State director named first laywoman president of national agency

The state’s Catholic issues lobbyist Jenny Kraska made history this year by becoming the first laywoman to take the helm of a national association that coordinates 41 members active in advocating for the concerns of the Church.

Kraska, the executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, said she was humbled and honored to be elected the president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors (NASCCD). She was elected by fellow association members July 26 during a meeting in Helena, Mont. She succeeds previous president Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

“The NASCCD is an incredible organization filled with men and women of great character and tremendous faith.  To be a Catholic conference director requires a very thick skin, a resilient spirit, a sense of humor and most importantly trust in God,” Kraska said. “The issues that face the Church and our country today are certainly, as Thomas Paine once wrote, ‘the times that try men’s souls.’  Within these trying times are also great opportunities for the Church to be a voice of hope and a voice of truth in a public square that is lacking both.”

Jenny Kraska stands outside the Colorado state Capitol building downtown.

Jenny Kraska stands outside the Colorado state Capitol building downtown. Photo by Nissa LaPoint/DCR

Now in her eighth year with the state-level public policy agency, Kraska continues to represent Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses at the Capitol on issues including life, marriage, religious liberty, immigration, Catholic schools and more. She is the only full-time, faith-based advocate of issues at the Legislature.

Her work also entails alerting the Colorado community to new bills, both local and federal, that are of concern to Catholics and coordinating the distribution of voter issues guides near election time. She coordinates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on federal issues and is a spokeswoman to the media.

Kraska hails from Prior Lake, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis, and is a graduate of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. She earned a double major in Catholic studies and theology and went on to earn a doctor of law degree and a master’s degree in Catholic studies.

Kraska worked as a research attorney for Thompson West Publishing before moving to Colorado and joining the Colorado Catholic Conference as associate director in 2007. The following year she was named executive director and succeeded former director Tim Dore.

One of her primary goals is to not only to make the community aware of legislative activity but get Catholics involved in the political process.

“There’s simple little things that all of us can do and should be doing to engage the public square,” Kraska said.

One is to register to vote, she said. Another is to join the conference’s legislative network that sends out actions alerts and notices about important legislative issues. Faithful may also become involved by testifying on bills or expressing to their legislator their views on a piece of legislation. The legislative network and list of legislators is available at http://www.cocatholicconference.org/

The conference also made available a new app for smartphone users that allows them to access legislative updates and resources. The app may be downloaded for free.

The NASCCD started in 1968 to facilitate information and activities between state-level conferences, which represent dioceses within a state on public policy concerns. State directors may work with governments, other church agencies, nonprofits, religious and lay people.

 

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.”