1. Persecution of Christians has risen for the fourth straight year, By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, January 12, 2017, 3:18 AM.

Global persecution of Christians has risen for the fourth year in a row and is on a “rapid rise” in Asia, the advocacy group Open Doors UK warned on Wednesday in its annual report on Christian persecution.

On Wednesday, the group Open Doors released its annual World Watch List on the state of global persecution of Christians. The list ranks the countries where the worst persecutions of Christians are taking place based on information gathered from field workers and “independent experts.”

For the 16th consecutive year, Communist dictatorship North Korea was determined to be the “worst place on earth for Christians,” Open Doors UK said. There are 300,000 Christians amidst the population of 25.4 million.

Christians there suffer from a totalitarian police state that closely monitors their actions and requires them to worship the ruling family, the report said. They must pray privately. Those discovered by the state to be Christian may end up in harsh labor camps where an estimated 50-75,000 Christians currently suffer.

All top 10 countries with the worst persecution of Christians are in Asia and Africa. Somalia ranks second on the list, followed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea.

Somalia, ranked the second-worst country for persecution of Christians, “has persecution levels nearly as high as in North Korea,” Open Doors UK noted.

“Islam is Somalia’s state religion and all Christians come from a Muslim background,” they explained, meaning that for converts to Christianity, if their conversion is discovered, it can mean persecution and even a “rushed beheading.”

Afghanistan is number three on the list, another tribal country where being a Christian is illegal. The Islamic republic of Pakistan is fourth, where more Christians were recorded as killed for their faith in 2016 than any other country. There are almost 4 million Christians there amidst the population of over 196 million.

An estimated 700 Christian women and girls were abducted in 2016, many of them raped and forced to marry Muslim men. The country’s strict blasphemy laws – which carry a death sentence – enable mob violence against Christians and accusations of blasphemy committed with impunity.

Other problems of persecution include Islamic extremism in sub-Saharan Africa, and attempts to destroy the homes of Christians who have been driven away by violence, in the hopes that they permanently resettle elsewhere.


2. Strategist Who Helped Manage Trump’s Win Will Speak at a Major Anti-Abortion March, By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times, January 12, 2017, Pg. A16.

In a sign of abortion opponents’ newfound clout in the capital, Kellyanne Conway, the Republican strategist who led Donald J. Trump to victory and will serve as his White House counselor, will speak at a major anti-abortion march here the week after his inaugural.

Ms. Conway, 49, made history in November as the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign. She has long been an outspoken foe of abortion, and she could become the first sitting White House official to address the annual march in person, though both Mr. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence have been invited.

This will be the 44th year of the march, which organizers say is typically attended by tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists. The annual event, often held on Jan. 22 but pushed back to Jan. 27 this year because of the inaugural, marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision establishing a national right to abortion.

Ms. Conway will not be the only speaker. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, is also scheduled to attend, as is Benjamin Watson, a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, Karyme Lozano, a Mexican TV star and Abby Johnson, a former clinic director at Planned Parenthood who later became an anti-abortion activist.


3. U.S. States Mull Contraception Coverage as Obamacare Repeal Looms, By Reuters, January 12, 2017, 6:03 AM.

Growing numbers of U.S. states are seeking to ensure that women have continued access to free birth control in case the insurance benefit is dropped as part of President-elect Donald Trump’s vow to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The 2010 law, popularly called Obamacare, requires most health insurance plans to provide coverage for birth control without a patient co-payment, which can be as much as $50 per month for birth control pills or $1,000 for long-acting contraceptives such as intrauterine devices.

California, Maryland, Vermont and Illinois since 2014 have enacted statutes codifying the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate in state law and expanding on the federal law’s requirements. Democratic lawmakers in New York, Minnesota, Colorado and Massachusetts said they are pursuing similar measures this year, with Obamacare under mortal threat in Washington.

Twenty-eight of the 50 states currently have laws requiring private insurers to provide coverage for birth control. But not all the laws affect all insurance plans, and only a few mandate cost-free birth control.


4. Ousted Knights of Malta official takes case to order’s court, By Nicole Winfield, Associated Press, January 12, 2017, 4:57 AM.

The standoff between the Vatican and the Knights of Malta has taken a new twist, with the ousted foreign minister of the ancient aristocratic lay Catholic order appealing his suspension to the Knights’ internal tribunal.

In a statement Thursday, von Boeselager said that he filed an appeal with the Knights’ tribunal Jan. 4. The appeal argues that “not even one of the conditions” governing suspension of members applied to his case.

Specifically, he said there was no reason to initiate a disciplinary procedure against him, and that regardless the one used to suspend him was invalid.


5. StemExpress, former Planned Parenthood partner, drops lawsuit against pro-life journalists, By Bradford Richardson, The Washington Times, January 12, 2017, Pg. A2.

A middleman in the market for fetal tissue has dropped its lawsuit against the pro-life journalists who accused it of partnering with Planned Parenthood to profit from the sale of baby body parts from abortions.

StemExpress, which was referred by Congress for criminal investigation last week, dropped its lawsuit against David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress on Tuesday, one day before an appellate hearing was set to take place on a motion to strike the complaint.

In its final report released last week, the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives made 15 criminal and regulatory referrals, six of which concerned StemExpress.

It referred StemExpress to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for further investigation to determine whether and to what extent the company profited from the sale of fetal tissue from abortions.

The investigation also found StemExpress may have violated federal privacy laws based on its collaboration with abortion clinics in the harvesting of fetal tissue.

StemExpress technicians knew about clinic abortion schedules in advance, the report said, and communicated with clinics while abortions were taking place in order to procure certain types of fetal tissue, presumably before patient consent had been obtained. The report said these practices were aimed at maximizing profit and may have violated federal HIPAA regulations.

Additionally, the panel said StemExpress may have violated federal laws barring the destruction of documents pertinent to congressional inquiries.

StemExpress ended its partnership with Planned Parenthood after the CMP videos surfaced 18 months ago. It maintained any expenses associated with the trade for fetal tissue were reimbursements for transfer and storage costs.

The report said Planned Parenthood and StemExpress claimed the same expenses associated with the transfer of fetal tissue.

Congressional Republicans have vowed to include a provision defunding Planned Parenthood in the reconciliation legislation repealing Obamacare, which could be voted upon as early as next month.