Bearing fruit, making progress: latest 40 Days for Life campaign concludes

A portion of this post is adapted from remarks I delivered at the closing rally for 40 Days for Life in Manchester, New Hampshire.

This has been one of those 40 Days for Life campaigns that I refuse to call a “Spring” campaign. Too darn cold and snowy. So what did we have for the closing rally? Temps in the mid-forties, and a forecast of rain. Spring rain! How good that sounded.

40 Days for Life participants in prayer
The winter/spring 2018 40 Days for Life campaign in Manchester, NH draws to a close with prayer. All photos in this post by Ellen Kolb.

I was blessed during this campaign to be able to participate in campaigns in Concord and Greenland as well as Manchester. Manchester’s sort of home base, and I’m grateful to campaign coordinator Sheila and her team. Traveling was good, though. I saw 40 Days for Life through fresh eyes as I visited different towns.

Leader of Manchester NH 40 Days for Life campaign
Sheila D. led the Manchester, NH campaign. She’s a volunteer, as are her colleagues on the leadership team.

One of the things I love about 40 Days for Life is its presence in so many cities at the same time. If I was praying at 7 a.m. in Manchester, even with just one other person, I knew we were praying and witnessing in solidarity with many other people.

We have good days – a conversation with a woman considering abortion, a “save,” maybe just a smile from a passerby – and bad days when we feel “what’s the point?” When that happens, remember that peaceful, consistent pro-life witness during 40 Days for Life is touching people not involved with the facility outside which we stand. The neighbors see us. So do the driver of the school bus rumbling down Pennacook Street, and the woman walking to the Rite-Aid on the corner, and the guy sweeping the streets. There’s no telling when or where or how peaceful witness will bear fruit.

We all know that it’s not bearing fruit at the State House at the moment. March was a discouraging month, legislatively. It would be easy for me to focus on that. Culture is about more than politics, though.

This was brought home to me at a recent hearing in Concord, where I met someone just getting started in pro-life work. At the same hearing was an old friend who’s been in the vineyard with me, so to speak, for about 30 years. The three of us got to talking. My new friend asked us if New Hampshire had made any pro-life progress over the years.

I felt like a know-it-all fifth grader. Ooh! Ooh! I know this one! I got ready to launch into a sixty-second rant about how terrible our laws are relative to the right to life. As I drew breath to start, though, my old friend said, “oh yes, definitely.” Knocked me right off my soapbox. New friend and I exclaimed at the same time, “what do you mean?”

My old friend then laid down a bit of truth that put politics in its place. “Thirty years ago, there were seven crisis pregnancy centers in the state. Now, there are 30 places, pro-life places, where women can go.”

Think about that. Thirty places. And they’re not just about crisis pregnancies, either. For example, what does every center publish on its wish list for donations? Toddler-size diapers and training pants. So much for only caring about babies until they’re born. And for moms and dads, many centers offer parenting classes and assistance with job-hunting. Some places offer housing for pregnant and parenting women who would otherwise be homeless.

Each of the 30 places began with one person seeing a need. It takes a team to open and sustain a pro-life project, but each one starts with a single person with compassion and vision. Think of that next time you’re in prayer, alone, wondering if you can make a difference. Yes, you can.

We begin laying the groundwork for the Fall campaign today. Let’s spread the news. If you have pro-life friends, if you’re in a service group or prayer circle, if you have a podcast, if you are part of any pro-life organization that needs a speaker, invite someone on the 40 Days for Life leadership team. I’m saying this without consulting any of them, but I feel safe in saying that they would welcome the chance to tell more people about what 40 Days for Life is about.

I want those team leaders to get so many speaking engagements that they can’t keep up. Let them get mad at me for putting them in that predicament. It’ll be worth it.

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Gallery: New Hampshire March for Life 2018

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.

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The featured speaker at the post-march gathering was Jennifer Christie of Save the 1. She is a rape survivor and mother of a son of whom she says, “We are infinitely richer for this child being in the world.”  (Read Jennifer’s story at the Save the 1 blog.)

Jennifer Christie speaks at N.H. March for Life.
Jennifer Christie of Save the 1 speaks at NH’s March for Life.

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.

More from the day:

 

A Difference of Opinion

[Update: according to a reliable source, an amendment is forthcoming addressing the concern I describe here. Any amendment would need to be approved by committee before being incorporated into the bill. I post further updates as needed.]

Every now and then, I draft a post and then sit on it overnight. That’s usually when I’m really worked up over something. Twelve hours later, do I still feel the same way? If the answer’s Yes, I hit “send.” And so it goes with today’s offering.

I’m troubled by House Bill 1511, which had its hearing in the New Hampshire House Criminal Justice Committee this week. The bill would amend the state’s new fetal homicide law regarding unborn victims of violence. I figured I’d hold off on addressing the bill until I heard the chief sponsor’s testimony, in case I was missing something obvious. Now, I don’t think I am.

HB 1511 would change the fetal homicide law in two ways: change the point in pregnancy at which the law could be invoked, from the current 20 weeks to 8 weeks; and remove the immunity from criminal charges for acts committed by a pregnant woman relative to the fetus.

I have no problem with an 8-weeks provision. I have a big problem with removing the existing law’s language that explicitly exempts maternal acts from prosecution. That would be a substantive change to the law, not a paring of superfluous language.

I wasn’t alone in my concern. Seated next to me at this week’s hearing was Leon Rideout, who played a big role in getting our fetal homicide law passed. The plain language of HB 1511 was enough to prompt him to make the long drive to Concord to warn about removing the maternal exemption.

Fetal homicide statutes are not about personhood, and they convey no rights upon a fetus. Fetal homicide laws are about letting prosecutors bring homicide charges against anyone whose bad action causes the death of a preborn child against the will of the mother. 

Removing that last condition – against the will of the mother – would play into every abortion advocate’s mischaracterization of fetal homicide legislation as a tool to lock women up. (About forty other states have fetal homicide laws, all of them coexisting with legal abortion.)

If I understand the chief sponsor correctly, he believes the explicit maternal exemption in New Hampshire’s law is unnecessary, since such an exemption is implicit elsewhere in the law. I disagree. I’m not a lawyer (and neither is the sponsor of HB 1511), but I can read.

Throughout the years of struggle that culminated in the passage in 2017 of New Hampshire’s fetal homicide law, abortion advocates fought such bills tooth and nail. They claimed that the bills were back-door ways to prosecute women, even when the bills said otherwise.

At the same time, they ignored a 2009 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision that said our state’s failure to have a fetal homicide law forced them to dismiss a homicide charge against a drunk driver whose victims included a child, delivered prematurely, who died of injuries sustained in utero when the drunk driver struck the child’s mother.

Rationality finally prevailed in 2017 when Governor Sununu signed SB 66. The Governor, a self-styled pro-choice politician whose idea of health care includes sending my tax money to abortion providers, recognized that a fetal homicide law had no bearing on abortion. Along with a majority of legislators, he was happy to heed the state Supreme Court’s call to bring New Hampshire’s homicide statutes up to date.

Getting to that point was long and sometimes painful process of negotiation and compromise. One sticking point with SB 66 was deciding at what point in pregnancy the law could be invoked. Elsewhere, some states have fetal homicide laws that apply throughout pregnancy. Some states’ laws go into effect at fetal viability or at a certain number of weeks’ gestation. When the dust settled in Concord last year, 20 weeks was the compromise.

Moving the effective time of New Hampshire’s fetal homicide law from twenty weeks’ fetal gestation to eight weeks, or to any other specified time, would still leave the nature of the law intact.

Removing the explicit maternal exemption would not.

Since this blog was launched, I’ve covered New Hampshire fetal homicide bills closely. Every time I pointed out that a fetal homicide bill would shield women from prosecution, I meant it. I took seriously the clear and explicit maternal-exemption language of HB 217 in 2012 and HB 1503 in 2014 and HB 560 and SB 40 in 2015 and HB 156 and SB 66 in 2017.

That language was an integral part of the fetal homicide legislation signed by Governor Sununu. I don’t see how it can be torn out of the law without gutting the law.

The sponsors of HB 1511 are all experienced legislators whose good will I have no reason to question. On this bill as introduced, though, I flat-out disagree with them.

I’ll be happy to post their responses in the comments, should any of them be inclined to send one.

See You In Dover N.H., November 14

I’m looking forward to speaking at a workshop at St. Joseph Church in Dover on November 14 at 6:30 p.m., and I hope to see Seacoast readers there! Rep. Kurt Wuelper will be the featured speaker on Effective Communication with Legislators. I’ll talk about how to turn your social media engagement into a pro-life powerhouse. Our hosts are the Catholic Citizenship Committee of the Parish of the Assumption and the Seacoast Pro-Life Network.