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Pro-life leaders strive to give mothers and families more care and more options

October is Respect Life Month, a time to “consider more deeply why every human life is valuable and reflect on how to build a culture that protects life from conception to natural death,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In this article, three pro-life leaders in Nebraska share their vision of the pro-life movement’s future, especially in light of a major court victory in June.

 

Pro-life leaders in Nebraska have a lofty goal: to make the choice for an abortion unthinkable.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal in June of the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion case was a big step toward that goal, but pro-lifers aren’t through.

“When you’re talking about having Roe versus Wade almost 50 years in our country, there are certainly serious consequences for that, both in terms of misinformation and a cultural challenge,” said Sandy Danek, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life.

The 1973 court ruling effectively made abortion legal throughout the United States. That changed in June with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which returned abortion law-making to individual states.

“A  good portion of our population has never known anything but Roe,” Danek said, “meaning abortion is your right, the law of the land. So reversing that – while that is a very positive goal that we have worked almost 50 years to achieve – it also means that that cultural change needs to happen.

“And that can only happen through education, prayer and sacrifice.” 

Laura Buddenberg, executive director of Essential Pregnacy Services (EPS) in Omaha, believes abortion will become unthinkable once women and families can be assured that they are not alone in their struggles, that people will help them in their need, and when a lot of lies and misinformation are cleared up.

“There’s great help out there. There’s super help out there,” she said. But to make abortion unthinkable, Buddenberg said, women must know they have other options. “We don’t want anybody to have an abortion because she feels so alone. … We just don’t want women to reach that point.”

U.S. bishops – including Archbishop George J. Lucas, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island – have been focusing their efforts on helping women and families in need, said Marion Miner, associate director of pro-life and family policy at the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC).

The NCC, which advocates for the priorities of the Catholic Church in public policy, will be fighting for pro-life issues on two fronts.

With the Dobbs court ruling, “states now have regained their authority and responsibility to provide protection for human life, extending now even to the life of the child in the womb,” Miner said. “So it’s, of course, imperative that we fulfill that responsibility and provide as much protection as we possibly can. So that’s one facet of what our response needs to be from a public policy perspective.

“Another one, though – and one that the bishops have been very supportive of and have really encouraged both in the state of Nebraska and at the national level through the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) – is figuring out how we can better support women who are in difficult situations, where they have an unexpected and under-supported pregnancy. So they can feel supported enough to choose life for their baby and not be fearful about what happens next.”

Caring for women and families is not just the job of pregnancy resource centers like EPS, but of the entire Body of Christ, Buddenberg said.

“We are called to do this,” she said. Helping people who are struggling is “incredible pro-life work.”

That compassionate care “is ultimately what shifts a culture from being a culture of death to being a culture of life, where abortion is unthinkable, regardless of whether it’s legal.”

In a culture of life, people would “understand how beautiful life is,” she said, and women would know exactly where to get help. “This is what we’re going for, but it will take all of us to do it.”

‘A TWO-POINT EFFORT’

“When Roe versus Wade was overturned,” Danek said, “it was something we looked forward to for almost 50 years.” That change, however, shifted responsibility back to “our own backyard,” she said.

While pregnancy help centers and social services organizations have stepped up to help mothers and families, more can be done through the legislative process, Miner said. That could include incentives to increase donations to those groups or “policies that just make it easier to support a family in general,” he said.

“I think there are a lot of ideas out there that are being explored by a lot of people in the pro-life movement, including in Nebraska,” he said. “So it’s going to be at least a two-point effort here, not only to provide protections for those babies, but also to make sure that their mothers are in a good position, too.”

“In order for babies to thrive, their families need to thrive,” Miner said. “There’s always been that recognition, but it’s taken on a new urgency now with the new frontier.” 

“Support for women and support for families is one aspect that I hope we can get really wide agreement on,” he said.

“When we’re talking about providing greater protection from abortion for babies in the womb, that, of course, is a much more politicized issue,” Miner said. “What we’re able to accomplish there is obviously going to be determined in large part by how much support we have in the Legislature. And that is going to be determined by how elections go in November.”

The general election is set for Nov. 8. Early voting in Nebraska begins Oct. 11.

For this particular election and in this particular time, “Christians are very motivated to be a part of the process,” Danek said.

“Since the reversal, we have seen great enthusiasm for protections being offered for pre-born children in the state,” the pro-life leader said. “However, it has been frustrating because the makeup of the Unicameral is not where it needs to be right now. So we have been putting our energies into promoting pro-life candidates.”

The NCC has surveyed candidates in the general election and created a voter guide to help inform voters. The guide is available at https://www.nebraskacatholicvoter.com/.

DISPELLING MISINFORMATION

Danek said pro-life workers and volunteers have been concerned about the reaction from their opponents since the reversal of Roe v. Wade. People can turn on their televisions and see the aggressive behavior and hear the misinformation, she said.

Abortion activists have said that “if you pass protections against abortion in your state, then you won’t be able to receive proper medical care for miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies,” Danek said. “That is a ridiculous accusation, and it’s fear mongering.”

Other attempts at misinformation include reframing the definition of fertilization or of  a heartbeat, she said.

“Their job has always been to minimize the dignity of the human person. So our job, then, is to get that truth out there, to put that truth forward, that this is a unique human being with its own DNA, with its own human structure that simply resides in the womb of its mother and is not a part of the woman’s body,” Danek said.

“And the protections that you and I have as an adult should extend to the child in the womb equally.”

Disturbing to Buddenberg are claims that pro-life advocates don’t care about women or their babies once they’re born, and that pregnancy help centers are dangerous to women. “Nothing could be farther from the truth,” she said.

“It is very challenging right now,” Danek said. Even Catholics in the pews don’t necessarily have “the knowledge that’s necessary to combat some of this misinformation. And often people are ill-equipped to answer the rhetoric.

“So our goal leading up to the next legislative session is to provide that education and dispel the misinformation that our opposition is spending a great deal of money on, and to promote and speak God’s truth. God does not create life with the intent of us making a decision to destroy it.”

The pro-life movement is open about their work, Buddenberg said. 

“Yes, we are pro-life. Yes, we are here to help you. And abortion is not your only choice. We need to be sending that message,” she said. “I think we need to be very openly talking to our young people about what a healthy family looks like and what healthy relationships look like.

“We need to be louder and louder in the community, until the average person does hear us about the health and support that we have. … until that message starts to penetrate secular consciousness or even people in the pew.

“This is about loving people,” Buddenberg said. “This is about serving families that are struggling, helping young families that are struggling, so that anybody should be able to walk into a Catholic church and say, ‘I’m pregnant and I don’t know what to do,’ and get the help she needs.” There is more, in fact. … Motherhood is a beautiful and wonderful thing and doesn’t cancel out your life. There are better options for you than abortion out there.”