OLYMPIA – As the Washington State Legislature gets to work, Washington’s bishops are fighting another round for the unborn and people living in poverty.
It’s a short session, only 60 days. But Catholics have two big ways they can support the bishops’ legislative priorities: the March for Life on Jan. 22 and Catholic Advocacy Day on Feb. 21, both held in Olympia.
On Jan. 16, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain testified before a Senate committee against a bill mandating abortion coverage in all health care plans offered in the state. The measure would support abortions, violating the consciences of those who are pro-life. Already law in California and Oregon, now Washington is trying to follow suit.
“I liken it to a nasty storm that sometimes comes up the coast from California,” said Joe Sprague, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, which lobbies on behalf of the state’s bishops. “It hits California, Oregon and then Washington.”
Democrats, for the first time in five years, control the Senate and the House, and that’s increasing the chances that the bill will pass, Sprague said. The archbishop has asked for language that would provide protection for people who object to built-in abortion coverage, Sprague said, but it doesn’t appear there are enough votes to support it.
Opposition to the abortion coverage mandate is just one of the issues on the bishops’ legislative agenda this year.
In the realm of education, the WSCC is advocating for safety improvements in all schools, and funding for child abuse prevention education programs for all K–12 students.
In the areas of poverty, family and restorative justice, the issues include:
- Funding for the Housing Trust Fund, which helps finance affordable housing around the state. The $106 million at stake includes money for seven projects being developed by Catholic Housing Services and Catholic Charities in the state’s three dioceses.
- Making permanent a document recording fee that supports homeless programs, and increasing it from $40 to $90.
- Prohibiting landlords from discriminating against applicants or tenants based on source of income, especially people who rely on some form of public assistance.
- Ensuring that children at risk of entering the foster care system have the right to be represented by legal counsel.
- Changes in court-imposed debt obligations to help those trying to get back on their feet after serving their sentences. Provisions include eliminating interest on most of the debt and limiting sanctions for those who can’t pay.
In other life issues, the WSCC supports abolishing the death penalty and requiring parental notification for abortions performed on minors.
While opposing the abortion coverage mandate, the bishops issued a statement of support for those who “protect women’s access to basic health care,” and emphasized the church’s “longstanding commitment” through parish ministries and Catholic charities to assist women facing unplanned pregnancies.
March for Life participants in 2017. Photo: Janis Olson
Mass, march and meet
On Jan. 22, Catholics and other pro-life supporters will gather in Olympia for three events: the Mass for Life, Washington State March for Life and Meet for Life.
The day begins at 9:30 a.m. with the Mass for Life, celebrated by Archbishop Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, in Marcus Pavilion at St. Martin’s University in Lacey.
The March for Life happens at noon, with 5,000 to 7,000 people expected to gather on the steps of the state Capitol, supporting efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that decriminalized abortion.
“We wish we didn’t have to do this anymore,” said Noreen McEntee Hobson, president of Washington State March for Life. “But we are ceaseless; we are tireless. We will constantly show up,” added McEntee Hobson, who is co-host of Life Talk Northwest on Sacred Heart Radio.
This is the 40th March for Life, and McEntee Hobson, whose parents founded the state event, has never missed it.
“We are a people of hope,” she said. “Most people walk away [from the March] hopeful and optimistic. You are there with thousands of positive, joyful people and the idea that we can change this.”
Following the March is Meet for Life, when participants can speak face-to-face with their lawmakers. That last piece might sound intimidating, but parishes such as St. Stephen the Martyr in Renton are trying to make it less so.
Mary Schofield, a St. Stephen’s parishioner and volunteer, said the parish’s legislative advocacy ministry has scheduled meetings with legislators from five or six districts and has drafted talking points for Catholics to use during those meetings.
“Silence is consent,” said Schofield, who has participated in the March for Life for more than 10 years. “We are trying to do all we can, rather than just watching these bills.”
Hundreds of participants travel to Olympia by chartered bus (Schofield has helped arrange five buses from 11 parishes in the Renton, Kent and West Seattle areas) and some may not be able to stay for the after-march meetings. But organizers say their voices can still be heard by sending legislators postcards for or against particular bills, or by calling the legislative hotline (800-562-6000) to leave comments.
“Numbers so matter in deciding how to vote,” McEntee Hobson said of legislators. “It is important to make sure you show up and make your ideas known.”
Standing with our neighbors
Catholic Advocacy Day, in its 26th year, is another chance for Catholics from across the state to show solidarity with the bishops’ legislative priorities and those in need.
Participants can put Catholic social teaching into action by learning about issues identified by the WSCC, then meeting in small groups with their state legislators to advocate for just and equitable policies.
Guided by the theme “Standing with our Neighbors,” Catholics will gather at 9 a.m. Feb. 21 at St. Michael Parish in Olympia for Mass and issue briefings. They will hear stories from people living in poverty, then will head to the Capitol Campus for brief meetings with legislators or legislative aides to discuss the issues.
Organizers say even those who don’t feel comfortable speaking on an issue can make a difference just by their presence at the legislative meetings.
Buses are being provided from various cities around the archdiocese. To participate and reserve a spot on a bus, register online by Feb. 2.
Catholic Advocacy Day is sponsored by the WSCC, the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, the Archdiocese of Seattle, Catholic Community Services/Catholic Housing Services and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Let your Catholic voice be heard
Sign up for advocacy bulletins from the Washington State Catholic Conference.
Find out what’s happening in Olympia, with links for contacting your legislators.
Call the state’s legislative hotline, 800-562-6000 to make your opinions known on bills being considered by the Legislature.
Participate in the March for Life and Catholic Advocacy Day.