Frank Wolf: An Appreciation

For the first time since 1978, Frank Wolf’s name will not appear on the November ballot in Virginia’s Tenth Congressional District. The Republic will be the poorer for that.

Virginia’s 10th CD includes territory familiar to James Madison. And it’s not hard to imagine the Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights taking deep satisfaction from the public career of a fellow-Virginian, a man of integrity who bent every effort to defend human rights, especially for the defenseless. That advocacy was the hallmark of Frank Wolf’s lengthy congressional career, which, like my old friend Henry Hyde’s, is a powerful argument against term limits.

When the defense of religious freedom and other basic human rights meant confronting Soviet power, even when foreign policy “realists” objected, Frank Wolf was there. When the defense of religious freedom meant confronting Islamist and jihadist terrorists, in the face of the same objections from the same unrealistic realists, Frank Wolf was there. When genocide was going on in Sudan, and Washington preferred to look away, Frank Wolf forced his governmental colleagues to pay attention. When most of official Washington ignored the plight of persecuted Christians whose communities could trace their origins virtually to apostolic times, Frank Wolf was their advocate and, challenging both Congress and the Obama administration and citing as his rationale William Wilberforce’s 1789 speech in Parliament against the slave trade: “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you did not know.”

Frank Wolf also understood that consistency in human rights work meant being a pro-life advocate. Like the late Richard John Neuhaus, whose work he admired, Frank Wolf saw the pro-life movement as the natural heir to the U.S. civil rights movement, and pro-life advocacy here at home as the natural complement to work in defense of people oppressed by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes abroad. That an evangelical Protestant understood this, and acted on it, when so many Catholic members of Congress did not, is cause for Catholic reflection—and repentance.

Frank Wolf did his chores for Virginia’s 10th CD; he didn’t get re-elected 16 times by ignoring the home front. But in the 30 years I’ve known him, I’ve always had the impression that it was his advocacy for those who were both persecuted and voiceless that kept him in the game and offered him the deepest of satisfactions in his public service. And in the case of this Christian gentleman, I couldn’t help but think that the deepest source of Frank Wolf’s concern for the persecuted was the truth the Vulgate Bible caught best in Latin: Caritas… Christi urget nos— “The love of Christ impels us…” [2 Corinthians 5: 14].

He’d dismiss the comparison out of hand, but I thought of Frank Wolf this past summer when I read Fred Kaplan’s “John Quincy Adams: American Visionary.” True, Frank Wolf did not spring from the intellectual and political aristocracy of the American Founding; nor did he serve as ambassador, senator, secretary of state, and president; nor is he a crusty curmudgeon like the Adams portrayed brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins in the film “Amistad.” But like John Quincy Adams, Frank Wolf brought distinction to the U.S. House of Representatives rather than taking distinction from it. Like Adams, Wolf made a sometimes-unpopular moral cause the centerpiece of his service in the people’s House. And like Adams, Frank Wolf drew the affection and respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, who know that the House is losing one of its unsullied moral reference points when Frank Wolf retires.

These days, “public service” is too often a matter of incantation rather than fact, as public office has become an expression of ego rather than of conviction. But for the past 34 years, the people of Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and indeed the people of the United States, have had a true public servant in Frank Wolf, whose convictions graced the office he held and ennobled the legislative body in which he served.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”