Doorways, and why they matter

A bit of thought-provoking reading to take into your weekend: check out this post by Mollie Hemingway in The Federalist. The title of her piece might put you off: “Virginia’s blood-spattered abortion clinics and onerous hallway widths.” Keep reading her essay. It all comes together.

As abortion regulations are enacted around the nation, representatives of the abortion industry raise bitter objections to putting architectural requirements into clinic regs. Why should a woman seeking abortion care how wide the hallways and doorways are inside the abortion facility? Isn’t this an attempt to force facilities to shut down, since remodeling an existing office is almost never cost-effective in the abortion industry?

No. The width of halls and doorways in a health care facility is a matter of patient safety, not provider convenience. Try evacuating an unresponsive patient from a clinic in an emergency situation. Suddenly, those wide doors and halls make sense.

I’ve kept a copy of the grand jury report on Kermit Gosnell, from January 2011. It’s basic reading for anyone, of any persuasion, who’s going to remark on abortion-facility regulations. The night Gosnell’s abortion-and-infanticide practice was finally raided, his sedated patients couldn’t walk on their own. Extricating them was a problem, since halls and doorways weren’t designed to accommodate stretchers (page 21, grand jury report).

Those women weren’t trapped by the dirty equipment throughout the facility, or by the jars of aborted children scattered around. Block those out of your mind, if you can. Imagine that the only problems were narrow doorways and halls. Women were stuck too long because Gosnell did not care enough about women’s health to provide for emergency access.

Amazingly, long after the grand jury report, after Gosnell has been convicted and imprisoned, abortion providers still fight laws like the one in Virginia that prompted Mollie Hemingway to write her post.

I think any legislator or bureaucrat considering regulations on abortion facilities should buy a tape measure. Then go take some photos and make some measurements: an abortion facility’s doors and hallways, and another ambulatory-care facility’s doors and hallways. Have the local EMTs show you what they take into a building to bring out an immobile patient – again, take photos and measurements.

That’s sketchy data, but it’s a start. You want data-driven regulations? Fine. Collect the data. I am skeptical of anyone who tells me that my rights as a woman can only be respected by guaranteeing that I’m entitled to two different safety standards, two different door widths, two different hallway requirements.

If abortion advocates think abortion is health care, they can treat it like health care, right down to the width of the doorways.

Abortion facility closures are only one step

“When an abortion clinic closes in your community, then your prolife work is not over.” So says Abby Johnson, ex-PP worker and a woman who knows what she’s talking about.

If you’re on Facebook, be sure you’re following “Abby Johnson: Pro-Life advocate.” Her post today begins with the words I’ve quoted, and then she goes on to say:

In fact that is just the beginning of true prolife work. There are still women who will find themselves in crisis pregnancies. There are pregnant women who will need housing. There will be schools who need educators to come in and teach kids the beauty of abstinence. There will be women who need annual exams from prolife providers. I am not just prolife. I am prowoman. I am profamily.

Abby Johnson (photo from her Facebook page)
Abby Johnson (photo from her Facebook page)

Abby’s reminding me that this isn’t a temp job.

Feeling overwhelmed because the culture of life is such a huge project? No need. Do what you can, where you are. Ministries abound. No need to engage in all of them. I have special authority on this as a mom, in my humble opinion. Parents definitely can’t do it all – but we can take care of our children, which is as downright pro-life as you can get.

On the other hand, are you inactive, thinking that your friends have it covered, or that you can’t make a difference with your limited time & resources? Wrong.

You can welcome and console the young woman you know – maybe your own daughter – who’s pregnant and afraid to tell the people she loves. You can be there for the son or nephew or husband who feels panicked by a partner’s pregnancy.

You can pray.

You can add a box of diapers to your grocery cart once a month and donate it to your nearest pro-life pregnancy center.

You can ask your faith community’s leader if there’s anything you can do in your community to promote respect for life. He or she will probably love you for it. Ministers are stretched to the breaking point already, and knowing more people are willing to take on a project will be a blessing for them.

You can make sure your legislators know where you stand on bills affecting the right to life. I do my best to keep my readers informed about New Hampshire bills; every state has its own resources. Let me know if you can’t find your area’s information, and I’ll try to point you in the right direction.

You can make choices in your own life that will help you disengage from a “health” care provider who also does (or refers for) abortions. Every time an abortion provider testifies in Concord, she assures the representatives that abortion is just a tiny part of the practice, compared to all the Really Useful Work that goes on. If you depend on these providers for your regular health care, you’re being used as a human shield against abortion regulation. Hit those providers in the wallet by taking your business elsewhere.

And so on. The peaceful, constructive possibilities are endless.

Abby is absolutely on target with her post today. Pro-life work isn’t something that will end. It will evolve, though, and there will always be great and small things to be done by peaceful, determined people of good will.

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40DFL leader visits Manchester NH for midpoint rally

Steve Karlen got off a plane in New Hampshire Tuesday afternoon and was on Pennacook Street in Manchester by 1:30. He was due to be in Greenland, an hour away toward the Seacoast, at 4. Later, he was expected in Haverhill, Massachusetts. His trip will take him to southern New England and finally to Schenectady, New York, before he gets to go home to Wisconsin. That’s what it’s like to be North American outreach director for 40 Days for Life.

Bob Melnyk, Manchester's 40DFL coordinator, with Steve Karlen
Bob Melnyk, Manchester’s 40DFL coordinator, with Steve Karlen. Ellen Kolb photo.

(Yes, “North American.” 40DFL has gone global.)

Midpoint message: “stand strong”

Bob Melnyk photo.
Bob Melnyk photo.

Steve’s whirlwind tour of New England comes at the midway point of the current 40DFL campaign, which began September 25.  He enjoys his field work. As he told participants outside Manchester’s PP facility today, “This is where the action is taking place. You may be the only thing standing between Planned Parenthood and a post-abortive woman, or between Planned Parenthood and children who are particularly vulnerable to abortion.” He’s aware that the 40-day twice-a-year campaigns can be challenging; his own involvement with 40DFL dates back to the second-ever campaign in the spring of 2008. “Zeal may be giving way to exhaustion. Stand strong; you are the light of Christ here.”

Praying outside PP in Manchester (E. Kolb photo)
Praying outside PP in Manchester (E. Kolb photo)

I was present today to hear Steve as he spoke to about twenty people (who didn’t look the least bit exhausted) in front of the Pray for Life center across the street from PP. Then, as we did last night during a midpoint evening vigil, we crossed the street to pray quietly in front of PP. The office, while open for business, seemed dormant. The local 40DFL regulars have told me that the big-traffic day is Thursday weekly, when surgical abortions are done.

What are they hearing?

Last night’s vigil brought thirty of us together for prayer at 7 p.m., as PP was closing for the day. A lone security guard was posted at the entrance to the parking lot. He regarded us with curiosity as we prayed while walking in line, doing circuits between PP and the Pray for Life center. I brought up the rear. As I drew level with the guard, he remarked, “If this is all you’re going to do, I’ve got it made.” We chuckled as I proceeded on my way.

Think about that. What was he told to expect? 40DFL is an expressly peaceful effort. What are PP employees telling people? I have to wonder if something Steve said today is a factor: “Abortion centers are closing at a pace unprecedented since Roe v. Wade.” This coincides with the 40DFL campaigns beginning in 2007. Bad for business, I guess, leaving no room for kindness (or accuracy?) when describing 40DFL to employees and clients.

Pastor Colageo of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Manchester, reading from Psalms at 40DFL vigil. E. Kolb photo.
Pastor Colageo of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Manchester, reading from Psalms at 40DFL vigil (E. Kolb photo)

Building a strong campaign

Before Steve spoke to the gathering this afternoon, local coordinator Bob Melnyk asked him how he had established a consistently strong 40DFL effort back home in Madison, Wisconsin. “A lot of time on the phone, bulk emails, all building the base.” He gave credit to his local team, acknowledging “many hands make light loads.” What’s a lot of time on the phone? “Calls two or three hours a night, four nights a week.”

Wow. This guy could get someone elected. But Steve and his team, and Bob with his Manchester team, are doing something even more elemental to the culture than engaging in politics. They’re publicly and peacefully witnessing to the value of life, reaching mothers and fathers at a critical moment, and even reaching abortion workers who see the consistent presence of pro-lifers.

A story about that: Steve recalled how in the early days of his 40DFL involvement in Wisconsin, a late-term abortion practice was in the planning stage, with shameful cooperation from the local university. Pro-lifers started praying outside the medical building where the abortions were to take place. Months went by. Daily prayer continued. The abortion project was put off again and again. Finally, after a year, the plan was scrapped. Later, Steve and his fellow volunteers heard from some members of the university’s medical staff and faculty. There had been sharp division within the medical staff’s ranks, with the conscience rights of pro-life staffers under attack from colleagues. The pro-life staff members “lived through some dark days and great pressure.” One later told Steve that the concerned staffers took heart from the consistent and peaceful pro-life witness going on outside.

Evening prayer outside PP Manchester. Bob Melnyk photo.
Evening prayer outside PP Manchester. Bob Melnyk photo.

“Between 2 and 200,” says Bob when asked how many people are present during 40DFL hours in Manchester (7 a.m. – 7 p.m.). He told Steve about the Pray for Life center and about the new pregnancy support center nearby, both opened by volunteers who pray regularly in front of PP.

A few informal conversations on the sidewalk, a brief talk, a few minutes of prayer, and then Steve was off to meet the volunteers in Greenland. 40DFL has grown far beyond what he expected when he joined his first campaign. Now, his outreach means traveling all over the country, witnessing what he calls the “miraculous fruits” of 40DFL. Serves him right for stepping out in faith.

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Pro-life voters, make your case: a talk with Marilyn Musgrave

Marilyn Musgrave of the Susan B. Anthony List (Shannon McGinley photo)
Marilyn Musgrave of the Susan B. Anthony List (Shannon McGinley photo)

No, this isn’t a rerun of my first post-election blog entry from last November. It turns out I am not the only one who sees that successful pro-life candidates are not the ones who chant “jobs-and-the-economy” while letting pro-abort challengers go on the attack.

Meeting up with a pro-life colleague

I chatted a couple of days ago with former three-term congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colorado). She’s now Vice-President of Government Affairs for the Susan B. Anthony List, the nation’s premier organization dedicated to electing pro-life women to office. I met her a couple of years ago when she visited New Hampshire to back up those of us who had issues with Planned Parenthood getting state money. She’s warm, savvy, and absolutely committed to supporting more pro-life state-level candidates. It’s always a treat to talk with her.

Marilyn was in New Hampshire last weekend to speak at a conference sponsored by Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire. Most of the people in the room, while attentive to the pro-life message, were not familiar with Marilyn or the SBA List. They are now.

“Let’s put them on record” regarding late-term abortion

Fight back: I asked her what people like us in New Hampshire could do, with three out of four of our federal representatives adamantly pro-abortion. “We have to fight back on the phony war-on-women. You have to fight back. First you have to decide that you’re going to fight back.”

Bingo. That was the first thing I wrote about after four-months of employment-imposed exile from blogging last year. That’s not to say I-told-you-so, but it’s good to hear confirmation from a woman in the thick of things.

“Winning issue”: As she said in her conference speech and repeated to me later, pro-life voters have a powerful new argument in favor of abortion regulation: Kermit Gosnell. The carnage left in Gosnell’s late-term abortion facility was documented by a grand jury whose findings helped bring Gosnell to justice. “Late-term abortion [restriction] is winning ground. Gosnell was not an outlier.” She noted polling that shows opposition to late-term abortion is strong, cutting across lines of age and race.

“Put them on record”: As for abortion advocates like Mmes. Shaheen, Shea-Porter, and Kuster, Marilyn suggests holding their feet to the fire regarding abortions after the fifth month of pregnancy. “Let’s put them on record. Gosnell gives us that opportunity.”

I asked her about the Virginia race for governor, certainly the toughest race going on right now between a pro-abortion candidate and a pro-lifer. “A tough go,” she said candidly. She told me about the Women for Ken effort in Virginia, operating independently of candidate and party in order to attack the war-on-women narrative that’s being used yet again.

Now what?

The following remarks are mine, not Marilyn’s. Don’t blame her for my conclusions.

Frankly, I DO expect New Hampshire Democrats to go on record regarding late-term abortions, with something like “trust women” in lieu of “we’re fine with dismembering and abandoning post-20-week babies.” (Even the Dems know some lines just won’t sell.) The Republican party – and remember that I’m speaking as a GOP-leaning indie – has yet to show it has enough starch in its institutional spine to pick up this fight. (Do I hear someone whispering “don’t be divisive” …?)

Individual voters will be the ones to ask candidates about late-term abortion. Ask them about regulation, about what they know about Kermit Gosnell, about what they think of New Hampshire’s failure to keep track of how many late-term abortions are done here. If you really want to have some fun with a values-clarification exercise, ask your local GOP committee members the same questions.

Certainly ask about late-term abortion before you write another check to a candidate or a party.

As for shredding the war-on-women arguments, there’s nothing quite like an articulate pro-life woman to lead the way. New Hampshire has many, as it happens, and I’ll continue to write about them. I see that when SBA List launched its National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus this year, made up of state-level legislators from all over the country, three New Hampshire state representatives were in the inaugural group: Jane Cormier, Jeanine Notter, and Lenette Peterson.

That caucus, by the way, was organized by a woman who herself spent time as a state rep before heading to Washington: Marilyn Musgrave.

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Supreme Court to consider First Amendment rights of pro-life demonstrators


The U.S. Supreme Court is back in session, and among the cases it will decide by next summer is one from Massachusetts challenging that state’s 35-foot no-protest zone around abortion facilities [McCullen v. Coakley]. The plaintiffs are seven pro-lifers who regularly do sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.

The pending case was a factor in the decision by the Concord, NH City Council not to follow up on a petition to impose a 35-foot zone around the Feminist Health Center. When that petition was in the news, I went to Concord to measure what a 35-foot zone would look like there (see Thirty-Five Feet in Theory and Practice). I still wonder if the Concord Chamber of Commerce realizes that a 35-foot “buffer” would put pro-lifers on its doorstep instead of the FHC’s. If the Supreme Court upholds the Massachusetts law, you can expect to see a buffer zone imposed by the city, if not by the state.

The challenged law applies to “reproductive health facilities” excluding hospitals. Violators are subject to fines and jail time, becoming more severe with repeat offenses. Mark L. Rienzi, attorney for the plaintiffs, told, “The same rules have to apply to all speakers. The government cannot put peaceful pro-life speakers in jail, but give Planned Parenthood free rein on the same sidewalk.” It seems that employees of the abortion providers, who are not subject to the law, have been known to stand in front of the facilities and interact with clients in a manner to drown out the pro-lifers 35 feet away.

I saw a tweet the other day from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, calling on supporters to show up in Portland to promote a “patient safety zone” there. That’s yet another euphemism for “First-Amendment-free zone.”

The Court last addressed no-protest zones in 2000 in the Hill v. Colorado case, when a 6-3 vote upheld a Colorado law establishing an 8-foot buffer.  Five of those Justices are still on the Court, two of whom were in the Hill majority.

Late-term abortion case on appeal

From Americans United for Life comes this news that Arizona officials are appealing a lower court decision striking down the state’s law limiting abortions after the fifth month of pregnancy. According to AUL,  “Arizona’s defense relies directly on the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the federal partial birth abortion ban act. In that case, the Supreme Court expressed concern with late-term abortions and their impact on the unborn child and women’s health.”