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Texas abortion law survives injunction effort; Supreme Court challenge next

The Texas capitol. / f11photo/Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Oct 15, 2021 / 18:12 pm (CNA).

A federal appeals court has allowed a heartbeat-based Texas ban on abortion to remain in effect, rejecting the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to reinstate an injunction. Biden administration officials have pledged to ask the Supreme Court to reinstate an injunction.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Oct. 14 ruled 2-1 that the Texas Heartbeat Act, Senate Bill 8, may continue. Their decision follows a temporary ruling last week that overturned an injunction against the law.

Texas’ law, which is designed to be enforced through private lawsuits, prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks gestation, except in medical emergencies.

The law allows for awards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits against those who perform or “aid and abet” illegal abortions. Women seeking abortions cannot be sued under the law, which first took effect Sept. 1.

The law was designed to avoid judicial review, the Washington Post reports.

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said Oct. 15 the Justice Department “intends to ask the Supreme Court to vacate the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the preliminary injunction against Texas Senate Bill 8.”

In early September the Supreme Court declined to block the law in a 5-4 decision. It said foes of the law had raised “serious questions” about its constitutionality but the abortion providers challenging the law had not shown they were challenging the proper defendants.

President Joe Biden has called the law “an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights” and promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion access in Texas.

He directed federal agencies, including the Justice Department, to review what actions could be taken “to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe.”

An Oct. 6 ruling from a federal district judge had barred Texas from actions such as awarding damages to successful lawsuits or enforcing judgements in such cases. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals then temporarily reversed that decision Oct. 8.

In a legal complaint filed in a federal district court Sept. 9, the Justice Department argued the state acted “in open defiance of the Constitution” in restricting “most pre-viability abortions,” and requested a preliminary injunction to block the law.

In late September, two non-Texas residents sued a Texas abortion doctor who announced he had performed an abortion in violation of the new law. A Texas pro-life group criticized those lawsuits, however, calling them “imprudent” and “self-serving,” saying that neither was filed “to save innocent human lives.”

Pro-life leaders in the state estimate that the law has saved more than 4,700 babies from abortion. Some clinics could be forced to close permanently.

Abortions generally halted in Texas after the law took effect, but many women seeking abortions are traveling to nearby states. At least six abortion clinics resumed performing abortions during the period when the law was enjoined.

The Texas state legislature has increased public benefits for low-income mothers, expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers and securing $100 million in annual funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed into law a ban on the use of abortion-inducing drugs in the state seven weeks into a pregnancy. The measure is set to take effect in December.

Federal judge rules Baltimore cannot block Church Militant rally 

Baltimore, Maryland / Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2021 / 15:10 pm (CNA).

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that Baltimore city officials cannot block the parent company of the website Church Militant from holding a rally during a meeting of the U.S. bishops in November. 

St. Michael’s Media, Inc., the parent company of Church Militant, had planned a “Bishops: Enough is Enough” prayer rally to coincide with the fall meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference in Baltimore, which is scheduled for Nov. 15-18. The rally had been scheduled for Nov. 16, at the city-owned MECU Pavilion. 

On Aug. 5, the company managing the venue informed St. Michael’s that it could not host the rally, by order of the city. The city cited safety concerns, and city officials later argued in court that they moved to cancel the event due to controversial speakers and the event’s planned size. They warned of possible “disruption and violence” that could result from the rally.

Among the advertised speakers at the rally were Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopolous. Both speakers have attracted significant controversy and protests at past speaking events.

In her Oct. 12 opinion, federal district Judge Ellen L. Hollander found that the city had “presented somewhat shifting justifications for its actions, with little evidence to show that the decision was premised on these justifications” in blocking the request for a rally permit. Hollander granted a preliminary injunction against the actions by city officials.

In a complaint filed on Sept. 13, St. Michael’s Media claimed the event cancellation happened without warning, and said that there was months of communication with the venue without incident. 

As part of its argument that the event posed a security risk, the city cited a Church Militant broadcast where host Michael Voris had referred to those who “stormed” the U.S. Capitol on January 6 as “patriots.”

Hollander said the decision to cancel the rally was made based on the “anticipated reaction” of a crowd. “The City never accuses St. Michael’s of actual involvement in the events of January 6, 2021. Rather, it is critical of plaintiff for its coverage and support of the occurrence,” she said. 

“The City cannot conjure up hypothetical hecklers and then grant them veto power," she wrote.

The city appealed the ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday.  

Cal Harris, a spokesperson for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D), said, “The proposed rally is slated to take place on Baltimore City property, and we have a responsibility to protect our property and fellow citizens.”

Church Militant held a similar rally at the MECU Pavilion during the 2018 USCCB fall general assembly. There were no incidents of violence.  

St. Michael’s Media is a 501(c)(3) in the state of Michigan. The nonprofit operates the website Church Militant. Church Militant, which is run by Michael Voris, is a website that has been the subject of criticism from some bishops. 

In 2011 the Archdiocese of Detroit announced that Voris was not authorized to use the word "Catholic" in reference to his media project "Real Catholic TV." 

In a Sept. 23 memorandum in court, city officials cited previous statements of rally speakers Bannon and Yiannopoulos to make their case that the rally posed a security risk. Bannon had previously said on a podcast that he would “put the heads” of Dr. Anthony Fauci and FBI director Christopher Wray “on pikes. Right. I’d put them at the two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats.”

Regarding Yiannopoulos, the city noted he had previously “incit[ed] racist and misogynistic abuse of an African American celebrity,” called for “gunning journalists down,” and addressed rallies that coincided with riots and disruption. Yiannopoulos has said that his comment about shooting journalists, made in a text to a reporter, was a taunt of reporters and not an incitement to violence. 

He also had “a history of making comments advocating for pedophilia,” the city argued. Yiannopoulos was disinvited from the event CPAC in 2017, following reports of previous comments he had made suggesting that consensual sexual relationships between teenagers and adults could be beneficial. He responded at the time that he did not support pedophilia, and was “not referring to prepubescent boys” in his comments. He has said he is a survivor of child sex abuse.

In Yiannopoulos’ testimony in the case, Hollander wrote that he “called the City’s accusation of pedophilia ‘revolting’ and ‘grotesque.’”

“Although he acknowledged his history of ‘biting commentary,’ which is sometimes quite ‘caustic,’ he maintains that he is not the provocateur that he once was,” Hollander wrote of Yiannopoulos. “Moreover, he expressly condemned the use of violence,” she added.

Regarding his role at the Nov. 16 event, Yiannopoulos testified that he would function “primarily” as “emcee,” Hollander noted.

“He recounted that he was ‘raped’ by a priest, and he wants to speak about his experience to help others confront their abusers and the enablers,” Hollander noted. “He stated that the Catholic bishops are not his ‘enemy,’ but he views some of them as ‘very lost’ and ‘failing in their pastoral duties,’ and he believes they deserve to be held ‘to account.’”

“The First Amendment to the Constitution is at the heart of this case,” she stated. The city “acted on an ad hoc basis” in canceling the event, “without any standards,” Hollander said. Thus, St. Michael’s “is likely to succeed on its claim that the City’s conduct was not viewpoint-neutral.”

Regarding the city’s arguments of a security concern, she noted, “There are, no doubt, true emergencies in the life of a city, when officials must act immediately to protect life and property.”

“But, the matter at hand does not constitute an emergency,” she wrote.

Knights of Columbus release new documentary on St. Joseph

St. Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni / Public Domain

Washington D.C., Oct 15, 2021 / 09:15 am (CNA).

The Knights of Columbus have released a new documentary on St. Joseph, inspired by Pope Francis’s declaration of the Year of St. Joseph.

"The film opens up a new avenue for individuals who want to learn more about St. Joseph, who want to cultivate a devotion to him," the film’s director, David Naglieri, told CNA. 

The 60-minute documentary “St. Joseph: Our Spiritual Father,” which premiered on Oct. 10 for a six-week run on ABC-affiliated stations across the country, features reenactments, interviews with scholars, and testimonies of people with a devotion to St. Joseph.

Naglieri said that the “visual medium” used to tell the story of St. Joseph is what makes the project unique. 

"I'm not saying there's anything original in this film that could not be found in books,” he said, “but what is original is putting it all together along with these individual stories in a visual medium that can inspire you in ways that a book can't."

The airing times, as well as segments from the documentary and resources on St. Joseph, are available on the Knights of Columbus website.

"I think reading and engaging in media visually are two different ways to learn and to grow and to educate yourself and so it's good to have both,” Naglieri added. “If you're just watching stuff, you're missing something and if you're only reading and you're not watching some educational or informative films, you're missing something there as well."

The Knights of Columbus is the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, with more than two million members in 16,000 councils worldwide. 

Naglieri said the film is a result of Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly’s strong devotion to St. Joseph. Earlier this year, Kelly was installed as the head of the order in June, and consecrated his new administration to St. Joseph. 

According to Naglieri, who is the director of film and digital media for the Knights of Columbus, Kelly asked him to consider producing a documentary film to highlight St. Joseph’s life and his importance as a role model for modern times.

Naglieri said that he chose to highlight devotion to St. Joseph through six different stories. 

One of the six stories, told by a member of the Knights in Poland, tells about the Catholic priests in the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau. Naglieri said the testimony, told by a prisoner's grandson, notes that 20% of the priests in Poland ended up as prisoners at Dachau.

Fearing for their survival, the priests prayed a nine day novena to St. Joseph for protection. The people in the camp were liberated at the culmination of their novena, and discovered that the day of their liberation was originally the day of their scheduled execution, Naglieri said.

It was a “remarkable story,” Naglieri said. To pay thanks and homage to the saint, he noted that there is an annual pilgrimage on the day of the liberation, April 29, to the St. Joseph Shrine in Kalisz, Poland.

Naglieri said the story shows the power of devotion to St. Joseph “during one of the darkest periods of the 20th century.”

If viewers miss the airing on ABC, Naglieri said the full documentary will be available on the Knights of Columbus website in December.

US dioceses prepare to open synod process this month

null / Vatican pool.

Denver Newsroom, Oct 14, 2021 / 14:35 pm (CNA).

Dioceses across the United States are preparing for the consultation process for the Synod on Synodality, a two-year, worldwide undertaking during which Catholics will be encouraged to submit feedback to their local diocese.

Most dioceses contacted by CNA said they are still in the process of determining how feedback will be collected from the faithful, and several dioceses are planning an opening Mass on Oct. 17.

One objective of the synod on synodality, according to the preparatory document, is to examine “how responsibility and power are lived in the Church as well as the structures by which they are managed, bringing to light and trying to convert prejudices and distorted practices that are not rooted in the Gospel.”

The “diocesan phase” of the synod will run until April 2022. The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents. Earlier this month, the Vatican released a preparatory document and handbook to help dioceses to take part.

The concept of "synodality" has been a topic of frequent discussion by Pope Francis, particularly during the previous ordinary Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith, and vocational discernment in October 2018. The pope, speaking about the present synod, has said that the synod is “not about gathering opinions, no … it is about listening to the Holy Spirit.”

Synodality, as defined by the International Theological Commission in 2018, is "the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God." Pope Francis launched the consultation process leading to the 2023 synod on synodality Oct. 10. 

According to Vatican documents, the “fundamental question” to be considered by the dioceses and the bishops over the multi-year process is as follows: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”

In San Antonio, the consultation period will begin with an Opening Mass at the Cathedral of San Fernando Oct. 17. The diocesan website for the synod process, available in both English and Spanish, says that “listening and interactive sessions” to collect feedback from Catholics in the diocese are set to be held “in the following months.”

Jordan McMorrough, Archdiocese of San Antonio Communications Director, told CNA that the Synodal Process Steering Committee will “launch a series of meetings in every corner of the archdiocese” in the coming days.  

The Scranton diocese is also set to hold an opening Mass for the Synod on Oct. 17, Bishop Joseph Bambera wrote in an Oct. 4 letter. 

“In the coming weeks, we’ll have more updates on how the consultation process is expected to play out in parishes, schools and other diocesan structures,” Eric Deabill, communications director for the Scranton diocese, told CNA. 

Bishop Michael F. Burbidge accepting the offertory gifts at the Mass for Persons with Disabilities, Sept. 29. .  ZOEY MARAIST/Arlington Catholic Herald
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge accepting the offertory gifts at the Mass for Persons with Disabilities, Sept. 29. . ZOEY MARAIST/Arlington Catholic Herald

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington will celebrate an opening Mass on Oct. 17, and has said that focus groups and surveys are being arranged to collect feedback from the faithful of the Arlington diocese. 

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark announced he would be celebrating an opening Mass for the synod on Oct. 17 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. 

“Sister Donna Ciangio, OP, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, and Father Bismarck Chau, the rector of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, have agreed to coordinate the synodal process throughout our Archdiocese,” Cardinal Tobin wrote Oct. 11. 

“Together with their team, they will ensure that every parish will have the opportunity to participate in this important moment in the history of the Church. But they will also be concerned with voices from the ‘periphery,’ voices that are easily and often overlooked in Catholic discussions. The Holy Spirit is moving throughout the Church and we need to listen. As a result of the diocesan consultation, a report will be written that will collect our voices.”

Carmen Gaston, Director of Mission Advancement for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, told CNA that Archbishop Alexander Sample is set to announce plans to participate in the Synod at a special Mass celebrating the 175th Anniversary of the archdiocese, celebrated at St. Mary's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Oct. 24.

Mark Haas, spokesman for the Denver archdiocese, told the National Catholic Register that plans for how the synodal process will unfold will be “communicated to all the faithful once the plans are finalized.”

The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois completed its fourth diocesan synod in 2017. That process included consultations with all the laity, priests, deacons, and leaders of the religious communities in the diocese, as well as delegates from each of the 129 parishes.

“I think much of the information that we are being asked to gather during the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality can be gleaned from what we learned from our surveys of active and inactive Catholics and what we heard during our listening sessions and consultations held during our Fourth Diocesan Synod,” Bishop Thomas Paprocki wrote in a recent column. 

“Additional consultations will be done with our canonical consultative bodies, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council, and parish pastoral councils, supplemented perhaps by focused listening sessions in the deaneries as needed.”

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Similarly, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is currently in the midst of its own archdiocesan synod. Some of the information collected for that synod will be applicable to what Pope Francis has requested from dioceses for the synod on synodality, the Catholic Spirit reported. Archbishop Bernard Hebda is set to celebrate a Mass in solidarity with the pope on Oct. 17 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

The Diocese of Brooklyn opened its own diocesan synod Oct. 10, and is set to hold a series of “listening sessions”— first at the parish level and then at the diocese’s 22 deaneries — from now until April, The Tablet reported. 

The worldwide synod will conclude with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican in October 2023.

Catholic sites suffered more than 100 acts of vandalism, arson since May 2020, USCCB says

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles visits the scene of the fire at Mission San Gabriel church, July 11, 2020. / Jon McCoy/Angelus News

Washington D.C., Oct 14, 2021 / 14:01 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops’ conference on Thursday reported that churches and Catholic sites have been targeted in more than 100 acts of vandalism, arson, and other destruction since May 2020.

“These incidents of vandalism have ranged from the tragic to the obscene, from the transparent to the inexplicable. There remains much we do not know about this phenomenon, but at a minimum, they underscore that our society is in sore need of God’s grace,” stated Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City on Thursday, Oct. 14.

Dolan is the chair of the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty committee, while Coakley is the chair of the bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee. Both episcopal committees have advocated for increased funding of a federal non-profit security program, citing a rise in attacks on houses of worship.

The conference began tracking such attacks on churches in May 2020, and now says that at least 101 incidents have occurred in 29 states since then. Incidents include graffiti being sprayed on church walls, Catholic statues beheaded or smashed, gravestones desecrated with swastikas, and arson.

Last Sunday, Oct. 11, Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was vandalized with graffiti, including phrases such as “Satan Lives Here,” “White Supremacists,” and “Child Rapists, LOL.” 

On. Sept. 29, a parish in nearby Boulder, Colorado was also desecrated with pro-abortion graffiti, which included the phrases “Jesus [Loves] Abortion,” “Bans off our bodies” and “No Wire Hangers Ever.” 

Other attacks have been more severe. In November 2020, a Catholic church in Washington state was damaged by fire in an apparent case of arson. Earlier that year, the historic Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in Los Angeles County, a church founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1771, suffered a devastating fire. In May 2021, a California man was charged with arson in connection to the fire.

Cardinal Dolan acknowledged various reasons behind attacks on churches, but stated that “this destruction must stop. This is not the way.”

“In all cases, we must reach out to the perpetrators with prayer and forgiveness. True, where the motive was retribution for some past fault of ours, we must reconcile; where misunderstanding of our teachings has caused anger toward us, we must offer clarity,” he said.

The bishops’ religious freedom committee has launched a “Beauty Heals” campaign of short videos as a response to church vandalism.

In the summer of 2021, churches across Canada were discovered to be on fire in burnings deemed by police to be “suspicious” or outright cases of arson. The fires, many of which occurred on indigenous lands, happened as unmarked graves at the sites of former Catholic-run residential schools for indigenous children were discovered.

From abortionist to pro-life leader: What changed this doctor's heart?

Aultman in her first year of private practice, outside her office, which was under construction. / Kathi Aultman

Denver Newsroom, Oct 14, 2021 / 12:26 pm (CNA).

Kathi Aultman was six weeks postpartum when she returned to work at an abortion clinic in Gainesville, Florida. She performed abortions on the weekends to earn money during her residency.

“I felt really strongly that abortion was a woman's right,” Aultman told CNA in a Sept. 17 interview. “I mean, I bought the whole thing: hook, line, and sinker.”

“I even did abortions when I was pregnant — very pregnant. But I didn't see any contradiction. My baby was wanted, theirs wasn't. If they wanted to abort their baby, that was their right.”

But Aultman remembers something was different about that first abortion she performed after delivering and caring for her own baby. For the first time in her life, Aultman made the connection that the unborn child she was aborting was, in fact, a child. Not dissimilar to her own child.

Aultman completed the abortion, and the rest of the abortions scheduled for her that day. But she said her experience that first day back from maternity leave marked the beginning of her journey toward becoming a pro-life advocate.

Today, Aultman has testified on pro-life issues before state and congressional bodies and state courts, and has assisted various state attorneys and the Justice Department in considering cases related to abortion. She was a speaker at the 2019 March for Life in Washington.

Most recently, Aultman was one of 240 of pro-life women to sign an amicus brief in support of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case out of Mississippi that has the potential of overturning federal protection for abortion in the United States.

‘I did not see them as people’

Aultman had a mind for science from a very young age. She remembers eagerly helping her father, a Methodist preacher, clean fish after fishing trips. Aultman enjoyed examining the internal organs of fish, and inspecting their eyeballs. When her mother brought animal hearts home for family meals, Aultman would run water through the organ to examine the valves in action.

Aultman’s aunt was a bioengineer, and she became a role model for her inquisitive niece. When Aultman was in the fourth grade, she visited her aunt's lab, and she remembers being so impressed that she decided, on the spot, to become a scientist.

After earning her undergraduate degree from Drew University in 1972, Aultman set her sights on a Ph.D. in basic research. But she chose to study medicine, because the field seemed to offer more secure job prospects than research.

Kathi Aultman in a science lab at Drew University, where she earned her undergraduate degree. Kathi Aultman
Kathi Aultman in a science lab at Drew University, where she earned her undergraduate degree. Kathi Aultman

Aultman was accepted into medical school in New Jersey. Before her classes began, Aultman discovered that she was pregnant.

“And it's the same old story,” Aultman said. “I thought that … if I kept the baby, I wouldn't be able to be a doctor. I was afraid we'd end up with a divorce, because we were getting married because we had to. I was afraid of what my family and friends would think.

“So I decided to have an abortion.”

After her first year of medical school in New Jersey, Aultman transferred to the University of Florida to be closer to her then-husband. After completing medical school in 1977, Aultman found she had a natural interest in obstetrics and gynecology. She enjoyed what experience she had delivering babies, performing surgeries and well-woman checks. But she said her personal experience with abortion made the field even more attractive to her.

All standard OB-GYN residency programs include abortion training, though residents can conscientiously object. Aultman remembers some of her fellow residents conscientiously objected and did not learn how to perform abortions. But Aultman felt abortion was a woman’s right, especially after her own experience. She happily learned how to perform first trimester abortions. She even pursued special training outside of her program to learn how to perform second trimester dismemberment abortions.

After she got her medical license, Aultman began moonlighting at an abortion clinic to pay the bills during her OB-GYN residency.

Aultman in the OR during her residency. Kathi Aultman
Aultman in the OR during her residency. Kathi Aultman

Aultman said abortions tapped into the fascination with biology that she experienced as a child. She said she loved examining the tiny hands and feet of the aborted babies, with their perfectly formed fingers and toes.

“I was fascinated,” she said. “I thought they were so interesting. I love[d] sending fetal parts down to pathology so I could look at the slides and see what the embryonic tissue looked like. I did not see them as people.”

Around the same time, Aultman helped open the first rape treatment center in Jacksonville, Florida. The center seemed like a natural offshoot of her interest in caring for women. She performed rape exams at the center, but never knowingly performed an abortion on any of the women she saw there.

In fact, she never knowingly performed an abortion on any victims of rape — at the center, or at the abortion clinic. Aultman remembers patients at the abortion clinic were required to give a reason for their abortion. If they didn’t have a clear reason, Aultman said she would typically list “psychological health” on documentation.

“If you have to have this baby, and you don't have the means to take care of it, blah, blah, blah,” Aultman said. “I never specifically did an abortion because the baby was deformed, or for the mother's health. They were all elective.”

‘I don’t want to do this’

Aultman said three encounters she had with abortion patients on her last day of performing the procedure remain seared in her memory.

The first patient was young, and Aultman recognized her because she had already performed three abortions for her.

“I went to the administration, and I said, ‘I don't want to do this abortion. I've already personally done three on her,’” Aultman said. “And they said, ‘Well, that's not up to you. It's her right and you can't discriminate against her.’ And, I looked at them. I said, ‘Yeah, well, that's fine for you, but you're not the one doing the killing.’”

Aultman performed the abortion that day. But it was the first time Aultman had associated abortion with the word “killing,” and she took note of it.

A second patient came in for an abortion, and she brought a friend for support. After the abortion, the friend asked the patient if she would like to see the aborted baby.

“And she said, ‘No, I just want to kill it,’” Aultman recalled. “And it just struck me, you know, how could she be so hostile and angry towards this little baby? It hadn't done anything wrong. That really affected me.”

A third patient came in for an abortion. She already had four children, but she and her husband decided they couldn’t afford another child. Aultman remembers the patient cried during the entire abortion. That was the final straw for Aultman, and the last abortion she would perform.

“After that, I could no longer personally do abortions,” Aultman said. “I couldn't abort babies just because they were unwanted.”

A dramatic shift in thinking

Aultman no longer performed abortions, but for several years she continued to refer for abortion at her own practice, which she opened in 1981. That same year, she accepted the role of medical director for Planned Parenthood of Northeast Florida. The clinic did not perform abortions at the time. Aultman quit that role in 1983, when the clinic expanded its services to include abortion.

Aultman in her first year of private practice, outside her office, which was under construction. Kathi Aultman
Aultman in her first year of private practice, outside her office, which was under construction. Kathi Aultman

But Aultman still believed that abortion was a woman’s right. It was easy for her to wonder where she would be if not for her own abortion all those years ago.

“I had bought the line that the worst thing that could happen to a woman was an unwanted pregnancy,” she said.

Then Aultman would see young pregnant women with unplanned pregnancies come to her practice, and thrive after giving birth to their children. She remembers a family at her Christian church had a baby with Down syndrome, and Aultman watched in awe as the baby grew into what Aultman described as a sweet little girl. But many of the women she saw coming into her practice after abortions carried psychological or physical complications.

“Slowly, this was beginning to make me wonder if everything that I believed [about abortion] was really true,” Aultman said.

In terms of her own abortion, Aultman began to realize the fears she had at the time were unfounded. She had met plenty of women who had babies and were now successful doctors. She and her first husband ended up getting divorced, despite the abortion. Aultman also realized that the family and friends who really counted would have been understanding about her unplanned pregnancy.

“So none of the reasons that I came up with for having the abortion ended up being valid,” Aultman said.

Aultman turned these questions over in her mind. One day, a friend from her church sent her an article that likened abortion with the Holocaust. It was a particularly sensitive topic for Aultman because her father had been with the unit that liberated the first concentration camp during World War II. She had grown up with the stories and photographs of that historic, harrowing moment.

“Also, when I became a doctor, I couldn't understand how the German doctors could do what they did,” Aultman said. “So with that background, when I read this article, it really hit me. I mean, it … just removed the blinders. All of a sudden, I thought, ‘Well, no wonder they could do what they did. Look at what I did because I didn't see [the unborn] as human beings.”

Suddenly, Aultman saw herself as a mass murderer. It happened to be when infamous serial killer Ted Bundy was in the news, and Aultman remembers thinking that she had probably killed a lot more people than Bundy had.

“That was the point when I understood that abortion was wrong, and I became pro-life.”

Healing and advocacy

Aultman became pro-life around the year 1995, and she said it took another year for her to truly heal and forgive herself for her past involvement with abortion.

During that year, she visited the Christian Healing Center in Jacksonville and she said she had an experience of forgiveness there. As a woman prayed over her, Aultman saw herself at the foot of Jesus. She had a dialogue with Jesus, in which He asked why she could not forgive herself when He had forgiven her. Aultman then saw the baby she had aborted. He was a little boy, and he told her he forgave her.

Soon after, Aultman went public with her pro-life stance, speaking out against abortion and in particular against partial-birth abortion.

Aultman during an interview with Focus on the Family in January 2020. Kathi Aultman
Aultman during an interview with Focus on the Family in January 2020. Kathi Aultman

Even with her experience of forgiveness from God and her aborted baby, Aultman still struggled to tell her now-husband, Ron Combs, about her past. The pair met in 2000, and Combs remembers that Aultman waited to share her story with him.

“But I understood the journey and how it came about, because I'm of that same generation,” he said. “I remember how strongly pro-abortion came on back in the 60s, 70s and early 80s ...They were pushing it so hard. I can understand why all women were thinking that was the way to go.”

Combs shares his wife’s pro-life beliefs, and although her pro-life work sometimes requires travel and long hours, Combs says he fully supports his wife and the work she is doing.

“I'm very proud of her, and fortunate to be married to her,” he said. “She is committed to this, and she believes in it. .. And I support her in it as far as she can physically and mentally take it, because of course there's a lot of pushback when you go in there and tell people the facts. You know, people don't like facts all the time.”

Aultman said her involvement in legal battles related to abortion has always been a challenge.

“I just trusted that God would take care of me.”

Aultman retired from her practice and her pro-life advocacy in 2014, for medical reasons. After a year of recovery, Aultman began praying to God for guidance for her retirement. She had always envisioned spending her retirement in the mission field, working in Africa or somewhere similar, but her health issues would not allow for it. She asked God to let her still do something meaningful.

The next week, she got a call. Could she go to Washington and testify before Congress on a heartbeat bill? She happily agreed. Since then, Aultman has testified, written affidavits and declarations in abortion cases across the country, more recently in New York and Louisiana.

When Aultman heard that the U.S. Supreme Court would consider Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, she was immediately intrigued. She was one of 240 pro-life women to sign an amicus brief in the case, challenging the assumption that women are socially and economically better off with access to legal abortion.

“I felt like I was one of those women who believed that women had to have abortion in order to succeed,” Aultman said. “That was a lie. It wasn't true. I still could have been a professional, I still could have done what I did, as many other women had done that I trained with. So I felt it was important to sign on to that [amicus] brief.”

A powerful pro-life witness

On Jan. 18, 2019, a crowd of pro-life advocates gathered before a stage at the national March for Life in Washington.

Men, women and children were bundled in coats and scarves to protect themselves against the cold of winter. They clutched signs with messages including “Choose Life” and “Defund Planned Parenthood,” and watched as Aultman walked up to the podium on the stage.

“My name is Dr. Kathi Aultman,” she began. “I’m a retired OB-GYN. I used to do abortions, but by God’s grace, I’m now pro-life.”

Aultman then shared her story, and pleaded with the crowd to continue their work changing hearts and minds on abortion.

“Help people to see that what is in the womb is a person, with their own unique characteristics and potential, not just a blob of tissue,” Aultman said.

“A woman cannot kill her child and remain unscathed. There are millions of women in the United States who have had abortions. Some of you are here. They are hurting, and need your help and compassion. They need to know that God wants to heal and restore them.”

Sue Liebel is state policy director for the Susan B. Anthony List. She remembers the first time she heard Aultman share the story of her pro-life conversion, and testify on partial-birth abortion.

“I was actually shocked,” Liebel told CNA. “Then, I was mesmerized as she described with such transparency exactly how she did abortions in her previous career.

“While painfully clear how the procedure — especially dismemberment— kills the baby and sometimes hurts the mother’s body, Aultman still showed respect and caring for her patients.”

Liebel has since seen Aultman testify three other times, and she said Aultman’s unique perspective as a former abortionist is powerful for the pro-life cause.

“Her testimony is so powerful,” Liebel said. “I know her personally and sometimes this exhausts her, yet she keeps going because she can speak the truth into the abortion debate. And people stop and listen.”

Though Aultman’s testimony is powerful, Liebel said her demeanor is disarmingly humble.

“Her kind voice and respectful approach removes the vitriol seen in so many of the [abortion] hearings,” Liebel said. “She wants to bring truth and healing into America’s painful abortion reality.”

Love, bravery can change hearts

Today, Aultman has two daughters. She still lives in Florida with her husband, Ron. She is an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research and education branch of the Susan B. Anthony List.

She told CNA she isn’t in an environment in which she hears a lot of criticism for her pro-life beliefs. She has friends and family members who are pro-abortion, including her mother. But Aultman said her mother is supportive of her pro-life work.

Aultman believes a gentle, loving approach is the best way to convince others to reconsider their position on abortion. She remembers the example of patients at her practice, when she was still referring for abortions. Several of them came to her when they were pregnant, and asked about her stance on abortion. When she told them that she supported abortion as a woman’s right, they calmly told her they could no longer stay in her practice and left.

“That made a difference to me,” Aultman said. “I think that was also one of the things that began to change my outlook. They were brave enough, and they did it gently. They didn't do it in a mean way.”

“So I think you have to love people, but I think you have to be brave enough to be honest about what your feelings are, and let people know in little ways that aren't offensive that you believe in life.”

Correction: Kathi Aultman performed her last abortions all on the same day, not over the course of several weeks, as reported in a previous version of this story. In addition, she became pregnant for the first time just prior to entering medical school, not while she was a medical student, and she said residents, not medical students, can opt out of abortion training.

Judge again blocks New York medical worker vaccine mandate without religious exemption

null / oasisamuel/Shutterstock

Syracuse, N.Y., Oct 14, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).

Medical workers in New York can seek religious exemptions from a state COVID-19 vaccine mandate while a lawsuit challenging the requirement advances, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Health care workers challenging the mandate have established that it “conflicts with longstanding federal protections for religious beliefs and that they and others will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief,” Judge David Hurd wrote in his Oct. 12 decision granting a preliminary injunction to prevent the state health department enforcing the mandate.

Then-governor Andrew Cuomo announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for all medical workers in the state in August. The mandate covers staff at hospitals and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, adult care facilities, and other care settings, and did not include a religious exemption. 

A group of 17 medical professionals claim the mandate violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Hurd wrote that the question presented by the case is whether the mandate “conflicts with plaintiffs’ and other individuals’ federally protected right to seek a religious accommodation from their individual employers,” adding that “the answer to this question is clearly yes.”

The judge wrote that “these conclusions have nothing to do with how an individual employer should handle an individual employee’s religious objection to a workplace vaccination requirement.”

In addition to granting the preliminary injunction, Hurd also allowed the plaintiffs to proceed pseudonymously.

Stephen Crampton, Thomas More Society Senior Counsel, said, “This is very clearly a decision supporting the constitutional rights of these medical workers whose requests for religious exemption to the vaccine mandate were rejected by Governor Hochul and her administration.”

The legal group is representing the plaintiffs.

“New York seems to be dead set on ignoring the United States Constitution, its Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act. We are pleased that Judge Hurd has seen fit to put an immediate halt to that gubernatorial overreach.”

And Christopher Ferrara, the Thomas More Society’s lead counsel in the case, commented, “With this decision the court rightly recognized that yesterday’s ‘front line heroes’ in dealing with COVID cannot suddenly be treated as disease-carrying villains and kicked to the curb by the command of a state health bureaucracy. Some of these plaintiffs contracted COVID while treating patients, recovered, and were allowed to return to work with the same protective measures that were good enough for the 18 months that they were the heroes in the battle against the virus. There is no ‘science’ to show that these same measures are suddenly inadequate – especially when they are allowed for those with medical exemptions.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul responded to the injunction, saying, “My responsibility … is to protect the people of this state, and requiring health care workers to get vaccinated accomplishes that. I stand behind this mandate, and I will fight this decision in court to keep New Yorkers safe.”

Hurd had last month granted a temporary restraining order against the mandate.

Also on Oct. 12, a federal judge in Texas issued a temporary restraining order to keep United Airlines from putting unvaccinated employees who have requested exemption from its vaccine mandate on unpaid leave.

And a federal judge in New York City rejected a challenge from public school employees to a city mandate that they be vaccinated. The 10 employees had not met the city's religous exemption requirements, and the judge held that the mandate is neutral, and not discriminatory.

San Francisco archbishop clarifies Pelosi's papal visit not an endorsement of her abortion views

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (center) with Pope Francis (right), during their Oct. 9 meeting at the Vatican. / Vatican Media

Washington D.C., Oct 14, 2021 / 10:05 am (CNA).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent meeting with Pope Francis does not signal a papal endorsement of her views on abortion, the archbishop of San Francisco said in a television interview on Oct. 13. 

Pope Francis met with Pelosi at the Vatican on Saturday, Oct. 9. Although the Vatican did not reveal what they discussed, Pelosi said in a statement after the meeting that she thanked the pope for his “immense moral clarity” in speaking on the issue of climate change.

Speaking on Newsmax TV’s Chris Salcedo Show, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone took issue with the host’s assertion that “it seems Pope Francis is allowing one of the world’s biggest abortion cheerleaders to use the Vatican as some sort of validation for her anti-Catholic views.” 

“I first of all would urge some caution in jumping to that conclusion,” said Cordileone, whose eccelesial territory includes Pelosi’s congressional district. Cordileone noted that other popes have met with world leaders with questionable pasts, and that Pope Francis is no different. 

“I recall I was in Rome at the time back in the 80s, when he [Pope John Paul II] met with Kurt Waldheim, who was the president of Austria at the time,” said Cordileone. In 1987, Waldheim was accused of participating in war crimes, including the deportation of Greek Jews to death camps, during his service in the German army in World War II. 

“Now, he [Waldheim] denied those allegations, but he created a lot of controversy, and there were widespread protests from Jewish organizations. This is St. John Paul, who did so much to build bridges with the Jewish people,” Cordileone explained the meeting. 

“So it underscores that the popes meet with everyone. They meet with world leaders, no matter who they are, even if there are these problematic things in their background or in their policies. They meet with everyone. I don’t think Pope Francis could be clearer in his condemnation of abortion,” he said. 

At a Monday press briefing at the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi said most of her conversation with Pope Francis focused on the “moral issue” of climate change.

Pausing for several seconds beforehand, Pelosi remarked that “it was just a remarkable experience to have that private audience with His Holiness, and again, to bring the thanks and gratitude of our colleagues, and his blessings back to us.”

Pelosi has supported legal abortion during her time as House Speaker. She recently brought up the Women’s Health Protection Act for a vote in the House; the legislation would override state abortion restrictions and allow abortions in some cases throughout pregnancy. The U.S. bishops’ conference warned that the limits on late-term abortions in the bill were not “meaningful,” and called it “the most radical abortion bill of all time.”

Pope Francis has compared abortion to hiring a hit man, and said as recently as September 2021 that abortion is murder. 

Pelosi, a Catholic, called her Oct. 9 meeting with Pope Francis “a spiritual, personal, and official honor,” and said that the pope is “a source of joy and hope for Catholics and for all people, challenging each of us to be good stewards of God’s creation, to act on climate, to embrace the refugee, the immigrant, and the poor, and to recognize the dignity and divinity in everyone.”

In a statement following the meeting, she praised Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato si’, and noted that her hometown, San Francisco, has the same namesake as the pontiff.

“His Holiness commands our attention to honor the Gospel of Matthew by serving ‘the least of these,’ lifting up those who have been left out or left behind, especially in the time of COVID,” said Pelosi.

“In San Francisco, we take special pride in Pope Francis, who shares the namesake of our city and whose song of St. Francis is our anthem. ‘Lord, make me a channel of thy peace. Where there is darkness, may we bring light. Where there is hatred, may we bring love. Where there is despair, may we bring hope,’” she said. 

Pelosi was in Rome to give the keynote address at the opening session of the G20 Parliamentary Speakers’ Summit. She also met with the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The day before her audience with the pope, the 81-year-old discussed the environment, migration, and human rights during a visit with the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Since her enthusiastic support of the Women’s Health Protection Act, Pelosi has been the subject of a prayer campaign initiated by Cordileone. 

“Please join me in the Rose and Rosary for Nancy Campaign. Pray a rosary once a week for her. Fast on Friday, and you can sign the petition at BenedictInstitute.org. And if you commit to the rosary and fasting, we will send a rose to her as a symbol of your prayers and sacrifices,” said Cordileone. 

The initial call to pray a rosary and to fast for Pelosi came on Sept. 29, following the House of Representatives’ passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act. 

“A conversion of heart of the majority of our Congressional representatives is needed on this issue, beginning with the leader of the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” Cordileone said. 

“Speaker Pelosi speaks fondly of her children. She clearly has a maternal heart. Pope Francis has called abortion murder, the equivalent of hiring a hitman to solve a problem,” Cordileone said. 

Since then, more than 10,000 people have pledged to pray and fast for Pelosi’s conversion. 

White House confirms Oct. 29 meeting between Pope Francis, Joe Biden

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Washington D.C., Oct 14, 2021 / 09:02 am (CNA).

The White House has confirmed that President Joe Biden and his wife Jill will meet with Pope Francis on Oct. 29 at the Vatican.

According to a Thursday statement by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the Bidens will discuss several issues with the pope, including “ending the COVID-19 pandemic, tackling the climate crisis, and caring for the poor.”

The Oct. 29 event would mark the first meeting with the pope during Biden’s presidency. Biden, a Catholic, previously met with Pope Francis in 2016 as vice president. He spoke on the phone with Pope Francis on Nov. 12, 2020, where the pope congratulated him on his election as president.

Pope Francis has met with other top U.S. officials in-person this year. He met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a Catholic, on Oct. 9 at the Vatican during Pelosi’s international travels. According to the Speaker’s office, that discussion focused mostly on climate change.

In June, Pope Francis met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a 40-minute private audience at the Vatican. According to the State Department, the two discussed China, as well as "the humanitarian crises in Lebanon, Syria, the Tigray region of Ethiopia, and Venezuela." Blinken also thanked the pope for his “leadership” on the issue of the environment.

After Biden’s election to the presidency, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, noted some areas of agreement and disagreement between Biden and the conference on policy issues.

"For only the second time, we are anticipating a transition to a president who professes the Catholic faith. This presents certain opportunities but also certain challenges," Gomez said at the bishops’ virtual fall meeting in November 2020.

"The president-elect has given us reason to believe that his faith commitments will move him to support some good policies. This includes policies of immigration reform, refugees and the poor, and against racism, the death penalty, and climate change,” Gomez said.

"He has also given us reason to believe that he will support policies that are against some fundamental values that we hold dear as Catholics. These policies include: the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the preservation of Roe vs. Wade. Both of these policies undermine our preeminent priority of the elimination of abortion," said Gomez.

Biden submitted a budget request earlier this year without the Hyde Amendment, thus seeking to allow federal funding of abortion in Medicaid. His administration has also sought to loosen restrictions on funding of abortion providers in the Title X program, and has allowed for federal funding of international pro-abortion groups in U.S. global health assistance.

He has issued statements supporting the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, and promised a “whole-of-government” effort to maintain abortion in Texas after the state’s pro-life “heartbeat” law went into effect on Sept. 1.

His administration has also fought in court to reinstate the “transgender mandate,” a requirement that doctors provide gender-transitioning procedures upon the referral of a mental health professional, whether or not they are opposed to the procedures.

He also signed an executive order interpreting federal civil rights law to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Legal experts have warned that his sweeping order would mandate that sex-specific spaces - such as women’s locker rooms, bathrooms, and sports - be open to biological males identifying as transgender females.

Catholic businessman receives Legatus evangelization award

Legatus 2020 Bowie Kuhn Award for Evangelization recipient Mario Costabile (left), with Thomas Monaghan (right), Legatus founder and CEO / Legatus International

Washington D.C., Oct 13, 2021 / 18:51 pm (CNA).

The organization of Catholic business leaders Legatus International has awarded Catholic producer Mario Costabile with its 2020 Bowie Kuhn Award for Evangelization.

Costabile is the producer and executive director of “Array of Hope,” a Catholic production company that serves Catholic parishes, dioceses and organizations.” 

“Seeking to address the decline of God” in society, Costabile’s business aims to “reveal the ‘Truths of our Faith’ by creating high quality films, music and events.”

Legatus founder and CEO Tom Monaghan presented Costabile with the award at the group’s biannual summit conference in September. The Bowie Kuhn Award for Evangelization is named after Bowie Kuhn, the former Major League Baseball commissioner who was Catholic. It recognizes a member's efforts to “spread the good news of Jesus Christ among his/her peers and his/her noteworthy dedication to the mission and ideals of Legatus.”

Legatus president Stephen Henley said that “Costabile's commitment to advancing the Catholic faith and Christian ethics through media ‘distinguishes him among his peers and makes him a worthy recipient of the Bowie Kuhn Award for Evangelization.’”

Costabile serves as the president of the organization’s Newark chapter; according to Legatus, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark is a “long-time” chapter supporter. 

Costabile also received the Legatus ACE award in 2018 for his success in recruiting new members. 

Past recipients of the Bowie Kuhn Award for Evangelization include Tim Flanagan, founder of the Catholic Leadership Institute; Michael Warsaw, Chairman and CEO of EWTN; Curtis Martin, founder of the Catholic campus ministry FOCUS; Tim Busch, attorney and philanthropist; Thomas Peterson, president and founder of Catholics Come Home; and Luisa Kuhn, wife of the late baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Legatus members include Catholic CEOs, presidents, managing partners, business owners, and their spouses. The group’s stated mission is "to study, live, and spread the Catholic faith in our business, professional and personal lives."

Legatus chapter monthly meetings typically include Mass, Confession, and a rosary followed by social hours, dining, and a presentation on Catholic topics. Legatus International also organizes leadership conferences, pilgrimage opportunities, religious retreats, social events, and overseas trips.

Tom Monaghan, the Domino's Pizza founder turned Catholic philanthropist, founded the organization in 1987. It is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan.