The year 2013 marks the 40th year since Roe v. Wade (January 22) and the 50th year since the “I Have a Dream Speech” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (August 28). These two moments in American history have something to say to one another, from completely opposite perspectives.
Roe, inaugurating a sweeping policy about which most Americans are still unaware, declared that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn” [410 U.S. 113, 158]. Dr. King, inaugurating a new season of hope for those fighting for justice, declared, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’” Fifty years after that speech, and 40 years after that decision, a great chasm remains between the dream and its fulfillment in relation to the unborn child. The dream calls for equality, and Roe denies it. As Alveda has asked many times, “How can the dream survive if we murder the children?”
Shortly after we (Fr. Frank and Alveda) began working together full-time at Priests for Life, we were walking together at the annual March for Life in Washington. I (Fr. Frank) turned to Alveda and asked, “Does this remind you of the marches with your Dad and Uncle in the civil rights movement?” Alveda replied, “Fr. Frank, this is the civil rights movement.”
Forty years after Roe, this is a key point to reaffirm. Pro-life progress is slowed when the movement is identified with only one segment of the population, whether that be religiously defined (“It’s a Catholic movement!”), politically defined (“It’s an arm of the Republican party!”), or defined in some other limited way.
But the cause of life is too big for that, too fundamental. The cause of life is so basic, so intrinsically and simply human, that it calls for expression within every sector of society. Protestants and Catholics, Christians and Jews, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, should all have their pro-life movements, together creating a harmonious advocacy for the most fundamental human right.
For decades, many leaders and activists have asked, “How do we get the black community more involved in the pro-life movement?” But that is the wrong question. The right question is, “How do we encourage the black community to take ownership of the cause of the unborn?” Such ownership occurs when leaders of the black community itself are the ones calling for pro-life involvement.
That is why Alveda became a full-time Pastoral Associate of Priests for Life (see www.AfricanAmericanOutreach.com). By combining the influence she has in the black community with the outreach of Priests for Life, she has been able to raise awareness about abortion among black leaders and grassroots activists. She has assisted the formation and growth of the National Black Pro-life Coalition (see www.BlackProLifeCoalition.com), comprising many leaders who plan and carry out projects aimed at making the black response to abortion what it should be.
A turning point in this effort was the Pro-life Freedom Rides in 2010. Alveda led the way with this Priests-for-Life project, modeled on the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights movement. From Birmingham to Atlanta, and from Knoxville to the Memorial for the Unborn in Chattanooga, these rides were relatively short in distance but powerful in impact, as they took away from the abortion-rights movement the ability to claim that their movement was fueled by the ideals of freedom and equality that Dr. King articulated. And the rides helped to solidify the ongoing collaboration of black leaders in the cause of life.
Out of the Freedom Rides was also born the statement called “The Beloved Community and the Unborn,” a declaration calling for equality and non-violence for the unborn. This declaration was signed and read by Alveda’s mother, Mrs. Naomi Ruth Barber King, on the day of the annual March for Life in January of 2011 in Washington, DC, inside the Capitol building. The statement was also signed by Rev. Derek King (Alveda’s brother), by Gloria Y. Jackson, Esq., great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington, by Lynne M. Jackson, great-great-granddaughter of Dred Scott, and by other black leaders. Moreover, this declaration was placed in the time capsule underneath the new monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that was dedicated in Washington, DC on October 16, 2011.
In part, the statement, which you can read in its entirety at AfricanAmericanOutreach.com, declares,
The work of building the Beloved Community is far from finished. . . . In our day, we cannot ignore the discrimination, injustice, and violence that are being inflicted on the youngest and smallest members of the human family, the children in the womb. . . . We declare today that these children too are members of the Beloved Community, that our destiny is linked with theirs, and that therefore they deserve justice, equality, and protection.
Forty years after Roe, therefore, the increasing activism of the black community on behalf of the unborn, with the understanding that this movement is made from the same fabric as the civil rights movement, is one of the most consequential developments. Intimately connected with this development is the increasing chorus of voices of those who have had abortions and testify openly that it did not solve their problems, but only created new ones. Alveda King herself is among those voices who have coalesced into the Silent No More Awareness Campaign (see www.SilentNoMore.com). Alveda explains,
God intervened in my life when I was in my mother’s womb. She desired an abortion and was persuaded to keep me after her mother insisted that they seek counsel from their pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr. My Granddaddy told my mother that God had shown him in a dream three years prior that I was “a bright skinned baby girl with bright red hair,” and that I would “be a blessing to many.” Granddaddy King’s prophetic insight saved my life.
On the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade I celebrated my 22nd birthday. I experienced a legal abortion later that same year. I was already post-abortive because a trusted and respected African-American doctor had “played God” in my life in 1970, performing a D&C procedure in his office with only the explanation, “You don’t need another baby. Let’s see.” He made this decision, without my understanding or consent.
The doctor is long since deceased. I wrote him a letter of forgiveness in my life-changing Rachel’s Vineyard healing encounter. My role as a national spokesperson for the Priests for Life-sponsored Silent No More Awareness Campaign is very liberating in that I can turn my tests and abortion trials into a prolife testimony that allows the truth about the harmful impact of abortion and contraceptives on babies, women, fathers, families, and society.
Forty years have passed (see www.Roe vWade40.com). Dr. King asked, “How long?” and answered his own question by declaring, “Not long!” And so must we. No lie can live forever, neither the lie that abortion helps women nor the lie that some human beings are less equal than others. Above all, let this 40th year since Roe renew our confidence in the victory of life!
* * * * *
Dr. Alveda King is Director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life. Fr. Frank Pavone is that organization’s National Director.