February 16, 2006

World News

South Dakota House Passes Ban on Abortion,
Challenging Court's Roe v. Wade Decision

BY MICHEAL FOUST                                                                                                                    © 2006 Baptist Press

capIn a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the South Dakota House of Representatives easily passed a bill Feb. 9 that would ban nearly all abortions in the state.

The bill passed by a vote of 47-22 and now goes to the state Senate, where a vote is expected to be tight. Ten of the Senate's 35 members are sponsors. It is not known whether Gov. Mike Rounds, a pro-life Republican, would sign it.

Supporters of the bill--which has an exception for the mother's life--hope it leads to the overturning of Roe, the infamous decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Opponents of the bill tried unsuccessfully Feb. 9 to add an amendment making an exception for rape and incest.

If it passes the Senate and is signed into law, a legal challenge almost certainly will follow. "I honestly believe that this is the time to address this issue," state Rep. Roger W. Hunt, a Republican and the bill's chief House sponsor, said during floor debate.The Senate sponsor is Democratic state Sen. Julie Bartling.

"I think South Dakota has always been what I call a pro-life state, and I think it's ready to step up and be in the forefront and make some of these first moves," Bartling told Baptist Press. "I would say the majority of South Dakotans would favor a ban on abortions."

The bill would make it a felony for anyone to perform an abortion. The mother would not be charged with a crime. The language of the bill--named the Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act--says that "life begins at the time of conception" and that scientific advances since 1973 have proven that the unborn child is indeed life. The bill says the goal is to "fully protect the rights, interests, and health of the pregnant mother, the rights, interest, and life of her unborn child, and the mother's fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child." The bill is based on the findings of a task force that studied abortion.

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Frist sets Marriage Protection Amendment
for June; says 'values are under attack'

BY BAPTIST PRESS STAFF                                                                                                      © 2006 Baptist Press

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Feb. 10 that he would bring the Marriage Protection Amendment to the floor for debate the week of June 5. The amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1, would protect the traditional definition of marriage by preventing federal and state courts from legalizing "gay marriage." It currently has 29 sponsors.

"When America's values are under attack, we need to act," Frist, R.-Tenn., speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference, said, according to The Washington Post.

The amendment is needed, Frist said, to prevent "the whims of a few activist judges" from overriding "the common sense of the American people." Currently, the only federal law protecting the traditional definition of marriage is the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. That law prevents the federal government from recognizing "gay marriage" and also allows individual states to refuse to recognize another state's "gay marriages."

Two federal lawsuits have been filed against DOMA. Although Massachusetts remains the only state to recognize "gay marriage," either lawsuit could result in the other 49 states presumably being forced to legalize "gay marriage" or recognize those "marriages" from the Bay State. The Marriage Protection Amendment would trump any court ruling.

"This June, the American people will be watching to see if their senators will step up to the plate and take a stand in defense of marriage," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement. "The Marriage Protection Amendment is the only tool the American people have to ensure that the definition of marriage remains one man and one woman

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Religious Conservatives Praise Bush's
Commitment to Ban Cloning

BY ENETTI NGOEI                                                                                                        © 2006 Religion News Service

Conservative Christian groups say they are heartened that President Bush promoted legislation to ban human cloning in his State of the Union address January 31.

"Any time the president uses the bully pulpit to endorse specific measures, we're optimistic that it will have an impact," said Carrie Earll, bioethics analyst for the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Focus on the Family.

In his speech, Bush described human cloning as "the most egregious abuses of medical research" and called for a ban on the controversial procedure "in all its forms. "Bush supports the Human Cloning Prohibition Act introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., in March, 2005. The bill would ban the creation of embryos through cloning and impose criminal and civil penalties on offenders.

The House of Representatives for the last two congressional sessions has voted overwhelmingly to ban all human cloning, but the legislation is stalled in the Senate. Earll said Focus on the Family opposes human cloning not only because an embryo is destroyed to obtain stem cells for research but also because of the serious health risks posed in reproductive cloning. According to the science arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, the risks include death, deformity and disability in the baby.

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, has also pushed for a ban, and thanked Bush for his statement. "We cannot exist in a just society until we recognize, as the president stated, `Human life is a gift from our creator--and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale,'" Perkins said.

But some see an opportunity in cloning to enhance and lengthen life. The Biotechnology Industry Organization, a secular group of companies, distinguishes between human cloning techniques used for research and reproductive cloning.

It opposes reproductive cloning but supports human cloning techniques for research -- especially when used to create stem cells -- "because it has been demonstrated over and over that that technique in that context holds a lot of promise to eventually treat and cure many diseases," said spokesman Michael Werner.

Megachurches: More Diverse,
Not Always Huge Buildings, Study Finds

BY ADELLE BANKS                                                                                                        © 2006 Religion News Service

When you think of megachurches, do you think of them as congregations that are homogeneous gatherings in huge complexes?

Scholars who have just completed a study of congregations with weekly attendance of 2,000 or more say you may need to think again. Thirty-six percent of 406 churches surveyed said that minorities make up 20 percent or more of their congregation. And 56 percent said they are making efforts to become multiethnic.

"I find that just amazing, given that we always talk about Sunday being the most segregated hour of the week," said Scott Thumma, professor of the sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. "There's a good bit of diversity going on here."

Thumma was the principal investigator for the study, which was done in conjunction with the Leadership Network, a Dallas-based nonprofit that aims to foster innovation among Christian leaders. Researchers found that the number of megachurches totals more than 1,200. Thumma said his database of megachurches included 600 five years ago and 850 in early 2005.

"They're not so much an anomaly as they were a decade or two ago," said Thumma. Investigators found that few megachurches have colossal sanctuaries. Just 5 percent have sanctuaries that seat 3,000 or more. More than half (53 percent) have four or more services over the course of a weekend.

The findings were based on surveys completed by 382 churches with weekly attendance of 2,000 or more, and 24 with attendance of 1,800 or more, supplemented by research to learn the latest totals of megachurches.

Researchers reviewing the total number of megachurches found that the states with the most megachurches are California (178), Texas (157), Florida (85) and Georgia (73). The largest portion of megachurches (34 percent) were non-denominational, followed by Southern Baptist (16 percent), unspecified Baptist (10 percent), Assemblies of God (6 percent) and United Methodist (5 percent).