Ben Johnson

Austin passes new anti-crisis pregnancy center ordinance; pro-lifers promise fight

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
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AUSTIN, TEXAS, January 30, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Last week, the city of Austin repealed one speech-chilling ordinance targeting the city’s crisis pregnancy centers – and replaced it with another.

In April 2010, city council required the city’s four pregnancy centers – Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, the Gabriel Project Life Center, and Austin LifeCare – to post signs outside their facilities, in English and Spanish, stating: “This center does not provide abortions or refer to abortion providers. This center does not provide or refer to providers of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved birth control drugs and medical devices.”

Failure to comply brought a misdemeanor citation and fines totaling $250 for the first offense, $350 for a second offense, and $450 for a third offense.

Attorneys representing the centers immediately notified the council of their objections. In October the Alliance Defense Fund, the Law of Life Project, and the Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL) filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

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After council members were informed that the city’s law department recommended repeal of the ordinance “to avoid further litigation costs,” they replaced Chapter 10-9 with Chapter 10-10. The new ordinance does not mandate specific wording, but compels centers to post signs on their grounds stating whether all their medical services are supervised by a licensed health care provider or practitioner and if it is a medical facility. 

Samuel B. Casey of the Law of Life Project told LifeSiteNews.com the new wording does not solve the constitutional issue, because “it violates the same standards”: the First Amendment right of free speech, which includes the right not to speak. 

The government cannot “make a private citizen speak the government’s message,” Casey said. “It doesn’t matter what the message is. What matters is that it’s the government’s message.”

“The Austin ordinance is clearly unconstitutional and will eventually suffer the same fate as all the other similar ordinances passed in other jurisdictions,” said TCDL President Greg Terra.

Austin became the second city in the nation to require the signs announcing that the centers do not provide abortions or abortion referrals, after a 7-0 vote. The first, Baltimore, had its ordinance declared unconstitutional last January. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled that the signage requirement “violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable,” because it “mandates the inclusion of a government message.”  As such, it infringed on the most deeply held religious views of the centers’ employees.

Judges have also granted a preliminary injunction against a similar statute in New York City and another in Montgomery County, Maryland. San Francisco considered its own version of the statute last October.

Casey stated Austin’s new law piles vague language on top of an unconstitutional structure, forcing him to add a new objection to his lawsuit.

Both ordinances were the brainchild of councilman Bill Spelman, who claims he only intended to produce “good consumer information.” However, he appeared in a YouTube video  uploaded by NARAL Pro-Choice NY in which he called a local crisis pregnancy center “a brainwashing outfit.”

In the video, “Exposing Crisis Pregnancy Centers One City at a Time,” Angela Hooton of the National Institute for Reproductive Health lays out a national strategy known as the Urban Initiative, designed to harass crisis pregnancy centers in urban areas, which are often dominated by more liberal politicians. Spelman’s policy director, Heidi Gerbracht, credited the initiative as the inspiration for his original ordinance. 

“These ideologically motivated ordinances seek only to harass and to hinder the free services that pro-life pregnancy centers provide,” TCDL President Greg Terra said. “This ordinance targets pregnancy centers for purely ideological reasons, simply because they are pro-life and encourage women to consider options other than abortion.”

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul A. Gonzalez has also spoken out against the ordinances. “NARAL and the City of Austin have chosen to bully these non-profit pregnancy resource centers who provide valuable services to women,” he said. “Less competition means more money, and the abortion industry is all about the money.”

Volunteers at the Austin centers, which aim to give women alternatives to abortion, say the regulation is offensive and needless, because they already tell women they will not refer clients for abortion or birth control and always indicate whether they have medical personnel available. There have been no complaints nor reports of deficiencies from regulating bodies. Casey told LifeSiteNews the only evidence before the council about his client, Austin LifeCare, was a May 2011 report that described the center as “a valuable and much-needed resource for pregnant and/or parenting women in the Austin area.” 

Since the ordinance goes into effect on February 6, before a motion for preliminary injunction can be heard, Casey said he will petition the court for a temporary restraining order this week. He is confident of success.

“I think the city counsel either doesn’t care about wasting taxpayer money on attorneys fees or has not been properly advised by their lawyers,” he said.

The legal organizations that represent the city’s pregnancy centers operate pro bono and accept donations to defray the costs of their litigation.

Contact Information:
Alliance Defense Fund
15100 N. 90th Street
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
1-800-TELL-ADF (835-5233)

The Law of Life Project
801 G Street North West
Washingtown, D.C. 20001
(202) 587-5652

Texas Center for Defense of Life
501 S. Austin Ave., Suite 1130
Georgetown, TX 78626
(512) 763-9068

 

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Lisa Bourne

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Pressure mounts as Catholic Relief Services fails to act on VP in gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne
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Rick Estridge, Catholic Relief Services' Vice President of Overseas Finance, is in a same-sex "marriage," public records show. Twitter

BALTIMORE, MD, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Nearly a week after news broke that a Catholic Relief Services vice president had contracted a homosexual “marriage” while also publicly promoting homosexuality on social media in conflict with Church teaching, the US Bishops international relief agency has taken no apparent steps to address the matter and is also not talking.

CRS Vice President of Overseas Finance Rick Estridge entered into a homosexual “marriage” in Maryland the same month in 2013 that he was promoted by CRS to vice president, public records show.

Despite repeated efforts at a response, CRS has not acknowledged LifeSiteNews’ inquiries during the week. And the agency told ChurchMilitant.com Thursday that no action had been taken beyond discussion of the situation and CRS would have no further comment.

"Nothing has changed,” CRS Senior Manager for Communications Tom said. “No further statement will be made."

LifeSiteNews first contacted CRS for a response prior to the April 20 release of the report and did not receive a reply, however Estridge’s Facebook and LinkeIn profiles were then removed just prior to the report’s release.

CRS also did not acknowledge LifeSiteNews’ follow-up inquiry later in the week.

“Having an executive who publicly celebrates a moral abomination shows the ineffectiveness of CRS' Catholic identity training,” Lepanto Institute President Michael Hichborn told LifeSiteNews. “How many others who hate Catholic moral teaching work at CRS?”

CRS did admit it was aware Estridge was in a “same-sex civil marriage” to Catholic News Agency (CNA) Monday afternoon, and confirmed he was VP of Overseas Finance and had been with CRS for 16 years.

“At this point we are in deliberations on this matter,” Price told CNA that day.

ChurchMilitant.com also reported that according to its sources, it was a well-known fact at CRS headquarters in Baltimore that Estridge was in a homosexual “marriage.” 

“There is no way CRS didn't know one of its executives entered into a mock-marriage until we broke the story,” Hichborn said. “The implication is clear; CRS top brass had no problem with having an executive so deliberately flouting Catholic moral teaching.”

“The big question is,” Hichborn continued, “what other morally repugnant matters is CRS comfortable with?”

While the wait continues for the Bishops’ relief organization to address the matter, those behind the report and other critics of prior instances of CRS involvement in programs and groups that violate Church principles continue to call for a thorough and independent review of the agency programs and personnel.

“How long should it take to call an employee into your office, tell him that his behavior is incompatible with the mission of the organization, and ask for his resignation?” asked Population Research Institute President Steven Mosher. “About thirty minutes, I would say.”

“The Catholic identity of CRS is at stake,” Hichborn stated. “If CRS does nothing, then there is no way faithful Catholics can trust the integrity of CRS's programs or desire to make its Catholicity preeminent.” 

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Thousands of marriage activists gathered in D.C. June 19, 2014 for the 2nd March for Marriage. Dustin Siggins / LifeSiteNews.com
The Editors

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Watch the March for Marriage online—only at LifeSiteNews

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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- At noon on Saturday, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and dozens of cosponsors, coalition partners, and speakers will launch the third annual March for Marriage. Thousands of people are expected to take place in this important event to show the support real marriage has among the American people.

As the sole media sponsor of the March, LifeSiteNews is proud to exclusively livestream the March. Click here to see the rally at noon Eastern Time near the U.S. Capitol, and the March to the Supreme Court at 1:00 Eastern Time.

And don't forget to pray that God's Will is done on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court hears arguments about marriage!

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Hillary Clinton: ‘Religious beliefs’ against abortion ‘have to be changed’

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By Ben Johnson

NEW YORK CITY, April 24, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Speaking to an influential gathering in New York City on Thursday, Hillary Clinton declared that “religious beliefs” that condemn "reproductive rights," “have to be changed.”

“Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health,” Hillary told the Women in the World Summit yesterday.

Liberal politicians use “reproductive health” as a blanket term that includes abortion. However, Hillary's reference echoes National Organization for Women (NOW) president Terry O’Neill's op-ed from last May that called abortion “an essential measure to prevent the heartbreak of infant mortality.”

The Democratic presidential hopeful added that governments should throw the power of state coercion behind the effort to redefine traditional religious dogmas.

“Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will,” she said. “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

The line received rousing applause at the feminist conference, hosted in Manhattan's Lincoln Center by Tina Brown.

She also cited religious-based objections to the HHS mandate, funding Planned Parenthood, and the homosexual and transgender agenda as obstacles that the government must defeat.

“America moves ahead when all women are guaranteed the right to make their own health care choices, not when those choices are taken away by an employer like Hobby Lobby,” she said. The Supreme Court ruled last year that closely held corporations had the right to opt out of the provision of ObamaCare requiring them to provide abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization to employees with no co-pay – a mandate that violates the teachings of the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies.

Clinton lamented that “there are those who offer themselves as leaders...who would defund the country's leading provider of family planning,” Planned Parenthood, “and want to let health insurance companies once again charge women just because of our gender.”

“We move forward when gay and transgender women are embraced...not fired from good jobs because of who they love or who they are,” she added.

It is not the first time the former first lady had said that liberal social policies should displace religious views. In a December 2011 speech in Geneva, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said perhaps the “most challenging issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.” These objections, she said, are “not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.”

While opinions on homosexuality are “still evolving,” in time “we came to learn that no [religious] practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.”

Her views, if outside the American political mainstream, have been supported by the United Nations. The UN Population Fund stated in its 2012 annual report that religious objections to abortion-inducing drugs had to be overcome. According to the UNFPA report, “‘duty-bearers’ (governments and others)” have a responsibility to assure that all forms of contraception – including sterilization and abortion-inducing ‘emergency contraception’ – are viewed as acceptable – “But if they are not acceptable for cultural, religious or other reasons, they will not be used.”

Two years later, the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child instructed the Vatican last February that the Catholic Church should amend canon law “relating to abortion with a view to identifying circumstances under which access to abortion services may be permitted.”

At Thursday's speech, Hillary called the legal, state-enforced implementation of feminist politics “the great unfinished business of the 21st century,” which must be accomplished “not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States.”

“These are not just women's fights. These have to be America's fights and the world's fights,” she said. “There's still much to be done in our own country, much more to be done around the world, but I'm confident and optimistic that if we get to work, we will get it done together.”

American critics called Clinton's suggestion that a nation founded upon freedom of religion begin using state force to change religious practices unprecedented.

“Never before have we seen a presidential candidate be this bold about directly confronting the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League.

“In one sense, this shows just how extreme the pro-abortion caucus actually is,” Ed Morrissey writes at HotAir.com. “Running for president on the basis of promising to use the power of government to change 'deep seated cultural codes [and] religious beliefs' might be the most honest progressive slogan in history.”

He hoped that, now that she had called for governments to change religious doctrines, “voters will now see the real Hillary Clinton, the one who dismisses their faith just the same as Obama did, and this time publicly rather than in a private fundraiser.”

Donohue asked Hillary “to take the next step and tell us exactly what she plans to do about delivering on her pledge. Not only would practicing Catholics like to know, so would Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and all those who value life from conception to natural death.”

You may watch Hillary's speech below.

Her comments on religion begin at approximately 9:00. 

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