By John M. Grondelski
Natalie Sonnen is Outreach Director of North Carolina Right to Life, a state affiliate that is marking its fiftieth anniversary this year. NCRTL will mark its jubilee with a gala banquet in Greensboro on Saturday, November 18th, with Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon as speaker.
Ms. Sonnen spoke with Catholic World Report about the organization’s work and what it has achieved in the Tarheel State over the past half century, as well as its future goals.
CWR: North Carolina Right to Life (NCRTL) marks its fiftieth anniversary this year. What have been the North Carolina high points of the past half century for NCRTL?
Natalie Sonnen: Over the years, one of NCRTL’s primary responsibility has been to ensure the passage of pro-life legislation on both the state and federal levels. To this end, NCRTL has lobbied at the North Carolina General Assembly to make legislators aware of our positions on various bills and to provide accurate information as to why we support or oppose a bill. During election years, we survey candidates for o"ce and then the NCRTL political action committee makes endorsements based on those surveys, voting records, and other relevant information gathered about the candidates.
Thanks to our efforts, we have helped shape the positive outcomes of the following policies and legislation:
We lobbied in favor of the right to opt-out of abortion in city and county employee health plans. We were part of the e!ort to eliminate State funding for abortion. We lobbied for the right to opt-out of abortion in Obamacare, we helped stop the then legal “Web-cam” abortions. We were part of the e!ort to expand conscience protections for physicians and were in favor of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. We also helped to put in place the Parental Consent for Abortion legislation, and just recently, we had our President, Dr. Bill Pincus at the legislature daily, helping our lawmakers craft our most recent win, the Care for Women, Children and Families Act. We also helped bolster politicians to stay steadfast in the wake of the Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of the recent Act and were successful in the override of his veto.
CWR: With abortion back at the state level post-Dobbs, what does the pro-life political landscape of North Carolina look like today?
Sonnen: Despite last May’s victory of the Care for Women, Children and Families Act in the NC General Assembly, we still have a very long way to go. Considering that over 90% of abortions occur prior to 12 weeks, the new legal limit allowing abortions in North Carolina with exceptions, there are too few babies being saved for us or any pro-life legislators to sit back. We must continue to educate both the public and those in office and remain steadfast in ensuring even more protections for the unborn.
CWR: Jesse Helms was a giant in the pro-life movement and was also an extremely conservative senator. Can you comment on Senator Helms’ legacy?
Sonnen: Jesse Helms was North Carolina’s longest serving U.S. Senator, holding o"ce from 1973- 2003 . He has been described as one of the “most stridently conservative American politicians of the post-1960s era, especially in opposition to federal intervention into what he considered state a!airs” and I would add, abortion. His Helms Amendment was a great leap forward in making sure that funds were not used to pay for abortions overseas.
However, the pro-abortion lobby was able to get around his focus on banning funds for “abortion as a method of family planning.” Pro-abortion organizations such as USAID, interpreted the Helms Amendment language to exclude abortion in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. Since these were not technically associated with ‘family planning’ USAID was able to provide funds for these exceptions. Nevertheless, the Helms Amendment was the source and inspiration for the Mexico City Policy.
CWR: How has North Carolina been able to build a bipartisan pro-life political consensus?
Sonnen: This has been exceedingly and progressively more difficult, mainly due to the ever-greater radicalization of the Democrat party’s platform. Unfortunately, while Republicans have managed to hold the party line on many issues, including abortion, Democrats have gone o! the deep end with support for unlimited abortion until birth, and the eradication of all safeguards surrounding the abortion pill, mifepristone. This has made it very challenging to find common ground and bipartisan support for anything even remotely pro-life.
One of the great events in North Carolina’s Legislature this past year, was when Mecklenburg County Rep. Tricia Cotham crossed the floor, giving the House the supermajority needed to override the Governor’s veto of the Care for Women, Children and Families Act. The vote went right down party lines. That Rep. Cotham had to switch parties showed how pro-life views have no home in the Democratic Party.
We do, however, have wonderful people working at the legislature every week to try to build relationships with officials on both sides of the line, which have in many respects been successful. Even positive relationships with staffers helps us to bridge gaps and remove barriers to bipartisan cooperation.
CWR: North Carolina is a swing state. It has elected Democrats and Republicans. Given the pro- abortion commitment of Democrats, how do you ensure—without swinging wholly towards Republicans—that pro-life and pro-abortion policies do not oscillate wildly in North Carolina?
Sonnen: NCRTL contends that there are numerous voters in all parties that respect life we believe in the sanctity and dignity of all life, pre-born through the elderly final stages. We are happy to work with everybody who wants to make common cause on those issues.
CWR: In post-Dobbs America, support to women in crisis pregnancies is more important than ever. How is North Carolina addressing this? Pregnancy resource centers have been under political and sometimes even physical attacks in some states. What does the situation look like in North Carolina?
Sonnen: NCRTL has enjoyed a wonderful collaboration with pregnancy support centers over the years. We patronize each other’s events, advertise each other’s activities, and NCRTL especially helps to direct women in need towards their services. Recently, our President, Dr. Bill Pincus spoke at a Gala put on by a local pregnancy resource center. We have a long-standing affinity and appreciation for their life-saving work. We have successfully lobbied the state legislature to increase funding for pregnancy resource centers.
CWR: NCRTL marks its Golden 50th Anniversary with a gala dinner this November. Tell us about it.
Sonnen: We mark our anniversary on November 18, at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro. Doors open at 5:30PM and there are plenty of sponsorship opportunities for people and businesses who may want to support us.
We are thrilled to be celebrating 50 years of unwavering commitment to the pro-life cause. Seth Dillon, CEO of the Babylon Bee since 2017, will be keynote speaker. Since he took over, has made that platform a national sensation. The Bee is a satire news site, taking real life stories and pointing out the irony in them, such as allowing men into women’s sports. However, poking holes in some of the leftist ideologies has got him in trouble in our age of social media censorship. He has fought back on restrictions on free speech which he believes negatively impacts humor. He has successfully upheld free speech in comedy.
He is solidly pro-life and was the keynote speaker at the National Right to Life’s Annual Convention in Pittsburgh this year. I am certainly expecting a good laugh from Seth in his keynote address at our Gala!
CWR: Can you still get tickets? Sonnen: Tickets are on sale until November 10th. People should visit our site for more information and to purchase tickets and sponsorships.
Reprinted here with permission of the author, John M. Grondelski for Catholic World Report.