1. Funding of Pregnancy Resource Centers Is Latest Abortion Battleground, By Stephanie Armour, The Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2024, Pg. A4 The fight over federal abortion policy is heating up over a new question: whether tax dollars should flow to pregnancy resource centers that counsel women against abortions. States use about $16.5 billion annually from a federal program designed to assist low-income families with children to move toward financial self-sufficiency. To help reach that goal, grants must accomplish specific purposes such as promoting job training and marriage, preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and encouraging two-parent families. The fixed grants finance state initiatives including time-limited, monthly cash payments to families. Some states also funnel money to centers that provide support to pregnant women and discourage them from getting abortions. Now, the Biden administration is asserting in a proposed federal rule that resource centers that largely provide pregnancy counseling to women only after they become pregnant likely don’t meet the program’s aim of preventing out-of-wedlock pregnancies.   Conservatives and antiabortion groups are fighting back. Some officials at the centers, which often rely on more than one funding source, said they would have to increase private donations and scale back services. Antiabortion groups said some centers could face possible closure. States also must contribute their own funds to the program.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in December urged the public to petition the Biden administration to drop its proposed funding restrictions on the centers. Congressional Republicans, such as Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi and Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, led a comment letter urging HHS to drop the proposal, saying pregnancy centers save taxpayers many millions of dollars through the work they perform.  https://www.wsj.com/health/healthcare/pregnancy-resource-centers-spark-funding-row-between-biden-administration-antiabortion-groups-9b1751bb?__________________________________________________________ 2. China Is Pressing Women to Have More Babies. Many Are Saying No., The population, now around 1.4 billion, is likely to drop to around half a billion by 2100—and women are being blamed, By Liyan Qi and Shen Lu, The Wall Street Journal, January 2, 2024, 12:01 AM Chinese women have had it. Their response to Beijing’s demands for more children? No.  Fed up with government harassment and wary of the sacrifices of child-rearing, many young women are putting themselves ahead of what Beijing and their families want. Their refusal has set off a crisis for the Communist Party, which desperately needs more babies to rejuvenate China’s aging population. With the number of babies in free fall—fewer than 10 million were born in 2022, compared with around 16 million in 2012—China is headed toward a demographic collapse. China’s population, now around 1.4 billion, is likely to drop to just around half a billion by 2100, according to some projections. Women are taking the blame.  When Beijing said it would abolish its 35-year-old one-child policy in 2015, officials expected a baby boom. Instead, they got a baby bust.  The one-child policy brought much of China’s demographic gloom: There are fewer young people than in the past, including millions fewer women of childbearing age every year. Those women are increasingly reluctant to marry and have children, accelerating the population decline.   There has been a tightening of licenses for clinics offering medical procedures to block pregnancies. In 1991, the height of the one-child policy, 6 million tubal ligations and 2 million vasectomies were performed. In 2020, there were 190,000 tubal ligations and 2,600 vasectomies.  On social media, people complain that getting a vasectomy appointment is as difficult as winning the lottery.  Officials have also tried to dial back abortions, a key tool for officials during the one-child policy. They have fallen by more than a third—from more than 14 million in 1991 to just under 9 million in 2020. China has since stopped releasing data on vasectomies, tubal ligations and abortions.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-population-births-decline-womens-rights-5af9937b__________________________________________________________ 3. Pope recalls Benedict XVI’s love and wisdom on anniversary of death, as secretary reflects on legacy, By Associated Press, December 31, 2023, 11:59 AM Tributes were paid Sunday on the first anniversary of the death of Pope Benedict XVI, with Pope Francis praising his love and wisdom and Benedict’s private secretary expressing hope he might one day be declared a saint. Benedict, the first pope to retire in six centuries, died last Dec. 31 at the age of 95 in the Vatican monastery where he spent 10 years as a pope emeritus. He is buried in the grottoes underneath St. Peter’s Basilica. Speaking at the end of his weekly noon blessing, Francis said the faithful feel “so much love, so much gratitude, so much admiration” for Benedict. He praised the “love and wisdom” with which Benedict guided the church and asked for a round of applause from the pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Earlier in the day, Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, celebrated a special Mass in the basilica and then participated in an anniversary event to reflect on Benedict’s legacy.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/31/pope-benedict-xvi-death-anniversary/efab7ba2-a7db-11ee-bc8c-7319480da4f9_story.html__________________________________________________________ 4. Honed Pitch Fuels Abortion-Rights Wins, By Molly Ball, The Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2023, Pg. A1 Shortly after November’s state-level elections affirmed voters’ support for abortion rights in Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, a Democratic pollster named Angela Kuefler got on a webinar to deliver an analysis—and a warning—to her fellow progressives. Yes, it was clear abortion was a winning issue, she said, but it mattered a lot how advocates talked about it. “Talking about this in the context of values really widens our support,” said Kuefler, an adviser to the Nov. 7 ballot initiative in Ohio that added a right to abortion to the state’s constitution, winning by nearly 14 points in a state President Biden lost by eight. By values, she explained, she was principally talking about the idea of freedom. In polling by Kuefler’s firm, Global Strategy Group, majorities answered “yes” to both “Should we restore the rights we had under Roe v. Wade?” and “Should personal decisions like abortion be up to women rather than the government?” But the latter statement outperformed the former by a whopping 19-point margin, she noted, adding, “It’s the values language that allows us to win by such big margins.”  https://www.wsj.com/politics/policy/how-abortion-rights-backers-changed-their-messageand-started-winning-58db41e7__________________________________________________________ 5. Judge allows lawsuit that challenges Idaho’s broad abortion ban to move forward, By Kimberlee Kruesi, Associated Press, December 29, 2023, 7:49 PM An Idaho judge on Friday denied a request by the state’s top legal chief to throw out a lawsuit seeking to clarify the exemptions tucked inside the state’s broad abortion ban. Instead, 4th District Judge Jason Scott narrowed the case to focus only on the circumstances where an abortion would be allowed and whether abortion care in emergency situations applies to Idaho’s state constitutional right to enjoy and defend life and the right to secure safety. Scott’s decision comes just two weeks after a hearing where Idaho’s Attorney General Raul Labrador’s office attempted to dismiss the case spearheaded by four women and several physicians, who filed the case earlier this year. Similar lawsuits are playing out around the nation, with some of them, like Idaho’s, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of doctors and pregnant people who were denied access to abortions while facing serious pregnancy complications.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/12/29/idaho-abortion-ban-lawsuit/3daded92-a6ad-11ee-aacb-6f873a65763e_story.html__________________________________________________________ 6. Abortion debate creates ‘new era’ for state supreme court races in 2024, with big spending expected, By Christine Fernando and Andrew Demillo, Associated Press, December 29, 2023, 1:13 PM The 2024 elections will be dominated by the presidential contest and the battle for control of Congress, but another series of races is shaping up to be just as consequential. Crucial battles over abortiongerrymanderingvoting rights and other issues will take center stage in next year’s elections for state supreme court seats — 80 of them in 33 states. The races have emerged as some of the most hotly contested and costliest contests on the ballot since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the consitutional right to an abortion. The decision shifted the abortion debate to states, creating a “new era” in state supreme court elections, said Douglas Keith, senior counsel in the judiciary program at the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending in judicial races.  Heated court races in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2023 handed victories to Democrats and saw tens of millions of dollars in TV ads, offering a preview of 2024. They’re also prompting groups to consider investing in states they would not previously have considered. At least 38 lawsuits have been filed challenging abortion bans in 23 states, according to the Brennan Center. Many of those are expected to end up before state supreme courts. The ACLU is watching cases challenging abortion restrictions in WyomingKentuckyOhioUtahFloridaNevadaArizona, Nebraska, Georgia and Montana.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/12/29/state-supreme-courts-abortion-redistricting-2024/fc06a7a8-a675-11ee-aacb-6f873a65763e_story.html__________________________________________________________ 7. Chris Christie ties his shift on gay marriage to Vatican ruling on same-sex blessings, By Joe Bukuras, Catholic News Agency, December 29, 2023 Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, once an opponent of same-sex marriage, said Thursday his views on the matter have shifted, citing the Vatican’s recent document on same-sex blessings as evidence that “even the Church is changing.” “And so you know for me, it’s still, it was a process I had to go through to change the way I’ve been raised both from a family perspective and what my mother and father taught me and felt and also from a religious perspective and … what my Church taught me to believe,” Christie said at a town hall event in Epping, New Hampshire. The former New Jersey governor continued: “[T]his past week or two Pope Francis is now allowing blessings of same-sex couples; even the Church is changing.” Christie, who identifies as Catholic, said: “Society has changed and what people are accepting in our country now is different than when I was growing up, certainly than when I was your age. And you know I don’t have any objection to it any longer. In the end, I think I’ve been convinced.”  https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/256407/chris-christie-ties-his-shift-on-gay-marriage-to-vatican-ruling-on-same-sex-blessings__________________________________________________________ 8. After feel-good Mongolia outing, Pope now faces a tough choice, By John L. Allen Jr., Crux, December 30, 2024, Opinion When Pope Francis visited Mongolia in late August and early September, it was styled as the ultimate feel-good papal outing. Here was the “Pope of the Peripheries” travelling to the most sparsely populated country on earth, with just 3.3 million people scattered across a total landmass larger than that of England, France and Germany combined. The entire Catholic population stood at just 1,450, making this the very first papal trip in history in which the pope actually stood a chance of greeting every single Catholic in the country before he was done.  Yet under the heading that it’s never easy being pope, the question facing Pope Francis now is whether, after all the political capital generated by the trip, he might be willing to spend a little of it to try to move the ball on a core concern. Throughout Francis’s five days in Mongolia, he repeatedly praised the country’s commitment to religious freedom. In part, that was a descriptive homage, reflecting the remarkably tolerant policies associated with the pax mongolica under the Mongol empire of the 13th and 14th centuries. In part, however, the pope’s rhetoric was also hortatory, since he knew full well that this proud tradition of tolerance sometimes is honored more in the breach than the observance these days.  In general, Mongols don’t get overly worked up over religion, in part because of a post-Soviet legacy of broad religious indifference. Nonetheless, the Mongolian government does pay careful attention, worried that religious trajectories could upset Mongolia’s careful balancing act in maintaining good relations with its two superpower neighbors, China and Russia, without being subsumed by either one. As a result, the government sometimes imposes restrictions on religion which arguably violate not only broad moral standards but also Mongolia’s own constitution, which provides for freedom of conscience and religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion. One place where the rubber hits the road is with the issuance of what’s known as “religious activity permits,” which basically authorizes a religious group to either operate an existing facility or construct a new one for purposes of worship. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, the Ulaanbaatar city council has not issued any new such permits since 2018, leaving 59 applications pending at the end of last year, some of them for years. There are other restrictions as well, including difficulties with obtaining visas for foreign religious personnel and the practice of frequent audits by officers from tax, immigration, local government, intelligence, and other agencies, in ways religious groups often see as intimidating. Such forms of harassment affect all religious groups, including majority Buddhists along with the Baha’i, Muslims, Protestant Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian Orthodox, Catholics, and the Unification Church. Notably, local observers say that four months after the pope came and went, there’s no sign that his appeals for religious freedom put a dent in any of these policies.  Should Pope Francis call out the Mongolians? On the one hand, he might feel reluctant to do so, especially given the positive vibes the trip generated at the time and the new possibilities it appeared to open up for the local Catholic community. On Christmas Eve, Marengo baptized three adult converts, all women, and certainly the pope would be cautious about doing or saying anything that could inadvertently make life more difficult for the country’s tiny Catholic flock. There’s also the fact that anything Francis might say about religious freedom in Mongolia also will have echoes in China, where the Vatican is notoriously reluctant to take any step that might upset the applecart – even if, in this counter-intuitive instance, China might actually welcome an appeal for religious freedom in a neighboring country, if it believes it might assist its own strategic objectives. In any event, sometimes a feel-good narrative is only valuable when it’s put to the test. Right now, Pope Francis still enjoys enormous cachet here as the most important world leader to come to town in living memory, lifting Mongolian spirits and boosting national pride. Perhaps the issue of religious freedom might afford the pontiff a chance to take that cachet out for a spin, and see what it can do. https://cruxnow.com/news-analysis/2023/12/after-feel-good-mongolia-outing-pope-now-faces-a-tough-choice__________________________________________________________

TCA Media Monitoring provides a snapshot from national newspapers and major Catholic press outlets of coverage regarding significant Catholic Church news and current issues with which the Catholic Church is traditionally or prominently engaged. The opinions and views expressed in the articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Catholic Association.
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