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Maine bishop laments failed challenge to assisted suicide and abortion laws

Portland, Maine, Sep 18, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine, has expressed his disappointment at the failure of efforts to force a public vote on the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer-funded abortion in the state. 

“I am saddened to learn that despite great opposition in the public to physician-assisted suicide and taxpayer-funded abortion, these issues will not be sent to a statewide vote,” said Deeley in a statement released on Sept. 18. 

Deeley, who leads the state’s only diocese, said that the two laws, which will now go into effect as written, will have “tragic consequences” and “contribute to a further deterioration of the common good.”

The separate campaigns each failed to attract enough signatures from registered voters to force the issues onto the ballot at a future state-wide election, petition drive organizers announced Wednesday, the day the laws go into effect and the legal deadline to mount a successful challenge. 

Deeley also noted that when Mainers were last allowed to vote on the question of euthanasia, in 2000, they rejected it, and expressed his frustration that voters would not be given a say this time.

“That the voice of Maine voters, whether they live in the very heart of the state or near any of its borders, will not be heard in a statewide referendum on both issues makes this a sad day for people of good will,” he said. 

Deeley warned that so-called assisted dying “desensitizes our young people and society at large to the inherent value of human life at a time when suicide rates are the highest that they have been since World War II. Suicide should never be presented as an option, but only recnogied for what it truly is, a tragedy.” 

Maine’s suicide rate is higher than the national average. 

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed a bill legalizing assisted suicide in the state in July, after much deliberation. She said it was the toughest decision that she had made in her legislative career, and that she hoped assisted suicide did not become commonplace. 

The failed people’s veto effort also means that Maine taxpayer dollars will go to fund abortions, and that every insurance plan offered in the state offering pregnancy coverage must also cover abortion.

The bishop said this law was “coercing people to act against their moral beliefs and ethical principles.”

“Understandably, outrage has grown since citizens have learned the true nature of this law. Abortion is not health care, and this law deprives families and individuals of the simple right to respect the dignity of human life,” said Deeley. 

A third petition, promoted by those opposed to “government-mandated vaccinations,” did gather enough signatures to make the ballot. Organizers of that petitioner are seeking, partly on religious freedom grounds, to overturn a law that ended all non-medical exemptions from required childhood vaccinations. Under the proposed law, children who are not vaccinated will not be permitted to attend public schools. 

In 2005, the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome considered the moral issues surrounding vaccines prepared using cell lines obtained from abortions. The Vatican group concluded, in part because of the passage of time and the generations of research since the original use of the aborted remains, it is both morally permissible and morally responsible for Catholics to use these vaccines.

The document also noted that Catholics have an obligation to use ethically-sourced vaccines when available, and when alternatives do not exist, they have an obligation to speak up and request the development of new cell lines that are not derived from aborted fetuses.

Maine has one of the highest rates of kindergarteners who were not vaccinated due to “religious or philosophical” reasons. Some towns report that more than 15 percent of kindergarteners were not vaccinated, a lower rate than that of Sudan, Libya, and several sub-Saharan African countries. 

Maine also has the highest rate of whooping cough in the nation, a disease that is prevented by vaccine. 

Study finds U.S. abortion rates at all time low

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- A new study from a Planned Parenthood thinktank released on Wednesday has found that abortion in the United States have dropped to its lowest rate since the procedure was made legal in 1973. 

The report from the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, estimated that there were approximately 862,000 abortions in 2017. The rate of 13.5 abortions per 1,000 “women of reproductive age,” marks a drop of 3.4 from 2011, and half of the rate in 1980. 

Overall, the total number of abortions fell by 196,000 over the past six years, with just over 500,000 of 2017 abortions carried out via abortion pills, as opposed to a surgical method. 

The report suggested that increased availability of contraception, including long-term contraceptives such as intrauterine devices, not state laws restricting abortion, were responsible for the drop. This conclusion was disputed by the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life organization, which suggested that cultural change over time has played a significant role. 

“We welcome the new report showing the decline in both the abortion rate and the overall number of abortions from 2011 to 2017. There are several reasons for this positive news, including factors that Guttmacher does their best to ignore,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute. 

“American mothers are increasingly choosing life for their children, as well as choosing to identify themselves with the pro-life cause and pro-life policies. This includes the broad protections for women and children being enacted at the state level such as strengthened health and safety standards for abortion facilities, limits on public funding of abortion, parental involvement laws, and increased informed consent,” he added.

Donovan also expressed concern at the increasing percentage of women who opt to end their pregnancies using chemical abortifacients. This, he said, “reveals the abortion industry’s increasingly successful effort to cut the overhead costs of surgical abortion while still profiting off the destruction of unborn children and wounding of his or her mother.” 

“The industry’s migration to chemical self-abortion is deeply disturbing as it carries with it the possibility of increasing the overall abortion rate over time and also carries with it a higher rate of injury, about which women are often under informed or deceived,” he added.

Guttmacher’s report found that nearly one out of five abortion clinics, or “nonhospital facilities,” had reported treating a woman who had attempted and failed to induce an abortion on her own. They termed this a “self-managed abortion.” 

There are many organizations that will facilitate delivery of abortion drugs to women through the mail, and they are easily accessed online. 

The new data on the lowest abortion rates recorded comes just weeks after a report on declining  pregnancies and fertility rates in the United States. 

In July, the CDC confirmed that fertility rates in the United States had dropped to their lowest rate ever.

“The 2018 general fertility rate fell to another all-time low for the United States,” researchers with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics wrote in a July 24 report.

The fertility rate among women aged 15 to 44 dropped 2% between 2017 and 2018, from 60.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, to 59.1.

According to the early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, fewer than 3.8 million children were born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

Ecuador votes not to decriminalize abortion in cases of rape

Quito, Ecuador, Sep 18, 2019 / 12:15 pm (CNA).- A bill to decriminalize abortion in all cases of rape failed in the Ecuadorian legislature Tuesday, amid opposition from the Church and civil organizations.

It would have allowed abortion also in cases of non-viable fetal deformity, incest, and nonconsensual artificial insemination.

Sixty-five members of the unicameral National Assembly voted in favor of the bill Sept. 17, five short of the number needed for it to pass. Fifty-nine voted against the bill, and six abstained.

Abortion is legal in Ecuador only in cases of the rape of a woman with mental disabilities or when the mother’s life is determined to be at risk.

The bill to decriminalize abortion in some cases was introduced to the full legislature in January.

The proposal was first made in 2016, and it was approved by the legislature's Justice and the Structure of the State Commission in December 2018.

Some legislators proposed that instead of decriminalizing the abortion of children conceived in rape, rapists be given greater penalties.

Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians marched on the streets of Guayaquil in June to protest the bill, as well as to support marriage, conscience protectiosn, and parental rights.

Archbishop Alfredo José Espinoza Mateus of Quito issued a statement Sept. 17 saying, “abortion cannot be the answer that a civilized society gives to the pain and anguish of women, men, and their families. Talking about abortion as a solution is a painful irony … abortion cannot be a 'solution', it is a drama, a failure of every society.”

“Neither the embryo nor the fetus is a simple part of the mother's body that carries it; it is in it and depends on it, but it is a biologically different reality and is not comparable to any other part of the woman's body. The first solidarity and the first hospitality that every human being finds is the maternal womb. It is the first experience of welcome and tenderness,” Archbishop Espinoza continued.

He said, “no law that legalizes the death of a defenseless human being can be ethical … The pregnant woman knows well that she carries a human life in its beginnings.”

The archbishop added: “Abortion does not remedy rape. The child conceived through rape is completely innocent. We must work on the prevention and care and protection of girls and young people in our country. Defending the life of the conceived child does not mean defending, protecting, or covering up rapists, or approving violations.”

Together with leader of evangelical ecclesial communities, the Archdiocese of Guayaquil organized a day of prayer for life held Sept. 16 that invoked God's wisdom and strength for the country's legislators.

The Ecuadorian constitution states that “girls, boys and adolescents shall enjoy the rights common to human beings, in addition to those specific to their age. The state shall recognize and guarantee life including its care and protection from conception.”

An effort to expand abortion access in Ecuador also failed in 2013.

Women who procure abortion in Ecuador can face up to two years imprisonment.

Italian priest kidnapped in Niger now missing for one year

Niamey, Niger, Sep 18, 2019 / 12:05 pm (CNA).- One year ago, Fr. Luigi Macalli was abducted in the middle of the night, from his parish Church in Niger. The priest remains missing, and his friends and family say they have no idea where he is.
 
“On Tuesday, 17 September 2019, we commemorate the first anniversary of the abduction of our Italian SMA confrere, Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli,” the Society of African Missions, Macalli’s religious community, posted online Tuesday.
 
“It is a sad day for the Society of African Missions, for his missionary brothers, his family and especially for the people of Niger whom Fr. Luigi served with great faithfulness and love.”
 
Macalli was kidnapped from his parish in remote Bomanga, near the border between Niger and Burkina Faso, in western Africa. The identity, affiliation, and motivation of the kidnappers is not clear.
 
“We are in silence and prayer,” Fr. Salako Désiré, provincial superior of the SMA’s Benin-Niger province, told ACI Africa Tuesday.

The society has asked supporters to continue praying that Macalli will be found alive and in good health.

Maccalli, an Italian, had been a missionary in Ivory Coast for several years before he was sent 12 years ago to the Archdiocese of Niamey, in Niger. Remote areas of the diocese lack roads, telephone service, and other infrastructure.

Another priest was with Macalli on the night he was abducted, and managed to escape. The priest said that armed kidnappers took Macalli’s cell phone and computer when they abducted the priest.

Weeks into his abduction, there were reports that Maccalli might have been taken across Niger’s border into Burkina Faso where jihadist militants have camps in the region’s forests. There have been, however, no demands for ransom or other communications from his kidnappers.

Named after the Niger River, the Republic of the Niger is bordered by Libya to the northeast, Chad to the East, Benin to the southwest, Nigeria to the South, Algeria to northwest, and Mali and Burkina Faso to the West. The country is predominantly Muslim; less than one percent of Niger's people are Christians.

 

A version of this story was first published by CNA's partner agency, ACI Africa. It has been adapted by CNA.

Senate confirms Catholic law professor as Asst. Secretary of State

Washington D.C., Sep 18, 2019 / 11:40 am (CNA).- The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm a prominent Catholic law professor to a high-ranking State Department position.

By a margin of 49 to 44, Robert Destro, a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, was confirmed by the Senate as the next Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined Democrats in opposition to Destro’s confirmation.

“Robert Destro is one of the nation's experts on human rights, both in terms of international law and the moral basis for human rights,” Thomas Farr, president of the Religious Freedom Institute, told CNA in a statement, noting Destro’s experience both as a human rights scholar and activist “in the best sense of that term.”

Destro’s new role at the State Department is tasked with promoting democracy, civic and religious freedom around the world.

It “is the senior human rights position in American diplomacy,” Farr said, charged with promoting human rights “not simply as the right thing to do (which it is), but also as a strategic interest of the United States.”

“Destro will excel in both tasks,” Farr said.

Destro is the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law & Religion at Catholic University; he previously served as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 1983 to 1989, addressing issues of discrimination on the basis of disability, national origin, and religion.

He has also served on the State Department’s Working Group on Religion in Foreign Affairs, as well as the special counsel for voting rights for the Ohio Secretary of State from 2004 to 2006.

Catholic University president John Garvey welcomed Destro's confirmation, calling him "one of the most treasured members of our law school faculty."

"This appointment is a unique opportunity for Bob to work at the highest levels of our nation’s government to protect the freedoms of all people, and in particular of those on the margins of societies around the globe," Garvey said. 

"I have no doubt that he will serve our nation as he served Catholic University, with great skill and dedication."

Stephen C. Payne, dean of Catholic’s law school, said he was “thrilled” by the appointment, and that in Destro the “country -- and the rest of the world -- is getting a strong advocate and leader for Democracy and Human Rights, and we wish him well.”

The appointment was also welcomed by Toufic Baaklini, president of the group In Defense of Christians (IDC), who cited Destro’s years of work with the group and called him “a critical leader in the fight for genocide recognition for victims of ISIS in Iraq and Syria” and “a powerful voice for religious freedom in the Middle East, and throughout the world.”

Senate Democrats questioned Destro at his confirmation hearing in March over the role of religion in foreign affairs as well as the redefinition of marriage.

Destro said that he would work to improve both training on religious freedom and understanding of the role of religion in foreign affairs within the State Department, and cited his own past work bringing various religious groups together on the international stage.

Destro said that he had learned from “the many years that I have been dealing with the State Department” that many at the agency “have had a hard time dealing with the issue of religion, and that’s one of the issues I’d like to bring to their attention.”

Later in the hearing, he explained that the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2016—authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and signed into law by President Obama—required religious freedom training for all foreign service officers.

Destro said he would work to expand on that, saying that “not only do the foreign service officers need to be trained, but so do the lawyers at the State Department and at USAID.”

“I think that we need to bring people together, and I’ve devoted most of my career, for at least the last 16 years, to doing just that,” he said of bringing religious groups together.