Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2012 (CNA) -
A group of doctors called on an appeals court to consider the ability of a fetus to feel pain in examining an Arizona law preventing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“Hormonal, behavioral, and physiologic evidence supports the legislature’s conclusion that a fetus at twenty weeks gestation feels pain,” read the amicus brief, filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It argued that the state has an established interest in eliminating or reducing “activities that provoke pain.”
The brief was filed on Oct. 10 on behalf of Doctors on Fetal Pain, a physician and medical researcher association that seeks to raise awareness about evidence showing the ability of unborn children to experience pain.
The case, Isaacson v. Horne, challenges an Arizona law to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergency. In forming the law, state legislators took into account scientific and medical evidence indicating that unborn children can feel pain at this point in development.
While the law’s opponents argue that fetal ability to feel pain should not be legally relevant, the brief maintained that “the issue of at what point the unborn experience pain is an important one that should inform best medical practice.”
A district court ruled in favor of the legislation in July. Shortly afterwards, the appeals court temporarily blocked the law’s implementation while it considered the case.
The amicus brief urged the circuit court to affirm the lower court’s ruling, which held that the law is a “constitutionally permissible regulation of abortion.”
“In choosing to put a limit on abortions past 20 weeks gestational age, the Arizona Legislature cited to the substantial and well-documented evidence that an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion by at least twenty weeks gestational age,” the district court had said.
This evidence included the biological development of a fetus, such as the fact that “by 7 weeks gestational age, pain sensors develop in the face of the unborn child and, by 20 weeks, sensory receptors develop all over the child's body and the children have a full complement of pain receptors.”
In addition, the lower court had observed, “when provoked by painful stimuli, such as a needle, the child reacts, as measured by increases in the child's stress hormones, heart rate, and blood pressure.” These responses decreased when the child was given anesthesia, which doctors often do during fetal surgery.
For these reasons, the district court concluded that the state had shown a legitimate interest in limiting abortions past 20 weeks.
Doctors on Fetal Pain agreed with this reasoning, explaining that fetal pain is a relevant consideration in forming state laws on abortion.
Although courts have reached different opinions on the “existence and extent of fetal pain during abortion,” they recognize that “fetal pain is legally relevant to the regulation of abortion,” the brief noted.
It pointed to a 2007 court ruling stating that lawmakers have “wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”
“One of the most basic and widely accepted principles of political governance is that that the State is justified in promulgating laws to protect individuals from harm by others,” the document said. Recognized in both domestic and international law, the power to protect against physical harm encompasses “all living creatures,” as seen in longstanding laws against animal cruelty.
Furthermore, courts have recognized that abortion involves not only a woman, but also the “whole, separate, unique, living human being” that she carries, the brief observed.
This is true regardless of whether the fetus is at a point of viability, it explained, pointing to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that “a fetus is a living organism while within the womb, whether or not it is viable outside the womb.”
For these reasons, the Arizona legislature’s considerations on fetal pain “should be given weight” in reviewing the case, the brief argued.
“The Court should affirm the decision of the district court that Arizona has a constitutionally recognizable interest in limiting the infliction of pain on the unborn,” it said.
Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new book written by Catholic women describes personal journeys of discovering that although Church teaching on important issues can be difficult and countercultural, it offers truth, peace and ultimate freedom.
“I’d really like to show the public that there is freedom in the content of what it is we stand for in the first place,” said George Mason law professor Helen Alvaré, who is the editor and a co-author of “Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves.”
Alvaré joined three of her fellow co-authors for the Oct. 16 book launch at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where she explained that the “the point of the book was to get and keep a dialogue going.”
She said that “Breaking Through” was part of a discussion that started when federal government officials suggested that Catholic teaching was “inhospitable to women’s freedom.”
As the federal contraception mandate sparked discussion over religious freedom and Church teaching on sexuality, Alvaré saw a need for something more than legal action to protect the religious freedom of institutions and individuals.
She wanted to give Catholic women a voice and show the public that there is “real freedom” in the Catholic Church’s natural law approach to human sexuality.
“Breaking Through” offered the opportunity to do that. The book recounts the personal stories of nine Catholic women grappling with the demands of their faith and ultimately finding freedom in embracing the Church’s teachings.
Since it touches on a range of topics including contraception, materialism and community, Alvaré hopes the book will be a “service” to other women who can relate to the stories and struggles it contains.
Mary Hallan-FioRito, executive assistant to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, spoke at the book launch from her experience of 25 years working for the Catholic Church, in areas including inner city schools, pro-life efforts, the chancellor’s office, and now the cardinal’s office.
“My own experience in the Church has been so vastly different from what’s being portrayed in the media,” she said.
Hallan-FioRito said that she finds it “particularly troubling” in the current political discussion that “so much of what the Church does for women is either belittled or is ignored altogether.”
Throughout the course of history, the Catholic Church has been “a consistent voice for the dignity and the equality of all women,” she stated.
The Church opened many roles of “authority and influence” to women long before they were open to women in secular society, such as presidents of hospitals and universities, she said. And in many countries, the Church is still “the single largest educator of women.”
In her professional life, she added, “the Church understands my vocation as a mother is as important as my vocation as a Church worker.”
Kim Daniels, a religious liberty attorney and the director of Catholic Voices USA, emphasized the importance of rebuilding “a rich and rooted everyday culture.”
While court cases and legislation are important, she said, there is an ultimate need “to rebuild an idea of culture as a set of shared habits and understandings and affections, rooted in a particular place, giving a particular shape to family, to friendship and to daily living.”
Individual women must work to engage the culture in their own daily lives, she said, using their “prudential understanding” in determining how this is best achieved for them.
“I’m not going to say that every woman should be out tending home and hearth and forsaking the professional world,” Daniels said.
However, she observed, much of the important work of building up the culture is done through the families, parishes and friendships, and these are all important ways in which women can contribute to the betterment of society.
Dr. Marie Anderson, medical director of the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., explained that there is a need to break through “the culture’s definition of freedom” as the license to do whatever one wants.
Anderson said that she bought into this mindset as a young doctor but only found emptiness.
“I was unhappy. I was restless. I had lost my purpose in life,” she said.
In her practice, Anderson saw the “unintended consequences” of a contraceptive mindset that “takes sexual activity as a given, both in and out of marriage.” In addition to infertility and sexually transmitted diseases, she saw broken relationships and broken hearts.
“I realized that women were helping to break their own hearts, and that was probably the hardest thing,” she said.
This realization that contraception was not fulfilling women changed Anderson’s life, and she re-embraced the Catholic faith from which she had fallen away. In doing so, she became free and found peace.
While the culture thinks that the Catholic Church is outdated, she said, “the Church got it right from the beginning.”
Vatican City, Oct 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared saints the “indispensable protagonists” of the New Evangelization, which is the focus of the ongoing synod in Rome.
“The saints evangelize by their virtuous lives,” said Cardinal Angelo Amato during the Oct. 15 afternoon session of the synod of bishops on the New Evangelization. “They incarnate the evangelical beatitudes. They are the mirror to fidelity to Christ.”
His comments come just days before Pope Benedict XVI canonizes seven new saints at Oct. 21 Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
Cardinal Amato, an Italian, noted that the theme of sanctity in the Church, “in her being and in the acting of her children,” permeates the working document of the synod.
This is because “in the saints the Church offers an edifying display of the Gospel lived out, witnessed to, and proclaimed sine glossa (without gloss).”
This witness is universally attractive to people in all times and places, he noted.
“Every culture is capable of being evangelized, and charity is its greatest instrument to evangelize people,” the archbishop said.
“The history of the Church…records saints of every age, country, race, language and culture, so that the grace of God the Trinity might be like the morning dew. … It is the same with sanctity which, though being unique as a Divine gift, lightly penetrates and transforms the hearts of children of the Church all around the world.”
To show the universal reach of the Gospel message, he concluded his remarks by giving the example of Devesahayam Pillai, an 18th-century Hindu convert to Catholicism whom Pope Benedict XVI declared venerable in June 2012.
“His father was a Brahman. His mother was from a warrior caste,” Cardinal Armato noted. Rather than renounce his new-found faith, Pillai suffered martyrdom and is at the second stage in the Church’s four-step canonization process.
Havana, Cuba, Oct 17, 2012 (CNA) -
Officials in Cuba announced on Monday that a court has sentenced a Spanish man to four years in prison for his role in a car crash that killed Oswaldo Paya and another prominent political dissident.
The criminal court in Granma said the traffic accident which took the lives of Paya and Harold Cepero on July 22 was the result of the “imprudent conduct” of Angel Carromero, who was driving the vehicle in which the men were traveling.
Diplomatic sources told Europa Press that since the sentence was for less than five years, Carromero could be allowed to serve the sentence in Spain under some form of house arrest. The verdict came 10 days after Carromero was tried in Bayamo, near the site of the accident in southeastern Cuba.
Prosecutors had asked for seven years – three and half for each victim. The car in which the two dissidents, Carromero and Swiss activist Jens Aron Modig were riding veered off the highway that connects Las Tunas with Bayamo in the province of Granma.
Modig was initially detained by Cuban officials but allowed to return to his country a few days later. He says he was asleep at the time of the accident and does not recall any details.
Carromero has been in prison since July in Havana.
The foreign ministers of Spain and Cuba, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo and Bruno Rodriguez agreed in New York on Sept. 27 to hold talks to evaluate the sentence once it was handed down.
Cuban authorities claim the accident was caused by excessive speeding, and in a video released by the government days after his arrest, Carromero admits that he lost control of the car after hitting a pothole, although he did not say how fast he was going.
In the video, he also asked the international community to avoid using the incident for political purposes and he denied that their car was struck from behind by another vehicle.
The Paya family has said that the accident may have been the result of a conspiracy to kill the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, alleging that one of the two survivors of the crash sent a text message stating that they were being followed and that their car had been hit from behind several times.
Paya’s widow, Ofelia Acevedo, has absolved Carromero of any responsibility and has asked to learn “the truth” about what occurred. Neither the relatives of Paya nor those of Cepero have filed any suit against the Spaniard.
Vatican City, Oct 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - At his first general audience during the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI initiated a new, year-long cycle of teachings aimed at healing the division between what Christians say they profess, what they actually believe, and how they live their lives.
“Christians often do not even know the core of their Catholic faith, the Creed, thus leaving room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism, without clarity on the truths to be believed and the salvific uniqueness of Christianity,” the Pope told the pilgrims packed into a sunlit St. Peter’s Square on Oct. 17.
Unless Christians understand their faith and live it fully, he warned, they leave themselves prone to the forces operating in a “profoundly changed society” scarred by “many forms of barbarism.” The Pope pointed to the influences of secularism, relativism, the use other people as objects “for pure selfishness” and a “widespread nihilistic mentality” as some of the forces that can exert a “crucial impact on the general mentality.”
The result is that “life is often lived lightly, without clear ideals or sound hopes, in transient and provisional social and family ties,” he said.
“Above all the younger generations are not educated in the search for truth or the deeper meaning of existence that goes beyond the contingent, to a stability of affection, trust.”
Christians must guard themselves against these errors, the Pope told the crowd, adding that if “individualism and relativism seem to dominate the mind of many of our contemporaries, we cannot say that believers remain totally immune from these dangers … .”
In response, the Pope urged sound instruction in the Creed and the teachings of the Church for all Catholics.
“The risk is not far off today of people building a so-called ‘do-it-yourself’ religion,” he said.
“Instead, we should return to God, the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the message of the Gospel, to bring it into more deeply into our minds and our daily lives.”
The Pope cited cautionary findings from a survey conducted among bishops worldwide in preparation for the Oct. 7-28 Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. Bishops reported such trends among the faithful as “a living faith that is passive and private, rejection of faith formation, and a rupture between faith and life.”
The Year of Faith, which was launched on Oct. 11, will promote the transformative power of that deep faith so radically different from the “life lived lightly,” Pope Benedict said.
“With faith everything really changes everything in us and for us, and our future destiny is clearly revealed, the truth of our vocation in history, the meaning of life, the joy of being a pilgrim towards the heavenly Kingdom,” he proclaimed.
Pope Benedict finished his remarks by telling the assembled pilgrims about his plans for the year-long series of reflections.
“In the catechesis of this Year of Faith I would like to offer some help in making this journey, to take up once again and deepen the central truths of the faith of God, man, the Church, of all the social and cosmic realities, meditating and reflecting on the statements of the Creed. And I would like to clarify that such content or truths of the faith are directly connected to our lives; they require conversion of existence, which gives life to a new way of believing in God.”
Washington D.C., Oct 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In an election year that continues to be dominated by economic concerns, one public policy analyst believes that social issues could still play an important role in November.
“The race became much more tightly competitive” after the first presidential debate, said Dr. Mark J. Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University.
He explained to CNA on Oct. 17 that a close race could mean that social issues such as abortion and the federal contraception mandate might end up being more influential in the presidential election than they otherwise would.
On Oct. 16, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney met at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. for the second of three presidential debates in the 2012 campaign.
The town hall format yielded heated exchanges between the candidates on topics ranging from gun control to the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
As in the first debate, the economy and jobs were key issues of discussion. Moral issues such as gay marriage and abortion were largely absent, with the candidates just briefly discussing the contraception mandate that has alarmed religious freedom advocates and drawn lawsuits from more than 100 plaintiffs of various religious backgrounds.
High levels of unemployment and a struggling economy have consistently played a large role in what has become a tight presidential race.
“On the whole, Catholics are concerned about jobs and the economy right now, just like other Americans,” Rozell said.
However, he acknowledged, “for some Catholic voters, the social issues are paramount,” even in an election dominated by economic issues.
These voters tend to be traditional and conservative, and the contraceptive mandate is a very important issue for many of them, he said. And while many of these voters would likely have voted conservative anyway, opposition to the mandate could be intensifying their efforts to raise support.
“In what is expected to be a very close election this year, that means that these social issues do matter,” even if these matters are ranked as being less important than economic issues in national polls, Rozell explained.
In recent decades, the Catholic vote has come to be seen as a predictor in the general election, since the candidate who captures the Catholic electorate nearly always wins the race.
“There is no distinctively Catholic vote anymore,” Rozell said. Rather, Catholics – who make up one-fourth of the electorate in a presidential race – tend to reflect the general voting population.
In this race, he observed, the presence of two Catholic vice presidential candidates “neutralizes religious identity as a factor,” counteracting the tendency to vote on a candidate specifically based on religious affiliation.
It is religious participation rather than religious identity that is more closely associated with differences in voting behavior, Rozell explained. Those who attend church regularly are more likely to vote for conservative candidates, while those who attend church less frequently are more likely to vote for liberal candidates.
“I think it comes down to the traditional divisions” within the Catholic community, he stated.
In the final three weeks before the election, Rozell said that the most important remaining factors are “people’s perceptions of the economy,” as well as the candidates’ performance in the third debate, which will be a last impression for many voters.
Although the final debate will focus on foreign policy, viewers should not be surprised to see both candidates tying domestic issues into their discussions, he said.
The last presidential debate will be held Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Denver, Colo., Oct 17, 2012 (CNA) - Although concerns have been raised about the unethical source of some cells used in Shinya Yamanaka’s efforts to reprogram cells into stem cells, moral theologians insist that the work could lead to ethical advances in the field.
“The initial insight unfortunately involved tainted material, but it gives way to an application of that knowledge which can be perfectly morally licit,” Father Thomas Berg, Professor of Moral Theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., told CNA on Oct. 16.
The American Catholic published a post on Oct. 15 questioning praise in Catholic circles of the results of Yamanaka's research, which was initially performed using cells derived from aborted human fetuses and human embryonic stem cells.
“That in itself no one is praising … I wouldn't have described myself as praising the work of Yamanaka in that sense,” Fr. Berg said in reference to an Oct. 8 interview with CNA.
“But I am praising the potential for the good that can come from this technology.”
Yamanaka published a paper in 2006 demonstrating that intact, mature cells can become immature stem cells. He inserted genes into mouse cells which reprogrammed those cells so that they became stem cells, and was later able to perform the technique with human cells.
These reprogrammed cells are pluripotent, meaning they can develop into a wide variety of specialized cell types. Yamanaka's breakthrough opened the door to studying disease and developing diagnosis and treatments.
Since this technique produces a stem cell from any cell, it provides an alternative to human embryonic stem cells, which are derived from destroyed human embryos.
Yamanaka and John B. Gurdon, researchers in cell biology, were awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries about how to generate induced pluripotent stem cells.
Although he does not agree with methods that use unethical means, Fr. Berg said he has “absolutely no doubt that induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) can be made without recourse to any morally tainted cells.”
“With a little bit of good will and effort, it's possible to do this research free of any tainted materials,” Fr. Berg affirmed.
He also stands by his earlier statement that Yamanaka's research “put human embryonic stem-cell research largely out of business.”
Yamanaka was “motivated by reflection on the fact that his own daughters were once human embryos” and “that is something to be thankful to God for,” Fr. Berg reflected.
Dr. Christian Brugger, who holds the Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colo., agrees with Fr. Berg's assessments.
Brugger noted in an Oct. 16 article for the National Catholic Register that though “most any science can be used wrongly,” “iPSC research in itself seems to me to be morally unproblematic.”
Brugger affirmed that “Yamanaka's prestigious award is indeed a triumph for ethical research,” and said that less money is being spent on human embryonic stem cell research because induced pluripotent cells represent a previously undiscovered branch of stem cell research.
According to Brugger, some of the most prominent cell biologists in the world have announced a preference for the new method over human embryonic stem cells since they were discovered by Yamanaka.
Vatican City, Oct 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York will be part of a papal delegation to Syria that will voice “fraternal solidarity” with the Syrian people and encourage peace amid the country’s violent conflict.
The Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said Oct. 16 that the world’s Catholic bishops cannot be “mere spectators of a tragedy such as the one that is now unfolding in Syria.”
He said a political answer is “the only possible solution to the crisis.” The Syrian population and displaced persons have endured “immense suffering.”
He said the delegation will travel to Damascus next week.
“In the meantime we pray that reason and compassion might prevail,” Cardinal Bertone said.
Fighting between rebels and the Syrian government has killed an estimated 30,000 people.
Syria’s Christians tend to support the government, given the fate they expect to suffer if Islamists take control. Rebels have targeted Christians, bombing several churches and driving tens of thousands of them from their homes.
Lakhdar Brahimi, a peace envoy from the United Nations and the Arab League, is presently touring the region to try to find a solution to the conflict. He arrived in Lebanon Oct. 17 after visiting Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq.
He is seeking a three-day ceasefire for the Muslim holiday Eid, which is observed on Oct. 26. The rebel Free Syrian Army has rejected the proposal on the grounds it would allow the government to prepare more offensives. The Syrian National Council, which opposes the government, has tentatively welcomed the proposal.
Another member of the papal delegation will be Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
On Oct. 17 at the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, he said the group will show “human solidarity towards people who are suffering.” It will also express spiritual solidarity.
The delegation aims to find a solution to the conflict.
“We must help those who are in charge of society and the general political landscape,” the cardinal said, according to Vatican Radio.
In addition to Cardinals Dolan and Tauran, the delegation will include Cardinal Laurent Mosengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis, military ordinary of Colombia; and Bishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Phat Diem, Vietnam.
Vatican officials in the delegation include Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, and Msgr. Alberto Ortega of the Secretariat of State.