In the days leading up to the adoption of the latest spending bill in Washington, my social media feeds were full of posts from a variety of pro-life groups addressing one topic: including protection of medical conscience rights in the spending bill. To anyone unfamiliar with the federal budget process, an appropriations bill would sound like an odd place to mention conscience rights. But as we know, all kinds of oddball things work their way into budget deals.

As it happens, the conscience protection act promoted by pro-lifers was not included in the spending bill approved on March 22. I would have shrugged – a pro-life initiative rejected in Washington? so what else is new? – but for a similar disappointment closer to home. A week before the federal spending bill was adopted, a bill to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals was rejected in my state’s legislature by a two-to-one margin.

Lest you think this is a partisan problem, note that the GOP holds majorities in the legislative bodies at issue here.

I was at the hearing for the state-level bill. The thrust of the opposition to conscience legislation boiled down to this: abortion is health care, and those who don’t want to participate in abortions have no business in the medical field.

The argument was couched in terms of denial of access: if a pharmacist doesn’t want to hand out an abortion-inducing drug, that might prevent or delay a woman’s abortion; if some doctor refuses to participate in abortion, he might let a hemorrhaging woman bleed to death. (Nonsense, but some legislators swallowed that whopper whole.)

The supporters of conscience legislation testified to the primacy of conscience, which our own state’s constitution explicitly recognizes as a natural right, not one that needs to be granted. They cited the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They spoke of their religious and ethical beliefs and how they shouldn’t be fired for sticking to them.

“Access” met conscience, and “access” won.

These state and federal votes were hardly the last word. They’re intriguing, though. They indicate to me that hostility and indifference to conscience rights are alive and well, even in more-or-less respectable circles. Fortunately, there are people pushing back.

I kinda liked Cardinal Dolan’s pushback on the federal vote.

The failure of Congress to include the Conscience Protection Act in the 2018 omnibus appropriations bill is deeply disappointing. The CPA is an extraordinarily modest bill that proposes almost no change to existing conscience protection laws on abortion—laws that receive wide public and bi-partisan support. The CPA simply proposes to provide victims of discrimination with the ability to defend their rights in court to help ensure that no one is forced to participate in abortion. Those inside and outside of Congress who worked to defeat the CPA have placed themselves squarely into the category of extremists who insist that all Americans must be forced to participate in the violent act of abortion. We call on Congress not to give up until this critical legislation is enacted.

Ellen Kolb is a writer and activist living in New Hampshire. Read more at ellenkolb.com/blog

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At the time this is published, I’ll be in an unassuming little church on a side street off a New England city’s millyard. Lent draws to a close tonight and what’s known in my faith tradition as the Triduum begins.

I’ll listen to familiar Biblical psalms, canticles, and lamentations, chanted in unfamiliar Latin as I follow along in a prayer book. The church will be lit by candles that will be extinguished one by one at the conclusion of each chanted reading.

When we depart the church, we’ll do so in silence.

This is not an attempt to escape anything.  This is a time of rich political ferment, and it’s a time to be fully engaged – not to run away.

But first things first. The more craziness and busy-ness and political lunacy in my life and work, the more deliberate I must be about loving and serving God. Those of you who can keep priorities straight effortlessly, while immersed in writing about politics, have my respect. And a bit of my envy, too.

For readers (and members of DTG’s Magnificent Seven-Plus) who are looking forward to Easter a few days hence, I wish for you a peaceful and fruitful Triduum in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Pray and work, as St. Benedict advised, in that order.

As of midday today, my state is no longer the only one in New England without “gender identity” language in the state’s anti-discrimination law. That’s what’s in the area’s headlines tonight and it’s what will lead the area’s news stories tomorrow.

What you probably won’t hear is that my state representatives voted on two other gender-policy bills as well. One would have prohibited taxpayer funding of so-called gender reassignment procedures. The other would have prohibited gender reassignment for minors.

Both those bills were killed. The choice to reject those bills is at least as significant as the choice to pass the “gender identity” measure.

The taxpayer funding measure was drafted after the state’s department of health and human services decided last year, without benefit of having a public hearing first, to cover gender reassignment under Medicaid. Then and now, advocates of taxpayer funding said that gender reassignment is a non-elective procedure, and that religious objections to paying for it are just excuses for bigotry.

Say the word “bigot” often enough and it sticks.

The bill to prevent minors from having healthy body parts amputated in the name of gender reassignment was defeated in a state that has a law against minors using tanning beds. Come to think of it, the same state also has laws restricting purchase and consumption of alcohol and tobacco by minors.

But puberty-blockers, cross-sex hormones, and removal of healthy body parts? Go for it.

Somehow, I don’t think today’s votes settled the issue.

Ellen Kolb is a writer living in New Hampshire. Read more by her at ellenkolb.com

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Update to a November 2017 post: California’s attorney general is on the U.S. Supreme Court’s schedule for March 20, at which time he can  explain why he should be able to tell pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions. That ought to elicit some searching questions from the Justices.

The case is National Institute of Family and Life Advocates [NIFLA] v. Becerra. NIFLA is a group of nonprofit pro-life pregnancy centers in California. Xavier Becerra is the state’s attorney general. The law in dispute is called California’s Reproductive FACT Act.  It requires that certain types of facilities post and distribute information on the availability of free or low-cost access to abortion. It’s as though business is so lousy at abortion clinics that the state has to dragoon pro-life agencies into doing their advertising for them.

The type of facility is defined in such a way that the law only applies to about 200 nonprofit pro-life clinics, not to any of the other thousands of places in California where a pregnant woman might go for assistance. From NIFLA’s brief to the Supreme Court (references omitted; emphasis added):

The legislative record expressly states that the impetus for the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act…was disagreement with pro-life centers’ messages. Legislative committee reports with bill sponsor statements noted “that, unfortunately, there are nearly 200 licensed and unlicensed clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in California,” which “aim to discourage and prevent women from seeking abortions.”…Although the bill sponsor claimed that these centers “often confuse [and] misinform” women,…neither the legislative history nor the record contains any objective or impartial evidence that pregnancy centers like Petitioners actually “misinform” anyone about their medical status or services[.] 

There are fines for noncompliance. Anyone who has volunteered for a pro-life pregnancy care center knows that such agencies are lean operations; a fine need not be steep to be ruinous.

This is a First Amendment case. Can the government compel a nonprofit organization to deliver a message inconsistent with the organization’s mission? California might be having financial problems, but apparently the AG’s budget includes resources to argue this case all the way to SCOTUS. NIFLA is relying on assistance from Alliance Defending Freedom, the same legal group that successfully represented Eleanor McCullen in the Massachusetts buffer zone case.

Stay tuned.

Ellen Kolb is a writer and pro-life activist based in New Hampshire. Read more at ellenkolb.com,

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I was in the midst of the March for Life in Washington a few days ago. No count was possible from my vantage point, but you can view this time-lapse image from Students for Life to get an idea of the crowd. Not many satellite trucks around, though, except for EWTN’s. Other news outlets managed to find their way to Washington for the Women’s March the next day, so it’s not as though they were unfamiliar with the area.

The 2018 March for Life passing in front of National Archives. Ellen Kolb photo.

We weren’t exactly under the radar. Gotta love social media and the countless posts from participants in the March. President Trump’s address drew some news coverage. Still, as has been the case since the first March in 1974 observing the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there was plenty of room for more coverage. A civil rights march in defense of the right to life rates at least as much attention as a presidential tweet.

As a public service, I hereby announce for the benefit of all reporters, bloggers, and commentators that the next March for Life in Washington will be on Friday, January 18, 2019. Mark your editorial calendars now. No excuses. Rain, shine, or snow (and I’ve marched in all those conditions), the event goes on.

A mother and daughter carry signs at the March for Life in Washington.
Mother and daughter at March for Life 2018, Washington D.C. Ellen Kolb photo.

Come for the youth. The number of high school and college students will astound you.

Come to see how many states are represented. If the March is something new to you, you’ll be surprised.

Walk around the National Mall before the March and check out the meet-ups and mini-rallies going on, apart from the formal program that precedes the March.

Many states and large cities have their own marches for life on or near the anniversary of Roe. The March in Washington rates a special trip. With or without the news coverage it deserves, it’s a place and event full of inspiration and encouragement. Plan now for 2019: see you in D.C. on January 18.

Ellen Kolb is a writer and blogger specializing in public policy on the right to life. She works (and hikes) in New Hampshire. Read her coverage of life issues in the Granite State at Leaven for the Loaf. 

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I am typing at top speed with a deadline looming, and I’m sure to be late (sorry, Pete). The workday ran long. My day job’s current assignment has me watching state legislative action, and today kicked off the 2018 season.

The State House hallways were full of citizens sporting buttons and scarves emblazoned with symbols of this or that bill, thumbs up or thumbs down. An impromptu press conference about a particular bill temporarily blocked access to one hall. Twitter was ablaze with coordinated targeted messages on various measures. Typical stuff, on a day with lots of bills up for votes.

It made for great press, and it all served the long-term goal of influencing public opinion. What it didn’t do, as far as I could tell, was swing a single vote on the most controversial bills.

That work had been done earlier, in one-on-one conversations with those representatives who were cheerfully trying to work their way through the crowd to their seats. This is how things are done close to home.

Conversations without cameras, with no social media posts at stake, one neighbor to another. As occupied with politics as I am, I can’t afford to forget how important those conversations are.

Why be concerned with how things are done on the local or state level? Isn’t that little league stuff? Not to me.

For one thing, these state legislators make up the bench from which parties draw candidates for bigger if not better offices. The more one-on-one conversations a legislator has, the greater the legislator’s sense of accountability to the people who’ve been talking with him. Professional lobbyists know all about that. Smart voters know it, too.

For another, we need the practice. I know I do. I tend to resort to social media even for messages to state representatives. That’s not the most effective way for me to do my job as a constituent. For that, I need face-to-face conversation, or even a brief phone call (remember those?), with the people who claim to represent me at the State House.

When a family has a story about how a bill would affect them, they use media appearances to share that story. That helps shape the environment within which a vote will be cast. If they really want to lock down a particular vote, though, they’ll have a private conversations with a legislator, without cameras or mics in the room.

For the two bills with which I was most concerned today, people on all sides worked relentlessly on such old-fashioned communication, as well as on social media, right up to the minute the votes were cast. The same-day work was important.

And yet it wasn’t as important as the low-key conversations that started back when the bills were introduced (and even earlier). Today’s votes reflected relationships built long ago. Those relationships started with conversations.

It may sound odd for a keyboard warrior to admit, but I’m glad conversation still counts.

Ellen Kolb writes about the life issues and New Hampshire politics at ellenkolb.com and leavenfortheloaf.com. You can support Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Writers by hitting Da Tip Jar. Thank you!

Merry Christmas, I say, since I stubbornly hold that the Christmas season begins on December 25. Happy New Year as well, keeping in mind that each day begins a new year.

I’m grateful to readers, fellow writers, and DTG himself for this spot on the blog.

To all, I commend these words from Pope Francis, spoken to a group of laypeople in 2015. The words are on my own blog’s home page as an epigraph to that particular project. Even if you and I don’t share a religious faith, I suspect we have in common a commitment to our nation’s political culture. As Pope Francis says, get to it.

Engaging in politics is martyrdom: truly a martyr’s work, because one needs to go the whole day with the ideal of building the common good, always carrying the cross of many failures and carrying the cross of many sins. It’s difficult to do good in a society without getting your hands or your heart a little dirty…Don’t allow this to discourage you. 

…You can’t watch from the balcony! Get involved! Give it your best. If the Lord calls you to this vocation, get to it, engage in politics. 

Cheers and best wishes to all!

Ellen Kolb is a writer and pro-life activist from New Hampshire.  

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