Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, talks about the current abortion laws of the state as moderator Patti Staley listens.
Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life, talks about the current abortion laws of the state as moderator Patti Staley listens.

“Eager for information” may best describe the audience that turned out on a Jan. 26 evening to hear a panel of New Jersey prolife advocates explain what’s at stake in the battle for the unborn at the state level, now that a recent bill signed by Gov. Phil Murphy has expanded abortion access.

The forum held in St. Gregory the Great Parish center, Hamilton Square, drew interested parties from various parishes of the Diocese as well as college students and even some non-Catholics. Moderator and registered nurse Patti Staley introduced and posed questions to the panel, comprising Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life; James King, executive director of New Jersey Catholic Conference (public policy arm of the Bishops of New Jersey); and Dr. Gerald Burke, attorney and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist from Voorhees.

Click HERE to view a Photo Gallery of the panel discussion

Plans for the discussion shifted in scope when the new law S49/A6260 was signed by the governor Jan. 13, codifying the right to abortion into state law – the last bill to be voted on before the end of a lame duck session of the state legislature. Pushed through in record time in just six days, with little time for prolife advocates to inform the public, the bill became law the day before the Rally for Life Jan. 14 at the State House in Trenton.

“Abortions can be performed the entire nine months of pregnancy – and that is the legacy of legislators who are no longer here,” Tasy said, pointing out that the roll call of how representatives voted on the bill – available on NJRTL.org – includes six pro-abortion legislators who were either voted out or are retiring.

As fertility physician, Dr. Burke underscored the importance of drawing attention to what we now know at the chromosomal level about life beginning at conception, which was not medically provable 49 years ago when the Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade.

“It’s devastating – the science is so clear that human life begins at conception,” Dr. Burke explained. “A completely unique human being is created from that moment, and so many people who are pro-choice justify it based on false science and false medicine. We as men and women of the light have the responsibility to tell the truth all the time … and not to remain silent when someone else is telling a lie or half-truth – if we don’t speak up in that situation, we’re affirming whatever lie they’re promoting.”

Staley asked Dr. Burke how the new law, which allows non-physicians with little to no surgical experience to perform abortions – will affect pregnant mothers.

“The regulations passed by the State Board of Examiners … turned pregnant women into second class citizens as far as surgical care is concerned,” he emphasized. “I think it shows a total disregard for [their] wellbeing … this is going to cause huge problems.”

Ordinarily, Dr. Burke delineated, to get surgical privileges at a hospital, it takes at least 16 years of college, medical school and obstetrics experience combined to be qualified to perform surgical abortions. This recent legislation allows midwives, nurse practitioners and others with no surgical training to do the same procedures – which are often performed “blindly” (without being able to see what medical instruments are doing) and can easily cause permanent damage and dangerous complications for the patients.

Advocacy on the Catholic Church end relies heavily on the efforts of the NJCC and the state’s bishops, who were at the forefront when the new bill was announced, despite the short timeframe, releasing a strong statement from N.J. bishops.

“This is really the work of the Conference, when these bills are introduced, to review the legislation,” King explained, “to make sure we know what we’re talking about, and we present that information to the bishops so that they know what they’re talking about.”

The NJCC released an Action Alert immediately, to which more than 11,000 pro-life advocates responded with letters to state legislators protesting the bill. “I also sent the bishops’ letter to all 120 members of the legislature,” King followed.

“Where do we go from here? How do we come together, in the face of what seems to be impossible odds, in battling this culture of death?” he posited, and suggested the best course is “education, unification and mobilization.”

“It’s incumbent upon us to share information with friends, neighbors and fellow parishioners,” he said, pointing to the Respect Life materials and alerts published by NJCC and diocesan outlets. “Education is extremely important because it allows people to talk comfortably about the issue at hand. Nothing is more important … because the other side looks for every side to spread their argument against it.”

Tasy also encouraged communication. “People don’t like to talk about abortion – but we can do it in a way in which we are really just educating people,” she continued. Questions she suggested advocates ask their family and friends included “Did you know that a law passed that allows abortions up through the ninth month of pregnancy?” and “Did you know that minors can get an abortion in New Jersey without their parents knowing about it?”

Grace Rykaczewski, member of Students for Life at Rider University, Lawrenceville, heard about the forum during the Rally for Life at the State House, and invited some of her fellow members to attend with her. “We just wanted to learn more about this bill that just passed so we could see what our next steps were… we’re happy to be here.”

Parishioners of nearby St. Raphael-Holy Angels Parish, Hamilton, Mary Beaumont and Trish Teague, were refreshed in their Respect Life advocacy by hearing the panelists.

“I feel like right now mobilization is the most important thing,” said Teague, who is the parish Respect Life Committee chair.

“I have a sense of renewal of hope,” Beaumont noted. “I feel empowered; I know what I want to do, and believe there are others who want to do the same … I think the Holy Spirit leads that.”

In spite of expanded abortion access, Tasy encouraged attendees to take personal action by volunteering. “We need your support financially and practically – we need more volunteers and county leaders,” she said. “And help the pregnancy centers, because they do wonderful work.

“We know that this is God’s battle, and we are called to be faithful,” Tasy continued. “And at times it’s difficult, because we want to win. But we are winning, I think, in the hearts and minds of people.”