Sparks of life and mercy

I cheer for writers the way I cheer for the Red Sox. Once a writer – especially a nonfiction essayist – catches my eye, I’ll look for events where I can say “thank you” in person. Such a writer is Kathryn Jean Lopez, a journalist with a deep-rooted prolife commitment. When she appeared recently at a nearby conference to speak on the theme “Life After Roe: a time of radical challenge and opportunity”, I knew I had to go.

Lopez has written and reported extensively on politics, the life issues, culture, and Catholicism, always with a keen eye. So what does she make of this messy post-Roe culture of ours?

I soon learned that while her essays and reportage are marked by focus, her public speaking is of another order: one story after another in an energetic stream-of-consciousness style. She seemed to shoot off sparks, illuminating one point then another in rapid-fire style that rendered my note-taking nearly useless.

She talked about people. not politics. As one story flowed into another, she made clear where roots need to be cultivated: between people, in one-on-one conversation and service.

“We need to double down on the mercy,” post-Roe. She kept coming back to mercy, and to patience as well. “Being patient with everyone [is key to] life after Roe.” She urged extending that patience to people spreading misinformation about the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. “Assume that people just don’t know. Assume best intentions.”

Lopez is a sidewalk counselor outside a New York abortion facility on a regular basis. She’s a journalist by vocation, and praying on sidewalks was definitely not in her skill set at first. Yet that has become part of her commitment, incorporating prayer and encounter into her life’s work. And those encounters don’t stop once an abortion is over. “We have to be hyper-sensitive to the needs of post-abortive women.”

What moved her to join sidewalk ministry? Seeing medical waste trucks outside the abortion facility, and realizing that the “waste” included human remains. She refused to turn away. In her professional work, she shares with her readers and listeners why they shouldn’t turn away, either.

“Pro-lifers need to have an examination of conscience,” always acting in ways that are merciful, and not just on the sidewalk: for one example, she cited the need to promote policies that support adoption and foster care.

“Think creatively. You never know what you’re being used for….Even those close to us need to know we will love them, not judge them.”

As a Catholic, she noted that the “Walking with moms in need” initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not yet taken off in a big way. She encouraged her listeners to discover the program. I’m Catholic myself, and I hadn’t been familiar with it. I’m learning about it now.

Here was a journalist, intensely practical, politically savvy, who could have spent an hour talking about strategy and lobbying and state-level legislation. In a room full of activists, that would have struck a familiar if not comfortable note. Instead, with each story she shared – with each spark, so to speak – she illuminated a way forward that isn’t paved with laws and court decisions.

Listening, serving one-on-one, being patient, extending mercy every day in big and little ways: those are precisely the challenges and opportunities that Kathryn Jean Lopez came to talk about. She spoke with urgency, as if she were afraid she’d run out of time before her work was done.

I’m writing this several weeks after hearing her speak at Assumption University. I mentioned earlier that taking notes during her speech was hard, because she kept moving from story to story. She forced me to listen to her whole message, not just listen for the occasional catchy quote (though I did my best to capture some). As a veteran of the public-policy aspect of pro-life work, I needed to hear what she had to say. She left an impression on me while I’m still in the process of decompressing from years of State House work.

You’re not done, she seemed to be saying. There’s better work ahead.

My thanks to Massachusetts Citizens for Life for hosting the convention at which I heard Ms. Lopez speak.

Roe is behind us, and hard work is ahead of us

reblogged from Leaven for the Loaf

Today, the sun is setting on the era of Roe. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its Dobbs opinion, and Roe v. Wade is overturned along with its successor Casey decision. Abortion regulation is to be left to the states. Peruse the giant-sized decision at your leisure. 

For those who want a deeper dive, I have some thoughts.

The leaker and the bullies lost

Whoever leaked the draft opinion – and I’ll maintain all my days that it was an abortion-friendly Court clerk – lost a huge gamble. It backfired, even if the initial reaction was all the leaker could have hoped for. The leak sparked outrage among abortion advocates. Justices were doxxed and home addresses were made public. There was an assassination plan against Justice Kavanaugh. Bullies felt emboldened.

Five Justices stood up to all that. The vote was 5 to overturn Roe, 3 opposed, and a vote by the Chief Justice to uphold Mississippi’s law while still upholding Roe. (So that’s what a cut-rate Solomon sounds like.) Here’s to Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. 

The bullying might not be over, and we might see it close to home. Time will tell. The Court has just given a powerful example of how to face it.

The Court did not recognize the fundamental right to life

Absolutely nothing in Dobbs‘ majority opinion recognized the fundamental right to life of each human being from the moment of conception. 

I have worked my entire adult life for our laws to recognize human dignity, to support mothers as well as children, to reject eugenics, to defend conscience rights for health care workers who want nothing to do with abortion.

And here I am, cheering a decision that does none of that. We have been conditioned to set the bar low and then cheer when we clear it.

Thanks be to God that Roe was not affirmed. We move on from there.

New Hampshire remains abortion-friendly, for now

All that State House action I’ve been writing about since 2012 will keep right on going. The Dobbs decision returns abortion regulation to the states, meaning the people we elect to be our state representatives and senators and executive councilors and (God help us) governors will still be the ones to call the shots on our behalf.

New Hampshire law still permits eugenic abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. That won’t change. In fact, the Mississippi law upheld by the Court today had a 15-week abortion limit, with a eugenic exception. Preborn children with life-limiting diagnoses are not protected.

The New Hampshire constitution could still be amended to protect abortion – or the constitution’s “privacy” amendment could be construed by our state Supreme Court to accomplish the same thing. 

New Hampshire legislators have repeatedly rejected conscience protections for health care workers who choose not to be involved in abortion. That’s okay under Dobbs.

Our parental notification statutes and ban on partial-birth abortion could be repealed by our legislature. That’s okay under Dobbs, too.

Buffer zone laws consistent with past Court decisions will remain on the books. So will unenforced buffer zone laws like New Hampshire’s.

Also fine and dandy under Dobbs: refusal to collect abortion statistics – refusal to require making sonogram images available (not mandated, but available) to abortion-minded women – giving state dollars to abortion providers.

In other words, citizen activists will still need to beat a path to hearings in Concord every single session. If they don’t, abortion advocates will prevail. Simple as that. 

Pregnancy care centers will become more crucial than ever

The growth and strengthening of the network of pregnancy care centers in New Hampshire has been a bright spot in Granite State culture. These abortion-free agencies go far beyond crisis pregnancy management. They support pregnant and parenting women and their partners as far as resources allow, with most of those resources coming from private donors.

Ironically, in the days following the leak of the draft Dobbs opinion, some of those pregnancy care centers in other states were subject to attacks. 

In the face of opposition, it’s time to redouble the efforts that have brought pregnancy care networks this far. 

At least one party will handle Dobbs to its advantage

Indie voter speaking here: please, GOP, don’t screw this up by dodging Dobbs.

The Democrat party, from its national leadership down to its New Hampshire town committees, has been consistent in its abortion-friendly messaging. As an activist, I recognize political savvy when I see it, even if it’s in the service of something dreadful. Look for apocalyptic pronouncements from candidates about how Dobbs undermines women and threatens the Republic. Look for tightly-focused attacks on any Republican who’s squishy on the right to life.

As for those squishy Republicans, if their response to Dobbs is to try to shift focus to inflation and the economy, they’ll get what they deserve. Unfortunately, so will their constituents. Then the Dobbs-dodging candidates will wonder why 40% of New Hampshire voters refuse formal affiliation with either party. 

Nonviolence: walk the talk

Public pro-life witness is likely to become riskier. Our response to provocation has to be more than “be nice.” It’s time to move past talking about nonviolence as a mere theoretical tactic. 

Are you ready to surrender your natural right to self-defense if you’re physically attacked for defending life? Are you ready to practice nonviolence in speech as well as action? Are you ready to be arrested for nonviolent public witness, or are you worried about how that would affect your job or your reputation? Are you prepared to document events when you’re on the scene of a challenge to peaceful witness? Are you prepared to help protect vulnerable facilities whose workers and volunteers are providing life-affirming care? Are you prepared to organize carpools and vanpools and busloads of pro-life allies to public hearings? Are you prepared to “speak life” in season and out of season, in a manner worthy of the goal? Are you ready to financially and spiritually support allies whose nonviolent defense of life leads to job loss or worse?

These are personal decisions, but they’re best made with a supportive well-grounded group. I think churches are uniquely positioned to teach and support nonviolent public action. If they won’t do the job, let our secular pro-life neighbors lead. 

A culture of death won’t be overturned by people being nice. It won’t even be overturned by a Court, although a Court can make helpful decisions. Only love can prevail – love that’s sometimes disruptive, always sacrificial to some degree, always risky, often shown in little day-to-day things, courageous even when my knees are shaking.

Nonviolence is the fruit of love like that. First things first.

I’m grateful for the Dobbs decision, even with its limitations. Now let’s get moving. See you at the State House.