40 Days for Life speaker comes to NH: “thank you for your Yes”

On a nippy Thursday, fifty miles away from the New Hampshire State House where the House was in session, people committed to peaceful pro-life action gathered on a small-town sidewalk. They were in front of a town hall which sits next door to an abortion facility. Turning away from news about life-issue legislation, they were there to hear a story of encouragement and hope.

Ramona Treviño shares her story

Texas resident Ramona Treviño is the outreach director for the international 40 Days for Life effort. In a whirlwind tour last week, she spoke at seven regional 40DFL campaign events, including three in New Hampshire. I caught up with her in Greenland.

The Greenland participants welcomed Treviño to her first visit to New Hampshire on a cold but sunny Wednesday morning. She responded in kind. “It’s beautiful. I couldn’t be more blessed.”

Ramona Treviño speaking at 40 Days for Life event
Ramona Treviño of 40 Days for Life, speaking in Greenland NH. Ellen Kolb photo.

“I’m a living witness to what the power of prayer does. This for me is a special time of the year, not only ’cause it’s Lent, but also this time of year, twelve years ago, is when I left my position at Planned Parenthood, and had a beautiful conversion that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit and the grace that was poured out because of your witness, the power of prayer, and fasting.”

Her journey from PP to 40DFL

Catholic by upbringing – “culturally Catholic,” she called it – she knew enough to consider abortion unthinkable when she became pregnant at 16. Her parents agreed, and she gave birth without support from the child’s father. Later, she met and married a man with whom she entered fully into her faith. Even so, “unfortunately, I accepted a position working for the nation’s largest abortion [provider]” a year and a half later. The provider was Planned Parenthood, and the facility was near her Texas home.

How did she end up there? She offered several reasons. First, “ignorance.” While she knew Planned Parenthood provided birth control, STD testing, and well-woman exams, she wasn’t aware that it was a powerhouse of the abortion industry. “I didn’t know that every year they’re responsible for 300,000 abortions in this country.”

She also believed something that I’ve heard time and again from former abortion workers. “I really thought I was helping women. I thought I was going to be preventing abortions. Also, I was of another mentality: I personally wouldn’t have an abortion, but every woman has the right to choose for herself…. And in my [facility] we didn’t perform abortions under our roof. The surgical center in Dallas-Fort Worth was where abortions took place. And that was another way that I justified and rationalized working for PP. I thought my hands [were] clean.”

“You guys showed up.”

What changed? “You guys showed up,” “you guys” being participants in 40 Days for Life. Trevio described listening to Catholic radio one day in her car in Advent of 2010 and hearing a promotional message about 40 Days for Life. The message included the news that the following spring’s campaign would be outside her facility. She was startled.

“I had never heard of 40 Days for Life up to then. [It was the] first time I had heard of this peaceful prayerful vigil that was going to be held for 40 days outside of my facility. It was going to kick off on Ash Wednesday.and of course, being Catholic, I thought ‘maybe God’s trying to tell me something.’ …Now we had always had protesters outside our facility. And you know, these protesters would kind of yell at the women to try to get their attention….They didn’t strike me as loving people.” In the 40 Days for Life message, “there was something about hearing these words: ‘a peaceful and prayerful vigil’ – that really put my soul at peace.”

The 40DFL campaign began. At one point she actually went to the prayer witnesses and asked them for prayers. She had become uncomfortable working for PP, and a priest had advised her to leave, but still she hesitated. The campaign leader later joined in prayer for her, and he asked if he could share her prayer request with others.

That impressed her greatly “He asked for my permission. I think that was huge. It meant he saw me as a person with dignity, and not as some prize to be won.”

Let that sink in for a moment. I sometimes need to be reminded that other peoples’ stories are not mine to share until they give their consent.

“What did you do?”

Many more details went into her decision to leave PP shortly after the end of that 40DFL campaign. The scales were tipped in favor of life as she listened to Catholic radio (there’s that influence of media again!) a couple of days after Easter. “An elderly gentleman had called in and he was sharing his own experiences with praying in front of his local abortion facility….[T]he radio host said to him Thank you, sir, for all that you do for the unborn. Thank
you for your witness. Because at the end of our lives, we’re all going to stand before God. And He’s going to ask you ‘did
you know about abortion? Did you know babies were being ripped from their mothers’ wombs limb by limb? More than
3000 per day?’ And then He’s going to ask you ‘what did you do?’ And that was my moment in which my conscience
was completely illuminated.” Three days later, her time at PP was over.

Now, twelve years later, Ramona Treviño works for 40 Days for Life. “The truth is, guys, you’re my heroes.” She pointed out that during this campaign in 604 cities worldwide – the largest 40DFL campaign to date – 248 abortion-minded women have chosen life. “Something’s happening. And our prayers are unitive. God is answering our prayers. You are answering that call: ‘what did you do.’ Thank you for your Yes.”

A brief update on my blogs and newsletters

Many of this blog’s readers already subscribe to the Leaven for the Loaf email newsletter (thank you!), which usually features short-notice calls to action regarding New Hampshire life-issue legislation.

I’m inviting you to subscribe to my “author” newsletter as well, and here’s why.

As you may know, I have multiple blogs on different subjects. For a long time, I’ve kept them siloed. What if my pro-life readers don’t care about my hiking, or my hiking readers don’t care about my Catholic stuff, and what if somebody gets turned off altogether??

That rumbling sound you hear comes from silos being dismantled.

Leaven for the Loaf will keep on being what it is, and its associated newsletter will continue through the legislative session. We’ve cultivated some roots here. This is one of many writing projects, though, and I welcome readers to all of them.

I know that branding and marketing are supposed to be coherent and targeted. Well, here’s my brand: Catholic pro-life hiking Granite State writer who can’t be trusted around chocolate. I’m still trying to figure out how to fit that on a business card.

I’d like for my monthly EllenKolb.com newsletter to earn a place in your inbox. Each brief issue will contain a sampler of recent posts from across my blogs, previews of upcoming projects, links to good writing I’ve found from other authors, and any updates on events I’ll be attending where I look forward to meeting readers and learning new things. Photos from hikes, too, so you can join me virtually on our state’s amazing trails.

With humble thanks for your support of Leaven, I invite you to take a look at my new enterprise as well. Click the button below to subscribe.

And now we return to our regular programming. More on current legislation soon.

A new home for Real Options in Manchester

The organization that has evolved into Real Options has served people in New Hampshire’s largest city for many years. Real Options recently welcomed visitors to an Open House at its new West Side location. Windy, the Center Manager, showed me around the new place and filled me in on what’s happening there. I’m grateful for her cheerful hospitality.

Like its partner organization, Real Options in Nashua, the center offers services that go beyond crisis pregnancy support. I met Rachel, a nurse manager, whose work includes ultrasound scans for pregnant women; a physician serves as overall Medical Director. Windy told me about the center’s parenting classes and peer support for women and for men. (In recent years, every pregnancy care center I’ve visited has seen a big increase in requests for services for dads.) She showed me the Baby Boutique, full of baby clothes, furniture, baby supplies, and even some maternity clothing for clients. I saw the counseling rooms where a client advocate can meet with a client in privacy and safety.

From Facebook.com: photos from the Real Options Manchester Open House.

I asked Windy what kinds of donations would be particularly helpful. She quickly expressed gratitude for everything people have provided, but then let me know that a few things stand out. Diapers, training pants, and wipes, of course – “especially wipes,” given the center’s current supply. Also, gift cards to Target or Walmart can be used by the center to purchase car seats; used seats can’t be accepted as donations due to ever-evolving safety regulations on such items.

I had a chance to speak with executive director Lindsay Hyvonen, a dynamic ambassador for Real Options. One of the first things she said to me: “This is about empowering women.” Clients get the information they need to exercise authentic choice, without judgment or coercion. Real Options is a Christian-based organization, but its services are not limited to people who share that faith. It is an agency that provides alternatives to abortion without providing abortion, and it will not benefit financially from any woman’s decision about her pregnancy.

Lindsay is enthusiastic about the new space. With two entrances, clients can have a peaceful waiting area while donations and deliveries come in through another door. Clients have secure spaces to meet with advocates; the medical area is private; the staff has a meeting room; the boutique is spacious. Lindsay hopes to turn yet another room into a place of prayer and refreshment for volunteers and visitors, while preserving privacy for clients. She and Windy both mentioned parking to me when I asked how the new office’s advantages compared to the old site off Elm Street. Free parking is a welcome bonus for clients and visitors alike.

The photos in this post are taken from the Facebook post of The Friends of Life NH, supporters of Real Options. Head to thefriendsoflife.org for more information. To contact the Real Options office in Manchester, call (603) 623-1122.

(Also see this blog’s page Pregnancy Resources in New Hampshire for contact information for other pregnancy care centers.)

Abortion recovery leader: “be my ambassadors, please”

Kathy Hill of Massachusetts works with post-abortive women seeking counseling and healing. She was the featured speaker at last weekend’s march for life in Concord, organized annually by New Hampshire Right to Life.

She said that on average, a woman who has had an abortion has only five people in her life who know about it. It’s often a secret. “She tries to disconnect from her story. Unfortunately, those triggers come back. Every [post-abortive] mother’s heart knows that she’s lost her child.”

Hill is a facilitator for Surrendering the Secret, an abortion recovery program, and is regional coordinator for Silent No More Awareness. The latter program is for women who regret their abortions and want to give public testimony about their experiences.

In Surrendering the Secret, she has worked with clients whose abortions were anywhere from two weeks to more than 40 years ago. The women are from all ages, races, and economic levels. Sixty percent claim religious affiliation, and according to Hill, “they want to hear the word ‘abortion’ from the pulpits” – otherwise they think what they’ve done is so horrible that even their pastors can’t utter the word. 

Nine out of 10 post-abortive women aren’t aware that post-abortion healing programs exist. “Be my ambassadors, please,” urged Hill. She suggested looking at the Silent No More Awareness website to hear from some of the women who have recorded their testimonies. “Share what you learn.”

About 250 people marched from the State House plaza down Concord’s Main Street to Christ the King church hall for New Hampshire’s first post-Roe march for life. An overcast near-freezing day didn’t stop families from coming out for the observance.

Fr. Christian Tutor of NHRTL Education Trust spoke to the crowd before the march began. On encountering people who reject the right to life, he advised, “They no longer have to be in the darkness that governments or organizations say they have to be in. This is what we need to share. All of us can have mercy.” He urged peaceful action at all times, especially in the face of abuse: “say ‘I’ll pray for you.'”

Peaceful action marked the day. One police officer was on the plaza for the pre-march rally; he later got into a patrol car and drove up Main Street a couple of blocks at a time to guide traffic. There were no counterdemonstrators in front of the Equality Center on Main Street, and therefore no directions to the pro-life marchers to circle the block to avoid them, as has been the case during some past marches.

At the church hall after Mass, marchers were warmed by a lunch of soup and sandwiches, served by volunteers including sisters from Daughters of Mary, Mother of Healing Love. (They will always be The Running Nuns to me, even though their apostolate has changed since the days when they offered a successful racing/running program for behaviorally-challenged kids.)

Kurt Wuelper of NHRTL-PAC listed six pieces of state-level legislation that the PAC would monitor this year. The PAC will oppose CACR 2, enacting state-constitutional protection for abortion; HB 224, removing penalties for violations of the Fetal Life Protection Act (FLPA); and HB 271, repealing FLPA altogether. The PAC will support HB 591, a heartbeat bill that would amount to a post-six-week abortion limitation; HB 562, informed consent for abortion; and HB 346, a born-alive bill. (Watch this blog for coverage of these bills. Hearings have not yet been scheduled.)

“Dobbs has opened the door – that’s all it did – to enable us to have the conversations” about life, said Wuelper. A former state representative from Strafford County, he chalks up his loss last year to redistricting, and he said the loss gives him more time to concentrate on the pro-life work he’s doing now.

Jason Hennessey, NHRTL president, noted the pro-life victories achieved in recent years, including the Executive Council rejecting contracts with abortion providers. “The Executive Council has been amazing.” He cited passage of FPLA, and applauded the end of efforts by Manchester’s Catholic Medical Center to pursue an affiliation with abortion-friendly Dartmouth Health. “Abortion isn’t health care.” He stressed the importance of effective messaging, and said that NHRTL would be offering training in how to testify at hearings on life-issue bills and policies.

Norm Thibault, campaign leader for 40 Days for Life in Manchester, announced that the next campaign will begin on February 22, with signups for vigil hours available now (see 40daysforlife.com).

Ron Bourque of the Knights of Columbus in Salem presented Fr. Tutor with a $5000 donation to the NHRTL Educational Trust. The Salem council has raised funds to donate nine ultrasound machines to pregnancy care centers in the region, as far north as Littleton.

A sad reminder of the Safe Haven law

December in New Hampshire can mean bitter cold nights. Anyone living in makeshift quarters is in for a rough time. A few nights ago, a woman living in a tent in Manchester gave birth and then allegedly misled emergency responders about her baby’s location. There’s no telling for sure what she was experiencing. Pain from labor and delivery; mental illness; chemical impairment; fear of losing the only shelter she had: any or all could have affected her judgment. Miraculously, the premature baby eventually was found alive and is now reportedly hospitalized. The mother faces charges including child endangerment.

The mother might not have been in a position to know about the Safe Haven law, which would have let her bring her newborn baby to any police or fire station – even a church – without any threat of prosecution for child endangerment or abandonment. Circumstances were terrible all around for mother and child that night. If there are any good outcomes from the media coverage of the night’s events, one is surely the mention of Safe Haven. Maybe some other mother and child will benefit from that.

New Hampshire’s Safe Haven law was passed in 2003. It was written to deter abandonment of newborn infants by allowing anyone to bring a child up to 7 days old to a “haven” – hospital, police or fire station, or church – with no questions asked, so that the child can be cared for even if the parent isn’t willing or able to do so.

I attended the hearings on that bill many years ago. Its passage was a bipartisan victory. The chief sponsor was Phyllis Woods, Republican from Dover. Among the eight other sponsors was Barbara Hull Richardson, Democrat from Keene. The House vote was 327-45. The Senate passed it on a voice vote after defeating an amendment proposed by the chamber’s six Democrats. Governor Craig Benson signed it in May 2003.

In short, it was as uncontroversial a life-issue bill as one could hope to see. It’s good for babies and good for a scared or desperate unprepared parent. And it only works if people know about it.