Accepting the Proudly Pro-Life Award at an annual dinner sponsored by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), Father Frank A. Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said that the tide of public opinion is turning against abortion on demand, and supporters of abortion are "terrified."
Advocates of abortion have become more active in recent months because of President Bush's pro-life views and statistics that show a shift in the attitudes of Americans toward more traditional values, he said.
"They see something that we ourselves must not miss - that we are winning, we are making progress," he told the 700 pro-life advocates in attendance. "The days of legalized abortion in this country are numbered ... The shift of public opinion is moving in the direction of pro-life sentiment."
As he delivered his speech April 25 in the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan, evidence of his point about increased abortion advocacy was seen on the street outside the hotel's Park Avenue entrance, where about 200 demonstrators stood behind police barricades, shouting loudly, carrying signs and handing out literature denouncing the views of Father Pavone and the pro-life movement in general.
The rally was called by state Sen. Eric T. Schneiderman, representing parts of Manhattan and the Bronx, who sent out a letter two weeks before the dinner accusing Father Pavone of condoning criminal activity at abortion clinics, allying himself with those who commit violent acts and employing "deceptive, sinister tactics."
In a statement released at the dinner, Father Pavone, a priest of the archdiocese based on Staten Island, called "absurd" the claim that he supports violence against abortionists. He said that for the past two years Priests for Life has offered a $50,000 reward for anyone providing evidence that leads to the conviction of a person who has performed a violent act against an abortionist.
If abortion supporters "are successful in stigmatizing an organization like ours, which is so opposed to violence of any kind and so in line with the teachings of the Church, they will be able to defame any Church-related, pro-life organization in the future," Father Pavone said.
He premiered four 30-second television advertisements which were shown on the grand ballroom's large screen. Illustrating the hurt and loss that abortion causes in the lives of many women, the ads promote post-abortion healing with the theme "The doors of the Church are open." They are scheduled to run in major cities at popular viewing hours as part of a two-year, $12 million campaign sponsored by Priests for Life and presented in cooperation with Project Rachel abortion healing programs in 130 dioceses throughout the country. Cooperation with Project Rachel is a change in strategy which took place last month after Father Pavone met with Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, Md., chairman of the bishops' Pro-Life Activities Committee (CNY, April 25).
The eighth annual black-tie dinner, at $500 a plate, raised money for the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund in Washington, D.C., which supports the grassroots efforts of committees in all 50 states and backs the production of pro-life media campaigns.
A seven-minute video tribute to Cardinal O'Connor, recipient of the first Proudly Pro-Life Award in 1994, was shown during the dinner. Father Dennis Day, a pastor from Idaho and a leader in the NRLC said in an introduction to the video that the cardinal was "a hero of our movement. He was not only a voice. He took action for life."
The master of ceremonies was actor and author Ben Stein, who provided equal portions of humorous and thought-provoking commentary. Reflecting on the more than 1 million unborn babies aborted each year who "will never get to live and breathe and know their God," Stein called the political debate over abortion "a class struggle."
"It's a civil war between the privileged who have all the political power and those without such power who have all the moral power," he said.
Citing a study that suggests the reduction in crime in America is due partly to the fact that abortion has eliminated a high number of poor people, Stein said, "Every abortion doesn't prevent a crime. Every abortion is a crime." He wondered how some people on the political left who oppose capital punishment of convicted criminals could accept a study which suggests that, "murdering potential criminals is a way to reduce crime."
Also honored with a Proudly Pro-Life Award was Lawrence D. Garvey, a pioneer in the cellular phone industry and a major benefactor of the NRLC's media and lobbying campaign against partial-birth abortion.
In addition to offering a tribute to Cardinal O'Connor, Wanda Franz, president of the NRLC, recalled the contributions of two other pro-life leaders who died last year, Bishop James T. McHugh of Rockville Centre, and Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania. She said that Casey, a Democrat who was denied a national voice in his party because of his pro-life views, believed that "social justice is impossible without full protection of the law for the most innocent" babies in the womb.
Bishop McHugh, who worked for most of his priesthood on pro-life issues at national and international levels, was instrumental in the founding of state organizations that coalesced in 1973 into the National Right to Life Committee, Ms. Franz said.
Introducing Father Pavone was William P. Clark, a judge who served in a number of Cabinet posts under President Ronald Reagan. Mentioning Father Pavone's "whistle stops" across the nation and pro-life media campaigns in the months before the election last year, Clark said that the priest "won the presidential election" for Bush without once endorsing him. Striking a rally tone in his half-hour speech, Father Pavone said that much work remains to be done on the personal and political levels to reduce the number of abortions, help women who want to keep their babies and reach out to those who are hurting from past abortions . He said that the election of President Bush, who has already undone some pro-abortion measures of the Clinton years and is likely to sign a federal ban on partial-birth abortion if it is presented to him, is only one step.
"The work of the election is not finished," Father Pavone continued. "Our goal is not just to make abortion illegal, our goal is to make it undesirable, unavailable and unnecessary in the eyes of those who might support it. Our goal is to make abortion unthinkable."
Key to the effort will be making "pro-choice" people see that abortion is at the heart of other problems they feel strongly about. For example, he stated, the shootings by students at schools over the past few years should be seen in the light of abortion. Since the Roe vs. Wade decision of 1973, young people have grown up believing that their right to life is based on whether they are wanted and that killing can solve personal problems.
"Children will not stop killing children until parents stop killing children," he said.
He introduced two women who were the anonymous plaintiffs in the Roe and Doe vs. Bolton cases which codified abortion on demand - Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano, who are now strong pro-life advocates. He also introduced Donato Dalrymple of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who rescued Elian Gonzalez from the ocean after the young boy's mother drowned trying to escape from Cuba. Dalrymple, 41, who worked to keep Elian in this country before the Clinton administration sent him back to Cuba, told CNY that just as he saved Elian from drowning, he wants to save unborn babies from abortion through his witness to life.
Father Pavone has been under rhetorical attack from abortion supporters since announcing his ad campaign. In his letter, Sen. Schneiderman attempts to associate Father Pavone with James Kopp, accused of killing Buffalo abortionist Barnett Slepian, and unnamed "anti-choice terrorists."
He wrote, "Father Pavone, while claiming to denounce violence, openly advocates criminal activity to harass abortion providers, and is closely allied with Joseph Scheidler's violent Pro-Life Action League," referring to the Chicago-based organization.
The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights called the letter libelous and its president William A. Donohue demanded that Schneiderman apologize.
Schneiderman told CNY that the criminal activity he refers to is the trespass that some pro-life advocates engage in to block clinic entrances and gain entrance to the facilities. He added that pro-life leaders such as Father Pavone have refused to acknowledge what he sees as their role in encouraging "unbalanced" people in the movement to commit acts of violence by consistently referring to abortion providers as baby killers.
In his statement, Father Pavone said that as a priest and teacher of the Catholic faith, he is obliged to speak and write about the Church's stand that peacefully breaking a trespass law is morally legitimate to save a life. "To attack me for saying this is in fact to attack the entire Catholic Church, the bishops, the pope and our freedom of religion," he said.