Nancy and me: a lament

Nancy Pelosi and I grew up in the same Baltimore, in the days of May Processions and Forty Hours’ devotions, of Baltimore Catechisms and nuns in starched wimples, of Catholic heroes like John Unitas and Gino Marchetti. Nostalgia is always suspect when judging the texture of a time and a place: in this case, a town of ethnic neighborhoods in which Catholic kids unselfconsciously identified themselves by parish. Yet it’s hard not to feel a twinge of reverence for something that wasn’t perfect — but, dang, it was great. Or, as another product of that period, Garry Wills, once wrote, “Not a bad ghetto to grow up in.”

In the Fifties, Nancy D’Alesandro was the mayor’s daughter — her father being “Big Tommy” D’Alesandro, as distinguished from Nancy’s brother, “Young Tommy,” who was mayor during riot time in 1968 and then left public life. After marrying Paul Pelosi in 1962, Nancy moved to San Francisco — and thereby missed one of the electric moments in the twilight years of the old Baltimore in which we were both raised.

It was January 1966, and the City Council was considering an open housing bill — a key plank in the platform of civil rights leaders. “Young Tommy” D’Alesandro, then president of the Council, invited Cardinal Lawrence Shehan to testify at a public hearing on the measure. The diminutive cardinal had barely gotten the first sentence out of his mouth when raucous jeers broke out, to the point where Young Tommy had the cops clear the room so the hearing could proceed. “The Jeering of the Cardinal” was the big story for days thereafter — a story from which some of us took an important lesson: the Catholic Church stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those deemed outside the boundaries of society’s protection and concern.

It’s hard to imagine Young Tommy not telling his sister about that episode, but Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to have learned the meaning of those heady days for the 21st century — that the legislative battles to protect the right-to-life of the unborn, the elderly, and the handicapped, (not to mention the battle against treating human embryos as research material) are civil rights struggles in moral continuity with the civil rights struggles of the Sixties. The questions are the same: Who enjoys the protection of the laws? Who is inside the boundaries of the community’s protection and concern? Who is safe, if some of us arrogate to ourselves the power to declare others of us outside those boundaries?

I wish my fellow-ex-Baltimorean had answered those questions in a way that does full justice to the Catholic upbringing of which she boasts. Alas, Nancy Pelosi is one of the most relentless supporters of the spurious “right” to abortion in the House: which means that she’s on the wrong side of the great civil rights issue of our time, just like the people who jeered Cardinal Shehan in 1966. NARAL Pro-Choice America went into paroxysms of adulation when Pelosi was elected Speaker; Democrats for Life lamented that Pelosi put federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research near the top of her legislative agenda.

Then there was the carefully choreographed January 3 Mass at Washington’s Trinity University, where Pelosi had attended college. At the Speaker’s invitation, the celebrant and homilist was Father Robert Drinan, SJ, who would succumb to pneumonia a few weeks later. Father Drinan was the man who, more than anyone else, gave the moral green light for the Democratic Party to tarnish its modern civil rights record by embracing the abortion license; the man who, during his years in Congress, consistently defied the canons of public justice (and the Church’s settled conviction) on the great civil rights issue of the day; the man who helped turn Senator Edward Kennedy from a potential champion of the pro-life cause into the desiccated, Wolsey-like specimen he is today. If Father Drinan’s record provides insight into the Pelosi speakership, then Nancy Pelosi has betrayed the great public lesson of the Baltimore Catholicism in which we both grew up.

I pray that my fellow-ex-Baltimorean changes her mind, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m also praying that my skepticism is misplaced.

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.”