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Supporting a friend when she’s unexpectedly expecting

   
I had been brought up to believe that life is always a gift, but it certainly didn’t feel like one when I gazed in shock at a positive pregnancy test. As a mom who had my first baby in college, I know that an unexpected pregnancy can sometimes bring fear, shame and doubt.
 
However, I also know that an unexpected pregnancy can bring joy, excitement, awe, gratitude and deeper love than I knew was possible. About nine months after looking at that pregnancy test, I received the very best gift I have ever been given: my daughter, Maria.* An unexpected pregnancy might be confusing along the way, but life -- though at times difficult -- is ultimately beautiful.
 
Perhaps one of your friends has become pregnant unexpectedly. As someone who has been there, I encourage you to support her in her new journey of being a mother; it’s important that she knows you are thinking of her and supporting her.
 
An unexpected pregnancy can send a woman into crisis mode. If your friend just found out she is pregnant, she may not be thinking clearly, and she may feel she has no control over anything at the moment. When a woman experiencing challenging circumstances confides she is pregnant, the reaction of the first person she tells tends to set the tone for her decision-making.
 
Avoid responding with shock or alarm, and be calm and understanding. Be aware of how she is responding to you. Listen to her and let her know you love her, you are there for her, and it’s going to be OK. Pay close attention to her emotional state, and act accordingly.
 
Depending on where she is emotionally, it may or may not be helpful to congratulate her at that time. However, it is always important to affirm that every person’s life—including her child’s and her own--is precious and beautiful no matter the circumstances.
 
Pay attention to what might make her feel most loved. One person might appreciate encouraging words, while another might feel more supported if you help with specific tasks. Don’t be afraid to ask her if she needs help with anything or to make specific offers to help. For example, you might offer to help with cleaning, finding a good doctor or running to the store to pick up the one food that won’t make her feel sick. (But remember to read her cues and make sure you’re not being overbearing.) Simple things -- letting her know that you care and are always ready to listen, that you are available to help her, that you are praying for her -- can give hope and courage when she might otherwise feel alone.
 
The most important thing, though, is to pray; it’s the most effective way we can help. Pray for her, for her child and for guidance in how you can give her the best possible support.
 
Your support might be the only support she receives. Even if we never know how, the smallest things we do can change someone’s life. You can make a difference in her life.
 
Will you?




 
* Name changed for privacy.
 
This issue of “Life Issues Forum” has been adapted and shortened from “10 Ways to Support Her When She’s Unexpectedly Expecting,” originally published in the 2015-16 Respect Life Program. Visit bit.ly/10WaysRespectLife for the original version. A directory of pregnancy services can be found at heartbeatinternational.org/worldwide-directory.
 
  • Published in Nation

Pro-Woman Is Pro-Life

Recent cultural conversations on the importance of women's advancement have increasingly included abortion access, perpetuating a tragic assumption that 'pro-woman' and 'pro-life' are diametrically opposed viewpoints. This belief ignores the full reality of the beauty and dignity of all human life. To be pro-woman is to be pro-life; one cannot exist without the other.

Abortion has negative outcomes for both a woman and her child, with the two-fold loss including both the destruction of the child's very life and the destruction of the mother's well-being. The aftermath of abortion for a woman often includes psychological traumatization, and sometimes physical harm. Far from promoting dignity and freedom, abortion promotes the lie that a woman must harm herself and her child in order to be free.

The idea that abortion empowers women is one of many lies in society that are, in reality, incredibly harmful to women. How many other areas in culture have women been told to endure pain and a "quick fix" for their own advancement, whether through the fashion industry, eating disorders, or cosmetic surgery? Abortion advocates perpetuate the myth that women must "jump through hoops" and do violence to themselves in order to preserve their equality and the freedom to advance in the world. 

Many women have rightly rejected the myth that they must "jump through hoops" just to be acknowledged and valued as human beings. The authentic, pro-woman position demands a woman be loved and valued for her own sake, exactly as she is—not because she has compromised herself. Abortion is anti-woman because it attacks some of what is most true and beautiful within a woman. Abortion is the very antithesis to a woman's ability to nurture and bring forth new life. 

Abortion advocates treat pregnancy like a problem or a disease. Pregnancy is not the problem; it's the lack of care for the woman—for her own dignity and life-giving ability—that's the problem. When society devalues motherhood and the ability to nurture life, making these things a source of shame and inconvenience, it increases the likelihood of a woman feeling like she has no option other than to abort her own child.

We are called to love. A woman facing an unplanned pregnancy should never feel like she must face it alone. She needs to know that others truly care about her dignity and well-being, and that there is help through a variety of sources, especially from local diocesan resources like the Respect Life office, Catholic Charities office, or local pregnancy help centers and maternity homes. Both mother and child deserve experienced care and compassion; both deserve a future filled with hope. 

As we bear witness to and build the culture of life, in what ways can we show support, both for mothers facing unplanned pregnancies and for all women and the unique challenges they face? Society often objectifies women and tells them they need to reject their procreative and nurturing abilities just to be equal to men and to feel respected. But there is much we can do, in our personal witness, to counter these lies. When we celebrate and support women in all their unique gifts and contributions—including their life-giving capacity—they will be encouraged to make life-affirming choices for both themselves and their children.

To be pro-woman is to be pro-life. If we want to change the cultural conversation, we must be a part of it. 


--------------------
Kimberly Baker is Programs and Projects Coordinator for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on local help for any woman facing a difficult pregnancy, please visit www.heartbeatinternational.org.
  • Published in Nation

Sanctuary of the womb

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York warned that if the sanctuary of the womb is violated, then other sanctuaries are at risk.

"Can any of us be safe, can any of us claim a sanctuary anywhere when the first and most significant sanctuary of them all, the mother's womb protecting a tiny life, can be raided and ravaged?" he asked in his homily during the Jan. 26 opening Mass for the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The vigil always precedes the annual March for Life, which takes place on the National Mall.

Cardinal Dolan, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called the womb "a sanctuary which beckons us, where we are safe and secure in our mother's tender yet strong embrace, where the Creator himself assures us of protection and life itself, a sanctuary God has designed for us to protect our lives now and in eternity."

He summoned up a montage of sanctuaries throughout human history, including those used by the Israelites, the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem where Mary and Joseph took Jesus each year, the use of cathedrals and churches as sanctuaries from violence, and the United States -- first as a sanctuary for the Pilgrims fleeing religious violence in England, later for Catholics with little to their name but "clinging within to that 'pearl of great price,' their faith," and today's immigrants and refugees.

When life in the womb is threatened, "should it shock us" that "such a society would begin to treat the sanctuary of the earth's environment as a toxic waste dump; would begin to consider homes and neighborhoods as dangerous instead of as sanctuaries where families are protected and fostered; would commence to approach the poor as bothersome instead of brothers," Cardinal Dolan lamented.

Shrine officials estimated that 12,000 attended the Jan. 26 Mass, which was shown on three cable channels and broadcast on two radio networks. Among the faithful were 545 seminarians, 90 deacons, 320 priests, 40 bishops and five cardinals in a 20-minute entrance procession.

The faithful were squeezed more tightly than usual as pews in the left transept were blocked off so work crews could continue work on the shrine's Trinity Dome, which should be completed by next year's March for Life. The blockage resulted in the loss of "several hundred" seats, according to shrine spokeswoman Jacqueline Hayes.

Auxiliary Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Washington received hearty applause when he announced near the end of the Mass that the starting times for three pre-March for Life Masses elsewhere in Washington the next morning would be moved up an hour to allow for longer lines in security checkpoints at the pre-march rally, as among those speaking at it now included "senior White House officials and a special guest." No name was mentioned, but earlier in the day it was announced Vice President Mike Pence would address the March for Life rally in person. After a lineup of speakers, rally participants then march from the National Mall to Constitution Avenue, then up the avenue to the Supreme Court. 

The weather changed overnight from the low 50s at the start of the Jan. 26 Mass to a more typical near-freezing temperature with stiff winds before a Jan. 27 morning Mass at the shrine celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, USCCB secretary.

Archbishop Aymond's homily sounded a similar theme to Cardinal Dolan's in terms how acceptance of abortion is "used to justify" other disrespect for life at various stages, citing assisted suicide, euthanasia, the death penalty and the rejection of immigrants. Quoting from that day's Gospel, Archbishop Aymond said, "Jesus says, 'Let them come to me, let them come to me.'"

He received applause from a Mass attendance estimated at 3,500 when he cited the results of a recent study that showed "the abortion rate in the United States has hit a historic low since Roe v. Wade." Archbishop Aymond said the study speculated on various reasons for the decline, but "one was not" mention.

That reason was "the witness of so many people for life," he said. "Youth and young adults are strongly pro-life in our world and in our church," he added to applause. "You are making a difference in the United States. You are changing our culture from a culture of death into a culture of life," the archbishop said to still more applause.

During the March for Life, and afterward in the marchers' parishes and neighborhoods, Archbishop Aymond said, "we will continue to witness, and with God's help, we will continue to be strong voices for the respect and the dignity of human life."
  • Published in Nation

Hearts go out to women in crisis pregnancies

It didn't take long for Nicky Peters to feel the drama of being a sidewalk counselor outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul.

The 19-year-old sophomore at St. Catherine University in St. Paul and member of St. Ambrose Parish in Woodbury had decided last spring to take her pro-life passion to the streets. She signed up to volunteer with Pro-Life Action Ministries in St. Paul and paired with Ann Redding, the organization's sidewalk counseling coordinator.

This past June, the two showed up hoping to encounter women with unwanted pregnancies. It was Peters' first time.

"That day was amazing," she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "I met Ann there, and within the first hour, a woman came up to us and told her (Ann) that she had changed her mind about having an abortion, but she had already had part of the procedure done."

The woman told them that clinic workers had inserted laminaria sticks to help dilate her cervix to prepare for the abortion, but she had changed her mind. She jumped off the examination table and left the clinic without having them removed. When she encountered Redding and Peters on the sidewalk in front of the clinic, Redding hustled into action, leading the pregnant woman to nearby Abria Pregnancy Resources. Two months later, a healthy baby boy was born.

Peters, who is studying sign language interpreting at St. Kate's, as her school's known, will never forget that day. In fact, it's what gives her the strength to spend hours alone on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood, sometimes enduring insults and profanity hurled her way by vocal abortion supporters.

"It all goes back to that first day; the passion that I have is about helping these women," said Peters, who does sidewalk counseling twice a month for about two-and-a-half hours each time. "My heart goes out to them, honestly. A child is such a wonderful thing that I'd do anything to help (the pregnant women)."

The seed of her current volunteer role was planted one year ago at the annual March for Life in Washington, marking the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in all 50 states. She made the trip out on a plane, but rode back on a bus chartered by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis when flights were canceled because of a powerful storm that dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in the mid-Atlantic region.

She rode back with other teens and young adults from the archdiocese, plus three women who belonged to Katies for Life on her campus.

"All these women were talking about how involved they were in the pro-life movement," Peters recalled. "One girl in my college group who does a little bit of sidewalk counseling and is a prayer supporter described what it was, and it really sounded like something that I was called to do. I loved being pro-life and I really, really wanted to be more involved, so I looked into it, did some research and decided that this was for me and I wanted to do it."

After going through a seminar and training, she went to Planned Parenthood with Redding, who has been in her role with Pro-Life Action Ministries since 2000.

"I'm just really glad she's on board," said Redding. "She's out there to be compassionate with people. Whether it's a 'save' or not, we're recognizing the humanity of the child that's (in danger of being) killed. Secondly, we are letting people know that we care about them."

Redding noted that Peters is the perfect age for counseling because most of the women who come to Planned Parenthood for abortions are 20 to 24 years old. She estimates that 30 of the 200 regular sidewalk counselors who volunteer through the pro-life group are in that age group. Many are seminarians who come regularly on Friday afternoons.

"This is the best age group to be out there on the sidewalk," Redding said. "The college-aged have physical strength, idealism and beauty. Young people have that beauty that draws someone to talk to them."

However, the responses can be negative, even ugly, at times. Peters has discovered this, which initially surprised her.

"I do take a lot of heat, especially on the sidewalk, and even from people on campus," she said. "I get profanity, the middle finger. I get anywhere from, 'Oh, you're just totally wrong,' to large profanity statements."

In between the encounters are long periods of silence, in which she sees no one and must figure out useful ways to spend her time.

Her go-to practice on those occasions is prayer. She recites decades of the rosary and calls on the intercession of the saints and Mary. Her words to God and to the people she meets are steeped in a deep faith that believes she is making a difference, and a faith that keeps her coming back for more, even when the coldest days of the year may lay ahead.

"I just love it, honestly," she said. "It can get a little bit discouraging, but I always have to go back to that first day of helping that woman. I just have to go back to that day because I know that that truly was amazing, and I have to keep doing that so I can help more women. Even though people will give me the middle finger, I just have to sit there and pray for them and pray for a change of heart."
  • Published in Nation

Pope highlights sanctity of life in Year of Mercy visits

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis donned a green hospital gown over his white cassock and entered the neonatal unit of a Rome hospital, peering in the incubators, making the sign of the cross and encouraging worried parents.

The trip to the babies' ward of Rome's San Giovanni Hospital and then to a hospice Sept. 16 were part of a series of Mercy Friday activities Pope Francis has been doing once a month during the Year of Mercy.

By visiting the ailing newborns and the dying on the same day, the Vatican said, Pope Francis "wanted to give a strong sign of the importance of life from its first moment to its natural end."

"Welcoming life and guaranteeing its dignity at every moment of its development is a teaching Pope Francis has underlined many times," the statement said. With the September visits he wanted to put "a concrete and tangible seal" on his teaching that living a life of mercy means giving special attention to those in the most precarious situations.

During the Mercy Friday visits, Pope Francis has spent time with migrants, the aged, at a recovery community for former drug addicts and at a shelter for women rescued from human trafficking and prostitution.

Pope Francis stopped by the emergency room of San Giovanni Hospital before going to the neonatal unit, where 12 little patients were being treated. Five of the newborns, including a pair of twins, were in intensive care and were intubated, the Vatican said. The pope also went to the maternity ward and nursery upstairs, greeting new parents and holding their bundles of joy.

At the neonatal unit, the Vatican said, the pope was "welcomed by the surprised personnel" and, like everyone else, put on a gown and followed all the hygiene procedures. 

Leaving the hospital, he drove across town to the Villa Speranza hospice, which hosts 30 terminally ill patients. The hospice is connected to Rome's Gemelli Hospital.

Pope Francis went into each of the rooms and greeted each patient, the Vatican said. "There was great surprise on the part of all -- patients and relatives -- who experienced moments of intense emotion with tears and smiles of joy."
  • Published in Vatican

Holistic family planning alternative

Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, responds to a letter from Rep. Johanna Donovan printed in the Burlington Free Press. 

As the representative of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington who testified about H.620, let me clarify some erroneous information in the June 12 letter from Rep. Johanna Donovan.

The Diocese did not oppose H.620. Rather, we asked for a conscience exemption to allow qualifying religious institutions to opt out of paying for items that violate their religious beliefs. This exception would not have blocked access to contraception for anyone, but would have shown that Vermont does not discriminate when deciding whose rights to protect. Having religious beliefs that many do not agree with should not strip us of our First Amendment rights.

But even more, as a woman I challenge Rep. Donovan’s assertion that, “contraceptives are essential for women’s health and happiness, family happiness and the good of society.”

When first introduced more than a half century ago, the “pill” was heralded as an empowerment tool for women, a means to end poverty and an antidote for unhappy marriages.

Fifty years later, the poor are still with us, divorce rates have climbed, the number of single mothers living in poverty has soared, and despite powerful state support for contraception, nearly half of all pregnancies in Vermont are unplanned.

Focusing on ways to lift up and support families by creating jobs with livable wages, increasing affordable housing and improving access to higher education are a few strategies to empower women, end poverty and strengthen families.

Instead, H.620 focuses on methods of preventing or aborting children born to poor women. In his annual budget speech in January, Gov. Shumlin pledged to make free sterilization available for low-income women during the highly vulnerable time immediately after giving birth, citing the costs of births to poor women. In their testimony promoting H.620’s mandate for no-cost permanent and reversible sterilization, Planned Parenthood representatives echoed that sentiment, bringing to mind the eugenics project of the 1930s that targeted the poor of Vermont for forced sterilization. Eliminating poor people is a questionable strategy for helping them.

Planned Parenthood says fully-funded sterilization is needed because of the failure rate of contraception. In their H.620 testimony, they admitted that more than half of women with unintended pregnancies were using contraception at the time they became pregnant and the pill, reportedly the most effective form of contraception available short of sterilization, has a failure rate of 9 percent. That means that nine out of every 100 sexually active women using the contraceptive pill will become pregnant in a year, including the young teenagers who are regularly given prescriptions for the pill at Planned Parenthood clinics and walk out believing they can engage in casual sexual behavior without risking pregnancy. Is it any wonder that one in three women will have had an abortion by age 45, and that STD rates have exploded?
 
                                      

The environmental risks of hormonal contraception should concern us all.

​                                      


The environmental risks of hormonal contraception should concern us all. They are a source of endocrine disruptors (EDs) which have been shown to be connected to adverse reproductive outcomes (infertility, cancers, malformations) as well as a rise in the rates of thyroid disorders, diabetes and obesity. EDs come from many sources, including birth control pills, pesticides, plastics, hair dyes, cosmetics, cleaning products and a host of other hormone-containing compounds, and can enter the water supply and the food stream and be ingested by humans unknowingly.

Rep. Donovan should know that the Catholic Church encourages family planning done in a holistic way that respects natural fertility and promotes communication in marriages. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a safe, environmentally friendly, and cost-free way to help couples achieve or avoid pregnancy by observing natural signs. Although it is practiced by many for religious reasons, it has become increasingly popular among secular health-minded and environmentally-conscious couples. NFP is easy to learn and highly effective when used carefully.

It’s true that to be effective, NFP requires a mutually-respectful relationship in which men and women respect their natural fertility and honor the power of their sexuality to make human beings. It seems to me that these are the attitudes that should be promoted in order to truly foster “women’s health and happiness, family happiness and the good of society.”

Carrie Handy is the respect life coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington.

March for Life planned in Washington

The annual March for Life will take place Jan. 22 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

In concert with the annual March for Life, the U.S. bishops invite all Catholics to pray for the protection of all human life by participating in a special novena called 9 Days for Life, from Jan. 16-24. Join thousands of others in praying for the protection of all human life. Download the novena online, or participate through Facebook, e-mail, text message or an app. Join at www.9daysforlife.com.

More information about all the March for Life events is available at www.usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/january-roe-events/index.cfm.

There will be no Diocese of Burlington-sponsored bus to Washington, D.C., this year for the annual March for Life. It is hoped there will be one next year.

 
  • Published in Nation

Annual Rally for Life

The annual Rally for Life will take place in Montpelier on Sat., Jan. 16, sponsored by the Vermont Right to Life Committee.

The theme will be "Standing Together – Defending Life."

At 9:30 a.m. there will be a Respect Life Mass celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne at St. Augustine Church.

Then, at 10:45 a.m., people will gather behind City Hall and prepare to proceed down State Street to the Statehouse.

Signs will be provided.

At 11:30 a.m. keynoter Sarah Mary Toce will speak in the House Chambers.

Toce, of Louisiana, was instrumental as the leader of numerous successful outreach seminars for young people in her home state. She is currently pursuing her master of divinity degree at Boston College. She has been named the New England Life and Leadership Project director, and in this new capacity is collaborating with various National Right to Life affiliates in the New England area to foster more youth education and training initiatives in this area of the country. 

 
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