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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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Federal court says NY allowed to ban ‘Choose Life’ plates as ‘patently offensive’

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By Ben Johnson

ALBANY, NY, May 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The pro-life message can be classified as “patently offensive,” a federal appeals court ruled last week. The new opinion came as a three-judge panel ruled that New York state was right to reject a “Choose Life” license plate on the grounds that it may grate on New Yorkers' political sensibilities.

The judges split on whether New York could deny a pro-adoption group the right to have its own license plate, although the state has in the past allowed plates endorsing political causes associated with the liberal viewpoint, such as environmentalism.

Judge Rosemary Pooler, who was appointed by President Clinton, wrote that the state's denial did not harm anyone's right to freedom of expression, because drivers “may display a ‘Choose Life’ bumper sticker — or even cover every available square inch of their vehicle with such stickers. That message will resonate just as loudly as if vehicle displayed a ‘Choose Life’ license plate.”

Judge Debra Ann Livingston, a President George W. Bush appointee, wrote in her dissent that “a proposed custom plate depicting a sun and two smiling children, and bearing the words, ‘Choose Life’ [thought] to be ‘patently offensive’” was “surprising.”

“Pro-adoption organizations should have the same speech rights as any other organization. While the district court affirmed this basic freedom, the circuit court denied free speech in favor of government censorship,” said Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at ADF. “The state doesn’t have the authority to target The Children First Foundation specialty plates for censorship based on its life-affirming viewpoint.”

The ruling is the lastest round in a legal battle that has raged for more than a decade and, pro-lifers say, seen state officials repeatedly suppress their First Amendment rights.

The Children First Foundation applied for the specialty license plate in 2002, but state officials say the message and design was “too controversial.” In 2004, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on CFF's behalf.

New York's Department of Motor Vehicles repeatedly denied the “Choose Life” license plates on the grounds that the message was “patently offensive.”

The same appeals court rejected an effort to suppress the plates made by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and agreed that Albany officials denied the plates based on viewpoint discrimination.

In 2006, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals noted that CFF “specifically alleges that defendants denied the picture-plate application ‘based on their disagreement with [the] life-affirming viewpoint expressed on the plate.’”

“On a motion to dismiss, we must accept this allegation, and all reasonable inferences drawn from it, as true,” the judges ruled.

Spitzer, a Democrat who strongly supported abortion-on-demand and gay “marriage,” served as governor beginning in 2007 but resigned his office in the midst of a prostitution scandal only 15 months later.

In November 2011, a federal court ruled that “New York has run afoul of the First Amendment by giving the Commissioner unbridled discretion to engage in viewpoint discrimination.”

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Yet the case has dragged on through the appeals process.

“The state has wrongly gotten away with speech discrimination against our client for more than 10 years,” Tedesco said after last week's ruling.

He said ADF is considering its next legal move.

As of this writing, “Choose Life” license plates are available in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

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Michael Coren stands outside St. James Anglican Cathedral as he prepares to be received into the Anglican Communion on April 19, 2015. Anglican Diocese of Toronto / Facebook
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‘Official’ Catholic newspaper defends running pro-abortion piece by Michael Coren

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By Pete Baklinski
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MUENSTER, Saskatchewan, May 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- The Prairie Messenger, described as the "official Catholic newspaper for western Canada," is defending the publication of a piece last week in which ex-Catholic author Michael Coren openly advocates for abortion in the case of rape while saying the notion of “criminalizing abortion” is “repugnant.”

In his piece titled "Seamless garment," Coren — who recently left the Catholic Church to join the Anglican Church of Canada over Catholic teaching on homosexuality — writes that the 10-year-old Paraguayan girl who seized international headlines after becoming pregnant by rape should be legally allowed to abort her baby.

“A terrified little girl victimized by those around her and forced by a government to give birth to the child of her rapist? That is not justice, that is not life, that is not right. God must be weeping,” he writes.

Criminalizing abortion, Coren writes, would “give state legitimization and authority to a minority view and what is to a very large extent a particular religious teaching.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes a different position, however. In paragraph 2273, it states that “as a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights." Catholic teaching holds that every human life is sacred since it comes from God. There is no exception for rape. 

For many years, Coren was one of the most prominently pro-life broadcasters in Canada. Calling himself a “journalist for life,” he wrote a column for The Interim, Canada’s life and family newspaper, and was a frequent paid speaker at pro-life events. The Prairie Messenger column appears to be the first time that he has publicly renounced his pro-life position.

Prairie Messenger: “We live in a diverse society where the challenges of daily living cause people to be confronted with difficult circumstances in a world where nothing is black and white."

Rebecca Kiessling, founder of Save The 1, told LifeSiteNews that she was disgusted to see an article in a Catholic newspaper that supports abortion. Kiessling, who was conceived by rape, is a public advocate for those targeted for abortion because they were conceived in rape.

“We are also told in Deuteronomy not to punish a child for the sins of the father and we are not to shed innocent blood. Doing so goes against every concept of justice. I did not deserve the death penalty for the crimes of my biological father. There is a misplaced compassion when anyone wants to kill the innocent child. Punish rapists, not babies,” she said.

Monica Kelsey, who was also conceived in rape, told LifeSiteNews that she was “deeply saddened to hear about Christians standing for the killing of an innocent child.”

“We all agree that this is a situation that deeply saddens us all, but killing this young woman’s child is not going to unrape her. It will further victimize her and, in the process, kill an innocent child.”

“As a child conceived through a brutal attack and rape where my birth mother almost died, I am deeply saddened that Mr. Coren is making an exception for this precious child's life, simply because his father is a rapist. God can get this 10-year-old child through this tough time, but why compound the issue with an abortion? This girl needs us to walk beside her, loving her and helping her make an adoption or parenting plan,” she said.

"This is a life, this is justice for this child. Saving this pre-born child's life is the right thing to do,” she added.

Dolores Castellanos, the doctor who is monitoring the 10-year-old girl in Paraguay, has confirmed that the pregnancy is developing without affecting the health of the infant or the little girl. Nevertheless, the international abortion lobby has latched onto the case as an opportunity to force the small South American country to change its pro-life constitution which currently protects life from the moment of conception.

Prairie Messenger is a weekly Catholic newspaper published by the Benedictine monastic community at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan. The Diocese of Saskatoon, the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface, and the Archdiocese of Regina are among those that promote the newspaper.

When LifeSiteNews asked Prairie Messenger News Editor Rev. Peter Novecosky, OSB, why it ran a piece from an ex-Catholic who advocates for positions at extreme odds with clear Catholic teaching, spokesperson Maureen Weber responded: “Because we have much to gain by listening to the voices of others.”

“To carry only Catholic columnists who repeat the catechism would mean never hearing and acknowledging the voices of those who are living the hard realities of life on the peripheries, as Pope Francis puts it. Other columnists present other viewpoints that reflect these difficult life issues. Our readers can address these issues when they are presented and, as thinking adults, they need to do more than repeat rote answers.”

Weber said that the editors of Prairie Messenger “refuse to see abortion as a single issue, but rather, as a seamless garment of protection for all of life, both the unborn and the born, support for women, for work toward alleviating the poverty that leads so many women to make desperate decisions, restorative justice rather than harsh sentences with no possibility of rehabilitation, defence policies, health care, policies on the disabled, the aged, euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

“We live in a diverse society where the challenges of daily living cause people to be confronted with difficult circumstances in a world where nothing is black and white,” she said.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, criticized in 2013 those who champion the Church’s moral vision as a “seamless garment” while ignoring actual occasions of real injustice.

“The ‘seamless garment’ image was used to great effect to root the Church’s response to various moral issues — from nuclear proliferation to poverty — within the overarching teaching on the sanctity of human life, from natural conception to natural death,” he said.

“Unfortunately, however, it is also true that the image of the ‘seamless garment’ has been used by some theologians and Catholic politicians, in an intellectually dishonest manner, to allow or at least to justify turning a blind eye to instances of abortion, contraception, or public funding for embryonic stem cell research, as long as these were simultaneously accompanied by opposition to the death penalty or promotion of economic development for the poor - issues which are also part of the fabric of Catholic moral teaching,” he said.

The Prairie Messenger, which acts as the newspaper for a number of dioceses in Western Canada, has faced criticism in the past for opposing Catholic teaching.

In a July 2004 Catholic Insight article titled “A flawed stewardship,” Joe Campbell of Saskatoon, SK, called the Prairie Messenger’s editorial stance “disappointing” for taking what he called a “cafeteria approach to teachings on faith and morals, accepting some while rejecting others.”

Campbell criticized then-editor Rev. Andrew Britz, OSB, for failing to support Church teachings on issues such as the male priesthood, contraception, fornication, and homosexuality.

“Not only has Fr. Britz failed to support certain teachings, but he has repeatedly challenged them. He has managed this in three ways: through his editorials; through regular columnists he has retained; and through unbalanced coverage of certain events and issues,” he wrote at that time.

Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, told LifeSiteNews that a Catholic publication should publish what the Catholic Church teaches.

“Why they would allow this to be published is certainly beyond me. I think it behooves a Catholic publication to stand-up for what the Church actually teaches. Without some counter argument in defense of Church teaching right along side this piece, I think it's wrong to run something like that,” he said.

Contact info for respectful communcations:

Diocese of Saskatoon (home of Prairie Messenger) 
Bishop Donald Bolen
Ph: 306-659-5824 ext. 824
Email: [email protected]

Prairie Messenger 
Rev. Peter Novecosky, OSB
Ph: 306-682-1772
Email: [email protected]

Archdiocese of Saint Boniface
Most Rev. Albert LeGatt, DTh
Ph: 204-237-9858
Email: [email protected]

Archdiocese of Regina
Archbishop Daniel Bohan
Ph: (306) 352-1651
Director of Communications
Bobbi Yanko - ext 230
Email: [email protected]

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Dutch bishops’ aid group funding Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes

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By Lisa Bourne

May 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Cordaid, the Dutch arm of the Vatican’s charitable umbrella Caritas Internationalis, is openly promoting contraception and says access to birth control is vital for the good of women in developing countries. The group has also given money to leading international abortion providers Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International.

Cordaid defended itself when questioned by LifeSiteNews. Calling itself a “proud member” of Caritas Internationalis, a representative said that “access to affordable and good-quality family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare are crucial to strengthening the position of women in developing countries and to lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies.”

A new report by the Lepanto Institute details evidence of numerous violations of Church teaching from Cordaid's own website.

In 2012 Cordaid started a program called “Making sexual and reproductive health services work for the next generation” in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cordaid: “Access to affordable and good-quality family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare are crucial to strengthening the position of women in developing countries and to lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies.”

“There is a clear need for sex education and contraception in the African Great Lakes region,” Cordaid wrote of the program. “Its aim is to provide a better future for young generations, reduce childbirth mortality among women through more effective family planning and alleviate poverty among families.”

It began another contraception program the following year in Burundi, Congo, and Rwanda. A Cordaid program distributed condoms in the Congo in 2012, and another worked to provide condoms and other contraceptives in Malawi in 2013, while a third provided condoms in Sierra Leone in 2011 and 2012.

The Cordaid website also shows that it gave the Philippines Planned Parenthood affiliate €220,491 in 2013 for a teen sex-ed program, and partnered with another affiliate in Sierra Leone in 2013 and 2014. Cordaid gave a Marie Stopes affiliate over half a million Euros in 2013 to provide birth control, including sterilization.

Cordaid is not only a member but also a co-founder of Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican’s coalition of Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations. There are 165 members in some 200 countries and territories across the world, and Cordaid is Caritas Internationalis’ local affiliate for the Netherlands.

The head of Caritas Internationalis was released from her position in 2011 amidst internal changes requested by the Vatican, prompted by concerns over the development agency’s Catholic identity. The following year Pope Benedict XVI ordered a reform of Caritas Internationalis.

The Lepanto Institute’s Michael Hichborn criticized Cordaid’s open flaunting of its membership in Caritas Internationalis while obviously disobeying Church teaching.

"With Cordaid boasting its proud membership in Caritas Internationalis while simultaneously fully admitting to dispensing contraception and funding Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International, Caritas has an obligation to expel Cordaid from its rosters," he told LifeSiteNews.

Responding to LifeSiteNews’ inquiry into the report’s specifics, in addition to stating that women benefit from “family planning” services and expressing importance in reducing “unwanted pregnancies,” Cordaid insisted it is not involved in providing abortion.

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“Cordaid's instruments of family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare do not include abortion,” the relief group said.

Cordaid also said it had the esteem of those with whom it collaborates. “Our partners, governments and our funding partners respect the way we, as a proud member of Caritas Internationalis, fulfil our role to build bridges between faith based and non-faith based organizations in north and south.”

“The catholic social teachings are the fundament of our identity and work,” the group added. “The fundamental elements of the catholic social teachings, subsidiarity, solidarity, bonum com unum and human dignity, inspire and guide us in our mission to build flourishing communities in the world’s most fragile and conflict affected areas.”  

LifeSiteNews sent inquiries to Caritas Internationalis regarding Cordaid’s activities in conflict with Church teaching, and did not receive a response before press time.

Hichborn decried the thought of Catholics in the Netherlands funding anti-Catholic initiatives. "Are the bishops of the Netherlands aware of what Cordaid is doing?” he asked. “Do Catholic parishes in the Netherlands take up collections for Cordaid? The Catholic faithful need to be made aware of what is happening in our Church."

Cordaid’s full statement to LifeSiteNews:

As a Catholic organization, Cordaid has long experience in healthcare in developing countries, especially sexual and reproductive healthcare.

In our programs one of our aims is to build bridges between citizens and governments, partners in the North and partners in the South, and bring together both religious and non-religious organizations.

Our long experience has taught us that good, complete and timely information and access to affordable and good-quality family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare are crucial to strengthening the position of women in developing countries and to lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies. Cordaid's instruments of family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare do not include abortion.

Our partners, governments and our funding partners respect the way we, as a proud member of Caritas Internationalis, fulfil our role to build bridges between faith based and non-faith based organizations in north and south. The catholic social teachings are the fundament of our identity and work. The fundamental elements of the catholic social teachings, subsidiarity, solidarity, bonum comunum and human dignity, inspire and guide us in our mission to build flourishing communities in world’s most fragile and conflict affected areas.   

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