taxpayers.

They previously argued against the claim that facts were not in dispute, saying that the law is not a blanket ban, but a tailored regulation.

Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for Life, voiced hope that the ruling would be overturned on appeal. She said it was a “travesty of justice” that the judge would not allow the case “to go before a fair trial.”

The bill passed the Iowa House of Representatives by a vote of 51-46 and passed the Senate by a vote of 27-19.

The law did not take effect pending the legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, the abortion provider Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic, which also performs abortions.

Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for ACLU of Iowa, said the ruling was “essential for the rights and safety of women in Iowa.” She said the 2018 state supreme court decision cited by Huppert “recognized the fundamental right to a safe and legal abortion for Iowa women, which cannot be legislated away.”

Legal scholars said appealing a decision based on the Iowa constitution would face difficulty because the U.S. Supreme Court has little jurisdiction over issues affecting the state constitution.

The lawsuit argued that the law violated the due process rights of women, as well as their rights to liberty, safety and happiness and their rights to equal protection under the state constitution, the Des Moines Register reported.

Under current law, abortion is legal in Iowa until the 20th week of pregnancy. The new law struck down on Tuesday was among the strongest abortion regulations in the country.

State Sen. Janet Petersen of Des Moines, the Democratic minority leader, said the law was “extreme” and should have been overturned “because it restricted the freedom of Iowa women and girls to care for their bodies, and it forced motherhood on them.”

Last year the Ohio legislature passed a similar bill banning abortion based on fetal heartbeat, but failed to override Gov. John Kasich veto. Kasich’s successor, also a Republican, has voiced support for the bill.

The first heartbeat-based abortion ban was passed in 2013 by the Arkansas legislature, which also voted to override a governor’s veto of the bill.. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled it was unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

South Carolina, Kentucky, and Missouri could consider heartbeat abortion bans this year.

The law also banned all persons from knowingly acquiring, providing, transferring, or using fetal remains in Iowa. This did not apply to medical diagnostic samples, or forensic investigations, or to fetal body parts donated for medical research after a miscarriage or stillbirth. It is unclear whether those provisions still apply.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law May 4, 2018.

“I believe that all innocent life is precious and sacred, and as governor, I pledged to do everything in my power to protect it. That is what I am doing today,” she said at the time. Reynolds said she felt it was “immoral to stop an innocent beating heart,” as well as “sickening to sell fetal body parts.”

The Republican governor acknowledged the near certainty that the law would face court challenges, claiming her actions were “bigger than just a law,” and that she will not back down.

Catholic bishops of the state had voiced qualified support for the bill’s intentions.

“We support the life-giving intent of the provisions in the bill and we want to do everything we can to support that,” Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, told CNA in a May 2018 interview before the bill was signed into law.

He voiced hope that the bill could halt some trafficking of fetal body parts following an abortion.

Iowa’s bishops recognized that some provisions of the bill might not withstand judicial scrutiny.

Bishop Nickless added that Catholics might disagree about the strategy of supporting legislation that could be overturned by courts. He encouraged creative pro-life advocacy, saying Catholics should discern such questions carefully. He said the message of the state’s bishops had been: “If you’re a Catholic and your conscience tells you to support this, please do.”

Nickless reaffirmed that the Catholic Church supports the health and rights of all women, including those in the womb. “If we are talking about women we need to make sure we are talking about unborn females as well, and protecting them,” he said.

Arizona bill seeks to tax access to online pornography

Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 23, 2019 / 05:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- An Arizona lawmaker has introduced a bill that would charge a fee to people buying electronic devices in the state who want pornography blocking software removed from the devices. The fees would help pay for the U.S-Mexico border wall.

Rep. Rail Griffin (R-Hereford) introduced House Bill 2444 earlier this month. The bill would require porn-users to pay a $20 one-time fee to access the explicit material online. The money would then be used to support a wall along the Mexico-Arizona border.

If passed, the bill would mandate that “distributors” to sell computers, smart phones, and tablets with porn restricting software already installed.

People 18 and over may choose for the software to be removed by paying the one-time fee. Manufacturers and retailers may include an additional fee on top of the $20 tax going to the state.

The money would be deposited into the John McCain Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Fund. The fund would be headed by the Arizona Commerce Authority and Department of Public Safety.

According to the bill, the fund will give grants to “uphold community standards of decency” and develop, expand, or strengthen “programs for victims of sex abuse.” One of emphasized options would be to fund a border wall or border security.

The program may also give grants to fund temporary housing, mental health care, and assisting schools or law enforcement.

If companies do not comply then they would be subject to a class 1 misdemeanor. Residents or the attorney general may also sue the company if they have been notified of the material and refused to comply.

In recent years, similar bills have been proposed in Utah, Alabama, Rhode Island, Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky.

According to the Arizona Mirror, Mike Stabile, a spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition, called the bill “unconstitutional.” The organization has campaigned for pornography companies in the past.

 

Basilica confirms Nathan Phillips protest attempted Mass disruption

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2019 / 04:15 pm (CNA).- The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has confirmed that protesters led by the Native American activist Nathan Phillips attempted to disrupt the celebration of Mass on the evening of Jan. 20.

 

On Jan. 23, a spokesperson for the Washington, DC basilica released a statement to CNA confirming the previously reported events of Saturday night.

 

The statement said that while Mass was being celebrated, “a group of approximately 50 individuals attempted to gain entrance to the basilica while chanting and hitting drums.”

 

The statement clarified that the protesters attempted to gain entrance to the basilica during the celebration of a specially arranged Mass being celebrated at 7 p.m, and not, as had previously been reported, during the basilica’s regularly scheduled 5:15 p.m. Mass.

 

“At this time, Mass was being celebrated in the upper church where the individuals attempted to enter,” the statement said.

 

“In respect and reverence for the Mass, the individuals were not permitted to enter the Basilica due to the disruption it would have caused during the solemn Mass. The individuals were asked to leave the property after it was determined they did not intend to share in the celebration of Mass.”

 

According to video footage of the event and eye-witness accounts, the group assembled across the road from the shrine before setting off toward its main entrance, chanting and playing drums.

 

As the group walked towards the basilica steps, one demonstrator can be heard saying “I’ll watch the cops.” CNA previously reported that DC Metro police responded to a 6:27 p.m. call to the basilica address Saturday night, making it likely that the police were already in attendance by the time protesters attempted to enter the building, and intervened after members of the group attempted to enter the building.

 

Video of the event posted on Facebook shows one demonstrator telling the protesters they had been ordered off the shrine property by police, after some of their group were rebuffed as they attempted to enter the church.

 

A California seminarian present at the shrine during the demonstration told CNA that protesters could be heard “banging on the doors” of the basilica after they were locked out.

Venezuelan bishops back opposition marches, after calling Maduro 'illegitimate'

Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 23, 2019 / 04:04 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The bishops of Venezuela have voiced support for peaceful opposition demonstrations across the country Wednesday. At one of these marches in Caracas, opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president.

Guaido is head of the National Assembly, the opposition-controlled legislature. He pledged a transitional government and free elections.

Soon afterwards US president Donald Trump said he recognized Guaido as president, saying the National Assembly is the sole “legitimate branch of government” in Venezuela and that Nicolas Maduro's presidency is “illegitimate”. Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica have also reportedly recognized Guaido.

Since Maduro succeeded Hugo Chávez as president of Venezuela in 2013, the country has been marred by violence and social upheaval. Under the socialist government, the country has seen severe shortages and hyperinflation, and millions have emigrated.

Earlier this month, the bishops called illegitimate Maduro's swearing in for a second term as president. Maduro won a May 2018 presidential election which was boycotted by the opposition and has been rejected by much of the international community.

The Jan. 23 marches were convoked by the National Assembly, which the Venezuelan bishops' conference's Justice and Peace Commission said was “elected by the free and democratic vote of the Venezuelan people” and “is currently the sole organ of public authority with the legitimacy to exercise its powers with sovereignty.”

The commission also demanded that “the diverse bodies of state security respect the citizens demonstrating today,” citing their right to be free from “violent repression, arbitrary detentions, cruel treatment, and the use of firearms and toxic substances to control peaceful demonstrations.”

In addition, the bishops' Justice and Peace Commission urged “the Catholic people and men and women of good will to pray for Venezuela at this time, that the constitutional order is restored and we achieve a spiritually and materially prosperous nation.”

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans marched in support of the opposition today. Security forces have met some of the protesters with tear gas.

In Maturin, at least 700 opposition supporters who marched were trapped in the cathedral for several hours, besieged by the Venezuelan Army.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="es" dir="ltr">Continúa la situación irregular en la Catedral de Maturin. Aproximadamente más de 700 personas permanecen encerradas dentro de la Catedral. En los alrededores existe presencia de colectivos. <a href="https://t.co/8dSAHnybzK">pic.twitter.com/8dSAHnybzK</a></p>&mdash; CEV (@CEVmedios) <a href="https://twitter.com/CEVmedios/status/1088188198789046284?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 23, 2019</a></blockquote>
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Numerous bishops are participating in the opposition marches, among them Luis Enrique Rojas Ruiz, Auxiliary Bishop of Mérida; Mario del Valle Moronta Rodriguez of San Cristóbal; Víctor Hugo Basabe of San Felipe; and Ulises Antionio Gutiérrez Reyes of Ciudad Bolívar.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="es" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CEV?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CEV</a> Mons. Mario Moronta , Obispo de San Cristóbal, acompañando al pueblo tachirense en la manifestación del 23 de enero <a href="https://t.co/d7EeDgWUIW">pic.twitter.com/d7EeDgWUIW</a></p>&mdash; CEV (@CEVmedios) <a href="https://twitter.com/CEVmedios/status/1088123477297688576?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 23, 2019</a></blockquote>
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Supporters of the Maduro government are holding counter-protests.

The opposition marches were called by the National Assembly to mark the anniversary of the 1958 coup which overthrew dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez.

Ahead of the opposition marches, the Venezuelan bishops' conference called them “a sign of hope, something new that is beginning to be generated in our country: necessary changes for the integral human development of each person and of all persons, but always in democracy and in accord with the National Constitution.”

“These marches are not the end of the road, but a sign of the future in process which we must construct among us all, without exception,” the bishops said in a statemented title “23 January 1958: A historic milestone for Venezuelan democracy.”

The bishops called the 1958 coup “an inspiring sign of the triumph of social rationality before the abuse of power; of the unity of the people who were weak before the dismantling of a regime of abuses, of corruption, and of repression, which concealed within itself all the evils which an authoritarian government can have.”

Since then, the Venezuelan republic developed a “democratic conscience”, which valued the separation of powers, peaceful transitions of government, and decentralization, the bishops said.

“Lamentably, the deterioration of the democratic life by factors known to all opened the doors to the introduction of a government regime in which many placed their hopes, but which, in the end, has been contrary to the principles of social ethics and to respect for human dignity.”

They said the Jan. 23 marches remember “that event which was significant in the struggle of civilization before barbarism. We do this remaining aware of the suffering to which the Venezuelan people have been subjected by government action.”

The bishops also said that “the majority of the people ask for a change of direction which passes through a period of transition until new national authorities are elected.”

On Jan. 9, the bishops had said Maduro's claim to be initiating a new term “opens the door to the nonrecognition of the government, since it lacks democratic support in justice and law.”

A Jan. 21 rebellion by 27 members of the National Guard in Caracas was quickly suppressed.

Venezuela's socialist government is widely blamed for the country's crisis. Since 2003, price controls on some 160 products, including cooking oil, soap and flour, have meant that while they are affordable, they fly off store shelves only to be resold on the black market at much higher rates.

Poor economic policies, including strict price controls, coupled with high inflation rates, have resulted in a severe lack of basic necessities such as toilet paper, milk, flour, diapers and medicines.

An estimated 3 million people have fled the country since 2014.

Inflation in Venezuela in 2018 was estimated by the National Assembly at 1.3 million percent.

The evolving response of the Church in Kentucky to the Covington Catholic incident

Covington, Ky., Jan 23, 2019 / 02:39 pm (CNA).- When video emerged on Twitter last weekend, showing a confrontation between a Native American elderly man with a drum and a group of students from Covington Catholic High School, many media commenters accused the students of racism and disrespect.

The original video clip showed a Native American elderly man, later identified as activist Nathan Phillips, drumming and chanting in close proximity to one student, a junior at Covington, who stands with an uncomfortable expression on his face while the students around him chant and do the “tomahawk chop.” Several students can also be seen wearing hats supportive of President Donald Trump, with the slogan “Make America Great Again.”

The incident took place as the students were waiting at the Lincoln Memorial to meet their bus on their way home from the March for Life in Washington, D.C.

As the video went viral, it was roundly condemned by media commenters and some Catholic leaders as racist and antagonistic on the part of the students.

In their initial response on Saturday, Jan. 19, issued just a few hours after the first video emerged, the Diocese of Covington and Covington Catholic High School released a joint statement condemning the actions of the high school students.

“This behavior is opposed to the Church’s teachings on the dignity and respect of the human person. The matter is being investigated and we will take appropriate action, up to and including expulsion,” they said.

“We know this incident also has tainted the entire witness of the March for Life and express our most sincere apologies to all those who attended the March and all those who support the pro-life movement.”

The statement was supported by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville and Kentucky’s metropolitan archbishop, who added his own statement condemning the “shameful actions” of the students.

However, both statements, along with the entire websites of the Diocese of Covington and the high school, have since been taken down, after subsequent, longer footage and additional information complicated the original interpretation of the video.

In longer videos, the students appear to have first been provoked by a group called the Black Israelites, who were shouting disparaging remarks at them largely about the Catholic Church and Trump. The videos also showed that the students were approached by the demonstrators from the Indigenous People’s March, including Phillips, which contradicted prior reports that the students had surrounded them.

As additional information emerged, the Diocese of Covington released a new statement on Monday, Jan. 22, in which they announced both the temporary closing of Covington Catholic High School and a third-party investigation into the events at the Lincoln Memorial.

“On Monday afternoon, the Covington Police alerted us that they had intelligence concerning a planned protest, Jan. 22, at Covington Catholic High School and a vigil at the Diocesan Curia. Due to threats of violence and the possibility of large crowds, the Diocese was advised to close Covington Catholic High School, the Diocesan Curia and neighboring Covington Latin School. We thank law enforcement officers for their protection and will reopen when they say it is safe to do so,” it said.

Regarding the incident in Washington, D.C., the new statement took a more measured tone than the first, saying that more facts must be gathered before deciding “what corrective actions, if any, are appropriate.”

“Concerning the incident in Washington, D.C., between Covington Catholic students, Elder Nathan Phillips and Black Hebrew Israelites the independent, third-party investigation is planned to begin this week. This is a very serious matter that has already permanently altered the lives of many people.”

“We pray that we may come to the truth and that this unfortunate situation may be resolved peacefully and amicably and ask others to join us in this prayer. We will have no further statements until the investigation is complete.”

This statement is currently the only part of the website of the Diocese of Covington that is still functioning. By Monday, all other links on the site had been deactivated.

Archbishop Kurtz on Monday released a new statement of support for Bishop Joseph Foy and the Diocese, and noted that the responses to the incident “revealed the regrettable polarization in our Church and in our society.”

He said his original statement, joining with Foys, was “a condemnation of alleged actions, not people. This post replaces that original blog entry with the additional information below from the Diocese of Covington.”

“I do not have jurisdiction in the Diocese of Covington. However, I have sought to act in solidarity with the Bishop of Covington, who is in a position to have the best information about what transpired and who has pledged an independent investigation of the situation. At this time, I am not going to get ahead of the Diocese of Covington’s independent investigation with additional comments,” he said.
He reiterated his confidence in Foys and the school to make the right decisions going forward.

“Whatever the investigation reveals, I hope that we can use this as a teachable moment, learn from any mistakes on the part of anyone involved, and begin the process of healing.”

 

World Youth Day kicks off with message: 'Have the courage to be saints'

Panama City, Panama, Jan 23, 2019 / 01:59 pm (CNA).- At the opening Mass of World Youth Day 2019, Archbishop José Domingo Ulloa Mendieta of Panama told young people from across the globe that a life of holiness is really possible, with the help of God’s grace.

“The Church is looking forward to this springtime of young people. We have confidence in you, we expect a lot from you, because we are fully convinced that...the changes and transformations that humanity and the Church require are in your hands,” he said.

To prepare themselves for the responsibilities ahead of them, Archbishop Ulloa said, young people must learn their personal, familial, cultural, and faith history. He emphasized the role of grandparents in transmitting family identity.

He encouraged the youth to swim against the tide of the culture, fighting for holiness rather than simply seeking the avoidance of suffering in life.

“Being holy leads us to break out of spiritual and material corruption, of all that which causes us evil and offends God,” he said. “A saint defends the defenseless – the unborn, but also the born child who is destitute, a saint defends migrants, seeks justice, prays, lives in and loves the community, is joyful and has a sense of humor, is always striving, breaks out of mediocrity, lives the mercy of God and shares it with his neighbor.”

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world are expected to flood Panama this week for World Youth Day, which culminates with an overnight prayer vigil and Mass with Pope Francis Jan. 26-27.

The opening Mass for the event was held at Santa María La Antigua Field in Panama City.

Archbishop Ulloa reminded those present that sainthood is “not a myth,” but a reality for their lives. He pointed to the witness of saints including Martin de Porres, Rose of Lima, Juan Diego, José Sánchez del Río, John Bosco, Oscar Romero and John Paul II.

The archbishop of Panama expressed his hope that World Youth Day would be a “balm” for the plight of many young people, especially migrants, those from homelands experiencing violence, and people suffering due to “drug trafficking, human trafficking, crime and so many other social evils.”

He encouraged young people to trust in the Virgin, not only asking for her intercession, but also striving to imitate her virtues.

“Let's not be afraid, dear young people, have the courage to be saints in today's world,” he said, adding that in doing so, “you're not renouncing your youth or your joy; completely the opposite, you will show the world that it's possible to be happy with so little, because Jesus Christ, the reason for our happiness, has already won for us eternal life with his resurrection.”

 

‘This is progressive?’ New York bishops react to new abortion law

Albany, N.Y., Jan 23, 2019 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders in New York have spoken out against the passage of an expansive new abortion law in the state. The Reproductive Health Act was passed on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade.

 

In a statement from the New York State Catholic Conference, the state’s bishops called the passage of the law a new “sad chapter” on a date that already carried tragic associations for supporters of life.

 

The New York State Senate voted 38 to 24 to bring the act into law after a 12-year legislative battle.

 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), a Catholic, said earlier this month that he would sign the legislation if it were to be passed, and that he hopes to add abortion rights to the state’s constitution. This process could begin next year.

 

The bill was passed on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a woman had a legal right to receive abortion in the United States.

 

“Our beloved state has become a more dangerous one for women and their unborn babies,” read a statement from the NYSCC.

 

The act codified into law the finding of Roe v. Wade, meaning that abortion would remain legal in New York even if the case were to be overturned by the Supreme Court.

 

While the law officially limits abortion to the first 24 weeks gestation, abortion is permitted at a later gestational age for reasons related to the wellbeing of the mother. Additionally, the bill removes act of abortion from the criminal code, and instead places it in the public-health code, and strips most safeguards and regulations on the procedure. Non-doctors will now be permitted to perform abortions.

 

Writing on his official blog on the eve of the bill’s passage, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said bishops are not supposed to be “politicians or culture warriors,” but said that the new law was an affront to the rights of the most vulnerable.

 

“If our governor, senate, and assembly has their way, abortion will be legal up to the moment of birth; those large numbers of healthcare professionals who find the termination of pre-born babies repugnant will have no conscience rights to object; trained physicians will be not be required to perform the dismemberment; and a baby who survives the scalpel, saline, or suction, and is still alive, can be left to die without any care.”

 

“This is ‘progressive’?” Dolan asked.

 

“All people have rights:  the immigrant, the poor, the pregnant woman… and her baby.  All God’s children, Reverend [Martin Luther] King would insist, are equal and have rights,” the cardinal concluded, recalling the recent observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

 

In a statement published on the state website, Gov. Cuomo called the signing a “historic victory for New Yorkers,” and that “in the face of a federal government intent on rolling back Roe v. Wade and women's reproductive rights, I promised that we would enact this critical legislation within the first 30 days of the new session - and we got it done.”

 

Cuomo said that he hopes other states will follow in New York’s lead and pass similar legislation.

 

Bishop of Albany Edward B. Scharfenberger, questioned if supporting and signing this law could impact Cuomo’s standing in the Catholic Church and ability to receive communion.  “This legislation threatens to rupture the communion between the Catholic faith and those who support the RHA even while professing to follow the Church, something that troubles me greatly as a pastor,” wrote Scharfenberger.

 

In an open letter to the governor, Scharfenberger highlighted Cuomo’s apparent inconsistencies when referencing his Catholic faith.

 

“Although in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should ‘stand with Pope Francis,’ your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our Church,” Scharfenberger wrote.

 

New York was the first state to legalize abortion, and did so in 1970. It currently has the highest abortion rate in the country. In 2019, the organization Americans United for Life ranked New York 43rd on its annual ranking of pro-life states.

 

The bishops also requested prayers not only “for the conversion of heart for those who celebrate this tragic moment in the history of our state,” but also for “the lives that will be lost, and for the women of our state who are made less safe under this law.”

 

There were many “celebrations” throughout the state after the law was passed. In addition to the loud cheering in the Senate chamber after the vote, One World Trade Center and other landmarks around the state were lit up in bright pink to “celebrate” the law.

 

In Albany, meanwhile, next to the Executive Mansion where the bill was signed, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception tolled its bells in preemptive mourning for the unborn lives that will be lost.

 

“As a society, we can and must do better,” Scharfenberger said.

 

“The teaching and intuition of our common faith readies us to help. It is an essential part of our mission to support the lives of all, especially the voiceless, the most vulnerable and marginalized, as Pope Francis always reminds us to do.”

Not so neutral: Colorado's sex ed bill could marginalize Catholics

Denver, Colo., Jan 23, 2019 / 01:11 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A “comprehensive sex education” bill in the Colorado legislature would require public schools to adopt a curriculum that could stigmatize Catholic beliefs about sexuality and gender, one critic warned.

“These matters are best left to local school districts in direct consultation with parents and teachers,” Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, told CNA Jan. 22. “Each community and school are different, and on matters as important as sex education parents should take the dominant role in deciding what type of instruction is best.”

House Bill 19-1032 proposes “significant changes” to Colorado’s sex ed curriculum and its requirements for comprehensive sex education, Kraska said.

The bill 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.”

Kraska encouraged a skeptical approach to such language.

“What this language is really saying is 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,” she said. “The likely result of this type of language will be to stigmatize kids and their families that do hold beliefs that are different from what will be taught in this type of ‘comprehensive sexuality education’.”

Currently, public schools have a limited ability to use state funding for abstinence education, also known as sexual risk avoidance education, although they can use funding from Title V federal funds or can pay outside contractors.

The bill would remove this ability. It would prohibit the state board of education from granting content requirement waivers for “any public school that provides comprehensive human sexuality education.” Such waivers had previously allowed charter public schools, such as the three Colorado schools associated with the Michigan-based Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative, to teach their own standards, including abstinence, marital commitment and fidelity.

“The bill does not say that abstinence cannot be taught, but it must be taught in the context of a comprehensive curriculum that includes sharing information about condoms, contraception and STDs,” Kraska explained.

If a school district would not want to teach the state-designed comprehensive sex ed curriculum, it could not teach any sex ed, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.

Joneen Mackenzie, a registered nurse and president and founder of the Denver-based Center for Relationship Education, praised risk avoidance education over risk reduction.

“Relationship education that focuses on sexual risk avoidance rather than sexual risk reduction is actually helpful, resulting in this positive trend of adolescents delaying sexual debut and wanting more from their relationships,” Mackenzie told the Gazette.

Almost 65 percent of teens in Colorado were not sexually active in the year 2015, according to the Center for Relationship Education.

Parents who believe the school curriculum dealing with sexuality and gender does not comport with their values or beliefs may not be able to opt out, Kraska warned.

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.”

“This means that parents likely wouldn’t be notified regarding this type of instruction and would not have the ability to opt their child or children out of this instruction,” Kraska said.

Backers of the bill include Planned Parenthood, the largest U.S. abortion provider and a major distributor of contraceptives, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union. Proponents cited studies saying abstinence-only curricula are “ineffective at best and overtly harmful at worst,” the Colorado Springs Gazette said.

“Given the current make-up of the legislature this bill is likely to pass,” Kraska said.

The proposal’s main sponsors are Sen. Don Coram (R), Sen. Nancy Todd (D), and Rep. Susan Lontine (D). In the 2018 elections, Democrats won all major statewide offices and took control of the State Senate.
 
The Colorado bill is similar to one passed in California. One parent, Carolina Riofrio of Palo Alto, Calif., told the National Catholic Register in 2017 that a curriculum designed to comply with the California law required students to orally analyze scenarios in order to clarify and reassess their views. Pressure was exerted on students to conform to a morally neutral position in public, and religious values judged to reflect an unacceptable “bias,” were effectively excluded, she said.

Other schools have drawn parental objections for reading children’s books that advocate transgenderism and children undergoing purported gender transitions. A kindergarten teacher at a public charter school in California read such books to her class as a way to introduce a male classmate whose parents said he was undergoing a gender transition to a girl.

The incident reportedly upset several children in the class, several of whom later voiced fears they would turn into the opposite sex. Parents were not informed of the incident until their children told them about it, the Washington Times reported in September 2017.

The Colorado bill proposes to set aside at least $1 million in annual funds for the state’s comprehensive human sexuality education program. It would add eight representatives to the program’s oversight board and require at least seven members to be “members of groups of people who have been or might be discriminated against.”

There is no guarantee this will make the board representative of all citizens, however.

“I believe that Christians and especially Catholics can make a reasonable and strong argument that they have been discriminated against, but this will likely be an argument that falls on deaf ears,” said Kraska.

 

Appeals court upholds La. law regulating abortion clinics

New Orleans, La., Jan 23, 2019 / 11:41 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected a request from abortion rights' advocates to rehear a case challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The Jan. 18 decision effectively upholds its earlier ruling in favor of the bipartisan law, known as the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, or Act 620. Unless an appeal to the US Supreme Court is filed, it will take effect Jan. 28.

A three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit had upheld Act 620 in September by a 2-1 vote. Abortion rights' advocates were asking the court to rehear the case en banc – by a greater share of the court's judges.

“I applaud the Fifth Circuit’s decision to reject the abortion providers’ latest legal challenge to Louisiana’s pro-life and pro-woman admitting privileges law,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “Act 620 is common-sense measure that ensures women will receive proper care if they have complications.”

The Fifth Circuit voted 9-6 to reject the petition for rehearing en banc.

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.

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.”

Landry welcomed the majority's decision not to rehear the challenge to Act 620, saying: “The Fifth Circuit once again affirmed what we have repeatedly said: our law is both factually and legally different from the Texas law that the Supreme Court ruled against.”

“I once again thank Representative Katrina Jackson for authoring this public safety legislation and Solicitor General Liz Murrill for preserving the Legislature’s intent,” he added.

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.

'Get ready!' Pope leaves for Panama, confirms visit to Japan

Aboard the papal plane, Jan 23, 2019 / 08:07 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis will visit Japan in November of this year. The pope confirmed the timing of the upcoming trip during remarks to journalists on the flight from Rome to Panama City, Panama, Wednesday.

According to Vatican News, while greeting members of the media aboard the papal plane Jan. 23, Pope Francis responded to a question from a correspondent of the Japanese Kyodo News Agency, who asked if he will visit the country in 2019. “I’ll go to Japan in November, get ready!” the pope said.

Francis also expressed his desire to travel to Iraq but noted that the local bishops have made it clear the country is not yet secure enough for a papal visit.

Interim papal spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti released a statement Jan. 23 to say that a papal trip to Japan is in the “study phase.”

Regarding a possible trip to Iraq, he said, “as was already also affirmed by Cardinal Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, on his return from visiting that country last December, the conditions do not exist at present for a visit by the Holy Father.”

Pope Francis is traveling to Panama City for the 15th World Youth Day. The massive gathering of Catholic youth, which takes place every two or three years, is being held in Central America for the first time this year. Francis will be present at the international event from Jan. 23-28.

Before departing for the airport Jan. 23, the pope greeted a group of young refugees at the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta guesthouse.

The young men range from 13-17 years old, and came from Tajikistan, Egypt, Salvador, and Venezuela. All are currently residents of the Pedro Arrupe Center, a part of the Astalli Center of Rome, which assists migrant families and unaccompanied minors.

According to the Astalli Center, the encounter was “an exciting moment in which Pope Francis generously listened to the boys.” The young men also invited the pope to visit their residence.

In a statement, the Astalli Center expressed its “profound gratitude to the Holy Father for his constant attention to refugees, and especially today for having given an indelible memory to unaccompanied foreign minors who are too early in their childhood, trying to find their way in Italy, among many difficulties.”