WASHINGTON—Catholics throughout the United States are being asked to join in a novena for life from Sept. 7, the vigil of the feast of the birth of Mary, to Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.

At least one of the nine days is likely to coincide with debate in the U.S. Senate on overriding President Clinton's veto last October of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The House overrode the veto July 23 by a 296-132 vote.

The “Nine Days for Life” novena, prepared by Father James Moroney, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for the Liturgy, asks Mary to bless “all mothers, especially those wearied by life and overcome by the suffering they bear for their children.”

Each day of the novena is dedicated to a different group — suffering women of the world, women giving birth that day, new fathers, all children, and families, for example.

Helen Alvaré, director of planning and information in the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said the novena is part of a widespread effort since last spring to fight partial-birth abortion at the grass-roots level.

“There's a lot of stuff percolating at the local level,” said Alvaré. She outlined a strategy that included postcards and letters to senators, attempts to arrange private meetings with senators at the local level and in Washington, and efforts to refute misinformation about partial-birth abortion on a point-by-point basis.

The postcard campaign, a continuation of the effort against partial-birth abortion that began in January, has resulted in requests for 14 million cards from around the country and a “steady stream” of messages to Congress, Alvaré said.

A videotape aimed at helping Catholics send personal messages to Congress also is getting extensive use at the parish level, she said.

The 12-minute video, prepared by the Pro-Life Secretariat and the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, outlines how individuals can help stop partial-birth abortion and includes comments from both Republican and Democratic congressmen on the importance of letters from constituents.

The ultimate goal of all the messages is to convince at least three U.S. senators who voted against the partial-birth abortion ban last year to change their votes. The 1997 Senate vote was 64-36, three short of the two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto.

“There are very few among the 36 who aren't a bit queasy” about voting in favor of partial-birth abortion, Alvaré said.

“Only a few are bold and really proud of their position.” And in light of President Clinton's recent admission of sexual misconduct with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, many of the president's supporters “may want to get the vote behind them,” she added.

Alvaré also has been doing a word-for-word analysis of the Senate debate before the 1997 vote and sending letters correcting any misinformation that senators might have communicated on the Senate floor. Those letters go to the senators themselves and to local newspapers covering the debate.

“Many things were said that are contradicted by the facts,” she said. “You ought not to be able to say just anything on the floor of the Senate.”

Although the issue has been getting little national coverage since the Clinton-Lewinsky story broke in January, there has been a lot of interest at the local level because of lawsuits against partial-birth abortion bans, state referendums, and candidates'stands on the issue, Alvaré said.

Another aspect of the Pro-Life Secretariat's work on partial-birth abortion is to communicate with editors of both Catholic and secular newspapers about the facts of the partial-birth abortion debate.

Through a new campaign called “True to Life,” the Pro-Life Secretariat will be sending to editors around the country “hot sheets” with facts on partial-birth abortion. Anew version of the sheet will be sent out every two or three days to the editors, as well as to “various political pundits and commentators,” Alvaré said.

Nancy Frazier O'Brien writes for Catholic News Service.

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