“It’s important to build community in a culture that wants to silence pro-life women and their beliefs.” — Melissa Ohden.

Challenge accepted.

In a time of handmaids who don’t want to see Planned Parenthood privatized and states that want to gag pro-life documentarians, there’s more pro-life work going on than will ever be documented by trending hashtags. Good to know, when encouragement can seem hard to come by.

I just returned from Orlando and the second annual Pro-Life Women’s Conference. The conference is the brainchild of Abby Johnson, a woman who puts the “active” in activist: former Planned Parenthood manager, now pro-life, and founder of And Then There Were None, a ministry to abortion workers who want to leave the industry.

She and her team gathered a unique array of speakers, sponsors and exhibitors to inform and challenge the women who came from all over the country to attend the conference. People whose work doesn’t get much coverage in conventional media told their stories. Women whose choices aren’t celebrated by today’s “progressives” (sic) were there to encourage other women who may yet face something like an adverse prenatal diagnosis.

This wasn’t a political event, yet it was unmistakably a boost to anyone like me who’s an advocate for pro-life public policy. The atmosphere was dynamic, not defensive. The women I met there were positive without being saccharine. The things they’re doing, quietly and under the radar, are making people’s lives better. St. John Paul II would call it building a culture of life.

And there was some attitude in the room. Call it joyful and defiant determination. Heady stuff.

Here are a few observations and links from the conference, when you’re ready to turn away from everyday headlines for awhile. There’s good news out there.

  • The women who took the stage first had all heard the same thing from doctors during their pregnancies: something’s wrong with your pregnancy; it’s OK to abort. Some of the diagnoses proved to be accurate, others not. These mothers talked about where they found support, and where they didn’t. Some brought their children with them, so we could see what an “adverse diagnosis” looks like: a person, not a concept or a sentence. Lacey Buchanan: “I get the privilege of raising an exception.”
  • And speaking of exceptions and the right to life, I love Rebecca Kiessling. I’d heard her speak before, but she’s absolutely worth hearing again. Hear her, and you’ll never look at rape-and-incest exceptions the same way again. She’s one of those exceptions.
  • Exhibitors included Democrats for Life (yes!), Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, and Secular Pro-Life. You never know when someone will share your commitment to defending human dignity. Secular Pro-Life can take credit for one of the best stickers in sight: Call Me an Extremist, But I Think Dismemberment is Wrong.
  • Are there pro-life doctors, who won’t do abortions, or refer for them? Yes, and I saw three of them in one place at the conference. Asked if she worked in a hostile environment, one of the physicians answered, “Not since moving to a pro-life practice.” May their number increase. Check out the American Association of Pro-Life OB/GYNs site, just because it’s good to know they’re out there.

I could go on, and I probably will, on other sites. You get the idea, though: dynamic and committed women, without a handmaid in sight. That’s life beyond the hashtags.