Ireland plans to legalize some abortions

DUBLIN — 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.

Pope meets with Italy’s Olympic teams

VATICAN CITY — 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.”

Canadian court rules witnesses can wear veil

TORONTO — 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 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.

Family claims pastor being held in Tehran

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — 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.

Wire reports