“I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down”

Adapted from a 2015 post on this blog.

Peaceful pro-life witness is not Activism Lite.

Recall what peaceful witness called for in 1963, in the face of angry and sometimes violent resistance that had deep political and social roots. Recall Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from those days: I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down.

In 1963, a few months before Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, he and many other civil rights activists converged on Birmingham, Alabama to challenge racial segregation. Their campaign was marked by intensive planning and discipline, because the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was intent not only on its message but on delivering it the right way. Volunteers for the Birmingham campaign were screened and trained, as King recounted in Why We Can’t Wait. He noted, “Every volunteer was required to sign a Commitment Card.”

Comprehensive commitment

To what did the Birmingham activists commit?

I hereby pledge myself – my person and body – to the nonviolent movement. Therefore I will keep the following ten commandments:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain of the demonstration.

King added, “We made it clear that we would not send anyone out to demonstrate who had not convinced himself and us that he could accept and endure violence without retaliating” during the campaign. That took guts. It meant putting aside the natural right of self-defense during the demonstration, even as they faced people who had no qualms about using violence, including bombs.

I want to take the Birmingham commitment to heart.

Witnessing with accountability

Anyone can sign a piece of paper (or in this age, click on “I agree”) signifying a commitment. So why bother? Because nonviolence during a public demonstration isn’t something to take for granted. Public affirmation reinforces personal commitment. Public affirmation is part of accountability to the larger community. It draws a clear line between those peaceful demonstrators and any people willing to resort to violence to impede them.

I have neighbors who take umbrage at the assertion that today’s pro-life movement is part of the civil rights movement that came to flower at that March on Washington in ’63. In reply, I can only avow that life is the fundamental civil and human right. Abortion takes lives, and there are businesses that profit from it. Let peaceful public witness to that continue.

I haven’t endured the physical abuse to which the Birmingham demonstrators were subjected. Their example is awesome even today. They faced police dogs and fire hoses, and still made a commitment to nonviolent public witness and action. The best way for me to honor their memory is to emulate them, even though I’ve faced nothing worse so far than name-calling.

The immoderate “moderates”

Recall that the nonviolent demonstrators in Birmingham were far from passive. There was urgency in their goal of justice and reconciliation. From a 1963 UPI report on the Birmingham demonstrations: “King reacted strongly, however, to a statement by Attorney General Robert Kennedy suggesting that the all-out integration drive here was ill-timed. ‘I grow weary of those who ask us to slow down,’ King told a reporter. ‘I begin to feel that the moderates in America are our worst enemy.’”

King used the word “moderate” ironically. He knew that civil rights, but not yet was a phony kind of moderation. In the same manner, denying the right to life is hardly a moderate position, even when cloaked in euphemisms like “reproductive justice.”

The events and words of 1963 aren’t frozen in place, devoid of application to our own times. View them not as an archaeologist views a dig, but as a traveler views a map: take this path, not that one. I could do worse than follow the people who signed those cards in Birmingham.

An Alternative Pilgrimage

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester has released Pilgrims for Life: a digital guide for prayer and advocacy, which “offers ideas and resources for us to continue our strong, Pro-Life advocacy even though we won’t be boarding busses [sic] to D.C. this coming January.”

Some of us have wondered whether COVID concerns might affect diocesan-sponsored transportation to the January March for Life in Washington DC. Now we know. I’m a little sad, but not surprised. I’ve been on some of those diocesan pilgrimages to past Marches, and “social distancing” is at best an amusing notion in that environment.

The March goes on

The national March for Life itself is still scheduled for January 29, 2021, regardless of how scarce bus transportation might be. The Roe v. Wade decision will be 48 years old on January 22, and it still needs to be challenged socially as well as judicially. There’s no word yet about New Hampshire’s own 2021 pro-life rally and march in Concord, which is usually scheduled and managed by New Hampshire Right to Life independent of the national event.

While the annual diocesan bus caravan has always carried hundreds of people to the national March, it’s not the only way to get to Washington. Some faith communities arrange their own bus or carpool. I’ve taken the train from Boston to Washington, overnight both ways. I’ve flown down and back in a day, when I’ve found deep-discount airfares. There’s always I-95. If you want to get to the March for Life, you have options.

Pray, Advocate, Unite

The Pilgrims for Life program is not a virtual march. (I like it already.) It is intended to be an ongoing program of prayer, advocacy, and unity leading up to the March, to “build up a culture of life in New Hampshire and beyond.” To summarize briefly the 13-page guide:

Prayer will include special services at churches throughout the diocese in mid to late January.

Advocacy includes taking action on relevant public policy issues, including life-issue bills in Concord.

Unity – “unit[ing] our intentions, prayers, and actions around the same cause” – includes a suggestion to take the money one would otherwise have spent on a trip to Washington and donating it instead to a pro-life cause. I love that idea. A DC trip for me, even a one-day down-and-back sprint, is easily $200. That includes a couple of bucks for an indispensable hot pretzel purchased from a vendor on the National Mall. (I travel in style.)

The guide has many more ideas for your consideration.

What’s your plan?

If your own church or community group decides to head down to the March, let me know. I’d like to hear about your experience. If you typically make the trip but decide to forgo it in 2021, I’d like to know if you decide to participate in a local effort instead.

I still haven’t decided on whether to travel to Washington for the March. It is an extraordinary opportunity to meet and learn from people from different backgrounds with different pro-life ministries. If I go, I’ll cover it for my readers as usual. If I skip the trip, I’m confident there will be plenty to write about here at home.

For more information: Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, Respect Life and Pilgrims for Life

Fall 2020 40 Days for Life begins September 23

The next 40 Days for Life campaign will begin on Wednesday, September 23, in 588 cities around the world. New Hampshire campaigns are in Manchester outside Planned Parenthood’s Pennacook Street office, and in Greenland outside the Lovering Health Center.

40DFL is a twice-a-year coordinated campaign to end abortion through three actions: prayer and fasting; community outreach; and peaceful public witness (prayer vigil) outside abortion facilities.

Signups for vigil hours are available online. All volunteers must agree to 40DFL’s Statement of Peace. Each campaign has its own newsletter for updating participants. The campaigns’ websites outline COVID-prevention measures for participants, including social distancing during vigils.

Abortions go on during the pandemic, so 40DFL keeps going, too.

For the Manchester campaign: 40daysforlife.com/manchester

For the Greenland campaign: 40daysforlife.com/greenland

Veto sustained: abortion insurance mandate bill fails

The New Hampshire House has sustained Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of HB 685, which would have created an abortion insurance mandate applicable to certain health insurance policies.

The vote on the veto override attempt was 195-139, well short of the two-thirds majority required for override. (“Yea” indicated support for the override; “Nay” indicated support for the Governor’s veto.)

The vote broke down along party lines. One Republican (Skip Rollins, R-Newport) joined 194 Democrats in supporting the override. Democrats Barbara Shaw (D-Manchester) and Mark Vallone (D-Epping) joined 137 Republicans in voting to sustain the veto.

Pro and Con

Rep. Rebecca McBeath (D-Portsmouth), speaking to colleagues before the override vote, said “abortion care is an essential procedure for women’s health.” In 2019 McBeath voted against collecting and reporting abortion statistics as a public health measure – something that 47 other states do. Further, Rep. McBeath has not taken any steps I know of to require New Hampshire abortion providers to have any medical training.

Rep. McBeath cited the new privacy amendment to the state constitution as another reason for overturning the veto. I wrote about that amendment before it came to a vote in 2018, warning how it could be misused by abortion advocates.

Given a chance to make a brief statement in favor of sustaining the Governor’s veto, Rep. Kim Rice (R-Hudson) reminded her colleagues that HB 685 would have put New Hampshire afoul of a federal law (the Weldon amendment), thereby costing the state millions of dollars.

In his veto message, Governor Sununu cited the Weldon Amendment as one reason for his action. He went on to say, “This legislation is unnecessary, and would threaten the State’s ability to receive federal funding for our many healthcare programs in the middle of a global pandemic. The vast majority of the commercially insured in New Hampshire already have coverage of abortion services. The legislation also raises constitutional concerns by forcing employers who morally object to offering coverage that violates their religious tenets.”

Edited to add link to House roll call vote.

Pro-life agencies need your help

Pro-life agencies offering services to pregnant and parenting women throughout New Hampshire are still in business, even as pandemic-suppression policies are forcing nonprofits to re-evaluate how they carry out their missions. Each center has its own needs. That means each center offers opportunities for service.

Finding a local agency

In a recent Leaven for the Loaf Facebook video, I asked staff and volunteers at New Hampshire pro-life pregnancy care agencies to share their needs. I knew already that agencies aren’t all alike. I learned that the COVID-suppression policies were having different impacts in different areas.

My wish to develop a one-stop list of volunteer opportunities quickly went poof. In the odd conditions under which we’ve all been living for the past few months, an agency’s needs can change suddenly.

Find out what’s in your own backyard. There’s a list on this blog of New Hampshire agencies that offer assistance to pregnant and parenting women and their partners, and do so without performing or referring for abortions.

Fundraising: finding new approaches

Imagine you’re the executive director of a nonprofit that provides human services. Your annual budget includes anticipated revenues from a banquet, a yard sale, and a collection from a local church. Those revenue sources have been reliable. Then comes COVID-19.

No banquets. Limited yard sales. Church routines turned upside-down.

That’s the reality for every executive director of a pro-life agency in New Hampshire. Each must find new ways to serve clients, while being innovative in fundraising.

If you’re in a position to help financially, now is a good time to do so. Find out which agencies have missions close to your heart. There will never be a better time to offer your support. This is a time for generosity informed by creativity.

A sample of current needs

Perhaps you have a calling to assist with housing or employment counseling. Maybe you’d be perfect for leading a parenting class. Maybe you have creative fundraising ideas, or a gift for crisis counseling, or the administrative skills to help re-open an office. Call your nearest agency and find out what clients need at the moment. You might find a Wish List on an agency’s website.

The information below is a sampling of the needs of some New Hampshire pro-life ministries.

Birthright of Manchester has just re-opened its office after a months-long closure due to community-wide COVID precautions. Their main annual fundraiser is a Mother’s Day flower sale, which could not be held this year. Donations to make up for that lost flower sale are most welcome.

St. Gianna’s Place provides housing for pregnant and parenting women. Even your spare change can help! Check out the Baby Bottle Campaign, which has gone virtual. There’s a St. Gianna’s Wish List you can help fulfill. The annual banquet has unfortunately been cancelled.

Pennacook Pregnancy Center‘s Facebook page is frequently updated not only with needs (diapers and wipes, and don’t forget toddler sizes), but with offers of specific equipment available for families.

Real Options: watch the Facebook pages for the Nashua and Manchester offices for information on services and needs. Inquiries via Facebook appear to be answered promptly, or you can call (603) 883-1122 (Nashua) or (603) 623-1122 (Manchester).

Service is always in style. To everyone who helps pro-life direct-service ministries thrive, thank you.

(Edited to note cancellation of St. Gianna’s Place fundraising banquet.)