One of our volunteers, R, shared a recent interaction on the sidewalk that she could only describe as “amazing.” As R was grabbing some things out of her car, a woman came up to her prayer partner, B, and gave him a big hug. As you might imagine, she was pretty surprised to learn that this young lady didn't know B, she just wanted to thank him for being out there.
The young lady shared her story with us. A year ago, she came to the abortion clinic where she ran into some of the Greater Columbus Right to Life sidewalk counselors, as she had been warned by the abortion clinic that she would. She shared that she was specifically warned to stay away from and ignore us while they confirmed and preyed upon her worst fears: that she would not be able to take care of her new baby and her 8-year old child. She shared that, in hindsight, the SWC team were people that God had sent to stop her from having the abortion, but that she listened to the clinic, walked right around the us, and went in for her abortion.
She shared that in the past year, she has been crushed by her abortion and so has her daughter, and she has always wanted to stop and thank us, but never quite could. Today, however, something was different. Today, as she drove by, she was on her way to a job interview. She was also pregnant. This time, when her boyfriend told her to just get rid of the baby, she decided to get rid of him and find a better job to make a life for her and her children. She also shared that she continues to grieve the loss of her child, but that she has consolation in the love and forgiveness of Christ and is now working on forgiving herself. We were able to get her to a pregnancy help center and connect her with post-abortion healing programs. After some tears and hugs, she left, leaving our volunteers with the powerful knowledge that their efforts had turned this woman away from the abortion clinic, just not in the way or on the day that we thought.
Please keep this woman and her children – born and unborn in your prayers. We would also ask especially for your prayers with respect to another couple we met earlier that same day. In this case, the woman learned that she had cancer and was referred to Founder’s for an abortion prior to beginning treatment. They took some information, but went in to get the opinion of the clinic anyway.
This day’s experience underscores a need that we see to especially continue our efforts of prayer and presence beyond just the death hours at the clinic. For this reason, we have recently started a “second shift” of volunteers at the clinic. This second shift is going to emphasize our commitment to caring for the post-abortive woman and continuing to be there as a prayerful and peaceful witness to the mercy of God. If you would like to join us for our weekly prayer list, you can sign up at www.gcrtl.org/pray. Statistical evidence shows that about 50% of women who seek abortions have one or more abortions in their past. Again and again, I remind our volunteers that our job is not to save babies from abortion. Our job is to be faithful in planting the seed in the heart of the mother and to work to transform the culture. It is beautiful when the seeds that we plant take immediate root in the form of a turn-away, and we are so thankful to the sixteen turn-aways that we have seen this year (not counting the one that took a year which I just shared!!), but even when it takes some time, we have reason for optimism and hope.
Speaking of planting a seed – that is the theme of this year’s annual banquet with special guest Matt Walsh. If you support our work and would like to meet some more of our people, we’d love to have you join us for the banquet. God Bless, and keep on praying!
Over the past few days, we’ve gotten quite a few questions from people about SB 165, legislation establishing a MOLST, or Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment. There is some disagreement among prolife organizations when it comes to the legislation, with organizations like Ohio Right to Life, the Catholic Conference, and the Catholic Diocese of Columbus’ Office of Social Concerns remaining neutral while others, such as Toledo, Cincinatti, and Cleveland Right to Life organizations, Citizens for Community Values, and the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Foundation opposed to the legislation. The organizations opposing the legislation have also pointed to other groups, such as the Catholic Medical Association that generally oppose MOLST-type legislation but that have not weighed in on the bill.
As an organization operating as a 501c(3), Greater Columbus Right to Life does not think that it is appropriate for us to weigh in on a specific piece of legislation. However, we are rightly concerned with the ethics of end-of-life decision making, and we can see that the debate on the subject has left many of our volunteers and friends a bit confused.
For those who are interested, the non-partisan Legislative Services Commission has copies of the legislation, its summary, and its fiscal note available online. You can also read the statement from Ohio Right to Life on why they remain neutral on the bill, and you can read a letter from the above-described coalition of pro-life organizations opposed to the legislation. You can also read testimony from the legislative hearings on SB 165 by visiting the Civil Justice Committee's page. To read the testimony you will need to scroll down to the bottom of the page and select the “Committee Documents” page. The most recent hearings where SB 165 was discussed were April 27, April 20, and December 8 (2015). By clicking on those tabs, you can open copies of the testimony. If, after reading them, you would like to contact your legislator, you can do so.
We do think that this is a good opportunity to talk about the difference between medical directives and health care proxies. Medical directives – be they DNR or MOLST or POLST, are often considered to be ethically questionable. As a pro-life person, we strongly encourage that you forgo both DNR and traditional “living will” forms and instead obtain a durable healthcare power of attorney that authorizes a trusted person to make decisions on your behalf if you are no longer capable. One of our goals for 2016 is to develop a more robust education and advocacy program on end-of-life care and decision making for the central Ohio community. We have quite a few resources available on our website (click on the “end of life” tab), and will continue to develop that part of our page. We are also getting ready to announce some upcoming educational opportunities on end-of-life ethics and care. If this is something that interests you and you’d like to volunteer with that effort, please let us know.
We hope that this helps to sort out some of the confusion on SB 165 and helps you to form an opinion on if it is more appropriate to be neutral or opposed as a pro-life person.
Today’s sidewalk snapshot comes to you courtesy of M, one of our Saturday stalwarts! She shared three interactions from passers-by. The first one was that a man stopped by to thank the group for praying, but he also noted that there is a need for more people to pay attention to the injustices throughout life, especially those that occur in the black community.
A while later, a second car pulled up. The woman driving said that she had been wanting to come to thank our group for a while. She said that she showed up for an abortion about a year ago and after speaking to “ladies praying a rosary” she left. She then introduced us to her one-year old son. According to M, “She was glowing and had tears of joy. At the time she was thanking us, a car drove by and yelled that we should be ashamed of ourselves. So ironic.”
That is a lot for one day, but here are my thoughts. First – praise the Lord! It is a rare (and joyous) day that we get to meet the children who were born because someone cared enough to have the courage to come pray in front of the abortion clinic. Our efforts are focused on empowering women to turn away from the clinic and seek help from a pro-life pregnancy help center. Because both we and the pregnancy help centers take privacy very seriously, we often do not see or hear much in the way of follow-up.
Second – we are not entirely sure who the “ladies praying the rosary” were – but it could have been one of our dedicated sidewalk counselors, one of our frequent prayer partners, or even someone participating in the spring 40 Days for Life campaign last year. Whether you have an hour a month, an hour a week, or an hour a day, we can use your help, and most importantly – God can use your efforts to change a heart and save a life.
Third – we agree that there is a need for people to pay attention to the injustices throughout life, especially those that occur in the black community. As our friend Bryan from Stand True says, social justice starts in the womb. While a popular narrative is that pro-life folks have a “fetus fetish” (yes, that is an actual accusation of our work), the reality is that pro-life people are engaged in a whole continuum of care. They are the people caring for ill family members, they are the families serving in soup kitchens, and they are the churches that take seriously the efforts to care for those society has turned its back on. In fact, it is our position which is consistent. The reason that black lives matter, the reason that we should care for the sick and house the homeless and help out the needy is because all human life has intrinsic value – value which is not determined by age, income, ability, wealth, or any other thing which changes over the course of a lifetime. We do not get to pick and “choose” which lives matter – because they all do. Ok, so sometimes we have a debate about the best way to help protect the dignity of that life. It is also a reality that we sometimes fail. We aren’t claiming that we are perfect- merely that we seek to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.
Lastly, to the car driving by yelling that we should be ashamed of ourselves – oh, the irony coming from the crowd whose mantra is the pseudo-biblical and out-of-context, “thou shall not judge.” In a sense, however, he or she is not entirely wrong. We should be ashamed of ourselves. We should be ashamed that we live in a society where women see abortion as their best and only option. We should be ashamed that in the year 2016 we think that there is something magical about the birth canal or a C-section that conveys both personhood and basic human rights. It is a shame that in a metropolitan area with a population of a little more than two million, where almost half a million people identify as Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, our efforts are carried out by a core of volunteers that number in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands. We should also be ashamed that our efforts are often hamstrung by our own egos and the petty bickering that comes from differences in strategy or creed. Daring to stand up for life in the public square? Daring to pray in public? Hearing the thankfulness, seeing the joy, and understanding the love of a mother who chose life for her son, and having the rare occasion to meet the fruits of our work? There is nothing of shame there, only joy and grateful hearts.
Thanks for all of the “Love” for our new “sidewalk snapshots” – short vignettes that share our tales from the sidewalk! Are you a GCRTL volunteer who would like to share your story from the sidewalk? Let us know! Are you ready to join our efforts in your own way? Join our prayer team today.
I got a call yesterday from one of our volunteers, M. She started by saying, “I have to tell you the most blessed story. I was praying at Founder’s today, and it was such a grace-filled day. God just used my stupidity. I didn’t have any literature, I didn’t say the right things, and yet somehow, in my conversations with a Dad, he had a change of heart, went in to talk to his partner, and they decided to choose life for their baby!”
As M went on, she explained that the gentleman approached her and explained that they already had three children and that his partner couldn’t have this one. Because of some confusion, M thought that the woman was pregnant by another man and that they had decided to abort this one. In the course of explaining things, the father said over and over again, “No, this is my baby. It is mine. I am the father.” Then, as M said, something clicked in the father. He realized that this was his baby. She went on to say, “His tone then changed from justifying it to me to justifying it to himself. Finally, I looked at him and said ‘You have three other children? You must be exhausted. She must be exhausted.” He then looked at Maureen, a little overwhelmed, and said, “I am. We are.” M then looked at him and said, “It is hard, but it gets better, and there are people who want to help you.” The father then said to himself one last time, “I am the father,” and he went inside. In a few minutes, he and the mother of his child came out, both of them absolutely elated. M encouraged them to go to the nearby pregnancy center where there is hope and help, waiting for them.
There are a few takeaways from this conversation. The first is that M kept saying, over and over, “It was such an amazing blessing. God used my stupidity in the moment to bring about great goodness.” For whatever reason, M didn’t quite understand the nature of the relationship, and for whatever reason, the man felt he needed to explain. In doing so, he repeated again and again, “I am the father. It is my baby. I AM THE FATHER!” Eventually, it just clicked with him, and in a way that it may not have happened if her confusion hadn't led him to clarify. I think M was being a bit hard on herself. It wasn’t her stupidity, just a little confusion on her part. That however, brings me to my second takeaway, which is that so many potential volunteers stay away because they do not know what to say; they fear that they are not sufficiently skilled in apologetics; they think that they will say the wrong thing and make it worse; or they just let their doubts and fears keep them away. One of the things that we emphasize in our trainings is that our volunteers are not called to be successful; they are called to be faithful and loving and committed. Our job is not to save babies, but to plant seeds. If we do that and keep doing that, we can eventually step back and see how God has woven even our missteps into a beautiful tapestry. Sometimes it is immediate – like in the case of the turn-away, sometimes it takes a bit longer – like when one of our volunteers gets a text message with a photo of a baby six or eight months down the road, and sometimes we may never fully see it with our human eyes. Even if we never, ever, ever see the fruits of our efforts in the world, we have faith that they are there. In fact, I frequently hear our volunteers say, “I started doing this because I wanted to save babies, I kept doing it because I saw the opportunity to help women, but what surprised me the most of all is how my own faith has deepened – how my life has changed.”
While there are probably a few more takeaways from this conversation, the last one that I want to focus on is how critical it is to build communities that support the dignity of human life at all stages. We often have a picture in our head of what a woman who is abortion-minded looks like. It leads us to make assumptions about who is and who is not at risk of an abortion. In this day and age, every pregnant woman is a little at risk of abortion, because at some moment we all face a crisis. Maybe it is financial. Maybe it is substance abuse. Maybe it is a bad relationship and a woman who wants out or desperately wants to stay in. Perhaps it is school, work, or lack of work. It could even be a desperately wanted baby with a devastating diagnosis. It might even be an incredibly loving family that is just so very tired and a little overwhelmed.
Today I’d like to ask you to lift up this father and mother and their four children – three on the outside and one in the womb. Let’s pray that they are strengthened and fortified, not only by God who is our greatest consolation, but by a community of people whose faith affirms the dignity of all human life, every day.
Thank you M, for being out there with #TeamThursday! You are amazing.
PS: To further illustrate this point, M and her prayer partner had a second turn-away on Thursday, this one in spite of a language barrier. Once again proving that you need not be perfect in order to change someone’s life!
Things are not always easy on the sidewalk. Over and over again my volunteers share that there are two kinds of days that are extra tough. The first is an average Thursday. Thursdays tend to be less busy days at the abortion clinic, probably because that is the day that Accu-Medical comes to pick up and dispose of the past week’s aborted babies. While there has been much discussion of Stericycle as a national aborted tissue disposal company, both of the central Ohio abortion clinics (Planned Parenthood and Founder’s) have contracts (or in the last six months have had contracts) with Accu-Medical. Our Thursday volunteers do triple duty. They sidewalk counsel women going in, they pray for them and their unborn children about to be aborted, and they also serve as mourners at an anonymous funeral procession for unknown numbers of children as box after box of fetal remains is carted out of the building. Thursdays are tough days.
The other tough days are those when they encounter someone who is a professing Christian who agrees that abortion is wrong and persists in doing it anyway. That is what happened last Wednesday with R, one of our Sidewalk Counselors.
On this particular Wednesday, R had a tough day; a lot of hard hearts. There was also one very joyful turn away. But what really stuck with her was talking to the mother of a girl going in to have an abortion. The mother reported that her (very young) teenage daughter was an excellent student and an aspiring athlete and that they knew abortion was wrong, but that God would forgive them, because this is what they “have” to do. More than you might imagine, we hear, “I know that this (abortion) is wrong, but God will forgive me.” Folks, if we could just get prolife people to stop having abortions, the abortion rate would plummet overnight.
As R described it to me, the mother tearfully acknowledged that she was going to leave the abortion clinic to go to church to pray for forgiveness for the abortion. Do not be confused, as I was at first. The mother was not indicating that she would be leaving the appointment to pray about what they almost did. On this Wednesday, the mother of the teenager and the grandmother of the unborn child was, before the abortion, already planning to leave the clinic to ask for forgiveness for what they were doing. She explained that her daughter, a young teenager, was a good student with a bright future ahead of her who made a mistake. The mother indicated that she had too many kids to also raise her daughter’s child and that they knew that abortion was wrong, but that this is what they had to do so the daughter could continue to do well in school, compete in athletics, and get into a good college and have a career. All of our volunteer’s pleading and comments were not enough to sway them from this course of action.
A blog post is not enough to get into the intricacies of what it means for our society when we compartmentalize our beliefs so that on one hand we “do what we have to do” and on the other “believe what we ought to believe.” Nor is this intended as a vehicle to beat up on women who were in incredibly difficult circumstances and chose abortion not fully realizing the ramifications of that choice. It is also not intended to imply that grace and forgiveness and healing are not available to anyone who is truly sorry for what they have done and seeks forgiveness. We enter into this work in the reality that we are all broken people living in a broken world and that abortion is but one manifestation of this brokenness.
But here is the thing, the very definition of sin is to do something of your own free will with full knowledge that doing it is wrong. To do so while presuming God will forgive you is extremely problematic for a few reasons, but two specifically come to mind. The first is that genuine repentance means feeling genuine sorrow. Why do something knowing that you will be sorry for it? Remember, we were not talking to a scared pregnant early teen-aged girl here, but to her mother – who was fully complicit in and encouraging of the abortion. The second problem is that we often forget that while God’s forgiveness is unending, there are consequences in this world for our actions. There are physical complications from abortion and many women express psychological and mental and spiritual consequences. Why willingly take on all of this, and why willingly let your teenage daughter take on all this?
Sometimes it is incredibly tough, as our volunteer out that day, R, will tell you, and it starts to feel like we are being outmaneuvered by a character in CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. If you are familiar with the book you may remember the seventh letter, where Screwtape explains to his protégé that God wants men to be concerned with what they do, but that evil wants them to be preoccupied with what is happening to them. If you are not familiar with the book, you should put it on your reading list sometime.
This is why those days are so hard, because you know that the remorse and the sorrow will come for the mothers, and you wonder if you could have done it better – maybe you should have been gentler or brought more tough love. Again, this is where we must remember that while we seek to get better every day, our job is not to be successful, but to be faithful, and to plant the seed.
I sometimes describe our volunteers as the last sign of hope for a woman entering the abortion clinic and the first sign of mercy for those walking out of it, and we will continue to be that. In many ways, that is part of the role of our Sidewalk Volunteers – we serve as advocates for the unborn children and we serve as witnesses to God’s Truth – from the perspective of both the law and the love. I also hope that as frustrating as this situation is, how often do we presume God’s mercy in forgiving our own sins, especially those that are less visible?
So I ask you today, to pray for this Mother and Grandmother, pray for her daughter’s lost motherhood, pray for the unborn child and others like it at risk for abortion. But also pray for your fellow Christian brothers and sisters that we continue to grow in faith and that we reject the empty promises of the one who wants us to stop thinking about the nature of what we do and start thinking about the situation that we are in.
 And if you decide to buy it on amazon.com, be sure to go to smile.amazon.com first and support GCRTL with your purchase!
For Immediate Release
April 1, 2016
(Note: This was an April Fool's Joke, which we are leaving archived on our page but do now want to cause any confusion)
GCRTL Expands Mission Statement:
Within 12 hours, membership triples and annual budget needs met.
COLUMBUS, OH – At the March 31 meeting of the Board of Trustees the board unanimously agreed to expand the mission and vision of the organization. Henceforth, GCRTL will not only focus on efforts to defend the sanctity of all human life from conception until natural death, but the group will also focus on putting an end to the unjust killing of innocent companion animals.
A representative of the organization noted, “For years, we have worked tirelessly to end the death and destruction of unborn children, specifically targeting abortion. In recent years, we have become aware of the need to also focus on end-of-life issues. Numerous states are now legalizing assisted suicide and euthanasia. As part of our Board discussion, we became aware that humans are not the only ones threatened by euthanasia.” The representative continued, “The reality is, most people consider their companion animals to be active members of their families, often enjoying a relationship that parallels that of family. Many have delayed marriage and family, preferring instead to invest emotional relationships in their pets, or as they are often called, fur-kids. And the reality is that as part of our work to continue fighting against the death and destruction of innocent unborn children in the womb, we see an opportunity to help shape people’s consciousness as to the value of all life. Of course we are going to continue working to end abortion, and we are making great strides. In 2012, there were 5698 abortions performed in Franklin County. There were also 5,226 dogs euthanized in Franklin County. Our efforts to reduce abortion have had an impact – more than a 20% reduction in just two years. Imagine if we took that level of success to the humane society!” The representative added, “We realized that there is such a parallel here between human children and fur children, and we thought that perhaps by expanding our mission we could tap into something so help people see the parallel between the injustice of killing unborn children and the cruelty of euthanizing furkids, and in doing so we could really get people to think more seriously about adoption – across species – as a better option.”
The organization has not yet set its program parameters. However, in the twelve or so hours that the change was made, the community response has been significant. A representative commented, “We have had such an outpouring of support – both from a volunteer and a financial standpoint. Literally, hundreds of people have stepped up willing to pray outside of the dog kill facilities, and thousands of dollars have poured in to support our efforts. Corporate donations, especially, have skyrocketed. It is amazing at the number of people and businesses who have perceived efforts to protect the unborn as fringe-related activity are now stepping up to the plate with checkbooks in hand. We are exploring a partnership that will streamline the infant and puppy adoption processes, and may ask the legislature to consider expanding tax advantages to families who are willing to adopt both dogs and babies. I think it is really a win-win for central Ohio.”
Asked about species of animals beyond dogs, the representative commented, “Well, among pro-life circles, the incremental approach is a hotly debated topic. We are not trying to delve into that argument. We think it is possible to have a principled and consistent approach that also works with a strategic approach to changing the culture. Of course we think that all human life has dignity and should be protected, and we are strong advocates for the appropriate standard of care for companion and other animals. Right now we are going to start off with dogs, and as we learn and grow we can hopefully expand to include other companion animals such as cats, gerbils, and the occasional goat.”
For more information about this program, to get involved, or if you are a bit confused, we highly suggest you visit our webpage for more information: www.gcrtl.org/dogs.
Many pro-life individuals wear the tiny feet pins, representing the size of a child’s feet at ten weeks gestation. Today the FDA has announced a policy change that will expand the use of the abortion pill in Ohio to 70 days gestation – the same age as is represented by those tiny feet pins.
Generally, the change will have the most dramatic effect in Ohio, where a state law passed in 2004 (and then litigated until 2012) required that it be administered and prescribed exactly per the FDA label. Planned Parenthood vigorously argued for off-label use in Ohio, which is how it uses the drug in most states. In 2011, the FDA released a post-marketing report that RU-486 was responsible for at least 14 maternal deaths and more than 2200 serious complications in the US and at least 5 deaths outside of the US. Nationally, the abortion pill accounts for about 20-25% of all abortions. Here in Ohio, all medical abortions combined are about 5%.
By our reading, there will be three changes which will most dramatically impact Ohioans. The first is that the gestation stage at which the drug is used will be almost doubled. Previously, it was legal to use the drug up to 49 days gestation. The new label, effective today, will permit it to be used to 70 days gestation - 10 weeks. Secondly, it will reduce the requirement that each dose of the drug be administered by a physician. Currently each dose must be taken in clinic (some have questioned if this is the actual practice in some clinics). Now, the first dose will be administered in office but the second dose will be taken at home or "at a place convenient" to the woman. The third change will lower the dosing requirements.
The 2016 standards, announced by the FDA today, state:
Mifeprex is approved, in a regimen with misoprostol, to end a pregnancy through 70 days gestation (70 days or less since the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period). The approved Mifeprex dosing regimen is:
In addition to the complications noted above, Greater Columbus Right to Life has documented numerous botched abortions in women who were prescribed the RU-486 regimen locally in recent years. We will continue to monitor the available reports.
Today’s decision will undoubtedly have abortion advocates cheering that medical abortions will be available to more women, later in their pregnancies, with fewer visits to a doctor, and at a lesser cost. We cannot cheer. Despite the relatively low number of medical abortions in our state, they make up a large part of the documented complications from abortion. Intentionally expanding the availability and use of the abortion drug will increase the deaths of unborn children and put more women in physical danger. That the FDA amended this drug label despite its own documented adverse affects is unconscionable and suggests that this is a political decision made at the request of the abortion industry.
Abortion shows a fundamental disregard for the dignity of human life. It is a horrific and barbarous practice regardless of how it is performed or at what stage the child’s humanity is taken. Today’s move by the FDA is a step in the wrong direction. We will update you as additional information is made available, including information on how state regulatory entities respond.
Note: RU-486 works by blocking progesterone in the body. Without progesterone, a pregnancy cannot continue. For this reason, some people compare the abortion pill to intentionally inducing a miscarriage. In Ohio, the abortion pill has traditionally been regulated in the same manner as a surgical abortion, although recent policy changes have resulted in several new "pill mills" being opened outside of an ambulatory surgical facility environment. Medical abortions are different than so-called emergency contraception, which works in the same way that most hormonal birth control pills work. Many people are confused by the distinction between the abortion pill, which intentionally ends an established pregnancy, and the “morning after” (also called “Plan B”) pill, which can act as an abortifacient by preventing the implantation of a recently fertilized ovum. Here is a fact sheet from the Association of Reproductive Health Officials that offers an explanation of the difference. We provide this as an explanation, not as an endorsement. GCRTL policy opposes all abortifacients.
Note 2: This entry will be updated for content at our discretion. Any changes are to increase clarity.
Since 2007, Greater Columbus Right to Life (GCRTL) has been narrowing its focus to build a culture of life by creating a community of prayer, service, and education. In the process, we have helped hundreds of women turn away from the abortion clinic, seen nearly a dozen abortion clinic employees leave the industry, and built life-changing communities of prayer throughout central Ohio. Recently, a group of Pilgrims representing GCRTL took that focus on prayer and community to a deeper level by traveling to Mexico as part of a pilgrimage, which I was honored to lead. The trip was under the spiritual direction of Fr. Nick Droll. When planning the pilgrimage, there were three things that I wanted to focus on: the role of Our Lady of Guadalupe in evangelizing the Americas and bringing an end to the bloody practice of infant and child sacrifice; the value of praying with our counterparts in Mexico who are building a continual prayer presence through 40 Days for Life and local church outreach at Mexican abortion clinics, and the need that we have to get that spiritual ‘recharge’ as part of our own faith lives. There is a deeply spiritual element to prolife work and it opens us up to the possibility of spiritual warfare in a way that I had not really anticipated.
With the assistance of Tekton Ministries, we built an itinerary that combined the typical pilgrimage visits to churches, basilicas, and holy sites with the elements of service often seen as part of a missions trip. We began most days with prayer at a local abortion clinic, joining 40 Days for Life campaigns at the Roma and Ixtapalapa neighborhoods’ offices of Marie Stopes.
Marie Stopes was a British contemporary of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. The two shared a zeal for contraception, abortion, and eugenics. In Mexico City, abortion is legal until 12 weeks, the clinics are open 7 days a week, and while it is now legal to gather outside of the clinics to pray, it is not legal to speak to a woman entering the abortion clinic. In only a few years, the campaigns have been effective – one of the three clinics we planned to pray at closed in late 2015. It was really amazing to be there. We have always found that our efforts are the most effective when people join together in peaceful prayer and witness from different churches, different cultures, and even different faiths; I had the same sense with our friends in Mexico. Tere, the 40 Days Campaign leader in Ixtapalapa told us several times that it meant so much to her and her volunteers that we would come to support them. We also heard from our tour guide that he has been guiding pilgrimages in Mexico for more than 25 years, and that our group praying with his people that had moved him to tears. Later, he shared that our request to pray at a location in his neighborhood opened his eyes to a clinic that he had not known existed. It was not only our guide and the local campaign who were moved; Kelly Hamilton, GCRTL Treasurer and volunteer with a local pregnancy help center commented, “Seeing the 40 Days for Life sign in Spanish and praying with our pro-life brothers and sisters in Mexico was humbling and motivating. This is an international prayer movement that unites pro-lifers around the world. We stand together in solidarity to protect women and the unborn from abortion.”
Our pilgrimage to Mexico happened to coincide with Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico, something which created a little additional logistical work but also gave those of us brave enough to venture out into the city one night an opportunity to see Pope Francis pass by in his motorcade. It also meant that many of the centuries-old churches and basilicas that the pilgrims visited were especially bedecked with flowers and other tributes. People have many perceptions of Mexico, and often those perceptions are not flattering, but it really is something special to be in a country where nearly the entire population is Christian and mostly Catholic. Our tour guide Javier estimated the population of Mexico to be 90-93% Catholic. While there is plenty of brightly painted pottery, a high rate of poverty, and communities suffering from corruption and cartels, our group had the opportunity to see behind the stereotypical façade to witness the faith, the art and architecture, the generosity, and the beauty of Mexico and her people. Earl Crosby, GCRTL Vice President noted, “The pilgrimage opened my eyes to how wide and deep Catholicism took root in Mexico in the 16th century. Long before Jamestown started build primitive cabins, Mexico was building magnificent cathedrals, which even today far out shine most of the cathedrals in the United States.”
The pilgrims, under the spiritual direction of Father Nick Droll, were able to spend two days at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe – the first and last days of the trip. In addition to visiting the Basilica and walking through the Doors of Mercy to view the Tilma, we went to the Old Basilica, The Church of the Indigenous, and after climbing Tepeyac Hill, The Church of the Well. The pilgrims had an opportunity to visit Tulpetlac – thus visiting all five apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We were able celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a massive church constructed in the shape of a circle with a series of side altars overlooking the rest of the church, the main altar, and the Tilma.
The group also had the opportunity to pray at some of the most beautiful churches in the world, heavily adorned with baroque and rococo paintings and carvings. Two especially stood out– The Shrine of Our Lady of Ocotlan and the Santa Prisca Cathedral. Our Lady of Octotlan is a lesser-known miraculous image of the Virgin Mary that appeared to a pious indigenous convert in the midst of a plague. The Santa Prisca Cathedral in Taxco was founded by the Dominicans and built to form a Rosary. The church and the art were stunning, to such a degree that during Mass, I found myself needing to close my eyes. It was dizzying – to witness the beauty of the Mass in a place of such beauty. I mentioned the feeling to a fellow pilgrim, and she agreed, adding: “and yet, if you think about it, our senses cannot take in this beauty, but it is nothing compared to what Heaven will be like.”
If you would like to experience more of the sights and sounds of our pilgrimage to Mexico, you can visit the trip page at www.gcrtl.org/guadalupe. We also would like to invite you to join your prayers to ours for an end to abortion by joining our spiritual adoption program. We designed 1000 prayer cards with an image of Our Lady and an invitation to spiritually adopt an unborn child at risk of abortion. We took those prayer cards with us to Mexico, where they were blessed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We would love to gift one of them to you as part of our spiritual adoption program. An alternate version of the card featuring a beautiful unborn child and fetal development information is available for those who would prefer to join the program from an ecumenical erspective. Just visit www.gcrtl.org/pray to request your card.
Thank you to all of the pilgrims who joined us, our hosts in Mexico, and especially our spiritual director for the pilgrimage, Fr. Nicholas Droll, who summed it up perfectly: “Our pilgrimage to Mexico was an amazing experience, and we thank our Blessed Lord and Our Lady of Guadalupe that we were able to witness to the sacredness of human life, even in another country, while our Holy Father was also visiting.”
To quote myself as a teenager, "Duh."
For years, pro-life voices have been pointing to the link between previous abortions and pre-term birth, but the concern has been largely ignored by the abortion industry and public health entities.
More recently, Ohio has spent considerable time and resources combating our infant mortality rate, especially the mortality rates among African-American infants - where we are the worst in the nation. Suggested actions to improve Ohio's infant mortality rates include smoking cessation, safe sleep, reducing premature births, and increasing contraceptive use and breastfeeding to "safely space" childbirth are all among the state's recommendations to reduce Ohio's infant mortality rates. Setting aside our concerns with some of the tone of these public health recommendations, perhaps now public officials will consider a recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology finding that a prior surgical abortion increased pre-term birth and reduced birth weight by a statistically significant amount.
The study itself did not take a medical or moral stance against abortion. If anything, the contents could be said to have a preference toward encouraging the development of "safer" surgical procedures or making more medical-style abortions available to women. In fact, the study didn't actually single out induced surgical abortions, it focused instead on surgical efforts to "clear the uterus" following an induced abortion or a miscarriage, comparing them to outcomes that included medically induced abortions, miscarriages, and women with no prior pregnancy loss.
An analysis of the study noted, "Surgical evacuation of the uterus mechanically stretches the cervix, and does so quickly, Dr. Berghella says. 'In normal birth, dilation of the cervix occurs slowly over a period of many hours. Mechanically stretching the cervix, however, may result in permanent physical injury to the cervix.' Resulting scar tissue, for example, could increase the probability of faulty placental implantation in the womb, and could increase risk for infectious diseases."
Researchers considered more than 1 million women in 36 studies. They found that women with a history of surgical uterine evacuation had a higher (0.7) percent chance of preterm birth and a higher (by 1.4) percent of babies born with a low birth weight than those who had neither surgical nor medical procedures.
According to the analysis cited above, "'These data — the most comprehensive look at the issue to date — find that prior surgical uterine evacuation may be an independent risk factor for preterm birth' says Berghella. 'The findings warrant caution in the use of these surgical techniques...'"
Or, perhaps they just underscore what we have been saying all along: Abortion kills unborn children and hurts women.
This is especially interesting in light of the editorial pushback from newspapers and abortion advocates over House Bill 294, pending legislation that would eliminate about $1.3 billion in funding from Planned Parenthood (and other organizations that provide abortions). Those reports claim that the state is cutting infant mortality programs and denying low-income patients needed health services. As a reality check: In 2014, Planned Parenthood received $3.7 million from the state of Ohio. Most of that (about $2.4 million) was medicaid reimbursement. Medicaid is the state-funded insurance program for low income Ohioans. HB 294 does not stop medicaid reimbursement to Planned Parenthood for medical services rendered (things like annual gyn exams). The rest of the money, about $1.3 million is from other state programs with names like "healthy moms, healthy babies," smoking cessation, and other programs. In 2014, Planned Parenthood got about $250,000 to fight infant mortality.
We are not going to solve Ohio's infant mortality crisis by giving money to the organization that proudly performs one third of all abortions in the United States. We have been saying that for decades, but it is nice to read it in black and white in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
February is Black History Month. On Monday, I logged into Google and noted that they had changed their logo artwork into a Google "Doodle" of Frederick Douglass.
During Black History Month, pro-life organizations often point to the work of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, drawing parallels between the Civil Rights movement and the movement to end abortion. We will speak to the disproportionately high abortion rates in the African-American community, often with considerable public blow-back - such as that faced Purdue Students for Life this week and our Roe Remembrance special guest Madison Gesiotto over the past few months. Black History month gives an extra boost to prominent black voices in the pro-life movement, both local voices like Rev John Coats and national voices like the Reverend Walter Hoye, both good friends of Greater Columbus Right to Life. Speaking of Rev Hoye, the speaker at our 2013 Annual Banquet, he was recent on the Catholic Doctors' Show (1/27/16), talking about Rev Martin Luther King Jr, Rev Hoye's own letter to clergy from jail, and the prolife movement as a civil rights effort. These are all good conversations to have - not just in February, but year-round.
However, the Google Doodle of Frederick Douglass made me pause for a moment to consider that it is strange he is not more frequently quoted by pro-life leaders, and that is a shame. Curiously, I googled "Frederick Douglass pro-life" and only 67,000 hits came up. By comparison, searching "Martin Luther King pro-life" resulted in about 400,000 hits. It seems as though Frederick Douglass is not well known, or perhaps not as well cited by pro-life leaders, as he should be
As an unjustly brief introduction for those who may not recall his place in American history, Douglass was born a slave, separated from his mother shortly after birth, and likely conceived in rape. He was self-taught to read and write, and believing education to be integrally linked with freedom he began secretly teaching other slaves how to read and write. In his teens, he was sent to serve a man with an especial reputation for cruelty and breaking slaves. He nearly "broke" Douglass with horrific beatings, until the day that Douglass boldly stood up to him. At the age of 20, and after several failed attempts, he escaped via train to New York, eventually becoming the most eloquent abolition speaker in the United States, and arguably one of the most impressive orators in Western Civilization.
The Google Doodle of Frederick Douglass not only made me wonder why more pro-life voices do not echo his sentiments, but it inspired me to pause to read one of his famous speeches, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?". If you have never read it, you should; if you haven't read it for a while, you should read it again. It is not a short speech, but it is very worth it.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
As I continued to read the speech (and it is not short), I realized that the pro-life movement does echo the sentiments of Frederick Douglass - we just do not attribute our words to him with the frequency that we should. That is a shame. His challenge to the nation, half slave and half free, divided by the Mason-Dixon line to was to consider the arbitrary nature of an unjust and immoral law which attempted to deny his humanity. I wonder if our modern day equivalent is the post-viability standard set by Casey - a line drawn in the legal sand that arbitrarily and unjustly determines the point where the life of an unborn child has the potential of legal standing.
I've honestly never read anything of Frederick Douglass suggesting he had an opinion on abortion. Perhaps if I re-read his collected works there might be a statement one way or the other. But the reality is that we do not need to appropriate the words of Frederick Douglass in order to make them - or our work - valid. Ending abortion isn't right because ending slavery was right. Ending abortion and ending slavery are both right because there is something that is fundamentally true about what it means to possess an inherent human dignity because we are made in the image and likeness of our Creator.
So read the speech, and after you've read it think about it, and after you've done both - if you'd like to get together to talk about it, let me know. It could be fun.
Usually, when I wish people a Happy Birthday, I jokingly add "even though you were fully human for about 9 months before then." In this case, Happy Birthday Frederick Douglass, even though you were fully human for 20 years and 9 months before it was legally recognized.