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Tucson bishop speaks up after border agent cleared in Mexican teen's death

Tucson, Ariz., Apr 26, 2018 / 03:28 pm (CNA).- The ‘not guilty’ verdict for a U.S. border agent who shot and killed a Mexican teen is “deeply troubling” and raises “serious issues of justice and accountability,” said Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Ariz.

“I find myself in a close bond of fraternity and solidarity with the family of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez and the many who have been unable to achieve the kind of authentic justice upon which our nation was founded,” the bishop said April 24.
 
“While we are privileged to live in a nation whose greatness is rooted in its democracy and fair treatment of all, such decisions reveal that our democratic institutions are not without flaws and occasionally grave injustices,” he said.

The bishop also acknowledged the difficult job of border patrol agents, as well as their important contributions.  

Elena Rodriguez, 16, was reportedly among a group on Mexican territory throwing rocks across the border at the border fence in the city of Nogales the night of Oct. 10, 2012. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was accused of shooting through the fence, killing the teen.

The agent allegedly fired his pistol 16 times in 34 seconds from three different locations. Rodriguez was hit eight times in the back and twice in the head. Federal prosecutors said the fact that Swartz continued to shoot after the teen was on the ground showed that he acted deliberately or recklessly in disregard of human life.

The agent’s attorneys said the shooting was justified and given that the teen was killed by one of the first shots, the other shots are legally irrelevant. They said the agent was in a chaotic scenario in a dangerous area known for smuggling. Swartz in his testimony said he had to make a split-second decision whether to defend himself and his fellow law enforcement officers at night.

Jurors deliberated for four days after a weeks-long trial in U.S. District Court, finding Swartz not guilty of second-degree murder. On April 23 they told Judge Raner Collins they did not believe they could reach a unanimous verdict on the two lesser charges of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

Bishop Weisenburger reflected on the situation of both the border patrol and of the treatment of other people on the border.

“We must keep in mind that customs and border control agents are oftentimes placed in situations of great danger,” he said. “Too, there are times when their efforts have resulted in saving the lives of those in great peril. We rely upon their high degree of professionalism and integrity.”

“However, I respectfully call for continued scrutiny of the methods and procedures employed by those who secure our nation’s borders, for transparent accountability, for a renewed sense of dignity and the humane treatment of all persons regardless of their legal status, and for authentic justice when human rights are denied.”

The bishop said that although law enforcement is the primary issue in the jury decision, the case is “yet another reminder of our broken immigration system.” The U.S. bishops and the Arizona Catholic Conference are both committed to advocating comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, he said.

This proposed reform is based on key values like affirming human dignity regardless of persons’ legal status, the right to have a well-regulated border, the right of people to immigrate, and “an orderly process to welcome new immigrants whose inalienable human dignity must always be respected.”
 

Pope Francis: The Last Supper teaches us three foundational truths

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2018 / 11:53 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pointing to Jesus’ words during the Last Supper, Pope Francis offered meditations on love, service and humility during his homily at daily Mass on Thursday.

The Pope reflected on the day’s Gospel, John 13, which recounts the moments of the Last Supper where Jesus instituted the Eucharist and washed the feet of his disciples. Christ’s actions in these moments, Pope Francis said, teach the Church three“foundational truths.”

The first lesson is the commandment of love, which is exemplified in the Eucharist, the pope said April 26.

“Love is without limits. Without it, the Church cannot move forward; the Church cannot breathe. Without love, she cannot grow, and is transformed into an empty institution, made up of appearances and actions without fecundity,” the Holy Father said.

“In his bodily actions, Jesus tells us how we should love, that is, until the end,” he continued, saying that just as Jesus gave himself “to eat and drink, he tells us to love one another in this way.”

The second gesture of washing His disciples’ feet points to another commandment: service.

“Washing the feet, he tells us to serve each other in like manner,” the pope reflected.

In this gesture of service, he noted, lies the third lesson of humility, because “no servant is greater than his master.”

“The awareness is that He is greater than all of us, and that we are servants who cannot go beyond Jesus,” Pope Francis said. “He is the Lord, not us. This is the Lord’s will.”

“But beware: no servant is greater than the one who sent him, the master. These blunt words and actions are the foundations of the Church. If we proceed in like fashion with these three points, we shall never fail.”

The pope additionally underscored the witnesses of the saints of the Church whose actions radiate what it means to truly serve and who lived “with the awareness of being servants.”

Pope Francis ended his homily inviting the faithful gathered to enter into silence, so as to welcome the gaze of the Lord.

“Let Jesus’ gaze enter into me. We will feel many things: love, maybe nothing… we might feel trapped there or feel shame,” he said. “But always let Jesus’ gaze in. It is the same gaze with which he looked at his disciples at supper.”

The Catholic Association voices support for Alfie Evans' parents

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2018 / 11:42 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A group dedicated to offering a Catholic voice in the public square has spoken out on behalf of Alfie Evans and his parents, as the court battle surrounding the toddler continues.

“It’s confusing and disappointing to see the Catholic leadership in the U.K., both the bishops and lay leaders like Austen Ivereigh of Catholic Voices U.K., abandon Catholic social teaching and split from the Pope by defending the government instead of Alfie and his family,” said Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with The Catholic Association.

“The Church has long been the first and only voice to speak out for truth and defend the vulnerable. True to that legacy, the Pope spoke out in defense of Alfie Evans and the fundamental human rights of his parents to do all they can to save the life of their child.”

In an April 26 statement, McGuire thanked Pope Francis for his leadership and called on UK Catholics “to join him in standing for Church teaching.”

The Catholic Association, a group that is “dedicated to being a faithful Catholic voice in the public square,” voiced support for the parents of British toddler Alfie Evans, who has been at the center of a months-long court battle.

Just shy of two years old, the young boy is in what physicians have described as a “semi-vegetative state” due to a mysterious degenerative neurological condition that doctors at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, England have not been able to properly diagnose. He has been hospitalized since December of 2016.

Although Italian officials have granted Alfie citizenship and a Vatican-linked hospital has offered to take the toddler for further diagnosis and treatment, UK courts have repeatedly refused to allow the transfer, ruling that it is not in the child’s best interest.

With permission of the court, but against the will of Alfie’s parents, the hospital earlier this week removed Alfie’s ventilator and withheld food and water from the child.

Although the toddler was only expected to live for a few minutes, he was able to breathe on his own for a number of hours, until doctors administered oxygen and hydration. They later administered nutrition as well, after the boy went almost 24 hours without food, according to Alfie’s father.

Local Archbishop Malcolm McMahon has defended the hospital, saying that it has done “everything humanly possible” for Alfie. UK commentator and co-founder of Catholic Voices Austen Ivereigh also defended the arguments of the courts on Twitter.

Pope Francis, however, has been outspoken about supporting the child’s parents.

The pope, who met with Alfie’s father last week, has offered public prayers for Alfie and his family several times, including at a general audience and in several Twitter posts.

“Moved by the prayers and immense solidarity shown little Alfie Evans, I renew my appeal that the suffering of his parents may be heard and that their desire to seek new forms of treatment may be granted,” he said on Twitter Monday.

Rallies in support of Alfie’s parents have been held in London, Washington, D.C., New York, and other locations in recent days.

“The Catholic faithful along with citizens of good will around the world have rallied and stood with the Pope and with Alfie and his parents in defending their rights and defending the beauty of Catholic social teaching – which expressly condemns exactly what the U.K. government is doing: denying Alfie’s parents their rights to what is best for their child and forcing the child to suffer in his last moments,” McGuire said in her statement.

“The parents of Alfie Evans have a natural right to accept the Vatican hospital’s offer to try to extend the life of Alfie and provide more humane car,” added Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, policy advisor for The Catholic Association. “Baby Alfie and his parents should not be prisoners of a British hospital.”

“The failure of the British Catholic Bishops and so-called leaders like Catholic Voices of England to recognize these simple and basic truths is disgusting and shameful,” she continued. “We urge all faithful Catholics to stand with Pope Francis, who called on the British government to allow Baby Alfie’s parents to seek the alternative treatment that has been generously offered.”

Pope Francis: The Last Supper teaches us three foundational truths

Vatican City, Apr 26, 2018 / 12:53 pm (EWTN News/CNA).- Pointing to Jesus' words during the Last Supper, Pope Francis offered meditations on love, service and humility during his homily at daily Mass on Thursday.

New report paints worrying picture of global religious freedom

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2018 / 10:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Religious freedom conditions worsened across the globe in the past year, according to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom’s 2018 report, released April 25.

Violations against religious freedom were particularly acute under authoritarian regimes in the Eastern Hemisphere. With the exception of Cuba, all of the 28 countries USCIRF designated as the worst perpetrators in 2017 lie east of the prime meridian.

The worst abuses against religious freedom included genocide, enslavement, rape, imprisonment, forced displacement, forced conversions, property destruction, and bans on religious education of children.

The commission recommended that 16 countries be recognized by the State Department as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), a label that identifies foreign governments that engage in or tolerate “systemic, ongoing, and egregious” religious freedom violations. Receiving this designation from the State Department opens the door to consequences including trade and funding sanctions.

These 16 are the same countries that USCIRF recommended last year with the State Department going on to recognize 10 as CPCs in December 2017: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

However, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom urges that religious freedom violations in Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Nigeria, Vietnam, and the Central African Republic were so severe that these countries also merit CPC designation.

Of these six unrecognized countries, USCIRF Chair Daniel Mark is particularly concerned about the state of religious freedom in Pakistan.

“What we have said for many years is that Pakistan is the worst country in the world that's not designated for CPC. Pakistan is a world leader in imprisonment and convictions, prosecutions for blasphemy and apostasy, and those sorts of things,” Mark told CNA.

According to the report, approximately 40 people sentenced under blasphemy laws are awaiting the death penalty or serving life sentences, including Asia Bibi, a Christian mother and field laborer.

In December 2017, Islamic State affiliated suicide bombers attacked a church in Quetta, Pakistan killing nine people.
The upcoming national elections in July 2018 have exacerbated religious tensions in the country.

“Conditions in Pakistan are not just bad at the level of law, where for example, Ahmadis are out in the constitution for second-class citizenship, but also at the level of civil society where a culture of impunity has grown,” continued Mark, who explained that vigante mobs have been attacking people on the basis of blasphemy accusations.

In lieu of CPC designation, Pakistan was placed on a “Special Watch List” by the State Department in December 2017. This list is a new category created by the 2016 amendments to the International Religious Freedom Act.

“Matters concerning Pakistan are very sensitive on account of the fact that they are a partner of ours in combating terrorism around the world in the war in Afghanistan and so on. But, given the rise of extremism in Pakistan...we really do think that pressure should be kept up, notwithstanding the cooperation that our two countries need,” said Mark.

The USCIRF chairman told CNA that he is concerned that both Russia and China intensified repression of religious freedom over the course of 2017.

“Russia, which we recommended for designation for the very first time last year, continued to deteriorate. The repression in some of the post-Soviet Central Asian states have followed Russia's model, sadly,” said Mark.

The report notes that Russia is the only country to have expanded its repressive policies to a neighboring territory by means of military invasion. Crimean Tatar Muslims are being kidnapped, tortured, and imprisoned in Russian-occupied Ukraine.

“Russia is such a big player on the world stage. It is really important that the message be sent clearly,” said Mark referring to religious freedom.

The report also mentioned religious persecution in China, including persecution of Catholics, noting that 2017 marked 60 years since the creation of the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

In 2017, China increased government control over its recognized religions as a part of President Xi Jinping’s campaign to “manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.’”

Two regions of China with significant ethnic and religious minority populations, Xinjiang and Tibet, “increasingly resemble police states,” the report said.

“Monks and nuns who refuse to denounce the Dalai Lama or pledge loyalty to Beijing have been expelled from their monasteries, imprisoned, and tortured.”

The report also cites mounting revelations of the Chinese authorities torturing other prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders to force confessions and compel individuals to renounce their faith.

In its 2018 report, USCIRF also recognized 12 additional countries with a Tier 2 status of less severe or systemic religious freedom violations: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.

USCIRF recommends in the report that the U.S. government prioritize efforts to advocate for the release of prisoners of conscience. Chairman Daniel Mark pointed to the recent trip of Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback to Turkey on behalf of imprisoned Christian pastor Andrew Brunson as a good example.

Mark also highlighted that there have been some improvements in international religious freedom efforts during the past year.

“The pushback against ISIS in Iraq and recapturing all or almost all of the territory from them has been absolutely critical in saving lives. And another thing that gets much less noticed is international cooperation. It was great to see that on January 1st Denmark opened a new office with an ambassador representative covering this issue and we hope to see more countries follow,” he said.

The Islamic State was one of the non-state actors that USCIRF report recommended to be designated as an Entity of Particular Concern, along with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Shabaab in Somalia. The Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act passed in December 2016 requires the U.S. government to also identify these non-state actors as Entities of Particular Concern or EPCs.

 

 

Nigerian herdsmen kill 19 in Catholic church attack

Jos, Nigeria, Apr 26, 2018 / 03:16 am (CNA/EWTN News).- At least 19 people, including two priests, were killed on Tuesday when nomadic cattle farmers in central Nigeria opened fire at morning Mass in a Catholic parish.

Reports indicated that Fulani herdsmen attacked Saint Ignatius Church in Ayar-Mbalom, a town within Nigeria’s Benue State, on April 24. According to officials, the herdsmen killed 17 worshipers and two priests: Father Joseph Gor and Father Felix Tyolaha.

After the attack on the church, the herdsmen proceeded to shoot residents in the area and set fire to around 50 homes, according to survivor Peter Iorver, whose stepmother had been a victim.

“The herdsmen came and opened fire on the church while morning mass was going on,” Iorver told New Telegraph, a local newspaper. “After they attacked and killed those in the church, they left and started shooting sporadically, killing residents around the area.”

“They burnt over 50 houses and destroyed food and farm crops as they retreated to their base. My stepmother was one of the victims; she was at the mass when the attack happened.”

The attack took place near Nigeria’s middle belt, where the Muslim north meets the southern Christian area.

While none of the attackers have been arrested so far, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to find those responsible for the shooting.

“This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting,” he tweeted. 

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.</p>&mdash; Muhammadu Buhari (@MBuhari) <a href="https://twitter.com/MBuhari/status/988799479632596993?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 24, 2018</a></blockquote>
<script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa, also decried the violence.

“Tuesday’s killing of priests and parishioners on the grounds of St Ignatius Catholic Church in the Makurdi Diocese signals that the religious violence in Nigeria is escalating,” he said. “It’s imperative that Nigerian authorities punish those who are culpable, lest violence worsen during the upcoming election cycle.”  

“Nigeria should explore justice system reforms that address grievances so that herdsman – the perpetrators of much of the recent violence – cease targeting farmers, exacerbating religious and ethnic tensions in the process,” Smith continued, adding that the creation of a religious equity commission would also be timely.

Violence between Fulani herdsmen and farmers has increased in recent years, as climate issues have pushed herders further south.

By mid-January this year, more than 100 deaths had been attributed to the herdsmen.

The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria voiced grave concern about the violence in a January statement. They recognized the challenges faced by the herdsman, but expressed the need for better alternatives to open grazing.

“Government should rather encourage cattle owners to establish ranches in line with international best practice,” the bishops said.

“Farmers and herdsmen have a lot to contribute to the socio economic prosperity of our nation. A more enduring strategy must be worked out for their peaceful co-existence and mutual respect.”

 

Argentina homeless shelter named after bishop who loved the poor

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Apr 26, 2018 / 12:35 am (ACI Prensa).- A men’s homeless shelter in Zeballos, Argentina has been named after a local bishop known for his attention to the poor.

The Jorge Novak, Friend of the Poor Homeless Shelter was inaugurated April 24.

The name commemorates the first bishop of Quilmes, Jorge Novak, who denounced the human rights violations committed by the military during the 1970s and ‘80s.

Bishop Novak loved the poor and led an austere life of deep spirituality. He was co-founder of the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights. In late 2017, the investigation to initiate his process of beatification was begun.

The Jorge Novak Homeless Shelter is run by Caritas Quilmes. It welcomes men over 18 years of age.

Men hoping to benefit from the shelter’s services must have an admissions interview and accept the shelter's rules. Opportunities are offered for bathing, eating, and sleeping.

When fully functional, the shelter will also offer job training, spiritual and ethical formation, and counseling on health and employment.

The hope is that in addition to providing for basic physical needs, the shelter will be able to help homeless men regain self-esteem, reestablish ties with the community, and eventually reintegrate.

The Jorge Novak Homeless Shelter has a capacity for 30 people and is supported by donations from individuals, institutions and the Diocese of Quilmes.

The diocesan secretary for communications asked for prayers “so this work may be a real concrete commitment to the poorest and most needy.”
 

This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

 

Our Lady of Good Counsel

On the Feast of St. Mark, April 25, 1467, at the close of a festival in Genazzano, Italy, a cloud descended upon an ancient 5th-century deteriorated church, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel. When the cloud disappeared, the festive crowd found a small, fragile image of the Blessed Virgin and Child on a thin sheet of plaster. The painting hung in mid-air, suspended without support, floating, on a small ledge. This particular fresco is said to date to the time of the Apostles. It had long been venerated in Albania’s capital city, Scutari.Much of the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel was destroyed in World War II, but the image remained intact and in place. The miraculous image is still today, after more than 500 years, suspended in the air by itself. Countless miracles have been attributed to the prayerful intercession of Our Lady of Good Counsel.Many pilgrims visit the church in Genazzano, and take part in the annual spring celebration, observed on April 25. Elsewhere in the world, the feast is celebrated April 26.

US bishops endorse bill to provide legislative fix for DACA recipients

Washington D.C., Apr 25, 2018 / 06:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge ruled on Tuesday evening that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program must be re-opened to new applicants, and the following day the USCCB announced support for the “Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act of 2018,” which would codify DACA into law.

DACA is an Obama-era federal program that protects people who were brought to the United States illegally as children from being deported and also provides for work permits. DACA recipients, who are commonly referred to as “Dreamers,” must renew their DACA status each year.

President Donald Trump has sought to end DACA, saying that the initial program was only an executive order that went beyond the scope of presidential powers.

While other court decisions have ordered that the federal government begin to accept DACA renewals, the April 24 decision by Judge John Bates was different in that it re-opened the program for new applicants. Bates said that he did not believe the Trump administration provided a strong enough case for why the program should end.

Trump has urged Congress to pass a law that would combine some of DACA’s provisions along with immigration reform, but so far these efforts have not been successful.

Bates’ decision will go into effect in 90 days, unless the Trump Administration issues new reason as for why it is ending DACA.

The USCCB’s Committee on Migration issued a letter of support April 24 for H.R. 4796, dubbed the “Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act of 2018.”

The bill would shield “Dreamers” from deportation and would provide for a path to citizenship for certain qualified persons. Additionally, the USA Act of 2018 would increase border security and would seek to address corruption in Central America – a major cause of “irregular migration.”

The bill was introduced by Reps. Will Hurd (R-TX) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), and is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of representatives.

The letter is signed by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, who is chairman of the USCCB’s committee on migration.

“While a larger solution is still needed to fix our broken immigration system, we urge Congress to first focus on passing H.R. 4796, as written, or similar bipartisan and narrowly-tailored legislation,” said the letter.

“Any legislation passed should provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship, not undermine our family-based immigration system or terminate existing protections for vulnerable migrants, and ensure that border security measures are just, proportionate, and humane.”

Vasquez said it was a “moral duty” to protect Dreamers, and that they are “valuable members of our communities.”

In Northern Ireland, anti-abortion graffiti hits Catholic churches

Armagh, Northern Ireland, Apr 25, 2018 / 05:09 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Two Catholic churches in Northern Ireland have been targeted with graffiti bearing a message opposed to abortion, ahead of a key referendum in the Republic of Ireland.

Between the late hours of April 22 and the early morning of April 23, a vandal painted on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh a slogan “Save the 8th. Save Ireland.” The Eighth Amendment protects unborn children under the republic’s constitution and could be repealed in a May 25 vote.

Another slogan was tagged on St. Columcille’s Church in Carrickmore in County Tyrone sometime between April 23 and April 24. It appeared to say the traditionally Protestant Democratic Unionist Party’s stand against abortion would benefit the unborn who will play in the Gaelic Athletics Association and those who will speak the Irish language, the promotion of which is a subject of controversy among DUP members.

“Only DUP speaks for Irish unborn to speak Irish and play GAA vote DUP,” the slogan said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

Police are investigating criminal damage at both churches.

Sinn Fein, a nationalist party with significant Catholic support, has endorsed the repeal effort in the Republic of Ireland, which would legalize abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy. Its party has endorsed legalized abortion in cases of rape, fetal abnormality, and where a woman’s mental or physical health faces serious threat, the Irish Times reports.

Garath Keating, a Sinn Fein counselor, said he was “absolutely horrified” at the graffiti in Armagh. He suggested that anyone who objected to Sinn Fein’s stance on the abortion referendum should “protest at our office or in a public forum, not write it on a church wall.”

“I can’t comprehend how anybody could think this is a useful way to convey their point of view,” Keating continued. “There is plenty of opportunity and forums for public discussion in respect of any of the matters, but to take to spreading your message by writing on a place of worship is horrifying and despicable.”

Thomas Buchanan, a DUP member of the Legislative Assembly, said, “there are strong feelings among members of the community about Sinn Fein's policy on abortion, however that does not excuse anyone engaging in criminal damage.”

“It is totally wrong and inappropriate to smear a place of worship, or any public building, with graffiti to make any sort of political point,” he said, according to BBC News.

Another Sinn Fein candidate, Órfhlaith Begley, said the incident was “blatant sectarian vandalism” and a “sectarian hate crime.”

Pro-abortion rights campaigners have also acted at churches. In the grotto of the Mary Immaculate Church in Inchicore, Dublin, some activists placed upon the altar a sweater bearing the phrase “Repeal.” They took a photo and shared it on social media.

Abortion advocacy is also underway in Northern Ireland, which has its own laws. The Department of Health on April 25 released a new report advocating abortion in cases where the unborn child has physical abnormalities.

“Women and babies in Northern Ireland do not need abortion. What women really need is access to holistic, life-affirming and compassionate healthcare that cares for both lives when faced with a difficult prenatal diagnosis,” said Bernadette Smyth, spokesperson for Northern Ireland's leading pro-life group, Precious Life.