Irish government plans to legalize abortions in life-threatening cases, including suicide risk
DUBLIN (AP) — Ireland's government pledged to pass a law soon that will allow women to receive abortions if continued pregnancy threatens their lives — including from their own threats to commit suicide if denied one.
The announcement comes after decades of inaction on abortion in Ireland, and just weeks after the predominantly Roman Catholic country faced international criticism over the death of an Indian woman hospitalized in Ireland with an imminent miscarriage.
Health Minister James Reilly said parliamentary hearings on the issue would begin next month, lawmakers would receive a bill by Easter and they would be expected to vote on it by the summer. This would mark the first time that Irish lawmakers have ever voted on abortion, arguably the most divisive issue in a country whose constitution bans the practice.
Pope tells Italy's Olympic team not to give in to the 'blind alley' of doping
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI told Italy's Olympic team not to be tempted by performance-enhancing drugs, saying doping was a "blind alley" that isn't worthy of such models of perseverance, sacrifice and human ability.
Benedict held an audience Monday with members of Italy's Olympic and Paralympic teams in the frescoed Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, congratulating them on their 28 medals, eight of them gold, from the London Olympics.
The 85-year-old German pontiff said sport was beneficial for individuals and society, requiring loyalty, respect and altruism — as well as patience and humility "which is never applauded but is the secret of victory."
And while victory is a worthy goal, he said, "Pressure to win good results should never prompt you to take shortcuts as happens with doping."
Canada's high court rules witnesses can wear religious veil while testifying, in some cases
TORONTO (AP) — A female witness can wear a religious veil that covers her face while testifying in court in certain circumstances, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in a split decision in a landmark case that pitted religious freedom against an accused person's right to a fair trial.
The case involved a Muslim woman who sought to wear the veil known as a niqab, which leaves only the eyes exposed, while testifying against her uncle and a cousin whom she claims sexually assaulted her when she was a child.
The woman, who can only be identified as N.S. due to a publication ban, said her religious beliefs dictate that she wears the veil in public or in the presence of men who aren't "direct" members of her family.
The two accused claimed that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms allowed them to confront their accuser and observe her facial expressions as she testifies.
But the woman's lawyers said facial expressions can be misleading. They said Muslim sexual assault victims will hesitate to go to police if they're barred from wearing a niqab while testifying in court.
Canada's version of the bill of rights protects the right to wear the niqab or burqa, but the issue remains controversial. New federal immigration rules, for example, ban face coverings while taking the oath of citizenship
US in contact with family claiming Iranian-American pastor held in Tehran
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. State Department says it is in contact with the family of a man described by activists as an Iranian-American Christian pastor jailed in Tehran.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday in Washington that officials were "aware of the case," but could give no further details due to "privacy considerations."
Rights groups say the pastor, Saeed Abedini, has been held since late September after being arrested while visiting family.
Specific charges are unknown and Iranian officials have made no comment. Some activists believe Abedini, who became a U.S. citizen in 2010, was jailed for trying to convert Muslims — a crime in Iran that could lead to capital punishment.
Idaho TV station KBOI reports Abedini attends a church in Boise and returns regularly to his native Iran.
Detroit-area Jews, Muslims take part in annual 'Mitzvah Day' Christmas volunteer effort
WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (AP) — Jews and Muslims planned to visit nursing home patients in the Detroit area, serve holiday meals, deliver toys to needy children and take part in other projects so Christian volunteers and workers can celebrate Christmas Day with their families.
The activities are part of the annual Mitzvah Day — the largest day of volunteering by Detroit's Jewish community.
Volunteers will work with 40 social service agencies at 40 sites. It's the program's fourth year. Some grandparents, parents and children will volunteer as families.
Some volunteers will sort books at Bookstock Depot in West Bloomfield, prepare meals at a shelter in Oak Park and sort food at a food bank.
Mitzvah Day is presented by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
Cuban Jewish leaders bring jailed American Alan Gross latkes, prayers to celebrate Hanukkah
HAVANA (AP) — An American man imprisoned in Cuba for crimes against the state has received another visit from Jewish leaders on the island.
Adela Dworin is president of the Jewish Community of Cuba. She said Thursday that she met with Maryland resident Alan Gross for an hour and a half Monday to mark Hanukkah.
They prayed, lit candles and shared latkes, a potato-pancake dish traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.
A photo showed a slender-looking Gross with Dworin and Community vice president David Prinstein. He held a hand-lettered sign in Spanish that read "I (heart) Judy" — a reference to Gross' wife.
Gross was sentenced to 15 years for his work on a USAID democracy-building program in Cuba.