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Posted January 31, 2009

Marchers urged to support
proposed legislation to help pregnant women

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A few dozen participants from the annual March for Life in Washington who attended a Capitol Hill briefing Jan. 22 were urged to support pregnant women while they continue their fight to make abortion illegal.

The pro-life marchers, who had already spent hours listening to speakers, walking the streets of Washington and lobbying members of Congress, ended their day by attending a briefing on newly introduced legislation called the Pregnant Women Support Act.

The legislation, introduced in the House and Senate in mid-January, aims to help pregnant women improve their chances of carrying their children to term. It seeks to provide counseling, child care funding, nurse visits and programs to help women continue their education.

The measure was introduced in the Senate Jan. 15 by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and in the House by Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., Jan. 21.

The bill also includes provisions for expanding coverage to pregnant women and unborn children through Medicaid and state-sponsored children's insurance programs. It seeks to remove pregnancy from health insurance companies' "pre-existing condition" lists to enable pregnant women to more easily obtain health care coverage.

It also proposes increased funding for domestic violence programs and centers to help pregnant and parenting mothers.

Similar legislation was introduced two years ago.

"We need a grass-roots effort to support and pass this bill," Kristin Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, told the group gathered in a Senate hearing room.

The briefing was sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United, which are both nonpartisan organizations that promote Catholic social teaching in political discourse.

While Day outlined key aspects of the bill, other speakers addressed how the legislation fits in with pro-life efforts to overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions that recognized abortion as a constitutional right and overturned state laws against abortion.

Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus and a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, told the group that he was "proud to take part in the march" and expressed hope that one day the Supreme Court's abortion decisions would be overturned.

"While we're fighting (these decisions), what else will we do?" he asked the crowd dressed in full winter gear for the day's events.

Cafardi called the legislation "a more immediate strategy" and said he did not see it as a "conflicting strategy" with other pro-life efforts.

Last year, Cafardi was criticized for his endorsement of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama. Cafardi, who is both a canon lawyer and civil lawyer, resigned from the board of trustees of Ohio's Franciscan University of Steubenville after writing that a committed Catholic voter should consider a long list of "intrinsically evil acts" that includes but is not limited to abortion.

Vincent Miller, an associate professor of theology at Georgetown University in Washington, echoed his support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, calling it a "path to building a culture of life."

"I'm not being Pollyannish about how this will solve everything," he said, but added that the measure would at least provide a place for dialogue with those on both sides of the abortion issue.

"It's enormously promising and something the pro-life movement should embrace," he said.

In a Jan. 16 conference call, Casey told reporters the government was "not doing nearly enough to support pregnant women."

"Support can't just mean a pat on the back but it means providing help to walk with her in the early months of her pregnancy and in the early years of her child's life," he said.

"This is the only way to bring sides together and reduce the number of abortions in a substantial way," he added.

Although Casey was unable to attend the Jan. 22 briefing, he was represented by his chief of staff, Jim Brown.

Brown told the group the legislation was "the right thing to do and the politic thing to do." He also said he believed there is "a willingness in the new administration" to consider it.

"Stay tuned. We'll keep working on it," he said.

During a question-and-answer session, some of those in attendance questioned how the measure's chances compared to the possible passage of the Freedom of Choice Act, known as FOCA, which would wipe out many existing state laws and impede states' ability to regulate abortion.

"FOCA has been around for 20 years and has never gone anywhere. I don't think it's likely to go anywhere soon," said James Salt, organizing director of Catholics United. That measure has not been introduced in the 111th Congress.

Day added that the panic over possible passage of FOCA seemed to be a way to "motivate the base" but she said pro-life groups should not be worried about it.

"This is a better strategy," she said, referring to the Pregnant Women Support Act.