See a video of Fr. Frank's talk
At the end of what some have called one of the most encouraging weeks in the pro-life movement, more than 200 people gathered in Worcester’s Mechanics Hall on Sunday for the 45th Assembly for Life organized by Massachusetts Citizens for Life. The gathering, which moved to Worcester this year, remembered the contributions of those who came before us while looking forward to a pro-life future that seems more attainable than ever.
The afternoon began with the reading of the names of pro-lifers who have gone before us, the unsung heroes and the well-known alike. Each name was accompanied by the tolling of a bell in a ceremony that is repeated at the Assembly every five years. (Click here for a list of all the names that were read.)
Margaret Russell, editor of the Worcester Catholic Free Press and master of ceremonies for the assembly, greeted the crowd and led them in the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the National Anthem. The Rev. John Daly of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Southbridge then led an opening prayer.
In her president’s address, MCFL President Anne Fox recalled the wonderful March for Life earlier this week, which she said was more exciting and lively and younger than ever. She also noted that MCFL had filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief with the US Supreme Court last week as part of the case involving California pregnancy resource centers and a state law restricting their free speech. The brief was discussed by its author, Dwight Duncan, during his talk at the Massachusetts Caucus before the March for Life in Washington on Friday. (We hope to have the videos of the talks at the Caucus available on our web site in the near future.)
Anne also discussed the National Right to Life board meeting, of which she is a member, that she attended this weekend. She said they discussed the pro-life gains of the past year, including that President Trump has had more judges approved at every level in his first year than Obama did his first year. (Later on, Fr. Frank Pavone would expand on that and note that Trump has had more judges approved in his first year than in any president’s first year.)
Anne also revealed that the US Department of Health and Human Services is now almost entirely staffed with pro-lifers. While other agencies have many holdovers from the Obama administration, HHS has been re-staffed and has removed most of the ways it had previously supported abortion.
The next speaker was Don Feder, the former Boston Herald columnist, who spoke on the Jewish perspective on abortion and life. He recalled how ancient civilizations had no concept of human rights or individual right to life. “Not until Sinai did the concept of human rights appears,” he said. “We are made in the image and likeness of God.” He said abortion is a reversion to human sacrifice, this time to an idol called choice. “Where are the Babylonians and Sumerians today? The only people left from that time are my people, the Jews,” because the Jewish faith respects life, he said.
Matthew Valliere, executive director of Patients Rights Action Fund, then gave tribute to the organization’s late president, J.J. Hanson, who died of brain cancer in late December. He said in 2017, twenty-nine states had proposed legislation to legalize assisted suicide and not one of the bills passed, which showed the strength of the coalition against assisted suicide, but he noted that the coalition is also very diverse and keeping them all together in opposition is very difficult so this year of winning is quite significant.
Speaking of his friend, Valliere said, “J.J. outlived his four-month diagnosis by over three years, not just because he was lucky.” Matthew noted that J.J. had the best medical care, a very dedicated wife, and great support and not everyone has that. After his diagnosis, three doctors told him to go home and live out his life. But the fourth doctor told him that they could fight it. “When prognoses are so often wrong, these kinds of laws can put somebody at risk of deadly harm, because they will give up in hopelessness,” he said. If J.J. had given up, he would have missed what he described as the best three years of his life and his six-month-old son would never have lived at all.
He then shared the following video about J.J.’s fight.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe provided the musical accompaniment during the Assembly, including singing a hopeful pro-life song that encapsulated so many of the messages we heard: “A day will come when the last tear will fall.”
The keynote speaker for the event was Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. He emphasized that Priests for Life wants to work together with Massachusetts pro-lifers, hand in hand, and said he had looked forward to coming to the event because it is an interfaith Assembly for Life. “How is it a movement can draw together people from all these different backgrounds? The pro-life movement doesn’t rise because some political or religious leader stands up and calls it into being,” he said. “This movement springs from the depth of our humanity and the simple human instinct that we must protect our children.” It also explains why we will win, he added.
He noted that Roe v. Wade is the most destructive court decision in history because of the millions of deaths which have resulted from it. He also reminded pro-lifers to not ever feel like you have to apologize because you’re focused on abortion above all other issues, because it is the most fundamental of all issues. If you don’t have a right to life, then all other rights are meaningless.
He then relayed a conversation he had with Vice President Mike Pence last week in which he said this administration has only just begun its efforts to protect unborn life. He told the crowd to “pass along the encouragement to the people in our movement. We work hard in these elections and we need to keep encouraging people that they aren’t working for nothing.”
He reminded us that our goal is not just to reduce abortion. Our goal is to end abortion, every abortion without exception. The question is how do we get there?
Finally, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, our Catholic bishop of our host city for the day and a dedicated pro-lifer who is often seen praying outside the Planned Parenthood in Worcester, wrapped up the day with a beautiful and moving closing prayer.
An unprecedented and exciting pro-life week that saw the first sitting president give a live address to the March for Life thus ended on a high note of great encouragement to Massachusetts pro-lifers to continue working for the day when life is protected at the beginning and its natural end.