National Briefs


Democrats battle Republicans over fetal-tissue probe

(WNS)–The first hearing of the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives on Mar. 2 revealed a deep partisan divide between pro-abortion lawmakers claiming Congress has better things to do and pro-life House members concerned about the morality of an industry harvesting baby body parts from abortions. Republicans came to the hearing armed with exhibits and prepared lines of questioning to get to the bottom of what is happening in an alleged fetal-tissue-for-profit industry involving abortion provider Planned Parenthood, which was exposed by undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress last summer. Committee chairwoman Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., made her intentions clear from the start: “This is … about bioethics. We did not invite our guests here to debate election year politics or journalism ethics or whether this select panel should be funded.” But that did not stop Democrats from attempting to undermine Blackburn and other GOP members of the panel.

Obamacare exchange markets leave top insurers languishing

(WNS)–America’s top health insurers are not doing well in the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) exchange market, leading some to question its long-term sustainability as they face major financial loss. The Obamacare insurance exchanges, launched three years ago, were designed to make policy shopping more convenient and personalized. The setup was often compared to online dating: Shoppers can search for coverage options, switching to policies tailor-made for their personal needs and budget. But critics warn the insurance exchange market is about to splinter under the pressure of massive claims, an imbalanced ratio of healthy-to-sick subscribers, and abuse of special enrollment.

Navy eases body fat standards in effort to retain sailors

(WNS)–Navy Petty Officer Lentoyi White, 26, feared she’d be dismissed from the service after twice failing the Navy’s body composition assessment (BCA), which measures body fat percentage. But in January, the Navy loosened its body fat restrictions for both men and women, giving White and thousands of other sailors another chance to stay in the Navy. “I am very grateful for a second chance with this new policy,” said White, a single mother with a 5-year-old daughter. White has gone from 212 pounds to 188 and is optimistic she’ll pass this spring under the new standards. Under the Navy’s previous standards, sailors had three chances to pass the BCA before being considered for dismissal. But now, the 2,400 sailors who failed all three will get another shot to pass the BCA under the new standards this spring.

Georgetown’s invite to Planned Parenthood president irks Catholics

(WNS)–A student group at Georgetown University, a historically Catholic institution, has invited Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards to speak on campus in April. The Georgetown University Lecture Fund, the non-partisan student organization that issued the invitation, states on its website that it “strives to bring speakers to Georgetown’s campus to enlighten, educate and, occasionally, entertain.” The private event will be free, but open only to Georgetown campus ID holders. The invitation sparked an indirect rebuke from Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, who penned a blog post last week titled “The Identity of Catholic Universities.” Although the cardinal did not mention Georgetown by name, he wrote, “Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as abortion or suicide, or otherwise insults human dignity is an infamy that poisons human society. … It is neither authentically Catholic nor within the Catholic tradition for a university to provide a special platform to those voices that promote or support such counter-values.”

Washington florist readies for hearing at state supreme court

(WNS)–Calling the divorce of religious belief from religious expression “unconstitutional and completely hollow,” attorneys for Barronelle Stutzman will argue before the Washington Supreme Court that a “very robust” state statute and U.S. constitutional guarantees support their client. The state high court agreed March 1 to hear the case of the embattled Washington florist sued for declining to create arrangements for a same-sex wedding because of her Christian convictions about marriage. Opposing attorneys, and a lower court ruling, claim Stutzman’s ability to act upon her religious convictions and expressive freedoms end where Washington state law begins. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are leveraging sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) non-discrimination laws and the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling to force a “no-exceptions” application of public accommodation laws.


Kerry: ISIS ideology, practice is ‘genocidal’

(WNS)–U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry surprised lawmakers, human rights advocates, and perhaps diplomats, by announcing March 17 he had determined Islamic State (ISIS) is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria. Only one day before, the State Department issued a statement saying Kerry’s determination would be delayed past the deadline written into last year’s omnibus spending bill, signifying how contentious and protracted the issue had become at the highest levels of the Obama administration. Speaking to reporters in Washington that morning, Kerry said he had completed his review and determined that Christians, Yazidis, and Shiite groups are victims of genocide and crimes against humanity by ISIS militants.

Congress hears arguments in iPhone privacy debate

(WNS)–Top officials from the FBI and Apple testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Mar. 1, furthering a debate that could create a precedent for the balance between civil liberties and fighting terrorism. The frenzy boils down to the FBI’s desire to crack the passcode of an iPhone 5C used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif., attack that killed 14 Americans in December. In February, a federal judge in California issued an order compelling Apple to assist the FBI with its investigation by making a way to access the phone’s data. But Apple has grave concerns preventing it from full compliance.

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