Life goes on at the Supreme Court, vacancy or no. Last Monday, on the opening day of the term, the Court announced that it will not hear a challenge to a 2014 Tennessee ballot measure, Amendment 1, which stated “nothing in this [state] Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion.” Or, if you prefer, look at the news through the lens of The Tennessean the Justices declined to hear a challenge to “a ballot measure that eliminated the right to an abortion from the Tennessee state constitution.”

Thumbs up to the Supreme Court on this one.

The ballot measure approved by Tennessee voters four years ago was a corrective measure to a state court’s 2000 “discovery” in the state constitution of a right to abortion that was broader than the abortion rights covered under Roe v. Wade. Courts in several states have made similar rulings. The remedy to such rulings is an abortion-neutrality constitutional amendment like the one passed by Tennessee voters four years ago: nothing in our Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion. 

More from The Tennessean: the executive director of Tennessee Advocates for Planned Parenthood called Amendment 1 “another attack on women’s rights and the ability of individuals to make personal decisions for themselves.” That claim might or might not have come as a surprise to the women who made their own decisions to support Amendment 1.

According to the Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), a pro-life advocacy group, the passage of Amendment 1 led to swift adoption of some pro-life legislation.

During the 2015 legislative session, we made progress on a couple of measures related to Amendment 1 that were signed into law: first, a 48-hour waiting period with in-person counseling by a physician prior to an abortion, which was signed into law by Gov. Haslam on May 18, 2015, and, second, the new requirement that all clinics in Tennessee performing more than 50 surgical abortions per year be regulated as ambulatory surgery treatment centers. The new regulations took effect July 1, 2015.

So are abortions banned in Tennessee? Hardly. What Amendment 1 restored, and what the U.S. Supreme Court just tacitly endorsed, is the situation that prevailed in the Volunteer State before 2000: abortion is legal, and so are state regulations consistent with Roe.

Ellen Kolb is a New Hampshire writer who blogs about the life issues at leavenfortheloaf.com and ellenkolb.com. 

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Happy autumn! Herewith a few odds and ends from my notebook.

Un-packing the Court

As I write this, the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is still up in the air. Whatever my preferences and my views of the current uproar, I have my doubts about the ability of 51 Republicans to agree on anything in this environment. So suppose the first Monday in October arrives with only eight Justices. Then what?

Not a constitutional crisis, if the period between the death of Antonin Scalia and the commissioning of Neil Gorsuch is any indication. Would it be better for an appellate court to have a full bench? Sure. Perhaps with only eight justices, the Court would slow the pace of its decisions in order to avoid tie votes. Perhaps certiorari would be denied in more cases. The people whose cases are past the Circuit Court of Appeals stage and who are seeking a SCOTUS hearing have reason to be concerned.

I’m curious to know if any case dear to the hearts of anti-Kavanaugh forces is in the pipeline. I don’t know the answer, but I wonder if delay in confirming a ninth justice might have unintended consequences for someone who now considers an open seat a victory of sorts.

“Gosnell” Film Opens October 12

During the recent Values Voter Summit in Washington, I attended a pre-release screening of the feature film “Gosnell,” which will premiere in theaters on Friday, October 12. This is the dramatization of the story of Pennsylvania abortionist Kermit Gosnell, sentenced in 2013 to life in prison for the deaths of a woman and three born-alive children.

The movie is outstanding. Find it, watch it, and tell your friends about it. The film’s producers had a hard time getting a distribution deal. Even now, theater operators are apparently finding themselves under pressure not to show the movie. The list of premiere theaters had two Massachusetts listings a week ago; that list is down to one.

“Gosnell” is about the police and investigators who stumbled over evidence of Gosnell’s crimes. Some were pro-choice, others not, still others had no strong feelings about abortion one way or the other. What they all agreed on was that homicide was a crime, and that Gosnell had a trail of bodies behind him. The film shows how they saw the case through.

An Upbeat Book: “Turning Misery into Ministry”

And now for something completely different. Tony Agnesi is a Catholic writer and speaker whose “Storyteller’s Guides” feature short essays about putting belief into practice. His newest guide, subtitled “Turning Misery into Ministry,” is refreshing and edifying. Easy reading, real-life stories, practical advice: a nice change from politicsTony Agnesi. Here’s my full review. Check out Tony’s web site as well.

Just in case you think Democrats are talking through their hats when they predict a “blue wave” in November, let me give you a peek at my state’s 2018 recent Congressional primary.  I admit that New Hampshire is a small sample size. This is a cautionary tale, not a prediction of anyone’s “wave.”

Our entire current federal delegation – two Senators and two Members of Congress – is Democratic. Republican challengers for New Hampshire’s two Congressional districts are in place after a pair of fiercely-contested primaries. They are now working to replace Democrats in a state where independents make up 40% of the electorate, state Democrats just shattered their own record for number of primary ballots cast, and where in 2016 Donald Trump finished behind Hillary Clinton.

The state’s chief election official, whose predictions about turnout are usually on target, had estimated that 90,000 Democratic ballots would be cast in the September primary. Actual number was over 126,000, which includes a substantial number of primary-day registrants. The number of GOP ballots cast – around 100,000 – looked anemic by comparison.

So much for this being an off-year election. New Hampshire Democrats showed in the primary that they are fired up. They want to hang on to those two seats in Congress. It’ll take fired-up Republicans and allied independents – local ones – to rise to the challenge.

The Granite State Republican congressional candidates proved themselves to be effective grassroots campaigners in highly competitive primaries. They’re not burdened with complacency. That’s one reason why I think that the startling number of Democratic ballots in the primary looks more like reason for caution than reason for panic.

That’s the view from one small district. How was primary turnout in your area?


Ellen is a New Hampshire writer who blogs about the life issues at Leaven for the Loaf. 

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When an opportunity for me to visit Rome came up unexpectedly not long ago, I dropped everything, including blogging assignments. I will probably never have another crack at a trip to Italy with my husband. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I wanted to go.

I figured I might be able to write along the way. Surely there would be time. That’s not how it worked out. No one warned me of the overload of sights and impressions I’d be experiencing, and the deep contrasts I’d be witnessing. They packed an emotional punch. Perhaps the biggest contrast that hit my Catholic sensibilities was the one between churches as places of historical interest and churches as places of faith.

Rome is a city of church domes, not skyscrapers. Vatican City’s crown jewel, St. Peter’s Basilica, holds a commanding position. A walk through Rome reveals other churches that catch the eye: architectural marvels, places of art and beauty, accessible to believer and nonbeliever alike. One could be forgiven for valuing them simply as museums and artifacts of a certain period in history. That might be what brings someone through the doors for the first time.

Yet these aren’t mere artifacts of a lost time. They are places of worship. It’s odd how I felt that so strongly in St. Peter’s, thronged as it was with tourists. In the little side chapels within the nave, people were kneeling. Maybe one in twenty of the people in the vast church was there for prayer. Yet that five percent made the difference between a museum and a church. I asked where daily Mass was said, since obviously the “main” part of the church was occupied by tourists from all over the world. A guide pointed me to one of the side chapels, set apart only by a quiet attendant welcoming to the pews anyone who wanted to pray.

A few years ago, on another unexpected journey, I made a pilgrimage to St. Mark’s in Venice. The main doors, the big ones, were designated for tourists, of whom there were many. Who could visit the city without taking in that stunning edifice? For those wanting to pray, there was a smaller door off to the side: not to shunt anyone aside, but to guide pilgrims to a quiet area devoid of cameras and chatter.

In both Rome and Venice, I recognized those little side chapels as powerhouses, even if my Italy guidebook didn’t.

I came home to my little parish church, where the architecture is far more modest and draws no tourists. No one would ever confuse it with a museum. I came home to neighbors as appalled as I by the news of yet more abuse, more episcopal failures, more reminders that if my faith in God relies on anyone’s miter and staff then my faith is doomed to shatter.

Tough news to come home to after Rome, for sure. Yet in a way, my journey had set me up to face tough news. Rome was a challenging place for me. Beautiful and vibrant, yes. But around every corner and under every dome was that contrast and tension: museum, or house of worship?  I think that as long as those side chapels are occupied by people at prayer, the tension resolves in favor of worship.

I think that these days, both in Rome and at home, prayer is not only worship of God but also an act of defiance against people who need to be defied: all those who would weaken others’ faith, break bruised reeds, betray trust. A dangerous attitude, that. Prayer without humility and love becomes the clanging cymbal of which St. Paul warned us. Yet abandoning prayer altogether leaves the field to the museum-goers. I’m not prepared to do that.

Rome and Vatican City were a revelation to me. Nothing I studied prepared me properly for all the food, sights, history, and the accompanying  sensory overload. Yet quite against my will, elbowing its way into all my other memories is that sight of people praying off to the side in St. Peter’s. One in twenty, giving soul to the church, quietly pushing back against all that would render it a mere museum.

“I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law….Roe v. Wade is a constitutional right that is well established.”

Thus spake Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), according to a CNN report.

But which Roe v. Wade decision does Sen. Collins stand by? There’s the imaginary Roe, which dictates that unregulated abortion be available throughout pregnancy. Then there’s the actual Roe, which permits states to leave abortion unregulated but also permits many laws protecting the lives and safety of mother and preborn child.

Where does Sen. Collins stand on First Amendment protections for peaceful pro-life witnesses outside abortion facilities? After all, McCullen v. Coakley is “established decision, established law.” Or does she consider peaceful pro-life witness to be an attack on abortion rights?

How about restrictions on public funding of abortion and abortion counseling? The Supreme Court OK’d such restrictions decades ago. Abortion advocates like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU Reproductive Rights Project use terms like “gag rule” to describe efforts to keep abortion providers out of taxpayers’ wallets. In the Senator’s view, do restrictions on public funding amount to “hostility” to Roe v. Wade?

Parental notification for minors’ abortions, reflection periods before abortion, informed consent laws, restrictions on mid- and late-term abortion, protections for children who survive attempted abortion: certain forms of these laws have been found consistent with Roe. Then again, PP and ACLU consider such measures attacks on abortion rights.

The pro-Roe Senator Collins could vote with a clear conscience for a jurist who supports the abortion regulations that have been approved by the Supreme Court since Roe. Such a nominee would not be hostile to the actual Roe decision, even if that nominee displeased PP and the ACLU.

Maybe one day there will be less deference to a precedent that’s inconsistent with human dignity. For now, though, we’re left with wondering what Senator Collins means by “hostility.”

Ellen writes about the life issues at Leaven for the Loaf. 

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Posterity! You will never know, how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make a good Use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it. 

(Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 26 April 1777 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/)

Make good use of it, indeed. I hope this has been a joyous Independence Day for you!

 

Ellen writes about the life issues at Leaven for the Loaf. 

Now’s the time to celebrate the First Amendment and support independent journalism by hitting DaTipJar. Thank you!

Anthony Kennedy has announced that he will step down from the U.S. Supreme Court on July 31, after 30 years of service. He assured himself a place in history two years ago, for good or ill, with the Obergefell decision. Aside from that, he earned a reputation as a swing (i.e. unpredictable) vote on various issues. One of those 5-4 decisions is on my mind today.

Yesterday, the court ruled in NIFLA v. Becerra that pro-life pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) cannot be forced to advertise for abortion. (I’ve been watching that case ever since the litigation began.)The same case ruled that non-medical pro-life PRCs cannot be compelled to announce their non-medical nature in a manner prescribed by a pro-abortion government, when the same government doesn’t impose that requirement on similar agencies.

Justice Kennedy concurred in the 5-4 NIFLA decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas. Kennedy’s concurrence deserves more attention than it’s likely to get this week, in light of his resignation and other SCOTUS news.

NIFLA at its core was a First Amendment case: was the state of California violating the First Amendment rights of pro-life agencies by forcing those agencies to deliver pro-abortion messages? Justice Thomas carefully outlined the reasons why the answer had to be Yes. It’s astounding that four Justices would have let the California law stand. (No surprises: the minority consisted of Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan.)

Here’s the bulk of Justice Kennedy’s concurrence (emphasis added). Bear in mind that this man was not exactly a lion of the pro-life movement. But the state of California’s attempt to coerce pro-life pregnancy centers to help market for abortion was too much for him to stomach.

I join the Court’s opinion in all respects.

…It does appear that viewpoint discrimination is inherent in the design and structure of this [California] Act. This law is a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought, and expression. For here the State requires primarily pro-life pregnancy centers to promote the State’s own preferred message advertising abortions. This compels individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts, or all of these.

And the history of the Act’s passage and its underinclusive application suggest a real possibility that these individuals were targeted because of their beliefs.

The California Legislature included in its official history the congratulatory statement that the Act was part of California’s legacy of “forward thinking.” App. 38–39. But it is not forward thinking to force individuals to “be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view [they] fin[d] unacceptable.” Wooley v.Maynard, 430 U. S. 705, 715 (1977). It is forward thinking to begin by reading the First Amendment as ratified in 1791; to understand the history of authoritarian government as the Founders then knew it; to confirm that history since then shows how relentless authoritarian regimes are in their attempts to stifle free speech; and to carry those lessons onward as we seek to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech for the generations to come. Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties.

That’s not a bad way to cap off thirty years on the Court.

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

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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. 

Support independent journalism today: hit DaTipJar for DaTechGuy blog. Thank you!

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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