Destructive abortion bill unleashed at state Capitol

NARAL enters fight to reverse pro-life work in state

Nissa LaPoint

Hours of scattered and clumsy debate among lawmakers and citizens over women’s rights and the unborn stymied pro-life advocates who fought an aggressive abortion “rights” bill at the state Capitol last week.

The Reproductive Health Freedom Act, or Senate Bill 175, was pushed through a legislative committee April 10 and may be considered by the state Senate this week.

Click here to read Archbishop Aquila’s “Open letter to Coloradans of good will” 

Click here to read Archbishop Aquila’s “Carta abierta a los católicos del norte de Colorado”

Local abortion advocates gained the support of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) to pass the bill, which threatens to become the first in the country to create unfettered access to abortion and eradicate life-affirming laws in the state.

NARAL stated in releases last week that “It’s time to make sure Colorado stops attacks on reproductive health care once and for all” and ensure pro-life protections “don’t see the light of day.”

The Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents the Church’s state level public policy, stated the bill poses an “undeniable and irreparable danger” to pro-life laws.

“This legislation has the potential to eliminate a broad range of policies, including, but not limited to, parental notification, conscience protection for health providers, and the list could go on,” conference director Jenny Kraska said before the Health and Human Services Committee.

It could void state laws that restrict abortion and protect youths and school policies on abstinence education, she said.

The bill proposes to deny a government or policy the ability to interfere with an individual’s reproductive health care decisions, defined as “treatment, services, procedures, supplies, products, devices or information related to human sexuality, contraception, pregnancy, abortion or assisted reproduction.”

The language harkens back to the 2009 federal Freedom of Choice Act that U.S. bishops and pro-life advocates nationwide fought against for its proposal to establish abortion as a right and prohibit all interference with the decision. The federal FOCA was defeated. Earlier versions proposed in 1989 and 1993 also failed.

The Church in Colorado responded by launching a postcard campaign to give voice to the dignity of life and to urge lawmakers to uphold pro-life legislation.

Karna Swanson, spokeswoman for the Denver Archdiocese, said the broad interpretation of Senate Bill 175 poses even more damaging threats to mothers and babies.

“The pro-life movement has been working for decades to promote legislation that protects life and promotes a culture that is life-giving and life-affirming. This legislation directly attacks those efforts, and threatens to sever that most beautiful bond between mother and child,” Swanson said.

Open interpretation

Much of the testimony and debate during the April 10 legislative hearing was centered on the bill’s language. Lawmakers questioned the reference to an “individual’s” reproductive health care decisions and what denial or interference means.

Pro-life advocates argued the language threatens the life of the unborn.

“For many of the citizens in Colorado, individuals exist before they’re born. And then I as member of the Legislature in Colorado have a responsibility to defend their inalienable rights,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Larimer, a member of the committee. “I believe it’s important that we understand what we’re talking about and not gloss over the basic philosophy, moral and theological principles that are at play with this legislation.”

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Jefferson, said the term “individual” speaks for itself.

“I definitely believe there is a fundamental right of an individual to make their own decisions about their own body,” Kerr said to the committee. “A person has the right to make those decisions above the government coming into their bedroom and making those decisions for them.”

Others worried the bill’s language would need the court’s intervention and could force organizations to provide objectionable services and devices related to contraception, abortion and sexuality.

Marcy McGovern of Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Denver testified she was concerned the bill would impact their nonprofit.

“We know that as a private organization we still need to adhere to the law. So the concern would be that if this broad law passes there would be trickle-down effects for us,” McGovern told the committee.

Other testimony was split over the freedom to access reproductive health and if there are current limitations on a woman’s decision.

Kraska stated women already have freedom to make reproductive health decisions in the state and that the law is unnecessary.

“This legislation, no matter what the title might imply, is not about freedom,” she testified. “Freedom is more than an unlimited supply of choices. True freedom is the ability to know and the courage to do what is right and what is just. And this legislation is neither right nor just for the people of Colorado and it certainly does nothing to respect the dignity of the human person.”

One woman reiterated she only wants the freedom to choose without government intervention.

“I don’t agree with people who try to legislate their morality on my body,” said Jackie Perkins of Denver.

The conference is urging all citizens with pro-life views to contact their representatives.

Swanson added that speaking against the bill is to take a stand “in favor of mom and baby.”

“There is so much in our culture that tries to tear families apart,” she said. “Let’s take a stand to keep mom and baby together.”

Contact your legislator
Use the conference’s website to find your legislator and contact them.
www.votervoice.net/COCC/Address

Sign-up to join the conference’s Legislative Network and stay updated on events at the Capitol.
www.votervoice.net/COCC/Register

COMING UP: Catholic leaders urge extreme caution for new Netflix series

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Based on the 2007 young adult novel by the same name, “13 Reasons Why” follows the story of Hannah Baker, a troubled 17 year old who took her own life.

But instead of leaving the typical note, Hannah leaves 13 cassette tapes, explaining the 13 reasons why she took her life – and each of these “reasons” is a person, who either did something to Hannah, or didn’t do enough, according to her.

The creators of the Netflix original series insisted in a follow-up video that 13 Reasons was meant to be helpful – to bring up important conversations about serious topics like suicide, bullying and assault, and to get viewers talking about solutions to suicidal thoughts.

However, suicide prevention groups and youth leaders have raised concerns because the show is particularly popular among a teenage audience, and teenagers are a vulnerable population.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. Studies show that publicized suicides may also trigger a ripple effect of additional suicides within communities.

The show has also faced backlash from mental health experts, who say it fails to follow several of the “Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide,” a list of guidelines for media outlets developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists. Experts advise against sensational headlines or describing a suicide in graphic detail, which studies have shown can lead to suicide contagion, or “copycat” suicides.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, a U.S. non-profit suicide prevention group, has also said that the show may do “more harm than good.”

Life Teen, an international youth ministry program, released a video and a written message to young people, warning them of possible triggers in the show and of the inadequate ways it addresses suicide and mental health.

In her message to young people before they watch the show, Life Teen’s Leah Murphy warned against the way the show portrays Hannah’s suicide as simply the fault of those around her.

“Nowhere in the series is mental illness explicitly discussed or dealt with and the audience is left having been told that the people around Hannah Baker are responsible for her death because of their actions or lack thereof,” she wrote.

“While bullying, not saying anything when you see depressive or suicidal signs, and sexual assault are serious issues and can drive people to suicide, the reality is that suicide is rarely something avoided by good sentiments alone. It’s been reported that 90% of all suicides are committed by people who experience diagnosable mental illnesses. The vast majority of suicides can be traced to actual health issues, not just bullying or traumatic events. These health issues, actual, mental illnesses require a lot more than the presence of a good friend or the absence of any serious issues or struggles – they require serious, professional help.”

The fact that these aren’t addressed in any straightforward manner in the series is a problem, Murphy said, because Hannah ends up being portrayed as a kind of “heroic martyr” who leaves a lesson and a legacy behind.

Murphy urged anyone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts to reach out and seek help.

Someone who commits suicide “doesn’t become a hero, gain control, and acquire any power by identifying the people around them as reasons for their suicide,” Murphy wrote.

“Suicide will always be incredibly hurtful to countless individuals, but most tragically hurtful to the person who takes his or her own life – a life that was mean to continue, that was full of meaning, purpose, and infinite worth.”

Chelsea Voboril, the director of religious education at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Smithville, Missouri, told CNA that she watched the show and addressed it with her youth group. She was troubled that most of her teens thought the 13 reasons Hannah gave were legitimate reasons to end her life.

Voboril said they were able to discuss how Hannah never approached her parents or a doctor or psychologist about the loneliness and hurt she was experiencing. Voboril was also able to discuss mental health and culpability for sins with her youth group, who asked if everyone who commits suicide goes to hell.

When watching these kinds of shows, Voboril said she tries to take the approach of finding the “wheat in the weeds” or finding the good among the bad – something she’s borrowed from Catholic speaker Christopher West.

The show attempted to have a moral compass, Voboril said, and its “wheat” includes good messages: “Rape is wrong, suicide causes pain, everybody is bearing a cross,” she noted.

“But the weeds are dangerous. And subtle. Sex outside of marriage, turning to substance abuse, free will being limited by others actions or circumstances, let alone the huge issue around how to talk about suicide in a safe yet poignant manner.”

At the end of the discussion, Voboril said she begged her students to watch it with a parent or other adult, if they were going to continue watching.

But “(for) persons whose consciences may not be well formed or who can be triggered by any of the big issues, I would hope that they avoid it.”

Owen Stockden, a spokesman for Living Works, which specializes in suicide intervention trainings, told CNA that one of his biggest concerns with “13 Reasons” was the portrayal of inadequate and unhelpful responses from the adults in the show, particularly the school counselor and teachers.

“In the show, Hannah’s guidance counsellor has a very ineffective response to her thoughts of suicide,” Stockden told CNA.

“As an organization, we train many guidance counsellors and teachers around the world to respond compassionately and effectively to thoughts of suicide. There is always more to be done, and a recent study…suggests that schools would benefit from increased suicide intervention training for staff, but in the vast majority of cases, teachers and counsellors are alert and sensitive to the needs of their students,” he said.

“It would be tragic if 13 Reasons Why led young people to believe that their concerns would be ignored if they approached a responsible adult.”

Having a popular show discussing the issue of suicide provides the potential for helpful conversations and the addressing of important issues, “but only if it is discussed in a thoughtful and responsible way,” Stockden added.

For Catholic screenwriter and associate professor Barbara Nicolosi, another issue with the show is that none of the characters have a sense of or ever mention a transcendent or loving God, something that she says her own students lack.

“The show wants to attribute all the problems of youth to social media and bullying, but refuses to consider that those things are just symptoms themselves.  The loss of faith, the (loss of the) conviction of a loving personal God, the loss of a sense of eternity, all of these things make suicide a logical response to suffering. Our kids are not dumb,” she told CNA.

Nicolosi said she saw the value in the anti-bullying messages of the show, but she also worries it could lend power to suicide.

“…I am worried that the character of Hannah does seem to have some power in wreaking revenge on her persecutors through her suicide. In the end, I think the show is close to a wash in terms of whether it will do good or harm,” she said.

Dr. Jim Langley, a Catholic psychologist with St. Raphael Counseling in Denver, has read the book and seen several episodes of “13 Reasons Why.”

Because of the mature content on several levels – language, sexuality, topics of suicide and rape – he said he would be hesitant to recommend either the show or the book to anyone other than mentally healthy adults.

He also said that there were several things that the story gets right – namely, that people you may not expect in your life could be at risk for suicide, and the devastating impact suicide can have on the people in your life.

However, where the story goes wrong is that it tends to romanticize the idea of suicide and fails to adequately address the impact mental health played in Hannah’s decision to end her life.

Dr. Langley said he also worried that the show went too far in suggesting that the people in Hannah’s life were at fault for her suicide. Bullying, rape and assault are terrible things to have happen to someone, and there is some benefit to showing that your actions “can harm and influence other people.”

“To some degree we all have responsibility to other people, but in some ways the show goes too far, and makes it sound like we have responsibility for the other person. We’re responsible to the people in our lives, to treat them well. But the people who hurt (Hannah) were not responsible for her choosing to commit suicide.”

“Most people who commit suicide – almost everyone has a severe mental health problem. And the show does not portray this girl as having severe mental health problems in the way that somebody who is contemplating suicide almost always has,” he said.

Warning signs for suicide include severe, ongoing depression and social isolation. A suicidal person may mention something about wanting to end their life, or start giving away their belongings as sentimental gifts. Another warning sign includes a deeply depressed person who is all of a sudden very happy, brought about by a sudden sense of freedom if they have decided on suicide.

The show’s ultimate message is that the solution to teen suicide is that everyone needs to treat the people in their lives better, which is a positive message but does not go far enough in addressing mental health issues, Dr. Langley said.

One of the most important things adults can do, Dr. Langley said, it to talk to the children in their lives about this show and about suicide and other issues.

“I think that especially with teenagers, they are exposed to so much in today’s culture, that it’s our job as parents and educators about those things and to provide real, accurate information and to provide them with the truth,” he said.

Often adults can worry that they will over-expose their children to heavy issues by having these conversations, but for the most part, the internet and social media and the culture at large have already done that, Dr. Langley noted.

“So as parents and educators, we’re not overexposing them by talking about the issues, we’re going to help them process it and discern the truth in it. And I think it is really valuable to talk with teenagers about mental health issues.”

One thing that was “starkly missing” from the book and the T.V. show, Dr. Langley said, was Hannah’s parents, who seemed loving but at the same time were largely unaware of Hannah’s experiences at school and her interior experiences.

“So it’s so important for parents to play a really active role in their kids’ lives, even though a teenager’s number one priority is to individuate from mom and dad, which is healthy, you still have to be involved and talk with them and let them know that you care and that you’re invested in them. Don’t be those absent parents that Hannah’s parents appeared to be in the show.”

If you think you or a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts, ask for help from someone you can trust and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (available 24 hours everyday). For Catholic counseling, contact your local priest, diocese or your local branch of Catholic Charities.