Monthly Archives: March 2019

Some Conservative States Easing Access to Birth Control

AMES, IOWA Several Republican-led state legislatures are advocating for women to gain over-the-counter access to birth control in what they say is an effort to reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

State legislatures in Arkansas and Iowa, for example, are working on legislation that would allow women older than 18 the ability to receive birth control from a pharmacist rather than going first to a doctor for a prescription. The measures are seeing bipartisanship support in those states and come after similar laws have passed in nearly a dozen other states.

Arkansas legislation

Arkansas state Representative Aaron Pilkington, a Republican, said he started working on the bill after seeing about a 15 percent decrease of teen births after other states passed similar legislation. Arkansas consistently has one of the highest birth rates among teenagers in the country.

Pilkington said support for the bill in many ways, it’s very generational. … I find that a lot of younger people and women are really in favor of this, especially mothers.

According to the Oral Contraceptive (OCs) Over the Counter (OTC) Working Group, a reproductive rights group, more than 100 countries, including Russia, much of South America and countries in Africa, allow access to birth control without a prescription.

Women are required to get a doctor’s prescription to obtain and renew birth control in most of the U.S., much of Europe, Canada and Australia, according to the reproductive rights group.

Pilkington, who identifies as a pro-life legislator, said he brought the bill forward partly as an effort to counter unwanted pregnancies and abortions. The bill would require a doctor’s visit about every two years to renew the prescription.

Rural residents

Arkansas has a population of about 3 million people, a third of whom live in rural areas. Pilkington said the bill would likely benefit women who reside in rural areas or those who have moved to new cities and aren’t under a doctor’s care yet.

A lot of times when they’re on the pill and they run out, they’ve gotta get a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor says, ‘I can’t see you for two months,’ he said. Some people have to drive an hour and a half to see their PCP (primary care physician) or OB-GYN (obstetrician-gynecologist), so this makes a lot of sense.

What Pilkington is proposing is not new. In 2012, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorsed the idea of making birth control available without a prescription. Today, at least 11 other states have passed legislation allowing for patients to go directly to the pharmacist, with some caveats.

In October, ahead of a tight midterm race, Iowa Republican Governor Kim Reynolds raised a few eyebrows when she announced she would prioritize over-the-counter access to birth control in her state. Like Pilkington, she cited countering abortion as a main driver behind the proposed legislation. The bill closely models much of the language used in another Republican-sponsored bill In Utah that passed last year with unanimous support.

The planned Iowa legislation comes after the Republican-led state Legislature passed a bill in 2017 that rejected $3 million in federal funds for family-planning centers like Planned Parenthood.

The loss of federal funds forced Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides health care and contraception for women, to close four of its 12 clinics in the state.

Since then, Jamie Burch Elliott, public affairs manager of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa, said that anecdotal evidence shows that sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies have gone up.

With family planning, it takes time to see the impacts, so there are long-term studies going on to really study the impact of this, said Burch Elliott. Right away, we saw STI (sexually transmitted infections) and STD (sexually transmitted diseases) rates go up, particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea. As far as unintended pregnancy rates, we are hearing that they are rising, although the data is not out yet.

Pro-life pushback

So far the Iowa legislation has received some pushback, mostly from a few pro-life groups.

The Iowa Right to Life organization has remained neutral on the issue of birth control, but the Iowa Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the bishops of Iowa, and Iowans for LIFE, a nonprofit anti-abortion organization, have come out against the bill, citing concerns that birth control should not be administered without a visit to a physician.

Maggie DeWitte, executive director of Iowans for LIFE, also pointed out that oral contraception can be an abortifacient [that] sometimes cause abortions, challenging Reynolds’ motivation for introducing the bill.

On the other hand, Iowa family-planning organizations and Democratic legislators are mostly on board.

Policywise, I think this is really good, said Heather Matson, a state representative of a district located just outside the state capital, Des Moines. She appreciated that insurance will still cover birth control, but took issue with the age restriction, saying she would like to see an option for people younger than 18. Is it exactly the bill that I would have written, if given the opportunity? Not exactly.

While Matson represents one of the fastest-growing districts in the country, she pointed to the number of health care deserts in rural Iowa, where a shortage of OB-GYNs is leading to the closure of some maternity wards.

Like Planned Parenthood’s Burch Elliott, Matson agreed that this bill would be just one step in providing more access to birth control for women in rural parts of the state.

Even before Planned Parenthood was defunded, there wasn’t great access to birth control in Iowa to begin with, Burch Elliott said. Having said that, [this bill] is not a solution. Pharmacists are never going to be a replacement for Planned Parenthood, for example, where you’ll get STI and STD screenings, and any other cancer screenings or other preventive care that you might need.

Regardless of whether the bills pass in Des Moines or Little Rock, Arkansas Representative Pilkington expects other states to follow suit.

As the times have changed and you have a lot of conservative states like Tennessee, Arkansas, Utah (pass this legislation), I think it makes it way less of a partisan issue and more of a good governance issue, he said. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other states kind of pushing this as well. Especially when they see the success that other states are having with this.

Source: Voice of America

Pope Tells Moroccans ‘We Are Brothers and Sisters’

RABAT Pope Francis sought Sunday to encourage greater fraternity between Christians and Muslims in Morocco, telling his flock that showing the country’s Muslim majority they are part of the same human family will help stamp out extremism.

On his second and final day in Morocco, Francis told Catholic priests and sisters that even though they are few in number, they shouldn’t seek to convert others to Christianity but rather engage in dialogue and charity.

“In this way, you will unmask and lay bare every attempt to exploit differences and ignorance in order to sow fear, hatred and conflict,” he said. “For we know that fear and hatred, nurtured and manipulated, destabilize our communities and leave them spiritually defenseless.”

Francis has stressed a message of Christian-Muslim fraternity during his first trip to Morocco, a majority Muslim nation of 36 million. Proselytism is a sensitive topic in religious discourse in the North African nation, even though Christians, Muslims and Jews have coexisted peacefully here for centuries.

After reaching out Saturday to Morocco’s Sunni majority, Francis turned his attention Sunday to the country’s Christian minority, celebrating a Mass for about 10,000 people representing 60 countries, many of them sub-Saharan African migrants and other foreigners.

In his homily, delivered in his native Spanish and translated into French, Francis urged them to resist the temptation to sow division and confrontation and instead remember “we are brothers and sisters.”

“Experience tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our peoples’ soul, poisoning our children’s hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish,” Francis told the faithful, who gathered in a sports arena in Rabat.

Francis’ aim was to highlight the constructive presence of Christians in Moroccan life and how they are part of its human fabric alongside Muslims and people of other faith.

He started his day Sunday by visiting a social center run by Catholic religious sisters that serves a poor Muslim community south of the capital, Rabat, with medical, educational and vocational services. The Temara center operates a preschool, treats burn victims, trains women in sewing and provides meals for 150 children a day.

Catholic teachings are not taught at the preschool.

“Their teachers are all Muslims and speak in Arabic and they prepare them on Muslim religion,” said sister Gloria Carrillero. “We did not come here with the purpose of doing proselytism. We came here just to help.”

Catholics represent less than 1 percent of Morocco’s population and most are foreign-born migrants. Morocco also has up to 6,000 homegrown converts to Christianity who are obliged to practice their faith privately because Morocco prohibits Muslim conversions.

These Moroccan converts often celebrate Masses in their homes and hide their religious affiliations for fear of prosecution and arrest. Yet many flocked to Francis’ afternoon Mass in a Rabat sports stadium Sunday with the hope that the pope’s visit would compel Moroccan authorities to be more tolerant of religious diversity.

“With this visit, we want to tell the pope and the Moroccan society that we are proud to be Christians,” said Moroccan Christian Adam Rbati, who was attending the Mass with his Christian wife and newborn son. “It might not change much, but it will certainly create the space for future positive change.”

Francis touched on the issue of religious freedom in his opening speech to King Mohammed VI on Saturday, urging Morocco to move beyond just freedom of worship to true respect for an individual’s faith.

“That is why freedom of conscience and religious freedom � which is not limited to freedom of worship alone, but allows all to live in accordance with their religious convictions � are inseparably linked to human dignity,” he said.

In a speech to Catholic priests in the city cathedral Sunday, Francis drew applause when he told them they should not proselytize. The church grows, he said, when people are attracted to its message, witness its charity and engage in dialogue as part of a human family.

He called for prayer “in the name of this fraternity, torn apart by the policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies, which manipulate the actions and the future of men and women.”

Among the priests on the altar to greet the pope was the Rev. Jean-Pierre Schumacher, the last survivor of the Tibhirine monks.

Schumacher and his brother monks had decided to stay in their monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria, alongside locals during the country’s civil war, despite the threats against them. Seven monks were abducted and beheaded in 1996, their skulls discovered nearby. A radical group was blamed for their beheadings, but some observers have suggested that Algeria’s military was responsible.

Francis kissed Schumacher’s hand in a sign of respect, and the stooped 95-year-old priest reciprocated.

Last year, the seven monks and 12 other religious sisters and Catholics killed during Algeria’s civil war were beatified in Algiers.

Source: Voice of America

Pope Tells Moroccans ‘We Are Brothers and Sisters’

RABAT Pope Francis sought Sunday to encourage greater fraternity between Christians and Muslims in Morocco, telling his flock that showing the country’s Muslim majority they are part of the same human family will help stamp out extremism.

On his second and final day in Morocco, Francis told Catholic priests and sisters that even though they are few in number, they shouldn’t seek to convert others to Christianity but rather engage in dialogue and charity.

“In this way, you will unmask and lay bare every attempt to exploit differences and ignorance in order to sow fear, hatred and conflict,” he said. “For we know that fear and hatred, nurtured and manipulated, destabilize our communities and leave them spiritually defenseless.”

Francis has stressed a message of Christian-Muslim fraternity during his first trip to Morocco, a majority Muslim nation of 36 million. Proselytism is a sensitive topic in religious discourse in the North African nation, even though Christians, Muslims and Jews have coexisted peacefully here for centuries.

After reaching out Saturday to Morocco’s Sunni majority, Francis turned his attention Sunday to the country’s Christian minority, celebrating a Mass for about 10,000 people representing 60 countries, many of them sub-Saharan African migrants and other foreigners.

In his homily, delivered in his native Spanish and translated into French, Francis urged them to resist the temptation to sow division and confrontation and instead remember “we are brothers and sisters.”

“Experience tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our peoples’ soul, poisoning our children’s hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish,” Francis told the faithful, who gathered in a sports arena in Rabat.

Francis’ aim was to highlight the constructive presence of Christians in Moroccan life and how they are part of its human fabric alongside Muslims and people of other faith.

He started his day Sunday by visiting a social center run by Catholic religious sisters that serves a poor Muslim community south of the capital, Rabat, with medical, educational and vocational services. The Temara center operates a preschool, treats burn victims, trains women in sewing and provides meals for 150 children a day.

Catholic teachings are not taught at the preschool.

“Their teachers are all Muslims and speak in Arabic and they prepare them on Muslim religion,” said sister Gloria Carrillero. “We did not come here with the purpose of doing proselytism. We came here just to help.”

Catholics represent less than 1 percent of Morocco’s population and most are foreign-born migrants. Morocco also has up to 6,000 homegrown converts to Christianity who are obliged to practice their faith privately because Morocco prohibits Muslim conversions.

These Moroccan converts often celebrate Masses in their homes and hide their religious affiliations for fear of prosecution and arrest. Yet many flocked to Francis’ afternoon Mass in a Rabat sports stadium Sunday with the hope that the pope’s visit would compel Moroccan authorities to be more tolerant of religious diversity.

“With this visit, we want to tell the pope and the Moroccan society that we are proud to be Christians,” said Moroccan Christian Adam Rbati, who was attending the Mass with his Christian wife and newborn son. “It might not change much, but it will certainly create the space for future positive change.”

Francis touched on the issue of religious freedom in his opening speech to King Mohammed VI on Saturday, urging Morocco to move beyond just freedom of worship to true respect for an individual’s faith.

“That is why freedom of conscience and religious freedom � which is not limited to freedom of worship alone, but allows all to live in accordance with their religious convictions � are inseparably linked to human dignity,” he said.

In a speech to Catholic priests in the city cathedral Sunday, Francis drew applause when he told them they should not proselytize. The church grows, he said, when people are attracted to its message, witness its charity and engage in dialogue as part of a human family.

He called for prayer “in the name of this fraternity, torn apart by the policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies, which manipulate the actions and the future of men and women.”

Among the priests on the altar to greet the pope was the Rev. Jean-Pierre Schumacher, the last survivor of the Tibhirine monks.

Schumacher and his brother monks had decided to stay in their monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria, alongside locals during the country’s civil war, despite the threats against them. Seven monks were abducted and beheaded in 1996, their skulls discovered nearby. A radical group was blamed for their beheadings, but some observers have suggested that Algeria’s military was responsible.

Francis kissed Schumacher’s hand in a sign of respect, and the stooped 95-year-old priest reciprocated.

Last year, the seven monks and 12 other religious sisters and Catholics killed during Algeria’s civil war were beatified in Algiers.

Source: Voice of America

Ebola Treatment Center in Congo Reopens After Attack

An Ebola treatment center located at the epicenter of the current outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has resumed operations after it was attacked last month, the country’s health ministry said Saturday.

The center run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the district of Katwa was set on fire Feb. 24 by unknown attackers, forcing staff to evacuate patients.

It reopened Saturday, the ministry said in a statement.

“For now it is managed by the ministry in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF,” it said, referring to the U.N. children’s fund.

Aid workers have faced mistrust in some areas as they seek to contain the Ebola outbreak, which has become the most severe in Congo’s history. The WHO has said the distrust is fueled by false rumors about treatments and preference for traditional medicine.

Another MSF center in Butembo was also attacked in late February but reopened a week later.

MSF has pulled out from the area since the two attacks and has not said when it might resume medical activities.

The current Ebola epidemic, first declared last August, is believed to have killed at least 561 people so far and infected over 300 more.

Source: Voice of America

Pope Francis in Morocco on 2-Day Visit

ROME Pope Francis is in Morocco as part of his ongoing effort to advance inter-religious dialogue. It is the first visit by a pope to the predominantly Muslim country in 34 years. Just last month the pope visited the predominantly Muslim United Arab Emirates.

Pope John Paul II was the last head of the Catholic Church to visit Morocco in August 1985. Moroccans are seeing the current visit in a positive way and the message that Pope Francis has for them is that Muslims and Christians can peacefully co-exist.

Ahead of the two-day visit, Pope Francis issued a video message for the Moroccan people. He thanked King Mohammed VI for inviting him and Moroccan authorities for their collaboration in making this visit possible.

Francis said that, following in the footsteps of his holy predecessor, John Paul II, he is coming as a pilgrim of peace and brotherhood, in a world that greatly needs it. Francis added that both Christians and Muslims believe in God who created men and women, and placed them in the world so that they might live as brothers and sisters, respecting each other’s diversity and helping each other in their needs.

Morocco’s population is almost all Muslim, with the local Catholic community consisting of some 23,000 faithful. The majority of them are immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa. The pope will spend only 27 hours in Morocco but he has a busy schedule. On his first day in Rabat, the pope focuses on inter-faith dialogue and on solidarity with migrants.

He will be visiting the Mohammed VI Institute for the training of imams in what is expected to be a significant moment of his visit. It is the first time a pope is welcomed in a school for imams. This is part of the Moroccan king’s effort against fundamentalism while promoting a moderate approach to Islam.

On Saturday, Pope Francis also will be meeting with migrants at a center run by the Catholic charity Caritas. There are some 50,000 migrants in Morocco and about 4,000 are looked after by Caritas. The issue of migrants is an important one, as Morocco’s proximity to Spain has led many migrants to travel this route to enter Europe.

On Sunday, Pope Francis will visit the Center for Social Services at Temara, just south of Rabat, which used to be a rural school run by Jesuits and is now an important care center for children. The pope will then hold a meeting with religious men and women in Rabat cathedral and lunch with the country’s bishops.

Before returning to the Vatican, Pope Francis will celebrate mass at the city’s Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium. The mass is expected to be attended by at least half the Catholic population in the country.

Source: Voice of America