South Carolina Catholics fight for life

COLUMBIA — Catholics in the Diocese of Charleston are mobilizing against the possible passage of the Freedom of Choice Act, H.R. 1964, S. 1173.

FOCA was first introduced in the U.S. House and Senate in January 2004, but never made it out of committee. As of Jan. 30, 2009, it had not been presented to the 111th Congress currently in session.

Concern about FOCA in the national pro-life community swelled after the election because of remarks President Barack Obama made in 2007, while still a senator, stating that he would make signing the bill one of his first acts as president.

FOCA has to pass both houses of Congress before it can reach President Obama’s desk. Some have speculated the act has little likelihood of ever making it out of Congress the way it is currently written. Still, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has described it as both radical and divisive because it would make abortion a “fundamental right” that could not be limited by government.

The act, if passed, could overturn many pro-life policies, including informed consent; affect the conscience rights of medical professionals; and overturn laws that prevent taxpayer funding of abortion.

The U.S. Catholic bishops launched a national campaign against FOCA on Jan. 24-25. Special postcards that Cath olics can send to their elected representatives were sent to all churches, and some parishes held special events to spread awareness about the proposed bill.

Kathy Schmugge, family life coordinator for the Diocese of Charleston, said the campaign was announced in early January and response was immediate.

The Family Life Office received dozens of calls from pastors and parish officials asking how best to respond and coordinate the postcard effort. She also heard from members of the laity.

“I’ve never had this response happen in the volume that it did,” Schmugge said. “Many people had read about FOCA in The Miscellany or heard about it. I had shut-ins calling. I heard from Protestants who had learned about FOCA from Catholic friends.”

Schmugge said the proposed bill genuinely frightens pro-life advocates because of its scope.

“Here in South Carolina, we’ve had many good pro-life laws pass, and the greatest fear we’d have is that those laws would be revoked, and we’d take a giant step back,” she said.

St. Francis by the Sea Church in Hilton Head held a Stop Freedom of Choice Act Weekend Jan. 24-25, co-sponsored by Hilton Head Citizens for Life.

Jack and Marilyn Young, St. Francis parishioners and members of Hilton Head Citizens for Life, were two of the main organizers of the event. Mrs. Young said both worked with parish volunteers and members of the Knights of Columbus to get people to sign cards after Mass. Postage was donated and volunteers mailed the cards for them.

“There were a lot of people who were asking us, ‘What is FOCA?’ and I couldn’t believe they hadn’t seen it on the news or in the paper,” Mrs. Young said. “I think this effort at the church is definitely going to bring this issue to the forefront for people.”

Jack Wilfore, a member of the Knights of Columbus and St. Francis Church, said people lined up to sign the cards and many expressed genuine concern about FOCA. He said 1,000 cards were printed, and all were gone by the end of the weekend.

“The thing that struck me was that everybody wanted to sign these things,” he said. “As soon as they saw what it was about, it was a no-brainer. The enthusiasm of the parishioners was across the board.”

Wilfore said volunteers also planned to put the cards into bulletins and have them available in the fellowship hall at St. Francis.

“The idea of FOCA absolutely frightens me and it disappoints me,” Wilfore said. “The whole abortion thing is terrible in itself, and now … it looks like it’s going to get worse. That’s why this was important.”

Volunteers from the St. Gianna Life Guild at St. Joseph Church in Columbia,  and the Knights of Columbus also set up tables outside after each Mass at the church Jan. 24-25.

John Staab, president of the Life Guild, said 102 people signed postcards at the tables, 250 sets were given out, and 900 more sets of cards went out in parish bulletins. He said guild members also have placed extra copies in the church office and in a parish meeting hall.

“FOCA scares me because it sets back everything that the pro-life movement has accomplished in the past 36 years,” Staab said. “Any changes made by FOCA would be hard to reverse … just the possibility of FOCA means people should contact their legislators.”