Opponents of abortion on demand had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in favor of an Illinois statute that restricts abortion. But in a decision early last month, all nine justices refused—on procedural grounds—to decide the case. The Court’s action has the effect of upholding an appeals court ruling against the law.
The Illinois statute required doctors to provide information about abortion procedures and the unborn child to women seeking abortions. Doctors were required as well to use techniques most likely to preserve the life of a fetus that might survive an abortion.
The law initially was challenged in federal district court by doctors who perform abortions. The court ruled that parts of the law that would impose criminal penalties on physicians were unconstitutional, in light of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. An appeals court later affirmed the district court ruling against the Illinois law.
A prolife physician named Eugene F. Diamond then appealed the case, known as Diamond v. Charles, to the Supreme Court. The state of Illinois, whose law was at stake, did not enter an appeal, but merely filed a “letter of interest” in the case. The Supreme Court refused to rule on the case, saying Diamond, acting on his own, did not have sufficient legal standing to appeal the case.
The high court concluded that Diamond could not prove he had any direct stake in the case, even though he disagrees with the practice of abortion. “The presence of a disagreement, however sharp and acrimonious it may be, is insufficient by itself,” the Court said, to seek a resolution in the federal court system. The Supreme Court holds that persons seeking federal court action must show they suffered some actual or threatened injury in the matter that is being appealed.
Douglas Johnson, of the National Right to Life Committee, said the ruling “should not discourage future efforts to defend state laws” restricting abortion. However, Johnson said, it is essential that state officials be party to those cases.
A Referendum on Divorce
Voters in the Republic of Ireland could decide as early as this month whether to lift a constitutional ban on divorce.
The government announced last month it would introduce legislation to hold a referendum on the divorce ban. The 1937 constitutional provision can be changed only by a majority of the popular vote in a referendum.
Opinion polls indicate as many as 77 percent of the Irish population favor allowing divorce “in certain circumstances.” However, the same polls show only a narrow majority willing to vote for the complete removal of the constitutional prohibition.
If the ban is removed, the government says divorce would be allowed only in cases where a marriage can be shown to have failed and the failure has continued for a period of five years. The Roman Catholic Church, which claims 90 percent of the Irish population, opposes divorce. However, Ireland’s bishops are divided over how actively they should oppose efforts to lift the constitutional ban.
Churches Help Drug Addicts
Several churches in Hungary are launching drug rehabilitation programs with the government’s permission. Hungarian Christians say the efforts are contributing to the relaxation of tensions between church and state in the communist country.
Baptists in Budapest have established a coffee house that seeks to minister to people with drug and alcohol dependencies. They are also setting up a rehabilitation center about 125 miles from the city. Pentecostal churches are opening a rehabilitation center just outside Budapest. And the Free Christian Church Council is planning to establish treatment facilities.
These developments gained impetus from meetings conducted last year by American evangelist Nicky Cruz. A former drug addict and New York City gang leader, Cruz visited Hungary at the invitation of Hungarian churches.
The nation’s communist government earlier had asked the churches to help combat the growing problem of drug and alcohol dependency among young people.
More than 5,000 people heard Cruz speak at two evangelistic meetings. In addition, physicians and church leaders from five East European nations attended a seminar on drug addiction led by Cruz.
The evangelist stressed the spiritual component in rehabilitation, saying, “Only after they have truly received Christ and are born again will they begin to consider the way they talk, the way they dress, the company they keep, the places they go, the things they do.”
Opposing WEF Membership
Meeting in Venezuela, delegates to a general assembly of the Confraternity of Evangelicals in Latin America (CONELA) voted against joining the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF).
CONELA’s executive committee had recommended that the Latin American group join WEF. But a delegation from Mexico led an effort against the proposal, saying WEF needs to make itself better known among Latin American church leaders. While voting against WEF membership, the assembly did accept an invitation to send observers to WEF functions.
After the vote, a CONELA official said most evangelical church leaders in Latin America object to the practices and policies of the World Council of Churches. As a result, he said, they view with suspicion any unknown international and interdenominational agency.
In other action, delegates to the CONELA general assembly approved a declaration that calling it “another gospel [that offers] temporary liberation from physical problems such as poverty and certain political dictatorships.” The declaration calls for renewed evangelism across Latin America and asks both leftist and rightist governments to respect the “personal rights” of individuals.
Delegates elected Virgilio Zapata, general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala, as CONELA’s new president. Outgoing president Marcelino Ortiz of Mexico will continue to serve on the organization’s executive committee. Formed four years ago in Panama, CONELA includes 206 denominations and Christian service agencies.
Competition from ‘Sects’
The Vatican has released a report recommending changes in Catholic parish life to help stem the loss of members to other religious groups. Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro Valls says competition from non-Catholic groups is “one of the major dangers facing the church.”
The 27-page document, titled “Sects or New Religious Movements: A Pastoral Challenge,” says sects have flourished because of “needs and aspirations which are seemingly not being met in the mainline churches.” Non-Catholic religious movements succeed because they provide “human warmth, care and support in small close-knit communities … [and] a style of prayer and preaching closer to the cultural traits and aspirations of the people.
“The challenge of the new religious movements is to stimulate our own renewal for a greater pastoral efficiency,” the report states. The document cites “deficiencies and inadequacies in the actual behavior of the church which can facilitate the success of sects.” And it calls on the Catholic church to consider changes, including the creation of “more fraternal” church structures that are “more adapted to people’s life situations.… Preaching, worship and community prayer should not necessarily be confined to traditional places of worship.”
The document drew from information contained in questionnaires completed by some 75 bishops’ conferences around the world. Luis Eduardo Castano, ecumenical officer for the Latin American Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said the church is concerned about the growth of fundamentalist and charismatic Protestant groups in Latin America.
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