My interest in fighting abortion was sparked by an event on the streets of America: the March for Life in Washington, D.C., held every January to mark the day in 1973 when Roe vs. Wade made abortion on demand available through all nine months of pregnancy.
I went to that march in 1976, when I was a senior in high school. The presence of so many people from so many diverse places, taking a public stand against abortion and marching on a bitter cold day, made me realize the issue was a crucial one.
Since 1993, fighting abortion has been my full-time work. This work has taken me to every one of the 50 states multiple times. In each of those states, I have met dedicated people who sacrifice their time, their money and sometimes their friendships and other relationships, to bring freedom to our unborn brothers and sisters.
Many of these people endure ridicule and insults as they stand on public sidewalks, peacefully praying, protesting child-killing and lovingly reaching out to women who think the abortionist is the only help they have. Sometimes, these pro-lifers have the joy of knowing they have saved a life. Most of the time, they need to simply offer their humble efforts to God and hope that in heaven they will meet the ones they have saved.
Often enough, these pro-life people are dismissed, even by some in the pro-life movement, as extreme, unreasonable, insensitive and even violent. Those who characterize them this way often don’t pause to examine whether there might be some rational, or even virtuous, basis for what they are doing. I know these people. They love life, they love peace, and many of them are heroic. The last thing they are looking for is praise. All they want is an objective ear and a measure of respect. They most certainly have mine.
It’s about saving lives
No major social movement has succeeded in bringing about change in our country, for better or worse, without taking to the streets. Even if other means of reaching the public were more open to us, the street would still have an irreplaceable value and effectiveness.
Those who support abortion will sometimes say they defend our right to “have different beliefs” and “express our views publicly.” Aside from the fact that the actions of most pro-abortion groups contradict that assertion, the point is that our presence on public streets and sidewalks is about more than expressing beliefs and viewpoints. It’s about saving lives.
We can briefly summarize the benefits that result when pro-life people take their cause to the streets.
1. The street enables us to take our message directly to the public, bypassing those who seek to silence us. People driving or walking are not there because they want to hear us, but because they are going about their daily duties. The entire cross-section of the public is reached. We meet people where they are and make it impossible for them to ignore us.
2. There is a double tragedy to abortion. The first tragedy is that it occurs. The second tragedy is that, while it occurs, life for so many goes on as “business as usual.” Abortion becomes part of the landscape; it recedes into the scenery and is considered a normal part of the orderly functioning of society. From the look of things, “everything’s OK.” By coming out onto the streets, we declare that everything’s not OK, that life cannot go on as “business as usual” while nearly 4,000 babies are killed daily.
3. By going into the streets, we always win. Whether people agree with us or not, whether they are persuaded by our presence or not, we have forced them to confront the reality of abortion. We have brought abortion to their attention whether they like it or not. That means we win.
4. We need to go out on the streets because abortion is a local phenomenon. Efforts to petition the government must continue, but abortions do not occur in the halls of Congress; they occur down the street from where we live and work and relax. The killing is taking place in the local community, and the local community must take responsibility to stop the killing.
5. Street activity is valuable not only for what it does to the public, but what it does for the pro-lifers themselves. When someone expresses his convictions publicly, those convictions are strengthened inwardly. When someone brings the truth to the public streets or stands in prayer where killing is actually taking place, that person receives a deeper sense of the urgency of the battle and the reality of the problem. Street activities also help to recruit other pro-life activists.
6. A key aspect of the message we publicly proclaim is that the mothers of aborted babies are also harmed and sometimes killed by the same procedure that kills their children. The abortion industry is responsible for untold numbers of malpractice incidents, resulting in maternal injuries and deaths. When we stand outside an abortion clinic, we want the mother to know we care about her as well as her child. We love them both.
I will never forget the words of Bob Landvogt, a Staten Island man I met early in my priesthood whose devotion to life was absolute. As we picketed outside the office of an abortionist, he told me, “Father, our media is in the streets.” May all pro-life people be recommitted in the public witness they bear.
Father Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life.