Rough “Justice”

Originally published on DaTechGuy Blog, 10/25/17.

A 17-year old with no visible means of financial support got an abortion this morning.

Not news, you say? Look again.

“Jane Doe” is an immigrant, an unaccompanied 17-year-old, living in the U.S. without benefit of documentation. When Jane Doe learned she was pregnant, she sought an abortion in Texas, where she is living. Disputes broke out, state and federal courts weighed in, and somewhere along the way Jane Doe was assigned a guardian to protect her interests.

The guardian enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, which jubilantly reported today that the abortion has been committed. “Justice prevailed today for Jane Doe,” went the ACLU tweet, one among many celebrating the death of a child’s child. #JusticeforJane, says the hashtag.

I suspect Jane Doe’s anonymity will dissolve when she turns 18, if not earlier, as she becomes a poster child for abortion advocates. Killing her child was worth a legal battle, to some people – more so than trying to regularize her residency status, apparently.

That’s a hellish way to become a celebrity. Whatever her immigration status, she deserves better than that.

Our country deserves better than to be thought of as an abortion haven, too.

I assume that as an immigrant without documentation, whose home is a U.S. detention center, she didn’t have money. Who paid to have her child killed? Was it you and me?

Human dignity lost today – the mother’s, the dead child’s, the abortionist’s, the abortion apologists’.

There’s surely a great deal about this 17-year-old that I don’t know. Why did she leave her homeland? Was she sent by her family, or did she decide on her own to cross the border? Was she pregnant when she got here? Did she become pregnant due to assault, and if so, is there as intense an effort to apprehend the perpetrator as there was to abort her child?

Whatever the answers, great things may yet lie ahead for her; better days, better choices.

Today isn’t a good day for her, no matter what her enablers are saying. Her child is dead, and abortion apologists are dancing on the remains. God have mercy on us all.

Alexandra DeSanctis said it better than I. “This is perhaps the most despicable thing about this entire ordeal — that justice in our modern world demands the blood of an innocent child. We have reached the point in the abortion debate where it is not only socially acceptable to crusade for the intentional killing of one specific unborn child, but where we are expected to applaud when that execution is carried out. How utterly shameful.”

The Mandate Takes a Hit. That’s Not Enough.

Crossposted from Leaven for the Loaf.

Nine months after taking office, five months after assuring the Little Sisters of the Poor that they could quit fearing fines, the Administration of President Donald Trump has announced a rollback of the HHS contraceptive mandate. (See here for my earlier coverage of the mandate.)

From Fox News:

The Trump administration on Friday announced a major rollback of the ObamaCare contraceptive mandate, granting what officials called “full protection” to a wide range of companies and organizations that claim a “religious or moral objection” to providing the coverage. 

The mandate, which has been the subject of multiple legal challenges, has required employers that provide health insurance to cover contraceptives. Under the existing policy, churches and houses of worship were exempt, while religious-affiliated groups that object had to allow a third-party administrator or insurer to handle birth control coverage. The 2014 Hobby Lobby decision expanded exemptions to for-profit “closely held” corporations.

But under the new policy unveiled Friday, the Trump administration is expanding the protections to any nonprofit group, non-publicly traded company, or higher education institution with religious or moral objections — and making the third-party provision optional for groups with “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

 (Full Fox News post here.)

I’m pleased that the President has followed through on a commitment he could have carried out his first day in office. Better late than never. Maybe he has no roots on this, and it took time for the people around him to put the ducks in a row. Notice the arm’s length language of the news report: Trump administration did thisofficials said that

I’m grateful. That’s simple courtesy and a measure of positive reinforcement. But I’m not going to grovel over the recognition of my rights of conscience and religious liberty that should never have been abrogated in the first place. It’s not as though the President is doing me a favor.

Actually, today’s action does sound like someone thinks there are favors to be dispensed. The news coverage speaks of exemptions, protection, and rollback. Selected entities are added to the list of exempt organizations. No mention of the First Amendment, at least in the initial breaking news update. It’s the First Amendment that’s at issue, which is something the mandate’s supporters have ferociously denied since 2012.

Why does the mandate stand at all? Why is there still anything to be exempted from?

The contraceptive mandate came out of Obamacare’s definition of birth control for women as “preventive care.” In a manner beyond anything the rankest sexist could have dreamed, Obamacare made it government policy that women are broken and need to be fixed. The normal functioning of a woman’s body was something to be “prevented.” Contraception was shifted from being a matter of choice to being a matter of public policy, forcing employers who chose to offer health insurance coverage to be involved in employees’ birth control decisions. Nothing ever put employers into employees’ bedrooms quite like the contraceptive mandate.

It’s to the everlasting credit of the American Catholic bishops that they recognized the mandate’s threat to religious liberty. Among other things, they knew that the Catholic health care system – which provides care to more women than any other provider in the nation – could be fined out of existence by the mandate.

The mandate originally came with exemptions for some politically-favored companies and organizations. Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs later earned a Supreme Court victory that was extremely narrow, releasing closely-held companies from the mandate. President Trump told the Little Sisters of the Poor earlier this year that they could consider themselves free from fear of being fined for not wishing to pay for insurance coverage for employees’ birth control. At least fifty other lawsuits are pending against the mandate; I don’t know how many just became moot.

Today, the mandate took a serious hit. It’s still staggering around, though. The only way to kill it is to abandon the policy that gave rise to it in the first place. Stop treating the suppression of women’s fertility as “preventive care.” Stop expecting “free” contraception. When “free” means compelling financial support from people with religious objections to contraception, then “free” is too expensive.

Today’s action from the Trump Administration is long overdue. It’s the biggest hit on the mandate since Hobby Lobby. The mandate’s foundation remains in place, though. For religious resisters to the mandate, First Amendment rights are still at risk. May today be a spark to renewed assertion of those rights.

Pure Relief: Compassion in Action

This post first appeared on Da Tech Guy Blog.

The grind-it-out side of public policy occupied me this morning, as I went to the State House to listen to a subcommittee patiently work out the language of a bill. That done, I walked outside to see what was up on the State House plaza.

And my day was made.

A collection was underway for the Red Cross, with an eye to the disaster in Puerto Rico. Pallet upon pallet of water awaited loading onto trucks. Other types of donations were being sorted, labeled, and packaged. One large “check” was on display, indicating a substantial cash donation by one of the state’s larger utilities. Kids coming off school buses for their State House tour carried armloads of things to donate to the effort.

State employees, elected officials, just plain folks, those wonderful fourth-graders: everyone on the plaza was on the same page. This was a relief effort in every sense.

The Governor was on the scene, delighting the schoolkids with a photo op, and someone said to him, “Will any of this actually get where it’s supposed to go?” He said reassuring things. I hope he’s right. Distribution: that’s the sticking point. How will this get to Puerto Rico? How will the Red Cross allocate things among the multiple disasters it’s addressing these days? I wish I knew the answers.

The people on the plaza weren’t being paralyzed by discouragement or uncertainty over what comes next. They were doing their best with what they had. They left me inspired, refreshed, challenged. That was a fine midday course correction.

#OpenBook: Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim

For September’s Open Book link-up, I offer Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim by Malcolm Muggeridge (Harper & Row, 1988).

This month, it’s back to my personal library to pick up this short treat for the first time in many years. It’s not a full-dress autobiography (see Chronicles of Wasted Time for that). Instead, Confessions is a brief survey of the phases in journalist Malcolm Muggeridge’s life, each a stage on what he recognizes as his pilgrimage. He was late in life, 79 years of age, when he was received into the Catholic Church. In Confessions, he looks back at the uneven route he took to get there.

I have always felt myself to be a stranger here on earth, aware that our home is elsewhere. Now, nearing the end of my pilgrimage, I have found a resting place in the Catholic Church from where I can see the Heavenly Gates built into Jerusalem’s Wall more clearly than from anywhere else, albeit if only through a glass darkly.

Each phase of life gets a chapter – The Boy, The Journalist, The Soldier, and so on, sketched with a lifelong journalist’s deft touch. I knew before I picked up the book how it was going to end; Muggeridge was a celebrity whose conversion made news. The heart of Confessions lies in the way he describes what led to that conversion: the steps and missteps and unlikely occurrences in his life.

He gives credit to Mother Teresa, whom he met in the course of a documentary project that remains his best-known work, at least in the United States (Something Beautiful for God). She gave a nudge, and left the rest to time and God’s grace. In her, Muggeridge’s lifelong skepticism met its match.

The younger Muggeridge would have been astounded to know where that would lead: “It was the Catholic Church’s firm stand against contraception and abortion which finally made me decide to become Catholic.” That was a countercultural claim, even thirty-odd years ago, particularly from a worldly man.

Despite such blunt declarations, Confessions is full of warmth and humor. I love his insight into what he calls “The Steeple and The Gargoyle.” Since reading this for the first time, I’ve never looked at a photo of an old church in the quite the way I did before.

This assumption that a sense of humour and a Christian faith are incompatible is totally mistaken….

The true function of humour is to express in terms of the grotesque the immense disparity between human aspiration and human performance. Mysticism expresses the same disparity in terms of the sublime. Hence the close connection between clowns and mystics; hence, too, the juxtaposition on the great medieval cathedrals of  steeples reaching up into the Cloud of Unknowing, and gargoyles grinning malevolently down at our dear earth and all its foolishness. Laughter and mystical ecstasy, that is to say, both derive from an awareness, in the one case hilarious, in the other ecstatic, of how wide is the chasm between Time and Eternity, between us and our Creator.

Let us then, while, as we should, revering the steeples, remember the gargoyles, also, in their way, purveyors of God’s Word, and be thankful that, when the Gates of Heaven swing open, as they do from time to time, mixed with the celestial music there is the unmistakable sound of celestial laughter.

This #OpenBook linkup is hosted by My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com.

“Decisive Strategies” Needed, Says Fr. Imbarrato

Fr Imbarrato at PP by Phyllis Woods

Father Stephen Imbarrato (at left, in black) leads prayer at Planned Parenthood, Manchester NH. Photo by Phyllis Woods.

Father Stephen Imbarrato of Priests for Life paid a visit to New Hampshire recently, leading a prayer vigil outside Manchester’s Planned Parenthood office before speaking to an attentive audience about effective pro-life action. “We aren’t doing enough: that has to be our starting point.”

Fr. Imbarrato, an EWTN television personality and longtime pro-life activist, was a guest of New Hampshire Right to Life. About 25 people joined him for prayer outside PP, at midday on a workday. A larger group attended his presentation afterward at a nearby retreat center.

I was drawn by Fr. Imbarrato’s story, and despite my differences with Priests for Life – more about that below – I found his message worth hearing.

The Foundation for His Work

He has a unique personal story, with an astounding array of experiences that leave each listener with something with which to identify. A priest who’s an adoptive father, grandfather, and father of an aborted child – thereby hangs a story, to which he referred only in passing in his New Hampshire appearance. We’re left with YouTube to lay the foundation for Fr. Imbarrato’s work.

Basics: “We’re Not Doing Enough”

In New Hampshire, Fr. Imbarrato began his presentation by referring to his Priests for Life colleague, Fr. Frank Pavone. “As he says, our work should begin with repentance. The biggest obstacles [to a culture of life] are within ourselves. We aren’t doing enough; that has to be our starting point.”

“Enough” starts with prayer, with Fr. Imbarrato recommending that activists – and those Catholics who should be activists – pray to God daily, with this petition: “What can I do, through Your grace, to save a child today?”

He is not a supporter of the “faithful citizenship” or “consistent life ethic” model advocated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, fearing that it dilutes opposition to abortion and euthanasia by introducing other issues including immigration and the environment to a list of topics for the faithful to consider when casting a vote. Politically, he said, this is “pandering to Catholic Democrats.” He called the split Catholic vote in the United States “a scandal.”

“Abortion and euthanasia are foundational. You can’t be wrong on those. These are the pre-eminent issues of our time.” He recommended Pope St. John Paul II’s Gospel of Life (1995) and the USCCB’s Living the Gospel of Life (1998) as documents that clearly affirmed this. “Read and share them.”

Fr Imbarrato in NH by Phyllis Woods

Fr. Stephen Imbarrato speaking in New Hampshire. Photo by Phyllis Woods.

At the Ballot Box

The leader of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone, was NHRTL’s featured speaker at their 2016 banquet. The point he pressed the most in his speech, aside from opposition to abortion, was the imperative of electing Donald Trump to the presidency,and the evils of not doing so. (The election was only a few weeks away at that time.) I was repelled by both major candidates, and I eventually voted accordingly. In his NHRTL speech, Fr. Pavone pretty much ordered voters like me off the island, so to speak. Fr. Imbarrato, without mentioning the 2016 election directly,  was obviously on the same page.

Every general election candidate choice is easy, he said: “is a candidate pro-abortion or not? There’s one issue and one issue only.”

(Indeed – and I was skeptical last fall of a presidential candidate who made pro-life noises but had no pro-life roots. But I digress.)

He is optimistic about the pro-life possibilities under President Trump. He called the prospect of presidential personhood proclamation part of a “decisive strategy” toward changing a pro-abortion culture. As for urging the President to take such a step, he said, “we have direct access to this President” via social media, an avenue never exploited to such an extent by previous presidents.

Pro-life Leadership in the Catholic Church: “Not United”

Fr. Imbarrato was unsparing in his indictment of American bishops as factors both cultural and electoral tolerance of abortion. “The bishops aren’t united” in recognizing abortion as the foundational pro-life issue. Further, “We’re not hearing our shepherds talk about chastity. That has repercussions.”

How can Catholics respond to this? He suggested three ways to “up our efforts.” First, “pray inconveniently” – meaning in front of abortion facilities, in season and out of season. With that, “fast – that’s always inconvenient.” Finally, “almsgiving – acts of charity and mercy.” They add up to witness, he advised, that can move even bishops.

He added this to the list later in his talk: “invite people to Mass.”

“Decisive Strategies”

Fr. Imbarrato urged his listeners to embrace “decisive strategies to end abortion,” ranging from political to spiritual.

•”Heartbeat bills,” which would make abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, early in pregnancy. “All our efforts” – presumably he meant political ones – “should be toward that.” He cited Ohio’s heartbeat bill as an example. Perhaps due to time constraints, he did not mention that Ohio governor and former presidential candidate John Kasich vetoed the bill last December, citing concerns that it would lead to unwinnable litigation. At the same time, Kasich signed a 20-week ban without exceptions for rape or incest.

•Resisting the use of tax dollars to support abortion. He mentioned a proposal for a “national tax strike,” advanced by Mark Harrington of the Center for Bioethical Reform.

•Sustained peaceful, prayerful protest outside abortion facilities. He said he has no problem with the use of what he called “abortion victim imagery,” a longtime point of contention within the pro-life movement. (40 Days for Life, for example, does not employ that tactic, and I personally consider the bloody-baby photos counterproductive.) No apologies for that from Fr. Imbarrato: “let’s start upsetting people.”

•A personhood proclamation from the President. “Start talking it up. Personhood is the right strategy.”

His New Hampshire audience was appreciative, all too aware that in our state, abortion is legal throughout pregnancy with nearly no regulation. (While New Hampshire has in place good cultural markers like parental notification and a partial-birth ban, neither one addresses a preborn child’s fundamental right to life.) The people around me, without exception, seemed to be refreshed by Fr. Imbarrato’s bracing words.

Whatever my differences with him, I recognize that anyone who energizes people to peaceful action in defense of life has something of value to offer. Anyone who challenges Catholics to take their civic responsibilities seriously is doing important work. Any man with Fr. Imbarrato’s experience speaks with an authority that must be respected.

Cross-posted at Leaven for the Loaf.

Share What You Love: Treasuring My Corner of the World

A sense of place, of gratitude for one’s own surroundings, is a wonderful thing. I had to learn it and earn it. Here’s my post from Granite State Walker (August 2013) about a gentleman who helped me along the way.

Mr. Stiles’s lesson: share what you love

In August 2013, I read in the newspaper about the passing of a New Hampshire gentleman named Walter Stiles. The published tributes indicated that he was a generous man in every respect, devoted to his family, active in his community.  I met him once more than twenty years before his death, had a single unforgettable conversation with him on the subject of lilacs, and never saw him again.   In the short time we chatted, he managed to convey his great and contagious affection for this state and its natural beauty.

We were at a political gathering, not a social one, and there was a lot of edgy debate among attendees that day. No matter. By some chance, I was seated next to Mr. Stiles, who I think was a state representative at the time. His kindness and dignity were a kind of antidote to the tension in the room. I asked him what he did when he wasn’t serving in his political office. I realize now that he could have said any number of things, for as his obituary made clear, he was a man of many parts. What he chose to tell me about was his interest in horticulture, particularly lilacs.

I had never paid much attention to lilacs before that time, to tell you the truth. They were just sort of there. Listening to Walter Stiles, I began to realize what I’d been missing. He told me about the Governor’s Lilac Commission, which was a fairly new group at that time. He told me that the lilac was the state flower, and that he hoped to see more people plant them around their homes and schools and towns. He talked about the flower’s wonderful fragrance (which I had never stopped to notice).  He told me about the people working with the Commission and with their own local garden clubs to encourage cultivation.

When the day’s proceedings were over, he bid me a cordial farewell and went on his way. He must have been grinning to himself, knowing better than I did that he had dropped an idea in front of me and that I was sure to pick it up eventually.

dscf5743

As I said, that was many years ago. Since then, lilacs planted by my husband have grown to line one side of our yard. I wait impatiently every spring for those gorgeous blossoms. I fill vases with them and bring them into the house so the fragrance can fill the rooms. Wherever I see lilacs in blossom, I appreciate all the colors from white to deepest purple. I’m grateful to everyone who has gone to the trouble of planting the bushes, which take a few years to establish. As I learned to look for lilacs, I learned to keep my eyes open for the other flowers all over New Hampshire. The variety astonishes me anew every year.

It’s no accident that I do more hiking as I get older. I have more to appreciate and enjoy. I’ve benefited from many people who have taken the time to share with me their love of this state’s beauty. From such folks, I am learning more all the time, and I have all the more reason to savor my time on the trails.

If you’re a fan of being outdoors, I hope you’ll do what Mr. Stiles did: share your enthusiasm. I only met him once, and I never had the chance to thank him for expanding my horizons just a bit. I’m guessing he’d consider those lilacs in my yard thanks enough.

#OpenBook, August 2017: On the Hail Mary

Peter Ingemi, in his blogging persona as Da Tech Guy, is a Massachusetts-based writer and political reporter whose blog is a staple for conservatives in the region. The writers Ingemi welcomes on his blog (a group that includes me) all get fair warning before coming on board that the boss is unapologetically Catholic.

In his new book, Ingemi puts aside political reporting and takes up a labor of love: Hail Mary: the Perfect Protestant (and Catholic) Prayer [Imholt Press, 2017, 80 pages, $6.99 paperback, $2.99 Amazon Kindle e-book]. Ingemi is donating a portion of every sale to his local Catholic radio station in north central Massachusetts.

The book’s title is intriguing and perplexing at the same time. Ingemi is reaching for two audiences, and he’s likely to score with his fellow Catholics. Will the word “Protestant” in the title appeal to anyone? Among my own acquaintances are people who identify themselves as Baptist, Lutheran, or simply Christian – but Protestant, however accurate in a historical sense, is not a label they use. I wonder how many of Ingemi’s intended readers will get past his book’s title.

Book-cover-e1499903750923Those who do will find a brief (80 pages), straightforward examination and celebration of the Hail Mary prayer. Ingemi writes in the hope that all Christians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, will come to value the prayer’s meaning.

Ingemi takes the reader through the Hail Mary clause by clause. In the early part of the prayer, the words are taken from Scripture, offering common ground for all of Ingemi’s intended readers.

The second part of the prayer, following the invocation of the name of Jesus, also gets a line-by-line breakdown that flows naturally from what has come before.

This book could be one resource for any Catholic’s personal education, because it illuminates a prayer so common to Catholics that it might be taken for granted. It also could equip Catholics to explain the Hail Mary to non-Catholic friends.

Ingemi’s enthusiasm is irreproachable. He is nevertheless frank about the fact that he has no credentials as a theologian. This is a personal labor of love, not a work of scholarship.

If there is ever a second edition, the book would benefit from tighter copyediting and a sharper focus on readers who profess faith in Christ yet don’t understand Catholicism or Marian prayer. The author assumes knowledge of some things which have yet to be proven or explained to non-Catholic readers.

As for his Catholic readers, they’d probably be pleased to see a future edition carry an imprimatur. I know from conversation with the author that he’d be pleased for his work to receive one.

At its best, Ingemi’s book reflects faith that is informed by hope and charity, not by fear. Peter Ingemi sees the Hail Mary as a unifier for Christians. He will make a reasonable case for that to anyone, whether Catholic or not, who approaches his book with curiosity and good will.

Note: I received and reviewed a courtesy copy of the book’s text in proof form. Some typos and grammar detracted from the book’s quality, but they may have been corrected in the final published version. This review contains an affiliate link.

This post is part of the #OpenBook linkup hosted at My Scribbler’s Heart and CatholicMom.com.