Religion Freedom Week, as we wait for Dobbs

It’s the feast of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, marking the beginning of Religious Freedom Week as observed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It’s just a week, not a fortnight as was the case back in the early days of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate. Still, a call to a dedicated time of prayer and action with religious liberty in mind is always timely.

A lateral move?

I write as I await the Supreme Court’s decision in the abortion-related Dobbs case, due within days. A draft of the Dobbs opinion hostile to Roe v. Wade was leaked some weeks ago, leaving me pondering just how low we’ve set the bar for being pro-life. Nothing in the draft either states or implies that the Court is ready to recognize the fundamental right to life of all human beings from the moment of conception without regard to age, health, or condition of dependency. The draft, if it holds, dumps the “issue” back to the states. Having spent a few decades making frequent trips to New Hampshire’s State House as a citizen speaking out on the right to life, I know that such a Supreme Court decision would be a lateral move at best.

Even so, the call is clear as I contemplate the likelihood of a Dobbs decision during a week celebrating religious liberty: prayer and action, now and always, wherever the law stands, whether or not our voices are welcomed in the public square.

Inspiration

The USCCB has suggestions for eight daily prayer intentions during the coming days. It’s not a comprehensive list. Only a few of our challenges can be addressed in such a short period of time. Treat each intention as inspiration for future work: thoughtful prayer, focused action, steadfast witness.

  • June 22: walking with mothers in need
  • June 23: pray that Christian witness in the face of attacks on churches may convert hearts to faith in Christ. Threats and vandalism to churches, including acts taken in the wake of the leaked Dobbs draft, underscore that this is an urgent challenge.
  • June 24: adoption and foster care
  • June 25: opposing taxpayer funding of abortion
  • June 26: religious freedom in China
  • June 27: pregnancy resource centers
  • June 28: conscience rights for health care workers
  • June 29: free speech. This means not only praying for protection of First Amendment rights, but also “that Christians will have the courage to proclaim the gospel of life and dignity for all with kindness and clarity, even in the face of adversity.”

Challenge: grow beyond unjust laws

My bishop has offered many examples of that kindness and clarity. I wrote in some detail at Leaven for the Loaf about what he said at one particular Mass during one of the first Fortnights for Freedom. An excerpt will serve here.

We can and we do lobby for just laws, and for the overturning of those laws, the repeal of those laws, that are unjust. But whenever [such an effort] is unsuccessful, we are called to make those laws obsolete.… Such must be the unjust law – that we have grown beyond such things…[to] a time where adherence to God’s law has turned us away from discrimination, murder, inordinate living, disordered belief, and the shame of a people who no longer value the true dignity of human life. Let us grow beyond.

Bishop Peter Libasci, Diocese of Manchester, homily for Fortnight for Freedom, June 2013

All these years later, I stand by what I wrote in the same post, reflecting on what Bishop Libasci had said.

I looked around the Cathedral as the Bishop spoke. I saw no cameras or press. Perhaps a hundred people were there.   In a secular environment, I’d have said that the man needs an agent. This was a church, though; a community of faith was present. Everyone there is the “agent,” so to speak, charged with getting out the message. In how many other churches will the same message be delivered in the coming days? From there, who knows where it could go? Small beginnings, perhaps, but with great potential and great hope.

Leaven for the Loaf, 6/23/13

“No” to jailing the moms

I’ll oppose prosecution of a woman for having an abortion. I’ll work to prevent the election of policymakers who think such prosecutions are a good idea. And I can’t believe the topic has even come up. Thanks to Abby Johnson, it has.

In a series of posts a few years back, I cited Abby as one of several “voices to trust” – “women who came through a variety of experiences to find themselves – sometimes to their own astonishment – opposing abortion and Roe v. Wade.” Abby’s personal journey took her from being a Planned Parenthood manager to being a pro-life leader and founder of a nonprofit organization that has assisted hundreds of former abortion workers seeking to leave the abortion industry. Amazing conversion, powerful ministry. That much hasn’t changed.

Then a few days ago, on May 7, she used a long Facebook post to advocate the criminal prosecution of women who have had abortions. The key lines: “Are preborn human beings full of infinite dignity and worth or are they not? Do we believe abortion is murder or is it not. Is the preborn child worth the same protection as my 2 year old or are the preborn somehow less valuable? If we do not have the same due process in the law for those who pay to take the life of their children, then we as a movement are liars. We are saying that those in the womb do NOT have the same value as those outside of the womb.”

No. Just no. And no again. Recognizing the dignity and humanity of pregnant woman and preborn child is one thing. Pitting pregnant women against their preborn children is something else, and the abortion industry relies on maintaining that adversarial position. It’s inhumane. I refuse to buy into it. And that’s without even addressing the position’s base political stupidity. 

I wonder how Abby’s position will strike the people who prayed outside her Planned Parenthood facility for months, slowly building a relationship of trust with her and then welcoming her when she walked away from PP.

I wonder how a prosecute-the-mom policy sounds to someone involved in Rachel’s Vineyard or another post-abortion healing ministry.

Read the rest of the post at Leaven for the Loaf.

Open Book: how a unique pro-life ministry got started

A recent interview for my blog Leaven for the Loaf (reblogged here on April 12) put me back in touch via email with Melissa Ohden, a woman who survived an attempted saline abortion some years ago. Our interview reminded me of her moving memoir You Carried Me (2018: Plough Publishing House), which I’ll be re-reading soon. She was adopted as an infant into a loving family. As an adult, she met her birth mother and learned the circumstances of the attempted abortion that was meant to claim her life. She writes without sensationalism, which makes her story more memorable. Ohden has established The Abortion Survivors Network, which has brought together a startling number of people who survived attempts to abort them. Beyond peer support and sharing stories, the Network serves as a resource for policymakers striving to ensure that born-alive abortion survivors are properly cared for. A remarkable woman, a remarkable ministry.

A book I chose for Lenten reading will follow me into the Easter season, as I’m reading it slowly and taking time to reflect on each section. I have Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ (published c. 1954) in an old hardback edition, picked up can’t-remember-where quite awhile ago. This is the first time I’m giving it more than cursory attention. It’s become valued reading during my times of Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I needn’t be in a church to read it, of course. Sheen’s devotion and reverence for God are leavened by a down-to-earth gift for touching busy hearts.

I’ve reached the final pages of a thoroughly secular work of history that I’ve been chewing on for awhile: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005, Simon and Schuster). A part of the basis for the Spielberg film Lincoln, the book is not so much a biography of Abraham Lincoln as it is an account of a network of his relationships that had a profound bearing on the Civil War and thus American history. Goodwin writes with respect without resorting to hagiography. I’m fascinated to read about how the paths of a handful of intensely ambitious yet patriotic men happened to cross. Those paths eventually led to Lincoln’s Cabinet during the Civil War, where the rich broth of personalities required to preserve the Union kept the President busy.

#OpenBook is a monthly blog linkup by Carolyn Astfalk, featuring a roundup of bloggers and the books they’re exploring.