The first book I ever bought when I acquired an e-reader was Unplanned by Abby Johnson. I had never heard of her before. I knew that the book was by an ex-Planned Parenthood worker, and I’d never met such a person, so I thought I might have something to learn by reading her book.
I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Abby’s story forced a course correction on the work I’d been doing my entire adult life. If not a correction, then an expansion. I had known abortion workers only from public hearings and press conferences. I’d certainly never known one who had left the industry.
My horizons have been expanded since the book was published in 2010. Unplanned nudged me out of my comfort zone.
Unplanned has been made into a movie, and it’ll be released in theaters next month, March 2019. I’m looking forward to it. Here’s the official trailer.
A New Year’s toast: to life! Thank you to the readers who have sustained Leaven for the Loaf, and thank you to everyone whose pro-life work has kept me inspired and challenged all along the way. Join me now as I pack away some artifacts of the year just ended.
It’s a mixed bag of topics for the most-viewed posts of 2018.
Gosnell: Film Review. In the hands of an inept screenwriter or the wrong director, this true-crime story could have gone badly awry. The makers of Gosnell got it right. The film will be coming to on-demand video and DVD in early 2019.
But Wait, There’s More. This was a brief report on an ill-advised bill that would have nullified New Hampshire’s parental notification law. The House later killed the bill.
Trust Women, You Say? Start Here. Coverage of January’s hearing on a bill, HB 1707, that would have established comprehensive informed consent requirements for abortion.
A Genteel Rant on Party Unity. In which I’m reminded (yet again) that political-party-linked activism is not always helpful in building a culture of life.
Abortion Statistics: “Inexpedient to Legislate.” “Two hundred [N.H.] legislators voted like people who are afraid of evidence-based public health policy and afraid of political retribution from abortion providers.” Another statistics bill has been introduced for 2019.
Slamming Shut a Doorway to Assisted Suicide. A state senator let slip that her proposed study committee on end-of-life issues was actually a path to an assisted suicide law. Her fellow senators took her at her word and killed her bill. A similar bill is on the way for the coming legislative session.
Why I’m Voting No on Question 2. A ballot question about adding a “privacy” amendment to the state constitution passed, not long after I posted this cautionary message. Time will tell if my concerns had merit.
I reported from the state and national Marches for Life in 2018, and I plan to do the same in 2019. On January 12, less than two weeks from now, you can attend any portion of the day-long program of events that accompany the march in Concord. The March for Life in Washington will be held the following Friday, January 18.
2018 brought two more 40 Days for Life campaigns. The next one is coming up in a little over a month, and you’ll be hearing more from me about that in the coming days.
I went to St. Louis, Missouri for the third annual Pro-Life Women’s Conference last June. The first PLWC in 2016 was organized by Abby Johnson and the team at And Then There Were None. Since then, the conference has grown to include a diverse group of speakers and attendees guaranteed to broaden the horizons of anyone working in the pro-life movement. For just one example, read the message from one of this year’s featured speakers, Savannah Marten: “We find the tables we need to be sitting at.”
The next Pro-Life Women’s Conference is scheduled for June 2019 in New Orleans. I’m already saving my pennies for it. Check out the event’s web site; you might want to make the trip, too.
Best Short Video: “Desperate Measures”
For media in 2018, the Gosnell film is in a class by itself. For short video, I was glad to find and share “Desperate Measures” by Sidewalk Advocates for Life. Featuring former abortion workers who are now committed pro-lifers, the video is a direct response to recent sit-ins and “rescues” at abortion facilities. The message is don’t do it – and here’s the better way to carry out peaceful pro-life witness.
I’ll be back at the State House to report on 2019 legislation including buffer zone repeal, abortion statistics, and death penalty repeal. I’ll venture to claim that since 2012, no other New Hampshire blog has covered life-issue bills in Concord to the extent attempted by this little enterprise called Leaven for the Loaf. I aim to keep it going.
When my travels lead me to inspirational people and places, you’ll hear about them.
Over a year ago, I had intended to publish an anthology of Leaven posts – and I’m glad I didn’t! The manuscript was not ready for prime time. In 2019, on a much more modest scale than first envisioned, the anthology will be ready.
As longtime readers will have noticed, Facebook and Twitter became significant extensions of the blog in 2018, especially during coverage of marches and conferences. If you’re not following those social media feeds yet, I invite you to do so.
The 2019 New Hampshire legislative session will begin on January 2, less than two weeks away. It actually began when the reps were sworn in a few weeks ago, but the real fun begins in January. Get your communications toolkit ready. One important item to include: the state General Court web site (“General Court” is the formal name for our legislature, reps and senators alike). Head over to http://gencourt.state.nh.us.
Bookmark it. Study it. Find your reps on it. Make a note of their street addresses and email addresses and phone numbers. Poke around the General Court web site at your leisure and make yourself at home.
The web site for the New Hampshire Executive Council has not yet been updated with the winners of November’s election. Watch for the new names and contact information in January.
If you haven’t already done so, meet your state representatives and senator and executive councilor. Watch for them at local events, and introduce yourself. Let them get to know you. Make sure they know you’re a neighbor and you’re paying attention to what they do in office.
Make note of Governor Sununu’s office phone number: 603-271-2121.
I predicted a year ago that the New Hampshire House would lose 20 pro-life votes in the 2018 election. I was right about the election, and the losses were compounded by representatives who chose not to run again. (New Hampshire legislators are paid $100 per year, so making a living must take priority eventually.) All the more reason to keep handy the contact information for your newly-elected representatives. They might not be used to hearing from pro-life constituents. Prepare to expand their horizons.
Second in a series of reports from the 2018 Pro-Life Women’s Conference. Part one is here.
My first look at the long list of speakers for the third annual Pro-Life Women’s Conference (PLWC) told me that there weren’t enough hours on the clock for me to be able to hear all of them. And then at the very first gathering – a Friday night dinner – the organizers threw an unscheduled speaker into the already-full program. I had never heard of her.
I thought Really? Sticking someone right after Serrin Foster? That’s just unkind. The longtime leader of Feminists for Life had keynoted the gathering with a challenging talk. She’s a tough act to follow.
I needn’t have been concerned. Savannah Marten could take care of herself.
Revolutionizing the Conversation
Conference emcee Abby Johnson introduced Marten, who’s the director of The Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo (Ohio). “She is someone who is willing to build bridges. What Savannah has done has absolutely revolutionized the conversation about what it means to be pro-life.”
What she’s done is push past her comfort zone, into working relationships with unconventional allies. That theme was to come up again and again during the conference.
Savannah said that three days into her job as The Pregnancy Center’s director, she was asked by a community leader what the Center was doing about infant mortality. “I said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I was mortified that I had been in the pro-life community for seven years and hadn’t heard one person talking about infant mortality.”
I later looked up figures from the Centers for Disease Control: in 2016, New Hampshire’s infant mortality rate was 3.7 (deaths per 1,000 live births). Nationwide, the rate was 5.9. In Savannah’s state, Ohio, the rate was 7.4. “In my state, the state of Ohio, we are 49th out of 50 for African-American babies dying before their first birthday.
“The pro-life community should be number one in the community showing up for this topic. My life motto is…’what table do I need to be at to be able to use my voice of influence?’ We find the tables we need to be sitting at in order to effectively advance this cause. Where tables do not exist, we build them, and we invite our community to those tables.”
This is when I started taking notes. I knew I was about to hear a story worth sharing.
“I knocked on every door”
She began to educate herself by reaching out to people already working with at-risk women. “I knocked on every door I possibly could in my community. I said ‘I’m not here to talk about abortion. I’m not here to talk about politics. I’m not here to talk to you about anything other than why black babies are not making it to their first birthdays in our community.’ And they invited me to the table.
“These are people who have even stood outside of my pregnancy center with signs in protest. Now all of a sudden they’re welcoming me to the table.”
Faith leaders with whom Savannah had never spoken before were critical to the conversation. “We began to interact with the African-American faith community. Our center had existed for 32 years, and not one predominantly African-American church had any sort of partnership [with us]. I simply said ‘walk me through your neighborhood and talk to me about what is going on in your neighborhood. Talk to me about the babies.’
“And suddenly they began to talk. They began to want to sit down and hear about what we were doing at the pregnancy center.” Over time, mutual trust and respect developed.
Working with a hospital
Savannah’s next step was to approach the major hospital in her area, on behalf of her pregnancy center. “[Hospital representatives] learned that women come to my pregnancy center, at five or six weeks gestation, and they are the number one women at risk for infant mortality and low birth weight. [Later in pregnancy] this hospital cannot even get them to show up for their appointments. Most of them show up at the emergency room and deliver their children there. And we wonder why [children] are not making it to their first birthday.”
Meeting after meeting followed, progress coming by inches. Eventually, a breakthrough: “the largest hospital in northwest Ohio…gave us access to their scheduler.”
Now, “every woman who comes in [to The Pregnancy Center] for an ultrasound leaves our facility with an OB/GYN appointment scheduled for them. If they leave our center and they wait another six weeks to call [the hospital for an appointment], they’re not going to get in.
“We cannot be satisfied with handing these women pamphlet after pamphlet, and referral after referral. Women who are in poverty, women who are in crisis, need more than referrals. They need a life raft. That’s what we’re committed to do.”
Anyone who has been involved in interagency collaborations knows that conflicts arise, some of them irreconcilable. Savannah was faced with one shortly after the scheduling breakthrough with the hospital. “The same week that this hospital gave us access to their scheduler, they signed a transfer agreement with our city’s last abortion facility. I was plagued with this question: do we back out from providing thousands of women health care, because a hospital didn’t make a church decision? Or do we live by our core principle that says we come to the table to effect change and influence those in our community?”
She made a decision that brought her criticism from some pro-life allies. I think her experience is instructive. “Among unpopular opinion, we chose to continue our partnership with this hospital. If the abortion facility is going to enter into a partnership and influence our hospital, then the pro-life community should be at that same table advocating [for] what women in our community need.”
And by the way, that hospital has just accepted Savannah Marten’s application for a board position.
“This is how we effect change. We go to the tables we’re not comfortable in, the tables we’re not invited to, the tables that cause us to think differently and look at things differently.”
“We need Esthers”
Savannah Marten is Christian, and she used a Biblical reference to challenge her listeners at the conference. “We need Esthers to arise. We need Esthers who will stand up and catch the ear of the men and women of influence in our community. But we haven’t done that. We hide in our little pro-life communities. There’s no excuse. There’s no reason for us to hide. Because I have been crucified with Christ, and no longer I who live but he who lives in me. You have nothing to be afraid of. We already have the victory. Be joyful. Stay hopeful. ”
(The PLWC is a non-sectarian gathering, but that doesn’t mean any speaker is bashful about expressing her beliefs.)
She spoke about a community leader, a big-time Democrat, whom she has come to know during her tenure at the Pregnancy Center of Greater Toledo. One day he said to her, “I am now proudly pro-life, because you’ve shown me what true pro-life looks like.”
Savannah Marten could have dismissed as a distraction that long-ago question about infant mortality. She could have discounted it because it came from someone not supportive of her Center’s work. Instead, she had enough humility to acknowledge that she had something to learn. She had the guts to walk up to people she didn’t know and say “please show me around.” She had the patience to work to gain trust from hospital representatives.
And now, she wants to see more of us going out and finding, or building, those tables where conversations can take place.
Two years after repeal of New Hampshire’s death penalty law failed on a tie vote in the Senate, the Senate has approved SB 593 on a 14-10 vote. The bill would change the penalty for capital murder to life imprisonment without the possibility for parole.
SB 593 has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee where a hearing is yet to be scheduled.
SINCE THE DEATH penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1973, for every 10 people who have been executed across the country, one person has been exonerated. Can we continue to live with a 10 percent wrongful conviction rate in capital punishment cases? I cannot, which is why I have introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire.
I have reached the point where no argument made in favor of capital punishment can overcome the reality that having the death penalty inevitably means that innocent people have been and will continue to be wrongfully convicted and executed. The only way to guarantee that the innocent are not wrongfully executed is to abolish capital punishment.
A Union Leader news report published the day after the Senate hearing on the bill said that people testifying in opposition included the president of the N.H. Chiefs of Police Association, the chief steward of the Manchester Police Patrolmen’s Association and president of the New Hampshire Police Association. The report also said that Governor Chris Sununu has threatened to veto the bill in the form passed by the Senate.