1. Abortion targeted ahead of midterms: State Republicans are emboldened by Trump, worried about November. 

By Mary Jordan, The Washington Post, April 20, 2018, Pg. A1

In many state capitols, Republican lawmakers are backing unusually strict antiabortion laws. Many are emboldened by President Trump, who has been more supportive of their agenda than any president in decades. Conservative lawmakers also are eager to get more restrictions on the books in case November’s elections bring a surge of Democrats hostile to them.

Federal courts have immediately blocked many of these antiabortion laws, including Mississippi’s. But they still have a purpose: to set up legal challenges to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationally, at a time when Trump could appoint the justice who helps overturn it.

In the Trump era, the long-running abortion wars are heating up again, and the country is increasingly divided when it comes to the availability of abortions.

Many Republican-controlled states are ratcheting back access — establishing waiting periods, outlawing common medical procedures and cutting off Medicaid funding.

At the same time, Democratic-controlled states are expanding access to contraception and reproductive health; in Washington state, the governor just required insurers to cover abortion costs.

Charles Donovan, president of the research institute of the Susan B. Anthony List, which promotes politicians who oppose abortion, said the looming midterm elections “certainly do add a push” to get antiabortion laws in the pipeline for a potential Supreme Court challenge.

In 2017, Trump’s first year in the White House, 19 states passed 63 antiabortion restrictions, according to Guttmacher.

They applauded his nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil M. Gorsuch, who has never ruled in an abortion case and evaded questions at his confirmation hearings about Roe v. Wade but who has consistently voted with the court’s conservative majority. Another vacancy on the court would give Trump a chance to increase that majority, a prospect that has thrilled Trump supporters.


2. U.S. Envoy Sees ‘Cleansing’ of Rohingya. 

By Jon Emont, The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2018, Pg. A16

Sam Brownback, the recently appointed U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, said the violence directed against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority was the worst he had ever seen and he expects a strong U.S. response.

“The intensity of the violence here, the thoroughness, is breathtaking,” Mr. Brownback said Thursday in Bangladesh, where some 700,000 Rohingya have fled since the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar unleashed a bloody campaign against them in August.

When Mr. Brownback, a former governor of Kansas, was confirmed to the ambassadorship in January, Muslim-rights organizations said they worried he wouldn’t stand up for their faith. As governor, Mr. Brownback, a Roman Catholic and champion of conservative causes, signed legislation in 2012 to ban Shariah and other non-U.S. laws in the state’s courts that critics said vilified Muslims. He also refused to cooperate with the Obama administration in resettling Syrian refugees to his state on security grounds.

The Trump appointee has surprised some by prioritizing the rights of the Rohingya, who hope he will champion their cause in an administration whose foreign policy focus is dominated by trade, North Korea and Syria. Muslim organizations, once skeptical, are praising him for visiting the Rohingya camps.


3. Pope calls German cardinal to Rome to discuss eucharistic sharing. 

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, April 19, 2018

Pope Francis has asked the president of the German bishops’ conference to come to Rome to discuss pastoral guidelines for possibly allowing some non-Catholics married to Catholics to receive the Eucharist, the conference spokesman said.

Reports that “the document was rejected in the Vatican by the Holy Father or by the dicasteries are false,” said Matthias Kopp, the conference spokesman.

For one thing, Kopp said April 19, the guidelines still have not been finalized and, therefore, they have not been reviewed by the Vatican. Members of the German bishops’ conference were asked to submit proposed amendments to the draft document by Easter; the heads of the conference’s doctrinal and ecumenical committees and the president of the conference were to formulate a final draft and present it to the conference’s permanent council April 23.


4. Five things Catholics can do to support international religious liberty. 

By Courtney Grogan, Catholic News Agency, April 19, 2018, 3:09 PM

At the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Summit on Wednesday, Robert George shared five steps Catholics can take to support religious freedom at home and abroad.

“First, pray … I want to second that motion,” George told CNA. The first step Catholics must take to address violations of religious freedom is prayer.

“Make your voice heard,” George pointed to as the second way to aid the cause of religious freedom. “Make clear to your elected representatives that religious freedom is a priority to you – domestic religious freedom and international religious freedom.”

“Third, there are wonderful organizations, including some that are Catholic, that deserve our financial support. People ask, ‘What can I do with my charitable giving? I’m not a millionaire. I don’t have a lot of money, but I want to give back. I want to thank God for my blessings. I want to help others,’” said George, “I hope that some people think about religious freedom as a cause to support.’

Fourth, “educate yourself and then talk about these issues to people in your parish, people in your family, people in your community,” said George, “We now have the internet. Anybody can learn about religious freedom issues. Go to the USCIRF website.”

Finally, George recommends that religious leaders and communities work together for their shared values. He encourages leaders across historic, theological, and religious divides to communicate and to work together to make a positive impact on civil society.

Former USCIRF chairs Katrina Lantos Swett, Leonard Leo, and David Saperstein spoke on a panel along with George about the current state of international religious freedom.

The panel discussed current threats to religious freedom posed by non-state actors abroad,  such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and al-Shabaab. The mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims in Burma and the Uyghurs in China were also highlighted.

“While we focus on extinguishing the flames of sectarian conflict and oppression in countries like these, we cannot ignore the less-physical deeply religious freedom violations in our own backyard,” said Leonard Leo, who served as the USCIRF chair from 2009 – 2007.

“To maintain our standing in the world as a beacon against oppression, we also must put our own house in order by addressing subtler forms of coercion,” continued Leo.


5. U.S. Appeals Court Blocks Indiana ‘Selective’ Abortion Law. 

By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters, April 19, 2018, 8:39 PM

A federal appeals court on Thursday declared unconstitutional an Indiana law signed by then-Governor Mike Pence that banned women from having abortions because of the gender, race or disability, including Down’s syndrome, of their fetuses.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said the 2016 ban on “selective” abortions imposed an “undue burden” on the ability to have the procedure.

It rejected Indiana’s suggestion that women’s privacy rights covered only the “binary choice” of whether or not to have a child, not whether to terminate particular pregnancies, including for genetic disabilities.


6. Chilean Cardinal Says Bishop Should Resign Over Abuse Crisis. 

By Reuters, April 19, 2018, 6:37 PM

The head of Chile’s Catholic Church said on Thursday that a Chilean bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse should resign, little more than a week after Pope Frances said he had made mistakes in handling Chile’s sexual abuse crisis.

Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati told reporters that Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop who allegedly concealed abuse of minors by his mentor Father Fernando Karadima, should resign “without a doubt,” while adding he would not judge “whether or not [Barros] had covered up” the incidents.

The Chilean Church’s call for his resignation follows a letter from Pope Francis earlier this month in which the Argentine pontiff said he had made “grave mistakes” in handling a sexual abuse crisis that has long racked the South American country.

Chile’s Catholic Church has since called for a “drastic solution” to the issue, but until now it had stopped short of calling for Barros to resign.