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Massachusetts governor must decide whether to veto bill expanding abortion access

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- A measure expanding abortion access in Massachusetts has passed both the state house and senate, and could prompt a veto from the governor.

 
On Nov. 18, the state senate passed amendment 180 by a vote of 33-7, according to The Herald News; the amendment would allow for some abortions until the point of birth.

Legislators had inserted amendments into house and senate budget bills that would effectively implement the “Roe Act,” a bill proposed in 2019 to legalize abortion in the state in the event Roe v. Wade were overturned by the Supreme Court.
 
The amendments would allow for abortions up until the point of birth in the event of a lethal fetal anomaly. They would also allow for minors as young as 16 years old to have an abortion without parental consent.
 
In addition, the bill calls for life-saving equipment to be in the room when a doctor performs a legal late-term abortion, but only says the equipment is to “enable” the doctor to safe the life of a baby surviving an abortion. Pro-life groups have warned that the language amounts to “passive infanticide” by not specifically requiring a doctor to save the infant’s life.
 
On Nov. 18, the senate passed its budget bill that included amendment 180, the abortion measure. Now both budget bills will be reconciled in a conference committee, after which the final version will be voted on by both chambers and sent to the governor for signature.
 
Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has already stated his opposition to the measures. Pro-life groups are calling on Massachusetts residents to contact the governor asking him to veto the measures.
 
However, both the house and senate passed the amendments with a veto-proof majority.
 
The state’s Catholic bishops have stated their opposition to the amendments.
 
“Abortion at any time, from the moment of conception to birth, is in direct conflict with Catholic teaching and must be opposed,” the bishops said Nov. 24.
 
The pro-life group Massachusetts Citizens for Life also says that the measures allow for late-term abortions when a physician determines it “necessary” in order “to preserve the patient’s physical or mental health.” Also, under the proposed amendments, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives could perform abortions.

Feinstein will not continue as head Democrat on Senate Judiciary Committee

CNA Staff, Nov 24, 2020 / 03:21 pm (CNA).- Following complaints from liberal groups on her handling of Amy Coney’s Barrett’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced that she will not seek to continue as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“After serving as the lead Democrat on the Judiciary Committee for four years, I will not seek the chairmanship or ranking member position in the next Congress,” she said in a November 23 statement. Feinstein added she looks “forward to continuing to serve as a senior Democrat on the Judiciary, Intelligence, Appropriations and Rules committees as we work with the Biden Administration.”

Feinstein faced calls to step down from the position after she was cordial with her Senate colleagues at Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings last month. Feinstein, a Democrat, thanked chairman Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) at the conclusion of the hearings, and said it was “one of the best set of hearings that I’ve participated in.”

“I want to thank you for your fairness and the opportunity of going back and forth,” she added. “It leaves one with a lot of hopes, a lot of questions, and even some ideas,” she said, noting that “perhaps some good bipartisan legislation” could happen in the future.

Feinstein and Graham hugged each other after the hearings ended. Feinstein did not vote to confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Despite not actually supporting Barrett’s confirmation, Feinstein was criticized for lending an “appearance of credibility to the proceeding.”

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, added in an October 16 statement that she believed “the committee needs new leadership.”

NARAL had previously endorsed Feinstein, and had described her as someone “at the forefront of the movement to safeguard (abortion rights).”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the Senate minority leader, said in October that he had a “long and serious” talk with Feinstein regarding her position on the Judiciary Committee. Following her announcement that she would be stepping aside from the role, Schumer thanked her for her service.

“I know Senator Feinstein will continue her work as one of the nation’s leading advocates for women’s and voting rights, gun safety reform, civil liberties, health care, and the rights of immigrants,” he said.

It is unclear as of now who will replace Feinstein as the ranking member of the committee. According to POLITICO, Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are likely contenders for the role.

 

Federal court says Texas can withhold Medicaid from Planned Parenthood

CNA Staff, Nov 24, 2020 / 10:05 am (CNA).- A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the authority of states to not fund abortion providers through Medicaid.

A majority opinion of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, issued Nov. 23, ruled that abortion providers and their customers could not challenge Texas’ decision to withhold Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the decision in a statement.

“Undercover video plainly showed Planned Parenthood admitting to morally bankrupt and unlawful conduct, including violations of federal law by manipulating the timing and methods of abortions to obtain fetal tissue for their own research,” Paxton stated.

“Planned Parenthood is not a ‘qualified’ provider under the Medicaid Act, and it should not receive public funding through the Medicaid program.”    

Texas in 2015 moved to defund Planned Parenthood, after undercover videos alleged that officials were unlawfully profiting from the sale of aborted fetal tissue.

The state’s determination of “qualified” Medicaid providers is between the state and the provider, the court ruled on Monday.

The case dates back to 2015, when citizen journalists with the group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) published undercover videos of conversations with Planned Parenthood officials. In the conversations, where the CMP members posed as fetal tissue harvesters, the videos appeared to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the unlawful sale of fetal tissue for profit.

The research director at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast appeared to suggest that the affiliate could alter abortion procedures to produce higher-quality tissue specimens for harvesters, having doctors perform abortions “in a way that they get the best specimens.”

Later that year, the Texas Office of the Inspector General said that Planned Parenthood was “no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, and legal manner.” The state barred Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding.

In response, several Texas Planned Parenthood providers and their customers brought a lawsuit.

In 2019, the Fifth Circuit ruled in the state’s favor. On Monday, the court considered whether Medicaid beneficiaries had a right to challenge the state’s determination in court. The Fifth Circuit ruled that they did not.

Under federal law, “Medicaid beneficiaries have an ‘absolute right,’… to receive services from a provider whom the State has determined is ‘qualified,’ but beneficiaries have no right under the statute to challenge a State’s determination that a provider is unqualified.”

What Biden foreign policy picks mean for religious freedom

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 24, 2020 / 09:30 am (CNA).- President-elect Joe Biden announced several foreign policy appointments to his cabinet on Monday, including a nominee for Secretary of State. If confirmed, nominees will shape U.S. foreign policy on a range of subjects, especially religious freedom.

Biden will nominate Antony Blinken, former Deputy Secretary of State under President Obama, to be the next Secretary of State. Binken also served as assistant and a national security advisor to Obama, and worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.

The appointment of a former Obama official to lead the State Department could signal a shift in U.S. policy on international LGBTQ issues and on promoting religious freedom abroad.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. invested tens of millions of dollars to promote LGBTQ concerns while being criticized by some religious freedom advocates for deemphasizing or taking a softer approach to promoting international religious freedom.

Some advocates pointed out lengthy gaps in time under the Obama administration where a key position at the State Department, the Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, remained vacant. The administration, meanwhile, established and appointed the first-ever Special Envoy for LGBTQ issues at the department in 2015.

Dr. Tom Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, told CNA that through the special envoy, the U.S. could go further than simply trying to end violence against persons with same-sex attraction; the State Department could actively influence public opinion on the LGBT agenda in developing countries including by pressuring non-governmental organizations to change their beliefs on marriage.

In promoting international religious freedom, the State Department produces an annual report on the matter and lists certain countries in a tier rating system depending upon how poorly they protect religious freedom.

The Trump administration took a strong approach in presenting the report, condemning religious persecution and calling out bad actors by name. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned China’s abuses of largely-Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang more than two dozen times in less than a year.

The U.S. also formed the International Religious Freedom Alliance, and hosted the first-ever ministerial on religious freedom with religious and civic leaders attending from more than 100 countries.

Blinken, if confirmed, would also have to navigate these and other pressing humanitarian concerns, such as violence in Nigeria that has displaced millions of Muslims and Christians, and a dwindling Christian population in the Middle East.

The Biden administration could take a softer approach to dealing with bad actors, as some advocates, such as former USCIRF commissioner James Zogby, have called for a shift in the strategy of “naming-and-shaming” violators of religious freedom.

When he introduced the State Department’s 2015 religious freedom report, Blinken emphasized that “[t]he purpose of this annual report is not to lecture,” but rather “is to inform, to encourage, and ultimately to persuade.”

In Obama’s State Department, Blinken was part of an administration that pursued the nuclear deal with Iran and U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accord—agreements that were supported by the U.S. bishops’ conference and the Holy See.

While the Trump administration withdrew from both agreements and ratcheted up “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran, Blinken may work to revive U.S. relations with Iran and participation in international climate agreements.

Also on Monday, Biden named Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his pick for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Greenfield served in the Obama administration as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and before that as Ambassador to Liberia. Among other issues, she fought laws that she said discriminated against the LGBT community, including criminalization of same-sex relations in countries like Uganda and Nigeria.

The Obama administration promoted LGBT concerns in Africa, but backlash in African countries reportedly led to some stricter laws against persons with same-sex attraction and violence against them.

At an April, 2014 congressional hearing, Greenfield spoke out against proposed “anti-LGBT legislation” in Africa that was leading to “renewed violence against the LGBT community.” Uganda had just enacted a law criminalizing homosexuality.

“We're in the process of reviewing that relationship and our funding to see where changes can be made and in particular changes that will take funding away from those organizations and entities that discriminate against the LGBT community,” Greenfield said.

In 2015, around a visit of the Nigerian president to the U.S., she reportedly said that “As a policy, we will continue to press the government of Nigeria as well as other governments who have provided legislation that discriminate against the LGBT community.” 

After President Obama promoted “the rights of gays and lesbians” during a 2015 trip to Kenya, Nigerian Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja responded that “our Church has always said homosexuality is unnatural and marriage is between a man and a woman.”

During the Trump administration, the U.S. also spoke out against abortion as an international human right at the United Nations General Assembly. As Biden has pledged to support legal abortion and overturn a ban on funding of foreign abortion promoters and providers, his administration might also promote legal abortion as part of diplomacy.

When senior advisor to the president Ivanka Trump tweeted that she was “unapologetically pro-life” on Oct. 30, Greenfield replied “Good! Pro life means supporting the lives of children taken from their parents at the border, poor children and people with Covid...”.

Biden has also tapped former Secretary of State John Kerry to serve in his cabinet, as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Kerry in 2015 praised Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical Laudato Si’ as “powerful,” telling TIME magazine that the pope “thoughtfully applied” the value of environmental stewardship “to the very real threat our planet is facing today.”

Santa Cruz historical commission recommends removing city’s last mission bell

CNA Staff, Nov 23, 2020 / 04:34 pm (CNA).- The historical preservation commission of Santa Cruz, California last week advised the city council to remove a replica mission bell from a city intersection, saying the bell represents painful history for the indigenous people of the city.

In a Nov. 18 recommendation to the city council, the Santa Cruz Historic Preservation Commission wrote that some California indigenous peoples view the mission bells as a “colonial settler and racist symbol” that “glorifies the killing, dehumanization, forced labor and imprisonment of their ancestors.”

“The mission bells are a constant reminder of the brutal history of the Santa Cruz mission and to our indigenous populations,” Director of Parks and Recreation Tony Elliot told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

“[They’re] really representative of a lot of pain. Of the genocide and the history related to the Santa Cruz mission.”

Spanish missionaries founded 21 California missions between 1769 and 1833 to evangelize the native people of the area. St. Junipero Serra is considered the founding father of the missions, as he led the creation of the first nine.

The Franciscans founded Mission Santa Cruz Aug. 28, 1791, seven years after St. Serra’s death.

Critics of the missions, and of Serra, have long maintained that the mission system contributed to the virtual destruction of native Californians’ culture and way of life.

Experts have disputed claims that Serra was in any way involved in genocide, and in contrast, there is evidence that Serra advocated for the rights of the indigenous people in the face of mistreatment by the Spanish military.

The mission bell in question, located at an intersection near a park in Santa Cruz, is a replica installed in 2006.

The commission said Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, contacted the city in 2019 to ask that all the bells be removed. The city council in October 2020 approved a resolution to update the city’s historic district to provide “a more accurate depiction of the history of the indigenous people of the area.”

Lopez in 2015 wrote to Pope Francis to express his tribe’s opposition to Serra’s canonization.

The bell would be the third and final one in Santa Cruz to be removed from its place since 2019.

During June 2019, officials from the University of California Santa Cruz removed a bell— also a replica, installed in the 1990s— from the school’s campus.

Another bell, installed in Mission Park Plaza in 1999, was stolen during a June 11 protest.

Hundreds of mission bell replicas have been installed over the years along the historic “El Camino Real,” which today roughly follows the route of Highway 101.

According to the California missions’ website, the original mission church, whose bell tower collapsed in 1840, contained nine or ten bells, none of which have survived. The current mission bell tower also contains a replica bell.

During the years that the missions were active, the bells were mainly used to wake the Franciscan friars for their daily prayers.

The decision whether to remove the final bell will come down to the Santa Cruz city council. Eliot, the parks and recreation director, suggested the bell could be moved to a museum and replaced with a historical marker that contextualizes the history of the area. 

Statues of the saint have this year become focal points for protests and demonstrations across California, with images of the saint being torn down or vandalized in protest of California’s colonial past. Nationally, rioters have targeted Catholic churches and statues of Christ and Mary.

A Oct. 12 protest at Mission San Rafael Arcangel began peacefully but then turned violent, as participants defaced another St. Junipero Serra statue with red paint before dragging it to the ground with nylon straps and ropes. The local district attorney ultimately charged five individuals with felony vandalism in connection with the incident.

A statue of Serra was torn down in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, June 19 by a crowd of about 100 people, and on the same day a statue of the saint was torn down in Los Angeles.
Rioters pulled down and defaced a statue of Serra in Sacramento on July 4.

Some California institutions, such as the University of San Diego, have put their statues of Serra in storage to protect them.

On July 11, a fire being investigated for arson gutted the 249-year-old Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles, a mission church founded by St. Serra.