My thanks to Fr. Robert McTeigue, S.J., who welcomed me to “The Catholic Current” on The Station Of the Cross Catholic Radio Network. New Hampshire’s assisted suicide bill was the launching point for an hour of good conversation about public policy and the right to life.
Nothing scripted there: no prepared answers, since I didn’t know what the questions would be. His query about advice I might have to offer set me off on something that may have sounded a bit rehearsed, but wasn’t. Mass and Adoration. That’s my advice, and I didn’t just say that because it was Ash Wednesday. I talked about my reasons for that answer in the last part of the podcast.
The New Hampshire House and Senate expect to vote on September 25 on whether to sustain or override Governor Sununu’s veto of a proposed state budget. At stake is the use of state general funds, i.e. taxpayer dollars, for direct and indirect funding of abortion.
That’s a Catholic citizenship alert if ever I saw one.
Set out below are the reasons why it’s important to contact state representatives, state senators, and Governor Sununu with the clear unambiguous message: no public funding, direct or indirect, for abortion. That means sustaining the Governor’s veto of the state budget, and fighting to keep abortion out of any subsequent negotiated budget.
Governor Sununu has said reassuring things about direct funding of abortion. That is not the case about indirect funding, in which public dollars go to abortion providers purportedly for non-abortion work. Perhaps you have heard similar messages and non-messages from your own representatives.
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.
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.
In the days leading up to the adoption of the latest spending bill in Washington, my social media feeds were full of posts from a variety of pro-life groups addressing one topic: including protection of medical conscience rights in the spending bill. To anyone unfamiliar with the federal budget process, an appropriations bill would sound like an odd place to mention conscience rights. But as we know, all kinds of oddball things work their way into budget deals.
As it happens, the conscience protection act promoted by pro-lifers was not included in the spending bill approved on March 22. I would have shrugged – a pro-life initiative rejected in Washington? so what else is new? – if not for a similar disappointment closer to home. A week before the federal spending bill was adopted, a bill to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals was rejected in my state’s legislature by a two-to-one margin.
Lest you think this is a partisan problem, note that the GOP holds majorities in the legislative bodies at issue here.
I was at the hearing for the state-level bill. The thrust of the opposition to conscience legislation boiled down to this: abortion is health care, and those who don’t want to participate in abortions have no business in the medical field.
By the way, this is where we wind up when we hear the abortion-is-health-care lie without pushing back. But back to the arena…
The argument against the state-level bill was couched in terms of denial of access: if a pharmacist doesn’t want to hand out an abortion-inducing drug, that might prevent or delay a woman’s abortion; if some doctor refuses to participate in abortion, he might let a hemorrhaging woman bleed to death. (Nonsense, but some legislators swallowed that whopper whole.)
There were also some dark mutterings about slippery slopes, although no one used that term: if we respect conscience rights for one or two or three procedures, where will it end? How much disruption can we tolerate in order to accommodate “conscience”?
The supporters of conscience legislation testified to the primacy of conscience, which our own state’s constitution explicitly recognizes as a natural right, not one that needs to be granted. They cited the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They spoke of their religious and ethical beliefs and how they shouldn’t be fired for sticking to them.
“Access” met conscience, and “access” won.
These state and federal votes were hardly the last word. They’re intriguing, though. They indicate to me that hostility to conscience rights is alive and well, even in more-or-less respectable circles. Indifference to those rights might as well be open hostility. Fortunately, there are people pushing back.
The failure of Congress to include the Conscience Protection Act in the 2018 omnibus appropriations bill is deeply disappointing. The CPA is an extraordinarily modest bill that proposes almost no change to existing conscience protection laws on abortion—laws that receive wide public and bi-partisan support. The CPA simply proposes to provide victims of discrimination with the ability to defend their rights in court to help ensure that no one is forced to participate in abortion. Those inside and outside of Congress who worked to defeat the CPA have placed themselves squarely into the category of extremists who insist that all Americans must be forced to participate in the violent act of abortion. We call on Congress not to give up until this critical legislation is enacted.
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.”
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.”
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.