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Rally for Life

More than 350 people marched from Montpelier City Hall to the Statehouse Jan. 21 for the annual Rally for Life, meeting other pro-life advocates there to continue their call for respect for all human life.
 
The event came the day after Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as 45th president of the United States, hours before the massive Women's March on Montpelier drew an estimated 15,000 participants and the day before the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
 
The day’s events began with a pro-life Mass at St. Augustine Church in Montpelier celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne; following the march, life advocates gathered in the House chambers to listen to speeches against abortion and in favor of measures to respect the life of all humans from conception until natural death.
 
Jewels Green, a pro-life advocate and writer from Philadelphia and one of the featured speakers, said before the Mass that every state is important in the “fight for life.”
 
She said the “time is right in Vermont” to begin to make changes for life – not just the unborn but also for “Vermont elderly, infirmed and those vulnerable to pressure to assisted suicide.”
 
She told her Statehouse audience that she had an abortion at age 17, subsequently attempted suicide and spent more than five years working in an abortion clinic. But in 2010 she learned of a surrogate mother who was carrying a baby with Down syndrome, and the parents paid her contract and directed her to have an abortion.
 
“I knew fundamentally that was wrong,” she said. “If I could say that abortion was wrong, it finally clicked all abortion is wrong.”
 
Bishop Coyne – who opened the Statehouse gathering with a prayer – gave the homily at the Mass and walked in the march. At the church he prayed for the protection of all human life especially those most vulnerable.
 
“Sometimes in our society children are seen as something less than a gift, even as a burden,” he said. But “children and life are a gift, a gift of creation….All life is sacred. All life is from God, and we must protect it.”
 
Dr. Felix Callan of St. Andrew Church in Waterbury, who has been active in the pro-life movement since 1972, said he is more optimistic than in the past for an increase in respect for life. The election of Trump, who has said he is pro-life “could be an opportunity” for the pro-life cause to make strides nationally, he said.
 
Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington, said she was encouraged by the number of young people involved in the pro-life movement “who have not bought the idea that women’s rights include depriving life to the unborn.”
 
Regarding Trump, she said, “I have every reason to believe he will be true to his pro-life promises” which include appointing pro-life justices to the Supreme Court and defunding Planned Parenthood, a provider of abortions.
 
Sharon Iszak, who attends St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington, said she attended the prolife Mass because Mass “is the best way to begin every day.”
 
She believes the new president “will encourage a sincere respect for life.”
 
During the march after the Mass, people of all ages made their way up State Street. The messages on their signs included “Abortion stops a beating heart,” “Life,” “Face It. Abortion Kills,” “Abortion hurts women” and “Pray to end abortion.”
 
Several members of the clergy of the Diocese of Burlington participated in the march with people of various faith backgrounds.
  • Published in Diocesan

The eugenic mindset today

Seldom discussed in Vermont’s history is the Eugenics Project of the early 20th century. While only formally in practice during the 1920s and 1930s, there is clear evidence that the eugenic mindset survives today. In fact, eugenic thinking has expanded beyond the dictionary definition of controlling who is born to also include the act of controlling who dies.

The Eugenics Project was actively promoted by University of Vermont Professor of Zoology Henry Perkins, who undertook to cleanse the Vermont gene pool of people he called “feebleminded, stupid and shiftless,” characteristics he attributed to their “defective genes.” His work led to a program of surveys to identify families that met Perkins’ criteria; they tended to be poor and belong to ethnicities he considered undesirable, with a focus on people of Abenaki and French-Canadian descent. The project began under private funding but expanded with the direct participation of state government to remove those persons from the reproductive population by forced sterilization. 

Perkins, who later served as president of the American Eugenics Society, used his survey data to persuade the Vermont Legislature to expand the Vermont State School for the care and training of feebleminded children (5-21 years old). It soon assumed the eugenic function of segregating from society “feebleminded women” of childbearing age and coercing their consent for sterilization in exchange for their release from the school.  

The project earned national and international attention from early eugenics advocates, including Margaret Sanger, founder of what is now Planned Parenthood.  Sanger went on to publish and edit a volume of articles on the eugenic aspects of birth control, including, “Sterilization: A Modern Medical Program for Human Health and Welfare,” (June 5, 1951), which advocated for a program of sterilization of the vulnerable and disabled.     

The Catholic Church and Catholic Daughters were vocal opponents of this movement, yet, in 1931, the Vermont legislature passed “A Law for Human Betterment by Voluntary Sterilization.” Section 1 read:

“Henceforth it shall be the policy of the state to prevent procreation of idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons, when the public welfare, and the welfare of idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded or insane persons likely to procreate, can be improved by voluntary sterilization as herein provided.”

What does “eugenic thinking” look like in our culture today? Consider Vermont’s recently-passed Act 120 (formerly House Bill H.620), the contraceptive mandate law of 2016 which expands Vermont’s existing contraceptive mandate to include sterilization.  Under this law, women will be offered sterilization during the highly vulnerable time immediately after giving birth, a strategy designed to encourage Medicaid subscribers to stop having children, and a goal lauded by Gov. Peter Shumlin in his January Budget Message. The term “Medicaid subscriber” in this context appears to be a code phrase for “poor woman.”  To achieve control of Medicaid expenditures by demeaning the rights, the dignity and the status of a relatively powerless group, is simply wrong. 

Another example of eugenic thinking can be found in Act 39, the Vermont Legislature’s Physician Assisted Suicide law, passed in 2013, which mandates that physicians raise the option of assisted suicide with their terminally ill patients. Vulnerable people, contending with the financial and emotional burdens their illnesses may have on their families and others, must be “educated” about the option to end their lives. Intended or not, this “education” comes with the implicit suggestion that perhaps their lives are no longer worth living – that their humanity no longer matters. How is that a dignified way to die?  

The abuses of assisted suicide and euthanasia laws in other countries are enormous and include involuntary euthanasia of mentally challenged and disabled persons. In April 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide. Although the law’s intent was to end the suffering of terminally ill patients, a growing number of physically healthy people with psychological illnesses have been granted “the right to die.” According to the Royal Dutch Medical Association, 13 patients suffering from mental illness were euthanized in 2011; by 2013 this number had risen to 42 patients. Even more disturbing, in 2013, as many as 650 babies were killed by doctors because they were deemed to be in pain or facing a life of suffering. Even in the United States, 90 percent of all babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb are killed by doctors through abortion procedures.

Regardless of the frugal or humanitarian intent, the underlying eugenic thinking is unmistakable.

When government disregards the rights and the dignity of any marginalized community, we all become vulnerable to arbitrary decisions of the powerful. We all become complicit in the evil that is done in our name. The Church must continue to be vigilant in speaking for the marginalized, including the terminally ill, the unborn and the poor. We must advocate on behalf of the voiceless for the inherent dignity and worth of every single human life.

Article written by Deacon Pete Gummere and Carrie Handy.

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.

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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.

Pro-life Vermonters mark anniversary of abortion legalization with Mass, rally

Supporters of the sanctity of all human life endured snow and freezing temperatures to march from Montpelier's City Hall to the Vermont Statehouse Jan. 16 for the annual right to life rally, this year commemorating the 43rd anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing abortion.

About 100 people began the day's activities with Mass at St. Augustine Church, a short distance from the city hall in downtown Montpelier. Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne was the main celebrant and homilist.

Those who support life are misunderstood in a culture of waste and death, he said, adding that more and more people are coming to understand that abortion is the killing of a human life. "And more young people are pro-life," he said.

Among those attending the Mass was Corine Carpenter, 11, a parishioner of Mater Dei Parish in Newport. This was her first right to life rally, and she said she wanted to be part of it because it is a good cause. "We are the next generation, and I hope more people will be pro-life," she said. "I hope laws are passed soon to protect (all) life."

Maeve Bathalon, 12, a seventh-grader at St. Paul School in Barton and parishioner of Mater Dei Parish, said every child has the right to be born, a right given by Jesus.

The two girls are members of Teens for Life.

Another member, Chrisana Morris, 18, of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Barton, has five sisters also involved in the pro-life teen organization. She said it's important for teens to be involved in the movement because "people listen to them … people are attracted to our energy."

The message she wants to impart is that all life in precious, "no matter how strong or weak, young or old."

The emcee of the Statehouse meeting was Joanna Turner Bisceglio of Blessed Sacrament Church in Stowe. "This is the prolife generation. Amen!" she said.

She offered statistics that pro-life Vermonters found encouraging: 85 percent of Americans oppose abortion after three months, and 58 percent think abortion should be illegal in most circumstances.

Yet more than 58 million abortions have taken place in the United States since Roe v. Wade.

Following a personal testimony from a woman who had two abortions, keynote speaker Sarah Mary Toce of Louisiana gave the keynote address for the Rally for Life in the House Chambers. She was instrumental as the leader of numerous successful outreach seminars for young people in her home state.

The New England Life and Leadership project director, she 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.

While in Vermont she met with students at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington and with priests of the diocese.

"We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to bring her here to speak to Catholic teens. She made a very positive impression on the priests at our in-service, and we've already received several requests for her to speak as a result," noted Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.

"I also was encouraged by Sarah Mary Toce's presentation on pro-life education for our youth. Youth had a big impact on the Civil Rights marches in the South during the '60s, youth can have a big impact on the protecting unborn life," said Father Luke Austin, pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary-St. Louis Parish in Swanton and Highgate Center.

In her talk at the Statehouse, Toce emphasized that the pro-life movement is a "logical and a reasonable one," and said that while abortion provider Planned Parenthood presents itself as giving hope to women with unwanted pregnancies, "they are actually soliciting murder."

Throughout the 43 years since abortion has been legal, respect life proponents have "gotten angry and rightfully so," but she emphasized that such anger not be directed at women and abortion providers.

She called for members of the pro-life movement to work to alleviate suffering and poverty, two reasons some women feel trapped into having an abortion. "We go the long haul" with women, she said. "Planned Parenthood is not in it for the long haul but we are."

Toce said that to resolve suffering, "don't get rid of the suffering (people)" but learn to listen to their needs and try to address them.

She said that abortion supporters have claimed that legalized abortion would make life better for women, but after 43 years women are still being raped, still feeling ashamed when pregnant out of wedlock and still going hungry. "It has not worked" to improve the lives of women. "We can do better than abortion."

Calling abortion "nothing short of a human rights issue," she said she believes that one day children will ask their parents and grandparents, "How did America allow abortion to be legal?"

Her confidence in the current generation of young people is so great, she said it will be their generation that will overturn Roe v. Wade. "We're going to make it happen," she declared.

Paul Niekrewicz, a Knight of Columbus from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Williston, attended the pro-life Mass with two of his six children. He said it is important that they "know the truth about the disrespect for human life in our culture," and he hopes that with that knowledge they will be involved in witnessing to the truth and stand up for life.

Some people have been participating in the Rally for Life for years, and Father Michael Augustinowitz, pastor of St. Augustine Church, said it's important to keep rallying to make people aware of the need to change the current culture of death.

"That's what we still hope to do, and it's not just the unborn … certainly we are concerned about everybody," he said, encouraging an emphasis on the "importance of life over death."
  • Published in Diocesan
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