Given at the Pontifical Council for the Family, Vatican City
Introduction: A Diverse Movement
The pro-life movement in North America is composed of a stunning number and variety of groups large and small, spanning all ages, professions, creeds, ethnic groups and political affiliations. Literally thousands of groups are active in some aspect of fighting abortion and promoting the Culture of Life.
One of the reasons for this wide variety is that the goal of the pro-life movement is so basic and fundamental: the preservation of life itself. Because life itself is prior to any other rights or traits, no matter how diverse they may be, it stands to reason that a cause that seeks to protect the right to life will find adherents across that wide and diverse spectrum of human interests. In this sense, the presence of so many groups is a good and healthy sign.
Another reason for the wide variety of groups is the nature of abortion. It is the intersection of many trends in ethics, medicine, law, psychology, sociology, religion, politics, and numerous other disciplines. Any one of the many dimensions of abortion can easily demand a lifetime of research and labor. Therefore, there need to be different groups which address different dimensions of abortion: medical groups, religious groups, pregnancy centers, post-abortion groups, legal groups, political groups, youth groups, media efforts, and so forth.
Signs of Progress
There is a growing sense in North America that we are closer to achieving our goal of winning the fight to end abortion and restoring protection to children in the womb than most people think.
Here are some of the reasons we believe that.
Sign 1: The survivors
The surest sign of our ultimate victory is the strong and ever-growing involvement of young people in all aspects of the fight to end abortion. And if you ask them why they’ve joined our fight, they will tell you: “It could have been me!” In speaking up for the unborn, the youth of North America are also speaking up for themselves. This is an awareness and motivation that abortion advocates can do nothing to stop. And as a result, our pro-life movement receives a new strength and motivation each day from these survivors.
Sign 2: The flow of conversions
Another reason for confidence is simply to look at the flow of conversions. In which direction does it go? It goes from pro-abortion to pro-life. There is, for example, an international organization of former abortion providers called the Society of Centurions. These men and women – to whom I have the privilege of ministering – once served as doctors, nurses, technicians, security guards, and other roles to operate abortion mills. Now they have repented of their killing and become pro-life. Some of them – like Dr. Bernard Nathanson , one of the founders of the abortion industry in the United States, and Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of Roe vs. Wade – have high-profile testimonies. But most of them try to get on with more normal lives in the privacy of their own communities.
Since when, however, have you heard of an organization of former pregnancy resource center directors who have repented of saving babies and are now pro-abortion? It just doesn’t happen. With the notable exception of politicians – individuals notorious for abandoning their principles in exchange for votes or praise from media elitists – the flow of conversions is in one direction ... and that is from death to life.
Sign 3: I regret my abortion
Another clear sign of progress is the wave of women and men across the world who are speaking out about how they regret having their child killed by abortion. The “Silent No More Awareness Campaign” – a joint project of Priests for Life and Anglicans for Life – provides these women and men an opportunity to share their testimonies. The campaign is active throughout North America and in several other countries of the world.
The Campaign’s goal is first of all to extend the opportunity for healing to all who have lost a child to abortion. The Campaign likewise aims to raise awareness of the harm abortion does to women, and to provide, to those who are ready to do so, the opportunity to share publicly their testimony of pain and of healing.
These testimonies are shared in Churches, on television and radio programs, on the internet, and at public gatherings all around the world. Others, who regret their abortion but do not feel called to speak publicly, are nevertheless letting themselves be counted by registering anonymously with the Campaign. This can be done online at IRegretMyAbortion.com.
As Jennifer O’Neill, the campaign’s National Celebrity Spokeswoman says, “Experience trumps theory.” These men and women are living testimony that abortion doesn’t work. Instead of “solving” a problem, abortion creates more problems of its own. Best of all, there is nothing abortion advocates can do to stop this tidal wave. In fact, it puts them in quite a dilemma. For decades now they have been saying, “Listen to the voices of women!” Now, if they practice what they preach, they hear those women’s voices repudiate the lie of abortion.
Sign 4: Fewer doctors ... fewer mills
Over half of the United States’ freestanding abortion clinics have closed since 1993 ... from over 2,000 at that time to roughly 740 today. That’s because, no matter how much money, political strength, and media access the abortion movement has built up, they have not succeeded in removing the indelible stigma that is attached to abortion. In fact, the abortion industry’s greatest fear is not that Roe v. Wade will be reversed. Rather, it is that abortion will remain legal but there won’t be any doctors to do it. About 86% of counties in the US do not currently have an abortionist. Fewer and fewer doctors – even if they consider themselves pro-choice – want to perform the procedure. They consider abortionists to be the losers of the medical profession, and they are right. Abortionist Herbert Hodes summed it up in Glamour magazine in September of 1991 when he said: “That's how the anti's are going to win. They are going to win by attrition, because fewer and fewer doctors will perform abortions.”
One of the most encouraging facts about the pro-life effort in North America is that as the abortion mills close, the pregnancy resource centers continue to open, and they number over 2300. The centers used to be called “crisis pregnancy centers” and were often advertised with the promise of “free pregnancy tests.” Now, the more common term is “pregnancy resource centers” (PRCs), and the range of services provided goes far beyond pregnancy testing, and includes the services of fully licensed medical clinics.
Moreover, these centers do not just operate on their own with the support of their local communities. Rather, there are large well-organized networks of pregnancy centers, such as Heartbeat International, Care Net, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. Under these umbrellas, the centers are united by a commitment to professional standards of care, expert training programs, and joint efforts to make sure everyone knows exactly where to turn for alternatives to abortion. Heartbeat and Care Net operate the “Option Line,” a national telephone hotline by which the caller is connected with the center closest to where he/she lives.
Every day in the United States pregnancy resource centers assist an average of 5,500 Americans, and 29 of every 30 people engaged in pregnancy center work are volunteers.
Aside from the pregnancy centers, more and more Churches are operation the Gabriel Project. This is an effort to fully activate Churches of all denominations to announce to the community that alternatives to abortion are available through the local congregation, and to train members of the congregation to assist those who need alternatives to abortion.
Sign 5: Legal evidence mounts
In US Constitutional history, the rights of groups that have been oppressed – such as African Americans, children, women, and workers – have eventually been vindicated. As Courts heard more evidence of the harm that was done to these groups, they reversed prior Court decisions. From slavery to workers’ rights to segregation to child labor laws, eventually the Courts get it right. Now it is time for the “embryonic moment” ... the recognition that the rights of the Constitution apply to the unborn child. In various cases, the evidence of the unborn child’s humanity, as well as of the harm abortion does to women, is being introduced in court. In fact, a federal court has upheld a recently passed law in the state of South Dakota that requires an abortionist to tell his patient that the abortion will destroy a “whole, separate, unique, living human being”. The abortionist has to use those exact words!
Moreover, a current phenomenon in many states is to introduce “personhood amendments” to the state constitutions, affirming the personhood of the unborn child from the moment of conception. The expectation is that these will be challenged in court and that this will provide the opportunity to make the case for the child’s humanity.
Even in the absence of these judicial and legislative victories, the fact remains that the unassailable scientific evidence of the humanity of the unborn that is introduced into the court record becomes material that future cases can invoke.
Abortion advocates want abortion to have the privileged status accorded by Courts to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Abortion advocates insist that courts use very strict standards for constitutional review of any legislative efforts to respect unborn human life, and that if a law regulating abortion might be unconstitutional even in a rare and hypothetical circumstance, the whole law should be thrown out. In 2007, the US Supreme Court rejected this approach in its Gonzales decision. The Court sent the message that it will not strike down abortion regulations simply because they are abortion regulations. Nor can the courts strike down abortion laws based merely on abortion proponents’ speculative claims. The Court reaffirmed that states have legitimate interests in protecting fetal life and the health of women.
Sign 6: Abortion research
Another motive for confidence is the growing mountain of medical, psychological, and sociological evidence that abortion harms women, men, and families. Websites like www.AfterAbortion.org provide an excellent starting point for surveying this growing mountain of evidence. Most telling of all is the fact that even those researchers who identify themselves as pro-choice are coming to this conclusion ... and publishing their research despite the objections and criticism of the abortion industry. This growing body of evidence is one of the ways that abortion will eventually destroy itself. The more abortion continues, the more it reveals itself as an enemy of the human family.
Sign 7: No more arguments
Another sign of victory is that the other side has run out of arguments. In the years leading up to the legalization of abortion, its advocates assured everyone that legalized abortion would reduce child abuse, strengthen family life, and improve society. But all the evidence shows that after three decades of legal abortion, all these problems have gotten worse. Moreover, all the arguments from medicine, science, psychology, sociology, law, ethics, and religion support the pro-life view. Finally, supporters used to call abortion a decision “between a woman and her doctor.” Now they say it’s a decision “between a woman and her God.” When abortion supporters run out of arguments, they appeal to God in order to end debate. We in the pro-life movement also appeal to God ... not as the substitute for other arguments, however, but rather as their foundation.
Sign 8: Even in politics…
We even see evidence of pro-life progress in the political arena. Voters for whom abortion matters in their decision -- over a third of the voting population -- vote in favor of pro-life candidates by a two to one margin. This pattern proved true even in the 2008 elections in the United States. Post-election polling showed 34% of the electorate took abortion into consideration in their voting decision. Only 9% of those 34% voted pro-abortion, while the other 25% voted pro-life.
Each election cycle, pro-life political action committees succeed in electing most of the candidates they endorse. In the elections of 2006, for example, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List won 17 of the 29 races it backed, for a success rate of 59%, whereas the pro-abortion Emily’s List won only 13 of the 30 races it backed, for a 43% success rate. In those races where Emily’s list candidates faces off against candidates supported by the National Right to Life (NRLC) Political Action Committee, the NRLC PAC won 14 out of the 18 races! Moreover, the NRLC PAC had an overall success rate of 53%.
Voters’ behavior on the abortion issue continues to be an advantage to our pro-life side as surveys show that the intensity of motivation for the pro-life side is stronger. Opinion polls also show that newer, younger voters are more pro-life and want to see abortion eliminated or more highly restricted.
Sign 9: Legislation galore
As for public policy, Canada has literally no law on abortion at the present time, and therefore it continues unabated. In the United States, the central holding of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade is still in place, allowing abortion at any time of pregnancy and for any reason. Since 1973, however, the courts have recognized the rights of the states to place certain regulations in place. For example, parental involvement laws in place in many states require parents to either be informed of or consent to the abortion of a minor-aged daughter before it can be performed. Informed consent laws require that the woman seeking abortion be given accurate information about the development of the child, the alternatives to abortion, the risks of the procedure, and other facts. Clinic regulation laws apply to abortion facilities the usually absent, basic standards of medical practice, such as the requirement that there be emergency medical equipment on hand. Fetal homicide laws recognize that when the unborn child is killed by an act other than abortion, that is a punishable offense. This leads to the cognitive dissonance of a situation in which a woman can be in a car on her way to have her child killed by abortion, and if the car is struck by a drunk driver and the child dies as a result, the drunk driver can be charged with the death of that very same child she was going to have legally killed! Born alive laws provide protection for children born after a failed abortion attempt. Bans on partial-birth abortion prevent the birth process from being used as an instrument of killing. And most recently, ultrasound laws require abortionists in some states to provide the patient with an opportunity to see her unborn child by ultrasound.
On the federal level, for the first time, the United States banned an abortion procedure, namely, partial-birth abortion. The “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act” protects the unborn from being killed after a failed abortion. The “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” protects the unborn from acts of violence other than abortion.
Sign 10: Corruption uncovered
A key reason we are winning is that abortion destroys itself. The evil inner workings of abortion are being exposed for all to see ... and as more and more crimes become visible, the abortion movement loses supporters. These crimes include medical malpractice, sexual abuse, injury and death that routinely occur in so-called “safe and legal” abortion clinics, doctors not sterilizing instruments, “anesthesiologists” who have no training in anesthesia, “abortions” committed on women who were not pregnant, falsifying medical records, and much more. What’s more, the abortion industry creates a safe haven for sexual predators. Details are available at www.ChildPredator.com. Beyond the abuse of the patients, abortion clinics are rampant with violations of employment laws meant to protect workers and the work environment. A long list of details can be seen at www.ClinicWorker.com. What all this means is that the abortion industry is highly vulnerable to negative public opinion and to legal action having nothing to do directly with the legality of abortions. Clinics can be closed – and are closing – and abortionists being jailed for reasons having nothing to do with what people think about abortion ... but rather for reasons related to malpractice, abuse, and other illegal activity.
The Strategic Thinking of the Movement
Along with these signs of progress, let’s consider for a moment what the pro-life movement in North America sees as its strategic plan going forward.
Much of the public has been convinced of ‘both sides’ of the abortion argument at the same time. To quote pro-life strategist Michael Schwartz,
Public opinion on abortion has been stable for the past generation: about 15 to 20 percent are firmly and consistently pro-life; about 15 to 20 percent are firmly and consistently pro-abortion; and about 60 to 70 percent are conflicted.
The conflicted, by definition, believe that abortion is a bad thing. (Most of them even agree that abortion is the equivalent of murder.) But they also believe abortion must remain legal (at least in general) because they fear the consequences of ending legal abortion.
The conflicted tend to think the problem is to balance the good of the unborn child against the good of the mother. They know abortion is bad for the babies, but they think it is somehow good for the mothers. They consider it pro-woman to support legal abortion.
Therefore, pro-life groups engage in the multifaceted task of making it clear that abortion is never truly necessary, showing that abortion is worse than the alternatives, and providing the kind of service that demonstrates that the needs of the mother and the child can be served together and in fact reinforce each other.
One of the strategies that accomplishes this is an educational, legislative, and legal approach that reveals that the real conflict is not between mother and child, but rather between the family on one side and the abortion industry on the other. For example, legislation and education about a woman’s right to know about the development of her child and the alternatives to abortion, or litigation assisting women to recover damages when harmed by malpractice in abortion clinics, helps to achieve this goal and place us on the side of women and against the abortion industry. This helps move public opinion in the right direction.
St. Paul gives us a game plan in Ephesians 5:11 when he says, “Have no part in the fruitless works of darkness, but rather, expose them.” A key reason abortion continues is that it is hidden. When we expose it to the light of day, the conscience which the vast majority of people still have will be quick and certain in its rejection of this evil.
Pro-life groups in the US and Canada are exposing abortion and its destructive effects in a number of ways:
One of the most successful efforts is to simply show the public what an abortion looks like. Imagery of aborted babies on the internet, on signs in public demonstrations, on displays on college campuses, and even on the sides of large trucks or pulled by tow-banner airplanes are changing people’s minds in great numbers and with great speed.
The damage done to both mother and father is revealed through the testimonies, of which we have already spoken, and also through undercover investigations of the abortion industry and appropriate litigation that reveals the rampant malpractice going on. Abortion is the largest unregulated surgical industry in North America.
The damage abortion does to the entire family is being revealed through the research of psychologists and psychiatrists. For instance, Dr. Phillip Ney, a Canadian psychiatrist who has done massive research into the impact of abortion, holds that there is nothing more damaging to the family than abortion. He points out that an abortion distorts the mother’s ability – and indeed the ability of the human species – to respond properly to the helpless cry of its own young. Having met that helpless cry with the violence of abortion, we are less able to respond to that cry the next time, not only in regard to the unborn child, but to other members of the human family.
The damage abortion does to the wider society is illustrated dramatically by the case of Terri Schiavo, a disabled Florida resident who was neither dying nor terminally ill, but was murdered in 2005 by being deprived of food and water.
Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, was present at her bedside during her final hours, and tells the moving story of how, inches from Terri’s parched lips, was a vase of flowers, filled with water.
This case activated a lot of people to get involved in the pro-life movement. Because of her death, the slippery slope argument no longer has to be made. Now it is simply a matter of empirical evidence. Terri would not have been killed had 42 million unborn children not been killed first, and her death reminds us that we cannot take protection away from the unborn and keep it for ourselves.
The impact of abortion on the economy, on national security, and on our ability to credibly advance other causes of social justice is also the object of study and commentary within the pro-life movement.
Overall, one can summarize the situation by saying that abortion continues because of a) supply: the people and facilities actually carrying out the procedure, b) demand: the people going to those facilities each day for abortions, and c) license: the fact that this activity is legally permitted and protected.
We have found, for reasons indicated above, that the weakest link is that of supply, because abortion has not lost its stigma within the medical profession and the general public. This leads to fewer abortion mills, abortionists, and abortions.
The two preconditions to ultimate pro-life political victory are that 1) the number of abortions must be greatly reduced; and 2) the conflicts of the confused must be resolved in favor of life. Legal protection of the unborn and vulnerable can be attained only when there is a firm and very broad consensus in favor of the right to life, and that can happen only when abortion is relatively rare. That’s what the strategies and dynamics outlined above are accomplishing.
There are a few other dynamics worth noting in the pro-life situation in North America.
Grassroots pro-life volunteers remain largely disappointed with what is seen as a lack of courage and activism on the part of the institutional church (of every denomination). They agree that the “heavy lifting” of the pro-life movement is being done by “independent” organizations rather than by the “official structures” of the Church. A large part of this problem is that the institutional Church is given overly-restrictive legal advice by its attorneys; a related problem is that there are many practical alliances between Church leaders and pro-abortion political parties. A third source of this problem is that those entrusted with pro-life work in the institutional Church structure often isolate themselves from the wider pro-life movement and are, to that extent, out of touch with many of the strategies and tactics that work, such as the use of graphic images of aborted babies.
After summarizing the work he and his colleagues did to launch the abortion industry, Dr. Bernard Nathanson has said to the clergy, "We would never have gotten away with what we did if you had been united, purposeful, and strong." The pro-abortion forces still know that the biggest obstacle in their way is the Church of Jesus Christ. Only the Church has the Divine guarantee that it will conquer the Culture of Death.
Given its vast system of communication, and the fact that those attending church regularly are statistically the most likely to be pro-life and therefore to do something about it, on a natural level alone it is evident that all that the pro-life movement wants to do will benefit, and in fact stands in need of, the resources that can be generated from the members of the Church. Combining this with the supernatural gifts of truth and grace which belong to the Church, it is clear that the full activation of the Church is a critical step for ending abortion. This does not primarily mean creating new structures. It simply means infusing the existing structure with greater vigor and effectiveness.
Both in the United States and Canada, an effective response to that need has been the association Priests for Life. By working within the structures of the Church to strengthen the Church’s response to abortion and euthanasia, Priests for Life has activated both the clergy and those who want to support them. This association has articulated not only a pro-life strategy, but a pro-life spirituality, in which people can make public profession of promises as Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. By living this spirituality, the faithful are helped to keep their pro-life activism rooted in their faith, and to allow their faith to lead them to pro-life activism.
On another note, pro-life activists today tend to be more opposed to the death penalty than a decade ago. At the same time, they rightly understand the difference between the death penalty (which has theoretical justification in some circumstances) and abortion (which never has any justification). The growing “No” of the pro-life movement to the death penalty is based in part on the awareness that it is harder to convince society not to solve problems by throwing away children when it is trying to solve problems by throwing away prisoners. Of course, the converse is also true.
Speaking of connection between different issues, pro-life people of all denominations are also more aware of the link between abortion and contraception, and this link is being mentioned in more documentation, such as the US Bishops’ Pastoral Plan for Pro-life Activities. Pro-lifers who see this link, however, are not always precise regarding the nature of the link. John Paul II described it as a relationship of “fruits of the same tree.” In other words, it’s not that abortion comes from contraception, but that they both come from the same tree (consisting of a perversion of freedom, relativism, a loss of the sense of God, and other problems). He also pointed out that the evils of abortion and contraception are distinctly different in nature and degree (except, of course, when the “contraceptive” actually causes an early abortion).
Conclusion: Christ is Risen!
One of the dynamics currently in the pro-life movement in North America is a growing sense of unity and collaboration among the groups. Infighting among the groups was much more common, and collaboration more difficult, 25 years ago. While there have always been efforts to assist groups to strategize and work together – many of those efforts having been led by representatives of the Church -- there has been an increase in such activity, and with greater fruit, in recent years. Last month, in fact, as part of the preparation for today’s meeting, Priests for Life convened a national summit of pro-life leaders in the United States. In that Summit there was a remarkable consensus among the leaders about what some of the next steps should be for the movement – steps that all the groups can assist to implement.
Among those steps is an emphasis on involving more African Americans in the effort to end abortion. Dr Alveda King is the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. and works full time against abortion as part of the Priests for Life pastoral team. She and many other African-American leaders are helping their community to realize that it shares disproportionately in the numbers of abortions in North America, and that the work of Planned Parenthood is a continuation of the eugenics movement. All the pro-life groups want to help in this effort in some way.
Furthermore, the leaders are united in their consensus that the voice of the experiences of women and men who have lost children to abortion must be given a greater platform.
Finally, the leaders agree that all the activities legally opened to them to mobilize the People of God in their political responsibilities to build the culture of life in the voting booth should be a matter of priority.
Above all else, the most important update on the pro-life movement is that we are winning the battle because we have already won! There is one among us who holds the keys of death and of hell. Jesus Christ is Risen from the dead! Although thought to be overwhelmed by the agents of death ... He trampled death by His death. As a result, death has been robbed of its power. Therefore, our pro-life movement does not simply work for victory ... we work from victory!
Victory is our starting point. We joyfully proclaim to the world that Christ is Risen, We do not cower before the culture of death and wonder how we will ever overcome it. Rather, we stand before it with victorious confidence and declare:
“Begone! You have no room here! No place here!
No further authority to menace the human family.
Your Kingdom has been conquered and Christ reigns supreme!”