By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
Early this year, a group of pro-life organizations in New Jersey came together to forge an initiative they hoped would elevate their cause to a whole new level by focusing on the humanity of infants in the womb and the pain they suffer during abortion.
Since then, advocates led by Christine Flaherty, executive director of LIFENET, the creative force behind what’s known as the 20/20 Project, have been crisscrossing the state promoting the initiative which links the scientific reality that at 20 weeks, babies in the womb feel pain to pending state legislation prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks post fertilization by 2020.
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On Aug. 10, Flaherty came to Farmingdale’s St. Catherine of Siena Parish with a PowerPoint presentation on the effort and an array of information, images and stories that reinforce the scientific and philosophical truths that back up the project.
Equipped with inventive promotional material which ranged from the traditional: car magnets, phone stickers, pamphlets and prayer cards to "trending now" – royal blue pashmina-style scarves to identify the group at rallies and meetings, a dedicated website, Twitter – social media accounts and realistic models of pre-born babies – Flaherty made a compelling case.
The event, sponsored by the parish respect life committee, drew 22 respect life representatives from parishes around the area including the Diocesan Co-Cathedral of St. Robert Bellarmine, Freehold Township; St. Rose of Lima, Freehold, St. William the Abbot and St. Veronica, both Howell, Christ the King Parish, Long Branch, and Holy Innocents, Neptune.
Throughout her presentation, Flaherty, who helped spearhead the introduction of the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” into the New Jersey State Assembly and Senate (A3452 and S2061) in March, spoke of going everywhere she’s invited, especially schools, to make the case for the bills.
She said she has great hope that young people will come on board with the project. “Young people are very involved (in the pro-life movement),” she said. “They are aware that they live in a terrible state” where the right to life is concerned, she said, citing statistics that show it’s average annual mortality rate for abortions in 2014 – the last year for which figures are available –ranks it number two in the nation.
What Flaherty and advocates from the Respect Life Office of the Newark Archdiocese and the Metuchen Diocese, along with organizations including LIFENET, New Jersey Right to Life, the New Jersey Family Policy Council and Corazon Puro, envision is engaging a wide range of support throughout the state for the legislation by using techniques similar to those of successful secular movements around the world.
Flaherty, who said she and fellow advocates drew on their examples, creating in 20/20 a “program with a clear vision and a strong and steady approach,” that has a multi-year, realistic focus and a collaborative basis.
“You have to roll everything out in synergy. For a goal to be realized, it has to be realistic, it has to have a timeline,” said Flaherty. She explained that organizers drew on the examples of the 16 states that have enacted laws to protect pain-capable babies in the womb including Ohio, Texas and South Carolina where the focus was on getting the pro-life groups to collaborate in the initiative.
A crucial step in meeting the goal, she said, is helping people to recognize that this is a human rights issue. Once that vision coalesces, she said, people will work together. “People will stop tolerating abortion when they realize that babies feel pain. It equates to the rights of children in the womb.”
“The aim is to ban abortion past 20 weeks – pray, put a 20/20 sticker on your car, join the network, sign up for conference calls. …” and reach out to legislators and officials. “The foundation must be prayer,” she said. “… We are not going to make any headway without prayer!”
After the presentation, Mary Sillup, who chairs St. Catherine of Siena’s respect life committee, theorized that the 20/20 Project signaled a “new approach" focusing on equal rights that could energize the pro-life movement in New Jersey.
“It may be an uphill battle,” she said, but Flaherty’s strategic approach to how successful movements work, made her take heart that this battle can be won. “I think she is absolutely right. If you have a target and an objective, you won’t lose your momentum.”
Focusing on the concept that “sometimes it only takes one person” to carry the day, Sillup will be setting up the 20/20 display loaned to the respect life committee by Flaherty for the parish ministry fair Sept. 8 and 9.
“She lent us the whole display. It is very thorough and to the point,” Sillup said.