Best of 2020: pro-life neighbors at work

No contest: this year’s rock stars have been the staff, volunteers, and board members of New Hampshire agencies that offer pro-life assistance and support to pregnant and parenting women.

This odd year calls for an unusual best-of list. I won’t list multiple categories or runners-up. Pregnancy care centers have swept the board, as far as I’m concerned. They are committed to being effective and abortion-free.

Here’s a link to contact information for the agencies I know about. There’s probably one near you, if you’re a Granite Stater. (I welcome corrections and updates.)

balloon with "Walk for Life" emblem
photo by Ellen Kolb

Service in a challenging year

In an abortion-friendly economic and social environment – the COVID-19 pandemic, economic upheaval, and a shortage of housing options – these are the people who have kept going with critical human services work. Most have done so without benefit of customary annual fundraisers, as one event after another fell victim this year to COVID cancellation.

As if offering practical assistance isn’t enough, these agencies have to follow laws and regulations that let them stay in business. With or without a pandemic, someone has to file the IRS forms, report to donors, make sure the charitable-trust paperwork is in order with the state, and pay attention to local zoning requirements.

logos of New Hampshire pro-life pregnancy care centers
A few of the pro-life agencies in New Hampshire serving women and families.

Different missions

Some agencies are part of national or international ministries; Birthright and CareNet come to mind. Some, like St. Gianna’s Place, are home-grown. Others operate under the umbrella of a larger organization, as Our Place works within Catholic Charities. Some agencies are probably operating under my radar (and I hope to learn more about them).

“Agency” sounds impersonal. Perhaps “team” is a better word. Each individual team member brings a gift, an experience, a talent to the table. It takes the right mix of talents to bring a team to life.

These teams serve families all over New Hampshire, from pregnancy through the early years of parenting. Specific missions vary. What unifies them is commitment to the value of human life.

What you can do

Every agency relies on donor support. They’re all hurting this year, with cancellations of things like annual fundraising banquets and Mother’s Day flower sales. No matter your location or the specific mission you’d like to support, you can find an agency whose clients could benefit from your generosity, however much or little you can afford.

Find out if there’s a “wish list” on the agency’s website. Even one package of diapers can help keep a closet stocked.

Go on whatever social media platform you favor, and look for pages or accounts for New Hampshire pregnancy care centers. That’s where you’re likely to find the most up-to-date information about needs and services. Share what you find.

Is your local team looking for volunteers, staff, or board members? Then it’s time for prayerful discernment. Maybe there’s a place for you.

I’m filled with gratitude for everyone who plays a role in a pro-life human services ministry. In a year where inspiration has been in short supply, you’ve inspired me.

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.)

Care Net: John Oliver Gets It Wrong About Pregnancy Centers

My idea of late-night TV is Twilight Zone re-runs, and I don’t subscribe to HBO. I was thus not in the audience when someone named John Oliver did a recent critical piece on pro-life pregnancy care centers. Care Net CEO Roland Warren was watching, though, having been asked for information by Oliver’s staff. Apparently, very little of Care Net’s information made it onto the show.

Not to worry. Warren answered back. And I didn’t need an HBO subscription to hear him. Neither do you. Enjoy these nine edifying minutes.

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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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.