Chicagoland

St. Patrick’s letter-writing effort against state abortion bills spreads across parishes

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
April 24, 2019

When Tom DeMint and William Gatti first learned that Cardinal Cupich was urging Catholics to contact their legislators to oppose two bills that would dramatically reduce restrictions on abortions in Illinois, they fully agreed — and thought about what more their parish, St. Patrick in Lake Forest, could do to get the word out.

“They just said, ‘Send a letter to your representative,’” DeMint said. “The cardinal’s letter was in the bulletin. But how many people are going to keep the bulletin and go back and write a letter?”

DeMint and Gatti not only wrote letters to state Rep. Bob Morgan (D-Highwood) and state Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), they created a letter-writing campaign that netted over 1,000 signed letters in opposition to House Bill 2495/Senate Bill 1942 and House Bill 2467/Senate Bill 1594 in one weekend.

Then they made their materials — the letters and handouts with information about the bills — and instructions for replicating the letter-signing event available to other parishes.

The first of the two bills declares that unborn children have no legal rights that must be considered and says that abortion is a fundamental right. It also strips health care professionals of protection if they refuse to participate in abortions as a matter of conscience.

The second bill repeals the Illinois parental notification law.

“We basically thought something should be done about this,” DeMint said. “What we want is a prairie fire across the state to make the whole subject too hot to handle.”

Once the letters were collected the first weekend, they were hand-delivered to the legislators’ local offices. Both legislators are co-sponsors of the first bill, and Morrison is a co-sponsor of the bill to repeal the parental notification law.

DeMint and Gatti said they are gratified at the positive response the effort has received, from individuals land parishes wanting to replicate it.

“There is a lot of support for blocking these bills, but people don’t know how to pursue it,” Gatti said.

He thinks there were several keys to the success of the project, starting with handing worshippers an information sheet with bullet points about the bills on their way into Mass, and asking the priest to announce the campaign.

Gatti said the posters at St. Patrick did not use the term “pro-life,” instead asking parishioners to sign letters to “protect the unborn.”

“They were lined up three and four deep,” he said.

In the weeks after the first event, the organizers kept showing up with letters that did not have the lawmakers’ addresses already filled in. Those letters were given to parishioners who wanted to share them with friends and family members and to parishioners who live in different legislative districts.

After DeMint and Gatti shared their work with Dawn Fitzpatrick, the archdiocesan senior coordinator for human dignity and solidarity who coordinates pro-life efforts, Fitzpatrick shared it with her network of parish Respect Life coordinators.

Gatti said he has received emails from parishes across the archdiocese and beyond, each reporting hundreds of letters signed and delivered.

Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said such campaigns can be effective. If enough people show up in Springfield, call, email and write letters, lawmakers will understand it’s a hot-button issue.

“I don’t know if it moved legislators from a ‘yes’ to a ‘no,’” Gilligan said. “But it might move them from a ‘yes’ to an ‘I don’t want to vote on this right now.’”

The bills have been parked in committees and are unlikely to be called for a vote this session, Gilligan said.

Topics:

  • abortion
  • respect life

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