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Utah bans transgender surgery for minors, places hold on hormone drugs

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Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 11:50 am (CNA).

Transgender surgery for minors is now prohibited in Utah and the prescription of transgender medicine for minors has temporarily been placed on hold under new legislation signed into law by Gov. Spencer Cox.

Under the measure, referred to as Senate Bill 16, doctors in Utah cannot perform surgeries that remove male reproductive organs on boys or female reproductive organs on girls unless the patients are at least 18 years old. They cannot perform surgery to change those organs to make them resemble the organs of the opposite sex. The legislation also prohibits other surgeries, such as the removal of the breasts on girls or chest surgery on boys to make them resemble girls. Facial surgery that is intended to make one’s face appear more similar to the opposite sex will also be prohibited for minors.

The legislation puts a temporary halt on prescribing gender transition drugs to minors, but the moratorium does not outright ban them for good. Instead, it directs the state Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a review of these medicines and provide recommendations to the Legislature. At that point, lawmakers will decide whether they want to make the prohibition permanent or lift it. These drugs include puberty blockers as well as estrogen used to feminize a boy or testosterone used to masculinize a girl.

The bill includes exemptions for individuals who are born intersex, such as those whose sex is ambiguous at birth or those born with both male and female body parts. It also includes an exception for surgery or drugs when they are medically necessary and are not done as an attempt to change the child’s gender. 

In a statement after signing the bill, Cox said the legislation was a “nuanced and thoughtful approach to this terribly divisive issue” and any bill “that impacts our most vulnerable youth requires careful consideration and deliberation.”

“We will continue to push the Legislature for additional resources to organizations that work to help this important Utah community,” Cox continued. “While we understand our words will be of little comfort to those who disagree with us, we sincerely hope that we can treat our transgender families with more love and respect as we work to better understand the science and consequences behind these procedures.” 

State Rep. Katy Hall, who sponsored the bill in the House, told CNA that the final bill was the result of several months of conversations with stakeholders on how to best protect the health of children. Sen. Michael Kennedy, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, could not be reached for comment. 

“I am thankful to Sen. Kennedy and many other colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives who stood with me to push back on a radical agenda to perform novel and irreversible transgender surgeries on minors,” Hall said. “We can’t allow social policy to outpace science, especially when the scientific evidence is still emerging and lacking in consensus. I hope we can continue working together to provide our struggling children with the kindness, love, and care they need to grow and thrive.”

Jay Richards, who serves as the director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at The Heritage Foundation, told CNA that the legislation provides “some protection against these ghoulish practices,” but he felt that the bill could have been better. 

“Utah is to be commended for putting the focus where it should be: on the evidence,” Richards said. “The bill is unduly modest, however. After all, there are already good systematic reviews. We know there’s no reliable evidence for the benefits of these treatments, let alone that the long-term benefits outweigh the harms. Therefore, if the Utah health board is honest with the evidence, the state Legislature will have to follow up with a prohibition on these procedures for minors.”

The legislation passed the Senate 21-7 and the House 58-14. Both chambers have a strong Republican majority and the bill was passed nearly along party lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it. 

Four states restricted transgender health care for minors last year, but judges in two of the states — Alabama and Arkansas — blocked those bills from going into effect. Nearly a dozen other states are considering similar legislation this year. Most states do not have any similar restrictions on the books. 

Minnesota Senate sends far-reaching abortion bill to governor’s desk

The Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul, Minnesota. / Sam Wagner/Shutterstock.

St. Louis, Mo., Jan 31, 2023 / 09:40 am (CNA).

The state Senate of Minnesota on Saturday morning narrowly passed a bill that would allow abortions in the state throughout pregnancy and for any reason. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, who has said that he will sign it into law.

Catholic leaders had strongly denounced the bill, proposing instead a slate of pro-family measures that they say will reduce demand for abortions in the midwestern state.

Known as the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act, H.F. 1/S.F. 1 would codify into law a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” ensuring the right to abortion in Minnesota up to birth for any reason. Separate bills under consideration in Minnesota would remove parental notification requirements for minors procuring abortions as well as remove state protections for babies born alive after an abortion.

The bill had cleared the Minnesota House on Jan. 19, also by a narrow margin, 69-65. The party-line vote in the state Senate took place following 15 hours of contentious debate, MPR News reported. The controversy among Minnesota lawmakers is reminiscent of the fight over a similar bill in Colorado last year; that bill, which passed in Colorado, spawned two marathon debates, one lasting 23 hours — the longest such hearing in at least 25 years of Colorado history.

Abortion already is available in Minnesota throughout pregnancy for most reasons because of a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling, Doe v. Gomez, which found that certain abortion restrictions infringed on a “fundamental right of privacy” found in the state constitution.

The state’s Catholic leaders lamented the haste with which the bill is advancing and implored lawmakers to “pause” and consider the broader implications.

“When contemplating policy on any issue, we must consider all those who will be affected. In this case, that includes the mother, father, and most especially, the unborn child whose life is being taken,” Minnesota’s bishops said in a Jan. 26 statement.

“In a post-Dobbs world in which states that allow abortion have the responsibility to both regulate the practice and protect nascent human life, we should be working to find common ground on the challenges before us in Minnesota. We stand firm that every child should be welcomed in life and protected by law.”

The bishops’ concerns about H.F. 1/S.F. 1 go beyond abortion, however. They warned that an enshrining of “reproductive freedom” in the state could open the door to additional unintended consequences, including the ability of minor children to undergo sex-transition therapies and sterilization without parental consent. Also of concern is the potential infringement on the conscience and religious liberty rights of individual and institutional medical providers who do not wish to provide these treatments, the bishops said.

The Catholic leaders offered suggestions for legislative priorities that they said would help to offer support to mothers in need, reducing the demand for abortion. They noted that the Minnesota Catholic Conference has compiled a set of pro-family policy proposals at a dedicated website under the banner of a project called Families First.

Summarizing their proposals, “this support means, among other things, policies that fund: nutritional aid for expectant mothers; health care coverage during and after pregnancy for both mother and child; child care assistance; and adequate housing. Enacting reasonable paid family and caregiver leave laws would help people retain work and care for their newborns. Reconsidering whether our adoption policies are unreasonably burdened by excessive costs or barriers to participation is also an imperative,” the bishops said.

“We also contend that there is a social duty to remove unnecessary barriers to contracting marriage, having children, and being able to raise them well. By raising the family to the top of our state’s policy priorities, we can help restore the family to its proper position as the foundational building block of society where children best flourish.”

Minnesota is the latest U.S. state to make moves in its Legislature to enshrine a right to abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year. In addition to the impending codification of abortion as a right, Minnesota’s governor is poised to end state funding for crisis pregnancy centers amid activist pressure. According to MPR News, pro-life pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics in the state by 11 to 1.

Since 2005, Minnesota has given over $3 million in taxpayer money every grant cycle to 27 pro-life pregnancy centers as part of an abortion alternatives grant program, MPR News reported. Walz has proposed ending that funding in his latest budget proposal, contending that pregnancy centers do not provide “necessary comprehensive, unbiased, and accurate medical information in a manner consistent with national standards of care.” This follows a Minnesota attorney general report in 2021 that concluded that pregnancy centers “seek to prevent people from accessing abortion care as well as contraceptives.”

EWTN restructures domestic news outlets, aims to further US and global growth

From left to right: Shannon Mullen, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register; Kelsey Wicks, executive director of the ACI Group; and Jeanette De Melo, executive director of the National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency. / EWTN News

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 31, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

The National Catholic Register and Catholic News Agency will operate under single executive leadership as part of an organizational restructuring of EWTN’s two U.S.-based news outlets.

EWTN Chairman and CEO Michael P. Warsaw announced Tuesday the appointment of Jeanette De Melo, the longtime editor-in-chief of the Register and the newspaper’s current executive director, as executive director of both the Register and CNA.

CNA was previously under the longtime executive leadership of Alejandro Bermudez, who was also the executive director of EWTN’s ACI Group, an international network of media agencies covering global Catholic news in seven languages — Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, French, English, and Arabic. Bermudez retired from EWTN Dec. 31.

Kelsey Wicks, who previously served as the ACI Group’s operations manager and, for the past six months, as CNA’s interim executive director, will become ACI’s new executive director, Warsaw announced.

As a part of this reorganization, Warsaw has named Shannon Mullen, a more than 30-year veteran in journalism and Catholic News Agency’s editor-in-chief since July 2021, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register.

The restructuring comes on the heels of EWTN’s recent appointment of Montse Alvarado as the president and chief operating officer of EWTN News.

Alvarado comes to the role from her position as executive director and chief operating officer at the Becket Fund, a renowned nonprofit public interest group that defends religious freedom legally as a human right at the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere. She also serves as the founding host of the TV news program “EWTN News In Depth.”

Alvarado will assume her new post on March 6.

Improved coverage, greater efficiency

The pairing of the Register and CNA aims to bolster both platforms’ domestic and international coverage of Catholic news, Warsaw said. Each outlet will continue to maintain its distinct identity and scope within EWTN News.

CNA is a national and international wire service primarily focused on breaking news and daily coverage of the pope and Vatican, with journalists based in the U.S. and Rome.

CNA also provides articles and photographs to diocesan news outlets and other subscribers through its Editors Service. The Register, which specializes in in-depth reporting and commentary, publishes a biweekly broadsheet print edition and produces daily news online at NCRegister.com.

“I am confident this new structure will provide an opportunity to strengthen our news teams, our coverage, and our reach as well as allow us to better share valuable resources across platforms,” Warsaw said. “By improving the efficiency of our operations, we will be able to focus more on our editorial mission both here in the U.S. and across the globe.”

De Melo has been involved in Catholic media for more than 20 years, first as a diocesan communications director and general manager and most recently leading the Register for more than 10 years.

The newspaper, founded by Monsignor Matthew Smith in Denver in 1927, was acquired by EWTN in 2011. The Register earned the Catholic Press Association’s Newspaper of the Year award in 2022.

In De Melo’s expanded role as executive director of both the Register and CNA, the focus will be on ensuring the quality of the journalism and faithfulness to reporting from a distinctly Catholic lens, as well as attracting new audiences to the newspaper and websites.

“For several years now the Register has depended on CNA for its Vatican coverage and breaking daily news. Uniting under one umbrella to strategize and share resources will only increase our coverage footprint and our effectiveness in serving our audiences. I look forward to greater collaboration between the CNA and Register teams,” De Melo said.

In addition, she said, “I know through partnership with the ACI Group we’ll be able to expand our work to bring even more news from the universal Church to our domestic readers.”

Wicks is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the Augustine Institute. She worked as a legislative assistant on immigration- and refugee-related issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops before she turned down a scholarship to Notre Dame Law School to join the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. Shortly after discerning out of the convent, she began her career in media and helped EWTN News expand the ACI Group by participating in the foundation and launching of ACI MENA, the Catholic news agency in Arabic for the Middle East and Northern Africa.

The ACI Group, acquired by EWTN in 2014, has expanded EWTN News’ reach as an international leader in Catholic news. With offices located across the world — ACI Prensa in Lima, Peru; ACI Digital in São Paulo, Brazil; CNA Deutsch in Munich, Germany; ACI Stampa in Rome, Italy; ACI Africa, in Nairobi, Kenya; and ACI MENA in Erbil, Iraq — the news agencies focus on covering local, continental, and international news from a Catholic perspective.

“From Latin America to the Middle East and Northern Africa, these agencies, staffed by local Catholics who speak and write in the language of the regions, present news that matters to the people closest to them,” Wicks said.

“Additionally, the flow of news coming from the other agencies worldwide helps keep local audiences in tune with what’s happening internationally, allowing them to read and pray for the most important events and stories in other parts of the world,” she said.

“We have a truly global Church and ours is a global work,” Wicks added. “I’m grateful for this opportunity to lead our team of dedicated editors and journalists who connect so many different people with each other through news of the Church, Christian witnesses, and defense of the faith.”

Before coming to CNA, Mullen was a features writer, investigative reporter, and editor with the Asbury Park Press, a Gannett Co. newspaper, in New Jersey, where he was a member of a reporting team that was named a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

“Over the last 18 months, Shannon has demonstrated a passion for journalistic excellence, a commitment to serving the Church, and a deep dedication to his team at CNA,” De Melo said. “His transition to the Register plays into his creative strengths and capitalizes on his long experience in the newspaper industry.”

The search for an editor-in-chief for Catholic News Agency is currently underway.

In its 42nd year, EWTN Global Catholic Network is the largest Catholic media organization in the world. EWTN’s 11 global TV channels and numerous regional channels are broadcast in multiple languages 24 hours a day, seven days a week to over 400 million television households in more than 160 countries and territories.

EWTN platforms also include radio services transmitted through SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 600 domestic and international AM and FM radio affiliates; a worldwide shortwave radio service; one of the most visited Catholic websites in the U.S.; and EWTN Publishing, its book publishing division.

In addition to its digital and print news outlets, EWTN News, headquartered in Washington, D.C., produces the television shows “EWTN News Nightly,” “EWTN News In Depth,” “EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,” and “The World Over with Raymond Arroyo.”

Biden administration seeks to remove moral objection exemption from Obamacare contraceptives mandate

null / 279photo Studio/Shutterstock.

Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2023 / 17:15 pm (CNA).

The Biden administration Monday announced a proposal to eliminate employers’ ability to object to the Obamacare contraceptives mandate on moral grounds.

This change only proposes rescinding the moral objection exemption, not the religious exemption. The 2020 Supreme Court case Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania guaranteed that religious employers objecting to contraceptives on religious grounds would not be forced to provide birth control in contradiction to their beliefs.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) Department estimated that the proposed rule change would impact more than 100 employers and 125,000 employees, CNN reported.

While retaining the religious exemption policy, the Biden administration proposal would create a new way for employees of religiously objecting employers to obtain contraception with no out-of-pocket costs. 

The Biden administration's proposal states that workers of employers with religious objections will be able to obtain contraception “without any involvement on the part of an objecting entity.” Under the proposal, an insurance provider providing free birth control services would be “reimbursed for its costs by entering into an arrangement with an issuer on a Federally-facilitated Exchange or State Exchange on the Federal platform.”

The pathway to obtain free contraception also will be available to students at universities with religious objections, the proposal states.

Under the Trump administration, the Obamacare policy was amended to allow employers with religious or moral objections to contraception to opt out of offering it in their insurance policies without penalty.

The Biden administration's change won't take effect until the completion of a 60-day public comment period, which is set to begin Feb. 2 once the proposal is filed in the Federal Register.

Kristi Hamrick, chief media and policy strategist for the pro-life group Students for Life of America, told CNA that the proposal was part of “a vicious cycle with life-and-death implications” and that the Biden administration is “ignoring Constitutional rights of conscience that should be protected.”

“Students for Life of America does not take a position against birth control per se,” she said. “We oppose forcing people to buy or fund drugs and devices against their beliefs, such as nuns, and we oppose forcing people to pretend that abortifacients mislabeled as contraception should also be paid for.”

The rule proposal comes as the Biden administration has vowed to expand access to both birth control and abortion in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned nationwide legalized abortion, freeing states to regulation abortion as they see fit. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tweeted that it “is committed to protecting & expanding access to reproductive health care, including abortion & contraception.”

Pro-life advocates and lawmakers react to news of Mark Houck’s acquittal

Mark Houck talks to reporters outside the U.S. District courthouse in Philadelphia with his lawyers, Peter Breen (left), Brian McMonagle (right), and Andrew Bath (background) following his acquittal on two charges of violating the FACE Act, Jan. 30, 2023. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 16:09 pm (CNA).

Pro-life lawmakers and activists are celebrating after a jury acquitted pro-life activist Mark Houck Monday on federal charges stemming from an altercation with a volunteer escort outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Philadelphia. 

Although Houck, a Catholic father of seven, acknowledged he shoved the volunteer twice, he said he only did so because the person was harassing his 12-year-old son. Local law enforcement refused to file charges against him, but the Department of Justice (DOJ) dispatched a team of FBI agents to arrest him at gunpoint in front of his family.

He could have served up to 11 years in prison if he had been found guilty on two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, better known as the FACE Act. 

Several lawmakers praised the legal victory but chastised the DOJ for filing charges in the first place. 

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, tweeted that the news “marks a win” for the pro-life community. He also alleged that the charges were brought to intimidate pro-life advocates.

“[President Joe] Biden’s DOJ raided Mark’s home — in front of his children — on sham charges. They treated Mark like a domestic terrorist because of his faith. This type of intimidation has no place in America.”

Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, echoed some of those concerns. 

“Mark Houck never should have been prosecuted, let alone treated like a terrorist in an early-morning FBI raid with a SWAT team,” Cotton tweeted. “[Attorney General] Merrick Garland should be ashamed for using [the] DOJ as a political weapon to target pro-life activists.”

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, also congratulated Houck on his legal victory and warned that this case demonstrates how politicized the DOJ has become. 

“Some folks might mistakenly interpret this as an embarrassing loss for the politicized DOJ, but that would be ignoring their modus operandi, which is to punish people by putting them and their families through this process,” Massie tweeted. “In any case, congrats to Mr. Houck for prevailing.”

Many pro-life activists also expressed excitement about the win along with concerns about the power of the DOJ. 

The pro-life group 40 Days for Life, which organizes peaceful protests outside abortion clinics, hailed the verdict as a “major win.” Shawn Carney, the founder of 40 Days for Life, called the case a “well-deserved embarrassment for the FBI and DOJ and an abuse of power by the Biden administration.”

“Being pro-life is not illegal,” Carney noted. 

Lila Rose, the founder and president of the pro-life group Live Action, also reacted to the verdict. 

“Pro-life father and sidewalk advocate Mark Houck has been found NOT GUILTY of violating the FACE Act,” Rose tweeted. “Last [fall] he was raided at gunpoint by the Biden FBI in front of his 7 children & faced up to 11 years in prison.”

Ryan Bomberger, a pro-life activist and speaker, called it “great news” that Biden’s Justice Department “fails to carry out its injustice.”

“Peaceful pro-life father, Mark Houck, is found NOT GUILTY of violating ridiculous #FACE Act,” Bomberger tweeted.

UPDATE: Mark Houck cleared of FACE Act charges in rebuke to Justice Department’s aggressive prosecution

After being acquitted of federal charges by a jury in Philadelphia on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, Mark Houck embraces and kisses his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck. Also with Houck are his son Mark Houck Jr., 14, and his daughter, Ava Houck, 12. / Joe Bukuras/CNA

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 30, 2023 / 15:20 pm (CNA).

Pro-life activist Mark Houck was found not guilty Monday on federal assault charges stemming from a shoving incident outside a Philadelphia abortion clinic.

Supporters of the Catholic father of seven cried and hugged one another after the verdict was read in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

Following his acquittal, Houck told reporters outside the courthouse that “it’s a relief,” adding that he feels “overjoyed” and “blessed.”

“We couldn’t have done it without faith,” he said.

Peter Breen, Thomas More Society executive vice president and head of litigation, told reporters that the Department of Justice’s prosecution of Houck was “abusive” and added that the FBI raid on the Houck family home back in September was “absolutely outrageous.”

Breen said that he hopes the U.S. Congress will ask Houck and his family to testify to the suffering that they went through at the hands of the Justice Department.

Following Breen’s comment, Houck said: “We’ll be there.”

The prosecutors declined to comment after the verdict.

The jury began deliberations on the case on Friday but said they were deadlocked and would not come to a decision that night. They resumed deliberations Monday, and an alternate juror took the place of one of the original jurors at about 1:30 p.m. After a brief deliberation, the jury found Houck not guilty on both counts.

McMonagle spoke briefly on the implementation of the alternate juror.

“Early this morning, we were notified that there was an issue with the jury, and one of the jurors had to be excused, who was not participating, quite frankly, in the deliberation process,” McMonagle said.

“And we quickly worked to try and bring in an alternate juror. He came in and within an hour of him getting here, there was a unanimous not guilty verdict,” he said.

Fourteen-year-old Mark Houck Jr., who testified as a witness, told CNA outside the courthouse that “it feels really great to have the not guilty verdict. I was a little nervous to be on the stand. But I feel really good after it. I just feel really good in general.”

When asked if he felt justice has been done for his father, he replied: “Not yet, but it will be.”

Mark Houck Sr. said the first thing he was going to do was to go get some ice cream with his family. He could be seen praying and thanking God with supporters outside the courthouse. In his prayer, he prayed for Bruce Love, the abortion clinic escort who made the initial allegations against Houck.

Houck, 48, of Kintnersville in rural Bucks County, Pennsylvania, acknowledged that he twice pushed a volunteer escort outside a Planned Parenthood facility on Oct. 13, 2021, though Houck maintained he did so because the clinic volunteer was verbally harassing Houck’s 12-year-old son.

After local authorities declined to press charges, the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in, dispatching a team of FBI agents to arrest Houck at gunpoint in front of his terrified wife and children.

The morning raid on Sept. 23, 2022, at the family’s home sparked outrage within pro-life circles and swift condemnation from many federal lawmakers, who blasted the FBI’s heavy-handed tactics and the Justice Department’s use of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Though the 1993 federal law, known as the FACE Act, was written to also prosecute crimes at pro-life pregnancy facilities and places of worship, it has been used almost exclusively against pro-life activists.

Houck was charged with two counts of violating the act and possibly faced 11 years in federal prison if convicted.

Houck was doing sidewalk counseling outside the clinic at the time of the 2021 incident in connection with his work with The King’s Men, a national men’s faith formation apostolate he runs.

Much of the testimony during the three-day trial focused on whether or not Houck pushed the clinic escort, 73-year-old Bruce Love, specifically because Love was providing reproductive health services, as detailed in the FACE Act. In his testimony, Love repeatedly denied verbally provoking Houck.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

The verdict is a victory for pro-life advocates who rallied to Houck’s defense and a rebuke to the Biden administration’s Justice Department, which has pledged to aggressively enforce the FACE Act in the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

U.S. District Judge Gerald Pappert himself raised the possibility that the case should never have been brought to trial, asking the prosecution Thursday whether the federal FACE Act didn’t “seem to be stretched a little thin here.”

Following the uproar over his arrest, an online fund drive launched and has raised more than $405,000 as of Monday. Twenty-two U.S. House members and at least a dozen U.S. senators have also championed his cause.

U.S. bishops urge Congress to pass No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall plenary assembly in Baltimore, Nov. 16, 2022. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 30, 2023 / 12:50 pm (CNA).

The U.S. bishops are urging Congress to permanently ban the use of taxpayer dollars for abortion through the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act.

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virgina, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Committee, issued a letter Friday to House and Senate leaders supporting the legislation to permanently ban taxpayer funding of abortion.

In his letter, Burbidge said that the “government should never fund the destruction of innocent preborn children” and that “congressional action is required.”

This month Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, both Republicans, introduced legislation (H.R. 7 and S. 62) to permanently ban the use of federal taxpayer dollars for abortion.

“As chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, I write in support of your bill,” Burbidge said in his letter.

According to Burbidge, “protecting taxpayers from being forced to pay for abortion in violation of their conscience is a principle that has enjoyed historically broad support among Americans.”

Various federal restrictions on taxpayer abortion funding have been in place for decades. Chief among these restrictions is the Hyde Amendment, which is estimated to have saved more than 2 million lives from abortion, according to the pro-life research group Charlotte Lozier Institute.

The Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, has been applied to federal spending packages for 45 years, blocking the use of federal tax dollars for abortions in government programs such as Medicaid. Yet the amendment has never been made permanent law and thus must be passed for every spending bill brought before Congress.

Abortion spending restrictions such as the Hyde Amendment have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, with even President Joe Biden, a Catholic, voting for it as a senator.

Now, recent years have seen Democratic leaders, including Biden and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attempting to exclude Hyde and similar abortion spending restrictions from federal appropriations packages.

In a 2021 statement, Pelosi cited her Catholic faith for opposing federal restrictions on abortion spending.

“As a devout Catholic and mother of five in six years, I feel that God blessed my husband and me with our beautiful family — five children in six years almost to the day. But that may not be what we should — and it’s not up to me to dictate that that’s what other people should do, and it’s an issue of fairness and justice for poorer women in our country,” Pelosi said.

Hyde and its abortion spending restriction companions have remained in federal spending packages thus far, despite Democrat efforts. Yet, efforts to dismantle restrictions on taxpayer spending on abortion continue.

“Each of the existing funding limitations affect only a particular funding stream, and many have to be reenacted every year in annual appropriations. This puts them — and subsequently women and their children — at risk in a polarized climate,” Burbidge said.

Passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act in Congress would protect the lives of the unborn by “making permanent and government-wide the long-standing policy of preventing federal taxpayer funding of elective abortions,” Burbidge said.

Speaking with CNA just before the March for Life, Burbidge said that though the USCCB is “thankful” for the overturn of Roe v. Wade, “we are very much aware that this is just the beginning, our work is just beginning. It’s a new moment in the pro-life movement. But we have to be as tireless in that work as ever before because as we know abortion remains legal in most of the country.”

Mark Houck trial update: Alternate chosen to replace juror

Mark Houck and his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, prior to entering the federal court house in Philadelphia on Jan. 25, 2023. / Credit: Thomas More Society/Vimeo

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 30, 2023 / 12:20 pm (CNA).

One of the 12 jurors deciding the fate of the pro-life father of seven Mark Houck in Philadelphia federal court has been replaced by an alternate.

The alternate took the place of the original juror at approximately 1:30 p.m. Monday, when deliberations began again. Defense lawyers for Houck could not comment on the reason for the replacement.

The jury began deliberations on the case on Friday but said they were “deadlocked” and would not come to a decision that night.

Many of Houck’s family members were present in the courtroom Monday and were praying the rosary together. There was a notable media presence as well.

Houck, 48, is charged with two counts of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, better known as the FACE Act.

The allegations in the case relate to two incidents that occurred at a Philadelphia abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved an abortion clinic escort, Bruce Love, once when Love was attempting to escort clients and again during a verbal altercation with Love in front of the clinic.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.”

The prosecution has argued that Houck pushed Love because he was trying to interfere with Love’s provision of reproductive health services.

Houck has maintained that Love was harassing his son, and he pushed Love in order to protect the boy.

Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia elevated to basilica  

The Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia was elevated by the Vatican to the status of basilica this week. / Miraculous Medal Shrine

Washington D.C., Jan 29, 2023 / 06:30 am (CNA).

The Vatican recognized the Miraculous Medal Shrine, located in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, as the city’s second basilica, elevating its status to a minor basilica this week.  

The shrine, created by the Vincentians in 1927 under the leadership of Father Joseph Skelly, is now known as the Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The Marian title is based on apparitions to St. Catherine Labouré in Paris in 1830. The medal includes a depiction of Mary, the Mother of God, with the prayer “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” encircling her.

“It is an esteemed honor to be recognized by the Vatican as a Minor Basilica,” Father Timothy Lyons, the shrine’s rector, said in a statement. “We are both overjoyed and humbled by this recognition. This historic proclamation marks the next chapter in the Shrine’s history and recognizes the significant role it has played in the Catholic Church, the Philadelphia Archdiocese, and the Shrine community.” 

According to a news release from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the elevation to a basilica grants the shrine certain privileges and responsibilities, such as the celebration of the feast of the Chair of St. Peter; the solemnity of the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul; and the anniversary of the pope’s election into pastoral ministry.  

Basilicas also have the authority to grant plenary indulgences, which remove all temporal consequences of one’s sin. This is distinct from a partial indulgence, which only removes part of the temporal consequences. The designation also recognizes the shrine as a historic landmark, according to the archdiocese.  

“I am deeply grateful to the Holy Father for bestowing this tremendous honor on the Miraculous Medal Shrine,” Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez said in a statement. “This moment is one of great joy for the entire Church in Philadelphia. The Miraculous Medal Shrine is a great gift drawing souls closer to Christ through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. I congratulate the Vincentians and all those working to sustain the Shrine and its ministry. May their work continue to bear great fruit.” 

The shrine had applied for the status of basilica for several years before Pope Francis granted the recognition. The city’s only other basilica is the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, which is on the east side of Logan Square. There are 91 other basilicas in the United States. The shrine was the first American church to be granted the title this year; there were two churches granted the recognition of basilica last year.

Catholic speaker Leah Darrow combines life on the farm with cultivating one’s faith

A behind-the-scenes photo of the Darrows filming “The Cultivation of Purpose with Leah Darrow: Faith, Farming and Vocation” on their Missouri farm. / UST MAX Studios

Denver, Colo., Jan 28, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Nestled within the countryside of Fordland, Missouri, a town of 800 people, is an 80-acre farm filled with chickens, cattle, vegetable gardens, pumpkins, and a whole lot of faith called the Big Family Farm. This is where Catholic speaker, mother of six, and former model Leah Darrow and her family reside.

In a new video series called “The Cultivation of Purpose with Leah Darrow: Faith, Farming and Vocation,” created by University of St. Thomas Houston’s MAX Studios, Darrow welcomes viewers into her home and shares what inspired her family to leave the hustle and bustle of the city for the peace and tranquility of the farm.

Raised on a cattle farm in Oklahoma, Darrow was brought up in the farm lifestyle and would share stories about the farm with her husband, Ricky. He, on the other hand, was raised on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi. Their family of eight was living a life in St. Louis that Darrow described as “incredibly comfortable” thanks to the accessibility of having groceries delivered to their front door, Amazon, Uber, and more.

The married couple began to ask themselves, “‘Do you think that this life is how God is calling us to live? Are we living the life God is calling us to live right now?” Darrow said in an interview with CNA.

A behind-the-scenes photo of the Darrows filming “The Cultivation of Purpose with Leah Darrow: Faith, Farming and Vocation” on their Missouri farm. UST MAX Studios
A behind-the-scenes photo of the Darrows filming “The Cultivation of Purpose with Leah Darrow: Faith, Farming and Vocation” on their Missouri farm. UST MAX Studios

“And then we began to say, ‘Where could we raise saints the best?’” she added. “And we just realized that it was in a place where we had more space, and we had more quiet, and we had more nature, and we had more time for contemplation, and we had more time just to be together as a family.”

She also emphasized that the couple knew they wanted their lives to be a “little bit more uncomfortable and inconvenient” — a life where it was necessary to plan ahead to account for the 45-minute drive to get groceries.

“We have our milk dropped off to us by our farmer down the road every week. That’s probably the most convenient thing that we have right now in our life,” she joked.

Darrow shared that part of the driving force behind their move was a desire to create something for families where they could come together as one. This led them to plant a 3-acre pumpkin patch on the farm, which now hosts an event called Pumpkin Days during the month of October.

“We did want to create an opportunity for families to come together and spend time outside in nature and just connect themselves back to the land and ideally back to their Creator,” she explained. “So, what could we do to bring people here? What could we do to have an opportunity where families could get out instead of doing something inside or being on screens all day? And we decided to have a pumpkin patch.”

Darrow discussed how moving to the farm also impacted not only how she sees God’s creation in nature but also how her prayer life has changed. Now, when she sits down at her kitchen table, she knows where everything came from — whether it be vegetables from their garden, eggs from their chickens, milk from their neighbor, or meat from animals they raised.

“It’s a very different relationship with the land, with respect to nature, with the weather — obviously all this leads to God willing all of this,” she shared. “My prayers have never included rain as much as they have after becoming a farmer.”

Leah Darrow and her husband, Ricky, during the Pumpkin Days event held on their farm in Fordland, Missouri. UST MAX Studios
Leah Darrow and her husband, Ricky, during the Pumpkin Days event held on their farm in Fordland, Missouri. UST MAX Studios

Through this video series, Darrow hopes that people will be inspired to look at their lives and ask themselves where God is calling them to be a little bit more uncomfortable.

She explained: “We want to create a deeper awareness of asking ourselves, where am I comfortable? Is this where God’s calling me? And where could I begin to branch out and seek something in a more natural state?”

Life on the farm and the purpose behind the video series also offer a segue into Darrow’s new personal development program called Power Made Perfect. This program is a Scripture-based course for women that focuses on human formation. The 14-week course is split into two sections: restoration, looking inward; and resurrection, looking outward. Its purpose is to empower Christian women to reach their full potential and embark on a transformative journey, done through faith in Jesus, in order to experience true change from within.

“The goal of Power Made Perfect is to really help a person live in a state of possibility with God,” Darrow said.

Together through the video series and her personal development program, Darrow hopes to “increase awareness” among people so that they begin to develop a growth mindset and are willing to ask themselves the hard questions about where God is truly calling them.

“There’s something to be said about growth, and we grow when we have those difficult moments in life. That’s where we’re really growing,” she said. “And if life is incredibly comfortable, if we have everything we need at literally a drop of a hat … if we’re in a place where we’re not looking up and connecting with people and connecting with nature and what God is providing, we really miss out on something greater.”