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New hotline connects women in crisis pregnancies to resources, community 

Austin, Texas, Oct 17, 2019 / 05:06 pm (CNA).- When Pamela Whitehead takes a call for LoveLine, a new pregnancy helpline, she listens.

“Too often we think we know what a woman needs and we don't really listen to what she says to us,” Whitehead told CNA, “and I think if we listen long enough, we really hear her need.”

In one recent call to the helpline, Whitehead said she listened to a woman who, at first, thought her biggest need was rent money.

The young woman from Arizona had three children with her boyfriend and had just found out she was pregnant with their fourth. Facing extreme pressure from her boyfriend and family to abort, the woman was sure she would be kicked out of her house for refusing the abortion, and said she needed rent money to prevent her from being homeless.

“So I simply asked her the question, do you want to have an abortion? And she said no,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said she reassured the woman that no one could force her to have an abortion. She suggested to the woman on the phone that she should first try humanizing the baby to her family - telling her mom how much she would love another grandbaby, and telling her boyfriend how much better their lives would be for having another child.

“And you know what she did? She went back and she stood up for herself and she spoke to her family and they actually...turned around and she ended up not having an abortion,” Whitehead said.

“So while what she thought she needed was some material resources, what she actually needed was empowerment and confidence, and that's what we were able to provide for her.”

That story is just one of many hopeful stories that have come from the newly-released LoveLine, Whitehead said, which is a pro-life helpline, founded by former abortion clinic worker Abby Johnson, who is now a pro-life advocate. The helpline connects pregnant or post-abortive women in need to the proper resources. Sometimes that means public assistance or private donations or simply a community of like-minded pro-life people. Often, it is some combination of all three.

LoveLine is a new project under the larger umbrella organization of ProLove Ministries, which houses multiple pro-life projects founded by Johnson. The organization was a spin-off of And Then There Were None, a support organization for abortion clinic workers who are leaving the abortion industry.

Through LoveLine, women in need can text, chat or call the helpline and talk to someone about what they’re going through and the resources that they need. The project hopes to respond to a “gap in services.”

“There's a population of women who are in need who aren't being served,” Whitehead explained.

Usually, she said, it’s because the resources that women in crisis pregnancies need are either unavailable, hidden, or delayed. Public assistance is often delivered on a first-come first-served basis, Whitehead noted, and by the time a woman connects to those services, there can be a long line ahead of her before she actually gets the help that she needs.

“For instance, if all of a sudden (a woman’s) partner leaves her, whether it's her spouse or her boyfriend, and she's accustomed to having a two-income household...that puts her in a major situation,” Whitehead said.

“While her pregnancy wasn't a so-called crisis, all of a sudden the pregnancy becomes a precipitating factor for her because it's just one more thing. And so she's looking at her situation and she's considering all of her options, and one of those oftentimes is abortion because it's like, well, he's left me, now what?”

LoveLine wants to be there to fill in those gaps, Whitehead said. Some other examples of assistance that the group has provided so far to women in need include baby registries, diapers and food assistance, referrals to pro-life doctors, rent assistance through private donations, and referrals to vetted, untapped public assistance.

Any public assistance or service that LoveLine refers to is first vetted by staff or volunteers to make sure that it can actually provide what the woman needs in a timely manner.

“If we are going to send her to an organization or to an individual or to a social service resource, I'm going to call that resource in advance...and make sure this woman's going to hear ‘yes.’ Because it's overwhelming when the pressures of life are on top of you and you're trying to just make it through and you've got 10 decisions you've got to deal with,” Whitehead said.

“We want to give her a yes,” she added. “So whatever that takes, we want her to say yes and feel empowered, so that means we have to vet resources.”

“So we connect, we care, we make a commitment and we offer community.”

The community aspect of LoveLine’s promise often comes in the form of volunteers spread throughout the country who offer to help with various needs of the project, Whitehead said. When baby registries are set up for women in need, for example, everything is sent to a volunteer’s house, where the goods are unpacked, sorted and personally delivered, so that the woman is not overwhelmed with receiving dozens of packages at her house. They have also helped connect women with pro-life moms’ groups in their own areas. Whitehead said she was personally delivering a highchair and some maternity clothes to a woman in her area this week.

For Whitehead, working in the pro-life movement is personal. In 2001, she had an abortion that perforated her uterus and sent her to the emergency room. For years afterward, she though the trauma she was experiencing was “what she deserved,” she said.

At the time, Whitehead had been addicted to drugs and alcohol and was living in poverty. She said the advice she received at the time ignored her needs, and was instead focused on concerns that she would not be able to care for the child.

“They all considered the child and thought, ‘There's no way you can bring this child into the world because you can't take care of it, and I'm not willing to help you,’ basically. No one tried to help me with the drug addiction or help me with the alcoholism or help me with my poverty,” Whitehead noted.

“So when I see these situations, I see the woman. Not that we don't care about the unborn, of course we do, and that's the goal. But if we don't see the woman, if we don't see her and her dignity and her worth and her value, then we're missing. We're missing it,” she said. The tagline for LoveLine is “When you love first, life follows.”

For the pro-life movement, Whitehead said, LoveLine offers people a chance to do something concrete for the women and babies in need.

“So many people love to give to tangible, practical needs. They love to buy a box of diapers and know that it's going to this person, you know? And that means so much to people,” Whitehead said.

Typically, she explained, the word gets about the womens’ needs on social media, either through Abby Johnson’s Facebook page or through ProLove Ministries’ Facebook page.

“What we've seen is every time we put out a need, the pro-life movement just moves on it. I mean, within hours a whole registry is filled. They just can't wait. The love is just exploding,” she said.

The LoveLine website offers a phone number that women in need can call or text, or an online chat. Volunteers can also offer their assistance in their area via the LoveLine website under the “Get Involved” tab.

DNA test could reveal if Catholic supply store killer was involved in 1985 murder

St. Louis, Mo., Oct 17, 2019 / 04:50 pm (CNA).- Last year, Thomas Bruce was accused of assaulting three women and killing one of them at the Catholic Supply of St. Louis retail store Nov. 19 in Ballwin, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

Now, authorities are wondering if Bruce may be connected to a 1985 murder in Tennessee, Fox 2 Now St. Louis reported. One complicating factor: another man was already tried and executed for that murder.

Suzanne Collins was a 19-year-old Marine Lance Corporal in an avionics training school when she was murdered in Tennessee in 1985. According to authorities, Sedley Alley confessed to the crime but eventually retracted his confession, claiming he had been coerced into it. Alley was executed in 2006.

Bruce’s possible connection to the 1985 murder was revealed in court last week by Barry Scheck with the Innocence Project, Fox reported. The Innocence Project is an organization that works to clear innocent people of wrongful convictions.

According to Fox, Scheck told the court that there was untested DNA from Collins’ clothing that could help to clarify whether Bruce was involved in her murder. Bruce reportedly attended the same school as Collins at the time of the murder.

“It is clear that if we don’t get a DNA test in this case, it is wrong,” Scheck said in court. “It is fundamentally unfair. He was entitled to that test.” He added that the people of St. Louis deserve answers about Bruce.

According to Fox 2, the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office opposes the DNA test on the grounds of not letting litigation for the 1985 case drag on forever, and on the grounds that Sedley is already dead.

A judge is set to rule Nov. 18 whether there will be additional DNA testing allowed on Collins’ clothing in order to investigate the possible connection to Bruce.

Bruce had no known convictions in November 2018, when he sexually assaulted, shot, and killed 53-year-old Jamie Schmidt and sexually assaulted two other women.

Schmidt was a customer in the Catholic Supply store at the time of the attack and was transported to a hospital where she later died of her injuries. She was survived by her husband and three children.

Authorities at the time said Bruce did not appear to know Schmidt and that the attack seemed to be at random.

Fox 2 reported that after the 2018 incident, their reporters uncovered two other incidents involving Bruce for which he had not yet been charged.

In one incident, a 77 year-old woman recognized a photo of Bruce on T.V. and reported that in September 2018, just two months prior to the Catholic Supply store attack, Bruce had sexually assaulted her. Bruce was subsequently charged with kidnapping, sexual abuse, and assault for the incident.

The next month in October 2018, a man reported that Bruce’s road rage had caused a deliberate accident on US Highway 61, according to Fox. A dashcam video retrieved by Fox 2 in St. Louis reportedly revealed Bruce yelling and cussing at a police officer responding to the scene.

Bruce’s trial is scheduled for next October. Authorities told Fox in St. Louis that they are still investigating whether Bruce is connected to any other criminal activity.

‘No one ever talked about McCarrick and the boys’

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2019 / 12:41 pm (CNA).- A man claiming to be a former child victim of Theodore McCarrick has written an open essay in response to a recent interview given by the former cardinal. Writing under the name Nathan Doe, the man says that McCarrick sexually abused a series of minors during his years as a cleric.

Media reports have detailed a string of allegations made against McCarrick since the announcement of a Vatican investigation in June 2018. Those reports have referred to McCarrick’s alleged victims as including eight former seminarians and three minors.

“The ‘third’ accuser they were referring to in those news articles was me,” Doe said.

The man says he chose to maintain his anonymity because he does not wish to expose other innocent people to “pain and suffering” by making his name public.

Media coverage of allegations against the former cardinal has focused on apparent crimes against seminarians in the dioceses he led as a bishop, first in New Jersey and later in Washington, D.C. 

In some reports, McCarrick's sexual misconduct has been called an “open secret” among those close to him.

“I am not even sure I know what ‘open secret’ means,” Doe wrote in an essay published online on Oct. 17. “What I do know is that no one ever talked about McCarrick and the boys.”

“I am referring to McCarrick’s targets and victims before he was given power and control over all of those seminaries. I am referring to the first act in McCarrick’s sexual abuse career that no one ever talked about before the Summer of 2018. I am referring to young Catholic boys - almost always between the ages of 12 and 16.”

A source with knowledge of the Vatican investigation into McCarrick told CNA that the former cardinal is alleged to have regularly invited high school boys to accompany him on trips between 1971-1977, when he served as secretary to Cardinal Terrence Cooke, then-Archbishop of New York. 

As previously reported by CNA, during that same period, McCarrick already had a well-established reputation among seminarians as a predator, with one former student at a New York seminary telling CNA last year that “the dean of our theology school was a classmate at CUA with McCarrick, and he knew about the rumors.” 

The priest told CNA that so well-known was McCarrick’s reputation, the priest said, that when McCarrick would accompany Cooke to visit the seminary there was a standing joke that they had to "hide the handsome ones" before he arrived. 

Similar accusations were reported by former students at Seton Hall University, home to the Archdiocese of Newark’s seminary. An independent report, commissioned in response to reports on the seminary's culture, concluded that as Archbishop of Newark, McCarrick created a “culture of fear and intimidation” at Seton Hall's seminary and “used his position of power as then-Archbishop of Newark to sexually harass seminarians.” 

In his essay, published on Thursday, Doe said that in addition to these seminary-related allegations, McCarrick abused a group of at least seven boys under the age of 16 when he was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. Members of that reportedly provided evidence to Church authorities during the canonical penal administrative process which resulted in McCarrick’s laicization earlier this year.

“Collectively, we were able to provide law enforcement with names, dates, times, locations, who was present, supporting evidence, and related documentation covering hundreds of Church-related or fundraising-related overnight trips between the years 1970 and 1990 that, as fate would have it, all resulted in McCarrick sharing a bed with a young Catholic boy.”

Doe says he recognized his own experience, and those of other minors abused by McCarrick, in the account of James Grien, initially published anonymously in the New York Times last year.

“To varying degrees, Grein’s story was our story. I don’t know James Grein, have never spoken to him, and I never even knew he existed until that moment, but there were too many details in that interview that only a person in our exclusive club would know.” 

The report comes just weeks before the U.S. bishops will meet for their third assembly since the McCarrick scandal broke in June 2018. In November 2018, the bishops defeated 83-137 a resolution that would have urged the Vatican to release a comprehensive dossier on McCarrick.

In October 2018, Pope Francis ordered an internal Vatican investigation into the career of the disgraced McCarrick. Results of that investigation have not been released. While many have criticized the delay in making public a report on McCarrick, Doe said he is undeterred by the apparent delay.

“I have no insights at all into who is writing that report and how all of that will work. What I can tell you is that if they had completed and issued their report before today, I would be sitting here telling you that they closed the book too soon,” he wrote.

Calling McCarrick a “walking jurisdictional nightmare,” Doe said it is important not to “underestimate the sheer volume of information that began coming in last year, the number of different channels that information came in through, and all of the various investigative processes and law enforcement agencies that have been involved with the examination of the information.”

“I am personally inclined to grant all of the investigators all the time they need to do whatever work is necessary to get this done right once and for all,” he said.

Sources in Rome and Washington have confirmed to CNA that large quantities of documents and a detailed report on archdiocesan records have already been compiled and forwarded to Rome, but the Archdiocese of Washington has repeatedly declined to comment on those records.

In June 2019, Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin told CNA he was prevented by a state attorney general’s investigation from releasing the files and reports compiled by his diocese on McCarrick, who was Newark’s archbishop from 1986 to 2000. Tobin is believed to have also forwarded a report to the Vatican detailing McC’s time in Newark.

Doe wrote that although he saw the coverage of McCarrick’s disgrace, and even though he participated in the canonical process that resulted in the former cardinal’s laicization in February, he “never” thought about making a public statement.

“That all changed when I read McCarrick’s recent interview with Slate magazine where he attempted to discredit the victims of his sexual abuse while creating further division and confusion within our Church.”

In that interview, McCarrick said he is “not as bad as they paint.” 

“I do not believe that I did the things that they accused me of,” McCarrick said, while going on to suggest that his accusers “were encouraged” to come up with allegations by “enemies” of the former cardinal, pointedly referring to former Vatican diplomat Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano as “a representative of the far right” for coming forward with a series of allegations about McCarrick and apparent Vatican knowledge about his behavior.

Some senior Church officials have told CNA that McCarrick was under consideration for an influential Vatican post in 1999; concerns about the former cardinal’s lifestyle are rumored to have played a role in scuttling that plan. McCarrick was nevertheless appointed Washington’s archbishop in 2000, where he continued to serve until his retirement in 2006.

Doe said that he was only concerned with the integrity of McCarrick’s victims, whom he said McCarrick had further abused by suggesting they were politically motivated.

“I don’t have an axe to grind with anyone other than Theodore McCarrick. For me, this is not an attack on our Church. This is not about Conservative vs Liberal. This is not about Straight vs Gay. This is not about Benedict vs. Francis. In my view, those arguments are a distraction.” 

“For me, this is about our humanity. This is about the criminal, sexual abuse of minors,” Doe said.

Sasse resolution: Church beliefs should not jeopardize tax-exempt status

Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2019 / 11:59 am (CNA).- One U.S. senator is looking to bring up a vote on protecting churches from attempts to police their beliefs, after a presidential candidate said churches should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has introduced a resolution in the Senate expressing support for freedom of conscience (S.J.Res. 58). He said on Wednesday that his measure aims to put senators on the record on protecting the tax-exempt status of houses of worship, amidst attempts to condition that status on a church’s support for same-sex marriage.

Introduced Wednesday, the joint resolution recognizes the importance of religious freedom to the framers of the Constitution and the role of religion in the history of the U.S., and says that the government cannot condition religious protections such as tax-exempt status upon certain viewpoints it deems “correct.”

The resolution states that “government should not be in the business of dictating what ‘correct’ religious beliefs are; and any effort by the government to condition the receipt of the protections of the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States, including an exemption from taxation, on the public policy positions of an organization is an affront to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

Sasse introduced his resolution on Wednesday in response to comments by Democratic presidential candidate and former congressman Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke at a “#PowerOfOurPride” town hall on LGBTQ issues sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and broadcast by CNN on Oct. 10.

At the town hall event, O’Rourke had said in response to a question by moderator Don Lemon that “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities” should be stripped of their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

O’Rourke’s campaign later offered a clarification, saying he was not referring to the tax-exempt status of houses of worship but rather access to public grants and tax dollars of religious-based charities.

On Sunday, O’Rourke told MSNBC, “when you are providing services in the public sphere, say, higher education, or health care, or adoption services, and you discriminate or deny equal treatment under the law based on someone's skin color or ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation, then we have a problem.”

Despite the clarification, however, the comments sparked backlash and questions about the constitutionality of such a proposal.

Sasse, on Wednesday, issued a rebuke of O’Rourke’s original proposal on the Senate Floor, calling them “extreme intolerance,” “extreme bigotry,” and “profoundly un-American.”

“I don't care what some nitwit said on CNN last week to satisfy his fringy base and try to get a sound bite in a presidential debate. The American people ought to know that this body stands for the historic First Amendment, that's what we all took an oath to uphold and to defend and that's what we ought to vote to affirm again,” Sasse said.

The government cannot regulate the speech of churches and cannot “define true and false religion,” he said.

“Government doesn't rifle through your pastor's or your rabbi's sermon notes, government doesn't tell your clerics what they can or can't say, government doesn't tell your religious leaders how they will perform their services, government doesn't tell you where or when you will worship,” Sasse said.

The Supreme Court ruled in a 1970 decision Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York that tax exemptions for houses of worship did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

In a 7-1 decision, the Court said that such exemptions did not single out one particular religious group for favor, but rather “creates only a minimal and remote involvement between church and state, far less than taxation of churches would entail.” Furthermore, two centuries of tax exemptions for churches “has not led to an established church or religion, and, on the contrary, has helped to guarantee the free exercise of all forms of religious belief,” the Court said.

Other presidential candidates—Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Pete Buttigieg—said in the past week that they would not take such action to strip churches of tax exemptions.

“Religious institutions in America have long been free to determine their own beliefs and practices, and she [Warren] does not think we should require them to conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax exempt status,” a statement from the Warren campaign to NBC News read.

On CNN on Sunday, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that removing tax exemptions “means going to war not only with churches, but I would think with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do.”

He added that “if we want to talk about anti-discrimination law for a school or an organization, absolutely. They should not be able to discriminate.”

At the same town hall where O’Rourke made his original comments, fellow presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), was also asked if he would strip houses of worship of tax-exempt status for opposing same-sex marriage, and responded that such a move would produce a “long legal battle,” but added that “if you are using your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory [body].”

Gonzaga, Catholic Charities team up to offer immigration legal assistance

Spokane, Wash., Oct 17, 2019 / 12:08 am (CNA).- Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane is partnering with Catholic Charities of Eastern Washington to offer immigration legal assistance to low-income individuals, as well as training in immigration law for students.

Second- and third-year law students under faculty supervision will assist clients pro bono in the “Catholic Charities Immigration Clinic at Gonzaga Law School” starting this fall.

“We're viewing this almost like a joint venture between the two of us,” Jacob Rooksby, dean of Gonzaga Law School, told CNA.

“The attorney in charge has a vast network through her time at Catholic Charities. We envision the students and the attorney going on-site to different areas of the state to provide walk-up assistance, and that's going to start as we get further into the project,” Rooksby said.

The law school has several pro bono clinics already, including Indian Law, Elder Law, and Business Law. The students will work with Megan Case, an attorney who formerly worked with Catholic Charities.

Case told CNA that the center has a significant caseload at the moment, mostly on family reunification cases, whereby legal immigrants can petition for other family members to come and join them in the United States.

The center will also work with individuals seeking asylum. Additionally, they have an immigration court hearing scheduled for January in a deportation case.

Case noted that immigration law is one of the broadest and most complicated areas of U.S. law. She said during her time at Catholic Charities, she oversaw a number of naturalization cases, family reunification cases, and green cards, among others. They also helped individuals who qualified for victim-based visas.

She noted that the center assists both documented and undocumented individuals.

“There's definitely a need for attorneys to assist people in these types of cases, and there's a lot of work,” Case told CNA.

Rooksby said there is already student interest and client need for the program.

“As a Jesuit institution, I think we're taking seriously the Catholic Church's position on immigration as being one of the signature issues of our time,” he said. “So we see this as very consistent with our mission...the need is already there.”

Legal assisted suicide puts people with disabilities at risk, report finds

Washington D.C., Oct 16, 2019 / 01:24 pm (CNA).- Leaders in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops applauded the National Council on Disability for its recent research on the risks of assisted suicide for people with disabilities.

“Every suicide is a human tragedy, regardless of the age, incapacity, or social/economic status of the individual,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida.

Naumann is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Dewane heads the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

“The legalization of doctor-assisted suicide separates people into two groups: those whose lives we want to protect and those whose deaths we encourage,” the bishops said. “This is completely unjust and seriously undermines equal protection under the law.”

Last week, the National Council on Disability released findings of a national investigation into the effects of assisted suicide laws on people with disabilities.

In its examination, the council said it found “that the most prevalent reasons offered by someone requesting assisted suicide are directly related to unmet service and support needs.” The agency called on lawmakers to remedy these unmet needs through changes in legislation and funding.

It added that in states where assisted suicide is legal, “safeguards are ineffective and oversight of abuses and mistakes is absent.”

In the U.S., assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and in Montana by a court ruling. A law allowing it in Maine will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

The National Council on Disability is an independent federal agency that advises lawmakers on how policies and practices affect those with disabilities. The council’s report, entitled “The Danger of Assisted Suicide Laws,” was released Oct. 9 as part of its series on bioethics and disability.

The report found that state regulations intended to prevent abuses in the practice of assisted suicide sometimes fall short. It pointed to instances of insurance companies denying costly, life-sustaining medical treatment while covering deadly drugs.

In addition, doctors rarely refer for a psychological evaluation before prescribing lethal drugs, the report found, despite the fact that depression is a leading factor in requesting assisted suicide.

Financial pressure may compromise patient freedom in making end-of-life choices, the report added, and misdiagnoses of terminal diseases may lead patients to end their lives under the mistaken assumption that they are close to death.

Neil Romano, chairman of the National Council on Disability, said in a press release that while fighting cancer, he was once given weeks to live. But today, years later, he is alive and thriving.

“I know firsthand that well-intending doctors are often wrong,” he said. “If assisted suicide is legal, lives will be lost due to mistakes, abuse, lack of information, or a lack of better options; no current or proposed safeguards can change that.”

“Assisted suicide laws are premised on the notion of additional choice for people at the end of their lives, however in practice, they often remove choices when the low-cost option is ending one’s life versus providing treatments to lengthen it or services and supports to improve it,” Romano stressed.

The agency’s report also documented suicide contagion in states that have legalized assisted suicide and pointed to an easing of safeguards initially intended to prevent abuses.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal for two decades, the report noted that the practice has been expanded to include non-terminal illnesses, such as arthritis and diabetes.

The National Council on Disability opposed the legalization of assisted suicide. It called for federal investment into long-term services and supports as an alternative to assisted suicide. It also urged further research “on disability related risk factors in suicide prevention, as well as research on people with disabilities who request assisted suicide and euthanasia.”

In their statement, Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Dewane urged lawmakers and medical professionals to take seriously the recommendations in the report.

“The human rights and intrinsic worth of a person do not change with the onset of age, illness, or disability,” they said.

“We must do what we can to uphold the dignity of life, cherish the lives of all human beings, and work to prevent all suicides.”

 

Mississippi pro-lifers file suit against abortion clinic protest restrictions

Jackson, Miss., Oct 16, 2019 / 02:41 am (CNA).- Pro-life advocates in Jackson, Mississippi have filed a lawsuit against a new city ordinance that would restrict protesters’ ability to approach people and demonstrate outside abortion clinics.

The appellants, who are volunteers for a national organization called Sidewalk Advocates for Life, often congregate outside the state’s last abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That facility performs abortions up to 16 weeks.

Sidewalk Advocates for Life trains volunteers to offer women alternatives to abortion, and says that nearly 7,000 women nationwide have freely chosen not to abort in the past five years thanks to their advocacy. They describe their ministry as “prayerful and peaceful.”

The ordinance prohibits protesters from approaching within eight feet of another person— unless that person consents— for the purpose of handing a leaflet, displaying a sign, engaging in oral protest, or educating or counseling a person within 100 feet of a healthcare facility.

The Jackson City Council adopted the ordinance Oct. 1, and it is scheduled to take effect Oct. 31, the AP reports.

The ordinance also prohibits congregations or demonstrations within 15 feet of a healthcare facility entrance, as well as shouting and amplified sound with 100 feet as long as the area is marked as a “quiet zone.”

The lawsuit, filed by members of Sidewalk Advocates for Life and the Mississippi Justice Institute, notes that pro-life protesters often have to shout in order to be heard above the loud music that the abortion clinic plays in order to drown out the protesters’ speech.

Violators of the new ordinance could face a fine of up to $1,000 or up to 90 days in prison, or both.

The lawsuit argues that the ordinance has a chilling effect on the protesters’ speech, prevents them from engaging in peaceful assemblies, and “irreparably harms persons patronizing the abortion facility by denying them access to useful information regarding the alternatives to abortion.”

The suit also argues that the ordinance is a content-based regulation of speech, since it prohibits certain speakers from participating in certain types of speech while allowing others to engage in the same type of speech.

Brett Kittredge, director of marketing and communications with Mississippi Center for Public Policy, told CNA that the lawsuit could make its way to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

The Mississippi Constitution provides for an even stronger protection of free speech than the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he said.

“It says in our constitution that [free speech] is sacred— that it is something we hold with the utmost respect, treasure, and reverence,” Kittredge told CNA.

“And so we feel...that this is a free speech issue above all else. It's not about whether you support one issue or the other, whether you take one side or another on abortion, it's a matter of should people have the right to assemble, have the right to speak freely and convince others of their speech, and we believe that's central to a free society.”

Sidewalk Advocates for Life says in Jackson alone, 30 women this year have turned away from the abortion clinic and sought alternatives in the area.

“The sidewalk counselors aren't there to yell at anybody, aren't there to scream at anybody, they're just there to tell people that don't know there is another option that you don't have to do this,” Kittredge said.

“So we are ready to challenge this, and we are obviously looking forward to a positive ruling in favor of our clients.”

The AP notes that a federal appeals court in February 2019 upheld the constitutionality of a 2009 Chicago ordinance that created an 8-foot buffer zone outside medical facilities, while several other cities, such as Philadelphia, have had buffer zone ordinances struck down.

A 2007 Massachusetts “buffer zone” law forbade sidewalk counseling within 35 feet of an abortion clinic, but the Supreme Court in June 2014 unanimously ruled it a violation of the First Amendment. The law imposed “serious burdens” on the counselors, the court wrote, adding that sidewalks have traditionally been a forum for “the exchange of ideas.”

Colorado and Montana both have buffer zone laws in effect. Across the Atlantic, the High Court of England and Wales upheld a buffer zone order around a London abortion clinic in a July 2018 decision, which pro-life advocates are now appealing.

The appellants in the Mississippi lawsuit have requested a hearing date for the parties to appear and present oral arguments.

In face of California fire, LA archdiocese expands fund for victims

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2019 / 07:24 pm (CNA).- As a large fire continues to burn in southern California, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has expanded one of its support funds for the victims of fires in the area.

The Saddleridge fire, which began about 30 miles from LA, began last Thursday night and quickly forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate their homes.

As of Tuesday morning, the fire was 45% contained, the LA Fire Department said. It has burned more than 8,000 acres, damaging or destroying at least 75 buildings.

In an Oct. 12 press release, the Archdiocese of LA announced the expansion of a special fund set aside for the 2017-2018 Thomas fire, which took two lives and destroyed 1,063 structures. The program offers support through the arhciodese’s parishes and schools.

“This fund was expanded to include those affected by devastating fires since the Thomas Fire and is now expanding to include those affected by the current fires in the San Fernando Valley and throughout Los Angeles and Ventura Counties,” reads the press release.

“Those in need of immediate temporary shelter, food or assistance, can contact the pastor of their nearest parish for help.”

The Saddleridge fire began in Sylmar, a neighborhood in San Fernando Valley, at around 9 p.m. on Thursday. By 7:30 the next morning, the fire spread over 7.3 square miles, jumping over two expressways: the 210 Freeway and the 5 Freeway.

An estimated 1,000 firefighters have been assigned to help combat the fire.

According to LAFD arson investigators, the fire originated in a 50- by 70-foot area below a high voltage transmission tower. Although the cause of the fire is still being investigated, NBC reported, Southern California Edison electric company said their system was “impacted near the reported time of the fire.”

Several other fires are also burning in the region, with at least three total deaths reported so far.

So far in 2019, more than 5,800 fires have been recorded in California, burning some 160,000 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Last year marked the most destructive wildfire season on record in the state, with more than 8,500 fired burning a total of nearly 1.9 million acres.

In the Oct. 12 press release, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles encouraged Catholics to pray for those affected by the fire and for the first responders.

“Please join me in praying for our brothers and sisters caught in the Saddleridge fires and fires throughout Southern California,” said Gomez.

“We pray for the families who have lost their homes and those who have been evacuated, and all those who are still in danger. We pray especially for firefighters, police and others working to keep people safe and put these fires out. May Our Blessed Mary be close to all of them.”

Film to portray Catholic woman who saved Jewish children in WWII 

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2019 / 06:47 pm (CNA).- The true story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic woman who helped smuggle thousands of Jewish children out of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw during World War II, will feature in a new historical thriller film produced by and starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot.

Gadot, an Israeli actress well-known for her 2017 role as Wonder Woman, is co-producing the film, “Irena Sendler,” with her husband Jaron Varsano as the first project for their new production company, Pilot Wave.

“As producers, we want to help bring stories that have inspired us to life,” Gadot and Varsano told Deadline. “Pilot Wave will create content that promotes the perspectives and experiences of unique people and produce impactful stories aimed at igniting the imagination.”

According to Deadline, the new film will focus on Sendler’s underground activities and her arrest, and “the drama becomes a race against time to save not only herself but the identities of the hidden thousands who’ll face certain execution.”

Irena Sendler was a 29 year-old social worker for the city of Warsaw when the German army occupied the city in September 1939. Using her connections from work, Sendler did what she could to help the persecuted Jewish people of Warsaw.

A little over a year later, nearly 400,000 Jewish people - almost all of the remaining Jews in Warsaw, and roughly 30% of the total population of the city - were rounded up and forced to live together in a cramped 1.3 square miles called the Warsaw Ghetto.

Conditions in the ghetto were grim - space was crowded, food was scarce, and the sanitary conditions were horrendous. It was sealed by a 10-foot wall with barbed wire on top and heavily guarded by German soldiers to ensure no one could get in or out.

Undeterred in her determination to help the Jews, and risking her own safety, Sendler was able to obtain a permit through her work connections that allowed her to enter the ghetto under the guise of inspecting its sanitary conditions, according to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

In reality, she was working with Jewish organizations inside the ghetto to smuggle out as many Jewish children as she could, who were then placed in either Christian homes or in institutions run by Catholic nuns.

According to The Irena Sendler Project, she was able to get children out of the ghetto in ambulances, or through the still-standing courthouse located on the edge of the ghetto, through the sewage system, and on a few occasions by using dogs. There was also a Christian church next to the ghetto guarded by the Germans, and a Jewish child who could convincingly recite some Christian prayers could sometimes use this as an escape route.

In 1942, Sendler, who went by the underground name of Jolanta, became an active member of the Council for Aid to Jews (Zegota), which helped rescue those still left in the ghetto after mass deportations took some 280,000 Jews to the extermination camp Treblinka.

Sendler eventually became director of Zegota’s Department for the Care of Jewish Children in September 1943, months after the Warsaw Uprising left the ghetto destroyed and thousands more Jewish people either killed or deported. It is estimated that Sendler and her associates were able to save 2,500 Jewish children from the ghetto.

In October 1943, Sendler was arrested for her underground activities and sentenced to death, though members of the underground resistance were able to bribe her prison guards for her release in February 1944. Before her arrest, she had been able to hide any information that would have led to the capture of the Jewish children she had helped to save or the people protecting them.

In 1965, Irena Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem for her life-saving efforts, when she was named one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed on non-Jews for their efforts to help the Jewish people during the Holocaust at great personal risk. She was also granted honorary citizenship by Israel in 1991.

Sendler lived to be 98 and died on May 12, 2008.

'Transgender mandate' struck down by federal court

Dallas, Texas, Oct 15, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- A federal judge struck down the so-called “transgender mandate” on Tuesday, vacating an Obama-era requirement that doctors perform gender-transition surgeries upon request.

Judge Reed O’Connor of the North District of Texas—who had issued a preliminary injunction on the transgender mandate at the end of 2016—struck down the mandate Oct. 15 in the case of Franciscan Alliance v. Azar, after doctors around the country filed suit against the mandate on religious freedom grounds.

“Today marks a major victory for compassion, conscience, and sound medical judgment,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, which represented plaintiffs that filed suit against the mandate.

“Our clients look forward to joyfully continuing to serve all patients, regardless of their sex or gender identity, and continuing to provide top-notch care to transgender patients for everything from cancer to the common cold,” Goodrich said.

In 2016, the Obama administration issued a regulation that would require most doctors throughout the country—900,000 physicians, by the agency’s estimate—to perform gender-transition surgeries upon request, despite any conscience-based or prudential objections.

The rule omitted any clear religious exemption for doctors, and did not allow doctors to refuse a request for surgery if they deemed it harmful to the patient; surgeries would also have had to be performed on children.

The regulation stemmed from Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. HHS interpreted “sex discrimination” under this rule to include gender identity, thus mandating the provision of gender-transition surgeries.

In response to the rule, an alliance of more than 19,000 health care professionals, nine states, and several religious organizations combined in two lawsuits against the mandate, saying that it unlawfully required doctors to, in cases of objection, violate their religious beliefs or the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm to the patient. Becket represented the plaintiffs.

In December of 2016, two different federal courts ruled against the mandate, and in May of 2019, the Trump HHS proposed a rule to roll back the inclusion of “gender identity” within the nondiscrimination rule. While the proposed rule has not yet been finalized, the previous regulation was still valid.

Another lawsuit against the mandate, New York v. HHS, is still pending in federal courts.

In other recent cases in California, two Catholic health systems are facing lawsuits from two women identifying as transgender men, who claim that they requested hysterectomies at Catholic hospitals but were denied the procedures.

Goodrich, in a series of tweets on Tuesday, said that two different federal circuit courts—the First and the Fifth Circuits—have said that no consensus in the medical community exists that gender transition surgeries should be mandatory.

“The doctors and hospitals in these cases argued that they shouldn’t be forced to perform procedures that violate their consciences and could harm their patients. The federal court today agreed,” Goodrich tweeted.