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Pro-life student group wins affiliation at Scottish university

Aberdeen, Scotland, May 24, 2019 / 01:01 am (CNA).- A pro-life group at the University of Aberdeen has been granted affiliation by the school's student association, a month after filing a lawsuit charging unlawful discrimination.

“This week, the Aberdeen University Students’ Association (AUSA) informed us that our society application has been approved, which means we have officially received affiliation,” the Aberdeen Life Ethics Society said May 17. “This is a long-awaited result to a seemingly endless battle, but we could not be more pleased to have won affiliation.”

In October Ausa had prevented the affiliation of Ales, citing its own pro-choice policy. The move limited Ale's access to funds and venues at the university.

After failing to have the policy changed, Ales filed a lawsuit April 12 against Ausa and the university, “alleging unlawful discrimination against the society and the violation of rights protected by UK law.” The suit will continue.

In its statement announcing its affiliation, Ales welcomed the assistance of both “free speech enthusiasts and pro-life advocates”, naming in particular Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre.

“We are grateful for the numerous pro-life students at Aberdeen who have reached out to us over the last several months because they are interested in getting involved with the society,” the group added. “Our ranks have swelled with students who are passionately committed to the pro-life cause and who will lead this society in the years to come.”

Ales stated: “We look forward to actively engaging with the student body and working to foster a civil yet honest conversation about the vitally important ethical issues surrounding human life. While there are some intolerant students who wanted our society to fail … we truly believe that there are many more students on this campus who are willing to take a fair-minded approach to this debate. These are the students we’ve heard from all along the way – they may not agree with our position, but they adamantly believe that we should be free to espouse our beliefs on campus.”

Ausa had adopted a pro-choice policy in 2017, on which basis Ales' affiliation was rejected in October 2018. The policy says, in part, that “Ausa should oppose the unreasonable display of pro-life material within campus and at Ausa events.”

The pro-life group said that the pro-choice policy was “being used as political cover to ban student speech on campus, it also treats the student body as undivided on the issue of abortion.”

In its lawsuit last month, Ales charged that the no platform policy violates the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 by restricting “the freedoms of association and belief for certain students on the basis of an ideological litmus test.”

A spokesperson for the the University of Aberdeen has commented that it is “an inclusive community and recognises different beliefs, values and cultures.”

Pro-life groups at other Scottish universities have faced similar problems.

Last year the the University of Strathclyde (in Glasgow) lifted a ban on pro-life groups following legal pressure. Strathclyde Sudents for Life argued that the student associaton's no platforming policy violated the Equality Act 2010 “by directly discriminating against a group of students based on their beliefs.”

Glasgow Students for Life were barred from affiliation by the Glasgow University's Students' Representative Council last November.

In March 2018 a joint committee on human rights of the UK parliament noted troubling barriers to free speech at the nation's universities, writing: “Whilst the original intention behind safe space policies may have been to ensure that minority or vulnerable groups can feel secure, in practice the concept of safe spaces has proved problematic, often marginalising the views of minority groups.”

Pro-life leaders invite GOP to discuss language surrounding abortion exceptions

Washington D.C., May 24, 2019 / 12:26 am (CNA).- Shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump insisted that state pro-life laws should include exceptions for rape, incest, and threats to the mother’s life, a group of pro-life leaders invited the Republican party to discuss the way in which the pro-life message is discussed in America.

“The time has come for the Republican Party and pro-life advocates to reconsider the messaging that the abortion industry used and still uses to justify their deadly enterprise,” the letter read. “For too long the debate over protecting life left out children conceived in difficult circumstances, so it’s not surprising that opening up that discussion now reveals room to educate on protecting these children.”

On May 22, nearly 20 pro-life leaders released an open letter to Ronna Romney McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee.

Signatories included Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America; Abby Johnson, founder of And Then There Were None; and Tom McClusky, president of the March for Life Education & Defense Fund.

Arguing that the Democratic Party is becoming more extreme in its support for abortion without limits, the group encouraged the GOP to continue strengthening its stance against abortion, and to reconsider its view on children conceived in incest or rape.

“With such a widening gulf between the parties, we are asking that the Republican Party continue their support of the abolition of abortion as it supported the abolition of slavery,” they said.

“As a society, we don’t issue birth certificates with points ranking some people as better than others based on their parents’ race, income, marital status or events on the night of conception. A birth certificate tells a simple truth: a unique life is in the world.”

The letter followed a series of tweets from President Trump, who suggested that state-level abortion bans should include certain exceptions.

“I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions - Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother - the same position taken by Ronald Reagan,” the president said on Twitter May 18.

“We must stick together and Win for Life in 2020. If we are foolish and do not stay UNITED as one, all of our hard fought gains for Life can, and will, rapidly disappear!”

Trump’s tweets come after Alabama recently passed a law to make abortion a felony. The law does not have exceptions for rape or incest, but it does make an exception in cases where a doctor believes there is a risk to a woman’s health. Similar legislation passed in Missouri last week, banning abortions after eight weeks. It is expected to be signed into law soon.

With states across the country seeing a surge in pro-life laws, the letter stressed that now is the time for the Supreme Court to reverse the 1973 decision of Roe v Wade. The pro-life leaders said polls indicate that younger generations favor at least some types of abortion bans.

“In January of this year, Students for Life of America commissioned a poll and found that 65 percent of Millennials want a voice and a vote on abortion policy. A recent Marist poll found that 80 percent of Americans would like abortion limited to - at most - the first three months of pregnancy, if not outright banned,” the letter read.

The signatories stressed that those who commit acts of sexual assault should be penalized with the full force of the law. However, it is not the child’s fault that they were conceived during rape, they said, added that the person in the womb should not be punished.

Topics of incest and rape are not easily discussed, they pro-life leaders acknowledged, but these children are born with value that can make a difference in the world. They encouraged the Trump administration to meet with pro-life leaders to better advocate for a pro-life America.

“There are no better witnesses to the value of all life, no matter how a child was conceived, than pro-life leaders today whose birth stories began in such moments. We hope you will meet with us to learn more on how we can collectively advocate for a pro-life America at this moment in time, as life is too precious a national resource to waste.”

Scottish pro-lifers lose appeal of decision allowing self-administered abortion pills

Edinburgh, Scotland, May 23, 2019 / 05:01 pm (CNA).- A pro-life group in Scotland has, for a second time, lost a legal challenge against the government’s decision last year to allow women to self-administer abortion pills at home.

“We are greatly saddened by this decision. We have been convinced all along that the policy decision by the Chief Medical Officer and Scottish Government was illegal, as well as detrimental to the well-being of women in our country,” said John Deighan, chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland.

“Women should not be facing the mental anguish that accompanies DIY abortions, nor any abortion for that matter. However, those concerns have not been upheld by the judges,” he said.

A three-judge panel ruled against the pro-life group’s appeal May 22, stating that a registered medical practitioner is still responsible for the treatment, whether it takes place in a clinic or in the home, and that even at home “control in the appropriate sense is maintained.”

The Scottish Parliament secured the legal right to govern abortion issues in 2016, and in October 2017 the country’s chief medical officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, told Scottish health boards that misoprostol could be taken outside a clinical setting.

Misoprostol is the second in a two-drug combination used in early abortions; women who have suffered an early miscarriage can take the drug at home to induce labor, while previously women seeking abortions had to take both drugs in a clinical setting.

With the new rules in place, women can take the first of the two drugs, mifepristone, at a clinic, and then 24 to 48 hours later take misoprostol at home.

In November 2017, when plans to permit at-home abortion pill administration were first announced, the Scottish bishops objected that “making abortion easier ignores the disturbing reality that an innocent human life is ended,” the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald reports.

SPUC lost its first appeal against the government’s decision in August 2018, but challenged it again this April, arguing in court that the Abortion Act 1967 requires the presence of doctors, nurse, and medical staff.

In addition, the act lays out specific rules for approved places where abortions can take place, and did not intend to allow abortions at home, they said.

Pro-abortion groups backed the change, including Abortion Rights, the Family Planning Association and the Scottish Humanist Society, arguing that “abortion should be treated no differently” than other medical procedures that allow self-administration of drugs at home.

“The move to trivialize abortion is one that harms women and creates an environment where some women are even urged to have an abortion because it does not suit others,” Deighan said, saying the government plan amounts to approving “backstreet abortions.”

Ultimately, the court agreed with the abortion-rights groups’ arguments, endorsing the previous ruling against the appeal.

“We do not accept that the doctor’s control or supervision over the treatment differs in any material way between the situation of taking the tablet within the clinic and then leaving; and that of delaying the taking of the tablet to allow the woman to travel home. Both result in the termination of the pregnancy taking place outside of the clinic,” the three-judge panel wrote, according to the Scottish newspaper The National.

"The reclaimer has been unable convincingly to explain why an outpatient clinic or [general practitioner’s office] would necessarily be a 'safer' or more suitable place to take a tablet or pessary than the woman's home.”

Deighan thanked SPUC’s supporters for making the appeal possible, and reiterated that “women deserve better than abortion.”

“We have always been motivated by concern for the women who undergo abortion as well as our concern for the right to life. But we had hoped that the rule of law would at least hold the aspirations of pro-abortion forces at bay,” Deighan commented.

“It is difficult for us to see how having an abortion at home can possibly satisfy the legal requirement for medical supervision.”

In terms of next steps, taking the case to the UK Supreme Court could be an option, he told reporters.

Indian police investigate claim against Cardinal Gracias of failure to report abuse

Mumbai, India, May 23, 2019 / 04:01 pm (CNA).- Police in India are investigating a claim that Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay and two auxiliary bishops covered up an accusation of clerical sexual abuse involving a minor that reportedly occurred four years ago.

In 2015, a 13 year-old boy was reportedly abused by a Catholic priest, Fr. Lawrence Johnson, after evening prayer, according to UCA News.

The alleged abuse was reportedly confirmed by medical professionals and reported to police by the boy’s parents, UCA News reported. Johnson was arrested Dec. 2, 2015, and has remained in custody since then. Johnson was charged with violating multiple parts of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The father of the boy has now claimed to authorities that Cardinal Gracias and two of his auxiliaries, Bishops Savio Fernandes and John Rodrigues, had attempted to cover up the abuse and did not properly report the accusation to authorities.

A POCSO court ordered Mumbai police May 7 to launch an investigation into the claim, reported The Hindu, an Indian daily. The father of the boy told the court that at the time of the incident, Bishop Rodrigues launched an internal, ecclesial investigation of the matter, but never told the family the results of the investigation, and did not inform police of the incident.

Fr. Nigel Barrett, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Bombay, told UCA News that the archdiocese welcomes the investigation, because it has “nothing to hide.”

According to a “detailed note” from the archdiocese, reviewed by UCA News, the archdiocese said that Gracias and the auxiliary bishops did not report the abuse claim to the police because the parents of the boy had already done so.

In the note, Barrett said that Gracias removed Johnson from active ministry Nov. 30, as soon as he found out about the allegation. Gracias tried to reach the family of the boy involved to console them, Barrett said. Gracias also reached out to Rodrigues to ask him to handle the matter because he had to leave on a flight to Rome that night.

Once he landed, Gracias phoned Rodrigues from Rome, asking the auxiliary bishop about informing the police of the matter. Rodrigues told Gracias that the family had already done so.

Barret told UCA News that archdiocesan officials then met with the family, and reached out to them multiple times to offer counseling or medical help, but that their offers were declined by the family.

According to The Hindu, Indian law states that if a person in charge of an institution fails to report an offense committed by one of their subordinates, they could face up to one year in prison.

China's technological controls keep Christians under constant surveillance

Beijing, China, May 23, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- As the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests approaches, the Chinese Communist Party is utilizing authoritarian tactics old and new to crack down on Christians.

High tech means of controlling religious observance include facial recognition surveillance and a smartphone app that ranks citizens' party loyalty.

On the local level, however, government officials are still manipulated with similar methods used 30 years ago to implement the one child policy, in which local officials were heavily pressured to force women into abortions, according to China expert Steven Mosher.

Local government officials are punished if their superiors find evidence of unauthorized religious expression in the areas under their control via a “job responsibility contract” system, Mosher told CNA.

"What that contract says is that you must enforce the new restrictions on religious behavior. You can't allow children under the age of 18 to attend religious services. You can't allow any unauthorized religious gathering to take place. If it does, you find the people present and you can arrest the leaders,” Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, said.

Changes in 2018 within Chinese governance shifted direct control of all religious affairs in China to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, an agency tasked with ensuring that groups outside of the CCP, ethnic minorities like Tibetan Buddhists, Xinjiang Muslims, Hong Kong democracy activists, and the Catholic Patriotic Association, are following the party line.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called the United Front Work Department one of his “magic weapons,” used to co-opt and control.

“Local officials have been given the green light to intensely persecute the local church and the Patriotic church is not going to be exempt,” Mosher said. “We now know that Patriotic churches are being destroyed, not just underground churches.”

In Hebei province, there are 24 village churches currently slated for destruction, according to Mosher.

In September 2018, the Vatican signed a provisional agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops, intended to unite China’s estimated 12 million Catholics who worship in both underground and registered churches.

The terms of this Sino-Vatican agreement have not been made public, something that Mosher says has been used against Catholics living in China.

“The problem with any secret agreement is that either side can misrepresent it at no cost because there is nothing to compare their statements with,” he said.

“Clearly the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Department is misrepresenting the Sino-Vatican agreement … telling bishops and priests that they must join the Catholic Patriotic Association. Now, I don't think that is what the Vatican intended,” Mosher continued.

“It would be helpful if the Secretary of State would speak out and say that the agreement does not call for priests and bishops in China to join the Patriotic Association,” he said. “The only kind of pressure that the People's Republic of China responds to is external pressure. They deal with internal pressure by setting up reeducation camps and filling them with dissidents.”

In China’s Xinjiang region, between 800,000 to 2 million Uyghur Muslims have been detained and sent to “re-education camps,” where they have been subjected to abuse and political indoctrination.

Chinese authorities in the region use high-tech surveillance with facial recognition and an app tracking its user’s location to intensely monitor the Uyghur ethnoreligious minority, a technological model that the Chinese could apply to expand to other parts of the country in the future.

Christian churches throughout China have been equipped with 24-hour CCTV surveillance. Beijing’s largest Protestant church was forced to close last September after its pastor refused a government order to allow face-recognition cameras to be installed on his pulpit.

Mosher told CNA that he is particularly alarmed by how China’s social credit score system is being used to limit Christians educational and employment opportunities and other social benefits, including the ability to travel.

“Being a believer is a big hit to your social credit score ... If your social credit score gets too low then you can't get a passport, you can't get an exit visa, you can't buy a plane ticket,” he said.

A Chinese citizen can boost their social credit score by earning points on the Chinese Communist Party’s app, Study the Great Nation – the most downloaded app in China.

The app, developed by the CCP’s Propaganda Department, includes news and speeches by Xi and socialist theories with daily quizzes on the information. User data is kept by the Propaganda Department.

“They are saying to the 94 million members of the Chinese Communist Party: You cannot be a believer in anything, but the party. You need to download your Study Xi Strong China app on your phone. You need to do your half an hour of homework everyday. You need to answer the questions correctly in order to stay a party member in good standing,” Mosher explained.

However, Mosher says he finds hope in the fact that there may be more Christians today in China than there are members of the Chinese Communist Party. Open Doors estimates that there could be more than 97 million Christians in the country.

Mosher stressed that Catholics around the world need to remember to pray for the Chinese people.

“The battle goes on not just in the natural, but in the supernatural all the time. It never hurts to say more prayers, and they certainly need our prayers,” he said.