CULTURE DIGEST: City drops fine against Bible study hosts

EDITOR'S NOTE: Baptist Press today moves to a weekly edition of Culture Digest, which will encompass articles in the former monthly Culture Digest, Life Digest and Marriage Digest.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- A California court case that drew national attention was settled in mid-November, with the city of San Juan Capistrano paying back $300 it had fined a couple hosting a popular Bible study in their home and amending a city ordinance that they get a permit, World News Service has reported.

Chuck and Stephanie Fromm's weekly Bible study has been known to draw up to 50 people, which prompted an atheist neighbor to complain to the city this summer. The city, citing an ordinance requiring churches to obtain conditional use permits, fined the Fromms twice for refusing to get one.

"It was always a question of whether they were a church or not, and they were not," city attorney Omar Sandoval told The Orange County Register when the settlement was announced.

In exchange for the refunded money and changes to the ordinance -- which the city Planning Commission discussed Nov. 22 -- the Fromms dropped their religious freedom lawsuit against the city, which had been ongoing since August.

"The city has now rescinded those fines, completely reversed its direction, and made a commitment to no longer be oppressive toward families having Bible studies in their homes," Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, said. "The good news is that whether a family is meeting in their homes to study and worship on Wednesday night, versus Sunday morning, it really doesn't matter concerning the basic freedom we have as Americans to do that, as long as we're not creating a nuisance or a health or safety issue for those around us."

Earlier this year, Dacus questioned the constitutionality of the city's requiring only "religious, fraternal or nonprofit" organizations to obtain permits before meeting in homes, when people hosting other types of gatherings, such as private viewing parties for sporting events, are not.

The new definition the Planning Commission is considering would put "religious, fraternal and nonprofit organizations" under the heading of "routine assembly" use: Groups of 25 people or less that gather less than once a week wouldn't have to apply for permits. The commission also is considering other changes that have yet to be determined.

"At this point, we just want to clarify the code so it's clear what particular use requires a permit," Sandoval told the Register.

The Pacific Justice Institute plans to stay on the case until that happens.

"We will continue fighting to ensure that SJC and other cities put freedom first," attorney Michael Peffer said, "especially when it comes to informal gatherings in private homes."

'SELECTIVE REDUCTION' KILLS TWINS

An Australian couple's choice for "selective reduction" of their unborn twins resulted in the death of both boys.

In a procedure at Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne, an ultrasound clinician attempted to abort a twin diagnosed with a heart defect but instead accidentally administered a lethal injection to the healthy son. The boy with the heart defect then was aborted, according to the Herald Sun, a Melbourne newspaper.

The unnamed parents were told one of the twins had a heart defect that would require numerous operations if he were to survive. Following doctors' advice, they decided to abort this son in a procedure referred to as "selective reduction."

The unidentified clinician checked on the healthy baby before proceeding with the injection of what was supposed to be the ill twin Nov. 22. The twins, who were in separate sacs, were at 32 weeks' gestation, the Herald Sun reported.

The mother "went to the hospital with two babies and now she has none.... She's traumatized," an unidentified friend told the Herald Sun.

A hospital spokeswoman said, "This is a terrible tragedy and the hospital is deeply sorry for the loss suffered by the patient and her family." The clinician was reportedly inconsolable, the newspaper reported.

The tragic events offer "a stark warning to recognize and resist the eugenic mindset. Our priorities should be to develop treatments and supportive measures for those with genetic disease; not to search them out and destroy them before birth," pro-life bioethics commentator Peter Saunders said.

"It is interesting that the killing of an 'unwanted' child with special needs in the womb is regarded as 'normal' whilst the killing of a 'wanted' normal child is seen as a tragedy and worthy of international news coverage," wrote Saunders, chief executive officer of the England-based Christian Medical Fellowship.

"And yet if the 'abnormal' baby had actually been born, doctors would presumably have done everything possible to provide what treatment or care they could. After all the twins were at 32 weeks gestation, 8 weeks past the accepted threshold of viability. Instead however they ensured that it was not born alive by 'terminating it.'

"Of course if the second 'normal' child had also been 'unwanted' then the story would not have warranted a mention. Abortion of 'unwanted' 'normal' babies takes place over 40 million times every year around the world," Saunders wrote.

FIFTH ABORTION CLINIC CLOSES IN 1 MONTH

A St. Paul, Minn., abortion clinic became the fifth such center in the United States to signal in November it would be closing.

Regions Hospital announced it would shut down its GYN Special Services Clinic Dec. 9. The clinic performed 545 abortions in 2010, a decline from more than 900 a decade before, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Earlier in November, the closing of two abortion clinics in Michigan, one in Los Angeles and one in Santa Fe, N.M., was announced.

Pro-life leaders in Minnesota said it was the first abortion clinic in the state to close in two decades, LifeSiteNews.com reported.

Regions Hospital said its decision was based on the decrease in abortions and the availability of the procedure at other clinics in the area, according to the Star Tribune.

Pro-life leaders said prayer vigils and demonstrations outside the St. Paul clinic helped lead to its shutdown. The 40 Days for Life campaign has conducted seven vigils at the clinic in recent years.

"The closure of this abortion clinic is a testament to the steadfastness and faithfulness of pro-lifers who worked to end the killing without giving up. God honored their work," Operation Rescue president Troy Newman said in a statement. "The number of abortion clinics continues a sharp decline, and that translates into lives saved. November has been a great month for the cause of life."

BRITISH TAXPAYERS FUNDING MORE ABORTIONS THAN THOUGHT

There are far more abortions in England at a much greater cost to British taxpayers than was previously estimated, a new report shows.

Updated statistics from the Department of Health show there were about 173,000 abortions in England last year, according to The Telegraph. That is 21 percent higher than the total of 136,000 previously reported.

The new figures also indicated the government spent about $184 million in the equivalent of American money for abortions during 2009-10, about 24 percent more than the $140 million estimated previously.

In addition, far more of the total funding for abortions was given to private providers than was reported earlier. It had been estimated that less than $13 million went to private organizations such as Marie Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. The new statistics show $117 million was granted to such clinics. The remainder went to National Health Service hospitals, according to The Telegraph.

The updated and more reliable figures came by using statistics reported directly to the Chief Medical Officer instead of those calculated by the Department of Health, the health minister in the House of Lords reported.

The news demonstrated why an amendment to require women considering abortion to receive counseling from someone other than an abortion provider is needed, said advocates for the legislation. Parliament rejected such an amendment in September.

"If anything proves that the link between the abortion provider and the woman facing a crisis pregnancy should be broken, this is it -- too much money changes hands for anyone to argue that the private abortion provider can remain objective during the decision-making process," said Nadine Dorries, a Conservative Party member who introduced the measure, The Telegraph reported.


Based on reports by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode and World News Service. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).