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Scottish pro-lifers lose appeal of decision allowing self-administered abortion pills

Edinburgh, Scotland, May 23, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A pro-life group in Scotland has, for a second time, lost a legal challenge against the government’s decision last year to allow women to self-administer abortion pills at home.

“We are greatly saddened by this decision. We have been convinced all along that the policy decision by the Chief Medical Officer and Scottish Government was illegal, as well as detrimental to the well-being of women in our country,” said John Deighan, chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland.

“Women should not be facing the mental anguish that accompanies DIY abortions, nor any abortion for that matter. However, those concerns have not been upheld by the judges,” he said.

A three-judge panel ruled against the pro-life group’s appeal May 22, stating that a registered medical practitioner is still responsible for the treatment, whether it takes place in a clinic or in the home, and that even at home “control in the appropriate sense is maintained.”

The Scottish Parliament secured the legal right to govern abortion issues in 2016, and in October 2017 the country’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, told Scottish health boards that misoprostol could be taken outside a clinical setting.

Misoprostol is the second in a two-drug combination used in early abortions; women who have suffered an early miscarriage can take the drug at home to induce labor, while previously women seeking abortions had to take both drugs in a clinical setting.

With the new rules in place, women can take the first of the two drugs, mifepristone, at a clinic, and then 24 to 48 hours later take misoprostol at home.

In November 2017, when plans to permit at-home abortion pill administration were first announced, the Scottish bishops objected that “making abortion easier ignores the disturbing reality that an innocent human life is ended,” the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald reports.

SPUC lost its first appeal against the government’s decision in August 2018, but challenged it again this April, arguing in court that the Abortion Act 1967 requires the presence of doctors, nurse, and medical staff.

In addition, the act lays out specific rules for approved places where abortions can take place, and did not intend to allow abortions at home, they said.

Pro-abortion groups backed the change, including Abortion Rights, the Family Planning Association and the Scottish Humanist Society, arguing that “abortion should be treated no differently” than other medical procedures that allow self-administration of drugs at home.

“The move to trivialize abortion is one that harms women and creates an environment where some women are even urged to have an abortion because it does not suit others,” Deighan said, saying the government plan amounts to approving “backstreet abortions.”

Ultimately, the court agreed with the abortion-rights groups’ arguments, endorsing the previous ruling against the appeal.

“We do not accept that the doctor’s control or supervision over the treatment differs in any material way between the situation of taking the tablet within the clinic and then leaving; and that of delaying the taking of the tablet to allow the woman to travel home. Both result in the termination of the pregnancy taking place outside of the clinic,” the three-judge panel wrote, according to the Scottish newspaper The National.

"The reclaimer has been unable convincingly to explain why an outpatient clinic or [general practitioner’s office] would necessarily be a 'safer' or more suitable place to take a tablet or pessary than the woman's home.”

Deighan thanked SPUC’s supporters for making the appeal possible, and reiterated that “women deserve better than abortion.”

“We have always been motivated by concern for the women who undergo abortion as well as our concern for the right to life. But we had hoped that the rule of law would at least hold the aspirations of pro-abortion forces at bay,” Deighan commented.

“It is difficult for us to see how having an abortion at home can possibly satisfy the legal requirement for medical supervision.”

In terms of next steps, taking the case to the UK Supreme Court could be an option, he told reporters.

Indian police investigate claim against Cardinal Gracias of failure to report abuse

Mumbai, India, May 23, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Police in India are investigating a claim that Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay and two auxiliary bishops covered up an accusation of clerical sexual abuse involving a minor that reportedly occurred four years ago.

In 2015, a 13 year-old boy was reportedly abused by a Catholic priest, Fr. Lawrence Johnson, after evening prayer, according to UCA News.

The alleged abuse was reportedly confirmed by medical professionals and reported to police by the boy’s parents, UCA News reported. Johnson was arrested Dec. 2, 2015, and has remained in custody since then. Johnson was charged with violating multiple parts of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The father of the boy has now claimed to authorities that Cardinal Gracias and two of his auxiliaries, Bishops Savio Fernandes and John Rodrigues, had attempted to cover up the abuse and did not properly report the accusation to authorities.

A POCSO court ordered Mumbai police May 7 to launch an investigation into the claim, reported The Hindu, an Indian daily. The father of the boy told the court that at the time of the incident, Bishop Rodrigues launched an internal, ecclesial investigation of the matter, but never told the family the results of the investigation, and did not inform police of the incident.

Fr. Nigel Barrett, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay, told UCA News that the archdiocese welcomes the investigation, because it has “nothing to hide.”

According to a “detailed note” from the archdiocese, reviewed by UCA News, the archdiocese said that Gracias and the auxiliary bishops did not report the abuse claim to the police because the parents of the boy had already done so.

In the note, Barrett said that Gracias removed Johnson from active ministry Nov. 30, as soon as he found out about the allegation. Gracias tried to reach the family of the boy involved to console them, Barrett said. Gracias also reached out to Rodrigues to ask him to handle the matter because he had to leave on a flight to Rome that night.

Once he landed, Gracias phoned Rodrigues from Rome, asking the auxiliary bishop about informing the police of the matter. Rodrigues told Gracias that the family had already done so.

Barret told UCA News that archdiocesan officials then met with the family, and reached out to them multiple times to offer counseling or medical help, but that their offers were declined by the family.

According to The Hindu, Indian law states that if a person in charge of an institution fails to report an offense committed by one of their subordinates, they could face up to one year in prison.

China's technological controls keep Christians under constant surveillance

Beijing, China, May 23, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- As the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests approaches, the Chinese Communist Party is utilizing authoritarian tactics old and new to crack down on Christians.

High tech means of controlling religious observance include facial recognition surveillance and a smartphone app that ranks citizens' party loyalty.

On the local level, however, government officials are still manipulated with similar methods used 30 years ago to implement the one child policy, in which local officials were heavily pressured to force women into abortions, according to China expert Steven Mosher.

Local government officials are punished if their superiors find evidence of unauthorized religious expression in the areas under their control via a “job responsibility contract” system, Mosher told CNA.

"What that contract says is that you must enforce the new restrictions on religious behavior. You can't allow children under the age of 18 to attend religious services. You can't allow any unauthorized religious gathering to take place. If it does, you find the people present and you can arrest the leaders,” Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, said.

Changes in 2018 within Chinese governance shifted direct control of all religious affairs in China to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, an agency tasked with ensuring that groups outside of the CCP, ethnic minorities like Tibetan Buddhists, Xinjiang Muslims, Hong Kong democracy activists, and the Catholic Patriotic Association, are following the party line.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called the United Front Work Department one of his “magic weapons,” used to co-opt and control.

“Local officials have been given the green light to intensely persecute the local church and the Patriotic church is not going to be exempt,” Mosher said. “We now know that Patriotic churches are being destroyed, not just underground churches.”

In Hebei province, there are 24 village churches currently slated for destruction, according to Mosher.

In September 2018, the Vatican signed a provisional agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops, intended to unite China’s estimated 12 million Catholics who worship in both underground and registered churches.

The terms of this Sino-Vatican agreement have not been made public, something that Mosher says has been used against Catholics living in China.

“The problem with any secret agreement is that either side can misrepresent it at no cost because there is nothing to compare their statements with,” he said.

“Clearly the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Department is misrepresenting the Sino-Vatican agreement … telling bishops and priests that they must join the Catholic Patriotic Association. Now, I don't think that is what the Vatican intended,” Mosher continued.

“It would be helpful if the Secretary of State would speak out and say that the agreement does not call for priests and bishops in China to join the Patriotic Association,” he said. “The only kind of pressure that the People's Republic of China responds to is external pressure. They deal with internal pressure by setting up reeducation camps and filling them with dissidents.”

In China’s Xinjiang region, between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghur Muslims have been detained and sent to “re-education camps,” where they have been subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

Chinese authorities in the region use high-tech surveillance with facial recognition and an app tracking its user’s location to intensely monitor the Uyghur ethnoreligious minority, a technological model that the Chinese could apply to expand to other parts of the country in the future.

Christian churches throughout China have been equipped with 24-hour CCTV surveillance. Beijing’s largest Protestant church was forced to close last September after its pastor refused a government order to allow face-recognition cameras to be installed on his pulpit.

Mosher told CNA that he is particularly alarmed by how China’s social credit score system is being used to limit Christians educational and employment opportunities and other social benefits, including the ability to travel.

“Being a believer is a big hit to your social credit score ... If your social credit score gets too low then you can't get a passport, you can't get an exit visa, you can't buy a plane ticket,” he said.

A Chinese citizen can boost their social credit score by earning points on the Chinese Communist Party’s app, Study the Great Nation – the most downloaded app in China.

The app, developed by the CCP’s Propaganda Department, includes news and speeches by Xi and socialist theories with daily quizzes on the information. User data is kept by the Propaganda Department.

“They are saying to the 94 million members of the Chinese Communist Party: You cannot be a believer in anything, but the party. You need to download your Study Xi Strong China app on your phone. You need to do your half an hour of homework everyday. You need to answer the questions correctly in order to stay a party member in good standing,” Mosher explained.

However, Mosher says he finds hope in the fact that there may be more Christians today in China than there are members of the Chinese Communist Party. Open Doors estimates that there could be more than 97 million Christians in the country.

Mosher stressed that Catholics around the world need to remember to pray for the Chinese people.

“The battle goes on not just in the natural, but in the supernatural all the time. It never hurts to say more prayers, and they certainly need our prayers,” he said.

Georgetown Visitation alumnae respond to ‘heartbreaking betrayal’

Washington D.C., May 23, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Former students of Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School have published an open letter challenging a recent decision they say undermines the Catholic identity of the school.

“The false choice you have set up, between embracing the truth of Catholic teaching and loving our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, is already spreading a culture of fear” graduates of Visitation wrote May 23, in response to the school’s recent decision to announce the same-sex legal unions of graduates in its alumni magazine.

“If Visitation’s leaders will not affirm Catholic teaching, the school cannot promise to be a home for students and teachers who do.”  

Visitation’s policy change was announced earlier this month in an email sent to the school community by Sr. Mary Berchmans VHM, who is head of the Salesian monastery that runs the school and the past-president of Visitation.

The graduates’ letter was published on the website of First Things magazine, and addressed to Berchmans VHM.

“Above all else, we write with sadness,” the letter says, while outlining the alumnae’s concerns with the policy and the rationale offered for it.

Although Berchmans was the lone signatory of an email to the school community announcing the change in policy, a group of pro-LGBT former students indicated on a private Facebook group that they had been in contact with her and organized support for the decision.

In her May email to the school community, Berchmans said she had been “reflect[ing] upon what it means to Live Jesus in relationship with our LGBTQ alumnae.”

“The Church is clear in its teaching on same-sex marriages,” Berchmans wrote. “But, it is equally clear in its teaching that we are all children of God, that we each have dignity and are worthy of respect and love.”

The sister also wrote that she had been praying over what she called the “contradiction” between the Church’s perennial teachings on human sexuality and the Gospel imperative to love.

In their own letter, the alumnae affirmed that they “share [the] desire to ensure that Visitation is a welcoming and inclusive community,” but noted that even if the school is determined to share same-sex union news of former students “there are loving and faithful ways to do so.”

The alumnae letter said that Berchamns’ explanation of the school’s decision “signals a fundamental shift in the administration’s approach to Visitation’s Catholic identity and Salesian charism.”

The former students said that Berchmans’ communications suggested a false conflict between Church teaching on sexuality and loving one’s neighbor which “betrays a deep misunderstanding of Catholic sexual teaching.”

“For Catholic educators to suggest that Church teaching is in error is misguided and offensive,” the alumnae wrote.

“Sexual union in marriage is only one among many possible paths to a life full of love; human dignity does not depend on sexual expression, and it is perplexing to hear a professed religious sister insinuate otherwise.”

The open letter accused Berchmans of “a heartbreaking betrayal” of the Salesian order’s founder by using quotes from St. Francis de Sales in an argument which seemed to pit the Gospel imperative of love against the Church’s teaching on same-sex unions.

The alumnae said Berchmans implied that those who affirm Catholic teaching “act out of hate.”

That implication, they said, would be an indictment of Pope Francis, St. Francis de Sales, and millions of faithful Catholics around the world.

The letter’s four signatories said they had been overwhelmed with private messages of support from other recent Visitation graduates who shared their concerns but believed they would be “rejected and condemned” if they came forward publicly.

Before the open letter was published, CNA spoke to several parents of current students who voiced similar concerns. Those parents said they are concerned that the school’s decision to publish same-sex union announcements is part of a growing pro-LGBT agenda within a small section of the school community.

One father explained to CNA that he believes the new policy for the alumni magazine would serve as an example for other Catholic schools to break with Church teaching.

“This isn’t just being watched by the immediate community. I’ve spoken to parents from other schools concerned this could be the start of a national trend [by Catholic schools] away from the Church and towards a progressive agenda,” he said.

“This isn’t what we want for our daughters, we make sacrifices as a family to get them to a school where the faith will be taught and nurtured, not undercut by the administration.”

One mother told CNA that the alumni magazine decision had crystalized growing concerns among the wider school community.

“This isn’t about one or two or ten families taking issue with something in a newsletter,” she said.

“A lot of families - a lot of us - have been concerned for a while now about a real move away from a truly Catholic identity to something just ‘in the Catholic tradition,’ and that’s not what we signed up for.”

Several parents told CNA that they have been in touch with the Archdiocese of Washington asking for newly-installed Archbishop Wilton Gregory to review the situation. While the school is under the direct oversight of the Salesian Sisters and not the archdiocese, the local bishop has a general responsibility for ensuring that all Catholic schools are faithful to Church teaching.

On May 15, a spokesperson for Visitation told CNA that "I can't speak for the archdiocese, but I can say we have been in touch with them and our goal is to work with them as we move forward and remain committed to our Catholic identity."

An official spokesman for the archdiocese declined to comment on the situation.

CNA also confirmed that Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Va., had written to the school’s administrators expressing the concerns brought to him by Visitation parents living in his diocese.

Georgetown Visitation was founded in 1799, and is the oldest Catholic high school for girls in the United States. Tuition is $30,100. Approximately 500 students are enrolled in the school.

Pro-life activist conceived in rape addresses Alabama abortion law

Washington D.C., May 23, 2019 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey recently signed the Human Life Protection Act into law. The legislation would make performing or attempting to perform an abortion a felony in the state.

The bill permits exceptions if the life of the mother is at risk, but controversially makes no exception for victims of rape or incest.

In an interview to air May 23 on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, attorney and pro-life speaker Rebecca Kiessling said that she applauds Alabama for refusing to make such exceptions because they dehumanize people like her.

Kiessling is the founder and president of Save the 1, a pro-life advocacy group dedicated to supporting the rights of unborn children conceived in rape or incest, or with disabilities. She told Pro-Life Weekly host Catherine Hadro that she was conceived when her biological mother was abducted at knifepoint and raped, and that she owes her birth to abortion having been illegal at the time.

Adopted at birth, Kiessling met her biological mother for the first time when she was 19 years old. While her birth mother “was happy to meet me,” Kiessling said her mother told her that she would have had an abortion if the procedure had been legal at the time.

“She said, ‘it should have been my right,’” Kiessling said.

But, Kiessling said, her mother has since undergone a change of heart, and the pair are now both “thankful that we were protected by Michigan law at the time.”

Asked about the Alabama law and its lack of a rape exception, Kiessling said state Rep. Terri Collins, who introduced the bill, was defending the lives of people like her.

“He really went to bat for us,” Kiessling said, while noting that the rhetoric around the debate had been distressing for her and others like her.

“It really hurts when our people group are under attack,” Kiessling said, adding that Save the 1 has eight hundred members who were either conceived in rape or became mothers after rape.

Shortly after Gov. Ivey approved the bill, President Donald Trump opined on Twitter that although he considers himself “strongly Pro-Life,” he believes in “three exceptions - Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother.” Trump did not name Alabama, although the tweet was widely interpreted as commentary on the bill.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">As most people know, and for those who would like to know, I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions - Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother - the same position taken by Ronald Reagan. We have come very far in the last two years with 105 wonderful new.....</p>&mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1129954110747422720?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 19, 2019</a></blockquote>

<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

Asked about the president’s tweet, Kiessling called Trump “the most pro-life president we’ve had by far,” but that this only made his comments about rape exceptions “hurt so much more.”

“You want somebody like that to be willing to defend you,” Kiessling said.

Asked how pro-life advocates can discuss such a sensitive topic, Kiessling said that it is important to “appreciate people’s concern for rape victims who become pregnant,” without dismissing the humanity of the unborn children involved.

Kiessling said pro-life advocates should “appeal to the sense of justice, that we do not punish innocent people for someone else’s crime.”

“People respect that answer,” she said. “And I did not deserve the death penalty for the crime of my biological father.”

Kiessling said Save the 1 has “made a lot of progress” in working to terminate the parental rights of rapists.

“I tell people, look if you really care about rape victims who become pregnant, please, protect them from the rapist and the abortion,” she said. “The baby is not the scary enemy.”

Kiessling's full interview will air Thursday at 10:00 PM Eastern.

Kate Scanlon is a producer for EWTN Pro-Life Weekly