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Vann: 'Prenatal justice' takes real help, and real relationships

Bishop Kevin Vann is well-known for his commitment to pro-life advocacy and initiatives.

A native of Springfield, Illinois, he worked as a medical technician before becoming a priest. He was Bishop of Fort Worth, Texas, before moving to California’s Diocese of Orange in 2012. Vann serves on the USCCB’s Committee on Health Care Issues.

Ahead of Friday’s national March for Life in Washington, DC, the bishop sat down with Charlie Camosy to talk about the fight to protect life, what a Supreme Court “win” would mean for a state like California, and what it means to care for the “whole human person.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Bishop, what comes to mind as we mark the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade? Especially in light of the massively important Dobbs Supreme Court case awaiting a decision.

It seems that for all of those involved, there may finally be some judicial relief or resolution at hand: For families, for mothers who are faced with these difficult decisions.

I know first-hand the weariness that has set in with so many, but I go back to what I learned from my good friend Chuck Pellitier of the Mother & Baby Care Center in Fort Worth Texas, with whom I worked for many years.

Whenever he would experience a “save” - and I was involved in several of these - and the mothers and their children would then come to see him, these encounters brought new life and hope to Chuck and his staff.

I believe that we could experience this on a much bigger scale at this historic moment.

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California is one of those states which seems likely to remain extremely pro-abortion even if things go the pro-life way in Dobbs. What's your sense of how Catholics in such states should approach prenatal justice if we see a Supreme Court victory this summer?  

I have been blessed to know many, women especially, who volunteer hours caring for mothers and their children and their needs — it’s far different from the caricatures one sees.

Prenatal justice, it seems to me, must move beyond words to actual concrete gestures of concern and help, and beyond pregnancy care centers to the relationships which we can forge, with the help of God. To be more to the point: Do not wait for some future decision! Begin now! 

Having visited our dedicated folks often at our various pregnancy care centers, there is always a need for volunteers. I just experienced this when I recently visited the LaHabra Life Center and blessed their new equipment. The support of friendship and prayer is absolutely necessary for those who work at those centers, because it is often challenging and lonely work, and volunteers can feel very much alone. 

I've been so impressed with the "Caring for the Whole Person" initiative that the California Catholic Conference has put together. Can you say more about this, especially in the context of addressing abortion ‘demand?’ 

As with the concerns about so-called physician-assisted suicide, “Caring for the Whole Person” involves strengthening in our parishes the resources and relationships for caring for mothers and families, so that these are apparent, welcoming, easily available, and not subject to endless searches, especially in moments of crisis. 

When I arrived in California, I found that the California Catholic Conference had a number of well-organized pastoral and legislative initiatives. Among them were responding to efforts to promote physician-assisted suicide. I became very involved in those. And these efforts were successful in stopping the physician-assisted suicide movement, involving other groups such as the Alzheimer’s association and other groups. And up to several years ago it was stopped again. But during a special legislative session the committee membership was changed and the physician-assisted suicide bill passed [in 2015].

After physician-assisted suicide became legal in Calfornia, several doctors involved in end-of-life care proposed to the California bishops that there needed to be a change in how we approached this matter — going beyond legislative approaches, and looking at the care of the entire person, so that no one feels compelled to choose physician-assisted suicide. 

Out of this the idea of Whole Person Care came into being. The same principles can be brought to the care of mothers and children.

If you visit the website of the California Catholic Conference you can see what has been accomplished, and we can learn from this.

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You've been on the ground doing pro-life ministry for awhile. Can you tell us about how you got started and what your experience has been like over the years?

My involvement in pro-life ministry comes directly from some very significant women in my own life: My mother, a maternity nurse and nursing instructor; good friends like “Fritizie” Belz, Joan Reardon, and Carolyn Bodewes of Blessed Sacrament parish in Springfield, Illinois, established the Care Center in Springfield to help and meet the needs of women who are expecting and had few resources to care for another child. 

I also have a background as a medical technologist and often held premature infants in my hand to draw blood from “heel sticks” for blood gas measurements. 

My mother would often recruit student nurses to babysit for my younger brothers and sister. These were student nurses that Mom knew from their OB rotation. I remember one incident well: 

One evening Mom spent a lot of time with one of the students who was particularly upset. This particular student nurse was distraught because she had spent a lot of time with a father who thought he might lose both his wife and child. I remember that the mother and child survived, but my mom’s involvement with mothers and children was always very personal like this.

By the way, she was always supportive of Chuck and Pat Pellitier of the Mother & Unborn Baby Care Center in Fort Worth.

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Do you have preferred prayers or other spiritual practices that seem particularly appropriate at key times for the pro-life movement?

If we ever needed spiritual aid, it seems like now is the time. 

One prayer comes to mind immediately: “God grant me the wisdom to accept the things that I can, courage to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

And above all, to know the names of the women and children with whom we interact on a daily basis, and to pray for them by name!

Along with that prayer, there is the spiritual practice of “spiritually adopting” unborn children. I learned this from the Mother & Unborn Baby Care Center in Fort Worth.

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