A cloudy January thaw gave way to a freezing but brilliantly-sunny day for the 2018 March for Life in Concord, New Hampshire. New Hampshire Right to Life’s annual event drew more than 300 marchers for the procession down Main Street beginning at the State House.
The march route goes past the Equality Center, an abortion facility on Main Street. The city of Concord has developed over the years a way of handling the March for Life and the counter-demonstration that accompanies it: every other year, the March for Life may walk in front of the Center. Other years, the marchers must detour a block around the Center. 2018 was a Main Street year. The counter-demonstrators concealed from view the sign near the Center’s front steps declaring “Respectful, Open, Affirming.”
I spotted a few state representatives: Reps. Glenn Cordelli, Linda Gould, Steve Negron, and Jeanine Notter. Rep. Notter spoke to marchers about her bill on informed consent for abortion (HB 1707), which will have its committee hearing in Concord on Wednesday, January 17. Rep. Negron spoke briefly about his campaign for the Congressional seat currently held by Ann McLane Kuster.
I’m home again after a 45-hour trip to the March for Life in Washington, DC. Most of that time was spent on a bus, and God bless the driver who took us safely to and fro.
A few thoughts as I decompress from the journey:
The March skews young. This was my fifth or sixth trip to a national March for Life. Back in 1993 at my first one, the presence of thousands of high school and college students surprised me. Now, nearly a quarter of a century later, high school and college students all but own the March. They show anyone who’s paying attention that the pro-life movement is not going away, and it’s broadening in scope at the grassroots level.
Member of Congress Mia Love of Utah owned the stage at the pre-March rally. That’s hard to do when you share a stage with Abby Johnson, Cardinal Dolan, and a Vice-President. Hands-down, she showed how it’s done. The rally went on way too long with too many speakers, running until half an hour after the scheduled start of the march, but I would happily have listened to Love all afternoon.
Save The 1 was highly visible along the march route, and New Hampshire’s Darlene Pawlik was right there. Think of the women of Save the 1 whenever you come across an abortion regulation with a rape-and-incest exception.
I did not make the trip intending to attend a Trump rally. The pre-March rally came dangerously close to being one anyway. I did not vote for now-President Trump. To be sure, I am gratified by his recent reinstatement of the Mexico City policy. I was hugely entertained by his recent calling-out (or shaming, as AOL prefers to say) of media outlets that downplay the Marches year after year. So he has made one respectful gesture toward the conscience rights of pro-life Americans, and he has called for better March for Life coverage. Let’s say the President has dabbled one toe in a single aspect of pro-life policy. He has a lot to learn. I hope he realizes that.
That said, I was happy to see Vice-President Mike Pence speak at the pre-March rally. This was practically Old Home Day for him, since he has spoken at past Marches back when he was in humbler offices. His presence this year, as Vice-President, was momentous.
About that: the announcement of his participation came only the day before the March, and I heard about it with my fellow passengers as our bus rolled down the New Jersey Turnpike. Two thoughts collided – hey! this is great! followed by omigosh, the security thing…! The March has never had to deal with Secret Service protocol before. It was an inconvenience, and it kept many people at a distance from the rally (see below). As it happened, the Secret Service agents at the station I went through on the morning of the rally were efficient, businesslike, and good-humored, kinda like they’re used to this sort of thing.
I’ve never been in the midst of a bigger crowd. There’s one stretch of the march route, going up Capitol Hill, where it’s possible for a marcher to see what’s ahead and behind. I could see only waves and waves of fellow marchers – no beginning or end in sight.
No photo or report of the rally size could possibly do justice to the size of the March itself. The Secret Service set up a security perimeter on part of the National Mall. No one could bring a backpack inside the perimeter. Keep in mind that marchers from around the country learned this while they were already enroute to DC. What do college students use to carry their gear for a full day? Yup – backpacks. Solution: stand just outside the perimeter fence in order to hear all the speakers at the rally. Cameras scanning the inside-perimeter crowd missed everyone outside.
March organizers are apparently trying to make the pre-march rally as big a deal as the March itself. I suspected as much in 2016 when the rally was not shortened in spite of a blizzard warning. (I’m still shaking my head over that decision.) I will never buy into that shift in emphasis. With all due respect to this year’s eleven scheduled speakers, when I travel to Washington for the March for Life, it’s not to listen to speeches. Not eleven of them, at any rate.
I saw more press trucks and reporters than usual, although I don’t know how that played out on-air. Why the increase? I think Pence’s presence, Trump’s public references to poor coverage of earlier marches, and a journalistic desire to compare the March for Life with the “Women’s March” of the previous Saturday all played a role.
I’d say something about the New Hampshire Congressional delegation’s participation, if there had been any.
Three cheers for Bishop Libasci. I am a Catholic woman who traveled to the March with other New Hampshire Catholics. I was surprised and delighted that we were met at our bus departure point at 5:45 in the morning by the bishop himself, seeing us off with a smile and a prayer. I later learned that he had been in Bedford a half-hour earlier to see off another busload of March for Life pilgrims.
He didn’t have to do that. I’m glad he took the time.
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Rebecca Kiessling of Save the 1 was conceived in rape, and she has one question about rape-and-incest exceptions to abortion regulation: “did I deserve the death penalty?”
I interviewed Rebecca a couple of years ago. When asked about the no-exceptions position being a tough sell, she replied, “We need to speak words of life and value. Even pro-lifers need to be careful in the way they communicate. We want to change hearts and minds….Point out that rape and incest exceptions benefit the perpetrator. Abortion hides evidence of his crime. Protect a woman from rape and abortion, not from a baby.”
Darlene Pawlik of New Hampshire, also of Save the 1, is a trustee of New Hampshire Right to Life. She was conceived in rape and as a teenager was sexually trafficked. Today, she speaks and writes about the need to defend life at all stages, regardless of the circumstances of conception. In a 2013 interview with me, Darlene said that when she decided to go public with her story, a friend advised her not to. Darlene went ahead anyway. “I said stop. No more secrets. I am the ‘exception.’”
Darlene’s web site, thedarlingprincess.com, carries the tag line “Bad beginnings do not necessitate bad endings.” She writes, “I am so passionate about the value of every life; whether one is conceived with wine and roses, in a test tube or as a result of violence. I absolut[e]ly reject the utilitarian view that people are valuable only if they can contribute to society in arbitrarily contrived ways. We should all hold to the Declaration of Independence’s admonition that each of us is endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights: the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. One’s right to life trumps all other rights.”
More than sixty people gathered in Manchester on Monday for an evening of prayer, pizza, and preparation in advance of Wednesday’s 40 Days for Life launch. A similar rally was held the previous day in Greenland. In Manchester, Save the 1’s Darlene Pawlik and attorney Michael Tierney were the featured speakers at the event emceed by 40DFL coordinator Jen Robidoux.
Quoting 40DFL leaders David Bereit and Shawn Carney, Jen said, “We are the last sign of hope for the mother and baby when they arrive, but also the first sign of mercy to the women as they leave.” She and her leadership team have ambitious goals, and they urge everyone volunteering for 40DFL to invite others to join in. “Invite people from your church – remember, 40 Days for Life is nondenominational. Invite people to events like the midpoint rally. Let’s fill those vigil hours [7 a.m.-7 p.m., seven days a week]. It’s time to blow the trumpets of victory. Tonight is the beginning of the end of abortion in Manchester.”
Jen reminded everyone that accepting 40DFL’s Statement of Peace is a requirement for participation in the campaign. Common sense dictates that people praying on the sidewalk outside abortion facilities keep a cell phone or camera handy to record any incidents, and “pray with at least one other person.” (As someone who’s on the calendar for some 7 a.m. shifts, I know I can expect some solo time. Still, her guidelines make sense.)
Darlene is fresh from an appearance on Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk, where she joined other Save the 1 representatives to talk about why she’s pro-life in all circumstances, especially “hard cases” like rape – because she herself is a child of rape and a survivor of sexual trafficking. She’s a New Hampshire activist with a heart for women and girls in crisis, particularly those who are being sexually abused. “The girls are hard” when they approach abortion facilities, she warned. From her own experience, she knows that some of the teens at abortion facilities are brought there by their abusers. “The mindset is ‘this is what I have to do; I can’t tell my parents.’ Your message needs to be ‘there are places you can go besides here.'” To sidewalk counselors, she says “You’re the heroes here.”
Michael began with a brisk reminder: “This is not a picket or a protest, and it IS legal.” His listeners were eager for an update on the buffer zone lawsuit, Reddy v. Foster. “The buffer zone law is all about squelching pro-life speech. Why? Because the pro-life message, especially prayer, is effective.” In a status report filed in federal court last Friday, all parties to the suit agreed that there had been no “factual changes” since a temporary restraining order was issued in July to block enforcement of New Hampshire’s buffer zone law. The restraining order thus remains in place. He asked participants to contact him or Jen Robidoux if any signs go up outside facilities, delineating a zone – “we need to report that to the Court.”
Why did New Hampshire go ahead with a law targeting free speech, right after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar law from Massachusetts? After all, the Supreme Court decision prompted the cities of Burlington, VT and Portland, ME to repeal abortion facility “buffer” laws. MIchael said that New Hampshire is attempting to show that its law is different, because the state itself isn’t squelching speech, but merely giving abortion providers the option of doing so. A novel approach, to be sure. It’s possible that the law might be repealed by legislators next January. Michael warned that it’s an open question whether it would be a straight repeal or a repeal followed by replacement with something worse.
Speaking of the Planned Parenthood facility in Manchester, where 40DFL has had several campaigns, Michael said PP knows it can’t defend the law. “So, they’re trying to figure out what they can get from people outside to show that we need a buffer zone. Be on your best behavior not because there are video cameras, but because of point #3 [in the 40DFL statement of peace]: ‘I will show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all abortion facility employees, volunteers and customers.’ It’s as simple as that. Think about how best you can show Christ’s love, and you’ll be fine. Just because a person goes into a clinic, it doesn’t mean you’re not having a positive effect.”
Photos from the Greenland kickoff rally (photos by Jen Robidoux)