1. Pope demands ‘urgent’ action to protect civilians in Iraq. 

By Associated Press, March 29, 2017, 6:49 AM

Pope Francis demanded urgent action Wednesday to protect civilians in Iraq, saying forces involved in the battle for Mosul have an obligation to protect innocents following a recent spike in civilian casualties.

Francis issued a special appeal for peace in Iraq at the end of his general audience. He greeted an interfaith group of Iraqis in St. Peter’s Square, encouraging them in helping Iraq find reconciliation among various ethnic and religious groups.

The U.N. human rights office has called on the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes on Mosul to minimize civilian casualties, saying at least 300 people have been killed since mid-February including 140 from a single March 17 airstrike incident on a house. The U.N. says IS militants are using human shields and setting a trap for the coalition.

Amnesty International has said the rising civilian death toll suggested the U.S.-led coalition wasn’t taking adequate precautions as it helps Iraqi forces try to retake the city, though the U.S. has denied any loosening of the rules of combat.

The Iraqi group that met privately with Francis before the audience included Shiite and Sunni Muslims as well as representatives from Iraq’s Christian, Yazidi, Sabei and Mandei minorities. The delegation engages in dialogue with the Vatican’s office of interfaith relations.


2. Two activists who filmed undercover videos of Planned Parenthood charged with 15 felonies. 

By Samantha Schmidt, The Washington Post, March 29, 2017, 2:54 AM

The two antiabortion activists who mounted a hidden-camera investigation against Planned Parenthood officials have been charged with 15 felony counts of violating the privacy of health-care providers by recording confidential information without their consent.

In announcing the charges against David Robert Daleiden and Sandra Merritt on Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the duo used manufactured identities and a fictitious bioresearch company to meet medical officials and covertly record the private discussions they initiated.

The criminal complaint alleges that on 14 occasions, between October 2013 and July 2015, Daleiden and Merritt filmed people without permission in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. The activists face a felony count for each person covertly recorded, and an additional felony charge for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy.

The court fight over the videos began in April 2015, when Daleiden and Merritt made site visits at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast headquarters, using fake names and driver’s licenses to portray themselves as a company interested in connecting Planned Parenthood health centers with research studies. The two antiabortion activists were actually affiliated with Daleiden’s little-known antiabortion nonprofit, the Center for Medical Progress.

While touring the facilities, they recorded a series of undercover videos, supposedly showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing plans to sell aborted human fetal tissue and body parts left for scientific research.


3. Ryan: Don’t tie Planned Parenthood to government funding fight. 

By Sylvan Lane, The Hill, March 28, 2017, 11:31 AM

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday that Congress shouldn’t try to defund Planned Parenthood in a measure to fund the government, but instead should use a separate healthcare reform bill.

“We think reconciliation is the tool, because that gets it into law,” Ryan told reporters in response to a question about Planned Parenthood funding.

“Reconciliation is the way to go,” he added, referring to a legislative process that prevents the Senate from filibustering legislation that doesn’t impact federal debt.

Funding for the government expires on April 28, and conservative lawmakers are likely to push for long-sought cuts to federal spending in the next bill to keep the government running.

A protracted showdown over whether to fund Planned Parenthood — which receives federal reimbursement for other health services but not for abortion — could trigger a partial government shutdown.

Moderate Republicans have previously called for Planned Parenthood funding to be addressed through separate legislation, while conservatives have refused to vote on government funding bills that send money to Planned Parenthood.

Republicans lack enough votes in the Senate to break a Democratic filibuster, meaning any spending measure to fund the government must be able to garner bipartisan support.


4. New HHS official has strong background in religious freedom, civil rights.

By Matt Hadro, Catholic News Agency, March 28, 2017, 3:53 PM

A new high-ranking official at the Department of Health and Human Services could give the agency a significant shift in how it treats religious freedom and life issues.

“Roger Severino, a seasoned champion of religious liberty and the pro-life cause, is just the right person to correct the course of HHS’s efforts at enforcing anti-discrimination principles in federal law,” said Matthew Franck, director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute.

Severino, a Harvard Law graduate, comes to HHS from the Heritage Foundation, where, according to his bio, he worked on religious freedom, marriage, and life issues and directed the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity.

Severino brings with him a strong background in the field of civil rights law. Prior to his work at Heritage starting in 2015, he served as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division for seven years.

Before his time at the Justice Department, Severino was chief operations officer at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

He will be needed at HHS because of the agency’s recent bias against pro-life groups, Franck argued:

“During the Obama administration, HHS became an aggressive discriminator against employers, insurers, and health care providers who only wanted to be left alone to act on their moral principles in favor of innocent human life, and on their religiously informed consciences against cooperation with evil.”