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In Texas, bipartisan vote protects abortion survivors – but in NC, veto looms

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2019 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- Republicans and Democrats in the Texas legislature voted to strengthen protections for babies born after surviving attempted abortions, but in North Carolina the governor could veto a similar bill.

In the Texas House of Representatives, a 93-1 vote included 12 Democrats voting in favor and 50 declaring themselves “present, not voting.” A similar Senate bill passed with a vote of 21-10, with two Democrats backing the legislation.

Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano, the House bill’s sponsor, said the legislation is about “protecting innocent life, a baby who is born alive.” He said the bill was an opportunity to unite across party lines, adding, “as much as the issue of abortion has historically divided this country, this state and even this body at times, to me there should be no debate on this issue.” He said the bill adds enforcement to existing law, which in his view does not go far enough, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Democrats favoring the bill included Dallas Rep. John Turner and others who largely represented the heavily Catholic southern Texas.

Turner said he did not see the bill as being about reproductive rights, but rather as addressing “an extremely rare circumstance.” In his 2018 campaign he had said he would not vote for legislation that would restrict abortion access.

Houston Democrat Harold Dutton, the sole vote against the bill, urged others to declare themselves “present, not voting.” Dutton charged the legislation was “blatantly false, inflammatory and dangerous.”

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission said no infants were reported to be born alive after abortion procedures in Texas from 2013 to 2016. Over 219,000 abortions were performed in the state during that period.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures said that more than 140 infants died in U.S. cases related to induced abortion from 2003 to 2014, the Associated Press reports.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List, said government figures suggest 25 babies were born alive during abortion procedures in the year 2017 in Arizona, Florida, and Minnesota.

Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, said there was no record of post-abortion births in the state and said infanticide was already illegal. She argued that the proposal did not merit debate and would stigmatize women’s health decisions, while traumatizing families whose unborn child has severe anomalies.

“The misinformation perpetuated by this bill is dangerous and is the exact type of rhetoric that leads to threats against providers,” she said. Howard, who has a background as a medical nurse, said she was “insulted by the implication that I or any other nurse or doctor ... would not do any and everything in our power to provide care to any medically stressed human being.”

Differences between the bills still require legislative action before they head to the governor. House Bill 16 would allow the state attorney general to sue a physician who fails to treat a live infant, for a fine of at least $100,000. In cases of “gross negligence,” offenders could face a third-degree felony charge penalized by imprisonment of two to ten years. The Senate bill would give the same penalties regardless of whether there was a finding of gross negligence.

Democratic State Sens. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo voted for the bill, the Texas Tribune reports. Two House Republicans did not vote: Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston, who filled in for Bonnen. While it is common practice for the speaker or presiding chair not to vote, Davis has advocated for abortion rights, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Texas and 25 other states require physicians to provide medical care and treatment to infants who are born alive at any stage of development.

In North Carolina, the House of Representatives voted 65-46 to pass the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, Senate Bill 359. The Senate passed the bill by a 28-19 vote, the Raleigh News and Observer reports.

However, some observers said the response to the bill from the Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s office suggested that he would veto the bill, the Associated Press reports.

“This unnecessary legislation would criminalize doctors for a practice that simply does not exist,” said Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper.

The legislation would require medical practitioners to provide sufficient care for babies who survive abortion. Failure to do so could mean prison time and up to $250,000 in fines.

The bill also mandates that medical professionals report a baby who has survived an abortion and received insufficient care. If signed into law, it would allow relatives of a baby who died to file a civil lawsuit.

The Republican-controlled legislature lost its veto-proof supermajority in the 2018 elections and will need Democratic support if the governor vetoes the bill.

“Do any of you really think that infanticide is legal in North Carolina?” said bill critic State Rep. Susan Fisher, a Buncombe County Democrat. She objected that the Republican-controlled legislature would have acted sooner, when it had a veto-proof supermajority, if legislators believed babies were being left to die or killed after a failed abortion. She argued that the measure aimed to intimidate health care providers who conducted legal abortions.

Other critics opposed charging medical providers with murder, said the legislation interfered with a woman’s right to abortion, or interfered with medical actions between a physician and a pregnant woman.

Others said the bill addressed a real injustice.

“I can attest to the fact that infanticide has happened here in North Carolina,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican from Carteret County. “I’ve been witness to the result of those late-term abortions.”

She said that earlier in her career in Jacksonville, N.C., she encountered a local doctor who performed abortions. According to the Raleigh News and Observer, she alleged this unnamed doctor preserved bodies of unborn babies at his office, which she believed to have survived abortion but were drowned in saline.

“Nurses told stories of babies who were born alive and were taken by the doctor and turned face down in the saline,” she said.

Federal born-alive legislation failed to pass Congress earlier this year.

In May 2013 Philadelphia-based abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of babies at his clinic. A government raid on his clinic found filthy conditions and human remains. State authorities had not inspected his clinic in years.

The illegal sale of fetal tissue and baby body parts for profit has also become prominent due to undercover videos published by the Center for Medical Progress that appear to show such activity by major abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood. The videos have prompted concern that some babies targeted for abortion are delivered alive to provide intact bodies for tissue harvesters.

L.A. archdiocese pays abuse victim of layman $8 million

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 17, 2019 / 05:47 pm (CNA).- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $8 million to a female teenager who was sexually abused and abducted by a teacher at her high school in 2016.

The victim attended San Gabriel Mission High School, an all-girls school in San Gabriel, Calif., about 10 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The then-15-year-old student was abused over numerous months by Juan Ivan Barajas, her volleyball coach and health teacher.

“The Archdiocese recognizes that there was serious harm done to the life of the victim-survivor,” the archdiocese stated. “We hope that the settlement will allow her to heal and move forward with her education and lifetime goals. The Archdiocese apologizes for the impact that this caused in her life.”

The plaintiff’s main attorney, David Ring, said April 16 that the amount is the largest the archdiocese has paid a single victim.

According to the New York Times, Barajas, 39, had sent her sexually explicit messages and images through his phone. He had abused her in several locations on school grounds beginning in April 2016.

After Barajas' wife found out about the abuse, he kidnapped the teenager in July, and took her to Las Vegas. The police found the pair living in his car in Henderson, Nev., and Barajas was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty.

About a year before the sexual misconduct took place, several reports were issued in 2015 about Barajas’ suspicious behavior around students. Parents and staff both expressed their objections to officials at the school and archdiocese.

According to the New York Times, Monsignor Sal Pilato, the archdiocese’s superintendent of high schools, had received concerns from two volleyball coaches and a parent. These individuals were worried about his interactions with the students, including time spent alone in his office.

An anonymous letter was also issued to the superintendent, stating that “he takes the ones he like to the office,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The warning signs here were crystal clear,” Ring told the Los Angeles Times. “The complaints about Barajas were unambiguous, and yet nothing was done.”

Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokeswomen for the archdiocese, said the accusations had been investigated but that no evidence of sexual abuse was found. She said the former teacher had received a warning for time spent alone with a minor.

“He was counseled according to archdiocesan policies,” she said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Alarcon said the teen and her family plan to meet with Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, and apologized on behalf of the archdiocese.

In 2007, the archdiocese reached a $660 million abuse settlement with more than 500 alleged victims of clerical abuse. And in 2013 it paid nearly $10 million to settle a case brought by four alleged sex abuse victims of Michael Baker, who was formerly a priest of the archdiocese.

In a Jan. 22, 2013 statement regarding abuse documents, the archdiocese said that “few institutions have done as much as the Los Angeles Archdiocese to promptly report abuse allegations to civil authorities, to screen all those who supervise children, and to train adults and children in the latest abuse prevention procedures … We are justifiably proud of our record of child protection in the 21st century, and we remain vigilant against all that would harm our children and young people.”

Pro-life Democrat Lipinski faces another primary challenge

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2019 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- One of the few pro-life Democrats in Congress will once again face a primary challenger in his next election.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), narrowly defeated challenger Marie Newman in 2018 by 2,145 votes.  Following an announcement by Newman on Tuesday, he will now face her again in the March 2020 primary.

Illinois’ 3rd District is considered to be a safe Democrat district, with the more substantial electoral battle taking place during the primary. At the general election, Lipinski was reelected with over 70 percent of the vote in 2018.

Despite the previous primary campaign focusing heavily on Lipinski’s strong pro-life record vs Newman’s unqualified support for abortion, Newman said on Twitter that the district now deserves “a representative who will vote like a real Democrat in Congress—not someone who routinely sides with Trump and conservative interest groups over his own constituents.”

Democrats for Life executive director Kristen Day told CNA she disagrees with Newman’s characterization of Lipinski as a conservative or a right-wing Democrat.

Instead, she said, Lipinski’s views on abortion are more in line with what Americans believe, espcially on abortion.

“When you look at polls, the majority of Americans have more moderate positions on abortion,” she said. Day told CNA she is worried that Newman’s repeated primary challenges are an effort to alienate pro-life Democrats, which she called “a wrong direction for the party.”

“The (Democratic) party has just gone so far to promote abortion,” said Day. “It just seems as though they want to purge all the pro-life voters. The party has just been really taken over.”

Day noted that despite Newman’s description of Lipinski as a bad Democrat, he has been consistently well-rated by left-leaning interest groups. The Sierra Fund, for instance, has given Lipinski a 100 percent rating on several occasions, and the AFL-CIO gave Lipinski a lifetime score of 91 percent. The National Education Association, the largest labor union of teachers, gave Lipinski a 100 percent rating in 2017-2018.

“They're not being honest when they're trying to tag Dan Lipinski as a conservative,” said Day. “He's not."

Lipinski has a score of 13 from the American Conservative Union’s legislative scorecard’s 2018 ratings. His Democratic colleagues Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Brad Foster (D-IL) both received higher scores from the American Conservative Union.

So far in 2019, the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks has given Lipinski a zero rating, and his lifetime rating is just 12 percent.

Neither Lipinski nor Newman replied to requests for comment in time for publication.

After Columbine: How one survivor found faith, and a vocation

Denver, Colo., Apr 17, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- Many years before she entered religious life, Sister Mary Gianna Thornby was an ordinary high school sophomore at Columbine High School in the suburbs of Denver.

Like many high schoolers, she occasionally struggled with her identity, had experienced some bullying in middle school, and ultimately just wanted to fit in. She wasn’t raised in a Christian home; at that time, God, faith – and certainly the Catholic Church – didn’t register on her radar.

“Growing up, I didn't really know if God existed or not, or that He had a plan,” Mary Gianna told CNA.

All that changed 20 years ago on April 20, 1999.

Mary Gianna had a habit, she said, of going to the library to study every single day during lunch period her freshman and sophomore years. During her sophomore year, she and a friend even changed their schedules so they would have two hours off during lunch to study together in the library.

That April morning, sitting in art class right before the lunch hour, Mary Gianna said she felt an overwhelming urge to leave school. She says she remembers thinking: “I'm going to go home, and no one's going to talk me out of not leaving.”

Her friend was confused, and asked Mary Gianna why they weren't going to the library like they always did. She suggested they go and study for an upcoming test at a restaurant instead, so they walked out of the school and hopped into Mary Gianna's car, which her dad had only just bought her the week before.

As they were driving away, she looked in her rearview mirror and saw hundreds of her schoolmates running out of the school building.

With no idea what was going on, Mary and her friend simply continued on and arrived at a bagel shop. It was there that they heard what had happened.

On that morning, two students – 17 and 18 years old – began shooting people outside the high school, ultimately killing 13 and wounding more than 20 others before taking their own lives as well.

The violence perpetrated at Columbine would remain the most deadly shooting at a U.S. high school until February 2018, when 17 students died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida.

Mary Gianna soon learned that most of the killings took place in the library – the place where, on any other day, she would have surely been during that exact time.

“And so I wondered: why wasn't I there?” she mused. “Every other day I was there, but that one day – what gave me that urge to leave?”

She remembers being told by someone: “God must have a plan for your life.”

“I realized God existed, and He had a plan, but at the time I didn't know who God was. And at the time, people were questioning how could God allow something like this to happen,” Mary Gianna said.

Every day, the next school year, she would walk by the spot where the library used to be – since so many of the killings took place there, it was demolished and eventually rebuilt in a different spot – wondering why she had been spared. At that time, she had the stirrings of faith, but still no clear answers.

She said she started drinking, going to parties, looking for other things to offer fulfillment – but she knew in her heart it wasn't where she was supposed to be. Her senior year, she said, she felt like she had finally reached “rock-bottom” and lost all hope.

“It was in those moments that I felt like I just couldn't go on in life that one of my friends invited me to the Catholic Church at St. Francis Cabrini in Littleton, Colorado,” she said.

Immediately upon walking in, she met a representative of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, who encouraged her to consider going there for college. She also met a youth minister named Kate.

“She started telling me about a God that passionately loved me,” Mary Gianna recalled.

Kate started taking her out for coffee and telling her about God's love – that He does have a plan, that Mary Gianna was made in his image and likeness. Growing up, she had no direction in life, Mary Gianna said, and God's love was that thing that she had been missing.

“Not only did God lead me out of Columbine that day – he was leading me home on that day. He was leading me to Himself,” Mary Gianna said.

“And I wanted to say ‘yes’ with all my heart to God's plan. I realized that He had a plan, and I wanted to say ‘yes’ to that plan."

She ended up enrolling at Franciscan University, even though at first her father had misgivings about the cost. Later on, however, it seemed his heart had been changed. Mary Gianna said her parents were very supportive of her faith and the direction her life took after her conversion.

She went through RCIA her freshman year at Franciscan, and at the Easter vigil Mass on March 30, 2002 at the age of 19, she was received into the Catholic Church.

Mary Gianna experienced the call to religious life in 2008, when she went to the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota and prayed that she would be able to enter into the Mass in a way she had never experienced before.

It was through Mass that she felt God's presence before her. She walked out of the chapel changed; all she wanted was religious life.

She chose a charismatic, Franciscan, contemplative, and missionary order called the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, which brought her to Prayer Town, Texas, northwest of Amarillo. She pronounced her final vows on August 4, 2018.

Twenty years on from the Columbine tragedy, Mary Gianna said she thinks more of her former classmates are finding the strength to talk about what happened that day. She said she keeps in touch with some of her classmates, teachers, and the former principal of the school, especially her friend who left the school with her that day. They've talked about the experience since.

“I often think of the greatest tragedy of Jesus being put to death on the cross, and how it led to our salvation, and that even in the midst of the tragedy at Columbine, God can bring good,” she reflected.

“That He would bring life out of death. And I think we've seen that in a lot of ways.”

She mentioned the widely-known story of Rachel Joy Scott, a passionately Christian teenager who was one of the first Columbine students killed during the massacre. Rachel reportedly told her teacher shortly before her death that she thought she was going to have a “major impact in the world,” and she always took care to reach out to the “new kid” in school and those who had been bullied or had no one to sit with at lunch.

Witnesses said the gunmen asked another student if she believed in God, and she answered yes. Then they shot her.

“I was amazed that: here was a girl from my high school who was so passionate about her faith that she was willing to say ‘yes’ and die for Christ,” Mary Gianna reflected.

“And I thought: what would I have said? I could have easily been there that day. I didn't have faith. But then I realized: God knew this is where I would be. That if she was able to say ‘yes’ and die for Christ, I can say ‘yes’ and live for him. And that's what truly inspired me to really say ‘yes,’ to live for Him.”

The religious sister says the Lord took her from a life of despair and hopelessness to a place of great joy for life, and a desire to share the “fullness of life” with others.

“I really feel like the sufferings I've had in this life; I think it's kept me close to the Lord. And I think it's the call to trust God, that He never allows a tragedy or a heartbreak to happen unless He can bring a greater good out of it,” she said.

Analysis: How politics is shaping morality, and how religious voters might respond

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2019 / 04:00 pm (CNA).- As the 2020 Presidential race begins in earnest, between the two parties sits a growing number of voters motivated by faith and morality expressing little enthusiasm for what they perceive as the Hobson’s choice that philosophical liberalism has offered them in recent decades.

For these voters, the disconnect between their moral compass and that of political candidates is marked and widening. European nations have already begun to learn what the U.S. may soon: those voices could, over time, dramatically reshape the electoral landscape.

While conventional wisdom has long held that culture sits upstream of politics, the lessons of recent decades suggest that politics can, indeed, shape culture. Major cultural changes on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage were catalyzed, or at least hastened, by changes to the law that were – at best – hotly contested.

Widespread social acceptance has often followed, not led to, changes in the law: In the months before Roe v. Wade, fewer than half of voters believed abortion should be legal in any circumstances; same-sex marriage became legal nation-wide in the aftermath of a vote in perhaps the most liberally-governed state, California, to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

In a democracy the law is meant to reflect the will of the people. But, intentionally or otherwise, legality is increasingly held to be a mark of moral acceptability, even endorsement, by some sections of society.

While politicians know this, many are wary of being seen to want to change the country’s morals, even as they change the law with this end in mind. Their behavior often reflects this tension.

It is not uncommon for politicians to confidently assert their faith or morality when on what they perceive to be solid cultural and electoral ground. On contentious issues, candidates often insist on separating their “private views” from public policy, even as – perhaps because - those policies will surely play a part in settling the issue.  

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Democratic presidential hopeful and Catholic-turned-Episcopalian, recently offered a neat case study of this kind of behavior.

Speaking on Meet the Press just over a week ago, Mayor Pete noted what he called the “unbelievable hypocrisy” of President Trump and his religious supporters over policies for immigrants and the poor which are “not consistent with anything that I hear in scripture or in church.”

In the same interview, when asked about abortion, he said that moral questions were a matter of individual conscience and no for “a male government official imposing his interpretation of his religion.”

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, a Catholic, put a similar philosophy into action, signing a controversial assisted suicide bill into law.

“While my faith may lead me to a particular decision for myself,” Murphy said, “as a public official I cannot deny this alternative to those who may reach a different conclusion.”

Murphy and Buttigieg stand in a long tradition of politicians for whom refusing to “impose” their morality to “deny” someone a moral choice is an article of liberal faith.

Mario Cuomo, father and predecessor of the current New York governor, was the first to offer the line of being “privately opposed” to abortion while very clearly acting to promote a particular moral worldview.

Republicans are also criticized by some people of faith for seeming to lack moral coherence: While failing even to end taxpayer support for abortion providers while in control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, the party instead has offered up endless versions of an economic platform which, many note, fails to find broad favor with voters of faith.

In his 2018 book “Why Liberalism Failed,” Patrick Deneen observed the political orthodoxy of liberalism in both parties, albeit differently expressed.

Republicans hold out a distinctly liberal view of markets and economics, while exposing socially conservative principles on some life issues. Democrats, in turn, espouse deeply liberal principles on sexual morality, family, and life issues, while at the same time offering a more communitarian economic worldview.

Those are the results seen as a false choice by some young religious voters, Catholics in particular among them.

Pro-life voters say they are frustrated when they are expected to choose between abortion and the death penalty, or when less government interference in the home and in schools is bound up with accepting similar minimalist intervention in the financial sector and on behalf of the poor.

These voters also say they are discouraged that taking a moral stance on healthcare reform comes at the cost of nuns under pressure to provide contraceptives and abortifacients. The unquestionable social evils of racism and misogyny are likewise presented as inseparable from the pseudoscience of gender theory, they say.

As ever-more radical abortion legislation is passed at the state level, entrenching the right to abort even while a woman is in active labor, polls show a clear majority of voters - even self-identified pro-choice Democrats – turning away from the principle of unrestricted abortion.

Proposed economic reforms and tax cuts from either party are often couched in the language of benefiting average families, but it is not at all clear politicians and voters share a common image of family.

There is widespread consensus among political leaders that the traditional family model of two married parents raising children, with only one working full-time, is at best an anachronism, at worst a form of social oppression or economic exclusion. Meanwhile, most Americans say they would prefer a full-time parent at home, and an increasing number of younger mothers are choosing to stay home despite economic penalties, reversing the trend of the previous generation.

The growing divide between the values of a liberal political establishment and voters is neither a new nor distinctly American phenomenon. And by some accounts, the divergence between the two has fueled a rise in populist electoral movements and results in Europe.

In the U.K., Brexit was, in the eyes of most who voted for it rather than against it, a rejection of a political class characterized by some as “clericalist and apostate” in its manner and values.

On the continent of Europe, even as the European Union advances liberal moral norms on abortion and sexuality, voters, even younger voters, are at odds with the new orthodoxies.

The rise of reactionary parties like the AfD in Germany, Victor Orban’s government in Hungary, the Forum for Democracy in the Netherlands, or the Swedish Democrats is most often cited as proof that, when offered no real alternative, voters will – if pushed – back even the most unpleasant disrupters.

The 2016 election delivered what was, for many in the political class, a still inexplicable result in the election of Donald Trump.

Many commentators have noted the inconsistency and often incoherence with which he appears to speak to a religious and moral section of voters who find no easy home in either party. Others have suggested that Trump functioned only as a temporary vehicle for such voters, because support for his candidacy was effectively one of protest, not endorsement.

If this diagnosis is correct, the extent to which there remains no obvious impetus to accommodate this bloc of voters within the establishment of either party could yet fuel more disruptive actors in the democratic process.

What remains to be seen is whether a coherent alternative, one that proclaims itself not bound to the articles of faith of liberalism in either markets or morals, can emerge to tempt voters.