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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.

Charges dropped, for now, against woman arrested for praying silently outside UK abortion clinic

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce / ADF UK

Denver, Colo., Feb 3, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

Authorities in the U.K. have dropped charges against a woman arrested for silent prayer in a “buffer zone” that bans pro-life advocacy outside an English abortion clinic.

However, Isabel Vaughan-Spruce says the charges still could be revived, leaving her in an ambitious legal situation.

“It can’t be right that I was arrested and made a criminal, only for praying in my head on a public street,” Vaughan-Spruce said in a Feb. 3 statement.

“So-called ‘buffer zone legislation’ will result in so many more people like me, doing good and legal activities like offering charitable support to women in crisis pregnancies, or simply praying in their heads, being treated like criminals and even facing court,” she added.

Vaughan-Spruce was arrested Dec. 6, 2022, in Birmingham, England, outside an abortion facility that was closed at the time. 

Video footage of her arrest shows an officer asking her if she was praying, to which she answers: “I might be praying in my head.” You can watch the exchange in the video below.

She was charged Dec. 15 with four counts of breaking Birmingham’s Public Space Protection Order around the abortion facility. The order is intended to stop antisocial behavior. The terms of the order include prayer under “protest,” which is banned within the “buffer zone” around the clinic. For standing still and praying silently inside a buffer zone, she was accused of “protesting and engaging in an act that is intimidating to service users.”

Vaughan-Spruce is the director of March for Life UK

The Crown Prosecution Service dropped the charges in late January and Vaughan-Spruce did not have to appear in court, as previously scheduled. However, she can still be prosecuted if the charge is reinstated.

Her case has the support of ADF UK, a religious freedom legal group.

Jeremiah Igunnubole, legal counsel for ADF UK, said in a Feb. 1 statement that Vaughan-Spruce faces “significant legal uncertainty.” She aims to “obtain legal clarity on what, if any, liability she may incur in the future based on the charges laid against her.”

Vaughan-Spruce said she will pursue a verdict in court to clarify her legal situation.

“It’s important to me that I can continue my vital work in supporting women who’d like to avoid abortion if they only had some help,” she said. “In order to do so, it’s vital that I have clarity as to my legal status. Many of us need an answer as to whether it’s still lawful to pray silently in our own heads.”

“Isabel is right to request proper clarity as to the lawfulness of our actions,” Igunnubole said.

“It’s one thing for the authorities to humiliatingly search and arrest an individual simply for their thoughts,” the attorney said. 

“It’s quite another to initially deem those thoughts to be sufficient evidence to justify charges, then discontinue those charges due to ‘insufficient evidence,’ and then to warn that further evidence relating to the already unclear charges may soon be forthcoming so as to restart the entire grueling process from the beginning,” he said.

“This is a clear instance of the process becoming the punishment, creating a chilling effect on free expression and freedom of thought, conscience, and belief,” the attorney added.

Several localities in England have implemented strict buffer zones, which some critics characterize as censorship zones. On the national level, the U.K. Parliament is expected to pass legislation to create buffer zones around abortion clinics. The House of Lords approved the proposed legislation, called Amendment 45, in a voice vote on Jan. 30.

Amendment 45, sponsored by Conservative peer Baroness Sugg of Coldharbour, would make it a crime to engage in activity that seeks to “influence” women who are seeking abortions or “any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services.”

It criminalizes “harassment, alarm, or distress to any person in connection with a decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services” within 150 meters, about 500 feet, of an abortion clinic.

Those convicted of violating the law could face an unlimited fine, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children reported. 

The House of Lords rejected an amendment to investigate whether exclusion zones are justified and their possible denial of rights of association, conscience, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion. Amendment 54 replaces similar legislation in the House of Commons, which is expected to ratify the amendment.

Alithea Williams, public policy manager for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, lamented the passage of the bill.

“This is a black day for democracy and basic civil liberties,” she said Jan. 30. “Ordinary, peaceful citizens will now be branded criminals and subject to crippling financial penalties for the simple act of praying in public, and offering help to women in need.”

“Parliament has literally just criminalized compassion,” Williams said. “This is not just an outrageous assault on civil liberties, it removes a real lifeline for women. Many children are alive today because their mother received help and support from a compassionate pro-life person outside a clinic. Many women feel like they have to choose to have an abortion, and pro-life vigils give them options. Now their choices have been taken away.”

Williams cited Vaughan-Williams’ arrest and the arrest of Adam Smith-Connor, who faces fines after he prayed outside of an abortion clinic for his son who died in an abortion.

“Thoughtcrime is now very real in the U.K. It is very disappointing that peers ignored these warnings and voted for this extreme and cruel legislation,” Williams said.

St. Blaise

St. Blaise

Feast date: Feb 03

Blaise was a hard-working bishop dedicated to encouraging the spiritual and physical health of his people in Sebastea, Armenia.

Although the Edict of Toleration which granted freedom of worship in the Roman empire had been signed five years prior, religious persecution still raged in the country.

According to a legend, a mother came to him with her young son who had a fish bone lodged in his throat. At Bishop Blaise's command, the child coughed up the bone.

In another tale, Blaise was being led to the prison in Sebastea, and on the way came across a poor old woman whose pig had been stolen by a wolf. Blaise commanded the wolf return the pig, which it did -alive and uninjured - to the amazement of all.

In 316 he was beheaded for not sacrificing to the pagan gods. The account of his life was written nearly 400 years later.

The Germans and Slavs hold him in special honor and for decades many United States Catholics have sought the annual St. Blaise blessing for their throats.

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. 

‘No more bloodshed,’ Pope Francis begs South Sudan’s leaders

Pope Francis addresses South Sudan’s government and members of the diplomatic corps Feb. 3, 2023. / Vatican Media

Rome Newsroom, Feb 3, 2023 / 11:36 am (CNA).

On the first day of his peace pilgrimage, Pope Francis begged the leaders of South Sudan to work together to put an end to bloody conflict and violence in their country.

“In the name of God, of the God to whom we prayed together in Rome, of the God who is gentle and humble in heart, the God in whom so many people of this beloved country believe, now is the time to say ‘No more of this,’ we say no more, without ‘ifs’ or ‘buts,’” the pope said Feb. 3, addressing South Sudan’s president and vice presidents in the garden of the presidential residence in Juba.

“No more bloodshed, no more conflicts, no more violence and mutual recriminations about who is responsible for it, no more leaving your people a thirst for peace,” he said. “No more destruction: It is time to build! Leave the time of war behind and let a time of peace dawn!”

Francis addressed South Sudan’s government and members of the diplomatic corps after a 30-minute private meeting with President Salva Kiir Mayardit and a second half-hour private meeting with the three vice presidents.

The trip, a desire of Pope Francis for years, follows a visit of nearly four days in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The pope said “I have come here as a pilgrim, a pilgrim of reconciliation, in the hope of accompanying you on your journey of peace. It is a circuitous journey, yet one that can no longer be postponed.”

He is joined by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Moderator of the Church of Scotland Iain Greenshields to visit a country that is 60% Christian.

“We undertook this ecumenical pilgrimage of peace after hearing the plea of an entire people that, with great dignity, weeps for the violence it endures, its persistent lack of security, its poverty and the natural disasters that it has experienced,” Francis said.

“Years of war and conflict seem never to end and, even recently, there have been bitter clashes,” he noted.

A day before Pope Francis’ arrival, at least 27 farmers and herders were killed in a Feb. 2 attack in South Sudan’s Kajo Keji County, a region approximately 96 miles south of Juba on the border with Uganda.

“At the same time,” the pope said, “the process of reconciliation seems stagnant and the promise of peace unfulfilled.”

Before Pope Francis’ speech, President Salva Kiir Mayardit announced his intention to resume peace negotiations with rebel groups in 2023.

South Sudan’s government had pulled out of the Rome peace talks in November 2022.

“In honor of the Holy Father Pope Francis’ historic visit to our country, and our declaration of 2023 as the year of peace and reconciliation, I am officially announcing the lifting of the suspension of the Rome peace talks with the holdout groups,” he said.

Mayardit also mentioned the September 2022 Road Map, a transitional period of 24 months for the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement.

Pope Francis asked that an “understanding be reached and progress be made in moving forward with the Peace Accord and the Road Map!”

“In a world scarred by divisions and conflict, this country is hosting an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace, which is something rare; it represents a change of direction, an opportunity for South Sudan to resume sailing in calm waters, taking up dialogue, without duplicity and opportunism,” he said.

“May it be for everyone an occasion to revive hope,” he added.

Pope Francis also condemned violence against women and encouraged their greater inclusion in political positions.

“Future generations will either venerate your names or cancel their memory, based on what you now do,” he told the country’s leaders. “For just as the Nile leaves its sources to begin its course, so the course of history will leave behind the enemies of peace and bring renown to those who are true peacemakers. Indeed, as Scripture tells us, ‘there is posterity for the man of peace.’”

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