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Investigation into FBI, fed agencies’ targeting of Christians and pro-lifers to begin next week

An FBI agent stands outside the Houck residence in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 23, 2022. Mark Houck was arrested that day and charged with assaulting a Planned Parenthood escort outside an Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. / Courtesy of the Houck family

Washington D.C., Feb 4, 2023 / 10:00 am (CNA).

Congress will begin investigating what Republicans call the “weaponization” of the federal government against pro-life advocates and Christians next Thursday, according to announcements from leading House members.

After a House vote authorized the creation of the Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, Republicans have said they are committed to providing “oversight” and “accountability” to federal agencies that have been targeting parents, anti-abortion protesters, and Christians.

The investigation will operate under the House Judiciary Committee and be chaired by Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan.

A primary focus of the investigation will be the Biden administration’s targeting of pro-lifers through the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, according to CNA communications with Russell Dye, Jordan’s communications director.

In 2022 the Biden Justice Department prosecuted a record 26 pro-life advocates under the FACE Act. Meanwhile, last year saw nearly 100 attacks against pregnancy resource centers and churches that went largely unpunished.

Perhaps the most controversial use of the FACE Act was the arrest of Catholic father and pro-life activist Mark Houck. The Pennsylvania resident was accused of pushing a Planned Parenthood volunteer in defense of his son about a year before his arrest. In September 2022 Houck was taken into custody by armed FBI agents while he was at home with his wife and children.

Houck was acquitted of all charges on Monday. Still, Republican leaders such as Rep. Chip Roy of Texas decried the FBI’s use of the FACE Act as a “brazen exercise in intimidation” that “never should have happened.”

“Every American should shudder at the power the federal government has used against parents for daring to stand up for their children, Christian organizations for following their faith, [and] pro-life Americans,” Roy told CNA after the subcommittee’s creation was announced.

As one of the 12 Republicans on the 21-member subcommittee, Roy told CNA that “this subcommittee will not be afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead and expose the weaponization of the federal government.”

Jordan also issued subpoenas Friday to the Justice Department, FBI, and Education Department related to a government task force that was set up to investigate parents who have spoken up at school board meetings.

According to the House Judiciary Committee, leaders within key federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, have thus far ignored congressional inquiries.

Jordan said he will not hesitate to issue subpoenas to force answers out of federal agencies that have thus far been noncompliant.

Meanwhile, the subcommittee has been dismissed by nonvoting Democratic delegate Stacey Plaskett as the “committee on insurrection protection.”

Plaskett, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands, was appointed ranking member to lead the nine Democrats on the subcommittee.

“They’re looking for conspiracies to create problems with no solutions,” Plaskett said in an MSNBC interview. “We’re looking to solutions.”

When advocating for the subcommittee’s creation in January, Jordan stated the purpose of the investigation is to uphold the First Amendment.

“The five rights we enjoy as Americans under the First Amendment, your right to practice your faith, your right to assemble, right to petition the government, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, every single one’s been attacked in the last two years. The government was telling people they couldn’t go to church just a few years ago,” Jordan said. “We want it all to stop. We want the double standard to stop.”

‘There is power in suffering’: Meet the bishop who ordained the real-life Father Stu

Mark Wahlberg starts as Father Stuart Long in "Father Stu: Reborn." / Credit: Sony Pictures

Denver Newsroom, Feb 4, 2023 / 04:00 am (CNA).

Is anyone beyond redemption? Last year’s sleeper hit film “Father Stu” showed that with the grace of God, anything is possible — even something as crazy as making a humble priest out of a rough-edged boxer.

The film, which was produced by and stars Mark Wahlberg as Father Stu, was well-received for its authentic portrayal of the priesthood and the Catholic Church, but it drew ire from some due to its strong language, which landed the film an R rating. Taking this criticism to heart, Wahlberg decided to re-cut the film as a PG-13 version for a wider audience in the form of “Father Stu: Reborn,” which hit theaters in December.

“Father Stu: Reborn” is based on the true story of Father Stuart Long, a priest of the Diocese of Helena, Montana, who died in 2014 at the age of 50 from a rare progressive muscular disorder. He was ordained a priest by Bishop George Leo Thomas in 2007 after God took the crooked lines of his life and drew a path for him to the priesthood.

Thomas now serves as the bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas, but Long is someone he will carry in his memories for the rest of his life.

“My recollections are pretty consistent from his seminary time all the way through ordination,” Bishop Thomas told the Denver Catholic. “[He was] a very intelligent kid, very strong-willed, very humorous.

"I think his foul mouth got probably tamed out of him by the time I met him because I never did hear any kind of language. But I know that he had a life on the streets in Helena," Thomas said. "He was a boxer, to be sure. I have a very large family and some of my family’s friends taught him in high school. I was very close friends with one of his history professors, and they described him as argumentative and obstreperous.”

Father Stuart Long was a priest of the Diocese if Helena, whose unusual and redemptive path to the priesthood is retold in the film “Father Stu.”. Credit: Family of Father Stuart Long
Father Stuart Long was a priest of the Diocese if Helena, whose unusual and redemptive path to the priesthood is retold in the film “Father Stu.”. Credit: Family of Father Stuart Long

That history professor was Father Jeremiah Sullivan, whom Thomas credits with planting a seed in Long that would ultimately change the trajectory of his life.

“Father Jeremiah Sullivan was a history professor at Carroll College and also a Golden Gloves boxer related to Evel Knievel in his family lineage. He was the one who initially saw what he described as this untamed anger in his life,” Thomas recalled. “And he took him aside after class and he said, ‘You’ve got to get to the bottom of this. It’s taking your life in a direction you don’t want to go.’

“So he took him down to the boxing ring, he put gloves on him. And in addition to teaching him to box, I think he was responsible for uncovering the epicenter of his anger, which was the death of his little brother, who died at age 4. It was an unresolved anger both for Stu and for the family. I think that was almost like a trajectory that took him [in] a different direction in his life and actually turned that life around.”

Power in suffering

As the film shows, it took Long a while to find his grounding in life. He went from being a boxer in Helena to a struggling actor in Hollywood to eventually discerning a call to the priesthood. While in seminary, Long was diagnosed with a rare degenerative muscular disease that only worsened as he progressed through seminary. When it came time for his ordination, the seminary did not recommend that Long be ordained a priest.

“I received Stu’s evaluation from the seminary, and because his illness was so advanced at that stage of the game, they correctly advised against his ordination,” Thomas explained. “Priesthood is so physically demanding, mentally demanding, and he was already on crutches. He was very weak at that time. So they recommended against [holy] orders. And I was just so saddened to receive the recommendation. And for almost two full weeks, I would pray morning and night for guidance and the same theme in my prayer life kept coming back: that there is power in suffering, bring him forth.”

Through much prayer and discernment, Thomas ultimately decided that he would ordain Long a priest. He remembers that at the ordination, Long was too weak to lie prostrate on the floor before the laying on of hands, but he went through the ordination, nonetheless.

Bishop George Leo Thomas (center) celebrates the ordination Mass of Father Stuart Long (right front) at the Cathedral of St. Helena in 2007. Credit: Family of Father Stuart Long
Bishop George Leo Thomas (center) celebrates the ordination Mass of Father Stuart Long (right front) at the Cathedral of St. Helena in 2007. Credit: Family of Father Stuart Long

“At the end of the ordination, after Communion, he gave a very touching talk and he said to the people, ‘I stand before you as a broken man,’” Thomas recalled. “But he begged the people’s prayers and he promised he would do the very best he could do. They gave him only two years to live, and he lived just about six full years. He lived a marvelous priesthood in those six years as a spiritual director, as a confessor, as a celebrant at the Mass.”

One of the more memorable moments of Long’s priesthood came when Long’s father was received into the Church, which was toward the end of Thomas’ tenure in Helena. Thomas recalled how Long was too weak to be the one to receive his father into the Church, and though he was confined to a wheelchair, he was sure to attend the Easter Vigil to see his dad come into the very same Church he fell in love with.

“As the catechumens and candidates gathered at the baptismal font and as his dad was making his profession of faith, I looked over at Stu and you could see a tear coming down the side of his face,” Thomas recalled. “And I think that, in a way, he felt like his life was complete. Everything he wanted was there, most especially the conversion of his parents. And so he seemed to almost be released from his duties, shall we say, at that night at the Easter Vigil, as his dad recited the creed.”

‘Something beautiful for the Church’

As Long’s disease progressed, he became weaker and weaker — too weak to even lift the weight of the host at the consecration, Thomas said. He could only do so with help from the altar boys, who would take his hand while he held the host and lift his hand up during the elevation.

With stories like these, it’s no wonder Wahlberg took an interest in making a film about the life of Long. When Wahlberg, a Catholic himself, approached Thomas about the film, it became apparent that the only reason Wahlberg wanted to make the film was out of love for the Church.

“What struck me was that he told me what he had in mind and he said, ‘Bishop, the Church has been through so much, I want to do something beautiful for the Church,’” Thomas recalled. “And I said, ‘Well, you just sold the product. To me, That’s worth all the time and effort you can put into it.’ I told him I’d be happy to be in the wings, to be able to advise him about some of the factual questions. I just felt like he’s a very sincere man. He loves the Church.”

Mark Wahlberg approached Bishop George Leo Thomas for his blessing and advisement in the making of “Father Stu.”.
Mark Wahlberg approached Bishop George Leo Thomas for his blessing and advisement in the making of “Father Stu.”.

Upon viewing the first cut of the film, Bishop Thomas said Wahlberg “knocked it out of the park”; his only criticism was the amount of crude language the film contained. He expressed his concerns to Wahlberg, and although the initial release kept the language, Wahlberg eventually heeded the bishop’s words, which prompted the rerelease of the film as “Father Stu: Reborn.

“He called me [one day] and he said, ‘You remember what you said about the movie and the language?’ He said, ‘Well, I have decided to take your words to heart, and we’re going to do a sanitized version coming out in December without the language in it,” Thomas said.

It’s not often that a bishop has the chance to work so closely with a big-time Hollywood actor to tell a story like Long’s, and Thomas was happy to support Wahlberg’s vision for the film along the way.

“If it brings one person back to the Church or it inspires one vocation to priesthood or religious life, it’s worth everything that he put into it and all of our support for him,” he said.

With renewed enthusiasm for the film’s rerelease, Thomas has also authored a study guide for the movie that’s meant to be used in the parish setting, such as for confirmation classes or in high school or middle school groups. The guide was published by Twenty-Third Publications and contains a series of questions based on the themes of the movie. It can be found here.

This article was first published by Denver Catholic on Jan. 20, 2023, and is reprinted at Catholic News Agency with permission.

Leader of Houston pro-life pregnancy center says pro-abortion vandalism was ‘racist’

Houston Pregnancy Help Center’s location in the Fifth Ward of Houston was vandalized in the early morning of Jan. 29, 2023. / Credit: Houston Pregnancy Help Center

CNA Newsroom, Feb 3, 2023 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

At about 3 a.m. on Jan. 29, two hooded individuals were caught on camera vandalizing a pro-life pregnancy center in Houston, an attack that the leader of that center is calling “racist.”

“It’s absolutely racist!” Sylvia B. Johnson, executive director of Houston Pregnancy Help Center, told CNA Friday. 

Johnson oversees the organization’s three pregnancy centers, including the one that was vandalized in Houston’s Fifth Ward, which she said serves mostly minority women and is located in a “Black neighborhood.”

She added that there were two vandals caught on camera, who appeared to be Caucasian, writing “Abortion for all” on the front of the clinic. The vandals also glued the locks on the entrance of the clinic, she said.

“You don’t go to the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas — and you are white — at three o’clock in the morning and write ‘Abortion for everyone’ unless you are racist!” she said.

“I’m just being honest, this is just the truth,” Johnson, who is African American, added.

Johnson said that the clinic had 30 men and women scheduled to come into the clinic the next morning for pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes, and other services. Within 15 minutes of calling staff and volunteers for help cleaning the clinic and fixing the lock, the clinic was ready for service, she said. All of the clinic’s services are free.

“The so-called ‘woke’ community does not value the women that we serve and tried to prevent them from coming through our doors by injecting that glue into the keylock,” she said.

The city of Houston is “very pro-abortion” Johnson said, adding that she didn’t call the police because she feels that the city leadership doesn’t care about vandalism of pro-life pregnancy centers.

“What I find very ironic,“ Johnson told CNA, “is that this happened in the month that we celebrate Black history.” She went on to express her belief that the concentration of abortion clinics in minority neighborhoods is rooted in racism.

“It was never about the mamas,“ she said.

Cardinal Zen and Jimmy Lai among Hong Kongers nominated for Nobel Peace Prize 

Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia's highest-ranking Catholic clerics, arrives at a court for his trial in Hong Kong on Sept. 26, 2022. / Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 3, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

A bipartisan congressional commission chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, announced Thursday the nomination of six Hong Kongers, including Cardinal Joseph Zen and jailed Catholic media mogul Jimmy Lai, for the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in the cause of human rights.

“Jimmy Lai, Cardinal Joseph Zen, Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, Gwyneth Ho, Lee Cheuk-Yan, and Joshua Wong were nominated because they are ardent champions of Hong Kong’s autonomy, human rights, and the rule of law as guaranteed under the Sino-British Declaration and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the announcement from the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China reads.

“The nominees are representative of millions of Hong Kongers who peacefully opposed the steady erosion of the city’s democratic freedoms by the Hong Kong government and the government of the People’s Republic of China. Through the nomination, the members of Congress seek to honor all those in Hong Kong whose bravery and determination in the face of repression has inspired the world.”

All of those nominated have been involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, especially since 2019, when large-scale protests against authoritarian Chinese rule erupted on the territory, which is a special administrative region of China.

Hong Kongers have historically enjoyed greater freedom of religion than on the Chinese mainland, where religious believers of all stripes are routinely surveilled and restricted by the communist government. But in recent years, Beijing has sought to tighten control over religious practices in Hong Kong under the guise of protecting national security.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 91, is the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, having led the territory’s Catholics from 2002 to 2009. An outspoken advocate for religious freedom and democracy, Zen also is a sharp critic of the Vatican’s 2018 agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops, which was renewed in October 2022 for another two-year term.

Zen was arrested last May by Hong Kong authorities and put on trial for allegedly failing to civilly register a pro-democracy fund. He was convicted and ordered to pay a fine, which he has appealed.

The cardinal wrote on his blog on Jan. 31 that, following his return from Rome for Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral, he was receiving treatment in the hospital after experiencing difficulty breathing.

Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is an entrepreneur and billionaire media mogul who converted to Catholicism in 1997. Lai has supported the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement for more than 30 years and has said that his Catholic faith is a major motivating factor in his pro-democracy advocacy. The newspaper he founded, Apple Daily, had distinguished itself over the years as a strongly pro-democracy publication critical of the Chinese government in Beijing before it was forced to shut down.

Lai has been jailed since December 2020 for his involvement in pro-democracy protests and faces the possibility of being sentenced to life in prison under national security charges. On Dec. 13, 2022, a Hong Kong court delayed Lai’s national security trial, initially scheduled for that month, until September 2023.

Two of the other nominees were initially sentenced to jail time alongside Lai. One is Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, a lawyer and vice-chair of a now-shuttered civil society group, who was arrested in connection with a 2020 vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam, a journalist, was detained on a national security charge for peacefully participating in an opinion poll ahead of an election.

Also nominated is Lee Cheuk-yan, a veteran labor rights advocate and former legislator sentenced for joining unauthorized assemblies, who is facing additional criminal allegations on national security grounds.

Finally, Joshua Wong Chi-fung had been previously imprisoned for his role in organizing protests in Hong Kong in 2014. In the summer of 2019, he participated in large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In November 2021, three pro-democracy activists, including Wong, pleaded guilty to charges related to their roles in an “illegal assembly” in 2019. The next month, they were each sentenced to months in prison, with the possibility that they will face further charges.

Other Catholic pro-democracy organizers in Hong Kong have been recognized for their work in recent years. In 2021, Martin Lee Chu-ming, a Catholic lawyer who helped found the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, was nominated for the prize.

The Satanic Temple to open free abortion clinic in New Mexico

null / Kalle Gustafsson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Boston, Mass., Feb 3, 2023 / 13:22 pm (CNA).

The Satanic Temple, a political activist group known for protesting religious symbolism in public spaces, has announced that it will be opening a free abortion clinic in New Mexico offering prescriptions for drugs that cause abortion.

“TST is proud to expand reproductive options for our members. This is just the beginning,” said Erin Helian, executive director of campaign operations for the group. “We will remain steadfast as we continue the fight to uphold reproductive justice in the United States.”

Abortion is legal up to the point of birth in New Mexico, except in the cities of Clovis and Hobbs, which passed laws banning abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. TST’s move is seen as an attempt to counter any restrictions on abortion in the state.

The group, which denies the existence of Satan but associates itself with satanic imagery, says the online clinic will provide medication abortion pills by mail to those “who wish to perform The Satanic Temple’s religious abortion ritual.”

The opening of an abortion clinic follows a series of highly publicized stunts the group has orchestrated to challenge what it sees as an undue freedom of religion exercised in the public square. 

According to their press release, TST “confronts religious discrimination to secure the separation of church and state and defend the constitutional rights of its members.” 

Past initiatives include placing a bronze “Baphomet” statue in front of the Oklahoma Capitol to protest a statue of the Ten Commandments. The group also made headlines for hosting “After School Satan” clubs at a public schools that have Christian “Good News” clubs.

The New Mexico abortion clinic will be called “The Samuel Alito’s Mom’s Satanic Abortion Clinic,” according to TST’s website.

Alito is the U.S. Supreme Court justice who wrote the majority opinion for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case in June 2022, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

The Satanic Temple wrote on its website: “In 1950, Samuel Alito’s mother did not have options. The clinic’s name serves to remind people just how important it is to have the right to control one’s body and the potential ramifications of losing that right.”

The website features an animated picture of an older woman walking into the clinic saying the words, “If only abortion was legal when I was pregnant.” 

Ethel Maharg, executive director of Right to Life in New Mexico, told KOB4 that TST’s announcement is “just an egregious thing.”

“They’re trying to make it a religious right so that they can use, I guess, the First Amendment right to practice, but that’s different, freedom of speech and religion,” Maharg said.

After the town of Hobbs voted to ban abortion in November, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, told Reuters that the ordinance had been “authored by out-of-state extremists” and called it “a clear affront to the rights and personal autonomy of every woman in Hobbs and southeastern New Mexico, and we will not stand for it.”

The abortion clinic has a “frequently asked questions” page, which addresses the question of abortion access for those who don’t live in New Mexico. 

“Regardless of where you live, if you are in the state of New Mexico during your video consultation and when you perform your abortion ritual, you will have abided by the law,” the website says. 

“However, if you travel to a state where abortion is illegal and need follow-up care, there may be some risks,” the website says. 

“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough information to know how state laws will be enforced. We believe that the religious nature of our care neutralizes this risk, but state courts must affirm this, and we are working toward attaining that confirmation,” the website reads.

The clinic will provide abortion care for free, the clinic’s website says, adding that it will be funded by donations from supporters.

Senate bill would expand restrictions on foreign aid for abortions

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2022. Risch is the primary sponsor of the American Values Act. / Photo by AL DRAGO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2023 / 12:15 pm (CNA).

Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate would expand and make permanent current laws that are designed to prevent the federal government from funding abortions in other countries through foreign aid. 

The bill, known as the American Values Act, would bolster existing prohibitions on foreign aid for abortions. It would specifically ban aid for abortion as a method of family planning and would prohibit aid money from being used to encourage or coerce abortions or for involuntary sterilization. The bill would also make permanent a ban on the use of funds for the Peace Corps to pay for abortions. 

The bill would also establish a long-standing restriction on funds to lobby for or against abortion, funds for any organization that supports or participates in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization, and funds to the Peace Corps to pay for abortions. 

“Tax dollars should never be used to perform or promote abortion services in the U.S. or abroad,” Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, the primary sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, pro-abortion groups tirelessly work to exploit loopholes and overturn long-standing pro-life provisions of law,” Risch continued. “I’m proud to reintroduce the American Values Act to prevent Idahoans’ dollars from paying for abortions across the globe. One of my top priorities as the Republican leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is protecting the rights of unborns everywhere.”

Risch originally introduced the legislation in 2021, but it failed to make it out of the Committee on Foreign Relations, which is chaired by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey. Risch, who is the ranking member of the committee, reintroduced the bill with six Republican co-sponsors. 

“American taxpayers should never be exploited to fund abortions abroad,” one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement. “I’m proud to join Ranking Member Risch and my Senate colleagues in introducing this bill to clarify and prevent any further capitalization upon unintentional loopholes by pro-abortion groups.” 

The current restrictions on foreign aid being used for abortions were established through a legislative amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act in 1973, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. Known as the Helms Amendment, it is named after former Sen. Jesse Helms, from North Carolina, who introduced it. The Biden administration, along with other Democrats and pro-abortion groups, have called for its repeal. 

Marilyn Musgrave, the vice president of government affairs for SBA Pro-life America, told CNA that taxpayer money should never be used to fund abortion. Musgrave served in Congress from 2003 until 2009, representing Colorado’s 4th District. 

“Americans should never be forced to subsidize abortion on demand until birth at home or around the world,” Musgrave said. “The majority of Americans, including those who are ‘pro-choice,’ oppose the use of tax dollars to support international abortion. We thank Sen. Risch and his colleagues for reintroducing this bill that ensures foreign assistance dollars are not being spent on abortion, and we urge members on both sides of the aisle to join in supporting this bill.”

The Committee on Foreign Relations currently has 11 Republican members and 11 Democratic members. 

20 attorneys general warn CVS, Walgreens against abortion pills in their states

null / Ken Wolter/Shutterstock and Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 2, 2023 / 14:25 pm (CNA).

As CVS and Walgreens continue to seek federal approval to sell an abortion drug, 20 attorneys general whose states restrict abortion warned the pharmacy chains against fulfilling mail orders within their states. 

Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of mifepristone through pharmacies if the companies receive FDA certification. The drug can be used to abort a preborn child up to 10 weeks of gestation, according to the FDA; however, the World Health Organization has stated it can be used up to 12 weeks of gestation. Walgreens and CVS are both seeking certification to sell the drug but have not yet received approval or begun to sell it.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, several states enacted abortion laws that outright ban abortion in most cases or impose a cutoff earlier than 10 weeks. In these states, the bans often apply to surgical abortion and abortion-inducing drugs. Some states also specifically ban the sale of abortion-inducing drugs through the mail. After CVS and Walgreens expressed their intent to distribute the abortion drug through mail orders, a coalition of 20 attorneys general sent letters to the companies, warning them they cannot sell the drug in their states. 

“As attorney general, it is my responsibility to enforce the laws as written, and that includes enforcing the very laws that protect Missouri’s women and unborn children,” Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who led the coalition, said in a statement. “My office is doing everything in its power to inform these companies of the law, with the promise that we will use every tool at our disposal to uphold the law if broken.”

The letter states that companies must “keep apprised not only of federal law but also of the laws of the various states.” It adds that these laws reflect a commitment to “protect the lives and dignity of children” and women.

Explaining their concern, the state officials cite research published in 2015 that found that abortion-inducing drugs are nearly six times more likely to cause complications for women than surgical abortions. They also note that abortions performed away from medical professionals carry an added risk. 

In the letter, the attorneys general also caution that mail orders of abortion-inducing drugs “invite the horror of an increase in coerced abortions” because there is no medical oversight and “a person can obtain an abortion pill quite easily and then coerce a woman into taking it.” The attorneys general also expressed the opinion that mailing abortion drugs violates federal law, which is contrary to a Department of Justice opinion issued earlier this year. 

A spokesman for Walgreens told CNA that the company is aware that it may be unable to provide the drug in every location. 

“We are not dispensing mifepristone at this time,” a Walgreens spokesman said. “We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program; however, we fully understand that we may not be able to dispense mifepristone in all locations if we are certified under the program.”

CNA reached out to CVS for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

Some pro-life groups praised the attorneys general for defending preborn children against the abortion drug within their respective states.

“Ohio Right to Life is thankful for Attorney General Dave Yost and the 19 other attorneys general who united to not only uphold and protect our state laws but also federal law,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a statement. 

“This is what true pro-life leadership looks like, and we are proud to stand behind them,” Gonidakis added.

“Not only is the lackadaisical distribution of mifepristone via the mail illegal per federal law, but it is also extremely dangerous for women,” he said. “We have stated since the very beginning that this FDA approval is nothing short of anti-women and prioritizes a political agenda over medical safety. It is time for the Biden administration to prioritize the health and safety of women and children.”

The Utah-based Sutherland Institute, which promotes religious freedom and family values, also approved of the attorneys general’s actions. Bill Duncan, a religious freedom policy fellow with the institute, told CNA that the letter is an “appropriate exercise of their responsibility.” 

Duncan said Utah’s Legislature passed a bill to prohibit abortions in most circumstances, but the law is currently facing a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood, which he said is claiming “that the Utah Constitution contains an unwritten right to abortion.”

“It seems likely the court will recognize that there is nothing in the Utah Constitution that would preclude the state from enforcing its law,” he said. 

“If these companies provide drugs used to end the lives of unborn children, they would be in violation of the law,” Duncan added. “Each attorney general has responsibility to enforce the laws of the state as well as to prevent violations. This letter is a welcome example of state officials discharging that responsibility.”

In addition to the attorneys general of Missouri, Ohio, and Utah, the other states whose attorneys general signed the letter were Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

Bishop Barron says Minnesota’s new abortion law is ‘the worst kind of barbarism’

Bishop Robert Barron spoke out against Minnesota's new abortion law after it passed Jan. 31, 2023. / Credit: Bishop Robert Barron/YouTube

Boston, Mass., Feb 2, 2023 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

Winona-Rochester Bishop Robert Barron called a newly passed Minnesota abortion bill that enshrines abortion rights into law “the worst kind of barbarism.”

“I want to share with you my anger, my frustration over this terrible law that was just signed by the governor in Minnesota — the most really extreme abortion law that’s on the books in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal,” Barron said in a Jan. 31 video on social media following Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s signing of the bill on Tuesday.

The bill, titled the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, enshrines a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” ensuring the right to abortion in Minnesota up to birth for any reason, as well as the right to contraception and sterilization.

“Basically, it eliminates any kind of parental notifications so a 12-year-old child can get an abortion without even telling her parents about it,” Barron said. 

“But the worst thing,” he added, “is it basically permits abortion all the way through pregnancy up to the very end. And indeed, indeed if a child somehow survives a botched abortion, the law now prohibits an attempt to save that child’s life.”

Protection for abortion in the state had preexisted the new law because the state’s Supreme Court ruled in the 1995 decision Doe v. Gomez that a woman had a constitutional right to abortion. Several restrictions to abortion in the state have also been ruled unconstitutional in the courts in prior years, the AP reported. Sponsors of the bill supported it because they wanted abortion protections in law, despite the political leaning of future appointed justices, the AP reported.

Pro-life advocates fiercely opposed the bill, as it gained national attention and underwent several hours of debate in the state Senate. The pro-life advocacy organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America called the legislation “the most extreme bill in the country.” 

Barron said that “I don’t know why this is really debated anymore in our country, but this strikes me as just the worst kind of barbarism. And in the name of, I don’t know, subjectivity, and freedom, and choice and all this, we’re accepting this kind of brutality.”

Barron’s condemnation of the law echoes that of the Minnesota bishops who raised their voices against it before its passage. 

The states’ bishops wrote in a Jan. 26 statement: “To assert such unlimited autonomy is to usurp a prerogative that belongs to God alone. Authorizing a general license to make and take life at our whim will unleash a host of social and spiritual consequences with which we as a community will have to reckon.”

In his video, Barron added: “What strikes me is this: If a child is born and now a day old, or two days old and resting peacefully in his bassinet and someone broke into the house and with a knife killed the child and dismembered him, well, the whole country would rise up in righteous indignation.”

“But yet, that same thing can happen with complete impunity as the child is in his mother’s womb about to be born. Again, I just think this is so beyond the pale and that we’ve so lost our way on this issue,” he said.

He acknowledged that there was no possibility of blocking the now-enacted legislation, but said that “we can certainly keep raising our voices in protest.”

“We can keep praying for an end to this barbaric regime in our country,” he said.

Religious freedom ‘under assault’ across the world, leaders testify at summit

Former assistant secretary of state Robert Destro discusses the need for religious freedom. Pictured from left, Imam Talib Shareef of the Nation’s Mosque; Destro; and Cole Durham of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies at Brigham Young University Law School. Peter Pinedo/CNA / Peter Pinedo/CNA

Washington D.C., Feb 2, 2023 / 10:50 am (CNA).

“Tragically, religious freedom for many is increasingly under assault around the world,” Rep. Michael McCaul said to kick off the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit, which took place in Washington, D.C., this week. 

Faith leaders from across the world — including Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others — gathered at the summit to address the ongoing persecution against people of faith, which has been increasing in many nations and has resulted in the deaths of millions.

McCaul, a Republican congressman from Texas and a Catholic, invoked the teachings of both Pope Francis and St. John Paul II in upholding religious freedom as the “cornerstone” of human rights. 

Some leaders at the summit, including Naomi Kikoler of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, cautioned that the persecution of people of faith in some countries already amounts to genocide and could lead to genocide in others if immediate action is not taken.

“We know from studying the Holocaust that genocide and related crimes against humanity, persecution, is never spontaneous,” Kikoler said. “There’s a wide range of early warning signs, and if detected and their causes are addressed, it could be possible to prevent catastrophic loss of life.” 

Where is persecution occurring? 

“The right to practice one’s religion of choice is so frequently violated by governments all over the world,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Catholic Democrat from Massachusetts, while speaking at the summit. “The Uyghurs and Tibetans by China, Muslims and Sikhs in India, Coptic Christians in Egypt … Shia Muslims in Sunni-governed countries, Catholics in Nicaragua, Jews in France, I could go on and on and on, the list is way too long.” 

“As a practicing Catholic myself I know how important and personal the right to freedom of religion is,” McGovern added.

The history of Catholics in America is itself marked by the fight for religious freedom, said Robert Destro, a senior fellow with the Religious Freedom Institute. A former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Destro is now a professor of law at the Catholic University of America.

“People forget, American Catholics were among our own nation’s leaders in fighting for religious freedom,” Destro told CNA.

Destro pointed out that even Catholics in the U.S. have had to contend with religious persecution in the past.

One example: the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in the 1840s. “They blew open the wall of the church with a cannon and they set it on fire,” Destro said. “Thank God we’re not seeing that today [in America], but we are seeing attacks on churches. So, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” 

“If you are open about your faith,” Destro said, very often “they kill you.” 

Though Catholics in America don’t face widespread violent persecution, Catholics are being killed, persecuted, and arrested by the thousands in other countries such as Nicaragua, China, and Nigeria.

According to religious freedom watchdog Open Doors International, 5,014 Christians were killed in 2022 in Nigeria alone. 

Just earlier this month a Nigerian Catholic priest, Father Isaac Achi, was burned to death in his rectory by armed bandits. 

“Ours is a huge task, freedom for the soul and respect for each other,” said Ambassador Sam Brownback at the summit. “We are gathered and fighting here for the abused and beaten, even killed religious minorities that even now are huddled in secret places yearning with all their heart to worship God as they believe they should. And is that too much to ask? It is not.”

Smithsonian staff kick out Catholic students for wearing pro-life hats

Twelve students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their chaperones wore blue pro-life stocking caps that said “Rosary Pro-Life” to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum after they attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2023. / Credit: WYFF4 News screen shot

Denver, Colo., Feb 2, 2023 / 07:51 am (CNA).

A group of Catholic students was wrongly kicked out of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum because museum staff reacted with hostility to their matching blue pro-life hats, their supporters say.

Twelve students from Our Lady of the Rosary School in Greenville, South Carolina, and their chaperones had attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. They wore blue pro-life stocking caps that said “Rosary Pro-Life.”

After the rally, they visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, famous for its exhibits of the original 1903 Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Though other visitors wore various kinds of hats, according to attorney Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, the students were treated differently. Sekulow said the students “were accosted several times and told they would be forced to leave unless they removed their pro-life hats.”

“The museum staff mocked the students, called them expletives, and made comments that the museum was a ‘neutral zone’ where they could not express such statements,” Sekulow said in a Jan. 27 statement. “The employee who ultimately forced the students to leave the museum was rubbing his hands together in glee as they exited the building.”

He characterized the treatment of the students as “blatant discrimination” and noted that the Smithsonian is a federal entity.

At least two students are being represented by the American Center for Law and Justice.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum said it has already made changes after the incident.

“Asking visitors to remove hats and clothing is not in keeping with our policy or protocols,” Alison Wood, the museum’s deputy director of communications, told Fox News. “We provided immediate training to prevent a re-occurrence of this kind of incident, and have determined steps to ensure this does not happen again.”

CNA sought comment from the museum but did not receive a response by publication.

Sekulow said legal action could be on the horizon.

“We are preparing to bring legal action to defend the constitutional rights of these children,” he said. “No one, especially kids, should have to fear being kicked out of a national museum by government officials simply for wearing a Christian pro-life hat.”

“This was a clear-cut First Amendment violation, not only of their freedom of speech but of religion as well,” Sekulow continued. “The federal government simply cannot ban speech with which it or its employees disagree.”

The Catholic Diocese of Charleston responded to the incident in a statement to the Greenville NBC affiliate KYFF4 News.

“Thousands of Catholic students attend the March for Life every year and we support their right to stand for life,” the diocese said.