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US hosts signing of declaration rejecting 'human right' to abortion

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 22, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- The United States hosted the signing ceremony of the Geneva Consensus Declaration on Thursday. The document rejects the claim that abortion is an international human right. 

“Today we put down a clear marker; no longer can UN agencies reinterpret and misinterpret agreed-upon language without accountability,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar during the ceremony Oct. 22.. 

“Without apology we affirm that governments have the soverign right to make their own laws to protect innocent life and write their regulations on abortion” Azar said. 

“In signing the declaration today, the United States is honored to stand alongside Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, and Uganda, the cross-regional cosponsors for the declaration,” he said. A total of 32 countries have signed onto the declaration. 

Azar called the signing the “high point” of his time leading the department, and noted that countries who have not yet signed the document can still do so. 

“The Geneva Consensus Declaration is a historic document, stating clearly where we as nations stand on women’s health, the family, honoring life, and defending national sovereignty,” said Azar, calling it “much more than a statement of beliefs.” 

“It is a critical and useful tool to defend these principles across all United Nations bodies and in every multilateral setting, using language previously agreed to by member states of those bodies,” he explained.  

The declaration was written partially in response to a “disturbing trend” in the United Nations, he said. 

“With increasing frequency, some rich nations and UN agencies beholden to them are wrongly asserting [that] abortion is a universal human right.” 

Azar said that these policies have the effect of forcing countries to implement “progressive” abortion laws or face the loss of funding or international standing. He accused some nations of having a “myopic focus on a radical agenda that is offensive to many cultures, and derails agreement on women’s health priorities.” 

The coalition of signing countries “will hold multilateral organizations accountable,” he explained, by denouncing these organizations for “promoting positions that can never gain consensus.”  

“We will unequivocally declare that there is no international right to abortion. We will proudly put women’s health first at every stage of life,” he said.  

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke at the signing ceremony, calling the declaration a “deep and personal commitment to protect human dignity” and “the culmination of lots of hard work.” 

Pompeo highlighted the Trump administration’s “unprecedented defense of the unborn abroad,” and said that “the United States has defended the dignity of human life everywhere and always” over the last four years.  

“It’s historic to be here,” he said. “It’s the first time that a multilateral coalition has been built around the issue of defending life.” 

The Geneva Consensus Declaration, said Pompeo, is a “commitment to work together at the UN and in other international settings to achieve tangible results,” something he is “confident” will happen. He added that he was “truly proud” of the work being done. 

Valerie Huber, Special Representative for Global Women's Health at U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provided background of the declaration. 

The declaration, Huber explained, was intended to be signed at the culmination of the World Health Assembly’s global women’s health summit, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We decided to move forward with the declaration now, because accelerating health gains for women cannot wait,” said Huber.

“Supporting the intrinsic value of the family cannot wait. Protecting life born and unborn, and the sovereignty of nations to make their own laws on this issue cannot wait.”

Senate Judiciary Committee advances Amy Coney Barrett to full Senate vote

Washington D.C., Oct 22, 2020 / 08:35 am (CNA).-  

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on Thursday to advance the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, setting up a final confirmation vote by the whole Senate. Democratic members of the committee boycotted the vote and did not attend.

Barrett is a Catholic judge on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A mother of seven, she was formerly a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. If confirmed to the Supreme Court, she would be the sixth Catholic on the Court’s bench.

Twelve Republicans on the committee voted on Thursday to report Barrett’s nomination favorably to the entire Senate; the ten Democrats on the committee were “not present,” having informed chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) the night before that they would boycott the hearing, according to Graham.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that a vote to confirm Barrett would take place on Oct. 26.

Committee hearings were held last week to consider Barrett’s nomination.

On Thursday, Graham noted Barrett’s faith and some “disgusting” attacks on her religious beliefs and family. Senate Democrats on the committee, however, “did not go too far” in their questions of her at last week’s hearings, Graham said.

“She embraces her faith like millions of other Americans, and there’s some things being said about her and her family that are disgusting, and I just want to complement her family for giving her the backing she needed to take on this job,” Graham said.

“And I want to thank the members on this committee for standing up against some pretty vile things,” he said.

When Barrett was considered for the Seventh Circuit court in 2017, some Democrats asked pointed questions to her about her Catholic faith and its influence on how she might rule on abortion cases. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) even told Barrett that “when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”

Last week, Democrats stayed away from direct questions about Barrett’s faith, instead asking her opinions on previous Supreme Court cases including those which legalized abortion and contraception.

Barrett largely declined to give her opinions of Court rulings, offering “no hints, no previews, no forecasts” of her future decisions.

When Graham asked her if she could “set aside” Church teaching when ruling on the bench, in order to make judgments based upon her reading of the law, Barrett answered “I can.”

Jeannie Mancini, president of March for Life, praised the markup vote of Barrett’s nomination.

“Her immense respect for the law and Constitution will allow her to fairly apply the law and consider the rights of everyone who comes before her, including the unborn,” Mancini said of Barrett.

 

Los Angeles' Archbishop Gomez denies claim that he plans to vote for Biden

Denver Newsroom, Oct 21, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).-  

Archbishop Jose Gomez has rebuked an online claim that he plans to vote for Joe Biden in the November presidential election, stating that an alleged conversation in which he disclosed his voting plans never actually took place.

“In all my years as a priest and a bishop, I have never publicly or privately endorsed a political candidate or told anyone who I might be voting for. It is disgraceful that some would use the media to spread misinformation and try to confuse and divide people,” Gomez, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said in an Oct. 20 statement.

Cleanthechurch.com, a website based in California, published a blog post Tuesday evening which alleged that in February 2020, Gomez and a “wealthy ex-donor to the church” met over breakfast at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles.

The blog post claimed that Gomez told the individual that he is “voting [for] and supporting Jose [sic] Biden because he did not ‘like the way Trump talks.’”

“[T]he president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is voting for a pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage, socialist because he 'does not like the way Trump talks'…. I am sure that he is also forcing priests in the archdiocese to support Biden… So infuriating!” the blog reads.

Gomez denied the alleged conversation, and even the breakfast, ever took place.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese told CNA on Wednesday that the archbishop had no breakfast meetings on his calendar during the month of February.

The “ex-donor” who made the claim against Gomez plans to release an affidavit doubling down on his claims, based on an alleged audio recording of the conversation, according to John Paul Norris, one of the founders of Cleanthechurch.com.

However, while Norris claims an audio recording of the alleged conversation is available, he declined to provide it to CNA or to release it publicly.

According to Norris, the accuser, who has declined to be named publicly, had— before the alleged February conversation— been meeting with Gomez at least once a year, and was a significant donor to the archdiocese.

"Everyone in the diocese knows him very well," Norris told CNA, but declined to elaborate.

Norris is a long-time critic of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and has proferred unproven theories about alleged alliances with government officials, among other things.

In 2019, Norris was removed from the Los Angeles cathedral after confronting Gomez about Cardinal Roger Mahony and the McCarrick scandal.

Norris’ blog post this week was appended to a Change.org petition created by Clean the Church in 2018, calling for criminal prosecution of Mahony, who led the Los Angeles archdiocese from 1985 to 2011. Mahony has faced scrutiny for his handling of the sexual abuse crisis during his tenure as archbishop of Los Angeles, and been accused of covering up serial acts of abuse.

The petition calls on all of Los Angeles’ bishops to “act now or resign from their posts.”

Norris also told CNA his group suspects the archdiocese has cut a “deal” with vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.

Despite a history of public anti-Catholic bias on Harris' part, Norris said he believes Gomez favors the Biden/Harris ticket because Harris appeared unwilling to prosecute Cardinal Mahony when she was district attorney in LA.

Harris was not district attorney in LA. The senator was district attorney in San Francisco and California's attorney general, but was never a prosecutor in Los Angeles.

Norris offered no evidence of his alleged “deal” regarding Mahony, and admitted that allegations of one are likely to remain unproven.

Joe Biden, a Catholic, has in recent months doubled down on his support for legal abortion.

In July, the pro-abortion group NARAL endorsed Biden for president, just over a year after the group issued a scathing statement demanding he reverse his support for the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding for abortions. Biden withdrew his decades-long support for the Hyde Amendment and announced in 2019 he was opposed to the policy.

This month, Biden repeated his pledge to codify a right to abortion into federal law should the Supreme Court overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Norris said his group believes that Gomez is not strong enough in his public pro-life statements.

The archbishop has, however, written frequently in recent years about the “preeminent” importance of ending legal protection for abortion.

“Among the evils and injustices in American life in 2016, abortion and euthanasia are different and stand apart. Each is a direct, personal attack on innocent and vulnerable human life,” Gomez wrote in the foreword for a book on Catholics’ responsibilities in the public square.

“Abortion and euthanasia are ‘fundamental’ social issues because if the child in the womb has no right to be born, if the sick and the old have no right to be taken care of, then there is no solid foundation to defend anyone’s human rights, and no foundation for peace and justice in society.”

Earlier in 2020, the USCCB issued a letter, approved by the bishops, re-presenting the “Faithful Citizenship” document along with a series of short videos. In that letter, the bishops, led by Gomez, identified abortion as the “preeminent priority” for Catholic voters “because it directly attacks life itself.”

In his statement, Gomez urged Catholics to pray and reflect on the U.S. bishops’ voting guide, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility.”

Since 2007, the bishops of the United States have issued the “Faithful Citizenship” document to help Catholics decide how to cast their vote; it was most recently updated in 2019.

“And let us pray for the grace to treat one another as brothers and sisters, with dignity and respect,” Gomez concluded.

 

 

US bishops launch novena for Election Day

CNA Staff, Oct 21, 2020 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The bishops of the United States are encouraging Catholics to pray a novena to help form their consciences ahead of Election Day on Nov. 3. 

“For nine consecutive days, Monday, October 26 through Tuesday, Nov. 3, participants will be encouraged to pray one Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the day’s intention,” says the USCCB’s webpage for the 2020 Election Novena. 

A closing prayer for elected leaders will be offered on day 10, Wednesday, November 4. 

The closing prayer asks that “the leaders elected this week be guided by the Holy Spirit as they fulfill their positions.” 

Due to the prevalence of mail-in voting this election, it is possible that the results of some elections may not be known for several days. 

The USCCB will write a new intention each day of the novena, and a signup link for email reminders is provided on the noevena’s webpage, along with graphics for social media. 

None of the daily intentions are partisan in nature, and most are reminders of various facets of Catholic teaching, including a plea for dialogue, a reminder of the importance of the dignity of human life, and a stress on the importance of religious freedom. 

The intention for Election Day reads “Today, as we approach the polls, may we understand & embrace the principles of our Faith that should guide our political engagement.” 

The USCCB, as well as individual bishops, do not endorse specific candidates for election. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. bishops’ conference re-issued its document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” which aims to assist Catholics in deciding for whom to vote. 

In a new introductory letter to the document, approved by the bishops in November 2019, reminds Catholics that they are called to “bring the richness of our faith to the public square.” 

“We draw from both faith and reason as we seek to affirm the dignity of the human person and the common good of all,” the bishops wrote, saying that “everyone living in this country is called to participate in public life and contribute to the common good.”

“Our approach to contemporary issues is first and foremost rooted in our identity as followers of Christ and as brothers and sisters to all who are made in God’s image,” said the letter. 

“For all Catholics, including those seeking public office, our participation in political parties or other groups to which we may belong should be influenced by our faith, not the other way around.”

“Pope Francis has continued to draw attention to important issues such as migration, xenophobia, racism, abortion, global conflict, and care for creation,” wrote the bishops. 

“In the United States and around the world, many challenges demand our attention. The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed,” they said.

“At the same time, we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”

Serving life: How pro-life pregnancy centers are making a difference

CNA Staff, Oct 21, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- A new report aims to measure the impact of pro-life pregnancy centers on women’s health care in the U.S., offering detail on the nearly 2 million women served last year.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, reported on Wednesday that more than 2,700 pro-life pregnancy centers around the U.S. served nearly two million people in 2019, providing nearly $270 million in services.

These centers included both brick-and-mortar establishments, but also mobile medical centers, serving both expectant mothers and post-abortive women, with the vast majority of facilities offering parental education, material assistance for mothers, and ultrasound tests.  

“Pregnancy centers exist to serve and support mothers in the courageous decision to give their children life, even under the most difficult circumstances,” Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, stated on Wednesday. “This report calculates the impact of their mission of love in concrete terms.”

The report calculated that pregnancy centers offered around 732,000 pregnancy tests in 2019, and more than 486,000 free ultrasounds. They also provided women nearly 1.3 million packs of diapers and more than two million baby outfits.

In addition, they offered more than 291,000 clients parenting and prenatal education, and more than 21,000 clients post-abortive support.

Pro-life pregnancy centers have come under fire from pro-abortion groups in recent years, with groups like Planned Parenthood claiming that they use deceitful tactics to get women in the door who are considering abortion and then do not offer them information on abortion as an option.

In California, the state passed a law in 2015 that required pro-life pregnancy centers to offer women information about abortion and where they could obtain one. The centers, represented by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), brought a lawsuit against the state and its then-attorney general Kamala Harris, who is now the Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

The Supreme Court in 2017 ruled that the state’s requirement likely violated the free speech rights of pregnancy centers, and blocked the law from going into effect while lower courts reconsidered the case.

Pro-life groups warn that women would experience a steep decline in available health care centers if they had to close clinics; they also say that federally-funded health clinics around the U.S. would not be able to replace them amid a surge in women clients.

“They provide invaluable education as well as physical, medical, emotional and financial support,” said Anne O’Connor, NIFLA’s vice president for legal affairs. “Pregnancy centers provide these services at no cost, saving communities across the nation millions in tax dollars annually.”

Alison, a woman from Portland, Maine, whose testimony is in the report, said she was a post-abortive mother who was pregnant with her second child. She reached out to a pregnancy center ABBA, and said that she “started to grow a strength inside of me that wasn’t there before. I decided I didn’t need anyone else’s approval,” and that she was “truly amazed and overwhelmed by the amount of support I was given.”

“These women worked so hard and spent so much time researching options for me that I didn’t even know existed. They were there to support and guide me when no one else was, and I’m not sure I could ever express how much that means to me,” she said.

CLI says it compiled the report by surveying pregnancy centers from around the country, but included only those affiliated with a major network—Care Net, Heartbeat International, or the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA)—or those abiding by national standards of care and competence.

To quantify the services offered, the report used cost estimates for services and wages calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for social workers, sonographers, and registered nurses.

Pro-life leaders have hailed the increase of ultrasound machines in recent years as a concrete way for mothers to see their child. Groups such as the Knights of Columbus have worked to supply pregnancy centers around the U.S. with more than 1,000 ultrasound machines—and nearly eight-in-centers surveyed by CLI offer ultrasounds.

“Thirty-five years have now passed since the introduction of life-revealing and life-changing ultrasounds into pregnancy centers, and their medicalization continues to grow and thrive,” Donovan said.

According to the report, 15% of the centers received government funding. For Planned Parenthood in its 2018-19 annual report, it reported that the nearly $617 million its affiliates received in government funding made up 37% of the overall revenue of both its national organization and affiliates.

Some centers also provide testing for sexually-transmitted diseases and infections (STD/STI).

“National health surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the American STD epidemic continues to be a significant public health challenge,” the report stated, adding that “undiagnosed STDs cause infertility in more than 20,000 women each year.”

“Medical pregnancy centers or clinics provide STI/STD testing and treatment to women, and at some locations to men, in direct response to this public health crisis,” it stated. “At pregnancy centers where STI/STD testing and treatment are not available, referrals for screening/testing and treatment are routinely made.”