Women united for life: the USA’s first Pro-Life Women’s Conference, part 1

Part 1 of 2.

Abby Johnson walked to the podium and brought the crowd to its feet with her first words.  “Can you believe it took 43 years to do this?”

We cheered. We were loud and exuberant, and I for one didn’t care if we could be heard out in the lobby.

No, I can’t believe it took 43 years.

Abby Johnson, Pro-Life Women's Conference 2016. Ellen Kolb photo.
Abby Johnson, Pro-Life Women’s Conference 2016. Ellen Kolb photo.

“It” was the Pro-Life Women’s Conference, held in Dallas on a sultry July weekend. It was the first gathering of its size since Roe v. Wade to be dedicated to the work and the experience of pro-life women.

I came to the conference to break through my little Granite State bubble. Not every state is like mine, with a strong pro-abortion political culture, hostile to the peaceful exercise of the First Amendment by pro-life witnesses, as Gosnell-friendly a state as may be found on a map.

Let me share a bit of what I saw and heard in Dallas. Be challenged, take heart, and look ahead.

A few of the speakers at the Pro-Life Women's Conference. Ellen Kolb photo.
A few of the speakers at the Pro-Life Women’s Conference. Ellen Kolb photo.

Hello, Hyde: women determined to keep Medicaid abortion-free

Secular Pro-Life describes itself as “an organization that unites people of every faith and no faith to promote the right to life.” The group had a significant presence at the conference, and I was glad to see that. Let all of us with peaceful intentions come together.

Stargift at right with other Secular Pro-Life representatives at Pro-Life Women's Conference
Stargift at right with other Secular Pro-Life representatives at Pro-Life Women’s Conference

Secular Pro-Life previewed a big project that we can all get behind: #HelloHyde. The Hyde Amendment turns 40 (!) in September. This rider to federal Health and Human Services appropriations bills bars federal Medicaid money from being used for most abortions. SPL estimates that Hyde has saved over a million lives.

The 40th anniversary is prompting abortion advocacy groups to redouble their longstanding efforts to torpedo Hyde. The Democratic party has even made Hyde repeal part of the party platform. Not so fast, says Secular Pro-Life: we are going to celebrate and expand Hyde!

(Read more about #HelloHyde on the Secular Pro-Life blog. )

The way SPL is launching the effort is perfect: #HelloHyde (that’s a hash tag, y’all, and use it freely on your social media) features photos of children born through the Medicaid program under Hyde. “Thanks for our lives” is the message.

I met Stargift at the conference. She’s an SPL supporter who is one of the faces of #HelloHyde. Her photo on the SPL press release about the campaign gives you a good idea of her infectious energy.  “For forty years, the Hyde Amendment has affirmed that lives like mine are worth living.”

I’ll be writing more about the campaign in the coming weeks. Judging from the reception at the Dallas conference, #HelloHyde is off to a good start.

Women are watching: Abby Johnson rolls out inspection reports on abortion facilities

Even with a law seeking to put women’s health ahead of abortion providers’ profits, Texas abortion facilities have fallen short – which is to say, regulatory authorities have failed to do their jobs. At the Pro-Life Women’s Conference, Abby Johnson presented the first in a series of inspection reports that document abuses that put women at risk.

Ironically, within days of the conference, the Supreme Court struck down part of the Texas law regulating abortion facilities. Johnson responded immediately with still more inspection reports, and a message for the Court and for abortion providers: scrutiny isn’t over.

A few of the inspection reports, including the one featured at the conference, are available here.

Read more about the #NotOver campaign. Take that, Judge Ginsburg.

How about sending the message to the White House? Abby Johnson is leading a petition drive that you can join. 

The faces of A Culture of Life

Culture of Life panel, Pro-Life Women's Conference
Culture of Life panel, Pro-Life Women’s Conference

I can’t help but give a shout-out to my Granite State neighbor, Darlene Pawlik. She is one of the gutsiest women I know. She was in good company at the conference, as part of a panel on Culture of Life.

I feel nervous whenever I’m out for something like 40 Days for Life. These women in Dallas made me squirm. I have no business being nervous when they’re witnessing to their own experiences in front of hundreds of people at a time.

Darlene was on the panel as a member of Save the 1, as was Rebecca Kiessling. Conceived in rape, they challenge rape-and-incest exceptions in laws limiting abortion. They ARE the exceptions. Tough to promote a culture of life while saying “…except for you” to Darlene and Rebecca.

Melissa Ohden led the panel. She survived a saline abortion. Not getting one, but being the target of one at seven months’ gestation. She wasn’t supposed to be born. She survived and was adopted. She talked at the conference about forgiveness for her biological family, which is an amazing thing. She also spoke about the generational effects of abortion, expected and unexpected, even on other family members. Her ministry is called the Abortion Survivors Network. There’s another facet of the culture of life: 40-some-odd years after Roe, we share a culture with people who actually survived attempted abortion. Think about that the next time your legislators turn down a bill to protect abortion survivors.

I hadn’t heard before from the other women on the panel, and they left me in awe.

Claire Culwell is another abortion survivor, who didn’t know the circumstances of her birth until just a few years ago when she met her birth mother. At the age of 13, her mother was subjected to an abortion that actually did take the life of her twin brother. It was a few weeks after the abortion that her mother realized she was still carrying a baby, who was born prematurely.

Claire told us that she speaks in her brother’s honor. She is obviously a witness to his life and to the value of her own, but she also a passionate advocate for alternatives to abortion as she reflects on what her birth mother endured.

The panel also included Rebekah Buell, whose second child was born after abortion-pill reversal. Rebekah took an abortion-inducing drug at a Planned Parenthood facility, and had second thoughts almost immediately. PP was no help. Rebekah sought out and found a physician who performs abortion-pill reversal, and the procedure was successful. She said that PP staff warned her that reversal was a fraud, and that even if it “worked,” her child would be harmed. That turned out to be nonsense. Rebekah isn’t afraid to tell people what PP doesn’t want us to hear.

The panel lasted only an hour. I could have listened to these women all afternoon. They gave me – and probably most of us in the room – a reality check.

By the way, this may seem unimportant, but I couldn’t help but notice something: most of the women in the room were younger than I, many by a generation or more. Claire Culwell and Rebekah Buell are younger than most of my own children.

On second thought, that is important. I see this at every March for Life in Washington, too. The rising generation is pro-life. Courts and legislatures and massive “public policy” budgets by abortion providers to the contrary, people defending the right to life aren’t going away.

There was no siege mentality in Dallas. No woman in sight was conceding loss or discouragement. We’re in it to win it.


4 thoughts on “Women united for life: the USA’s first Pro-Life Women’s Conference, part 1

  1. We were there, and was not impressed. It was agenda driven, and by that I mean causing division between prolifers. While I understand the premise of it, we will not attend this in the future. We are boots-on-the-ground sidewalk ministers/counselors who were totally left out because we did not fit their mold of what prolife women should be. Certainly, I am generalizing this, speakers from SaveThe1, Star Parker, Marilyn Musgrave have the grit we glean from while others were essentially telling women like me how wrong we are.

    1. Thanks for providing another perspective. I’m glad to see your mention of the “grit we glean from”…Marilyn and SBA List have been steadfast supporters of pro-life candidates in my state, and of course Darlene from Save the 1 is a neighbor and friend.

    1. Thanks for reading! After almost a month, I’m still processing all that I heard and learned at the event. This was definitely not a place where I was surrounded by people just like me.

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