“Somebody, after all, had to make a start.”
Sophie Scholl

“Isn’t Senator Donnelly’s office around here?”

I was in the downtown headquarters of the St. Joseph County Democratic Party and I was lost. The Defund Planned Parenthood rally was starting at noon, and I was obviously in the wrong spot – nobody was around outside. 

“Two blocks up – on Colfax and Main,” the college-age man behind the counter told me. “You can’t miss it.”

“Thanks.”

Since it was only a couple blocks, I hustled up there on foot. It was hot – probably in the low 90s by then – and I got there in a full sweat, but I was in good company: a large, sweltering crowd overflowing along Colfax west of Main – over 175 folks at one point. There were moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, lots of teens and kids, numerous strollers sheltered by umbrellas, and several priests. Across the street was a handful of abortion defenders, but they were far outnumbered by those of us incensed by recent video revelations of grisly Planned Parenthood practices. 

My daughter, Joan, handed me a sign – “Abortion Hurts Women!” – and I turned my attention to St. Joseph County Right to Life staffer Claire Fyrqvist as she stoked the crowd. “We are here to call for an immediate investigation of the practices of Planned Parenthood by all state governments that have not already done so,” she proclaimed. “We can do this!” 

It turns out that our community just might play a key role in the effort to bring down the Planned Parenthood Leviathan because our homegrown Hoosier Senator, Joseph Donnelly, is among the last of a dying breed: a self-proclaimed pro-life Democratic politician. Not only that, Donnelly is also a practicing Catholic, and his parish is right here in South Bend. With a vote on a federal defunding bill coming up on Monday, Senator Donnelly could demonstrate critically important bipartisanship and blaze a trail for other conscientious Democratic Senators to dry up Planned Parenthood’s federal cash trough. 

Still, Senator Donnelly’s support is not a lock by any means. “Senator Donnelly has remained silent in this matter,” Claire told the crowd, “and we ask him as a pro-life Democrat to stand up and defend the vulnerable and the exploited.” In fact, Donnelly did speak up on Tuesday, but only to say that he found the recent videos “disgraceful and disturbing” enough to warrant an investigation. He stopped short of any call for defunding. 

That’s too bad, yet it’s to be expected. I’m in no position to judge the Senator’s personal faith or convictions, and I’m willing to take him at his word that he’s fundamentally pro-life. Still, he’s an elected official in the public eye, so it’s reasonable to scrutinize his actions. And, to his credit, Donnelly did vote to defund Planned Parenthood back when he was serving in the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, he does have a big (D) after his name, and that identifies him with a party (and a President) utterly wedded to Planned Parenthood and its Culture of Death agenda. Although Donnelly is finding success as a moderate Democrat representing a more conservative Midwestern state, pro-life convictions such as he professes can be tolerated only so far.

We know this from history – specifically, the experience of our last prominent pro-life Democratic politician: Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey. In 1992, Casey pushed back against Planned Parenthood with legislation reining in their abortion trade, and that resulted in a Supreme Court case which largely vindicated the governor. Almost in direct retaliation for that success, the Democratic National Committee denied Casey an opportunity to speak at their 1992 Convention. "Because I'm pro-life,” Casey later reflected, “my religion is always thrown in there like some little code word saying, 'Watch out for this guy. He's a Catholic. He's one of those people.''' 

Of course, this ought to go for Republicans as well, and devout Catholics of every political persuasion should be upfront and dauntless about their non-negotiable positions, particularly those related to the destruction of human life: abortion and euthanasia for starters, but also capital punishment, pre-emptive war, and targeted drone killing – but you don’t get elected that way. 

Hence, we arrive at the crux – the Catholic “glass ceiling” which Governor Casey’s fall from grace threw into stark relief, at least for Democrats. It’s very clear now that conscientious Catholics can rise only so far in Democratic national politics, and Indiana’s Senator Donnelly is fast approaching that barrier – this Planned Parenthood issue just might be the breaking point. Monday’s defunding bill in the Senate is unlikely to pass, but if it has any chance at all, Donnelly’s vote is essential. 

Pray for Senator Donnelly to have the fortitude to stand up to his party and Planned Parenthood, to vote his conscience, and to risk making himself irrelevant on the political scene – to break through that glass ceiling, in other words, come what may. If you’re in Indiana, call or email Donnelly, or, in other states, your own U.S. Senators, to let them know that you expect them to side with life on Monday – to be “100% for women and children,” in the words of Claire Fyrqvist, “and 100% against abortion and the sale of human body parts.” 

Heat rises, and it’ll get hot as Donnelly and other Catholic Senators approach that ceiling. Through our prayer and encouragement, let’s sweat it out with them.