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.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

 

2016 in review: who leavened the loaf this year?

Politics dominated the news including this blog in 2016. As the year ends, though, I find that what sticks in my mind the most is my visit to Pathways pregnancy care center in Littleton back in April. I went to learn more about the new ultrasound service offered there. The real story turned out to be the extent of the services already in place, aside from the limited ultrasounds.

By welcoming me to see their ministry, the Pathways team reminded me that pro-life activism takes many forms, not all of them political.

Greatest inspiration: pro-life pregnancy support centers

The staff and volunteers at all of New Hampshire’s pro-life pregnancy support centers brought me encouragement and inspiration in a challenging year.  I am indebted to Lesley Wotten of Pathways, who introduced me to her staff in Littleton and opened my eyes to the full range of services Pathways provides in the North Country.

 

Birthright, Care Net and its affiliates, Pennacook Pregnancy Center, Our Place: all over New Hampshire, people are working to provide the support a pregnant woman might need in order to choose life for her child.

“Crisis” pregnancy center has become a misnomer. A woman or girl who comes in at a moment of crisis or indecision might be looking for options counseling or simply someone to listen. For today’s pro-life pregnancy care centers, that’s just the beginning. Depending on the size and resources of the center, referrals for medical care are available. Assistance with housing might be in order. Parenting classes or referrals for them can be offered. Every center has a supply of diapers and clothes and furniture, offering practical day-to-day support after the children are born.

Fathers are not left out, as I was reminded at Pathways. Parenting classes are in demand, and the centers that offer them welcome dads as well as moms.

Anyone can be part of this work by volunteering or making donations. Make that a resolution for 2017.


 

Honorable mention: pro-life education programs (hold the politics!)

The Concord-Manchester-Nashua area gets most of the press where life issues are concerned. There are educational and non-political programs and projects going on outside that Everett Turnpike  corridor, though. Here are a few.

Kudos to the Knights of Columbus Council 7572 in Windham, St. Matthew parish, which sponsors a monthly Respect Life speaker series covering a range of life issues. Presentations are open to the public. The Council will soon announce its slate of speakers for 2017.

Works of Mercy ministry at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary parish in Windham offers films and speakers. Coming up January 21: a screening of The Euthanasia Deception, a video produced by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. For more information, email worksofmercy@gmail.com.

Of long standing, but often under the radar, is the New Hampshire Right to Life Educational Trust. Resources include a speaker’s bureau, a library of life-issue resources, and Life Lights scholarships (application deadline for the next round is May 1, 2017).

My thanks to all. Politics is in my wheelhouse, so to speak, but this has been a year to cheer for all the good things going on far from the political arena.

My favorite events: a snowy March for Life, upbeat witness outside PP, the first Pro-Life Women’s Conference

I was out of the country on the January day for New Hampshire’s March for Life, and I was glad to see coverage via NHRTL’s Facebook page – a good resource, by the way.

Sister Mary Rose Reddy at March for Life, DC (photo by Ellen Kolb)

Along with busloads of fellow Granite Staters, I beat the blizzard out of Washington (barely!) just after the national March for Life.

Photo by Jeffrey Bruno/Aleteia.com via The March for Life Facebook page

In April, a national pro-life Day of Witness outside Planned Parenthood offices inspired New Hampshire residents to gather in Manchester and Derry.

Witnessing for life in Manchester

Abby Johnson brought together an amazing array of groups under the umbrella of the first Pro-Life Women’s Conference. Thanks to support from readers, I was able to attend and report from the site. I plan to be in Orlando next June for the second edition.

Speaking of Abby Johnson: the year’s most popular Leaven for the Loaf tweet

The Executive Council asserts itself – and produces a new Governor

The Executive Council gave Planned Parenthood our money. I may have mentioned that a few times this year (as in New Hampshire Executive Council reinstates PP $$$).

The so-called swing vote was Chris Sununu, who is now governor-elect, having finished in November barely ahead of fellow councilor Colin Van Ostern. Sununu assured voters shortly before the general election that he opposes public funding of abortion. That doesn’t stop him from supporting public funding for abortion providers. (I just deleted a snarky remark about that. Must be Christmas-season goodwill on my part.)

From June 2016: Executive Councilors and gubernatorial candidates Chris Sununu (with contracts) and Colin VanOstern (at right).

Councilor Joe Kenney, recently re-elected to his post, voted against PP funding but in favor of a much smaller contract with another abortion provider. I’m grateful for the PP vote, and I’m happy that he survived a third electoral challenge from a man who considers abortion to be health care and who has no trouble with public funding of PP.

Councilor Dave Wheeler remains a stalwart pro-life public servant whose votes, statements, and diligent research in 2016 came as no surprise to the voters in district 5. He was re-elected to the Council last month.

No abortion stats or fetal homicide law, despite a Republican legislature

“Republican” and “pro-life” are not synonymous, as the New Hampshire House and Senate proved once again. Even abortion statistics and fetal homicide, measures that would not affect Roe v. Wade or the right to life, did not pass this year.

In possibly-related news, the same House and Senate leaders from the past term are in place for 2017-18.

Questions for 2017

Will the House and Senate see their way to passing stats and fetal homicide bills, which are being introduced once again?

Will Governor-elect Sununu follow through on his pledge to support legislation on (among other things) fetal homicide, buffer zone repeal, conscience rights, and a ban on late-term abortion? Or was his statement of support not a pledge?

Will abortion providers finally enforce the buffer zone law they fought to get? 40 Days for Life is coming back to Concord in the spring. We’ll see if the Equality Center (formerly Feminist Health Center) will do what PP in Manchester didn’t.

(Here’s a pre-buffer-zone-law look at the area around the Equality Center, photographed and described back when the Concord City Council considered a buffer zone petition. A zone would actually push pro-life witnesses into far more visible areas.)

Will  the incoming presidential Administration drive a stake through the heart of the HHS/contraceptive mandate, or will women’s fertility still be considered a disease under whatever might replace the “Affordable” Care Act? Note that the mandate came from an HHS regulation. It could be repealed even if the ACA remains in place. The Hobby Lobby case did not settle the matter.

And speaking of the mandate, will the federal government finally leave the Little Sisters of the Poor alone?

Will the incoming President take pro-life policy seriously, and will the pro-lifers who supported him give him what he deserves if he doesn’t? A related question nags at me: will anyone try to turn the March for Life in DC into a Trump rally? That would be a huge mistake, and I am counting on the March for Life board to guard against such nonsense.

How will coverage of the March for Life compare to coverage of the planned January 21 “women’s march” in DC that will apparently have no place for pro-life women? Ditto for the state level, where the local march for life will be on January 14.

Finally…

Remember the value of your own coverage of events that bear on the life issues. Take photos, write about what you see, and share your posts. Among others, politicians need to see your accounts.

Resolve for 2017 to support New Hampshire’s pro-life pregnancy support agencies. Resolve as well never, ever to let elected officials forget that you’re watching them.

 

A gentle reminder: support your local pregnancy aid center

Permit me to nudge aside some of the end-of-year charitable appeals in your inbox in favor of this: a reminder of some of the great agencies in New Hampshire that specialize in supporting women who are pregnant in challenging circumstances.

You’ll find pregnancy AND parenting support at these agencies, any of which would be very happy to receive your support as a donor or a volunteer.

This link offers contact information for every organization listed here. If you are aware of any updates, please let me know – thank you! Several of these agencies have Facebook pages with frequently-updated information about current needs.

Birthright has offices in Manchester, Derry, and Portsmouth.

CareNet has ten affiliates in New Hampshire.

Pennacook Pregnancy Center is just a block away from Planned Parenthood in Manchester.

New Generation in Greenland provides shelter for homeless pregnant and parenting women. In addition to having volunteer and donation opportunities for supporters, New Generation has its Second Generation Thrift Shoppe to provide an easy way for you to support the ministry.

Our Place, a ministry of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, supports young parents from pregnancy through the first three years of their child’s life.

When you look for local agencies that make a difference in the lives of New Hampshire families, be sure to keep these in mind.