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Fighting for life in the Golden State

Many legal experts and court watchers are predicting the Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health this month, overturning Roe v Wade, and clearing the way for state legislatures to take action on abortion.

If it does, more than a dozen states already have laws in place to heavily restrict or eliminate abortion. But other states will move to entrench access to abortion in there territory.

So what is the Church doing to prepare for what comes next in those states that want to become “abortion magnets”? And what can Catholics do to get involved?

Charlie Camosy spoke to Molly C. Sheahan, associate director for respect life advocacy for the California Catholic Conference about what the Church is doing to push back against one of the most aggressively pro-abortion state agendas in the country.

Molly C. Sheahan. Courtesy photo.

Molly’s portfolio includes legislative and grassroots advocacy on pro-life policy, end of life care, human trafficking, foster care, supporting families, and opposition to assisted suicide and the death penalty. She has a Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family and is also the founder of We Are Prolife Women, a new media movement highlighting the stories of underrepresented pro-life women.

Perhaps anticipating a positive ruling in Dobbs, the USCCB has developed a plan called Walking with Mom's in Need. Can you say a bit about this plan?

When the Supreme Court hands down the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision at the end of this month, watchers expect Roe v. Wade will be overturned and the question of abortion’s legality will go back to the states. Some states will heavily restrict or ban abortion while others, like California, will seek to expand abortion access even further than ever. So, how do we respond as Catholics?

Walking with Moms in Need is a great plan developed by the USCCB to respond to the real needs of mothers in our parishes, neighborhoods and communities. Parishes first pray for mothers in need and ask, “What are the needs of moms in the parish? Do they most need housing, childcare, food, clothing, diapers, medical care, job training, emotional support, legal help?” Then, parishes inventory the supportive resources available, finding the nearest pregnancy centers, maternity homes, clothing closets, and community organizations that can respond.

Each parish can respond to the direct needs of the mothers in their area. Many California dioceses are participating in Walking with Moms in Need through their parishes, Gabriel Project ministries, and more which is truly a blessing.

The California Catholic Conference decided that it wanted to develop its own plan.

How did this come about? How does the particular California context matter?

The governor of California has promised our state will be an “abortion sanctuary”. On December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a number of pro-abortion groups alongside several California legislators released the California Future of Abortion Council report, recommending a slew of new legislation to expand abortion access in California.

The California legislature has advanced no less than 19 bills and plans to invest $125 million of taxpayer money in the budget for abortion expansion. Proposed legislation includes five separate abortion funds, expansion of the abortion workforce, protection against litigation for all those involved in abortion, and the governor’s latest promise of a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to abortion in our state constitution which we expect to be on the November ballot.

The cherry on top of the current regime of abortion free and on demand through all nine months of pregnancy are bills seeking to pay for all the ancillary expenses of abortion for women coming in from out of state. This includes paying for hotels, airfare, childcare, doula support, meals, gas money, but only if women choose abortion.

Can you imagine the amount of pressure this places on women in the state? Imagine the stress of a young mother coming out of the pandemic. Think of the mom who has lost her job, is struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table for her kids, who wants to welcome a new baby but doesn’t know where to turn. The sheer amount of economic and legislative pressure for her to have an abortion is shamefully coercive.

It’s in the face of such tremendous pressure that the California bishops wrote their unprecedented statement on January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, recommitting to serving women, children and families.

The bishops of California have a different vision, one where every woman has someone to stand by her side and no one feels alone and like she has no choice but abortion. The bishops committed to raising awareness of the vast life-affirming safety net in our state, uniting our pregnancy centers and shelters, advocating for transformative family policy and empowering the Catholic community to truly walk with women, children and families.

From this tremendous vision, the California bishops have a full-scale plan for post-Roe California: We Were Born Ready. And they want all 12 million California Catholics to join in. For the last several years, think pieces have been written across the media asking, “Are we ready for Roe to fall? Are we ready to help women, children and families?”

The answer is a resounding “Yes! We Were Born Ready.” By virtue of our baptism, we have been made priest, prophet and king. Now is the time for the Church to stand in the gap, to flood our parishes with the love, care and compassion we have for women, children and families!

What kind of policy advocacy are you doing?

The bishops have encouraged us as lobbyists to prioritize the needs we most often hear from mothers – housing, paid leave, and preventing family disruption.

This year, we are specifically advocating for legislation that would provide unlimited hotel vouchers through CalWORKS for homeless pregnant women so each mother will at the bare minimum have a safe place to sleep at night. We are advocating for expanded paid leave that increases from just 60% of wages to 90% wage replacement for the lowest wage workers. This change will ensure minimum wage workers can actually take time off to bond with their babies.

Another bill would require dignified care for incarcerated pregnant and parenting women, offering them parenting classes, expanded visiting hours, and child-friendly visiting centers so moms in prison can maintain crucial bonding with their children. And we are advancing a budget request to ensure loving, protective families at risk of child welfare intervention due to poverty receive intensive family stabilization.

Poverty is not a crime, and some loving families just need a little help to pay the rent or put food on the table rather than having their children removed from the home. Our Catholic community is taking action to ensure these critical issues are passed in the legislature.

How does the plan mobilize Catholics?

We Were Born Ready is a movement to re energize our Catholic community across all 12 dioceses and in our 1000+ parishes. The goal is to empower, equip, resource, and mobilize Catholics in their parishes to serve women, children and families, especially women facing difficult and unexpected pregnancies.

Featuring a website, webinars, parish resource toolkits, bulletin inserts, and advocacy alerts, We Were Born Ready is plug and play for dioceses and parishes.

Some suggestions for parishioners include promoting the existing 24 hour statewide call center for pregnant women through drop cards and posters, helping moms find formula, sharing the options for paid leave with a mom they know, or joining an existing Gabriel Project/Walking with Moms in Need ministry.

Since housing is one of the biggest challenges facing families in our state, we have also planned flash fundraising drives to help pay for the rental assistance and motel vouchers of moms in need through our Catholic Charities.

Look, Catholics are the largest provider of private, nonprofit social services in California, the US and the world! For more than 2000 years, Catholics have cared for the most vulnerable by founding the first hospitals and orphanages. We provide food, drink, clothing, shelter, healthcare, visit the sick and imprisoned, comfort the afflicted and the dying. We got this. This is who we are.

All Catholics can register for our webinar launch of We Were Born Ready with rockstar speakers like the great Charlie Camosy, as well as Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Diocese of San Jose, America Media podcast host Gloria Purvis, Rehumanize International founder Aimee Murphy, Archdiocese of San Francisco Respect Life and Gabriel Project Coordinator Maria Martinez-Mont, and CCC Executive Director Kathleen Domingo.

Attendees will get answers to the questions everyone is asking: What are the resources for women, children and families? How do we respond to the real needs of our community? How do I get involved? Where is God calling me?

Having gone through this process, what advice do you have for other state conferences who may follow California's lead here?

For anyone looking to engage, now is the time. I’ve been deeply inspired by the Maryland Catholic Conference’s Helping Hope Bloom and Washington State’s PREPARES. They’re beautiful examples of what we have at our fingertips.

Advancing this cause starts with crucial planning – connecting pregnancy centers, clinics and shelters with our Catholic resources in Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul, and ensuring everyone knows each other. Now is also the time for new marketing - digital marketing, outdoor advertising. It’s an incredible moment to share the powerful foundation the pro-life movement has built over the last 49 years. And now is the time for our dioceses and parishes.

It's the time for baby showers and volunteering with St. Vincent de Paul, for recruiting babysitters and signing up folks for the Meal Train. It’s the time for every Catholic to reevaluate their pro-life commitment. If we are pro-life, what are we doing to live that call? Let’s live the call.

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