The following news briefs were recently published by Catholic News Service:
NIH head's defense of fetal tissue research 'deeply disturbing'
WASHINGTON – An official at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said recent comments made by Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in defending human fetal tissue research were "deeply disturbing.
Research using fetal tissue from aborted babies is unethical and should not continue under his leadership," said Greg Schleppenbach, associate director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, in a Dec. 18 statement.
Collins made his comments about fetal tissue research during a Dec. 13 meeting of an agency advisory panel, according to a Science magazine report. The magazine said that during the meeting at the National Institutes of Health offices outside Washington in Bethesda, Maryland, Collins said the Department of Health and Human Services is auditing federal purchases of fetal tissue and that the National Institutes of Health has agreed to spend up to $20 million on research on alternatives. He described alternative forms of research as "scientifically, highly justified" but he also said fetal tissue "will continue to be the mainstay" for research and can be done with an "ethical framework."
The same day as the meeting, a congressional subcommittee hearing took place looking into alternatives to using fetal tissue for research. The hearing focused on the possibility of using different types of "humanized" mice – with human cells and immune systems – in biomedical research.
Christians working with Syrians: U.S. withdrawal puts minorities at risk
AMMAN, Jordan – Several Mideast-based Christians working on the Syria crisis have joined a growing chorus about U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull some 2,000 American troops from Syria. They say it puts Christians at risk and could force them to flee again, and they want the decision reversed.
They added their voices to other Christian voices in Washington and Europe calling on Trump to reverse his decision, citing concerns for the fate of minorities and the risk they face from Islamic State.
"This U.S. decision to withdraw with no guarantees opens up the gates of hell" for the people of northern Syria, said Father Emanuel Youkhana, a priest, or archimandrite, of the Assyrian Church of the East. He spoke to Catholic News Service by phone, pointing to the controversial military threats already made by Turkey to attack the area.
"I expect this decision will force the Christian community to flee, to migrate once again. They still have fresh in their collective memory the genocide that took place against them by the Ottoman Turks in 1915," the priest said. "It will lead to more fears, concerns and a bleeding of the Christian population to leave Syria."
Ohio legislature looks ahead after one vote short on abortion bill
COLUMBUS, Ohio – By one vote, the Ohio Senate failed to overturn the governor's veto of a restrictive abortion bill. The legislation, called the "heartbeat bill," would have prohibited abortions at the first detectable heartbeat, or as early as six weeks of pregnancy. On Dec. 27, the state senators voted 19-13 to override the governor's veto, but it needed 20 votes to pass.
Republican Senate President Larry Obhof said the legislation would come up again and with a better chance of passing, in the next session. "We will have a supermajority that is pro-life in both chambers in the next General Assembly. We're getting sworn in in less than two weeks, and we have a governor coming in who has said he would sign that bill," he told reporters.
The legislation previously passed the Ohio House and Senate and was sent to Republican Gov. John Kasich who vetoed the bill Dec. 21.
Irish president signs abortion law
DUBLIN – Although Ireland's new abortion law takes effect Jan. 1, by mid-December, only 8 percent of family doctors had signed up to provide the terminations. Irish President Michael D. Higgins signed the legislation into law Dec. 20, paving the way for wide-ranging access to abortion in the country. In a May referendum, voters opted by a margin of 2-1 to lift the country's constitutional protection of the right to life of unborn children.
The new law will permit abortion on demand up to 12 weeks' gestation. It also will permit abortion up to 24 weeks on unspecified grounds for the health of the mother, and up to birth where the child is diagnosed with a life-limiting condition that means he or she may not live long after birth.
According to figures released by the Department of Health, just 200 of some 2,500 family doctors have signed up to provide abortions. Many doctors have expressed concern that while the law recognizes a limited right to conscientious objection, doctors could be forced by the law to refer a patient to another doctor who will provide the abortion.
The Irish bishops' conference said it was "dismayed that, for the most part, the voices of those who voted against abortion in May's referendum have been ignored."