Posts Tagged ‘Abortion’

Another Threat to Freedom

Friday, April 27th, 2012

On April 30, the Westchester County Board of Legislators will vote on a “Clinic Access Bill”.  This kind of legislation is a persistent feature of pro-abortion advocacy.  It is designed to chill the free speech and assembly rights of pro-lifers who pray and witness outside of abortion clinics.  Since the pro-abortion forces can’t bear the possibility that women might choose against abortion, they aim to silence us by passing vague laws that are designed to intimidate pro-lifers into silence out of fear of arbitrary prosecution and punitive lawsuits.

The Archdiocese issued a strong statement against this bill last fall.  Many pro-lifers and lovers of freedom will attend the Board hearing on Monday, to urge the legislators not to give in to the well-funded pressure from the abortion industry.  I will attend too, and deliver the following remarks.  Please pray for us.

My name is Edward Mechmann. I am the Assistant Director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York, and a resident of Westchester County.  I submit this statement in opposition to the proposed legislation concerning access to so-called “reproductive health care facilities”.

First, the proposed changes to the law are unnecessary.  There is no evidence that there is a substantial problem that needs to be addressed by this bill.  According to statistics provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there has been only one arrest in the entire state since 2000 for violations of the State clinic access law, and no criminal convictions. There is no need to strengthen laws that are never used, since there is no problem that needs to be addressed.

The second reason for our opposition to this bill is that  it is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.  It is a established principle of constitutional law that any attempted regulation of speech be content-neutral, and narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest.  This is particularly true when the speech occurs on a public sidewalk, which has been described by the Supreme Court as a “public forum” where citizens generally have a First Amendment right to speak and gather together.  This bill fails to satisfy this standard, and creates a significant risk that people would be prosecuted or sued for the mere exercise of their right to free speech and assembly.

This bill is not neutral, because it specifically targets the conduct and speech of those who oppose abortion.  It is also vague and ambiguous, so that persons could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited.  One of the provisions would make it a crime to “interfere” with the operations of “reproductive health care facilities”.  Yet that term is undefined and utterly subjective in meaning, and would thus chill the free speech and assembly rights of those who wish to speak to women seeking to enter those facilities.

Another provision of the bill would create a protected zone that includes “any public parking lot” within 200 feet of the clinic, as long as it “serves” the clinic. These terms are undefined and hopelessly ambiguous.  For example, what does it mean for a parking lot to “serve” a clinic, and how can that be determined?  There is no test clearly defined in the statute.  The result will inevitably be arbitrary and selective enforcement, and the chilling of free speech and assembly rights.

This unnecessary bill is clearly aimed at suppressing the rights of those who oppose abortion, because that speech is disfavored by the owners and operators of abortion businesses.  This discriminatory legislation dishonors the constitutional rights of pro-life citizens, and robs women of an opportunity to hear the truth about abortion.

It should be rejected.

Graphic Images and Love

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at the blog CatholicVote.org about the images of graphic images of aborted babies, which were on display along the route of the March for Life.  If you’re interested, the posts are here, here and here.  (Don’t worry, if you follow those links you won’t be confronted with any such images)

For years, I have been very uncomfortable with those images, but I haven’t really been able to articulate why.  They are disturbing, certainly, but my disquiet was not just an aesthetic judgment.  Nor was it any squeamishness about facing the reality of abortion — I know precisely what is involved in that abhorrent practice.  Nor do I have any doubt of the need to awaken people’s consciences to what is really going on in America, thousands of times each day.

Although I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason, I was uneasy about the use of those images in pro-life public advocacy.

Last night, I realized why.

I attended an excellent presentation that Archbishop Dolan gave at Fordham Law School on the Gospel of Life and the Law.  One of the key points he made in the question and answer session was that there are two pillars of the pro-life message: truth and love.  He noted that we are very good with the truth, but often lacking in the love.

That point, which I had heard many times before, really struck me, and I was thinking about it on my way home.  Later in the evening, I happened upon the discussion at CatholicVote.org, and that’s when it all clicked together.

The discussion about the graphic images has always focused on their effect of the viewer. We’ve thought about how effective the images are to convince those who are undecided about abortion, or to convert those who are pro-abortion.  And we’ve worried about the negative effect on those who are captive audiences and have those images thrust upon them, and especially on women who are post-abortive and have not yet healed.

But suddenly it struck me — what about that baby herself?  How does the use of these photos show love to her, who has been the victim of a terrible injustice?  She is an individual human person, someone’s daughter, made in the image and likeness of God, unique and unrepeatable, and deserving of our love.

To me, the use of these images to make a political point is to treat that poor lost girl or boy as an object to be used — which is the antithesis of love — and not as a brother or sister to be mourned.

Who would ever wish that their body be used in such a way?  Who would ever want that for a loved one?  Can any of us imagine that being the right way to treat the remains of our dead son or daughter?

Archbishop Dolan is right, as was St. Paul before him (see Eph 4:15).  We do need to speak the truth, but we have to do so with love, always with love.  And that includes love for that particular lost baby.

There is a lot of truth in those images — that cannot be denied.

But there is very little love.

The Message Could Not Be Clearer

Friday, January 20th, 2012

The juxtaposition of events couldn’t have been more stark.  Nor could the message be any clearer — the current Administration has a deep-seated, inveterate hostility to religious freedom.

The first event happened just last week, in its most important religious liberty decision in decades, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the autonomy of churches to act according to their beliefs, without government intrusion.   The case was Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and I’ve written about it before.  Essentially, the case involved the ability of churches and other religious organizations to choose their own leaders, according to their religious beliefs.

It’s important to note that, in deciding the case, the Supreme Court specifically rejected the Administration’s argument that churches have no special protection in the choice of their leaders, and should be given no more deference in such decisions than any other association — like a bowling league.  This, despite the fact that the First Amendment grants clear, specific protection to the freedom of religion.

That was a bold example of the radicalism of this Administration, and their disdain for religious freedom.  Fortunately, the Supreme Court can actually read the Constitution, and understands what it means — and handed down the clearly correct ruling.

The second event happened today.  The Administration announced that it was going to issue final regulations that would require religious organizations to provide full health insurance coverage for sterilization, abortifacient drugs, and contraceptives.  A very narrow exemption was granted, but it is so tiny in its coverage that few, if any, organizations will qualify.  I’ve written about this regulation before as well.

Religious organizations of all denominations had denounced this plan, and had called for a broader exemption, in order to respect the conscience rights of those who object to being forced to pay for morally offensive drugs and procedures.  Yet the Administration disdained their request, and made no changes in the proposal.

Again, you could not ask for a clearer example of the hostility of this Administration towards religious freedom.  The secularist, anti-life ideology of our rulers will not compromise, and will force all others to conform.

Sometimes, things are seen most clearly from a distance.  Yesterday, Pope Benedict received some of the bishops of the United States at one of their periodic “ad limina” meetings.  In his remarks to the bishops, the Holy Father made some pointed observations about the threats to religious liberty:

it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.

The Holy Father is right.  We as lay Catholics need to take action to defend our freedom, and the freedom of our Church.

Remember, elections matter.

 

 

Another Attempt to Silence Pro-Lifers

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

A bill is pending before the Westchester County Board of Legislators that is designed to silence pro-life witness outside of abortion clinics.  It is similar to the bill that was passed by New York City a few years ago, about which I wrote here and here.  The bill hasn’t yet been voted on, but it remains a significant risk.

Here is the statement that I submitted to the Board, at its hearing last night:

I submit this statement in opposition to the proposed legislation concerning access to so-called “reproductive health care facilities”.

First, the proposed changes to the law are unnecessary.  There is no evidence that there is a substantial problem that needs to be addressed by this bill.  According to statistics provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there has been only one arrest in the entire state since 2000 for violations of the State clinic access law, and no criminal convictions. There is no need to strengthen laws that are never used, since there is no problem that needs to be addressed.

The second reason for our opposition to this bill is that  it is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.  It is a established principle of constitutional law that any attempted regulation of speech be content-neutral, and narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest.  This is particularly true when the speech occurs on a public sidewalk, which has been described by the Supreme Court as a “public forum” where citizens generally have a First Amendment right to speak and gather together.  This bill fails to satisfy this standard, and creates a significant risk that people would be prosecuted or sued for the mere exercise of their right to free speech and assembly.

This bill is not neutral, because it specifically targets the conduct and speech of those who oppose abortion.  It is also vague and ambiguous, so that persons could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited.  One of the provisions would make it a crime to “interfere” with the operations of “reproductive health care facilities”.  Yet that term is undefined and utterly subjective in meaning, and would thus chill the free speech rights of those who wish to speak to women seeking to enter those facilities.

Even if one were to ignore the lack of any history of problems at these facilities and assume that there was a “compelling state interest” here, this bill cannot be fairly described as “narrowly tailored”.  The bill would create a zone that goes far beyond any statute that has been approved by the courts.  No law has included such areas as public parking lots and bus stops that are within 200 feet of a facility, and created a large “bubble zone” around the “spaces” — whatever that term means — between those locations and the facility.  There can be no justification for such a broad zone where the free speech rights of citizens will be restricted.

This unnecessary bill is clearly aimed at suppressing speech, because that speech is disfavored by the owners and operators of abortion clinics.  This discriminatory legislation should be rejected.

The Strange World of Nancy Pelosi

Friday, October 14th, 2011

I have written before of the exasperating public statements of the former Speaker of the House, now House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi.  Ms. Pelosi continually touts her status as a “devout Catholic”, yet equally often allows the strangest statements to emit from her mouth.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill called the Protect Life Act.  This bill would amend the health care reform law to ensure that no federal funds are used for elective abortions, that no insurance plan covering elective abortion receives federal funds, and that conscience protection laws are strengthened.  A wide majority of the House supported the bill — the vote was 251-172 — and opinion polls show broad support in the general public for its provisions.

Enter Ms. Pelosi.  She opined on the floor of the House that “Under this bill… they will be voting to say that women can die on the floor and health care providers do not have to intervene if this bill is passed.”

The specific part of the bill that she was apparently referring to would ensure that any health care worker who has religious or moral objections to abortion would not be required to participate.  That is already guaranteed to a certain extent under other provisions of federal and state laws, but it was necessary to extend it to the health care law.

Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that any woman has ever died as a result of a conscience objection by a health care worker.  In fact, as far as anyone can tell, the only women who have died in connection with abortion are the millions of unborn ones, the unfortunate mothers who go into unsafe and unsanitary clinics, or those who take dangerous abortion drugs dispensed by the likes of Planned Parenthood.  Does the name Kermit Gosnell ring a bell, Madam Minority Leader?

But in this area, the mind of Ms. Pelosi is apparently impervious to the truth and to reason, and she occupies a strange world of her own invention.  She demonstrates the wisdom of St. Paul’s observation about those who ignore how God reveals Himself to us in creation: “they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. ” (Rom 1:21)

This is yet another occasion to recall one of my favorite statements by Cardinal Egan, in response to an earlier set of absurd comments by Ms. Pelosi:

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

 

In My Neighborhood

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

The Chiaroscuro Foundation recently put up on its website an interactive map that displays the abortion statistics for residents of every zip code in the City of New York.  I recommend that everyone in the City look up their neighborhood — you’ll definitely learn something.

I looked at my own neighborhood.  I’ve lived my whole life in a neighborhood split between Yonkers and the Bronx.  The Bronx part is Woodlawn, which shares the 10470 zip with a small portion of Wakefield.  Woodlawn is considered to be a very good neighborhood — solidly middle class, dominated by Irish immigrants (some of long-standing, some more recently).   Wakefield is a largely African-American and West-Indian neighborhood, but also mainly middle class and blue-collar.

The zip code is two-thirds white, with the remainder being a mixture of African-American, West Indian, and Latino.  Over 75% of adults have a high school education or better, and 20% have at least a bachelor’s degree.  Both neighborhoods have economic problems — unemployment is pretty high thanks to the crash of the construction industry, and the poverty rate is not great (although far better than the rest of the Bronx).  We have four good schools — a Catholic elementary school and high school, a  Lutheran school, and two public elementary schools.

There are lots of vibrant families and children, and lots of churches –  Woodlawn alone has five churches.  We even have a convent of the Sisters of Life.

But the abortion statistics in my neighborhood are horrible.

There were 267 pregnancies in this zip code in 2009, the most recent year reported.  115 of them ended in abortion. That’s a 43% abortion ratio — even worse than the overall number for New York City.

There are lots of reasons for this tragedy.  I am convinced that a great number of abortions happen because a mother in crisis thinks that she won’t be supported by the baby’s father, their families, or the community.  This abortion ratio in my neighborhood is wake-up call to our families, churches, and community.

So what can we do?  Preaching in the churches and teaching in the home are obviously the foundation.  We also need to promote chastity, so that women don’t have unexpected pregnancies, especially out of wedlock.  We need to make sure that every woman knows that she is not alone, that she will have the support of her family and community to make the choice for life, or that she can turn to one of the many pregnancy support centers in our area.  We need to make sure that more women know that help is out there, from Catholic Charities Maternity Bureau, and from the wonderful Visitation Mission of the Sisters of Life.

In the end, it will come down to decisions made by individuals and families.  And for that, much grace is needed.  Mary, Mother of Life, please pray for women contemplating abortion in my neighborhood, and everywhere.  And obtain for me the grace I need to be there for the women in my life and my neighborhood, if they ever are in crisis.

What He Really Means

Friday, August 5th, 2011

In May 2009, the President went to Notre Dame University to receive an honorary degree, and to address the graduating class.  Many of us believed that this was a profoundly scandalous invitation by the administration of the University, which purports to be Catholic.

In response, we were tutted and shushed by those who, like the gullible priest who heads the University, thought that it would be the beginning of a “dialogue” between the pro-abortion President and the pro-life community, particularly with the Church.

Indeed, on that day, the President said this:

When we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe—that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground….  Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics as well as respect for the quality of life.

Two years later, we have yet another demonstration of what it means when the President speaks about issues of life and death.  It means this — his words have the exact opposite meaning from what he says, and  you can always expect that he will do everything in his power to advance the Culture of Death.

Earlier this week, the President’s Secretary of Health and Human Services announced that, pursuant to the health care “reform” law, all health insurance plans in the United States would be required to cover — free of charge to the insured person — all forms of contraceptives, under the rubric of “preventive care”.

This includes hormonal contraceptives, which corrupt women by treating their healthy fertility as if it were diseased.  It includes “intrauterine devices” which are early mechanisms of abortion.  It includes “ella”, a “morning after pill” that is acknowledged by its own manufacturer to work as an abortion pill.  And it writes into law a powerful anti-life message, which teaches people that a new human life is an enemy to be poisoned at its earliest stages — to be “prevented”, and not welcomed.

For those individuals who object to this?  Nothing.  No chance of opting out.  No “choice”, to use a favored word of the President’s.

For those religious institutions that object to this?  Nothing — just an “exemption” that is so transparently phony that it is an insult.

This has been yet another important lesson.  When the President speaks, it’s important that we translate his words into plain English.  By “common ground”, he means “I will compel you to agree with me or face the consequences”.  By “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion”, he means “ignore their concerns and force them to pay for abortions and abortifacient contraceptives”.  By “draft a sensible conscience clause” he means “enact a fig leaf of a provision that everyone will know to be bogus”.  And by “grounded in clear ethics as well as respect for the quality of life” he means “pushing policies that advance the culture of death and the agenda of those who worship it, regardless of the cost in human lives or souls”.

And by “dialogue”, he really means “force you to surrender your beliefs and buy into the killing of children and the degradation of women”.

Why “Make Abortion Rare”?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

On March 8, Catholics from around the state traveled to Albany for the annual “Catholics at the Capitol” day, sponsored by the State Bishops’ Conference.  The purpose of the day is to offer Catholics an opportunity to stand together on the broad range of issues of concern to us — protecting life, strengthening our schools, caring for the poor and sick — and to speak to our state legislators.

One of the issue papers distributed by the Conference was entitled “Making Abortion Rare”.  This document explained our Church’s opposition to the radical Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would lead to an increase in abortion, by placing it beyond any reasonable regulation.  A second issue was our opposition to the Governor’s elimination of all funding for the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation.  That foundation supports local initiatives and organizations that offer alternatives to abortions, and have helped thousands of women have their babies.

These positions are a practical response to the challenge issued by Archbishop Dolan at his press conference in January about the appalling abortion rate in New York City: “I invite all to come together to make abortion rare, a goal even those who work to expand the abortion license tell us they share.”

Some of our pro-life supporters have expressed discomfort with saying that we wish to “make abortion rare”.  They are worried that this might imply that we are conceding the legality of abortion, and that we have given up our ultimate goal of defending every human life.

This concern is understandable, because people rightly can’t be satisfied with anything short of full protection for the unborn.  I understand this concern, but I believe it is unfounded.

Our ultimate goals in this struggle have never changed.  Nobody has any doubt about the position of the Catholic Church on abortion.  We are absolutely, unalterably, irrevocably opposed to legal abortion, and will never accept the legitimacy of laws that permit it.  We hold steadfastly to building a culture of life in which every life is valued in our society and its laws.

But while we pursue those ultimate goals, we have to take into account the political and cultural situation in which we find ourselves.  Then, relying on the virtue of prudence, we have to mitigate the harm that is being done by legalized abortion, and try to achieve realistically attainable results to advance the culture of life.

This approach was outlined in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, The Gospel of Life:

The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount an effective legal defense of life in pluralistic democracies, because of the presence of strong cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time, certain that moral truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in every conscience, the Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment of a just order in the defense and promotion of the value of life. (90)

The challenge to “make abortion rare” is just such an initiative.  It takes into account the political and cultural fact that a complete abrogation of abortion laws is not attainable in our current cultural and legal climate.  It is directed not to people who are already committed to the cause of life.  Instead, it is an appeal to those who consider themselves “pro-choice”, but are uncomfortable with abortion and may be open to work with us on practical measures to reduce it.

In other words, it is an effort to change hearts, to rebuild the foundation for a true culture of life.  As hearts change, laws will follow.

Our vision and our goals will always remain the same.   As the United States Bishops said in their statement, Living the Gospel of Life:

The Gospel of Life must be proclaimed, and human life defended, in all places and all times. The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well. Laws that permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust, and we should work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change them. Because they are unjust they cannot bind citizens in conscience, be supported, acquiesced in, or recognized as valid. Our nation cannot countenance the continued existence in our society of such fundamental violations of human rights. (33)

A Horrifying New Realization

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Back in January, the Chiaroscuro Foundation, together with Archbishop Dolan and interfaith leaders, held a press conference to point out the appalling reality of abortion  in New York City.  We were all horrified to hear that 41% of all pregnancies — and 60% of those among African-Americans — end in abortion.

Today, I read something on the excellent Catholic Key Blog from the Diocese of Kansas City that brought me to a new, horrifying realization — abortion in New York City is actually even worse than we thought.

In New York City in 2009, there were more deaths from abortion than there were from all other causes.  That’s correct — there were a total of 52,881 deaths of people who had been lucky enough to have been born, and 87,273 abortions.

This, in a city that is obsessed with all sorts of threats to life and health, like salt intake, trans fats, and second-hand smoke.  A city that spends its time trying to make life difficult for centers that offer alternatives to abortion.  A city that passes resolutions lauding unlimited abortion rights.

The “Capital of the World” is also the Capital of the Culture of Death.

How We Got Here from There

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

The New York City Council has now passed Intro 371, the bill that that singles out pregnancy resource centers for harsh and discriminatory regulation.  The bill, which will soon be signed into law by the Mayor, is bitterly — and correctly — resented by pro-lifers because it is biased against the centers because of their pro-life beliefs, it is based on a foundation of falsehood, and it violates their right to free speech.  The bill will be challenged in court on constitutional grounds, and there is good reason to expect that the courts will strike it down.

This was certainly a significant blow to the pro-life community, and particularly to the pregnancy centers who do so much work to help women in need.  They feel justifiably hurt and threatened by the animosity and unfairness of the City government.  If this bill is upheld in court, it will make their work much more difficult, and will leave them at risk of discriminatory enforcement by a hostile government.

Having said that, though, we can learn some things if we look back over the history of this bill.

The Original Bill — Where We Started

It’s worth remembering that the first version of the bill, which was introduced in October, was very, very bad:

  • Who was covered — The definition of what kind of facilities would be covered by the bill was vague and poorly defined.  As a result, there was reason to believe that it would reach not just the pregnancy service centers, but also agencies like Catholic Charities, and even convents of the Sisters of Life.
  • Signage/Disclosure requirements — The bill would have forced these facilities to post signs and re-write all their advertising and promotional literature in order to notify people that they did not refer for abortions or contraception.  These requirements were both intrusive and unprecedented — no other organization in the City has to disclose what services they do not perform, and no other organization has to edit its advertising to satisfy government bureaucrats.
  • Penalties — The penalty provisions were very severe.  Violations could be punished by ruinous fines, and the centers could even be closed by the police — penalties that are heavier than those imposed for any other sign requirement under New York City or State law.  The center would also not be given any warning of a potential violation, nor would they be given an opportunity to cure the deficiency — first time a center would learn about a problem was when they received a citation for a violation.
  • Reporting of child abuse — Unbelievably, the bill would prohibit the centers from reporting child abuse or rape — any worker who did report those offenses to the police would be subject to fines or civil lawsuits.  This was in many ways the worst single component of the bill.
  • Clearly, the pro-life community could not let such a bill be passed without making an effort to defeat it, or at least to mitigate the potential harms.   However, we had to face an unpleasant political reality — this bill was a major objective for the pro-abortion movement, and there was every reason to believe that the sponsors had enough votes to pass it at any time.  It was going to be an uphill battle to defeat, delay, or change Intro 371.

    Over the next few months, a sustained lobbying effort was made by the pro-life community and the Church.  The media was used to get our message out, grassroots supporters were mobilized to contact their Council members, and direct contacts were made with Council members.  The consistent message was that there was no factual basis for the bill, the signage/disclosure requirements were unfair and unduly burdensome, the prohibition on reporting child abuse was irrational, and the penalties were grossly disproportionate.

    The Final Bill

    At the end of January, a federal district court in Maryland struck down a Baltimore law that was virtually identical to the original version of Intro 371.  We hoped that this would either stop, or significantly delay, the bill’s momentum.  Unfortunately, the Council was still determined to pass their bill, although they plainly had to modify it to at least give the appearance of complying with the Baltimore decision.

    When the final bill was released, there had been some very significant modifications.

  • Who was covered — The final bill contained a definition of that focused primarily on centers offering medical services — in particular, sonograms and pregnancy tests.  Some organizations and facilities that would have been included in the original bill — such as Catholic Charities, the Sisters of Life, and some of the crisis pregnancy centers that just offer counseling — will not be covered.  Other facilities, though, particularly those organized under a medical model, will still have to comply.
  • Signage/Disclosure requirements — There were several changes in the final bill.  Centers will be required to post signs, and change their advertisements to notify people if they don’t have a medical professional on staff, and whether they provide or refer for abortion, emergency contraception, and prenatal care.  There’s an additional requirement that center workers provide this disclosure any time a client requests those services.
  • Penalties — Nothing was changed to mitigate the penalties.
  • Reporting of child abuse — The final draft included language that would permit pregnancy center staff to report child abuse and rape to law enforcement authorities. This is very significant — it eliminated the single worst part of the original bill, which would have imposed draconian penalties on those who were protecting children from exploitation.
  • The result was that, while there were some improvements, Intro 371 was still a terrible bill.  Most significantly, though, nothing had been done to protect the bill from the argument that it violates the First Amendment rights of the centers and their staff.  In my opinion, the entire structure of the bill, along with several specific provisions, are fatally flawed, and will provide fertile ground for the pregnancy centers’ attorneys when they file their lawsuit to strike it down. The City’s attorneys are going to have their hands full defending this.

    The Way Forward

    While the passage of the bill has to be read as a defeat for the pro-life movement, there are some positive things that can be taken away.  The emergence of the seeds of an ecumenical coalition of interfaith pro-life leaders is very encouraging, and will have to be nurtured.  The importance of the pregnancy centers was highlighted, ironically, by the amount of effort that the pro-abortion movement spent in trying to harm them.  They are literally the front lines of the struggle to promote a culture of life, and to help pregnant women choose life.  As a community we need to rededicate ourselves to supporting them.

    In the end, though, I am left to wonder about the deeper meaning of it all.  I believe  that God sometimes allows misfortune, failure, and defeat to befall us so that we may learn.  One of the key lessons is to trust Him more, and me less.  Another is that He wishes us to constantly evaluate our hearts and our actions to make sure that they conform to His will, that they reflect a loving attitude to friend and foe alike, and that they give witness to His love for all his children.

    I need to be constantly reminded that it’s not my will, but His will, that has to be done.

    I was present at the final Council vote, and afterwards I was pretty downhearted.  After I emailed the result back to the Office, Sr. Lucy replied with a comment by St. Augustine, which had been in that day’s Office of Readings.  I can’t think of a better way to summarize the key lesson that I need to take away from this experience:

    “Your best servant is he who is intent not so much on hearing his petition answered, as rather on willing whatever he hears from You.”