Religion news in brief

Missouri House endorses more abortion restrictions

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Physicians prescribing abortion-inducing drugs could face greater requirements than those performing surgical abortions under legislation that won preliminary approval Tuesday in the state House.

Missouri law already requires a woman to wait 24 hours after consulting a physician or qualified professional before having an abortion. The bill endorsed by the House would require a doctor — not a nurse or other medical professional — to perform a physical examination of the woman at least 24 hours before prescribing the abortion-inducing drug mifepristone, commonly known as RU-486.

The bill would force a change at Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri, which currently rely on staff other than physicians to perform the initial consultation and do not conduct a physical examination, said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Michelle Trupiano. She called the legislation "extremely onerous."

In Iowa, Planned Parenthood has been using a telemedicine system in which a physician and patient confer by video conference, and the physician presses a button that remotely dispenses an abortion-inducing drug for the patient, Trupiano said. The doctor then watches by video conference as the patient takes the drug. She said there are no plans to institute such a system at Planned Parenthood's clinics in Missouri.

Some supporters of the legislation said not only would it place further restrictions on abortions but also would make it safer for women to take RU-486.

Representatives gave the legislation first-round approval by 116-34 vote. A second vote is needed to send it to the Senate.

The legislation would require the physician administering RU-486 to have clinical privileges at a nearby hospital, as well as privileges to intervene with surgery if necessary at a hospital or the abortion clinic where the drug was given. It also would require physicians who prescribe abortion-inducing drugs to carry an additional medical malpractice insurance policy of at least $1 million per occurrence and $3 million annually for injury or death of a child born alive after an attempted abortion.


Ariz. House passes bill prohibiting workers from losing state-issued licenses due to religion

PHOENIX (AP) — In what supporters describe as a pre-emptive and protective measure, Arizona House lawmakers on Monday advanced legal protections for workers who deny services to potential clients on religious grounds.

Proponents acknowledge that there were no known incidents of faith-based discipline in Arizona but say the bill is a reaction to cases in states such as Michigan — where a student counselor was disciplined after refusing to work with a gay client, saying she did so because of her religious beliefs.

Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough, introduced the legislation, saying it's "fundamentally wrong" that if "you don't affirm the particular lifestyle, then your license is going to be at risk."

Critics say the bill endangers public safety.

Stuart Goodman, a lobbyist who represents several health-related state boards, says the measure allows "a licensee to commit unprofessional conduct simply because they can play a religious freedom component that may or may not exist."

The measure ensures Arizona workers would not lose their professional licenses for denying services on religious grounds.

The bill is a broader version of the so-called conscience clause, which many states — including Arizona — have recognized for pharmacists, physicians or other health care workers who decline to perform abortions or prescribe emergency contraceptives.

The measure now heads to the state Senate, where it is expected to pass.


Feb. fire at Vegas-area mosque site ruled human-caused; but officials can't say if intentional

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Authorities say a two-alarm blaze that destroyed a mosque under construction in Las Vegas in February was caused by human action, but they don't know whether the fire was set intentionally.

Clark County Fire Chief Bertral Washington and Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Thomas Chittum III said Monday that investigators have exhausted leads following the Feb. 22 fire.

They say they're going to need public help to solve the case.

The overnight blaze caused $1.5 million in damage at the site where a nearly 10,500-square-foot Muslim funeral gathering center and a cemetery were to have opened this year.

ATF agents were on the case because of the religious nature of the site, but officials say no evidence collected so far indicates the fire was a hate crime.


Group files complaint against starting Reno County Commission meetings with prayer

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — The practice of clergy offering a Christian prayer before Reno County Commission meetings could come to an end after a resident complained about the practice.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State notified the commission last week that it had received a complaint about the prayer. Commissioners said at Tuesday's meeting that they likely would have to agree to change the practice.

The letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, signed by the Washington, D.C., organization's legal director, Ayesha Khan, cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prayers at the opening of legislative meetings are constitutionally permissible only if "they do not use language specific to one religion."

The group said it found 14 prayers offered before meetings from Dec. 6, 2011, to March 30 of this year invoked the name of Jesus Christ.

"Probably 95 percent of the people in the community have no problem with that," Commissioner Dan Deming said. "But we're going to have to be politically correct and correct under the Supreme Court ruling, and I don't like it.

"I think it's insulting to ask ministers who are Jesus-oriented to do a nonsectarian prayer, but we are going to have to comply," Deming said.

Commission Chairman James Schlickau said ministers who have offered the prayers would be asked if they would consider offering a nonsectarian prayer.

"If their thought is they don't want to do that, we might go to have a moment of silence instead," Schlickau said.

The Hutchinson City Council also offers prayers before its meetings but has not received a similar letter, City Manager John Deardoff said.

He said the city attorney has spoken with the county counselor about the issue.

"Not knowing the law, I suspect that if it's a problem for the county, then it's going to be a problem for us," Deardoff said.

The organization's letter asks the county commission to respond within 30 days on what action it plans to take. Boston said the organization occasionally files lawsuits in such cases.