News Roundup

UN representative invited to speak to Oireachtas abortion committee

Senators and TDs tasked with turning the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on abortion into concrete legislative proposals will ask a representative of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which is criticized by pro-life groups over its pro-abortion stance, to make a contribution to its deliberations, after the organisation repeatedly accused Ireland of failing to meet its international human rights ‘obligations’.

The UN committee has persistently raised concerns over the state’s criminalisation of abortion and refusal to make the procedure available to rape victims or women whose unborn children show signs of foetal abnormalities. Critics point out that no UN document enshrines a right to an abortion.

It is also expected that the committee will hear from experts that any law requiring a woman to prove that she was raped before she could access an abortion would not work.

The committee, which is expected to call for a referendum on abortion, will hold its first public meeting on September 20th.

On November 1, it will hear from Tom O’Malley, a senior law lecturer at NUI Galway, and Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre on the possibility of making abortion available to rape victims. Both told the citizens’ assembly that any law that made exceptions for rape victims would not work because it would be too difficult for women to prove.



Romania to hold same-sex marriage referendum this autumn, says ruling party leader

Romania’s ruling Social Democrats hope to organise this autumn a referendum to restrict the constitutional definition of family, which would effectively rule out the possibility of legalizing same-sex marriage, party leader Liviu Dragnea said on Saturday.

The plan for a referendum came about after the Coalition for the Family, a civil society group, collected 3 million signatures last year in favor of changing the constitutional definition of marriage as a union strictly between a man and a woman from the existing “spouses.”

“It is known that we are committed … in this direction,” state news agency Agerpres quoted Dragnea as saying at a party meeting at a resort on the Black Sea.

“Our intention is to end up organizing the referendum to change the constitution on the family issue this autumn.”



Minister Zappone wants Catholic Church to change teaching on abortion

Minister Katherine Zappone wants the Government to lobby the Catholic Church to extend its social justice teaching to include a right to abortion. At the same time, she rejects attempts by the Church to lobby the Government to abandon its push to repeal the pro-life amendment. She was speaking in the aftermath of formal Church-State talks last week in which a delegation from the Catholic Church met with representatives of the Government at the invitation of the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.
Ms Zappone said she wants to see a referendum on the Eighth Amendment as she sees abortion rights as “integral to a social justice agenda”. Then, turning to the Church, she continued:
“The Catholic Church has a very strong social justice tradition, and so I would think that in our negotiations discussion with them we need to draw on that social justice tradition to ensure it extends to women’s ethical choices in relation to their reproductive capacity.”
However, regarding the Church speaking its own mind, she said it should limit itself to speaking only to its own flock.
“I respect the tradition, I think they need to voice their views, but I also believe and know that those views were to influence their own members. They cannot determine the laws of the land,” Ms Zappone said.


Cura accused of ‘flouting HSE rules’

The Times Ireland Edition has accused Catholic pregnancy counselling agenda, Cura, of “flouting HSE rules by hiding from women its opposition to abortion”. The accusation was made in a news report by their Senior Ireland reporter, Ellen Coyne, who alleged that Cura’s advertising breaches HSE guidelines. Cura is subject to those guidelines because it receives part of its funding from the HSE. The same article, however, also reported that the health service would not be taking any action against Cura.
Specifically, the report alleges that, while Cura claims to be a non-judgmental crisis pregnancy counselling agency, their advertising says “It is ‘informed by the values of the Catholic Church’ but does not say that it is opposed to abortion, receives religious funding and will not offer advice to women who want to travel to terminate their pregnancies.” However, most people understand that the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion.
A spokesperson for the HSE raised no objections to Cura’s practices. “All funded services must display their ethos on their website/other advertising and make potential clients aware of the type of information which can/cannot be provided,” a spokeswoman for the HSE said. When The Times asked the HSE “what consequences a crisis pregnancy agency would face for failing to make its anti-abortion ethos clear”, the spokeswoman said it was “satisfied” that a woman who went to Cura for abortion advice would be referred elsewhere.
Cura declined to comment but a spokesman for the Irish Bishops’ Conference said: “All Cura public advertising displays our lo-call helpline number and website details. In line with HSE requirements, our website contains information about Cura’s ethos of care for the mother and the unborn child and about our services, which are free and available to women and men in crisis pregnancy situations.”



Catholic bishops urge Government to reconsider abortion referendum

A delegation of Catholic bishops held a two-hour bilateral meeting yesterday with An Taoiseach, Mr Leo Varadkar TD, and numerous Government ministers as part of the Church-State structured dialogue process. The agenda for the meeting included: World Meeting of Families 2018 and possible visit by Pope Francis; education issues; Northern Ireland; International issues (development aid); and justice and social issues.

The bishops also raised the Eighth amendment and, according to an Irish Times report, outlined their “vehement opposition” to its removal from the Constitution. They requested the Government change its position on the issue but stressed in the event of a referendum they would campaign in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Speaking after the meeting Archbishop Eamon Martin said: “We had a constructive discussion with the Taoiseach and his ministers today, and we focused on issues which are fundamental to sustaining the common good of Irish life. I believe that regular Church-State dialogue is in the interest of everyone and reflects a truly pluralist society.”


Brief filed with US Supreme Court defending artist who wouldn’t design cake for same-sex wedding

Lawyers representing a Colorado cake artist filed their opening brief with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday, arguing that the government cannot coerce him to create a cake that communicates a message with which he fundamentally disagrees. The case stems from Jack Philips’ polite refusal to design a cake for a couple celebrating a same-sex wedding. He said he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted, but not something promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith.

In May 2014, The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered Phillips to design cakes that celebrate same-sex ceremonies if he designs cakes for opposite-sex ceremonies. It also required Phillips to re-educate his staff, most of whom are his family members—telling them that he was wrong to operate his business according to his faith. He was also required to report to the government for two years, describing the orders he declines and the reasons why.

“Nobody should be forced to choose between their profession and their faith,” said Kristen Waggoner, Senior Counsel for ADF, a global partner of ADF International. “Phillips gladly serves anyone who walks into his store, but, as is customary practice for many artists, he declines opportunities to design for a variety of events and messages that conflict with his deeply held beliefs. In this case, Jack told the couple suing him he’d sell them anything in the store but just couldn’t design a custom cake celebrating their wedding because of his Christian faith.”

Tolerance is a two-way street, and people should have the freedom to disagree on critical matters of conscience. The same government that can force Jack to violate his faith and conscience can force any one of us to do the same.”


World Meeting of Families will focus on family, not papal visit, says organiser

The upcoming World Meeting of Families is firmly focused on the theme of family, rather than any potential papal visit, according to one of its lead organisers, Fr Timothy Bartlett.
Writing in the Irish Times, Fr Bartlett said the family has been fundamental to the ministry of Pope Francis and he often repeats the famous phrase of St John Paul II that “the future of humanity passes by way of the family”, adding, “and the future of the church”. The family is, according to Francis, “the nearest hospital, the first school for the young, and the best home for the elderly”.
“In a world easily given to violence, inhumanity and disposal of the other, he remains convinced that it is this messy but grace-filled reality of the family that so often holds our lives and the world itself together,” said Fr Bartlett.
The global nature of the gathering also meant it could not get mired down in specifically Irish issues. “It is important that the meeting in Ireland, as well as the commentary and analysis leading up to it, avoids the temptation of becoming self-referential, of approaching the event and its significance solely in terms of Irish issues and the Irish church,” said Fr Bartlett.
“The year ahead is an opportunity to change the conversation, to focus instead on the global issues, the common human values and mutual interest between Church and society that converge in working together for the wellbeing of the family.”


Transgender lesson in kindergarten class leaves parents feeling ‘betrayed’

A primary school in the US is facing tough questions from parents over a transgender lesson to a kindergarten class that concluded with one child exiting the class and then reappearing under a new gender identity. “These parents feel betrayed by the school district that they were not notified,” said Karen England with the Capitol Resource Institute. The incident happened earlier this summer during the last few days of the academic school year. The teacher read two children’s books about transgenderism including one titled “I am Jazz.” Parents say besides the books, the transgender student at some point during class also changed clothes and was revealed as her ‘true gender’.
“The kindergartners came home very confused, about whether or not you can pick your gender, whether or not they really were a boy or a girl,” said England.
Many parents say they feel betrayed and blindsided. “My daughter came home crying and shaking so afraid she could turn into a boy,” another parent said.
The school district defended the teacher’s actions saying the books were age-appropriate and fell within their literature selection policy. Unlike sex education, the topics of gender identity don’t require prior parental notice.


Married patients with heart disease have better survival rates

Marriage is a vital factor affecting the survival of patients who have had a heart attack, as well as those with the most important risk factors, according to research presented Monday at a Cardiology congress in Barcelona.
Researchers based at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, UK, used a database of almost one million patients hospitalised in England between 2000 and 2013 to study the effect of marital status on such patients.
Of those who had a heart attack, married patients were 14% more likely than single patients to survive after the event. Of those with the three biggest risk factors for heart disease, married patients with high cholesterol were 16% more likely to be alive at the end of the study while married people with diabetes or high blood pressure had a 14% and 10% higher survival, respectively, compared to those who were single.
Although the protective effect of marriage has been shown before, this is one of the largest studies of its kind.
Dr Paul Carter, lead author of the study, said: “Marriage, and having a spouse at home, is likely to offer emotional and physical support on a number of levels ranging from encouraging patients to live healthier lifestyles, helping them to cope with the condition and helping them to comply to their medical treatments. Our findings suggest that marriage is one way that patients can receive support to successfully control their risk factors for heart disease, and ultimately survive with them.”


Former Taoiseach John Bruton argues for human rights of the unborn

Former Taoiseach John Bruton has spoken out in favour of retaining the Eighth Amendment due to the recognition it gives to the human rights of the unborn child.
Speaking in Cahersiveen where he delivered the keynote address at the Daniel O’Connell Summer School, Mr Bruton said the debate on abortion should be seen primarily in terms of human rights. He said the Irish people have a choice to make as to whether human rights extend to the unborn or only to those who are born. It was his view that the unborn should have human rights and for this reason he favours retaining the existing constitutional position which protects the rights of the unborn.  
The former Fine Gael leader suggested that O’Connell’s belief in human dignity, which led him to oppose slavery, would have also led him to oppose abortion. “One of O’Connell’s great causes, the ending of slavery arose from his belief in the dignity of every defenceless human being ….. – as a society do we respect the dignity of people before they are born as well as respect it after they are born? At what age do human rights commence and end?” he asked. “These are not trivial questions or questions of convenience or questions of individual rights – they are questions about the obligations we have to other people that have not yet been born but who are already alive,” said Mr Bruton in his closing remarks at the end of a wide ranging address.