Supreme Court upholds Indiana fetal burial law, spurns abortion measure

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Indiana’s Republican-backed requirement that fetal remains be buried or cremated, dealing a setback to abortion provider Planned Parenthood, which had challenged the provision.

The unsigned ruling, with two of the court’s liberals dissenting, said an appeals court was wrong to conclude that the law had a illegitimate purpose.

But the court also turned away the state’s separate attempt to reinstate its Republican-backed ban on abortions performed because of fetal disability or the sex or race of the fetus, which was also struck down by lower courts.

Both provisions were part of a 2016 law signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was Indiana’s governor.

The ruling stated that the court has previously said that states have a legitimate interest in the disposal of fetal remains. The court noted that in challenging the law, Planned Parenthood did not allege that the provision implicated the right of women to obtain an abortion.

“This case, as litigated, therefore does not implicate our cases applying the undue burden test to abortion regulations,” the ruling said.

Liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor both said they disagreed with the court’s decision to reinstate the fetal remains provision.

Indiana’s law was one of many passed by Republicans at the state level putting restrictions on abortion, which was legalized nationwide by the Supreme Court in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2017 permanent injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt against the Indiana law. She found the measure violated the constitutional privacy rights recognized in the 1973 abortion ruling.

Indiana required that abortion providers bury or cremate fetal remains after an abortion.

The law also forbade women from obtaining an abortion if the decision to terminate the pregnancy was based on a diagnosis or “potential diagnosis” of fetal abnormality such as Down syndrome or “any other disability” or due to the race, color, national origin ancestry or sex of the fetus. Indiana said the state has an interest in barring discrimination against fetuses and in protecting the “dignity of fetal remains.”

A similar fetal burial law from Minnesota was upheld by a federal appeals court in 1990 but the Indiana law and another like it in Texas, enacted in 2016, have been struck down by the courts.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the court said its decision not to review the second provision of Indiana’s law “expresses no view on the merits.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre to reopen after protest

A general view of the entrance and the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, will reopen its doors after Israel backtracked on Tuesday from a tax plan and draft property legislation that triggered a three-day protest.

The rare decision on Sunday by church leaders to close the ancient holy site, a favorite among tourists and pilgrims, with the busy Easter holiday approaching put extra pressure on Israel to re-evaluate and suspend the moves.

After receiving a statement from the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy said the church would reopen Wednesday morning.

An Israeli committee led by cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi will negotiate with church representatives to try to resolve the dispute over plans to tax commercial properties owned by the church in Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s statement said.

Church leaders, in a joint statement, welcomed the dialogue.

“After the constructive intervention of the prime minister, the churches look forward to engage with Minister Hanegbi, and with all those who love Jerusalem to ensure that our holy city, where our Christian presence continues to face challenges, remains a place where the three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) may live and thrive together.”

The Jerusalem Municipality, Netanyahu said, would suspend the tax collection actions it had taken in recent weeks.Mayor Nir Barkat has said the churches owed the city more than $180 million in property tax from their commercial holdings, adding that “houses of worship” would remain exempt.

Church leaders, in closing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, said church-owned businesses, which include a hotel and office space in Jerusalem, had enjoyed a tax exemption.

While the review is under way, work on legislation that would allow Israel to expropriate land in Jerusalem that churches have sold to private real estate firms in recent years will also be suspended, Netanyahu said.

The declared aim of the bill, deemed “abhorrent” in a prior statement issued by church leaders, is to protect homeowners against the possibility that private companies will not extend their leases of land on which their houses or apartments stand.

The churches are major landowners in Jerusalem. They say such a law would make it harder for them to find buyers for church-owned land – sales that help to cover operating costs of their religious institutions.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to permanently cancel the proposed measures, which he said would “lead to escalating tension and to instability”.

A small minority of Palestinians are Christians, many of them in Bethlehem, the town in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – near Jerusalem – where Jesus is believed to have been born.

(Reporting by Ori Lewis, Mustafa Abu Ghaneyeh and Nidal al-Mughrabi; writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Battle over bodies rages quietly in Iraq’s Mosul long after Islamic State defeat

Local residents carry bodies taken from the rubble in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq January 17, 2018

By Raya Jalabi

MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – The Iraqis who have come home to Mosul’s Old City knew it would be hard living in the rubble left by the battle against Islamic State, but there is one aspect of their surroundings they are finding unbearable seven months on.

“I don’t want my children to have to walk past dead bodies in the street every day,” said Abdelrazaq Abdullah, back with his wife and three children in the quarter where the militants made their last stand in July against Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces.

“We can live without electricity, but we need the government to clear the corpses – they’re spreading disease and reminding us of the horrors we’ve just lived through.”

The stench of death wafts from rubble-filled corners in the dystopian wasteland of what was once West Mosul, from rusting cars still rigged with explosives and from homes abandoned as those who could, fled the bloody end of the militants three-year rule.

The corpses lying in the open on many streets are mainly militants from the extremist Sunni group who retreated to the densely-packed buildings of the Old City, where only the most desperate 5,000 of a pre-war population of 200,000 have so far returned.

Local residents and officials in predominantly Sunni Mosul say there are also thousands of civilian bodies yet to be retrieved from the ruins, a view which has put them at odds with the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad.

“There are no more civilian bodies to be picked up in Mosul,” said Brig Gen Mohammad Mahmoud, the head of Mosul’s Civil Defence, first responders who report to the Interior Ministry and are tasked with collecting them and issuing death certificates.

The Civil Defence says it had collected 2,585 civilian bodies by mid-January – many of them still unidentified – and has completed operations. It does not want to waste resources on the militants.

“Why should we have to give terrorists a proper burial?” Mahmoud said.

The standoff over the dead threatens to stoke the anger of a population already beaten down by a grueling war and the militants’ draconian rule in a place where Islamic State initially found some sympathy. The final civilian death toll is also a highly sensitive political issue in Iraq and beyond.

 

COMMON GRAVES

The municipal government has had to set up its own specialized team to field requests filed by city residents to find more than 9,000 missing people, most of them last seen in the Old City and assumed to be buried under the rubble.

The team is working through a backlog of 300 bodies, dispatching groups to collect them when it can. But these are just the ones where exact coordinates have been given by neighbors, family members or passers-by who saw the bodies.

“We don’t know how many more are under the rubble,” said Duraid Hazim Mohammed, the head of the municipal team. “If the family or a witness who saw the people die doesn’t call us to tell us exactly how many bodies are at a site, we have no way of knowing if one, five or 100 bodies are buried there.”

Locals say common graves were dug as the battle raged. In the courtyard of Um al-Tisaa mosque in the Old City, they say 100 of their neighbors were buried in groups of shallow graves.

“I buried between 50 and 60 people myself, by hand, as planes flew overhead and bombed the city,” resident Mahmoud Karim said.

Several families have since come to excavate the bodies of their relatives, to bury them in proper cemeteries. “But others, we don’t know where their families are,” Karim said. Some are dead, while others are among the thousands lingering uneasily in refugee camps or paying high rents elsewhere in the city.

The municipal government in Mosul has not given an exact figure for civilian casualties, but its head, Abdelsattar al-Hibbu, told Reuters it coincided with estimates of 10,000 civilians killed during the battle, based on reports of missing people and information from officials about the dead. The toll includes victims of ground fighting and coalition bombing.

Asked for comment, a U.S. coalition spokesman directed Reuters to publicly available reports of incidents. A tally based on those reports showed that the U.S. military acknowledges 321 deaths based on “credible allegations” in dozens of reports of civilian casualties from coalition air strikes conducted near Mosul.

A further 100 reports of casualties from coalition air strikes near Mosul, each referring either to one or to multiple deaths, were still under investigation, the data showed.

(To view an interactive graphic on battle for Mosul, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2rEoDr4)

FIGHTERS

While the most visible problem in Mosul is the corpses of fighters left in the streets, residents say they have also found bodies of suspected Islamic State family members in their homes.

The owner of a house in the Old City, who asked Reuters to withhold his name for fear of retaliation from officials, said he had asked the Civil Defence for weeks to come and remove two bodies from the main bedroom of his basement home.

They were badly decomposed but the clothing was clearly that of a woman and child.

“Civil Defence refused, because they say the woman and child are Daesh,” he said using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “They said they’re punishing me because they think I supported Daesh.”

The municipality team has collected 348 bodies of militants so far, but there are many more still around. Residents regularly walk by them to collect water from temporary pumps and on one street, young children played not far from two corpses on a doorstep.

Some of the fighters are recognizable from their clothing, some were identified to the government by neighbors, some yet, were found clutching the weapons they used to make their last stand against surrounding Iraqi and coalition forces.

The municipal government team’s efforts are hampered by very limited funds. On several days in January, they had to halt operations amid a shortage of gloves, masks and body bags.

Some families have resorted to digging out their dead themselves, like 23-year-old Mustafa Nader, who came back to look for his great-uncle Abdullah Ahmed Hussain.

“We weren’t sure if we would find him here,” Nader said of his elderly sculptor uncle, tears in his eyes after an hour of digging unearthed his body. “I thought maybe he could have left or gone to a neighbor’s house.”

Others still have resorted to drastic measures.

Ayad came back in early January after six months in a refugee camp and found the corpses of three Islamic State fighters rotting in what remained of his living room. “The flies, the smell, the disease,” he said. “It was awful.”

The municipality team said it would be weeks before they could get to him so Ayad asked a soldier on patrol to look over the bodies and make sure there were no explosives.

Then, Ayad set them on fire.

With most of his money spent on a tarp to cover the gaping hole where his front door once stood, he borrowed $20 from his sister, for bleach to try to erase the traces so his family of ten could move back in.

“The smell still hasn’t fully gone away,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Biblical Expert: Claims Of Jesus’ Burial Place Baseless

A Biblical scholar says that the recent claims of an Israeli activist that Jesus’ burial place was discovered in 1980 is “sensationalist” and baseless.

“I have been to the Talpiot Tomb and interviewed one of the archaeologists who excavated it in 1980. There is no evidence that Jesus or his family members were buried there, certainly not his supposed wife and son. Those behind this latest announcement traffic in sensationalism, not archaeology,” Scott Stripling, the chair of the Humanities and Foreign Language Department at Wharton County Junior College, and adjunct professor at Belhaven University (biblical archaeology and English) and The Bible Seminary (church history), told The Christian Post in a statement on Wednesday.

Several western media outlets have been promoting the claims of Aryeh Shimron who says that the evidence “could not be stronger” that Jesus was buried in that tomb, thus proving Christianity to be false.  Shimron has been working with television producer Simcha Jacobovici to produce shows claiming Christianity is false.

Stripling said the alleged “discoveries” are actually irrelevant because no one has disputed the tombs that were discovered date to near the first century A.D.

“The argument set forth by producer Simcha Jacobovici that the names of Jesus’ family, including his supposed wife, were found on the 10, or in the Shimron/Jacobovici view 11, ossuaries does not hold up under scrutiny,” Stripling said.

“First, some of the names are open to interpretation. Second, virtually every family in the first century had members with the names Jesus, Joseph, James, and Mary. There is abundant evidence which supports the Church of the Holy Sepulchure as the actual site of the culmination of the Passion of Jesus.”