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Iceland is 'eradicating' Down syndrome…by aborting everyone who has it

Reykjavik, Iceland, Aug 16, 2017 / 03:22 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A recent article from CBS News proclaims that “few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.”

The operative word here is “births.”

Has Iceland discovered, through some groundbreaking technology and research, a cure to the chromosomal abnormality? No.

How do you “disappear Down syndrome” then, as one of the article’s taglines states?

You “disappear” people with Down syndrome.

“Iceland isn't actually eliminating Down syndrome. They're just killing everybody that has it. Big difference,” tweeted actress Patricia Heaton, who has been outspoken about her pro-life beliefs.

“There is nothing to celebrate in Iceland's ‘eradication’ of babies born with Down syndrome through abortion,” stressed Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, a network of 1,800 pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women and connect them with resources throughout the country.

“These are precious human beings hand-crafted in the image of God, and no government or person on earth has the authority to rob persons with Down syndrome of their lives,” Godsey told CNA. “Down syndrome is not a death sentence, and it is monstrous to suggest otherwise.”

Every pregnant woman in Iceland is given an option of a prenatal test that can detect Down syndrome with 85 percent accuracy. “Nearly 100 percent” of pregnancies that tested positive for Down syndrome were aborted, CBS reports.

While prenatal testing is not required in Iceland, healthcare providers tell every pregnant woman that the test is an option. The country, which has a population of 330,000, usually sees only one or two children a year born with Down syndrome – often the result, the article reports, of faulty testing.  

Other countries “aren't lagging too far behind” in Down syndrome abortion rates, the article states. “The United States has an estimated (abortion) rate for Down syndrome of 67 percent (1995-2011); in France it's 77 percent (2015); and Denmark, 98 percent (2015).”

The CBS article included some discussion of the ethical dilemmas that prenatal screening and abortion of babies with Down syndrome present.

Geneticist Kari Stefansson said for the piece, “My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society – that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore.”

But when asked what this means for society, he cautioned: “It reflects a relatively heavy-handed genetic counseling. And I don't think that heavy-handed genetic counseling is desirable…You're having impact on decisions that are not medical, in a way.”

“I don't think there's anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision,” he said.

The article also admits that while people born with Down syndrome are at risk for various other health problems, many people with Down syndrome also live full and healthy lives, and are able to live independently or semi-independently, hold jobs, and have relationships.

“Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.”

Perhaps the best argument against the eradication of Down syndrome is Augusta, the cute little seven-year-old pink-clad girl peering out from the pages of the CBS article. Her mother, Thordis Ingadottir, took the test when she was pregnant with Augusta, but it failed to detect Down syndrome.

Now, Ingadottir has become an advocate for people with Down syndrome.

“I will hope that she will be fully integrated on her own terms in this society. That's my dream,” Ingadottir told CBS. “Isn't that the basic needs of life? What kind of society do you want to live in?”

Godsey told CNA that parents whose children have Down syndrome or other genetic abnormalities need love and support – not abortion.

“(These parents)...deserve love and support that will benefit their growing families, and abortion fails categorically to deliver on its false promises to benefit families, individuals and society as a whole,” he said.  

Godsey added that almost anyone who knows someone with Down syndrome would be completely against its elimination.

“As anyone who knows a person with Down syndrome can tell you, these beautiful people are an absolute joy to their families and communities. The world grows exponentially poorer as we kill innocent babies for the ‘crime’ of failing to match up to our self-aggrandizing expectations.”

The joy of life with a family member who has Down syndrome was celebrated CBS in a different article, published to mark World Down Syndrome Day in 2015. It was a column by Marguerite (Maggie) Reardon, a senior writer at CNET, about when she found out her daughter would be born with Down syndrome.  

For a long time, she considered abortion, though her husband was against it. What changed her mind was the day she found a community of other people with Down syndrome and parents of children with Down syndrome.

She’s still an exhausted, stressed out parent, she wrote, but that’s not because her child has Down syndrome. It’s because she has two little kids who keep her busy.

“It's true my daughter has some developmental delays. And she receives a bevy of therapies through Early Intervention to help keep her on track,” she said.

“But she's also wonderful. She has a twinkle in her eye and an infectious grin that makes even the most miserable looking people on the subway smile when she stares them down. When she puts her head on my shoulder as I rock her to sleep each night, my heart melts no matter what kind of day I've had.”

“I do think she is more special than other children, but it's not because she has Down syndrome. It's because I'm a completely biased and doting mother who thinks no one could possibly be as adorable, bright or funny as my own child,” she wrote. “And her name is Margot.”

 

US State Department recognizes ISIS genocide in religious freedom report

Washington D.C., Aug 15, 2017 / 04:57 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom advocates were heartened by the State Department recognizing in its annual religious freedom report released Tuesday the genocide of Christians by the Islamic State.

“As we make progress in defeating ISIS and denying them their caliphate, their terrorist members have and continue to target multiple religions and ethnic groups for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and even death,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated at the Aug. 15 release of the 2016 International Religious Freedom report.

“Application of the law to the facts at hand leads to the conclusion ISIS is clearly responsible for genocide against Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims in areas it controls or has controlled,” he said. “ISIS is also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups, and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.”

The annual State Department report is mandated by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which created the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department and worked to make promoting religious freedom a part of U.S. foreign policy.

The 2016 report makes explicit reference to the “genocide” of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims at the hands of the Islamic State, or “Daesh.” Then-Secretary of State John Kerry had said in March of 2016 that “in my judgement, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

In 2014, Islamic State militants conquered large areas of territory in Iraq and Syria, forcing religious and ethnic minorities in the region to stay and convert to Islam, leave, or die.

Reports documented that Islamic State committed mass killings of Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, and others, as well as enslaving women and children. The Knights of Columbus and In Defense of Christians partnered to release a massive report documenting Islamic State atrocities committed against Christians.

As Islamic State has been driven from towns in northern Iraq, the inhabitants have returned to find their homes vandalized and their churches desecrated or destroyed.

“America’s promotion of international religious freedom demands standing up for the rights of the world’s most vulnerable populations,” the preface to the State Department’s report stated.

Tillerson added that in addition to Christians being targeted for genocide in Iraq and Syria, they have also been targeted by Islamic State militants in Egypt.

“The protection of these groups – and others subject to violent extremism – is a human rights priority for the Trump administration,” he said.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., welcomed Tillerson’s statement as an even more forceful pronouncement of genocide than was made by the previous administration.

Tillerson, Shea said, “forcefully clarified that ISIS has the ‘specific intent’ of destroying the Christian community, along with the other two minorities.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the author of the update to the original International Religious Freedom Act, also praised Tillerson for specifically recognizing the atrocities committed against minorities under Islamic State.

“I want to commend Secretary Tillerson for focusing on those who have been victims of genocide,” he said. “These groups are looking for help and leadership, and I am proud that after eight years of denial and foot dragging, this report positions the United States to become a world leader in helping those who need it most.”

Tillerson, in his remarks unveiling the report on Tuesday, also focused on the persecution of minorities in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, China, Pakistan, Sudan, and Bahrain.

In Iran, for instance, 20 persons were executed by the state in 2016 for apostasy charges including “waging war against God,” he said. Baha'i leaders are still imprisoned for their religious beliefs in the country, where the state religion is Ja’afari Shia Islam.

In Turkey, religious minorities have seen their rights infringed upon by the government, which has also imprisoned Pastor Andrew Brunson who should be released, Tillerson said.

“Turkey continues to unjustly imprison Dr. Andrew Brunson without charges, and I appreciate Secretary Tillerson reminding the world of this. It is important for America to be clear about the human rights abuses happening around the world,” Sen. Lankford (R-Okla.) said.

Tillerson also named Saudi Arabia as a violator of human rights and religious freedom, as punishments like prison and lashings are given to persons for charges of apostasy, atheism, blasphemy, and insulting the state’s interpretation of Islam.

“We urge Saudi Arabia to embrace greater degrees of religious freedom for all of its citizens,” Tillerson stated to the U.S. ally.

China is another well-known human rights violator, torturing and detaining thousands of citizens for their religious beliefs, including Uyghur Muslims and the members of Falun Gong, Tillerson said.

However, the secretary did not also mention that Christians are persecuted by the government there. State-sanctioned destruction of churches, or removing crosses from churches, has become commonplace in some provinces, and state officials have hampered parents from bringing their children to church.

In addition, the Vatican and the Chinese government have been working on an agreement on the appointment of bishops in the state-sanctioned Church, although critics like Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, say the atheistic government will continue to meddle in the elections of bishops.

Smith said the report “rightly shows that China’s religious freedom conditions are among the world’s worst.”

“The Chinese government is an equal opportunity abuser of the rights of Protestants, Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners – all who face imprisonment and torture for practicing their faith,” he said.

Calling the report “a step in the right direction,” he also commended the reporting on other countries, such as Vietnam, Pakistan, Nigeria. and Syria, “with individuals who simply want to worship in peace being beaten, jailed, tortured or worse.”

“The more difficult step will be to place these countries or non-state actors like ISIS and Boko Haram on the U.S. blacklist of severe religious freedom violators,” he said.

This would include updating the “Countries of Particular Concern” list, which is comprised of countries the State Department deems where the worst violations of religious freedom are taking place and the government is either the instigator, actively complicit, or is powerless to stop the abuses.

The creation of the list was mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act as a way to hold violators of religious freedom accountable. Actions can be legally taken against such countries if the State Department places them on the CPC list, like imposing sanctions.

With the rise of non-state terror groups like Islamic State and Boko Haram, Smith’s bill created the “Entities of Particular Concern” designation for violators of religious freedom that are not themselves states and who are active in multiple countries.

The State Department currently has designated China, Burma, Eritrea, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan as CPCs.

Pakistan does not occupy a place on the list despite leading the world in the number of prison sentences for blasphemy, which can carry a death sentence.

Also, Tillerson did not mention Russia in his remarks, despite the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan federal commission that advises the State Department, asking that it be added to the CPC list as one of the worst violators of religious freedom.

In its annual report earlier this year, the commission pointed to the criminalization of certain non-sanctioned religious beliefs in the Russian mainland, and the treatment of minorities in the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula as serious abuses that merited Russia’s place on the CPC list. Recently, Russia’s supreme court rejected an appeal of the outlawing of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.

Religious freedom advocates applauded the Trump administration’s selection earlier this summer of an Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, who is charged with monitoring abuses of freedom of religion abroad and promoting religious freedom as part of U.S. foreign policy.

President Donald Trump nominated Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a former U.S. Senator, for the position. Lankford expressed his desire that Brownback be confirmed for the position soon.

'Forgive them' – powerful words from father of Charlottesville victim

Charlottesville, Va., Aug 15, 2017 / 02:49 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia involving white supremacy groups and counter-protesters, the father of the woman who was killed after the rally spoke out against hatred and offered a different message: forgiveness and love.

“I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, 'Forgive them. They don't know what they're doing,'” Mark Heyer said Monday, according to USA Today.

“I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this,” he said.

Mark Heyer is the father of Heather Heyer, the 32 year-old woman who was fatally hit by a car after the “Unite the Right” rally near the University of Virginia on Saturday. The rally drew white supremacists including neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, who were protesting the proposed removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the park downtown.

Heather was among the group of counter-protesters who were standing against the Unite the Right rally, which also included various religious leaders and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Heather grew up near Charlottesville and was a paralegal at Miller Law Group. The law firm called Heather an “irreplaceable asset,” and noted her “big heart for people.” She was known in her community for standing up for the marginalized in society.

“She was a strong woman who had passionate opinions about the equality of everyone, and she tried to stand up for that,” her father said.

“With her, it wasn’t lip service. It was real… it was something that she wanted to share with everyone,” he continued, saying “she had more courage than I did.”

Heather’s mother, Susan Bro, also noted her daughter’s passion for others, saying that “it was important to her to speak up for people who were not being heard.”

The driver of the car that hit Heather is 20-year old James Alex Fields, who is now facing multiple charges including a hit and run, second-degree murder, and counts of malicious wounding. He drove his car into several other cars while crowds of people were crossing the streets after the rally, injuring dozens of people. A total of 19 victims were hospitalized.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice issued a joint statement on Sunday, condemning the “evil of racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

They also prayed for Heather, and two other victims who were Virginia State troopers, saying “let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.”

While devastated with the loss of his daughter, Mark Heyer hopes that her death will cause bigger waves of change.

“I hope that her life and what has transpired changes people's hearts.”

New Texas law axes insurance coverage for elective abortion

Austin, Texas, Aug 15, 2017 / 02:45 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A new law in Texas removes elective abortion coverage from the standard package of health insurance benefits offered in many plans, a move that pro-life advocates hailed as a victory for those who do not want to subsidize abortion.

“As a firm believer in Texas values I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” said Governor Greg Abbott upon signing House Bill 214 into law on Tuesday.

“This bill prohibits insurance providers from forcing Texas policy holders to subsidize elective abortions. I am grateful to the Texas legislature for getting this bill to my desk, and working to protect innocent life this special session.”

Under the new law, elective abortions will not be covered in standard private or state employee health insurance plans, nor in public plans subsidized by the Affordable Care Act.

Abortions deemed to be necessary in cases of medical emergency will still be covered in standard plans, and optional separate coverage for elective abortions may be purchased by those who are interested.

“This isn’t about who can get an abortion. It is about who is forced to pay for an abortion,” said Rep. John Smithee, lead author of the bill.

The law was signed during a special legislative session. It had been approved by the House in a 95-51 vote last week, and by the Senate in a 20-10 vote on Sunday.

More than half of U.S. states limit coverage of abortion under the Affordable Care Act.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, denounced the law, saying it will negatively impact women who “need” abortions.

Another bill signed into law by Abbott on Tuesday requires doctors and health care offices to report additional details about abortion complications.

State Sen. Donna Campbell said during a debate on the legislation last month that “collecting this data is important to guarantee best medical practices.”

Scotland's rise in anti-Catholic crimes prompts call for government action

Glasgow, Scotland, Aug 15, 2017 / 01:50 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Crimes motivated by anti-Catholicism are on the rise in Scotland, and a leading Catholic spokesman has said the government must take more specific action to combat the trend.

“Were any other type of crime to be dominated so completely by a single type of behavior, we might expect a targeted strategy to emerge, promoted by the authorities as a response to a particular problem,” said Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, in a forthcoming essay for The Scotsman.

Kearney compared the need for a targeted strategy to campaigns against mobile phone use while driving or drunk driving. These specific actions are targeted, rather than a generic campaign for “safe driving.”

“The approach is sensible and logical: before a problem can be tackled, it must first be identified and addressed,” he said. “Surprisingly, this doesn’t happen when it comes to religious intolerance and the criminal behavior which goes with it.”

There were a total of 719 charges related to religious prejudice in Scotland in 2016-2017, an increase from 642 in the period of 2015-2016.

Roman Catholicism was the most frequent target of abuse, making up 57 percent of these charges, numbering 384, in the latest period – an increase from 299 in 2015-2016. Catholics make up about 17 percent of the population.

Kearney suggested the figures show that Scottish society “remains scarred by past hatreds and tumults.” His Scottish Catholic Media Office is accountable to the Bishops Conference of Scotland.

Church leaders are expected to meet with Annabelle Ewing, the community safety minister. Kearney said recent exchanges in parliament indicated “the government’s unwillingness to adopt a name and shame approach to religious hate crime.”

He said cabinet secretary Angela Constance gave a “vague” response to concerns.

The figures regarding the crimes come in the Scottish government’s latest report, “Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2016-2017.”

Charges of religious aggravation were concentrated in Glasgow. In about half of all prejudice-related charges, the accused was under the influence of alcohol. About 41 percent of all charges involved accused perpetrators under the age of 30. Police officers were targeted for religiously aggravated abuse in about 44 percent of the charges.

Other religions were also targeted. There were 165 charges motivated by prejudice against Protestantism in 2016-2017, a slight increase from the previous period, and 113 charges involving anti-Islam prejudice, a slight decrease from the previous period. Anti-Jewish charges numbered 23.

About half of the charges came under laws targeting sectarianism in soccer. The Scottish Labour Party has proposed to repeal those laws, with support from several other parties in Parliament.