By Mark Zimmermann Catholic News Service
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CNS) -- A few blocks from the Maryland State House, about 90 people gathered to pray for a two-fold purpose at St. Mary's Church in Annapolis at a Prayer Vigil for Life and Lawmakers March 30.
One day earlier, Maryland legislators had approved a bill that would expand access to abortions in the state, and on the day of the vigil, a Maryland Senate Committee heard testimony on another bill that would let voters decide whether to enshrine abortion in the state's constitution.
"As people of faith and followers of Christ, we turn to prayer," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, one of five Catholic bishops serving Maryland who attended the vigil.
Archbishop Lori said they had gathered that evening to "pray for our elected officials, that they might find the strength and courage to promote the dignity of all human life -- including the unborn -- just as they seek to do in so many other legislative initiatives designed to protect and promote God's great gift."
Then he added, "We pray for women who are in crisis, in pain and alone."
The prayer vigil was sponsored by the Maryland Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore; the Archdiocese of Washington, which includes five Maryland counties surrounding the nation's capital; and the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, which includes counties on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Joining Archbishop Lori at the vigil were Wilmington Bishop William E. Koenig, Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville; and Baltimore Auxiliary Bishops Adam J. Parker and Bruce A. Lewandowski.
Washington's Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory and Auxiliary Bishop Roy E. Campbell Jr. had a prior out-of-town commitment, attending that day's installation of Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre of Louisville, Kentucky.
On the day before the prayer vigil, the Maryland State Senate passed legislation that would repeal state restrictions barring physician assistants, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners from performing abortions.
That bill -- approved earlier by the Maryland House of Delegates -- also would provide training for nurses and doctors who relocate to Maryland to avoid stricter abortion laws in other states, and it would require insurance plans to cover the cost of an abortion without copayments or deductible payments by the recipient. It does include a religious exemption.
The legislation also would provide for permanent Medicaid coverage of abortion in Maryland. Right now, that coverage is voted on each year during the budget process.
Just hours before the prayer vigil, the Maryland Senate Finance Committee heard testimony on a bill that Maryland's Catholic bishops have criticized as "an attempt to unnecessarily amend Maryland's Constitution to expand an already extreme abortion landscape under the guise of 'reproductive liberty.'" They made the comments in a March 11 op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.
In his remarks at St. Mary's Church, Archbishop Lori said recent years had offered reminders of the value of human life and the need to respect it.
"From the ravages of the pandemic to the innumerable threats to human dignity caused by racial injustice, xenophobia, poverty and more, our society has been challenged to value life, to preserve life, to refuse to let life -- any life -- succumb to illness, to injustice, to marginalization," he said.
Archbishop Lori, who also is chairman of the U.S. bishops' pro-life committee, said that instead of seeing the death of an unborn child as the solution to an unexpected pregnancy, "why not invest resources, instead, on the needs of the mother, the emotional, physical, material and spiritual care of her?"
He noted how the church supports and invests in crisis pregnancy centers for that reason, and he said the state could likewise invest in pre- and post-natal care, medical care, education and other help for women facing unplanned pregnancies who might feel helpless and alone and without any other choice.
"Abortion is an issue that has divided our state and nation for decades," Archbishop Lori said. "The passage of (this) legislation before the Maryland General Assembly will further this deep divide by disrupting the laws already in place that safeguard life and freedom of conscience and prevent even modest laws to protect life from being enacted."
Baltimore's archbishop encouraged people not to demonize those who might disagree with them on the abortion issue, but instead to "pray for them, walk with them, support them and ask God to open their minds and hearts, to see his face in the face of the unborn, just as they do in the faces of the marginalized, the newcomer, the victim of crime, prejudice and hatred."
Archbishop Lori said in conclusion: "Let us pray for those who have before them the decision to choose life over death, just as our Lord did when he gave up his only Son for each and every single one of us."
In remarks as the vigil began, Bishop Dorsonville thanked those praying in the church and joining via livestream. "Your witness and dedication to life is needed now more than ever," he said.
Bishop Koenig thanked Maryland's Catholics for praying for life and for legislators. He also thanked them for witnessing to life by contacting lawmakers with emails and phone calls.
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, also addressed the prayer vigil.
In the nearly five decades since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, she noted, millions of people have come to Washington for the annual March for Life in January to mark the anniversary of that ruling.
"Prayer, above all, is how we Catholics can intercede on behalf of those with no voice," she said. "Prayer is a powerful force for good. Let us always pray, that the Lord of life will always have the final vote, the final say."
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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.