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Supreme Court unanimously strikes down Massachusetts abortion buffer zone law

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By Ben Johnson

Updated at 12:15 p.m. EST.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Supreme Court has unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a buffer zone around abortion facilities.

The justices' 9-0 ruling in McCullen v. Coakley reverses the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the law, which barred sidewalk counselors from setting foot within 35 feet of abortion facilities statewide.

The 34-page ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the statute went too far by forbidding pro-life advocates from engaging in free speech on “a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility.”

The buffer zone law represents an “extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers,” the justices ruled. “The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.”

“While we wish the decision had recognized the content-restrictions inherent in this type of law, this decision is truly a victory for courageous, compassionate sidewalk counselors in Massachusetts who have saved hundreds of lives through their quiet outreach offering help and alternatives to women,” Dana Cody, president and executive director of Life Legal Defense Foundation, told LifeSiteNews.com. 

“In a brazen affront to the First Amendment, Massachusetts government officials had sought to use the threat of arrest and criminal conviction to silence those offering women life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” said Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life. “The Supreme Court rightly rejected this unlawful attempt to deny pro-life Americans their First Amendment rights.”

However in a flashpoint with three conservative justices, a majority of the justices endorsed the right of states to create buffer zones around abortion facilities as long as they are more narrowly tailored, especially if the state establishes a legal history of intimidation.

“The act is neither content nor viewpoint based and therefore need not be analyzed under strict scrutiny,” they ruled, provoking a stern response from Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas.

Pro-life forces had said the law censored their speech by allowing abortion escorts to speak freely to women but silencing anyone who would try to tell the woman of abortion's potential harms.

“The government cannot reserve its public sidewalks for Planned Parenthood, as if their message is the only one women should be allowed to hear,” said Mark Rienzi, the sidewalk counselors' attorney. “Today’s decision confirms that the First Amendment is for everyone, and that the government cannot silence peaceful speakers. That result is good news for Eleanor McCullen, and it is great news for the women she helps.”

Justice Roberts rejected the notion that buffer zone laws target only one side of the argument, saying they “burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted interests” in protecting women seeking an abortion from allegedly aggressive pro-life protesters.

The bill was introduced in 2007 by Massachusetts House of Representatives. Member Martha “Marty” Walz, who is now the president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. She claimed in a USA Today op-ed that the law is necessary to protect abortion workers from “violent, extremist anti-abortion protesters led by Operation Rescue.”

Eleanor McCullen – a 77-year-old grandmother who says she has spent more than $50,000 of her own funds trying to reach young women and protect unborn children – filed suit in January 2008 against state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is currently running for governor of Massachusetts as a Democrat.

Obama administration Deputy Solicitor General Ian H. Gershengorn argued on behalf of the U.S. government in support of the restrictive law. But oral arguments showed every justice, including Elena Kagan, expressing skepticism about the breadth of the Massachusetts ordinance.

Justice Kennedy asked at one point, “Do you want me to write an opinion and say there’s no free speech right to quietly converse on an issue of public importance?”

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The Supreme Court previously upheld a Colorado law establishing an eight-foot floating buffer zone outside abortion facilities in 2000 by a 6-3 vote. Scalia, Kennedy and Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in the 2000 case, Hill v. Colorado, while Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer voted in favor.

Colorado, Montana, and New Hampshire have state laws mandating buffer zones about abortion offices. So do the cities of Burlington, Vermont; West Palm Beach, Florida; Portland, Maine; Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, California.

“I'm thankful for the Supreme Court doing the right thing, recognizing freedom of speech and freedom of dissent,” Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said today. “Those of us who are pro-life have constitutional guarantees embedded in the First Amendment, along with everyone else. This was a good decision, and I am cheered that it was a unanimous decision.”

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John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

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Pope Francis eases forgiveness of abortion for Jubilee Year of Mercy

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By John-Henry Westen

ROME, September 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- In an announcement today, Pope Francis said that he is enacting an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy from December 8, 2015 through November 2016. As part of the Jubilee, the pope has allowed priests to forgive the sin of abortion, which St. John Paul II taught in Evangelium Vitae (paragraph 58) is “murder.”

The statement marks the most extensive remarks on abortion that Pope Francis has made during his pontificate. Rather than downplaying the seriousness of abortion, as some media contend, in the statement the pope encourages the millions of women who have aborted their children to go to confession and seek God’s forgiveness.

In the Catechism, the Church calls abortion a “criminal” practice, and imposes the penalty of excommunication on those who do it -- essentially, removing those who commit abortions from the Church. In the past, typically re-entry into the Church for those who have separated themselves from it by excommunication can only be undertaken by a bishop. However in much of North America priests have already been given standing permission by their bishops to forgive abortion.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput explained in an email sent to LifeSiteNews today, “For many years now, parish priests have been given permission to absolve the sin of abortion here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.” The Philadelphia archbishop, who will play host to Pope Francis during the pontiff’s visit later this month added, “But the practice has not been common in various other regions of the world.”

“This action in no way diminishes the moral gravity of abortion,” concluded Chaput. “What it does do is make access to sacramental forgiveness easier for anyone who seeks it with a truly penitent heart.”

The pope declared that all priests may forgive the sin of abortion for “those who have procured it and who with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it.'"

The pope says in his letter that abortion is a “tragedy” wherein “extreme harm” takes place, and calls it “profoundly unjust.”  He admits however, as does the pro-life movement, that it is an “agonizing and painful decision” and many women “believe that they have no other option.”

In order to be forgiven by God of such a serious offence, the pope says the one who has procured the abortion must be made aware of the “gravity of the sin committed” and be truly repentant. They must come, says Francis, with a “contrite heart, seek forgiveness for” the abortion and hoping for “reconciliation with the Father.”

The full statement from the Pope on the matter of abortion follows:

One of the serious problems of our time is clearly the changed relationship with respect to life. A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life. The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured itand who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

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TLC stars Kody Brown and his four "wives"
Fr. Mark Hodges

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Surprise, surprise: New suit says gay ‘marriage’ ruling laid ground for legal polygamy

Fr. Mark Hodges
By Fr. Mark Hodges

SALT LAKE CITY, UT, September 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – When "The Pill" was made available to the public in 1964, Christians warned it could lead to promiscuity and disassociation of sex with marriage and children.  They were ridiculed as religious fanatics.

When abortion was made legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy in 1973, Christians warned that it would not save women's lives, but would instead lead to devaluing all human life, especially children's lives. They were dismissed as moral-legislating hate-mongers.

When euthanasia was legalized in Oregon and other states, Christians warned that the non-terminally ill and eventually the mentally handicapped, or simply the unwanted, would be killed in the name of mercy. They were mocked as right-wing crazies.

When sodomy laws in Texas and elsewhere were stricken from the books in 2003, Christians warned that societal approval of that harmful practice would lead to an increase in disease and further perversion. They were ignored and vilified.

When DADT (Don't Ask Don't Tell) rules for the military were reversed, Christians warned that the epidemic of rapes in the armed services would increase, not decrease, and that combat readiness would continue to diminish. They were called bigots, their words "hate speech."

And so on. Recent history is rife with examples of conservatives warning against societal degradation being vilified as "slippery slope" straw man creators, who want only to legislate morality.

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That's how those who warned that the Supreme Court's same-sex "marriage" decision would lead to legalization of any and all kinds of "marriage," such as a man and several wives or vice versa.

And, as in every case cited above, what Christian conservatives warned is exactly what has now happened.

In a U.S. 10th Circuit court filing, reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives point to the U.S. Supreme Court's historic ruling on same-sex marriage to buttress their pro-polygamy case.

Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth, summarized to LifeSiteNews, "The left's chaotic cultural agenda knows no boundaries. Once 'marriage' could be redefined to accommodate sexual perversion, it would be impossible to stop other perversions from being recognized." 

The American Family Association's Ed Vitagliano told LifeSiteNews, "It has been clear for decades that sexual radicals in America have been targeting the God-ordained institution of marriage for destruction. Toss in a handful of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, beginning in 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas), and ending with this summer's debacle (Obergefell v. Hodges), and we are on the verge of seeing the secularists succeed." 

The AFA executive vice president concluded to LifeSiteNews, "We have no doubt that the polygamists will be next to step into the federal courts."

Indeed. Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn, have asked the court to uphold a judge's ruling striking down part of Utah's law against polygamy. To prove their case, they cite precedents involving same-sex marriage (United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges), and a case that struck down a ban on sodomy (Lawrence v. Texas).

"From the rejection of morality legislation in Lawrence, to the expansion of the protections of liberty interests in Obergefell, it is clear that states can no longer use criminal codes to ... punish those who choose to live in consensual but unpopular unions," Brown's filing states. "This case is about the criminalization of consensual relations."

LaBarbera told LifeSiteNews that the move to legalize polygamy is no surprise. "Once the argument for homosexual so-called 'marriage' became 'Love Is Love,' it was only a matter of time before multiple-partner activists would start defending the 'right' to have THEIR [perversion of] 'love' legitimized by state-recognized 'marriage.'"

The Browns, who appear on the television show "Sister Wives," sued the state of Utah over its ban on polygamy, which Brown calls "plural relationships." They argue that the law violates their right to freely practice their religion and their right to equal protection under the law.

Specifically, Brown is challenging the state's assertion that polygamy is harmful to societies that condone it.

Brown argues that the state should not have "the right to impose criminal morality codes on citizens, compelling them to live their lives in accordance with the religious or social values of the majority of citizens."

LaBarbera concluded, "Social conservatives and Christians must work to overturn Obergefell, just like homosexual activists worked to overturn the Supreme Court's Bowers v. Hardwick decision in 1986 that allowed anti-sodomy laws. Otherwise, we are guaranteed to lose more and more freedoms as 'gay' power grows, using legalized 'marriage' as leverage."

Arguments in the Brown polygamy case could take place before the 10th Circuit Court in Denver before the end of the year.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, MD, on March 6, 2014. Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

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Sen. McConnell: GOP won’t push Obama on Planned Parenthood defunding

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Planned Parenthood won't lose its funding for at least 18 months, says America's top senator.

Speaking on WYMT TV, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said, "The president’s made it very clear he’s not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that’s another issue that awaits a new president, hopefully with a different point of view about Planned Parenthood."

“We just don’t have the votes to get the outcome that we’d like,” he said. “Again, the president has the pen to sign it. If he doesn’t sign it, it doesn’t happen. But, yeah, we voted on that already in the Senate, we’ll vote on it again, but I would remind all of your viewers the way you make a law in this country, the Congress has to pass it and the president has to sign it.”

McConnell's comments came despite pressure from Senators and Representatives alike, as well as pro-life groups, who want Republicans to make defunding a priority.

"If the president of the United States and Harry Reid think it's more important that Planned Parenthood get your tax dollars than to pay our troops, then they are shutting down the government,” Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan, R-OH, told CNN last week.

Jordan and others have pushed GOP leaders to attach defunding efforts to must-pass pieces of legislation, such as a highway bill earlier this summer and the upcoming Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government running. GOP leaders have generally opposed this strategy, which has created a schism within the party.

Conversely, Democrats have been largely united. Leaders and rank-and-file members in both parties have generally supported taxpayer funding of the abortion giant, despite the possibility of illegal abortions being done to illegally harvest fetal organs and other body parts.

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