Debate over an “abortion-neutral” amendment to a civil rights bill has kept the measure sidetracked in Congress for more than a year.

Prolife groups are concerned that without an abortion-neutral amendment, the Civil Rights Restoration Act could force universities and hospitals—even religiously affiliated ones—to provide abortion services in order to receive federal funds.

The act would broaden the scope of four existing civil rights laws. The laws bar educational institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, age, or disability. The scope of the laws was limited in 1984 by a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In Grove City [College] v. Bell, the Court said only the specific program or department in a college that receives federal funds is prohibited from discriminating. The Civil Rights Restoration Act would broaden the prohibition, requiring all operations of an institution receiving federal aid to comply with laws against discrimination.

In 1975, federal administrators said a law against sex discrimination required educational institutions to offer abortion services on an equal basis with all medical and hospital benefits. Prolife groups say an abortion-neutral amendment is needed to protect religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals. The National Right to Life Committee and the U.S. Catholic Conference support an amendment passed last year by the House Education and Labor Committee. The amendment says: “Congress neither requires nor prohibits any person or organization to provide abortion services.”

The amendment would not affect institutions that voluntarily perform abortions. However, the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other groups oppose the amendment, saying it weakens the Civil Rights Restoration Act.

Kay James, of the National Right to Life Committee, charged NOW and its allies with “holding the [bill] hostage.… It is clear that the Civil Rights Restoration Act can pass the House only if it contains the abortion-neutral amendment,” she said. “If NOW and the other proabortion groups continue to attempt to use [the bill] to advance their proabortion agenda, they will doom the bill for the foreseeable future.”

Charles MacKenzie, president of Grove City (Pa.) College, said he favors the abortion-neutral amendment. However, he said the hazards of the Civil Rights Restoration Act run far deeper than the abortion issue.

Without an amendment to protect religious schools such as Grove City, MacKenzie said, the bill could be “devastating to Christian education.… [The measure] goes far beyond anything we’ve ever known in terms of governmental regulation of the Christian schools movement.” As it stands, he said, the measure could prevent Christian schools from maintaining their standards in such areas as mandatory chapel attendance, required Bible courses, and giving preference in hiring to evangelical Christians.

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CBN to Sell Stations

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) plans to sell its three television stations, lay off 41 employees, and discontinue its toll-free telephone number. The cutbacks are expected to save the network $24 million.

In a separate development, CBN has discontinued its half-hour news program “CBN News Tonight.” Network official Michael Little cited insufficient advertising revenues as the reason for the cancellation.

More recent cutbacks, including the sale of CBN’s television stations, are intended to make additional capital available for other ventures, said Benton Miller, CBN’s manager of media relations, CBN has not had a budget deficit, Miller said, but the network did receive a lower than expected increase in donations during the past year. Contributions were up only 7 percent compared with an expected 22 percent rise, he said.

Miller said CBN’s toll-free counseling number would be discontinued because of rising operating costs. “Last year we surpassed American Airlines as the nation’s top user of the 800 number,” he said. “And as you can imagine, that creates a whopping cost.”

CBN founder Pat Robertson told the Associated Press that his consideration of a 1988 presidential bid might have caused contributions to fall below projections.


Dropping Adult Magazines

The Southland Corporation, owner of more than half the 7-Eleven stores in the United States, has decided to stop selling Playboy, Penthouse, and Forum magazines.

The corporation said the decision was made out of concern over a possible link between “adult magazines and crime, violence, and child abuse.” Southland also said the results of consumer surveys contributed to the decision.

In recent years, 7-Eleven has been the target of boycott and picketing efforts by various antipornography groups. But Southland spokesman Doug Reed said protests “didn’t enter into our decision.”

The decision to drop adult magazines is binding on the 4,500 7-Eleven stores operated by Southland. The company said it would recommend a similar policy for the 3,600 7-Eleven stores it franchises.

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Jerry Falwell, president of Liberty Federation, praised the company “for putting principle above financial gain. I sincerely hope that Christians in America will now show their appreciation by supporting 7-Eleven nationally.”


Arguing Sexual Privacy

A lawyer representing the state of Georgia told the U.S. Supreme Court there is no “fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy or any other sexual conduct outside the bonds of marriage.”

Michael Hobbs, Georgia’s senior assistant attorney general, made the statement during oral arguments over the state’s sodomy law. “Our legal history and our social traditions have condemned this conduct uniformly for hundreds and hundreds of years,” Hobbs said.

The Georgia law criminalizes heterosexual and homosexual sodomy, providing a prison term of one to twenty years. The case before the Supreme Court began with a lawsuit filed by Michael Hardwick. While having sex with another man, Hardwick was arrested in his bedroom by Atlanta police. Police said they went to Hardwick’s home to arrest him for failing to pay a fine for drinking in public.

Sodomy charges were dropped, but Hardwick filed suit to challenge the law’s constitutionality. A federal appeals court ruled the law must be struck down unless the state could show “a compelling interest in restricting this right.”

Laurence Tribe, the attorney representing Hardwick, told the Supreme Court that government must have a more important reason than “majority morality” to justify “regulation of sexual intimacies in the privacy of the home.” A high court ruling is expected by July.


Divorce Rate Rises

New U.S. government statistics show that the divorce rate is rising while marriage is on the decline.

Last year, there were 10.2 marriages per 1,000 people, down 3 percent from 1984 and the lowest rate since 1977. At the same time, the divorce rate climbed 2 percent, to 5 divorces per 1,000 people.

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reported that the number of American households has increased, but the size of the average household is dropping. Since 1980, the number of households grew by 8.8 percent. But during the same period, the average household size declined from 2.76 people to 2.69 people.

Cheryl Russell, editor of American Demographics magazine, said the trend to smaller households is occurring “as the ’baby boom’ [generation] continues to postpone marriage and childbearing, as divorce breaks up families, and as the parents of the ‘baby bust’ generation empty their nests.”

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Briefly Noted

Appointed: Jerry White, to head the worldwide ministry of The Navigators. White currently serves as executive director of the nondenominational discipleship ministry. Effective June 18, he will succeed Lorne Sanny, who has headed the organization since 1956.

Declared: As a sanctuary for Central American refugees, the state of New Mexico. The proclamation by Governor Toney Anaya is intended to discourage cooperation with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in its efforts to arrest and deport Central American aliens.

Dismissed: By a federal appeals court, arguments that President Reagan violated the U.S. Constitution by sending an ambassador to the Vatican two years ago. A three-judge panel threw out a challenge to the President’s action, ruling the plaintiffs had no legal standing to bring the lawsuit. Ten religious groups have announced plans to appeal the court’s ruling.

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