Postscript: why showing up matters

Postscript to an earlier post about the bill repealing New Hampshire’s death penalty: the Governor’s veto was overridden. The margin in the House: one vote. Margin in the Senate: one vote.

At some point, another life issue bill will come up in Concord. Maybe it’ll call for care for children who survive attempted abortion. Maybe it’ll be a stats bill. Maybe it will be something promoting or preventing assisted suicide.

Whenever such legislation comes up, remember: every vote matters. With 400 House members, a legislator – or a constituent, for that matter – might figure that one absence more or less won’t make a difference.

Wrong. Showing up matters.

Maybe we need to be reminded of that now and then.

(originally published at Leaven for the Loaf)

Podcast: A Lesson in “Concord 101”

Drum roll, please: I’m happy to participate in a new podcast, Concord 101: How to Engage in Local Government, in which I get to share my enthusiasm about New Hampshire’s State House and all that happens inside. I might even give you some ideas about how to get more involved in state government yourself!

“Concord 101” is produced by Cornerstone, a nonprofit and nonpartisan New Hampshire family policy council. The podcast is a capsule version of a two-hour interactive seminar introduced in the Spring of 2019, in which I’ve worked with Cornerstone’s Neil Hubacker to bring the why and how of civic engagement to interested groups all over the state.

Don’t miss Neil’s podcast segments: Why New Hampshire Citizens Should Engage in Government and How You Can Influence the Lawmaking Process.

Writing is my favorite medium, but the invitation to create this podcast was too good to pass up. I hope you enjoy the result.

A Note on Death Penalty Repeal in New Hampshire

Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has vetoed repeal of the state’s death penalty law. As I write, the House will vote on an override in just a few hours. Whether enough votes are there is anyone’s guess. It’s going to be close. The Governor is fighting hard to have his veto sustained.

He considers capital punishment to be a way of supporting law enforcement. As the granddaughter of a cop and the niece of two others, I don’t, but that’s not what this post is about.

It’s odd that in a year when the Governor has promised that he’ll be vetoing all kinds of bills, he’s putting such a high value on vetoing this one. It’s his first veto, and he’s facing a Democratic House and Senate. I have heard from Republican legislators about the pressure being brought to bear by party brass to back up the Governor’s determination to keep the death penalty on the books.

I got a faint whiff of the pressure myself this morning at an informal gathering of political acquaintances. I’m an undeclared voter (that’s Granitespeak for “independent”), but I was admonished by someone who should know better that I had to back the Governor on this one, and tell my reps to do likewise.

A conscience vote was fine when the bill first came through House and Senate, I was told, but that was then and this is now. Now, it’s not a conscience vote. It’s a matter of supporting the Governor. The Dems are doing this on purpose, timing this, trying to make him look bad.

The Governor, by the way, touted a 64% approval rating in April, making him the third-most-popular governor in the nation. He doesn’t need my pity.

I’ve been involved in politics all my adult life. I understand horse trading, whipping votes, and how arms need to be twisted now and then. But never, least of all now, have I had any patience for considering a life-issue bill to be a matter of conscience in March and a matter of saving face two months later.

This is the kind of thing that makes “undeclared” the largest bloc of voters in New Hampshire.

Opposition to the death penalty is something of a stumbling block to a lot of people who are pro-life in other respects. Some of those people are Republican legislators who voted against the repeal bill earlier this session and will vote to sustain the veto. They’re not giving the party whips any heartburn. They will be consistent.

The Republicans who voted in favor of death penalty repeal are the ones getting the lectures now. They’re the ones I’m thinking about as the vote nears. I hope they’ll be consistent, too.

(originally posted on Leaven for the Loaf)

Infanticide Without Representation

Originally published at Leaven for the Loaf.

Congressman Chris Pappas

Member of Congress Chris Pappas (D-NH)

Want to change the stigma around infanticide? Easy: just rename it. The catch-all term “reproductive rights” will cover it. That’s the protocol that’s been adopted by my Member of Congress, at any rate.

I recently sent an email message to Congressman Chris Pappas (D-NH) regarding the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. I asked him to support a discharge petition that would bring the bill to the House floor for a vote. I pointed out that the bill was about taking care of newborn children who survive attempted abortion. I said that I knew we disagreed on abortion, but surely we could find common ground on caring for infants.

What I received in return was an email from Pappas’s office about his support for reproductive rights. It was obviously a form letter, designed to address anything even remotely touching on abortion. Just one problem there: I hadn’t written to him about reproductive rights; I had written to him about caring for newborns. (Senator Maggie Hassan sent me a similar non sequitur earlier this year.)

Congressman Chris Pappas thinks caring for newborns is a threat to reproductive rights, if those newborns are the survivors of an attempt to kill them in utero. This is the man representing my district in Congress.

Here’s his message in full. Note well the contact information he kindly provides at the end.

Thank you for contacting me regarding reproductive rights. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with me, as it helps me better represent you and New Hampshire’s priorities in Congress.

I believe that every American is afforded the right to privacy and should have the freedom to make personal decisions about their health care.  I am committed to ensuring that women have access to the full range of reproductive health care choices. As a nation, we should focus on our common ground and shared goals – educating our children on sexual health, bolstering economic opportunity, and protecting our civil liberties.

Access to proper health care should be a right, and when women are denied the freedom to make their own personal health care decisions we not only limit their liberties but also their economic opportunities. We owe it to ourselves and to our neighbors to be as compassionate and understanding of their personal medical decisions as possible. Please know that I will keep your views in mind when considering legislation concerning reproductive rights.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts on this important matter, and I look forward to keeping in touch. I strive to maintain an open dialogue with the people of New Hampshire about issues that matter to our state. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact my Washington, DC office at (202) 225-5456 or my Dover office at (603) 285-4300. I also encourage you to keep up with the work I am doing by signing up for my weekly update at https://pappas.house.gov/contact/newsletter.

“We owe it to ourselves and to our neighbors to be as compassionate and understanding of their personal medical decisions as possible.”  That sentence only makes sense in the context of the born-alive bill if you think infanticide is a “personal medical decision.” Someone else’s decision, of course; the doomed child has no voice.

“Access to proper health care should be a right…” Abortion isn’t health care, and neither is infanticide.

A change of heart is always possible, even for Members of Congress. My Congressman needs to hear from people who have enough compassion and understanding to assure him that’s it’s OK to support care for newborn children who have survived abortion.

More than once in the course of writing about life-issue legislation, I’ve asked a question: is a woman seeking abortion entitled to a terminated pregnancy or a dead baby? What happens when the induced abortion results not only in termination of pregnancy but in a live birth? In an uncharitable moment, I wrote that the dead-baby caucus was in charge.

I guess I was right.

Thoughts After Rome

This post originally appeared at DaTechGuy Blog

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica

Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica seen from Gianicolo Hill, Rome. Ellen Kolb photo.

When an opportunity for me to visit Rome came up unexpectedly not long ago, I dropped everything, including blogging assignments. I will probably never have another crack at a trip to Italy with my husband. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I wanted to go.

I figured I might be able to write along the way. Surely there would be time. That’s not how it worked out. No one warned me of the overload of sights and impressions I’d be experiencing, and the deep contrasts I’d be witnessing. They packed an emotional punch. Perhaps the biggest contrast that hit my Catholic sensibilities was the one between churches as places of historical interest and churches as places of faith.

Rome is a city of church domes, not skyscrapers. Vatican City’s crown jewel, St. Peter’s Basilica, holds a commanding position. A walk through Rome reveals other churches that catch the eye: architectural marvels, places of art and beauty, accessible to believer and nonbeliever alike. One could be forgiven for valuing them simply as museums and artifacts of a certain period in history. That might be what brings someone through the doors for the first time.

Yet these aren’t mere artifacts of a lost time. They are places of worship. It’s odd how I felt that so strongly in St. Peter’s, thronged as it was with tourists. In the little side chapels within the nave, people were kneeling. Maybe one in twenty of the people in the vast church was there for prayer. Yet that five percent made the difference between a museum and a church. I asked where daily Mass was said, since obviously the “main” part of the church was occupied by tourists from all over the world. A guide pointed me to one of the side chapels, set apart only by a quiet attendant welcoming to the pews anyone who wanted to pray.

A few years ago, on another unexpected journey, I made a pilgrimage to St. Mark’s in Venice. The main doors, the big ones, were designated for tourists, of whom there were many. Who could visit the city without taking in that stunning edifice? For those wanting to pray, there was a smaller door off to the side: not to shunt anyone aside, but to guide pilgrims to a quiet area devoid of cameras and chatter.

In both Rome and Venice, I recognized those little side chapels as powerhouses, even if my Italy guidebook didn’t.

I came home to my little parish church, where the architecture is far more modest and draws no tourists. No one would ever confuse it with a museum. I came home to neighbors as appalled as I by the news of yet more abuse, more episcopal failures, more reminders that if my faith in God relies on anyone’s miter and staff then my faith is doomed to shatter.

Tough news to come home to after Rome, for sure. Yet in a way, my journey had set me up to face tough news. Rome was a challenging place for me. Beautiful and vibrant, yes. But around every corner and under every dome was that contrast and tension: museum, or house of worship?  I think that as long as those side chapels are occupied by people at prayer, the tension resolves in favor of worship.

I think that these days, both in Rome and at home, prayer is not only worship of God but also an act of defiance against people who need to be defied: all those who would weaken others’ faith, break bruised reeds, betray trust. A dangerous attitude, that. Prayer without humility and love becomes the clanging cymbal of which St. Paul warned us. Yet abandoning prayer altogether leaves the field to the museum-goers. I’m not prepared to do that.

Rome and Vatican City were a revelation to me. Nothing I studied prepared me properly for all the food, sights, history, and the accompanying  sensory overload. Yet quite against my will, elbowing its way into all my other memories is that sight of people praying off to the side in St. Peter’s. One in twenty, giving soul to the church, quietly pushing back against all that would render it a mere museum.

Photo by author: dome of St. Peter’s seen from Gianicolo hill.

Cecile’s Legacy

This post originally appeared on DaTechGuy Blog.

The Twitterverse murmured #ThankYouCecile the other day to mark the end of Cecile Richards’s tenure leading the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Hats off to the Babylon Bee for skewering that bit of social media hashtagging: “Woman Celebrated for Killing 3.5 Million People.”

That satirical bull’s eye came just a few days after another one from the same source: “Planned Parenthood Defends Bill Cosby: ‘Sexual Assault Is Only 3% Of What He Does’”. I wish I’d written that.

But in all seriousness, Richards is a consequential woman. It would be a mistake to pretend otherwise. Planned Parenthood has had high-profile leaders before and will have them again. What sets Richards apart are the sheer bloody numbers and her solid brass determination.

PP is now the nation’s leading abortion provider, with more than 321,384 “abortion services” provided in FY 2016 alone. In the same year, according to PP’s annual report, revenue was $1.459 billion, of which $543 million came from taxpayers.

That transfer of funds from your pocket into PP’s, on such an appalling scale, was made possible because of a false message that Cecile Richards delivered unceasingly and confidently: abortion is health care. She didn’t invent the message, but she honed it to a fine edge and wielded it like a surgeon.

She knew that quibbling over what abortion terminates wasn’t good for business. Even seeing abortion as a “right” wasn’t enough to fulfill her vision. Selling abortion as health care, as a positive good, was the message she used to elevate PP to the economic and cultural position it now holds.

The political influence, the virtual extortion of funds from taxpayers and fellow nonprofits alike (cf. the Komen breast-cancer charity), the serene composure with which she dismissed the damning videos documenting the sale of fetal body parts by some PP affiliates: all of it can be explained and defended by buying into her defining message, abortion is health care.

Politicians don’t want to support taxpayer dollars going to the nation’s largest abortion provider? (Hey, I can dream.) They’re after your health care. A pastor speaks out in defense of human life? He’s after your health care. A journalist documents commerce in fetal body parts; a court upholds an abortion regulation, however mild; peaceful pro-life witnesses pray silently outside a PP facility: what they’re really after is your health care.

Abortion is health care is a hellishly lucrative legacy for PP. It’s the message that keeps half a million of your dollars going to the nation’s leading abortion provider. No wonder Richards was rewarded with compensation in excess of half a million dollars a year.

Health care and abortion are two different things. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort for the truth to regain its rightful place. Don’t ever doubt that one person can make a difference. Look at what Cecile Richards left behind.

How I Came to Terms With Santa

I’ve heard of parents who have trouble explaining Santa Claus to their kids. My parents called on the United States Navy to do the job.

I grew up in south Florida, so part of the Santa Claus legend always sounded a little off to me. Our house didn’t look anything like the ones in Santa-themed storybooks. I once asked my dad how Santa got into houses like ours, with no chimney. He assured me that Santa had his little ways. Little did I know that mom and dad had little ways of their own.

Photo by Douglas Rahden (Wikimedia Commons).

One Christmas Eve when I was four or five, we had an overnight guest – a sailor, or at least a man in a sailor suit.  I remember his kerchief and cap because they looked so unusual to me. He was very quiet and polite, as I recall.  We had a small house, and my sister and I slept on the living room couch that night so the sailor could have our room.

Sometime during the night, a sound woke me up – a very quiet sound, like people whispering. I opened my eyes but didn’t move, feeling a little scared. I was reassured to see that one of the people was my dad. The other was our guest, the sailor. Together, they were putting presents under our little Christmas tree.

All kinds of thoughts raced through my little brain. Daddy’s doing Santa’s work! Is Daddy Santa? And why is our new friend helping him? He doesn’t look like an elf. I’d better be quiet because the presents will disappear if anyone thinks I’m awake. And where’s Mommy? Oh, boy, I know something my little sister doesn’t!

I don’t know how I managed to get back to sleep, but I did. When my sister and I woke up, and we saw the tree looking beautiful and presents waiting for us, I wondered if I’d been dreaming. I think I declared something like “I saw Daddy!” Dad responded by gently telling me I must have been dreaming. Mom and our guest promptly agreed with him. My two-year-old sister was no help. Puzzled, but still happy it was Christmas, I went back to playing with whatever I’d just opened.

I never asked my parents about Santa again. I saw Santa on TV and in department stores and in books, and I knew he was make-believe. That was fine with me. I had learned that the same dad who took me to Midnight Mass was the one who did Santa’s work. Amazingly for a kid who had as big a mouth as I had, I never felt the need to spoil any other kid’s Christmas by announcing that there was no Santa. One exception to that: I tried explaining the facts to my sister a few years later. She flatly refused to believe me. So much for my powers of persuasion.

Forty years later, I knew my mom’s health was failing badly, and our days of conversation were numbered. My dad had died several years earlier. I had to clear up my persistent but hazy memory. Had there really been a Christmas with a sailor? “Oh, yes,” she said immediately. She remembered it clearly.

It turns out that the sailor, whose name was John Parker, was the nineteen-year-old son of one of mom’s college friends. He had recently joined the Navy, and he was having his first Christmas away from home. When his ship was scheduled to be in Ft. Lauderdale for Christmas, his mom called my mom and asked if we could take him in while he was on liberty. My folks were happy to say yes. And that lonely 19-year-old kid, who had never met any of us before, got up in the middle of the night to help my father arrange the gifts and finish trimming the tree.

I’m overwhelmed at that thought, even now. Nineteen years old, and he was putting out presents for us. Someone should have been putting out presents for him – although, knowing my parents, there was probably something with his name on it under the tree.

My parents always put the birth of Christ first as we celebrated Christmas. Even so, I don’t think I’m being irreverent when I say that my memory of this kid from the Navy has stuck with me more powerfully than the memory of any particular Midnight Mass we ever attended.

I never saw John Parker again. This recollection is all the thanks I can give him. Whenever I think of him, I’m four years old again, pretending to be asleep, peeking at two unlikely elves.

(Originally posted at Leaven for the Loaf.)