I posted a couple of weeks ago about the Trump Administration’s proposed rule to keep Title X (Ten) federal family planning money from being used to benefit abortion providers. The formal period for public comment is open now through July 31.

h/t to Jeanneane Maxon, formerly of Americans United for Life, for this brief summary: “Currently, abortion providers, or organizations that refer for abortion, get significant tax payer dollars through Title X funding. The Rule would require a bright line of physical as well as financial separation between Title X programs and any program (or facility) where abortion is performed, supported, or referred for as a method of family planning. Please take 15 minutes this week and comment.”

If you don’t have 15 minutes, take 5.  My own comment is going to be brief: abortion isn’t family planning, and taxpayer funds for family planning programs should not be diverted in any way to subsidize or provide abortion.

Here’s the link to the Regulations.gov page for public comment; look for the Comment Now button on the right side of the page. That page includes a great deal of information about the proposed rule and the Title X program.

(“Regulations.gov”: now that’s a perfect name for a bureaucracy’s web presence.)

Ellen Kolb is a pro-life writer and activist in New Hampshire. She writes about pro-life issues at Leaven for the Loaf. 

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(Adapted from a post I wrote for Leaven for the Loaf.)

The Trump Administration has announced a proposed Health and Human Services rule that would prevent federal Title X (Ten) family planning money from going to abortion providers. That’s “proposed.” It’s a long road from announcement to implementation. Some pro-lifers are cheering as though it’s a done deal, and abortion providers are screaming as only people who’ve been hit in the wallet can scream.

Take a breath, folks. The proposed rule is good news. It would protect taxpayers from involvement in the abortion industry. But the rule is not in place yet, and may never be. The President has announced a proposal. Tip of the iceberg, you might say. To see what the rest of it looks like, feast your eyes on the rulemaking process as described in the Federal Register.

But, still – this is a start.

The outraged wails of abortion advocates are reminding me of the similar reaction to the Supreme Court’s 1991 Rust decision, establishing that it’s permissible for the federal government to tell family planning clinics that they can’t use taxpayer funds to perform, refer for, or counsel for abortions – since, after all, abortion is not family planning. Then, as now, abortion advocates called funding restrictions a “gag rule.” They called funding restrictions a violation of freedom of speech, instead of what they are: protection of the conscience rights of people who don’t want to help pay for any aspect of abortion.

(A couple of years after the Rust decision, President Clinton suspended the regulations that Rust had okayed – and ever since, abortion providers have lined up for Title X funds every budget cycle.)

As for indignant cries of “gag rule,” the most strident critics of the proposed Title X rule are not noted for their defense of First Amendment rights of peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities. They only discovered the First Amendment when abortion providers’ pocketbooks were threatened.

Back in ’91, just after the Rust decision, I got a letter from my then-Congressman claiming that the decision was a “devastating blow” to free speech, on the grounds that agencies using Title X funds were being forbidden to counsel for abortions. This was from a man who had for office on a claim that he opposed sending taxpayer funding or subsidies for abortion. He recognized when he ran for office that there is a difference between family planning and abortion, and he realized that family planning funds in the hands of abortion providers simply free up other funds within the providers’ budgets for use in abortions.

Then abortion providers started accusing my Congressman of opposing free speech. Worked like a charm, since no one wants to be accused of violating the First Amendment. He changed his tune.

Today, just as in 1991, it literally pays to disguise funding as free speech. Hence the revival of the misleading term “gag rule.”

The essence of the President’s proposed rule is this, which is no different from the Reagan rule that led to the Rust decision: Title X is for family planning. Abortion is not family planning. Congress is within its rights to forbid abortion providers from using a grant for purposes unrelated to the grant’s goals. If you counsel for, refer for, or perform abortions, you may do so without using family planning funds.

The response from the abortion industry is this: I’ll promote what I please; you should pay for that promotion; refusal to pay equals censorship.

Providers who do both abortions and family planning could, if they chose, separate out the abortion business and do it as a separate enterprise, with separate facilities, equipment, funding and staffing. Title X grants for family planning would then not entangle taxpayers in abortion in any way. But that’s not the path abortion providers want to take.

It’s worth remembering that while the President’s proposed rule is a pro-life initiative, it has no bearing on the right to life. It doesn’t recognize the personhood or humanity of any preborn child. What it does is respect the conscience rights of taxpayers who don’t want to help subsidize abortions.

Even that is more than abortion advocates can tolerate.

Ellen Kolb is a pro-life writer and activist in New Hampshire. She writes about pro-life issues at Leaven for the Loaf. 

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The Twitterverse murmured #ThankYouCecile the other day to mark the end of Cecile Richards’s tenure leading the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Hats off to the Babylon Bee for skewering that bit of social media hashtagging: “Woman Celebrated for Killing 3.5 Million People.”

That satirical bull’s eye came just a few days after another one from the same source: “Planned Parenthood Defends Bill Cosby: ‘Sexual Assault Is Only 3% Of What He Does’”. I wish I’d written that.

But in all seriousness, Richards is a consequential woman. It would be a mistake to pretend otherwise. Planned Parenthood has had high-profile leaders before and will have them again. What sets Richards apart are the sheer bloody numbers and her solid brass determination.

PP is now the nation’s leading abortion provider, with more than 321,384 “abortion services” provided in FY 2016 alone. In the same year, according to PP’s annual report, revenue was $1.459 billion, of which $543 million came from taxpayers.

That transfer of funds from your pocket into PP’s, on such an appalling scale, was made possible because of a false message that Cecile Richards delivered unceasingly and confidently: abortion is health care. She didn’t invent the message, but she honed it to a fine edge and wielded it like a surgeon.

She knew that quibbling over what abortion terminates wasn’t good for business. Even seeing abortion as a “right” wasn’t enough to fulfill her vision. Selling abortion as health care, as a positive good, was the message she used to elevate PP to the economic and cultural position it now holds.

The political influence, the virtual extortion of funds from taxpayers and fellow nonprofits alike (cf. the Komen breast-cancer charity), the serene composure with which she dismissed the damning videos documenting the sale of fetal body parts by some PP affiliates: all of it can be explained and defended by buying into her defining message, abortion is health care.

Politicians don’t want to support taxpayer dollars going to the nation’s largest abortion provider? (Hey, I can dream.) They’re after your health care. A pastor speaks out in defense of human life? He’s after your health care. A journalist documents commerce in fetal body parts; a court upholds an abortion regulation, however mild; peaceful pro-life witnesses pray silently outside a PP facility: what they’re really after is your health care.

Abortion is health care is a hellishly lucrative legacy for PP. It’s the message that keeps half a million of your dollars going to the nation’s leading abortion provider. No wonder Richards was rewarded with compensation in excess of half a million dollars a year.

Health care and abortion are two different things. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort for the truth to regain its rightful place. Don’t ever doubt that one person can make a difference. Look at what Cecile Richards left behind.

Ellen Kolb is a writer and pro-life activist. She covers New Hampshire public policy on the life issues at leavenfortheloaf.com.  

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I hate the terms “ableism” and “implicit bias.” They smack of linguistic and political trendiness. But now comes Britain’s National Health Service to show us what those words mean, and suddenly they’re menacing, not trendy. 

As I write this, Alfie Evans still lives in spite of the best efforts of the NHS. I hope that he’s in the arms of his loving parents. Even a child with disabilities who’s been written off by his doctors deserves that much. As for the people who are trying to rush this child to the exit doors, Pete has summed them up nicely. 

Alfie’s family didn’t ask to be in a position of having to defend their child’s right to nutrition and hydration, or to defend their own right to have custody of their son. But they’re fighting back, publicly. They’re telling their son’s story. That’s the least and the most they can do.

When health care providers for a disabled child like Alfie deem that care is “futile,” and when the child’s parents are then denied the right to take their child to another facility that has agreed to accept him, then I know the controlling ethic is “better dead than disabled.”  

Don’t think this is a story from Britain that has no relevance here. When nutrition and hydration are considered to be medical treatments instead of ordinary care – and some states have written that into statute – the risk increases that what’s happening to Alfie could happen to anyone’s disabled child or parent or partner. 

It’s asking a lot, for a family to surrender its privacy as a child is dying or critically ill. But no doctor or hospital or insurer or judge should be able to count on that privacy to screen them from scrutiny when it comes to denying food and water to a disabled patient. When that perfect storm of disability and bad law strikes, may we have the guts to tell our loved one’s story and to push back on the so-called experts, as Alfie’s parents are doing.

Ellen Kolb is a writer and pro-life activist. She covers New Hampshire public policy on the life issues at leavenfortheloaf.com.  

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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!