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At March for Life, Trump gets mixed reviews

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life in person. His appearance was greeted by pro-lifers with both excitement and hesitation.

The presence of the president brought with it additional security, similar to when Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the pre-march rally in 2017, but higher than his unexpected appearance last year. 

Trump’s decision to attend personally, instead of via video message as in past years, meant attendees were prevented from bringing certain items to the rally, faced long lines, and had to pass through metal detectors before entering the Mall.

The extra measures discouraged some potential attendees, who stayed away, worried that the logistics of juggling security and children would be too much. 

Connie Poulos told CNA that she had already decided, reluctantly, to skip this year’s march due rather than face the event solo with her young son, the news that Trump was speaking at the rally made her feel “less bad” about missing the event, fearing the president would alienate non-Republicans. 

“As a pro-life person, I think the movement needs all the help it can get to cross party lines,” she said.

While signs are always commonplace at the March for Life, this year distinctly partisan bent. Familiar “Vote Life” or “Choose Life” signs manufactured by the Knights of Columbus were joined this time by “Pro-Life Voices For Trump” and “Most Pro-Life President Ever” signs with pictures of president. These signs were supplied by the RNC and were distributed at the rally by volunteers.  

Despite hesitation by some, most attendees told CNA they were happy about the president’s appearance.  

“President Trump is one of the greatest presidents that this country has ever had. A man who has a heart after God to do what God has called him to do, in spite of [what] anybody else thinks or [does],” Barbara Bell, who described herself as a “black American who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and loves President Trump,” told CNA. 

Bell, who is 70 years old, told CNA she was attending her fortieth March for Life in 2020. She came down from Massachusetts for the event, and she said she was even more excited than usual when she heard that Trump would be speaking. 

While politically independent, Bell said that she was extremely impressed with what Trump had accomplished during his time in office. 

Mimi Vertrees, an 18 year old attending the March for Life for the first time, traveled to DC from Nashville, Tennessee. She carried a sign reading “Stop Calling Violence Feminism,” and she told CNA that she believed there is a “misconception” about feminism because of its embrace of abortion.

Vertrees said she thought it was “amazing” that Trump was coming to address the March for Life, and that she was “so excited” when she found out he would be coming. She stressed that she thought it was important for the president to be physically present at the event.

One young woman was en route to Washington when she found out that Trump would be speaking at the rally. Quinley Fawks, who traveled 22 hours on a bus from Salisbury, Missouri to attend the March for Life, said that finding out Trump was coming heightened her anticipation. 

After it was announced on Wednesday that Trump would be attending the rally, Fawks told CNA, her bus leader made the announcement, and “everyone was really excited. We were surprised and happy.” 

This was Fawks’ second time attending the March for Life, and she said that she made the choice to embark on the long journey because “We’re here to save the babies.” 

One rally attendee who was not excited to see Trump was Clarence Richard of Minnetonka, Minnesota. Richard was dressed as Uncle Sam, and his hat read “U.S. Army Veteran” and “Remove the GOP.” 

Richard was most upset by Trump’s policies at the southern border, which resulted in children being separated from their parents. He carried two dolls, which he said were meant to “represent the young children at the border.” 

While this was Richard’s first March for Life, he said he had been a longtime supporter of the pro-life cause. 

“This is bananas,” said Richard. “We shouldn’t be allowing [Trump] to speak. 

Each year the March for Life winds its way past the Canadian embassy, where a small contingent of Canadians come out to show their support. Valerie Luetke of Oakville, Ontario, was one of the people there this year. 

This said this was her first trip to the March for Life in the United States, but she had attended the Canadian March for Life in Ottawa several times. 

“We just kind of wanted to see how big it is, how passionate [everyone] is, and of course, Trump is speaking,” Luetke said. She told CNA that she found Trump’s speech to be “amazing,” especially since Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, is publicly against the pro-life cause. 

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I know not everyone supports him for all of his policies, but I think the fact that he’s here is really amazing.”

States announce pro-life, pro-choice initiatives ahead of March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- On the eve of the 2020 March for Life in Washington DC, lawmakers in several states announced the introduction of potentially significant pro-life legislation, while others announced efforts to preserve legal protection for abortion.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced Thursday that the state’s Republican lawmakers would pursue several measures aimed at restrcting abortion including a bill which would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, which can be around six weeks gestation.

The legislation, which is still under development, would also require a woman seeking an abortion be shown an ultrasound of her baby, and would ban abortions based on race, sex, a Down syndrome diagnosis or the diagnosis of a fetal abnormality.

“We know that when a mother views her unborn child and hears a heartbeat, hearts and minds are changed,” Lee said during the Jan. 23 announcement.

The legislative strategy, the Tennessee Lieutenant Governor says, will be modeled after a bill passed in Missouri which includes abortion bans at various stages of gestation and is designed to stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The proposed Tennessee law includes bans after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as well as at eight, 10, and 12 weeks gestation. The hope is that if one of these bans is struck down in court, the others will stand.

Lee’s office confirmed to The Tennesseean newspaper that the proposed legislation would include an exception allowing for abortions in the case of a mother's life being in danger.

Tennessee lawmakers have pursued a heartbeat bill before, in 2019, but that legislation failed to garner enough support in the Tennessee Senate to advance.

At the time, the Catholic bishops of Tennessee voiced their opposition to a fetal heartbeat law and instead urged alternative legislation less open to legal challenges, stating last February that while they are opposed to abortion, they believe the Heartbeat Bill would fail a likely court challenge. They instead voiced support for “trigger ban” legislation that would ban abortion in the state in the case of the Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.

Georgia’s governor signed a similar heartbeat bill into law during May 2019, but in October 2019 a federal judge blocked the law from coming into force.

In Kentucky, a Senate panel on Thursday approved a bill that would require doctors and other health workers to provide “medically appropriate and reasonable life-saving and life-sustaining medical care and treatment” to any infant born after a failed abortion. Violating the bill would be a felony punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison.

Nearly half of the Kentucky Senate's members have signed on as cosponsors of SB 9, the AP reports.

“Who can dispute that that's a human life?" Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill's lead sponsor, told the AP.

“It's outside the womb. It's alive. Who would advocate for it to be killed?...We want to make sure the law's there to punish those that are trying to do it and get away with it.”

Kentucky law already bans abortions after 20 weeks gestation, and other pro-life proposals are already under consideration in the state. One such proposal would amend the state Constitution to specify it includes no protection for abortion rights. Another proposal would ban public funds for any agency that performs or counsels patients about abortion, the AP reports.

On the other side of the abortion debate, a Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly this week said they want to make the state a “safe haven” for abortion rights.

A Virginia Senate committee passed a bill Jan. 23 to undo the state’s 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, as well a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling, the AP reported.

HB 980 would also roll back state requirements that an abortion be provided by a physician, allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform them; and would undo building code requirements on facilities where abortions are performed, the AP reported.

The Virginia Catholic Conference released information on the House bill and its companion Senate bills Jan. 22, urging voters to oppose the measures and encouraging them to attend the Virginia March for Life in Richmond on February 13, 2020.

Governor Ralph Northam, who is supportive of the measures to relax abortion restrictions this year, in 2019 supported the Repeal Act, a bill that would have relaxed laws regarding third-trimester abortions. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) admitted that there was nothing in her bill that would prevent an abortion from being carried out while a mother was in active labor.

When questioned about this provision in the bill, Northam said that such a case would see the newborn infant be given “comfort care” while a discussion ensued about whether or not to pursue medical intervention. The bill eventually was tabled.

 

California abortion mandate violates federal law, Trump administration says

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 02:23 pm (CNA).- The Trump administration has said that California state policies violate federal law for requiring abortion coverage in religious groups’ health insurance plans – a mandate that Catholic leaders had charged “directly targeted” Catholic universities that had stopped paying for employees’ elective abortions.

California has 30 days to comply with federal law, and failure to comply could threaten its federal funding, Roger Severino, director of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights, said in a Jan. 24 conference call with reporters.

Catholic leaders welcomed the Trump administration’s move, which coincided with the March for Life in Washington, D.C. where President Donald Trump became the first president to address the event in person.

“Today’s announcement is extraordinarily good news for the right to life, conscientious objection, religious freedom and the rule of law,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Jan. 24. “For nearly six years, employers in California – including churches – have been forced to fund and facilitate abortions in their health insurance plans in direct violation of a federal conscience protection law known as the Weldon Amendment. This coercive California policy is abhorrent, unjust and illegal.”

The bishops’ statement came from Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chair of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop George Murry, S.J., of Youngstown, who chairs the Committee for Religious Liberty.

The Weldon Amendment, first passed in 2005, bars federal funds to state or local governments if they discriminate against institutional or individual healthcare entities, including health insurance plans, that decline to pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for, abortions.

Severino told reporters the HHS action was a response to complaints from a Catholic mission, Missionary Guadalupanas of the Holy Spirit, and the California-based Skyline Wesleyan Church, the Washington Post reports.

“There is a process, if we do not reach accord, that could lead to revocation of streams of federal funding,” Severino said. “California is a big consumer of HHS funds. We’re giving them 30 days so that we don’t have to cross that bridge.”

The California Catholic Conference filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights, but the Obama administration rejected the complaint in June 2016.

“We strongly commend the Trump Administration for taking this critical action to enforce federal law and correct this supreme injustice to the people and employers of California,” the U.S. bishops said. “Sadly, violations of federal conscience laws are on the rise. We hope that this enforcement action, and subsequent actions by the Administration, will stop further unlawful discrimination against people who reject abortion as a violation of the most basic human and civil rights.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was dismissive of the action.

“The Trump administration would rather rile up its base to score cheap political points and risk access to care for millions than do what’s right,” Newsom said. “California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

The Trump administration’s move could have ramifications for at least five other U.S. states with similar mandates, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Oregon Right to Life has filed suit against the 2017 Oregon law requiring health plans to cover abortion. In October 2019, the Thomas More Society challenged a similar Illinois mandate. New York and Washington also require abortion coverage in private health plans.

The California rule was so broad that churches and other religious groups could not secure abortion-free California health plans for their employees. Its history, however, was rooted in an effort of Catholic universities to reform their health plans to become more consistent with their Catholic identity.

In August 2014 California’s Department of Managed Health sent a letter to seven insurance companies stating that they are required to include elective abortions in their health plans. A 1975 state health care law, the California constitution, and court precedent, it said, prohibits health plans “from discriminating against women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.” The law requires all health plans to “treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” the state regulator said.

The action came after the autumn 2013 announcements from two Catholic universities, Santa Clara University and Loyola Marymount University, which said that they planned to stop paying for employees’ elective abortions. They said their insurers, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente, had secured approval from state officials.

In an October 2013 letter, Santa Clara University president Father Michael E. Engh, S.J., said that the university’s “core commitments” are incompatible with abortion coverage. Before the policy was revised, Santa Clara’s health plan also provided abortion coverage to dependents of faculty and staff.

The universities’ move against abortion coverage drew praise from Catholic and pro-life groups. However, the policy changes drew strong opposition from pro-abortion politicians and advocacy groups, as well as from many faculty and staff at the historically Jesuit Catholic schools. In December 2013, Santa Clara University faculty rejected the anti-abortion changes to the health care plan by a vote of 215 to 89.

Lobbyists from Planned Parenthood wrote to the California Department of Health and Human Services to insist that agency rules be changed to force religious groups to provide coverage for elective abortions. Emails showing this effort were contained in 2017 court filings from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal group but date to the time of the controversy.

The emails specifically named the two Catholic universities.

The insurers and the universities agreed to comply with the state’s new pro-abortion requirements. However, the state rules drew strong opposition from the California Catholic Conference, which charged that the state government “directly targeted” the two Catholic universities and violated federally guaranteed civil rights by ordering their health insurance plans to cover abortions.

“This is a coercive and discriminatory action by the State of California,” said Bishop Robert McElroy, then an auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and chairman of the state Catholic conference’s Institutional Concerns Committee.

McElroy, who became Bishop of San Diego in 2015, characterized the decision as a demand “directly targeted at Catholic institutions like Santa Clara University, Loyola Marymount University, along with other California employers and citizens.”

“It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions, and is government coercion of the worst kind,” McElroy said Oct. 1, 2014.

In June 2016, the Obama Administration rejected the California Catholic Conference’s federal complaint against the mandate. The HHS Office for Civil Rights said it “found no violation of the Weldon Amendment and is closing this matter without further action.”

At that time, leaders with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it was “shocking” that the federal government allowed California to force all employers, including churches, to fund and facilitate elective abortions.

“Even those who disagree on the issue of life should be able to respect the conscience rights of those who wish not to be involved in supporting abortion,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore said in June 2016. They objected that the ruling was “contrary to the plain meaning of the law” and called for Congress to pass the Conscience Protection Act.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised the Trump administration’s move against the California policy.

“Abortion is not health care and no American should ever be forced to participate in the destruction of innocent human life,” said Dannenfelser, who also co-chairs the Pro-Life Voices for Trump National Advisory Board ahead of the 2020 election.

'Pro-Life is Pro-Woman': The 2020 March for Life

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- A crowd estimated in at least the tens of thousands flooded the National Mall for the March for Life on Friday.

The annual gathering draws pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and foreign countries to Washington, D.C., marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

The march was kicked off by a rally on the National Mall attended by thousands, where President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life. He did so while Democratic House trial managers were making the case for his impeachment in the U.S. Senate.

"Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump said. “Every life brings love into this world. Every child brings joy to a family. Every person is worth protecting."

The president highlighted recent state-level efforts to expand abortion to include all nine months of pregnancy, singling out legislation passed in New York last year as well as controversial comments by Virginia Governor Ralf Northam (D).

Trump was joined on stage by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), March for Life president Jeanne Mancini, Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List, and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and others.

Other speakers at the rally included political figures from both Republican and Democratic parties: the First Lady of Louisiana, Donna Bel Edwards; House Minority WHIP Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.); Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D); U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.); and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List and co-chair of the Trump 2020 campaign’s pro-life coalition.

“Today, as President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said at the rally, noting that the March was “to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.”

“Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” he said.

Following the speeches from the rally’s main stage, the march proper began, progressing up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court.

Carrying the giant March for Life banner at the front of the crowd is regarded as a privilege, bestowed on a different group each year.

For 2020, students at Oakcrest School in McLean, Virginia—a Catholic all-girls middle and high school—led the march. Oakcrest administrators said that the school had a long history of supporting life and participating in the march each year, with classes suspended for the day to allow students and teachers to attend. The banner was carried by members of the school’s student-run Respect Life Club.

Behind Oakcrest, students at Colorado Christian University carried flags ahead of the main body of the march. The estimated tens of thousands of marchers moved up the National Mall towards the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill were a few hundred pro-abortion demonstrators had gathered earlier in the day.

Now in its forty-seveth year, the theme of the 2020 march,“Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman,” was chosen to mark the centennial anniversay of women’s right to vote in the United States with the passage of the 19th Ammendment in 1910. The march’s theme was chosen to counter the narrative put forward by abortion supporters that the practice “empowers” women. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told CNA when the theme was announced that “we primarily chose it because of the centennial” and to show that real “empowerment” meant valuing the lives of mothers and their unborn children.

In an op-ed published Friday morning, Mancini said that “abortion does not improve the lives of women and, unlike many who claim to be part of the women’s movement today, the suffragists wanted no part of it.”

“Abortion not only destroys women’s offspring, it can also cause lasting physical harm and psychological trauma. It’s a violent step backward that disproportionately affects women,” Mancini said.

“It has been 100 years since the suffragists won women the right to vote. They did so over time with single-minded focus and perseverance, and, in the end, gave voice to their voiceless sisters."

"We should not take for granted the progress they made. This November, we should use their victory to give voice to the voiceless unborn. They too deserve equal rights and protection under the law,” said Mancini.

Trump at March for Life: 'I am truly proud to stand with you'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 12:07 pm (CNA).- President Donald Trump addressed the annual March for Life Friday, telling pro-life demonstrators that he is an advocate for the right to life of unborn children, and calling for a federal prohibition on late-term abortion.

The president spoke about his administration’s record on abortion policy and criticized Democrats at the state and federal level for their positions on human life.

He is the first president to attend in person the March for Life, which began in 1974 and has become one of the largest annual political events in the country.  

“All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God,” Trump told the crowd, which spanned across a large section of the National Mall and which the president described as a “tremendous turnout.”

“We’re here for a very simple reason, to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential,” the president said.

“As President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said.

“Together we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life.”

“You embrace mothers with care and compassion, you are powered by prayer and motivated by pure, unselfish love,” the president told the crowd.

Trump especially praised the college and high school students in attendance at the March for Life.

“Young people are the heart of the March for Life, and it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation. The life movement is led by strong women, amazing faith leaders, and brave students, who carry on the legacy of pioneers before us, who fought to raise the conscience of our nation and uphold the rights of our citizens,” Trump said.

The president’s attendance at the March for Life was announced earlier this week. In 2019 Vice President Mike Pence attended the march, and in 2018 Trump welcomed pro-life leaders to the White House Rose Garden on the same day as the event.

The president’s unexpected attendance at the event led to heightened security. Initial security announcements said that no strollers would be permitted at the event, leading to criticism from attendees who had brought children. Security organizers eventually relented on the stroller policy, saying the initial prohibition was the result of a miscommunication

Trump took the stage shortly after noon to chants of “Four more years” from some, but not all, in the crowd. Some attendees held signs distributed by the president’s campaign team, some of which read “Most Pro-Life President Ever.”

Before he spoke, Trump greeted leaders on the stage while Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” played. Before he had taken the stage, songs from the Rolling Stones and Tina Turner played, as well as The Animals’ 1964 “House of the Rising Sun,” had played for the crowd. The songs are standard fare at Trump campaign events.

The president was welcomed enthusiastically by March for Life president Jeanne Mancini.

Describing the March for Life as a “pro-life and pro-woman” event, and the “largest human rights demonstration in the entire world,” Mancini told Trump that “your presence here today makes a very powerful statement.”

“You are leader of the free world and you stand for life. Thank you for being here. Thank you for everything you’ve done for life. And thank you for everything you will be doing for life in the years ahead,” Mancini said, apparently in reference to the president’s upcoming election.

The welcome marked a stark contrast to a March 2016 statement from Mancini, who responded to remarks from Trump calling for the imprisonment of women who undergo abortions as “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion.”

“Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion," Mancini added in 2016.

But Trump has made efforts since his 2016 election to respond to the policy proposals of pro-life leaders, administration officials say.

On Friday, he touted some of those efforts, mentioning his expansion of the Mexico City policy that bars federal funding from supporting abortions in foreign countries, along with his 187 appointments to the federal bench, among them two justices of the Supreme Court. The president also mentioned that new regulations on Title X policies block abortion providers from some federal funds.

Trump said that his administration is concerned about protecting religious liberty, and is “taking care of doctors, teachers, nurses, and groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.”

“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” the president said, to applause from the crowd.

Trump has faced fierce criticism from the U.S. bishops’ conference and other faith leaders for his immigration, social welfare, and foreign aid policies, and did not make mention of those issues during his speech. His rhetoric and policies on this issues have been criticized by Catholic leaders as inimical to respect for human dignity. Nor did the president mention his recent drone strike against Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, which has also drawn criticism from faith leaders who have raised concerns about the possibility that the U.S. could enter another war in the Middle East.

The president also did not mention directly his reelection, but he did tell the crowd that “Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades, and you can even say, for centuries. Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer-funded abortions all the way up until the moment of birth.”

Trump mentioned the 2019 passage of New York state’s Reproductive Health Act, which ushered in a wave of legislation in several states aimed at expanding legal protection for abortion. He also mentioned Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, who in 2019 made public comments that seemed to support allowing a child who survived a botched abortion to die without medical treatment.

The president did not mention Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson, a pro-life Democrat scheduled to speak at the March for Life shortly after Trump. Jackson sponsored a Louisiana law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius. That law, signed by a Democratic governor and now under judicial review at the Supreme Court, is expected to pose a challenge to the binding precedent of Roe v. Wade.

Trump is currently subject to impeachment proceedings in the U.S. Senate, which he did not mention directly in his speech. He did, however, aim to connect his political challenges to his pro-life advocacy.

“Sadly the far left is actively working to erase our God-given rights, shut down faith-based charities, ban religious believers from the public square, and silence Americans who believe in the sanctity of life,” Trump told the crowd.

“They are coming after me, because I am fighting for you, and we are fighting for those who have no voice, and we will win, because we know how to win.”

“We all know how to win. You’ve been winning for a long time. You’ve been winning for a long time,” Trump told the crowd.

As he closed his remarks, the president told the crowd his attendance was a “very special moment.”

“It is so great to represent you. I love you all...God bless America.”

As Trump left the stage, the Rolling Stones' 1969 classic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” played over the speakers.

 

Christine Rousselle contributed to this report.

 

 

HHS Secretary says he is proud to lead 'Department of Life'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 10:00 am (CNA).- The U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department is committed to protecting life “from conception to natural death,” as he prepares to attend Friday’s national March for Life.

“We are proud to be ‘the Department of Life’ and will continue protecting life and lives while upholding the fundamental freedoms and inherent dignity of all Americans,” said Azar in a statement released on Jan. 23.

Azar said that “it is an honor to lead a department that has demonstrated our full commitment to protecting the dignity of life from conception to natural death.”

HHS released the statement the evening before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., an annual pro-life gathering that is attended by tens of thousands from all over the U.S. and foreign countries.

The theme of the 2020 March for Life is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.”

A spokeswoman from HHS’ Office of Public Affairs confirmed to CNA that Secretary Azar will be attending the March for Life.

The secretary also noted the department’s efforts over the past year to oppose “an international right to abortion” at the United Nations and at other international meetings. In September he read a joint statement of the U.S. and other countries against finding an “international right to abortion,” at a meeting on universal health coverage on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

He also noted the department’s efforts to uphold conscience rights. In May, HHS issued a final rule based on various federal laws protecting conscience in health care, allowing health care workers and providers to opt out of participating in or paying for procedures such as abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide.

Azar will join President Donald Trump at the March for Life, who this week announced he would be addressing attendees of the march at a rally on the National Mall. 

Trump will be the first president to speak at the March for Life. He will do so while his impeachment trial, on two counts of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, is underway in the U.S. Senate.

“Jeanne Mancini, President, March for Life: ‘We have never had a President of the United States actually come in person to the March for Life.’ But now you do! See you later Jeanne,” the President tweeted early Friday morning.

Youth Mass for Life told to 'give back our life to the One to whom it belongs'

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 09:05 am (CNA).- Living the “Gospel of Life” requires sacrifice but God is infinitely generous in return, the secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S. told youth at the Mass for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

“To be a witness to the Gospel of Life, we have to give back our life to the One to Whom it belongs,” said Father Daniele Rebeggiani, a Washington archdiocesan priest and secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature to the U.S. and the homilist for the Mass for Life celebrated at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. on Friday. The Mass preceded the 47th annual March for Life, expected to attract nearly 100,000 people from across the U.S. and foreign countries.

Fr. Rebeggiani preached on the Gospel for the Mass, the story of the rich young man who left Christ sad because his “heart was divided.”

“This Mass is an invitation to all of us to leave everything, to abandon our life totally to the Lord,” Rebeggiani said, inviting those present to ask a priest if they “ever regretted living a life of celibacy” or their parents if “they’ve ever regretted their sleepless hours.”

In order to be a witness to the gift of life, “we should be willing to undergo some persecution,” he said. Yet, he said, “the Lord will never, ever disappoint you,” and “I have never, ever regretted giving my life to the Lord.”

The Mass, preceded by a youth rally, was attended by an estimated 18,000 teenagers and young adults from more than 50 dioceses around the country just hours before the March for Life was set to begin on the National Mall.

The March for Life is held each year on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that overturned state abortion bans and legalized abortion nationwide in cases before the unborn baby is “viable.”

On Friday morning, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C. celebrated the Mass for Life, with the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, concelebrating along with more than 180  bishops and priests.

Archbishop Pierre greeted those present at the beginning of the Mass and thanked them on behalf of Pope Francis for “showing your solidarity with the unborn in the ‘throwaway culture’.”

“We don’t fight for an idea. We fight for the future of the human being,” Pierre said.

The nuncio cited Pope Francis’ comparison of abortion to hiring a hitman to kill someone, saying “never, never eliminate a human life or hire a killer to solve a problem. Abortion is never the answer that women and families are looking for.”

“The Holy Father is close to you, and believes in you, and with his spirit he marches with you,” he said.

The Youth Rally and Mass for Life is the largest annual event of the Archdiocese of Washington. It precedes the March for Life, attended annually by tens of thousands of pro-life advocates from all over the U.S. and internationally.

Friday’s rally and Mass carried the theme of “Living the Gospel of Life,” taken from the “life in abundance” promised by Christ in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, in answer to the culture of death which promotes abortion.

At the rally preceding Friday’s Mass, abortion survivor Melissa Ohden told her story to the audience. Two religious sisters—Sister Josephine Garrett of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and Sister Maria Juan Anderson of the Religious Sisters of Mercy—addressed the youth, and Catholic singer Sarah Kroger performed.

Archbishop Gregory hails youth for life: ‘They have the energy to pull it off’

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:40 am (CNA).- An estimated 18,000 young Catholics from around the country filled the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, DC, Friday morning for the annual Youth Rally and Mass for Life.

Organized by the Archdiocese of Washington, the early morning rally opens a day of events for the March for Life each year. Doors opened just after 6am, but busloads of pilgrims and marchers had already arrived in the early hours of Jan. 24.

Many of the attendees had been up late at the previous evening’s Mass and Vigil for Life at the Basilica of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the campus of The Catholic University of America.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington told media that the annual rally and Mass was the largest event hosted by the archdiocese every year.

“This is about our protest, our positive witness to the gift of life, on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This is what we do. We gather so that we can pray and we take action.”

Speaking to reporters during the rally, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory talked about the significance of the event, his first since succeeding Cardinal Donald Wuerl last year.

CNA asked Gregory about the use of abortion as a political wedge issue by, and how the Church could help build unified culture of life, Gregory said the event showed the breadth and youth of the pro-life movement.

“First of all, [abortion] can be used in a very isolating way,” Gregory acknowledged.

“But part of the rally, part of our Catholic witness, is that while life within the womb is certainly threatened, on so many levels, it is the first step of the significance of life in all of its manifestations. So what we try to do, especially with our young people, is to say ‘it is the beginning,’ its not the end of our respect for human life and its dignity.”

“I think one of the things that this event does, and I am new to it, is it makes a promise that our witness to the dignity of life is youthful and it has a future,” Gregory said.

Gregory was also asked about the announced address by President Donald Trump scheduled for later in the day at the main rally for life on the National Mall, hand the president's closeness to the anti-abortion movement politically, but divergence from the Church on other issues such as immigration and social welfare.

“The bishops of the United States have consistently, and for a long time, spoken about the integrity of our teaching on the dignity of human life. While the focus today in many respects will be on protecting life in the womb – that is not the end. Because of that, individuals from whatever political persuasion might decide to focus on one dimension, but we as Catholics have to say ‘we are grateful for that focus on that one dimension, but there is more to come.’”

The rally portion of the morning was led by Sr. Maria Juan of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, who opened the event calling out pilgrims from across the country and inviting young people, priests and religious to share their own experiences of this and past events.

The rally program also included an address from Melissa Ohden, founder of The Abortion Survivors Network, and herself an abortion survivor, while Christian rock bands and the choir of John Carroll High School kept energy levels high in the early morning.

Gregory greeted pilgrims and marchers on the arena floor before preparing for the 9am Mass, at which he was scheduled to be the principle celebrant, together with Archbishop Christoph Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.   

The Washington archbishop pointed to the enthusiasm of the crowd as a clear sign that they were undeterred in the fight against abortion, even though the vast majority had never known a time when it was not legal.

“The fact that they have taken such an enthusiastic position is an indication that our future in our young people is bright. They have the right focus, they have the right intention, they have the energy to pull it off,” Gregory said.

At Mass for Life, 10,000 pilgrims pack National Shrine

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2020 / 10:15 pm (CNA).- An estimated 10,000 pilgrims traveled from both near and far to attend Mass at the opening of the National Prayer Vigil for Life celebrated on Thursday, Jan. 23 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The pilgrims joined 46 deacons, 303 priests, 39 bishops, and three cardinals participating in the Mass, held the evening before the annual March for Life. The principal celebrant and homilist was Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the US bishops’ pro-life committee, together with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. 

In his homily, Archbishop Naumann said he was cheered at the sight of so many young pilgrims for life, a powerful witness against an abortion culture, which he compared to an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone,’ in which “beautiful is ugly and hideous is gorgeous.” 

The archbishop also spoke of his ad limina visit with Pope Francis. During his recent trip to Rome, said Naumann, he mentioned the controversy that erupted at the USCCB Fall General Assembly over whether abortion was the “preeminent” social issue of our time. Naumann said that the pope appeared confused at why this would be controversial, and re-affirmed that abortion is the most important social issue.

“The Pope is with you. He is praying for you. He supports you,” said Naumann. “My friends, the successor of Peter has our backs.”

Each of the pilgrims had their own reasons and motivations for why they found themselves in the Basilica on Thursday evening. CNA spoke to a few of them to find out their stories. 

Jenna Perrey and Grace Fender are two first-time marchers. They traveled on a bus together for 22 hours with the Diocese of Jefferson City (MO).

“We hope to see all the crowds and see all the wonderful supporters of life,” Perrey told CNA. The Diocese of Jefferson City sent six busses to Washington for the March. 

Fender told CNA she was looking forward to the experience of her first March, and to see everyone “marching together for the same cause.”

“Life’s good,” added, smiling. 

As in past years, attendees of the Vigil Mass and the March for Life are able to receive a plenary indulgence, provided they fulfill the other requirements of an indulgence of confession, total detachment from sin, and prayer for the Pope’s intention. This year, permission was granted relatively later than usual, but it was authorized on January 9 by Cardinal Marcus Piacenza of the Apostolic Penitentiary.  

Other marchers told CNA they returned to Washington after being inspired by past marches. 

“I went last year, and I felt like I actually made an impact,” Emma Galles, an 18-year-old pilgrim attending her second March for Life told CNA. Galles flew in from Iowa. 

“You could see how many people were with you. It lets you know that you’re not alone in this fight and that you’re getting somewhere,” she said.

Galles told CNA that she is pro-life, because “Without the right to life, all other rights are pointless. That’s the number one right that every person should have.” 

Carlos Rueda, a senior at Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL, flew up with some of his classmates to attend the March for Life. Rueda is the communications officer of his school’s pro-life club, and has attended the March for Life each year of high school. He told CNA that he is “passionate” about his involvement with the club. 

Rueda said the March was “inspiring,” which is why he keeps coming back.

“You see so many people with the same goal in mind, even [from] different backgrounds,” said Rueda. 

He said that in Tampa, he often faced pushback for his pro-life beliefs, but took solace in being surrounded by people who agreed with him in DC, “joining together, fighting for the same idea.” 

Jayla Johnson, 15, and Tanina Sentementas, 16, had similar sentiments. The two traveled from Connecticut to Washington with their school, St. Paul Catholic High School. 

Despite going to Catholic schools her entire life, Johnson said she was never taught about the reality of abortion until she was in the eighth grade. 

“It really made me realize that it’s wrong, and I should stand up against it,” said Johnson.  

Sentementas said that her group bonded during the eight-hour bus journey, and relished the chance to be with her peers and to better interact with them.

She told CNA that she is pro-life because she wants to “have a voice for children who don’t have them.” 

One of the 39 bishops present, Bishop Richard Umbers, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, had by far the longest journey to Washington. Umbers attended the March for Life last year with a group of Australian students en route to World Youth Day in Panama. 

The experience made such an impression that he returned in 2020, again with a group of students. He told CNA that the decriminalization of abortion in the Australian state of New South Wales in October last year inspired him to come back to help jump start the pro-life movement in his country.

“The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 that was passed in the State of New South Wales on the 2nd of October is our own Roe v Wade,” Umbers told CNA. 

“I’m bringing people to Washington with a view to promoting something similar in Sydney.”

Australia does not have any sort of annual March for Life demonstration. Umbers hopes to change that.  

“At the Vigil Mass this evening, packed with youth and clergy, mention was made of its humble beginnings. A generation later it’s huge,” he said.

“In Sydney we have already amassed in our thousands outside Parliament. I believe that the Pro-Life cause, which is the preeminent issue of our day, deserves our very best efforts.”

Chaput looks back: 'I’m proud of the things that we have done together'

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 23, 2020 / 05:30 pm (CNA).- Four months after submitting his mandatory letter of resignation to Pope Francis, Archbishop Charles Chaput officially stood down as leader of the Philadelphia archdiocese on Thursday.  

With his successor, Bishop Nelson Perez, set to be installed on Feb.18, Chaput enters retirement after 32 years as a bishop -- much of it spent on the national stage, and widely recognized as a spiritual and intellectual leader in the Church in the United States.

Chaput reflected on his vocation as bishop to CNA on Thursday, citing St. Augustine as the model of service he has sought to emulate in his ministry.

“Augustine lived simply, never abandoned his people, and never avoided difficult decisions or issues,” Chaput told CNA.

“That didn't always make him popular. But he served his people sacrificially, as a good father, in a spirit of love. That's the gold standard for a bishop's ministry.”

During his episcopal ministry, and especially as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Chaput faced criticism from secular outlets and within the Church for taking “conservative” stands on leading debates in the Church, including statements discouraging Catholic politicians who support abortion from presenting themselves for Communion and opposing efforts to redefine marriage.

His stances led to him being branded as a “culture warrior” and “political.” Yet, he explained to CNA on Thursday, his public stances were required of him as a responsible Catholic leader in the public square.

“Was Augustine ‘political’ for writing City of God? Or for criticizing Roman state corruption and bad officials? Of course not,” Chaput said.

“Politics is a subset of Christian discipleship, and sometimes bishops need to speak and act with conviction in the public square in an unpopular way. That's always been the case.”

“Politics is important, but it's not what the Gospel is about,” he said.

The terms “conservative” and “liberal” when applied to bishops only serves as a way of dividing Catholics within the Church, he said.

“The conservative vs. pastoral narrative is just another tactic to divide the Church against herself. And people who think they're getting a clear sense of Catholic thought and teaching from reading the New York Times are simply feeding their confusion, not healing it.​”

Chaput has served as Archbishop of Philadelphia for more than eight years, overseeing almost 1.3 million Catholics and more than 200 parishes.

Before that, he served for 14 years as Archbishop of Denver, helping start evangelization initiatives like the Augustine Institute, founding the St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, as well launching the Centro San Juan Diego to serve the local Hispanic community.

Born in Kansas in 1944, Chaput entered the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in 1965 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970. He eventually rose to the rank of chief executive and provincial minister of the Capuchin Province of Mid-America.

In 1988, he was ordained bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, and in 1997, he was appointed by Pope St. John Paul II as the archbishop of Denver. Chaput became the second Native American to be ordained bishop in the U.S., and the first as archbishop, as he is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe.

In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Chaput as Archbishop of Philadelphia. His episcopal motto is “As Christ Loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25).

Chaput also served on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 2003 to 2006, and has served on the board of EWTN since 1996. He was appointed the Apostolic Visitor to the Legion of Christ for Canada and the United States in 2009-10.

When appointed to Philadelphia, the archdiocese was reeling from financial problems in the fallout of the sexual abuse crisis, facing an operating deficit of at least $6 million in 2012-13, leaving Chaput with a series of difficult and controversial decisions.

The archdiocese considered closing dozens of its elementary and high schools and partnered with the Faith in the Future foundation for 17 high schools and four special education schools. Chaput also sold off the archbishop’s residence and the summer home for retired priests, as well as other archdiocesan properties.

“Complacency is the enemy of faith. To whatever degree complacency and pride once had a home in our local Church, events in the coming year will burn them out,” Chaput wrote in a pastoral letter during Advent of 2011.

“The process will be painful. But going through it is the only way to renew the witness of the Church; to clear away the debris of human failure from the beauty of God’s word and to restore the joy and zeal of our Catholic discipleship.”

At a Jan. 23 press conference announcing the appointment, Chaput’s successor Archbishop-elect Perez paid tribute to him, saying that he “made calls that, today, have placed the archdiocese in a way better place.”

“Watching him from afar, I saw him make tough decisions. Many times, like a father has to do in a family,” Perez said.

Asked by CNA what he is most proud of in his 32 years as a diocesan bishop, Chaput responded “I don’t think that way.”

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I’ve accomplished. I’m just grateful to have been the archbishop for eight-and-a-half years,” he said.

He did, however, thank his staff and auxiliary bishops for assisting him with tough decisions, particularly the archdiocese’s pressing financial and sexual abuse problems when he arrived.

He also mentioned the decision to sell the property of St. Charles Borromeo seminary and relocating it to nearby Neumann University. Chaput called that “an extraordinary accomplishment.”

“I’m proud of the things that we have done together,” he said.

Chaput said on Thursday that he will eventually resume responsibilities as archbishop emeritus, including giving talks and retreats, but will spend the next three months on a quieter schedule without regular commitments.

“I am going to continue to be a part of the life of the archdiocese,” he said.

“It’s also important for me to understand that he [Perez] is my archbishop, and I owe him my respect and my obedience, and I do that gladly because I think he’s going to accomplish great things for us, but also with us because the Church is all of us working together,” Chaput said.

“The history of the Church is not the history of bishops, it’s the history of all of us together working for the glory of God.”