News Roundup

Landmark Down Syndrome abortion case to be heard by UK High Court

A landmark case against the UK Government over the law that allows abortion up to birth for Down Syndrome will be heard at the High Court in London on 6th July.

The case claims the law is discriminatory against people with disabilities.

Heidi Crowter, a 25-year-old woman from Coventry who has Down Syndrome, together with Máire Lea-Wilson from Brentford, West London, whose twenty-three-month-old son Aidan has Down’s syndrome, are challenging the UK Government over a disability clause in the current law.

Heidi and her team have already crowdfunded over £80,000 for the case.

Currently in England, Wales and Scotland, there is a general 24-week time limit for abortion, but if the baby has a disability, including Down Syndrome, cleft lip and club foot, abortion is legal right up to birth.


Swedish Hospital ends the use of puberty blockers for under 16s

The Karolinska Hospital in Sweden has ended the practice of prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for minors under age 16 who think they belong to the opposite sex.

Hormonal intervention for young people ages 16-18 is still allowed, but can only occur in research settings approved by Sweden’s ethics review board, following a thorough informed consent that discloses the significant risks and uncertainties of the drugs, and considers the minor’s maturity level and ability to provide true informed consent.

Sweden is the first country whose leading hospital has explicitly stopped following the Dutch protocol, which allows for administration of puberty blockers at age 12 (and increasingly, as young as 8-9), and cross-sex hormones at the age of 16. It also is the first country to officially deviate from WPATH guidance—the group which has long positioned itself as the world authority in transgender health.

The Swedish hospital’s new policy is consistent with Finland’s recently revised guidelines, which were changed to prioritise psychological interventions and support rather than medical interventions, particularly for youth with no childhood history of gender dysphoria (presently the most common presentation). Significant changes are also underway in the UK, following the High Court ruling that deemed hormonal interventions for minors experimental, and cautioned that minors are rarely able to provide truly informed consent for interventions with such profound life-long consequences.


EU appoints new religious freedom envoy after 2 year vacancy

The European Commission has appointed a Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU after a two year lapse.

Christos Stylianides was the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management from 2014 to 2019. Since 2020, he has served as special advisor on education in emergencies, migration and inclusion to the current Vice-President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas.

The reappointment of the Special Envoy was welcomed by the Human rights advocacy firm, ADF International. Their Senior Counsel in Brussels, Adina Portaru, said the move is an important step in showing real commitment to this fundamental right.

“We lament that this position has been vacant for almost two years. We hope that the new Special Envoy will quickly get to work focusing on the needs of the most persecuted worldwide. We urge the European Commission to strengthen the position of the Special Envoy and build on the important work already achieved. The victims on the ground are in dire need of a decisive response from the EU. With its Special Envoy, the EU can lead in the international response. That leadership is needed now more than ever,” she said.


Government TDs join group to lobby for total state control of national maternity hospital

Three government TDs have joined a cross-party Oireachtas group set up to lobby the health minister Stephen Donnelly to secure total state control of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH).

Fianna Fáil’s John Lahart, Fine Gael’s Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and the Green Party’s Neasa Hourigan are signatories to a letter sent to Donnelly last Thursday requesting a meeting to discuss the ownership of the planned new hospital. The group wants the state to be the sole proprietor of the new buildings located on St Vincent’s hospital campus and of the ground on which they are built.

Other signatories include Roisín Shortall, the Social Democrats co-leader.

The group was established on Wednesday following a briefing about the hospital given to TDs and senators by guest speakers. They included Peter Boylan, a former NMH master who has campaigned against any religious input into the running of the maternity facility to ensure contraceptive interventions, donor IVF and abortion will be provided there.


Caitlyn Jenner: Not fair for trans pupils to play girls’ sports

Caitlyn Jenner, who won the men’s Olympic decathlon gold medal as Bruce Jenner in 1976 before transitioning decades later, has voiced opposition to biological males who say they are female competing in girls’ sports at school.

Jenner, 71, a member of the extended Kardashian reality TV clan who is running for Republican governor of California, told TMZ: “This is a question of fairness. That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls’ sports in school. It just isn’t fair. And we have to protect girls’ sports in our schools.”

Jenner’s views on girls’ sports are at odds with US President Joe Biden who signed an executive order in his first days in office to guarantee ‘equality in schools’. That has been interpreted as forcing public schools to accept biological males who who identify as female to compete in sports or lose Government funding.

Guidelines set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association requires just one year of hormone treatment for male-bodied ‘trans-women’ athletes to compete on a female team, while female-bodied, trans men remain eligible to compete in women’s sports until the athlete begins a transition by taking testosterone.


Abortion powers given to NI secretary of state are devastating, says Presbyterian moderator

The Irish Presbyterian Church has castigated the Westminster parliament’s confirmation of abortion powers given to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State as seriously undermining devolution and as devastating for the protection of unborn children.

On Tuesday last, the House of Commons voted 431 to 89 to formally approve regulations which enable Brandon Lewis to compel the region’s health department to roll out an abortion regime over the objections of the Executive.

Last month, a cross-party majority decision in the Stormont Assembly rejected the Abortion (Northern Ireland) 2021 legislation. The 48-12 vote rejection came from across the unionist/nationalist divide.

All of the denominations in Northern Ireland, including the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and Free Presbyterian churches are strongly opposed to the liberal abortion laws.

The Belfast News Letter, over two pages of advertisement, carried a strongly-worded letter of condemnation of the proposed abortion legislation from 250 ministers, rectors and pastors from right across the Protestant religious spectrum.


Pope opens worldwide ‘Marathon of Prayer’ for end of pandemic and resumption of social life

Pope Francis launched a daily praying of the rosary over the month of May for an end to the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

In a press release announcing the initiative, the Vatican said, “in response to the Holy Father’s heartfelt wish, the month of May will be dedicated to a ‘marathon’ of prayer, to ask for the end of the pandemic, which has afflicted the world for more than a year now, and to ask for the resumption of social and work activities”.

The Rosary will be led from a different Marian Sanctuary each day during May and will be broadcast by Vatican Media, beginning at 6 pm Rome time. It can be followed on the Vatican News web portal, on Facebook and YouTube channels, and via radio and television transmissions by partner organizations throughout the world, including EWTN in Ireland.

On May 10th, the rosary will be recited from Knock Shrine in Mayo.


Nancy Pelosi’s Archbishop says no to communion for pro-choice Catholics

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has become the latest American bishop to advocate barring Catholic public figures who support abortion rights from communion, as debate on the topic continues to grow since President Joe Biden, the country’s second Catholic president and a pro-choice Democrat, took office.

Cordileone’s letter is also significant because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another pro-choice Catholic Democrat, resides in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

“Our responsibility to the rest of the Catholic community is to assure them that the Church of Jesus Christ does take most seriously her mission to care for ‘the least of these,’ as Our Lord has commanded us, and to correct Catholics who erroneously, and sometimes stubbornly, promote abortion,” wrote Cordileone.

“This correction takes several forms and rightly begins with private conversations between the erring Catholic and his or her parish priest or bishop,” he continued. “Because we are dealing with public figures and public examples of cooperation in moral evil, this correction can also take the public form of exclusion from the reception of Holy Communion.”


Number of marriages down 53% last year under Covid effect

There was a sharp decrease in the number of couples getting married last year, according to data released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) on Friday.

The number of marriages celebrated in 2020 – 9,523 – is a reduction of 53.1 per cent when compared with 2019, when 20,313 marriages took place. The CSO said this reflected the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on wedding plans.

The figures also show that Catholic marriages were less popular than civil marriages for the first time last year. Some 42.1 per cent of marriages were in civil ceremonies in 2020, compared to 34.6 per cent in Catholic services.

Almost half of couples last year (49.8 per cent) opted for a non-religious marriage ceremony last year – be it civil or humanist in nature, while just over half opted for a religious service.

Atheist Ireland said the CSO figures “show yet again that Ireland is no longer a Catholic country”.


Tánaiste defends rate of school divestment, affirms parental choice

The Tánaiste has defended the slow rate of the transfer of schools from faith-based patrons and affirmed the right of parents to choose the kind of school they want for their children.

He was responding to an attack from the Co-chair of the Social Democrats, Roisin Shortall, who said divestment was occurring at an untenable snail’s pace, and that it was “wrong that the church is given a choice about the type of education children receive but Irish parents are not”.

Leo Varadkar, however, said that transfer of patronage should be done with consent and when he talks to parents, many of them say they “like the model they have and the way their school works”.

He added that it is important to listen to parents and students, where appropriate, and ask them what model of education they want.

“One will often find that there are children and families from a diversity of backgrounds attending the local parish Catholic diocese school who are not looking for a change in patronage. They like the school and the way it operates and they do not want it to change fundamentally. We need to bear that in mind also. Very often, migrants who come to Ireland want to send their child to the local Catholic parish school because to them that is integration”.

Relatedly, the Tánaiste also affirmed that a school’s RSE policy must be developed “in consultation with school management, parents, teachers and students, as appropriate”. And that, while the ethos of the school should never preclude learners from acquiring knowledge about the issues involved, nonetheless it “may influence how the content is treated.”