“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!

 

 

N.H. Legislators Try Again to Repeal Death Penalty

Two years after repeal of New Hampshire’s death penalty law failed on a tie vote in the Senate, the Senate has approved SB 593 on a 14-10 vote. The bill would change the penalty for capital murder to life imprisonment without the possibility for parole.

SB 593 has been assigned to the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee where a hearing is yet to be scheduled.

SB 593 has a long bipartisan list of co-sponsors, led by Sen. Kevin Avard (R-Nashua). In an op-ed published in the New Hampshire Union Leader two days before the Senate vote, Sen. Avard wrote about his reason for introducing the legislation. An excerpt:

SINCE THE DEATH penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1973, for every 10 people who have been executed across the country, one person has been exonerated. Can we continue to live with a 10 percent wrongful conviction rate in capital punishment cases? I cannot, which is why I have introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty in New Hampshire.

I have reached the point where no argument made in favor of capital punishment can overcome the reality that having the death penalty inevitably means that innocent people have been and will continue to be wrongfully convicted and executed. The only way to guarantee that the innocent are not wrongfully executed is to abolish capital punishment.

A Union Leader news report published the day after the Senate hearing on the bill said that people testifying in opposition included the president of the N.H. Chiefs of Police Association, the chief steward of the Manchester Police Patrolmen’s Association and president of the New Hampshire Police Association. The report also said that Governor Chris Sununu has threatened to veto the bill in the form passed by the Senate.

Free Speech Case Could Affect Pregnancy Care Centers

Arguments in NIFLA v. Becerra will be heard at the U.S. Supreme Court on March 20. At issue is a California law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to display information on how to obtain subsidized abortions.

Here’s a recent GrokTalk podcast in which I discuss the case with Steve MacDonald of Granite Grok.
Listen to “The First Amendment Doesn't Apply to You If You Are Pro-Life” on Spreaker.

 

Conscience bill: what to remember & why to act now

I went to the hearing on HB 1787 yesterday, regarding conscience protections for health care providers who decline to participate in abortion, sterilization, or artificial contraception. I have many pages of notes. I made an audio recording of part of the session. I could give you a blow-by-blow description of everything.

But I won’t today. Not here, not now. There are only two takeaways I want to share with you immediately, knowing that the House Judiciary Committee has put off for another day its vote on the bill. Haven’t contacted them yet? Hop to it, please, before sunrise on February 22: HouseJudiciaryCommittee@leg.state.nh.us

  1. There are legislators – a substantial number on the committee, actually – who appear to believe that people who won’t do abortions don’t belong in any medical field at all. 
  2. There are legislators who adamantly assert that there is no difference between induced abortion, miscarriage, and the loss of a child as an indirect effect of the direct action of saving a mother’s life (treating a woman for ectopic pregnancy, for example). 

Number two got backing from the ACLU of New Hampshire and from a Dr. Young, a Concord OB/GYN who came to testify against conscience rights. This is the same doctor who at the hearing on the late-term abortion bill testified that in 35 years of practice, he had never seen or heard of a post-18-week abortion on a healthy fetus.

Fortunately, other doctors were present who defended conscience rights and urged legislators to pass the bill. They were questioned closely about how intent could possibly distinguish one kind of pregnancy termination from another. They answered truthfully, but I could see their words falling on stony ground.

Your doctor needs to hear this. Pharmacists need to know about this bill. So do nurses and PAs. For that matter, so do the people working in abortion facilities who really don’t want to be the ones to reassemble the products of conception following an abortion.

I’ll update this post after the committee makes its recommendation.

UPDATE, 2/27/18: The House Judiciary Committee voted “inexpedient to legislate” on HB 1787, 14-4.

Catching Up: Marching for Life in D.C. as Roe Turns 45

If you’ve had your fill of March for Life coverage, my apologies for this post (and please tell me where you’re getting your news).

The first March for Life in Washington was 44 years ago, one year after the Roe v. Wade abortion decision was imposed by the Supreme Court.  There’s been a march every year since then. I’ve been to six or seven of them.

t-shirt from March for Life 2018
I traveled to the March with a group from my parish, part of a six-bus caravan.

Never have I been part of a larger march than I was last January 19. The weather was surely a factor: full sun, mid-forties. Yet that doesn’t account for most of the marchers, who chartered their buses months ago.

I didn’t count noses. It’s tough to count from the midst of a sea of humanity. I’ve since seen back-and-forth posts from attendees at the March for Life and the following day’s “women’s march,” with squabbles over crowd size that sound like some chief executive tweeting about who’s got a bigger button.

I can assure you of a few things: the March for Life is not a diminishing phenomenon. It continues to attract marchers of all ages. It’s also a rallying point for new pro-life coalitions and groups (like the former abortion workers of And Then There Were None) that couldn’t have been imagined back when Nellie Gray organized the first March for Life in 1974.

March for Life 2018
The view from mid-crowd at March for Life 2018, passing by National Archives in Washington.

I missed the President’s pre-March rally video-link greeting, choosing instead to meet with a group from New Wave Feminists who were hosting a rally of their own before joining the March. If you think all pro-lifers are alike, NWF will burst your bubble. And it’ll be fun.

During the March, I lost track of my marching companions not once but twice. It was tough to stay in touch with them even via text, as the sheer number of people making social media posts from the March affected local cell service. No problem: this was a good day to make new friends and to bump into old ones.

Next year’s March for Life in D.C. will be on Friday, January 18, 2019.