About 100 Respect Life coordinators received a civics lesson on Sept. 12, as they learned how they can help make a bill into a law. During the annual in-service sponsored by the Office of Pro-Life Activities, guest speaker Loretta Fleming spoke about the impact people have on the legislative process.
Fleming, deputy director for field coordination for the National Committee for Human Life Amendment, is responsible for grassroots development and legislative education for the eastern half of the country. Begun in 1974, the NCHLA is dedicated to educating citizens, developing pro-life legislative networks, and offering programs in support of pro-life legislation. Although a separate corporate entity, the NCHLA works under the Pro-Life Secretariat and Religious Liberty Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"What we want to say to people is, 'We're here to serve you.' That is literally what we're about, making outreach to you for other people a very simple process," Fleming told the crowd.
She explained how a bill becomes a law, and how a bill can stay active in Congress for a two-year period, but may not be acted upon. Some bills come up again and again because no action has been taken.
Fleming spoke about three bills currently active that she encourages legislators to vote for - the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, and the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The NCHLA put out action alerts to let the public know what progress has been made on these bills.
The Health Care Conscience Rights Act amends the Affordable Care Act to declare that no individual can be forced to purchase individual health insurance coverage that includes coverage of an abortion or other item or service to which the individual has a moral or religious objection. It also allows insurance providers to opt out of offering coverage of abortions or other services found to be objectionable.
"The bishops really want to emphasize the fact that we still need to hammer a lot on the conscience protection, because it is lacking right now," Fleming said. "(The bill) would close the loopholes that are currently out there. There are deficiencies. This bill would be applied to Obamacare to further extend the conscience protection that is needed with regard to the new programs that are now coming into place through it."
The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of 2015 amends the Public Health Service Act to prohibit the federal government and any state or local government receiving federal financial assistance from subjecting an institutional or individual health care entity, including any health professional, facility, organization or insurance plan, to discrimination on the basis that the entity refuses to participate in abortion-related activities.
The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act seeks to ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, because studies have shown that is when a fetus can feel pain. This bill has already passed in the House of Representatives, but has not gone anywhere in the Senate. President Obama has said he would veto the bill.
Fleming encourages people to call or visit their local representatives to ask for these bills to be passed.
"That personal contact can be huge," she said. "If they don't hear from you, they have every excuse to keep going on their path. If that one time they get bombarded with emails, that might prick their conscience. They can't ignore them."
Meeting with representatives can be hard. Some representatives may intentionally avoid meeting with people, but concerned citizens should visit anyway, prepared with a letter or a note saying what they want and who they are. Leave a photo to show that a group did show up seeking a dialogue. "Let them know you were there," Fleming said.
Other speakers at the in-service included Michael Lamarca, a seminarian, who spent a field assignment at the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities. He gave a presentation on his visit to Poland to see German concentration camps as part of the Fellowship at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.
Matt Boyle, chairperson of the education committee of Vine & Branches, spoke on Seeds of Witness, an informational campaign that uses lawn signs, magnets and bumper stickers to promote the St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Care center and Project Rachel, post abortion ministry.
"I think the most important work that we do in terms of spreading the pro-life message comes from St. Francis, and that is 'Preach the Gospel, when necessary we use words.' We want to live the Gospel," Boyle said.
Gene Mendrysa, executive leader of Vine & Branches, spoke on 40 Days for Life, an international pro-life campaign to access God's power through prayer, fasting and Easter vigils.
"Our mission is simple. Our mission is to ask God to change the hearts and minds of anyone touched by abortion from a culture of life," he said. "Just think of the transformation God could accomplish if communities and individuals around the world would come together for 40 days of prayer and fasting at Easter vigils. How many mothers and babies would be saved?"
After the in-service, the members of the pro-life community spoke glowingly of the presentations.
"It was great. The political information is so important. It was very well done, excellent. Informative and filled with the spirit to keep moving," said Pamela Turton, from St. John the Baptist Parish, Alden.
Turton has been involved in the movement for about 30 years. She regularly takes groups of high school students to Washington for the March for Life in January.
"My heart says it is the young people who are going to change this whole position, and if we don't educate our young people we're missing the boat. They're going to change this whole concept. It's going to take a little more time, but we can't give up. We have to be strong, continue to pray, and keep working at it," she said.
Diana Skotarczak, of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Orchard Park, joined the pro-life movement for personal healing. Years ago, she helped her daughter have an abortion.
"I was guilt-ridden for many years," she said. "This was my way of healing and it's really, really helped. As you get out with the public, you realize that there are people there who love you no matter what. I felt the guilt of having my daughter commit this abortion. Unfortunately, she died last year on Ash Wednesday. She leaves behind a 16-year-old little girl. I'm trying to help her cope, and I'm trying to teach her Church values and how important life is."