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Prosecution rests case in Mark Houck trial, defense motions to dismiss the case

The Houck family / Photo credit: Thomas More Society

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 26, 2023 / 17:45 pm (CNA).

On the second day of witness testimony in the trial of Mark Houck, a pro-life father of seven charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, defense lawyers argued that the federal case against their client be dismissed.

Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Gerald Pappert himself raised that possibility, asking the prosecution at one point whether the federal law didn’t “seem to be stretched a little thin here?” 

Before the court adjourned to consider dismissal, arguments from the prosecution and defense focused on two questions. 

First, did Houck, a longtime sidewalk counselor outside of the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center Planned Parenthood clinic in Philadelphia, shove a volunteer clinic escort because he was trying to interfere with that escort’s provision of reproductive health services?

And second, did the clinic escort, 73-year-old Bruce Love — who was 72 at the time — instigate Houck to push him by harassing Houck’s son? 

The allegations in the case relate to two incidents that occurred at the abortion clinic on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved Love, once when Love was attempting to escort clients and again during a verbal altercation with Love in front of the clinic.

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.” 

The jury was shown a video of the latter of the two incidents that shows Love approaching Houck and his son as they were standing on the sidewalk outside the Planned Parenthood clinic. It then shows Love heading back toward the clinic while Houck points at the entrance of the building. Love then turns back one more time to approach Houck as he was making his way back to the street corner. Houck can then be seen turning and pushing Love, who then falls to the ground.

The defense argued Thursday that Love was saying degrading things to Houck’s son during the exchange, an accusation that Love denies.

Love said on the witness stand Thursday that he approached Houck twice that day to fulfill his responsibilities as a clinic escort and guide women if they wanted an escort. Part of his responsibilities, he said, is to tell the women that they don’t have to talk to “protesters” if they don’t want to. There are no women seen with Houck on the video evidence that shows the second incident. There is no video of the first incident. 

During the prosecution’s questioning of Love, Love consistently denied saying anything to Houck’s son on the day of the incident.

Love told the prosecutor that the only thing he said to Houck on the day of the incident was “Is that a threat?” Love claims that he asked the question after Houck allegedly threatened to push Love in the street.

One of the prosecutors, Sanjay Patel from the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, criminal section, in Washington, D.C., said at the conclusion of the day that Love’s testimony alleging Houck had called Love a “murderer” and a “baby killer” proves that Houck pushed Love to interfere with his provision of reproductive health services.

It was never specified when over the past several years Houck allegedly said those comments. 

Defense attorney Brian McMonagle of the law firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis questioned Love on the witness stand.

McMonagle asked Love: “Do you remember saying [to Houck], ‘Why don’t you go home and masturbate?’”

“How about ‘hey a**hole?’” he asked.  

He also asked Love if he remembered saying to Houck’s son, “Do you see how your dad is hurting women?” 

“‘Your dad doesn’t care about women.’ Do you remember saying that?” he asked.

“‘I want nothing to do with your religion,’” McMonagle quoted Love as allegedly saying.

McMonagle then asked Father Jim Hutchins, chaplain for Houck’s sidewalk counseling apostolate, The King’s Men, to stand up. 

“Remember calling him a f**** ahole?” McMonagle asked Love, referring to Hutchins.

Love answered in the negative to all of the accusations. 

Hutchins told CNA at the courthouse that Love is “lying through his teeth.” 

The three witnesses who testified during the day said they saw Houck push down Love and that there was an argument or shouting happening.

One of the witnesses who was questioned, 31-year-old Steven Jeronimo, said that he didn’t remember exactly what Houck yelled but that he “did hear a mention of a kid.”

Ellen Weiss, 71, another witness whose first day as a clinic escort was on the day of the incident, also said Houck was “saying something about his son.”

Another witness, 39-year-old Tristan Dhan, said on the witness stand that he saw Houck, identified as the man who pushed Love, walking down the street with his son after the push. 

When Love was asked by the defense if Houck shouted at him to “stay away from my son,” Love said that he didn’t recall those words, but that Houck might have said that.

At the end of the day, the defense asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that Houck was defending his son from harassment and that Love was the instigator. 

Referencing the FACE Act, McMonagle said: “To give [Love] the cover of this statue is a disgrace.”  

In a back and forth with the prosecuting attorney following the defense’s motion, Judge Pappert asked, “Doesn’t that statute [FACE] seem to be stretched a little thin here?” 

The attorney, Patel, said FACE is not being stretched thin because the government has provided a case meeting every element of the act.

The judge said he would consider both arguments. The case could be dismissed as early as tomorrow, pending the judge’s decision. 

McMonagle concluded by saying that the government’s case is “absurd.”  

“That’s why you don’t see cases like this,” he added.

Christian baker loses appeal over transgender birthday cake case

Cake artist Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. / Alliance Defending Freedom.

Denver, Colo., Jan 26, 2023 / 15:45 pm (CNA).

A Colorado appellate court has ruled against a baker who appeared in court once again for declining to make a cake that contradicts his religious beliefs. 

While Jack Phillips’ successful U.S. Supreme Court case concerned his refusal to make a same-sex wedding cake, he now faces a civil lawsuit for declining to make a cake celebrating a purported gender transition of a transgender-identifying attorney.

In a Thursday decision, a Colorado Court of Appeals three-judge panel sided with Autumn Scardina, a man who identifies as a transgender woman. Scardina said Phillips and his Lakewood, Colorado, Masterpiece Cakeshop discriminated when he declined to bake a pink cake with blue frosting to celebrate Scardina’s purported gender change.

Phillips has ruled out making various kinds of cakes he says would violate his Christian religious beliefs. He is represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group, which will appeal the case to the Colorado Supreme Court.

“Free speech is for everyone. No one should be forced to express a message that violates their core beliefs,” Jake Warner, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel, said Jan. 26.

“Over a decade ago, Colorado officials began targeting Jack, misusing state law to force him to say things he does not believe,” Warner said. “Then an activist attorney continued that crusade. This cruelty must stop. One need not agree with Jack’s views to agree that all Americans should be free to say what they believe, even if the government disagrees with those beliefs.”

Phillips’ attorneys had appealed a 2021 trial court’s judgment in favor of Scardina, ruling that Phillips and his bakery violated state anti-discrimination law.

The Jan. 26 appellate court decision, written by Judge Thomas J. Schutz, sided with Scardina’s claim to have been denied service because of a transgender identity, in violation of the right to be free from discrimination in a place of public accommodation. 

Schutz said the defendants “contend their decision not to make a cake for Scardina was based on their firm and sincere religious beliefs and the right to be free from compelled speech that would violate those beliefs.”

However, Schutz rejected the argument that the Colorado law compelled speech in this case.

“It was only after Scardina disclosed that she was transgender and intended to use the cake to celebrate both her birthday and her transition that Masterpiece and Phillips refused to provide the cake,” said the ruling. “Thus, it was Scardina’s transgender status, and her desire to use the cake in celebration of that status, that caused Masterpiece and Phillips to refuse to provide the cake.”

According to the ruling, Scardina’s cake request differed from previous cake requests, which required an explicit message.

“We conclude that creating a pink cake with blue frosting is not inherently expressive and any message or symbolism it provides to an observer would not be attributed to the baker,” said the ruling, which concluded the state law therefore does not compel speech.

The use of the plaintiff’s transgender pronouns was also an issue in the appeal. Schutz rejected arguments that the trial court showed hostility toward the religious beliefs of Phillips and his wife, Debra.

“The trial court initially indicated it would not force parties in the case to use pronouns they found offensive,” the court’s decision continued. “However, the court noted that Ms. Phillips’ decision to avoid using feminine pronouns when referring to Ms. Scardina was relevant to the credibility of her suggestion that Scardina’s transgender status was unrelated to the decision not to make the requested cake.”

“We do not discern any suggestion of hostility in the court’s statements,” the ruling said.

Phillips has been involved in legal trouble for more than a decade in cases that implicate free speech and the place of Christians in public life as changes to anti-discrimination laws provide more avenues for lawsuits against them.

In 2018, Phillips won a six-year legal battle in the U.S. Supreme Court after he faced legal action for declining to bake a cake to celebrate a same-sex couple’s union. The court’s 7-2 decision did not rule on the free speech claims or the claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Rather, it found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission proceedings against the baker “showed elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs motivating his objection.”

In June 2017, the day the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Phillips’ previous case, Scardina contacted Masterpiece Cakes and requested a cake with a pink and blue design to celebrate a gender transition. The bakery declined the order from Scardina, setting in motion another legal and political dispute.

Amid the publicity surrounding his case, Phillips’ cakeshop received multiple requests for cakes celebrating Satan, using satanic symbols, requesting sexually explicit content, or promoting marijuana use, Alliance Defending Freedom’s case briefing said. Scardina had requested at least one of these satanic-themed cakes, according to the initial brief his attorneys filed on his behalf.

In an early deposition for the case, Scardina said: “I think I wanted him to make me a cake with an image of Satan smoking a joint.”

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission accepted Scardina’s complaint in June 2018, then dropped the complaint after Phillips’ countersuit resulted in an agreement with the state that left open a civil lawsuit from Scardina.

John McHugh, a lawyer representing Scardina, said Thursday that Phillips and his cakeshop “just object to the idea of Ms. Scardina wanting a birthday cake that reflects her status as a transgender woman because they object to the existence of transgender people,” the Associated Press reported.

Alliance Defending Freedom said in a statement that Phillips “works with all people and always decides whether to take a project based on what message a cake will express, not who is requesting it.”

The legal group is pursuing another case in Colorado, 303 Creative v. Elenis, representing a graphic and website designer Lorie Smith. Smith is concerned that Colorado law can compel her and her art studio to create designs that violate her beliefs about marriage.

Sacristan killed, priest wounded in terrorist attacks in Spain; bishops condemn violence

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CNA Newsroom, Jan 26, 2023 / 14:30 pm (CNA).

A sacristan was killed and a priest wounded during a suspected terrorist attack Wednesday on two Catholic churches in Spain.

As reported by Europa Press, according to police sources, the sacristan of the Church of Our Lady of La Palma was murdered and the pastor of St. Isidore Church was wounded.

Both churches are in the city of Algeciras near the far southern end of the Iberian peninsula across the strait of Gibraltar from Morocco.

Calatunya Press reported that the deceased sacristan is Diego Valencia, and the priest is Father Antonio Rodríguez.

The news outlet further reported that in the St. Isidore attack, the suspect entered the church and struck at statues with a machete. The priest tried to expel him and once outside, the suspect, dressed in a djellaba (typical Moroccan dress), stabbed the priest in the neck.

Sources from the 112 Andalusia Emergency Service informed Europa Press that the attack occurred around 7:30 p.m.

The Diocese of Cádiz-Ceuta where Algeciras is located said in a Jan. 26 statement that the injured priest is hospitalized and is “fortunately already out of danger.”

The deceased sacristan was “much loved in the parish and in the city for his dedication and affability with everyone,” the diocese related.

The National Court has initiated the investigation as an alleged jihadist terror attack, a process carried out by the Central Investigating Court No. 6.

In wake of the attacks, the mayor of Algeciras, José Ignacio Landaluce, decreed a day of official mourning, with flags at half staff on municipal buildings, and announced that a rally will be held in front of the city’s largest church.

Various Spanish bishops condemned the attack and offered their condolences to the victims and their families.

“It is with pain that I have received the news of the events in Algeciras,” Francisco César García, the auxiliary bishop of Toledo and secretary general of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference, wrote on Twitter.

“In these sad moments of suffering, we join the grief of the families of the victims and the Diocese of Cádiz and ask the God of life and peace for the speedy recovery of the injured,” the prelate said.

In a Jan. 26 press conference, García also revealed that Bishop Rafael Zornoza of the Cádiz Diocese was making a pastoral visit in Algeciras “and was not in that church but was a few meters away.”

Although the Zornoza was not in direct danger, this circumstance “allowed him to immediately be present at the scene and receive firsthand information.”

The secretary general of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference acknowledged that “in this case there was a religious motivation of hatred of the faith” but stressed that “we cannot and should not demonize groups in general.”

The prelate expressed in any case the “most absolute and total condemnation” of the attacks “with a special gravity, which is when this violence is wrongly tried to be justified in the name of God. That is taking the name of God in vain, whatever the name of that one true God may be called.”

García also recalled that “as St. John Paul II said, revalidated by Benedict XVI and confirmed by Pope Francis, the name of God can never, ever, ever be used for any act of violence.”

The Spanish Bishops’ Conference expressed in a statement their “closeness and heartfelt sentiments and the consolation of faith to the families of the victims, to the Diocese of Cádiz, and to the people of Gibraltar County.”

“We also express our strongest condemnation of all forms of violence, which can have no place in the society in which we live,” the prelates stressed.

“As believers, we ask the God of mercy and peace to fill the hearts of the victims with hope and heal the wounded, accompany the Church and society in the search for peace, and to convert the hearts of violent people,” the bishops concluded.

Cardinal Juan José Omella, president of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference and archbishop of Barcelona, said he was “shocked by the armed attack that took place in two parishes in Algeciras, which caused the death of the sacristan of one of them and seriously injured the pastor of another as well as at least two other people.”

“I pray for the victims of this atrocity and for their relatives,” the cardinal assured.

The Diocese of Cádiz-Ceuta released a statement from Bishop Rafael Zornoza calling on the faithful to “be bearers of peace and mercy.”

The prelate said that the diocese is “still in shock and pained by the murder of the sacristan and this good Salesian priest who was wounded.”

At the same time, he emphasized that “we want, however, to be bearers of peace and mercy in the midst of this world where we live, which has so many tensions and so many manifestations of inhuman violence.”

The bishop said that although the attacks hit them “very hard,” at the same time “they are uniting people more in prayer and faith.”

He has also stressed his firm condemnation, although he was cautious about assuming what happened: “Of course we strongly condemn these incidents, although we are really awaiting clarification from the law enforcement authorities.”

Zornoza said he was grateful for “all the expressions of condolences, solidarity, and love” that they are receiving “from near and far, from the entire Church.”

“The truth is that we feel the strength of the prayer of the entire Church and its closeness, its encouragement and its testimony strengthen us a lot,” he said.

“We will continue to entrust ourselves and everyone to the Lord,” he concluded.

Minnesota bishops decry bill that would make abortion a right

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Washington D.C., Jan 26, 2023 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

The Catholic bishops of Minnesota urged lawmakers to vote down a bill that would codify the right to abortion, proposing instead a slate of pro-family measures that they say will reduce demand for abortions.  

Minnesota’s H.F. 1, which has a companion bill in the state Senate, passed the House Jan. 19 by a narrow 69-65 vote. Abortion already is available in Minnesota throughout pregnancy for most reasons. The present bill — known as the Protect Reproductive Options Act — would codify into law a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom,” ensuring the right to abortion in Minnesota up to birth for any reason.  

Separate bills under consideration in Minnesota would remove parental notification requirements for minors procuring abortions as well as remove state protections for babies born alive after an abortion.

The midwestern state’s Catholic bishops lamented the haste with which the bills were being advanced and implored lawmakers to “pause” and consider the broader implications. 

“When contemplating policy on any issue, we must consider all those who will be affected. In this case, that includes the mother, father, and most especially, the unborn child whose life is being taken,” Minnesota’s bishops said in a Jan. 26 statement. 

“In a post-Dobbs world in which states that allow abortion have the responsibility to both regulate the practice and protect nascent human life, we should be working to find common ground on the challenges before us in Minnesota. We stand firm that every child should be welcomed in life and protected by law.”

The bishops’ concerns about H.F. 1/S.F. 1 go beyond abortion, however. They warned that an enshrining of “reproductive freedom” in the state could open the door to additional unintended consequences, including the ability of minor children to undergo sex-transition therapies and sterilization without parental consent. Also of concern is the potential infringement on the conscience and religious liberty rights of individual and institutional medical providers who do not wish to provide these treatments, the bishops said.

The Catholic leaders offered suggestions for legislative priorities that they said would help to offer support to mothers in need, reducing the demand for abortion. They noted that the Minnesota Catholic Conference has compiled a set of pro-family policy proposals at a dedicated website under the banner of a project called Families First. 

Summarizing their proposals, “this support means, among other things, policies that fund: nutritional aid for expectant mothers; health care coverage during and after pregnancy for both mother and child; child care assistance; and adequate housing. Enacting reasonable paid family and caregiver leave laws would help people retain work and care for their newborns. Reconsidering whether our adoption policies are unreasonably burdened by excessive costs or barriers to participation is also an imperative,” the bishops said. 

“We also contend that there is a social duty to remove unnecessary barriers to contracting marriage, having children, and being able to raise them well. By raising the family to the top of our state’s policy priorities, we can help restore the family to its proper position as the foundational building block of society where children best flourish.”

Minnesota is the latest U.S. state to make moves in its legislature to enshrine a right to abortion, though other states are considering new laws. In Maine, Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has signaled support for a bill to allow late-term abortions at any time in pregnancy with a doctor’s approval. 

Other states have already passed far-reaching abortion laws in recent years. Notably Colorado, which already allowed abortion up to birth, passed a law in April 2022 that excluded any and all rights to unborn children, allowing abortion for any reason — including reasons of disability, sex, and race — up until birth.

Minnesota’s H.F. 1 has not yet been voted on in the state Senate.

Five things to know about the violence racking Peru

Riot policemen clash with demonstrators during a protest in Lima on Jan. 24, 2023. / Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Newsroom, Jan 26, 2023 / 10:45 am (CNA).

Violent protests have been taking place for more than a month in different regions of Peru and have claimed at least 54 lives due to clashes with law enforcement. 

The Peruvian bishops have condemned the violence and called on the authorities to find solutions to the crisis. On Jan. 22, Pope Francis called for dialogue and respect for human rights.

The following are five key points to understand the ongoing social and political crisis in Peru.

1. When did the protests start in Peru?

The violent demonstrations began after the arrest of former president Pedro Castillo, a communist, who failed in his Dec. 7, 2022, attempt to carry out a coup by dissolving Congress and ruling by decree. Protests have included roadblocks, attempts to take over airports, attacks on police facilities, and even a mob burning a policeman alive.

The violence has intensified in recent days, amid the call to “take Lima” on Jan. 19, which mobilized thousands of protesters from various regions of the country to converge on the Peruvian capital.

These demonstrations are the most recent point in a political crisis in Peru resulting in six presidents in the last seven years, three of them removed from office by Congress amid accusations of corruption: Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, Martín Vizcarra, and now Pedro Castillo.

2. Who is Pedro Castillo?

Pedro Castillo, a member of Peru Libre, an openly Marxist and Leninist party, is a school teacher who came to power in April 2021 after winning the presidential election in the second round against Keiko Fujimori, daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori.

Fujimori, who governed Peru between 1990 and 2000 and is considered a right-wing politician, was sentenced for various crimes, including corruption, embezzlement, and command responsibility for two massacres of civilians in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima in 1991 and at La Canuta University on the outskirts of Lima in 1992.

During the election campaign, Pedro Castillo and other members of Peru Libre were accused of ties to the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist terrorist group Shining Path, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the country in the 1980s and 1990s.

Since he took office, accusations of corruption have accumulated against Castillo, his family, and his entourage. The day he attempted to carry out a coup, the Peruvian Congress was scheduled to discuss the possibility of impeaching him due to moral incapacity, which they did that same day.

Castillo was arrested by the Peruvian National Police when he was on his way to the Mexican embassy in Lima to request political asylum. Following the constitutional order of succession to the presidency, Castillo was replaced by his vice president, Dina Boluarte, also of Peru Libre, who was sworn in on Dec. 7, 2022.

3. Who are the protesters?

There is no specific group that claims to be organizing the protests, but protesters include student groups, indigenous communities, and radical leftist organizations from various parts of the country.

According to the official ANDINA news agency, Gen. Óscar Arriola, official spokesman for the Peruvian National Police and head of the Criminal Investigation Directorate, said Jan. 13 that members of the terrorist group Shining Path were among the protesters.

“We’re not maintaining that in the protests everyone is a terrorist, but the population, which is exercising its legitimate right to protest, should know that at its side they have people linked to the Shining Path,” he warned.

In a recent statement, Archbishop Javier del Río Alba of Arequipa, one of the southern regions of the country hardest hit by the violent demonstrations, said that “under these circumstances it would not make sense to deny that Peru is a country in conflict and to affirm that the convulsion that we are experiencing is the work of only a small radical group. That group exists, but it finds in the most marginalized population the breeding ground to incite violence.”

The public National University of San Marcos, on whose campus space was given to groups that came to the capital to participate in “taking Lima" to camp, reported that on the night of Jan. 20 a group of protesters beat and expelled security guards from the university and stole security equipment.

According to a Jan. 20 report from the ombudsman’s office, at least 44 civilians have died in clashes, while another nine died “due to traffic accidents and incidents related to the blockade.”

4. What are the protesters asking for?

The demands of the protesters are diverse, but three main ones can be grouped together: the dissolution of Congress, holding a Constituent Assembly to change the 1993 Political Constitution of Peru that is rejected by sectors of the radical left, and the resignation of Dina Boluarte, whom many of the protesters consider to have carried out a coup by following the constitutional order of succession to the presidency and replacing Pedro Castillo.

5. What has the Catholic Church said in the face of the growing violence in Peru?

In the most recent of its repeated calls for an end to the violence and for dialogue, the Catholic Church in Peru offered to “mediate” between the protesters and the Peruvian authorities.

“The death of more than 50 Peruvian brothers is a deep wound in the heart of our people as well as the suffering of all the injured, civilians, and police officers,” the Peruvian bishops said.

On Jan. 22, Pope Francis said: “I join the Peruvian bishops in saying: No to violence, wherever it comes from! No more deaths!”

“I invite you to pray so that the acts of violence in Peru end. Violence extinguishes the hope of a just solution to the problems,” the Holy Father appealed.

The Office of the President of Peru expressed in a Twitter post its gratitude “to His Holiness Pope Francis for keeping Peru in his prayers.”

“That is also our path: the cessation of all acts of violence and dialogue between brothers of the same nation,” the government of Dina Boluarte said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Pro-life college students to protest ‘life-ending’ abortion drugs at Walgreens, CVS 

Anna Lulis from Moneta, Virginia, (left) who works for the pro-life group Students for Life of America, stands beside an abortion rights demonstrator outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on June 24, 2022, after the court's decision in the Dobbs abortion case was announced. / Katie Yoder/CNA

Denver, Colo., Jan 26, 2023 / 10:12 am (CNA).

With the Biden administration’s expansion of abortion pill distribution to neighborhood pharmacies, pro-life college students and other anti-abortion advocates are organizing campaigns against CVS, Walgreens, and other companies that have announced that they will dispense the drugs. 

“Our purpose of having these protests is so that we can let ‘Big Pharma’ companies know that it’s absolutely unacceptable to offer abortion at our neighborhood drug stores,” Caroline Wharton, Students for Life of America press strategist and staff writer, told CNA Jan. 24.

Students for Life is asking pro-life advocates to join its planned protests and advocacy actions directed at companies that have announced their intention to distribute the abortion drug mifepristone. The pro-life organization has almost 1,300 student groups on high school and college campuses, according to its website.

On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, Students for Life will hold its kickoff protest “Cancel Abortion Cartels” at Walgreens’ corporate headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois. It has called for a National Day of Protest at local pharmacies on March 4. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 3 announced it would allow any patient with a prescription to obtain mifepristone from her local retail pharmacy. Both CVS and Walgreens have said they will pursue a certification process to provide the drugs, and Rite Aid has said it will dispense the drugs at a limited number of pharmacies and through the mail.

The protests, Wharton said, aim “to let these CEOs know that they need to go back on this decision. They do not need to certify this program with the FDA and they should not be distributing these life-ending drugs.”

“I don’t want to go into a drugstore and be able to buy my chewing gum and my tights and then get a pill that ends a life. It’s just not acceptable,” Wharton told CNA.

The drug mifepristone works by cutting off nutrients necessary for a fetus to continue developing. It is paired with another drug called misoprostol, which is taken 24 hours or more later to trigger uterine contractions to expel the baby’s dead body. The drug is FDA-approved for abortions up to 10 weeks into gestation. It already accounts for more than half of all abortions in the U.S.

CNA sought comment from Walgreens, which repeated its intentions to distribute abortion pills.

“We intend to become a certified pharmacy under the program,” a spokesperson said Jan. 24. “We are working through the registration, necessary training of our pharmacists, as well as evaluating our pharmacy network in terms of where we normally dispense products that have extra FDA requirements and will dispense these consistent with federal and state laws.”

CVS did not respond to a request for comment.

Students for Life will “absolutely oppose” all pharmacies dispensing the abortion pill, Wharton said.  The arrival of the abortion pill at the neighborhood pharmacy “changes the battlelines for the pro-life movement,” Wharton said.

While prayers and sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities have been a continual practice, plans to distribute the abortion pill through neighborhood pharmacies “changes the way that we’re able to work.”

“Abortion is very harmful for a community overall, so bringing it into all communities like that, I think, is very detrimental,” she said.

Students for Life is organizing letter-writing campaigns and an effort to send Valentine’s Day cards to CEOs to ask them to “urge them to stop making our pharmacies abortion facilities and distributing deadly chemical abortion pills,” its website said.

40 Days for Life, a longtime organizer of peaceful prayer and pro-life outreach campaigns at abortion clinics, will encourage protests at pharmacies during its upcoming Feb. 22-April 2 campaign.

“CVS and Walgreens have replaced Planned Parenthood as the most significant abortion chains in the Western Hemisphere,” Shawn Carney, president and CEO of 40 Days for Life, told CNA Jan. 24. “With 18,000 locations between the two, and now Rite Aid joining in, we have given the hundreds of 40 Days for Life campaign leaders not currently leading a campaign the opportunity to do so outside a pharmacy.”

Last week on its website, 40 Days for Life said the CVS and Walgreens decisions are “turning their stores into abortion facilities.” The organization invited people who don’t have an abortion facility nearby to apply on its website to lead a protest in front of pharmacies that have said they will dispense abortion pills.

Leading these campaigns can “save lives through your witness and abortion pill reversal,” empower pro-life pharmacists, educate the community about the dangers of chemical abortion to women and babies, and “send a message to pharmacy executives that dealing in death is not a good business decision.”

“A dedicated abortion facility is still our first priority, but we have lost campaigns for the best reason — their abortion facility has gone out of business,” Carney told CNA. “Those locations — and many more in rural America — will now be focusing on abortion dispensing pharmacies. The complications of these dangerous abortion drugs (which often result in ER visits or follow-up appointments) and the employee conscience rights issues hitting CVS and Walgreens right now will be a legal headache for pharmacies.”

Until this month, FDA policy only allowed certified doctors, clinics, and some mail-order pharmacies to dispense mifepristone.

Critics of the drug include the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a pro-life think tank. Its July 2022 fact sheet on risks and complications of chemical abortion said that abortion pills are four times riskier than surgical abortions. The need for follow-up care can range from 3% to 10% of women when the drug is taken early in pregnancy and up to 39% of women if accidentally taken late in pregnancy, when surgery could be required.

Women could be put at risk by a lack of ultrasound tests to confirm the age and the position of the unborn child, especially if there is an ectopic pregnancy. A lack of blood test requirements could affect Rh-negative women, who need special treatment to avoid serious risks to future pregnancies.

Wharton said that easier access to the pills can make it easier for abusive men to conceal pregnancy and abuse.

“It’s going to make it easier for abusers in the community to buy these pills,” she objected. “It’s going to make it easier for a woman in a situation where she’s vulnerable to get an abortion, and she has nobody counseling her.”

Retired bishop calls on fellow bishops, pro-lifers to stay focused on culture of life

Bishop Michael Pfeifer was Bishop of San Angelo, Texas, from 1985 to 2013. / Courtesy photo.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 26, 2023 / 09:00 am (CNA).

An emeritus Texas bishop is calling on his fellow Catholic bishops — and all pro-life people — to focus on creating a culture of life following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“2023 is the first full year without Roe v. Wade, but thousands of precious babies are still being killed by abortion,” Bishop Michael D. Pfeifer, OMI, bishop emeritus of San Angelo, wrote in a January pastoral statement marking 50 years since the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that previously legalized abortion nationwide.

He cautioned: “The abortion lobby is spending many millions of dollars, including your taxpayer dollars, on a comprehensive strategy to expand abortion even more this year.”

Pfeifer, who served as bishop of San Angelo from 1985 to 2013, stressed that the Church and all pro-life people still “have much work to do in promoting pro-life messages to its own members and society at large.”

Citing Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the vice president of the U.S. Catholic bishops, Pfeifer pointed to the “many efforts at a presidential and many at a congressional level to use power to facilitate abortion.”

His comments come after President Joe Biden, a Catholic, issued a statement in support of abortion to commemorate the anniversary of the now-obsolete Roe v. Wade decision.

Biden, Pfeifer said, “needs to remember there are no abortion rights in the Constitution nor in the Commandments of God.”

In his statement, Pfeifer called on the bishops to remain unified on the pro-life issue.

“Our clear teaching has the goal of addressing the sacredness of all human life at all stages of life, and to use all the means we have guided by the Holy Spirit to overcome attacks on life and to promote and protect the life of every human being from the very beginning, and to ensure that pregnant and parenting mothers are fully supported in the care of their children before and after birth,” he said.

“This must be our strong, clear message for all pro-lifers and with political leaders at all levels,” he added. “We bishops need to be more proactive in leading these pro-life efforts and especially with our president and other elected officials.”

Pfeifer also condemned government funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, and increased access to abortion drugs. At the same time, he commended pro-life legislation, such the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act that recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pfeifer wrote that the pro-life movement has the “God-given tools” to end abortion and build a culture of life while noting the need for the involvement of the entire community, including young people.

He outlined specific actions, such as more weekly pro-life Masses, adoration, fasting, and prayer, including, praying in front of Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.

Pfeifer also highlighted the importance of winning hearts and minds and building a life-affirming society where abortion becomes unthinkable.

“It is urgent that we also take more courageous and unified action as bishops to encourage members of Congress and our president to pass legislation that advances the health, safety and flourishing of women, children, and families,” he wrote, “and we strongly encourage the passage of bills that support and fund families, such as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and support for child tax credit, paid family leave, pregnancy resource centers, child care, housing and nutrition, maternal and child health, adoption, healthy relations, for environmental protections and inclusion of immigrant families in social programs.”

The government’s “most sacred duty,” he wrote, “is to safeguard the lives of all Americans beginning with the most vulnerable and weakest, the unborn child.”

Pfeifer identified the threat of abortion and protecting the unborn as the “preeminient life issue.”

“This brutal daily killing of these precious sacred images of God should cause all pro-lifers, especially bishops, to fall on our knees in prayerful repentance and reparation, pleading for God’s forgiveness and mercy as we humbly admit before the Lord that we could have and should do much more to prevent the massive daily destruction of tiny, precious human lives,” he wrote.

“God created the human person in the divine image and likeness as the pinnacle of all creation,” he concluded. “Each of us including the unborn share in the image of God’s glory. Human life as a gift from God is sacred and inviolable.”

Bishop remembers slain journalists in Mexico on feast day of their patron saint

null / Microgen/Shutterstock

CNA Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 17:00 pm (CNA).

On the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, Bishop Francisco Javier Acero, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico, remembered and asked for prayers for the members of the media who have been murdered in Mexico and for their families.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, between 2000 and 2018, a total of 134 journalists were murdered and 20 have been forcibly disappeared.

The Mexican Bishops’ Conference stated in a video calling for a day of prayer for the victims on Jan. 15 that in the last 10 years “at least 80 journalists have been murdered in Mexico for practicing their profession despite pressure from civil society and international organizations.” 

In a video released by the Archdiocese of Mexico, Acero said that “in Mexico, defending the truth costs your life.”

“We’re not talking about Middle Eastern countries, no, no, we’re talking about our real Mexico. Defending the truth costs your life,” he stressed.

In 2022, 11 journalists were murdered in Mexico. In a report published in early December 2022, the international organization Reporters Without Borders considered the country to be the most dangerous place to practice journalism in the world, worse than Ukraine, Haiti, Syria, Yemen, and Brazil.

In his video message, a segment of the Jan. 23 live broadcast of “The Voice of the Bishop” program, Acero asked that before turning in for the night, “we pray an Our Father for all the journalists who defend human rights but especially for the families of these 11 journalists who gave up their lives to defend the truth.”

Given the prevalence of organized crime, common criminality, and corruption among politicians it is hard to say who is behind the killings.

Bishop Acero, originally from Spain, came to Mexico 20 years ago and is a naturalized Mexican citizen.

Pope Francis named him an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Mexico in November 2022.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

Two Florida residents indicted for vandalizing pro-life pregnancy centers

A pro-life pregnancy center in Hollywood, Florida, was defaced with pro-abortion graffiti over Memorial Day Weekend 2022. / Courtesy of Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 16:30 pm (CNA).

The Department of Justice on Tuesday indicted two suspects accused of vandalizing three pro-life pregnancy centers in Florida in June 2022 in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

The indictment against the two Floridians, 27-year-old Caleb Freestone and 23-year-old Amber Smith-Stewart, accuses them of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which is also known as the FACE Act. The indictment alleges that their actions amount to a conspiracy to prevent the employees from providing services. They could face up to 12 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and up to $350,000 in fines.

Pro-life pregnancy centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, provide free services and resources to pregnant women, including alternatives to abortion.

LifeChoice Pregnancy Center, a pro-life pregnancy center based in Winter Haven, was spray-painted with several threatening messages including “YOUR TIME IS UP!!,” “WE’RE COMING for U,” “if abortions aren’t safe than niether [sic] are you,” and “We are everywhere.” The facility was unavailable for comment by the time of publication. Two other facilities were allegedly targeted: one in Hollywood and one in Hialeah.

The indictment alleges that the messages were threats of force to intimidate and interfere with the employees at the facilities because of the reproductive health services they provide. It alleges that the two Floridians intentionally damaged and destroyed the facility’s property because of the reproductive health services they provide. Both of those actions violate the FACE Act.

The act became law in the 1990s to establish special protections for reproductive health centers, including pro-life facilities and abortion facilities. It established certain federal penalties for threatening, damaging, and obstructing conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with a person’s right to obtain or provide reproductive care.

According to the DOJ, the FBI Tampa Field Office carried out the investigation with help from the Miami Police Department. 

Some pro-life activists were grateful for the indictment but expressed frustration about the length of time it took to indict the suspects and the lack of arrests in other attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers throughout the country.  

The indictments represent the first suspects known to have been arrested in attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers since a rash of incidents of vandalism began in 2022.

Lynda Bell, the president of Florida Right to Life, told CNA that she is pleased with the indictment. 

“It took way too long … and I know there’s way more out there [who] need to be arrested,” Bell said. 

CNA has independently tracked and confirmed nearly 60 attacks nationwide on pro-life pregnancy centers since May 2022. This includes a significant number of threatening messages through vandalism and several fires. One pro-life center in Wisconsin was firebombed. The organization also claimed that the attacks are underreported because the pro-life centers are trying to protect their clients.

Bell said those who are attacking pro-life centers should be brought to justice and expressed a concern that the attacks “have not been a priority” for the DOJ. Even though the firebombing of the Wisconsin pro-life pregnancy center took place in May, she said there have not yet been any arrests.  

“That’s unheard of with the technology our [law enforcement] has,” Bell added.  

On Jan. 11, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned the recent attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers. The resolution, introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), passed the chamber 222-209, with most Republicans supporting the measure and most Democrats opposing it.  

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, issued a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the DOJ for targeting pro-life Americans.

“These charges are good first steps, but the fight for equal justice is far from over,” the statement read. 

“With a new House GOP majority positioned to exercise its oversight powers, we are finally beginning to see some accountability. Yet the Justice Department continues to target the people of states that protect unborn children and their mothers. Congressional Democrats had the opportunity to condemn the violence and all but three refused, and again we have had to call on the White House to stop vilifying pro-life Americans. The pro-life movement is keeping a watchful eye on this administration and we will not be silent in the face of violence and intimidation.” 

Today, Pennsylvania resident and pro-life advocate Mark Houck appeared in court, where he faces federal charges for allegedly violating the FACE Act. The charges stem from an incident that took place during a protest at an abortion clinic. Houck was arrested a year later by the FBI in a raid of his home as his family looked on.

Pro-life leader and Catholic father of 7 Mark Houck goes to trial: an emotional first day

Mark Houck and his wife, Ryan-Marie Houck, prior to entering the federal court house in Philadelphia on Jan. 25, 2023. / Credit: Thomas More Society/Vimeo

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 25, 2023 / 16:00 pm (CNA).

The prosecution and defense gave fiery opening statements this morning in the federal government’s case against pro-life advocate and Catholic father of seven Mark Houck as his family, seated behind him, reacted in what was an emotional first day of the trial.

The trial, held in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, comes about four months after Houck was arrested at his home in front of his terrified wife and children by federal agents last September, following a federal indictment alleging that he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. 

The FACE Act prohibits “violent, threatening, damaging, and obstructive conduct intended to injure, intimidate, or interfere with the right to seek, obtain, or provide reproductive health services.” 

Prosecutor Ashley Martin of the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleged in her opening statement that Houck was the aggressor and instigator in an incident involving an abortion clinic escort more than one year ago.

The allegations relate to an incident that occurred at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 2021. The federal indictment alleges that Houck twice shoved a clinic patient escort during a verbal altercation while a then 72-year-old man, Bruce Love, was attempting to lead clients inside the clinic.

Martin referred to Houck as a “6-foot-tall, 200-pound, muscular” man who was shouting at Love and assaulted him, alleging that Houck took two hands, placed them on Love’s chest and shoved him to the ground in one incident.

She said that video evidence, which has no sound, corroborates her claim. She did not say what Houck was shouting about. The one-minute video of the incident, which was shown Wednesday in court, shows Houck pushing Love to the ground after Love approaches Houck.

Martin alleged that another altercation between the men occurred first, in which Houck was attempting to talk to two women and elbowed Love after the abortion clinic escort allegedly told the women that they didn’t have to talk to Houck.

That allegation could not be corroborated by video evidence because the footage was apparently not saved by Planned Parenthood, according to Faiz Malik, vice president of people and culture for Planned Parenthood Keystone, who was one of the prosecution’s witnesses who appeared in court. Malik oversees security at the clinic where the incident occurred.

Martin said to the jury that this case is “not about pro-choice, it’s not about pro-life, it’s not about activism, it’s not about politics.”

“Politics just doesn’t come into the equation here,” she added. 

Following the prosecution’s argument, one of Houck’s daughters could be seen crying in the arms of her mother. The room was filled with supporters for Houck, several of whom could be seen praying the rosary.

The defense argued that the charges against Houck should never have made it to federal court. 

Defense attorney Brian McMonagle of the law firm McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis, said in his opening statement that “we’re not in state court here.”

“This is not a state court prosecution for assault,” he said, adding that “they made a federal case out of a shove.” 

In order to fit the criteria laid out in the FACE Act, McMonagle told the jury that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Houck used force, intentionally injured or attempted to injure Love, and that he did it because Love was providing reproductive health services.

“They’ve got to prove motive,” he said.

McMonagle said that Houck “pushed Love because he refused to stop degrading him in front of his son and refused to leave them alone.” He said that Houck intentionally positioned himself a distance away from the entrance to the clinic while sidewalk counseling with his then 12-year-old son, Mark Jr.

Referring to the first incident, McMonagle said that Love approached Houck from behind while Houck was speaking with a woman who left Planned Parenthood and blocked him “like he’s setting a pick in a basketball game.”

He said that Houck shouted at Love, asked him what he was doing, and then returned to the street corner to pray. McMonagle said that Love left Planned Parenthood a short while after and approached Houck and his son. According to McMonagle, Love harassed them, saying things to the boy such as “You’re dad’s a bad guy” and “Your dad doesn’t like women.”

He said Houck told Love several times to return to the clinic and stop harassing his son. He then said that Love began to speak to Houck’s son again after walking away briefly. There is a video of the altercation, but again, there is no sound. The video shows both Love approaching Houck’s location on the street corner and Houck pushing him to the ground. 

McMonagle maintained that Houck’s push was to defend his son and that “Houck’s intentions were not to injure anybody.”

“His motive that day was pure and simple. His hope was that he might be able to touch one heart that day, so he could save a second heart,” he said of Houck’s sidewalk ministry work.

As part of Houck’s Catholic apostolate “The King’s Men,” he does sidewalk counseling for women who are considering abortion.

Two of the prosecution’s witnesses took the stand on Wednesday: Malik and Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Much of the questioning of the witnesses focused on the responsibilities of Planned Parenthood clinic escorts and whether Love had violated any of the company’s clinic escort policies.

Steinberg said she didn’t have an opinion on whether Love broke any policies, however, Love was removed from being a volunteer at the clinic temporarily, according to Malik. He said he asked Love to refrain from volunteering at the clinic until all litigation with Houck had concluded.

Malik said that Planned Parenthood has a “nonengagement” policy that directs the volunteer escorts to steer clear of and refrain from speaking to or engaging with protestors who may be in the vicinity surrounding the clinic.

Malik also affirmed that he told Love that he needed to stop engaging with protesters. It’s unclear if that was before or after the incident.

The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Thursday morning.