“We find the tables we need to be sitting at”

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.

Art contest entries at PLWC 2018
Montage of entries in art contest at 2018 Pro-Life Women’s Conference

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.

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Blogger at work: greetings from PLWC 2018!

 

 

On 3-2 votes, Council Okays Contracts with Abortion Providers

I’m going to tell you about a vote, and then I’m going to turn to Abby Johnson for comment. Stay with me here: no, she isn’t in New Hampshire and she has no idea what an Executive Council is, but something she published the same day as the Council’s vote is relevant.

The Vote

Overflow crowd outside Executive Council. Cornerstone Action photo/Facebook.

Family planning contracts were awarded to ten agencies by the New Hampshire Executive Council on November 8. Three of those contracts were with abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

All the contracts were approved. For the three that gave tax money to known abortion providers, the votes were 3-2. Councilors Joe Kenney and Dave Wheeler got it right. Councilors Andru Volinsky, Russell Prescott, and Chris Pappas didn’t. (Contact info here.)

The contracts were for non-abortion services. Of course, money from such contracts help keep the lights on and the facilities staffed for when abortions are done.

Abby Johnson’s Comment

If you read nothing else today, read Abby Johnson’s piece in the The Federalist entitled “7 Things I Learned At The Women’s Convention About Feminists And Abortion.” You could even forward it to your Councilor or to Governor Sununu, if you think he’d be interested.

Abby attended the recent national “Women’s Convention” in Detroit, saying “I chose to attend because wherever there are pro-choice voices, there ought to also be a pro-life voice.”

An excerpt:

We attended the “Planned Parenthood track” over the weekend, and learned a few things. First, Planned Parenthood is totally done using the word “choice.” They explained that by saying “choice,” we are assuming that one of the choices could be wrong. Huh? Anyway, now they are using the word “decision.” They feel that sounds much more positive and somehow helps to eliminate abortion stigma. They talked nonstop about eliminating abortion stigma. They want abortion to be normal….

The abortion industry is no longer hiding behind their “family planning” services. They are super proud of the abortions they commit. One woman in a panel, who worked for Planned Parenthood, even said Planned Parenthood should stop saying abortion is “only 3 percent of their services.” She said Planned Parenthood shouldn’t try to hide that the “majority of what they do in the clinics is to provide abortions.” Another thing I learned: these women are super honest about what the abortion industry is all about when they think no pro-lifers are around.

 

What’s Gone Right: a 5-Year Review

As the blog’s 5-year anniversary month winds up, I’ll take one last look back. It would be easy to reflect on things left undone, such as the failure to pass this or that pro-life law. Not today, though. This is about good news from the past half-decade. Just a few highlights.

Peaceful witness outside a Manchester NH abortion facility.

No buffer zones. There are no abortion-related buffer zones yet in New Hampshire. Abortion advocates in both parties whisked an anti-First-Amendment law onto the books in 2014, and they have yet to use it.

While the so-called buffer zones could be imposed any minute now, the fact that none are thus far in place can be credited in large part to the New Hampshire residents who went to court as soon as the law was signed, with support from the Alliance Defending Freedom legal team. New Hampshire residents are ready to step up again if ever the buffer zone law is used.

New Hampshire has a law banning partial-birth abortion. That’s a big deal. This is a state where the right to life is given short shrift in the State House, to the point where even a women’s-health measure like abortion statistics is rejected time and again.

It took enormous effort to pass the bill in 2012 over John Lynch’s veto.  You may recall that there was a 19-5 GOP majority in the state senate that year. The majority leader managed to persuade all 19 to support the partial-birth ban, whereupon the minority leader took to the Senate floor to compliment the majority leader for his masterful handling of the bill. As I said at the time,

…wait a minute here. Why was it such a big deal that a Republican majority leader got all of his caucus to support a bill to ban an abortion method that shades into infanticide? What is so controversial about that? Who had to be persuaded? (And why does the Democratic party defend partial-birth abortion?)

But I digress. The partial-birth ban was and is a good thing.

A new shelter for homeless pregnant women is coming to New Hampshire, as an existing one celebrates 30 years of service. I recently reported on the launching of the crowdfunding effort in support of St. Gianna’s Place. Over in Greenland, New Hampshire, New Generation has just turned 30.

These are grassroots projects by New Hampshire people who see neighbors in need and then work to serve them.

From a 40 Days for Life baby shower to benefit pregnancy care centers in greater Manchester NH

Pregnancy care centers are expanding their scope. Every New Hampshire pregnancy care worker I’ve met over the past five years has told me about services that extend far past crisis intervention and pregnancy tests. In fact, it’s time for me to re-name the blog’s “crisis pregnancy services” page.

Ultrasounds (and thank you, Knights of Columbus). Parenting classes. Clothing, baby needs, furniture and car seats. Referrals for services like housing. These aren’t add-ons. They’re integrated into a center’s mission.

A Stork Bus visits Manchester NH.

On the national scene, mobile ultrasound units have come a long way since this blog’s first post. To mention just one project, Save the Storks sent one of their “Stork Buses” to Manchester last year to demonstrate each unit’s capability to support a pregnancy care center. (A Stork Bus will soon visit Keene.) More than a hundred Stork Buses are now in use. Not bad for an agency that hired its first employee in 2013.

As a Save the Storks representative said, “We show up with resources and support. It brings hope into darkness, it brings light into darkness.”


Finally, another national note: I can’t look at pro-life cultural progress over the past five years without mentioning Abby Johnson. If she had done nothing but publish Unplanned, I’d be in her debt. She has since done much more. This is what can be done in five years.

    • As a former Planned Parenthood manager, Abby Johnson learned when she left PP that she faced financial, legal, and spiritual challenges on the “outside.” She founded And Then There Were None to support other people in her position. The ATTWN team has so far served hundreds of former abortion workers.
    • She co-wrote The Walls Are Talking, using her own high profile to draw attention to the life stories of former abortion workers.

  • The first Pro-Life Women’s Conference in 2016 was her brainchild – “can you believe it took 43 years to do this?” She brought together women from a variety of backgrounds – religious and secular, political and non-political – so that we could learn from each other and bring some new lessons home.
  • In every speech she makes, she tells about her Planned Parenthood experiences. She challenges PP’s “3%” claim and tells about its abortion quotas. She challenges abortion opponents who fail to see the need to build relationships with abortion workers. She calls for an increase in peaceful pro-life witness outside abortion facilities.

Good work from good people: spread the good news, and then go make some good news of your own.

From Abby Johnson’s speech at Dartmouth in 2014. Ellen Kolb photo.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

 

Weekend views & reading: voices to trust

As the “women’s marches” are winding down, I’m glad to hear from some pro-life women that their experience at the Washington March has been peaceful.

Video

Abby Johnson, expecting twins and having contractions at the march, describes the excitement and encouragement of her fellow marchers – including those who, without apparent irony, support abortion.

Aimee Murphy of Life Matters Journal was interviewed by MSNBC. Aimee, like me, is a Trump skeptic. Possibly a very different political outlook from yours, but pro-life for sure.

Remembering some Voices to Trust

While pro-life women are peacefully nudging their way into the spotlight this weekend, this is a good time to look back on this blog’s Voices to Trust series. The women profiled in the series have stories of their own, the likes of which are not being featured in most coverage of today’s marches.

“9 Days for Life” kicks off today

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a 9 Days for Life project, based on the Catholic tradition of a novena, or nine-day prayer effort for a special intention. People of all faiths are welcome to join. Read more about the project and get some good ideas for social media work over the next nine days.