Table of Contents
Quotes on Pro-life Street Activity
John Paul II
The Benefits of Public Pro-Life Presence
The Different Types of Street Activity
Recruiting for Street Activism
Fruits of Our Labors
The Nationwide Non-Injunction
Why We Cant' "Agree to Disagree"
An Inalienable Duty
What are the Helpers of God's Precious Infants?
Notes on Sidewalk Counseling
Sidewalk Counseling: Still a Constitutional Right
The Chicago Method
Why Pray the Rosary at Abortion Mills?
Violence and Abortion
Whose "Rhetoric" Leads to Violence?
A Protective Ring or Violence?
A Declaration of Pro-Life Leaders
The Civil Rights Movement
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
A Recent Letter
The "Prodigal Project"
To Bob Landvogt
With whom I have spent many hours on public sidewalks protesting abortion, and who is the one who said to me, "Father Frank, our media is the streets!"
Pope John Paul II, World Youth Day homily, August 15, 1993, Denver
"Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places like the first apostles, who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (cf.Rom.1:16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (cf.Mt.10:27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern "metropolis." It is you who must "go out into the byroads" (Mt.22:9) and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father (cf.Mt.5:15-16)."
From "Faithful for Life: A Moral Reflection" US Bishops, Fall, 1995
"When those who adhere to a belief in the sacredness of life express that belief publicly by their words, public witness and peaceful protest, we bishops are heard among them--as we have been heard on workers' rights, and civil rights, and in the struggle for peace--urging prayerful, nonviolent and even exemplary witness that respects every single human life."
My interest in fighting abortion was sparked by an event on the public streets of America: the Annual March for Life in Washington, DC. As a public school student, 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 that the issue is 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. In each of those states, I have met dedicated people who sacrifice their time, their money, and sometimes their friendships and freedoms, 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 great 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.
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
The Benefits of Public Pro-life Presence
Abortion cannot be defended. It goes on because of lies, and because of the silence of those who know the truth. When abortion is entrenched in national policy, it is to the benefit of the defenders of abortion to silence any further public debate on the issue. If they have what they want, why should they risk losing it by allowing people to hear the truth of the pro-life position? Why fight pro-life arguments? Just prevent them from being heard! Why even raise a question about abortion? Just maintain the status quo!
We see, in fact, the pro-life message being excluded from the media, from educational institutions, and from the government. Defenders of abortion are less willing to even engage in debates with pro-lifers.
How, then, is the public to hear the truth about abortion? Certainly the Churches have to be activated. There are many Churches which need to be roused out of silence regarding abortion. While efforts are made at this, however, there is still the need to reach the public now. Furthermore, those who never go to Church need to be reached as well.
What other avenue is open to pro-lifers by which they can reach the general public with the truth, and do so immediately? That avenue is the "street," that is to say, the public property which, throughout our history, has been the protected forum by which great and small, rich and poor alike could voice their message to others. In fact, no major social movement has succeeded in bringing about change in our country, for better or for worse, without taking to the streets. Even if the 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 that 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. It's about stopping bloodshed. It's about intervening to save a victim who is about to be killed. When violence is being committed, victims do not simply need people who will "express their belief" that the violence is wrong. They need someone who will come to save them. While much needs to be said (and is said here) about our First Amendment rights, pro-life activity has an even firmer foundation than the First Amendment. The foundation is the fundamental obligation that human beings have to care for each other and, insofar as possible, intervene to save one another.
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 the government, the media, educational facilities, and all those in the institutions who seek to silence the pro-life message. 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. This counteracts the efforts of those who would privatize the Gospel, and confine the pro-life and Christian message merely to our homes and Churches. The message of life is true not only in our homes and Churches, but everywhere, including streets and public places.
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 "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. Things are at peace, the streets are quiet, and from the looks of things, "Everything's OK."
But everything is not OK if babies are being killed. The apparent peace and order of society are superficial and illusory. That peace and order are being destroyed behind closed doors by abortion. A false peace and order covers over this injustice.
By coming out onto the streets, we declare that everything's not OK, that life cannot go on "business as usual" while 4000 babies are killed daily. Those who support the killing tell us, "Leave us alone in peace!" To do so, however, is to support a false peace. "'Peace, peace!' they say, though there is no peace" (Jer. 6:14). This is the kind of false peace our Lord condemned when He said, "Do not think I have come to establish peace on earth. I assure you, the opposite is true. I have come for division" (Luke 12:51). Our presence on the streets shows that we are not at peace with abortion. It calls for a division of good people from this evil. It refuses to yield to an unjust tranquility.
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. If people never confront abortion, it will never be stopped. If people are not forced to re-think it, then they will remain in ignorance ("I don't know") and denial ("I don't want to know"), and abortion will continue unchallenged. If, however, the public continues to see protest and unrest and many people against abortion, they will have to say, "Why this protesting? What is it that is so wrong? Why do so may people continue to be so disturbed?" If they see the sacrifice we make by enduring heat and cold, rain and snow, loneliness and ridicule over many hours, they will have to ask whether abortion might be worse than they think it is. They may be roused from slumber.
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. Local residents must register their disapproval, and this is done quite vividly in the streets. We pro-lifers should not so much lose peace over who is sitting in the White House; we should lose peace over the fact that we are sitting in our houses!
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 pro-life activists (see more on this below).
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. A poster is now available which contains some of the names of mothers who obtained so-called "safe and legal" abortions but died as a result. It is a very powerful practice to bring this poster to a prayer vigil or picket in front of an abortion mill (or elsewhere) and have a leader read each of the names of these deceased. After each name, the assembled group can respond, "Lord, have mercy on her." (The poster is available from Life Dynamics. Call 1-800-401-6494).
6. Pro-life presence in the streets is more essential than ever. Defenders of abortion are not only saying no to life; they are seeking to silence our yes. For example, the official guidelines of BACAOR (an anti-life group in San Francisco) say that they seek to get pro-lifers not only to go away from the door of the abortion mill, but to go away altogether. Efforts such as RICO suits and the FACE Law unfairly discriminate against pro-life free speech, and the enemy uses them to instill in us a fear of speaking out. They want us to go away. Our response can and must be, "We will not go away!" Now is the time to increase and intensify our activities on the streets, not to back away from them! The best way to defend our First Amendment rights is to exercise them without fear! This is the moment to show our opponents that we will not be intimidated from speaking up for what is right.
The Different Types of Street Activity
Pro-life presence in the streets takes many different forms. It is important for pro-life individuals and groups to have a clear idea of these different activities, and to be aware of the specific purpose and procedures of an event they organize or participate in. Pro-life groups should consult with local police whenever they have a street event.
The following is not an exhaustive list, but illustrates some of the main varieties of street presence. These are not listed in any order of importance, effectiveness, or recommendation.
1. Marches. A march brings a group of pro-lifers together to move through a village or city on the sidewalk or street. Rather than focusing on one location, a larger territory is covered, and the focus is to raise public awareness about abortion. Signs and banners are effectively used in marches. Special pro-life floats and motorcades can also be utilized.
2. Life Chains. In a Life Chain, pro-lifers stand still in a single line, several feet from one another, along a road or highway, all holding similar signs made available through the National Life Chain leaders. The signs say "Abortion Kills Children," "Adoption, the Loving Option," "Jesus Forgives and Heals," and "Abortion Hurts Women." A Life Chain can vary in length from a few blocks to many miles, and generally lasts an hour or two. The goal is public awareness of abortion, and the location is any public street or highway where people can see the message.
3. Prayer Vigils. At a prayer vigil, pro-lifers gather to lift up their hearts and voices to God, asking Him to bring an end to abortion, to save babies and their mothers, and to convert abortionists and the entire society. A prayer vigil can be conducted at an abortion mill, sometimes involving a march from a local Church. It can also be conducted at some other public place like a park, monument, or civic building. Catholics will normally include the Rosary at such events. The vigil can take many other forms as well, with Scriptural proclamations, psalms, hymns, litanies, and sermons. Some prayer vigils are held without any signs, since the focus is a prayerful presence to call down God's grace for the protection of the children, the salvation of the mothers, and, for those babies who are killed, to assure that they do not die alone.
4. Pickets. A picket involves a group of pro-lifers who target a specific institution and/or public figure who provides or supports abortion. Signs are used and participants generally walk back and forth in front of the chosen location. Abortion mills are picketed, as are hospitals which provide abortions, offices and homes of abortionists, offices and homes of pro-abortion public figures, fund raising events that benefit the abortion industry, and various other events. The focus here is to both raise public awareness about child-killing and how a particular person or institution supports it, as well as to bring pressure to bear on that person or institution to repent. In the case of an abortionist's office or a hospital, patients coming for legitimate reasons will often be unaware that baby-killing is occurring there, and as a result of the picket, will sometimes choose to seek their medical needs elsewhere. Picketing activity will often cause an office to lose its lease.
5. Sidewalk counseling. Whenever pro-lifers are in the vicinity of an abortion mill, they can reach out with compassion to women coming there for abortions, and make an appeal to those women not to go in. Alternatives are offered, and the pro-lifers should be ready to take the woman to the closest crisis pregnancy center. Literature is offered, which refers to the humanity of the child, the harm abortion does to the mother, and the alternatives. The sidewalk counselor usually has a very brief time to make one or two statements that may educate the woman on a fact about abortion that she did not know. Many women on their way in to the abortion mill are still ambivalent about their "choice"; many are even waiting and secretly hoping for someone to tell them not to do this. Sidewalk counseling can take place on its own or in conjunction with a prayer vigil, picket, or rescue.
It is important for the sidewalk counselor to try to speak to the woman when she comes out after her abortion as well as before she goes in, since some 40% of abortions are repeat abortions. The woman who has just aborted her child needs to know that we can help her find healing. She should also be told that she can sue the abortionist for damages done to her from the abortion.
6. Rescues. A rescue focuses on intervening directly and peacefully to prevent the child from being brought into contact with the instruments which will kill him/her. Pro-lifers might block the doors to the abortion mill with their bodies or with other objects. When police try to remove them, they will go limp, thereby refusing to abandon the children scheduled to die. The time it takes to open access to the mill allows sidewalk counselors to plead with the mothers to spare their children. Rescues are not acts of civil disobedience or protests primarily meant to get a message to the public. Instead, they are simply efforts to save people about to be killed. Breaking a law of trespass to prevent killing is perfectly justified in this and other circumstances.
7. Lit-drops. The distribution of literature has long been a proven way to educate the public. There are numerous pro-life fliers available, which can be handed out on public sidewalks or placed on cars or on the doors of local residents.
8. Teach-ins. The public needs to be educated about abortion. In a teach-in, a handful of pro-lifers gather on a street corner or other public area and begin speaking aloud on the abortion issue. They will bring some sort of podium, educational posters, perhaps a portable video machine, and literature to distribute. The teach-in goes a step beyond holding signs and distributing literature, because it provides to anyone who listens a more thorough explanation of the facts and even a chance for questions.
9. Other activities. The varieties of public presence for pro-life are limited only by the imagination and willingness of pro-lifers. Countless other peaceful, effective ways exist and can be developed to bring the message to the streets. Groups should "brainstorm" about such events. Brainstorming is different from planning. In planning, the practical limitations of an idea need to be considered. But in brainstorming, one should temporarily forget about what is possible or practical, and let ideas be generated freely and wildly. They can be trimmed down later.
Recruiting for Street Activism
Planning an event is one thing. Getting participation is another.
Bringing people into the streets is a challenge, because it requires that participants expand their "comfort zone," that is, the range of activities and circumstances in which they comfortably function. To ask people to come into the streets is to ask them to do something new and, for many people, scary.
The fear can be largely overcome by helping people understand the nature and purpose of these activities. Because of ignorance and media bias, the general public is confused about the true nature of pro-life activism, and very good people may be confusing violent and non-violent activity.
Careful education about the events being planned is necessary. Videos of similar events can help people see for themselves what the event is and what they will be asked to do.
The most effective key to encouraging participation is to invite people. Personal and direct contact is the most effective way. A personal phone call is more effective than a mailing, flier, or newspaper announcement, although these are very necessary as well. Contact with other groups and leaders is crucial. The Churches must also be involved (see below).
Street activities are an excellent opportunity to recruit new helpers into the pro-life movement. A march or a Life Chain may be a person's only active involvement with the movement in the space of a year. Records must be kept. Names, addresses, and phone numbers of all participants should be taken at every event. This will enable organizers to contact these people directly for future events. The participants should be made to feel needed and wanted.
Once names and numbers have been taken, there needs to be follow-up. A note thanking the person for participating will be very effective. A phone call asking the person's help for a project can be very fruitful. People need to know exactly how and why they are needed in the movement. Rather than asking a general question like, "Would you like to be (or remain) involved?", ask instead, "Can you do this task for this specific project? We need your skills."
Sometimes a person seems interested on one day and not interested the next. This should not deter the pro-life recruiter. People have good and bad days. By keeping in contact frequently with a new or potential activist, a recruiter can engender and sustain new commitments.
Activating the Churches
The best constituency for the pre-born children are regular Churchgoers. Pastors have a key role in motivating their people to stop the killing and to convert the nation against abortion. Pastors have a serious duty to preach the truth in the pulpit and to lead their people to bring the truth into the streets.
Pro-lifers should approach their pastors regularly to encourage them to speak and take action against abortion. They should praise their pastor when he does speak out, and gently but firmly remind him if he doesn't.
A very effective approach is for two or three experienced pro-lifers to have a meeting with the pastor, in which they 1) tell him how valuable his leadership is; 2) explain their own motivation and experience in the pro-life movement; 3) update the pastor on the current situation in the movement; 4) pledge their co-operation for specific projects that can be implemented in the local Church; 5) seek the pastor's encouragement and leadership for one or more of these projects or for a project he may come up with. The approach in such a meeting is not, "Pastor, you're not doing your job," but rather, "Pastor, we are behind you to support you in your pro-life leadership role. Let's get to work together!"
Helpful materials for clergy are available through Priests for Life, P.O. Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314.
Many who oppose abortions come together for various kinds of public demonstrations, but because they are from diverse Christian denominations, may have different habits and traditions of prayer. This sometimes creates a challenge which must be met with delicacy and prudence: How do we maintain our unity as opponents of abortion, and yet pray together in our diversity as Christians?
In cases like this, we have to avoid two extremes, namely, 1) the idea that our differences are so great that we cannot pray together, or 2) the belief that in the interests of praying together in unity, any and all particular differences must be sacrificed. Neither scenario needs to be the case.
Certainly in these instances, flexibility should be exercised by all. There needs to be a common witness against abortion. The secular society needs to see that pro-life people can unite in opposition to child-killing, and that such opposition is not limited to any one denomination or religion. Organizers should therefore plan for prayers and devotions in which all who are present on a given occasion can participate with a clear conscience. This may mean that the usual way in which one segment of the participants customarily pray is changed on that occasion. Catholics, for example, do not always have to pray the rosary when at the abortion mill. The Psalms are just as Catholic as the rosary is, and Catholics should be perfectly comfortable praying them, along with their Protestant brothers and sisters.
At the same time, there can be, at an event of diverse denominations, periods of prayer that express the particular customs of one or another group. During these times, those who do not feel comfortable offering those prayers need not join in. But this does not have to mean that they need to go away at that point. The unity on which the entire group stands at such a gathering is the affirmation of the right to life. The gathering should not be a time when one group tries to persuade another that its way of praying should be adopted. Instead, it should be a time of shared encouragement, respectful acknowledgment of differences, and clear recognition that a common enemy (abortion) provides a clear opportunity for unity.
Fruits of Our Labors
Everyone who is involved in peaceful demonstrations has heard of instances in which lives have been saved as a result. Here are several examples.
A Life Chain. The organizers of the life chain that is held every month in my home town were approached one afternoon by a woman with a baby. She said she had been scheduled for an abortion, and drove by one day and saw the prolifers holding their signs. It made her re-think her options, and she chose life.
A Florida Abortion Mill. One of the most memorable days for me personally was the day in Orlando, Florida when, together with the Diocesan Respect Life Coordinator and a couple of dozen prolifers, I prayed in front of a local abortion facility. At a certain point, the sidewalk counselors brought a young girl over to me who had just come out of the facility. She was sitting in the waiting room, about to have her abortion, when she saw us praying and holding signs that said there are alternatives to abortion. Then, when she saw that a priest was there, she asked herself why she was sitting in that room. She felt terribly out of place, and found the strength to just get up and leave.
Once outside, she went to confession right there on the public sidewalk. (She gave me full permission to tell this story.) "I feel so bad that I even went in there." "Well God is very happy that you have come back out," I told her. "Now the thing for you to focus on is being a good mother, and God will give you all the grace you need to do that." The local pro-life community followed up with this girl in the following months, providing for all her needs. Some six months later, I was privileged to baptize her child, whom she named Guadalupe. "You not only saved my child's life," this young, happy mother later wrote me, "You saved my life, too. I don't know how I could have lived with the guilt of abortion."
A Brother's Humble Prayers. Brother Martin Temple, C.SS.R., offered many days of prayer in front of a local abortion mill in his community. After moving to a different state, he received a letter from an abortionist which read, "Dear Brother Martin, I have been informed that you have moved to California. I was wondering what happened to you, since we had not seen you over at our Clinic recently. Since I've not seen you, I thought I would write you a letter and share with you that we have stopped doing terminations. I thought that you would be pleased to know that your efforts and prayers have been rewarded. We are still doing well in our practice. We hope that everything is going well with you."
Hidden Fruits. Mark Bomchill used to be a security guard at an abortion mill in the Twin Cities. Now pro-life, he testifies that many women changed their minds about getting an abortion after they had entered the facility. The presence of pro-life people outside made them re-think what they were about to do. He and the abortion staff, however, did not want to give the pro-life people the satisfaction of seeing the women who cancelled their abortions. So they took them out through the back doors. Those who pray at abortion mills should never underestimate the power of their presence. Someone who was an administrator of several abortion mills once told me, "When we saw pro-life demonstrators outside, we knew it was going to be a bad day [in terms of business]. When we saw a priest with them, we knew it would be a very bad day."
The Nationwide Non-Injunction
One of the nation's leading pro-life activists is Joe Scheidler, Director of the Pro-life Action League in Chicago. Because of the outstanding success of his efforts, a lawsuit was brought against him by the National Organization for Women (NOW) which went all the way to the Supreme Court and sought to apply RICO laws (the Federal anti-racketeering statutes which were originally written to deal with organized crime) to the efforts of peaceful pro-lifers. The case dragged on for nearly 13 years. In July of 1999, Judge David Coar handed down a "nationwide injunction" which indicated that acts of destruction of property, threats of violence, trespass, or blocking or impeding access to abortion facilities are prohibited.
The ruling is significant, however, regarding what actions it said are permissible. Here is a direct quote from the injunction:
"This injunction does not prohibit or preclude expressive activities that are constitutionally protected, including but not limited to the following conduct:
a) Peacefully carrying picket signs on the public property in front of any Plaintiff Clinic;
b) Making speeches on public property;
c) Speaking to individuals approaching the clinic;
d) Handing out literature on public property;
e) Praying on public property."
A footnote to item c states, "This activity is also referred to as 'sidewalk counseling.' Sidewalk counseling has been defined by the Supreme Court as '…a conversation of a non-threatening nature by not more than two people with each person or group of persons they are seeking to counsel…' Schenck, 519 US 357 (1997)."
The point of all this is what Joe Scheidler stated in his press release, namely, that the injunction "simply states that we can't do what we don't do anyway and that we can do what we have always done."
I have examined the entire transcript of the trial in this case, and I know the defendants. They were accused of doing things they have never done. The whole case illustrates a strategy of abortion supporters. They know, better than the general public does, that pro-life activists are peaceful people. But by creating lawsuits against pro-life activists, they set up a false enemy. News reports are thereby generated that create the impression that pro-life people are being brought to court for "violence." The movement is then tainted in the minds of large numbers of people, who never end up hearing the court's judgments that the peaceful activity which the pro-lifers have always done is, as Judge Coar wrote, "constitutionally protected."
The result is that they want nothing to do with the activities which pro-life groups organize.
Our responsibility is to organize these activities with more vigor and frequency than ever before. The best way to lose our First Amendment rights is to fail to exercise them because of fear.
Why We Can't "Agree to Disagree"
The solution that some propose to the divisive controversy over abortion is that the opposing parties in this dispute should simply "agree to disagree." This is presented as a reasonable option. It does not require that either side change its views, but simply agree to allow the different views, and the practices that flow from them.
Sorry, but this is a proposal we in the pro-life movement can't accept.
First of all, to ask us to "agree to disagree" about abortion is to ask us to change our position on it. Why, after all, do we disagree in the first place? When we oppose abortion, we disagree with the notion that it is even negotiable. We do not only claim that we cannot practice it, but that nobody can practice it, precisely because it violates the most fundamental human right, the right to life. To "agree to disagree" means that we no longer see abortion for what it is -- a violation of a right so fundamental that disagreement cannot be allowed to tamper with it.
To "agree to disagree" is to foster the notion that the baby is a baby only if the mother thinks it is, that the child has value only if the mother says it does, and that we have responsibility only for those we choose to have responsibility for.
Certainly, there are many disputes in our nation about which we can "agree to disagree." Various proposals, programs, and strategies can be debated as we try to figure out how best to secure people's rights. But these legitimate areas of disagreement relate to how to secure people's rights, whereas the abortion controversy is about whether to secure or even recognize those rights at all. We can agree to disagree whether certain government programs should be allowed, but not whether acts of violence should be allowed. "Agree to disagree" seems like a neutral posture to assume, but it neutralizes what can never be neutral: the right to life itself.
Furthermore, the abortion dispute is not merely about conceptual disagreement. It's about justice. It's about violence, bloodshed, and victims who need to be defended. In the midst of a policy permitting 4000 babies a day to be killed, to "agree to disagree" means to cease to defend the absolute rights of the victim.
We don't fight oppression by "agreeing to disagree" with the oppressor. It is precisely when the oppressor disagrees that we have to intervene to stop the violence. The fact that the oppressor does not recognize the victim as a person does not remove our obligation to the victim. In the face of injustice, we are not simply called to disagree with it, but to stop it.
The proposal to "agree to disagree" presumes the issue is about people disagreeing over abortion, not about people being killed by abortion. The proposal shows how invisible the unborn victim remains.
It is a false solution indeed.
An Inalienable Duty
The right to life is inalienable. The State does not give it, nor can the State take it away.
Similarly, the duty to defend life is inalienable. The state does not give it, nor can the State take it away. The duty to speak the truth is inalienable. The duty to break the silence and to come out onto the streets is inalienable.
Pro-lifers are called to reject all violence in their activities. This movement has always been non-violent, and acknowledges that we may never do evil to achieve good.
The time to act is now. Pro-lifers need to come into the streets and public places to awaken the public to the injustice and violence of abortion, and see to it that this evil is not covered over by a false peace that allows abortion to just become a normal part of the landscape. Pro-lifers need to come into the streets and public places to tell the abortion industry that we will not go away until they stop killing babies and exploiting women. Pro-lifers need to come out into the streets and public places to tell the media that they cannot ignore us, and to alert the government that the people want a change and want it now. If the U.S. government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, it is time for us, the governed, to clearly address child-killing and say "We no longer consent!" This message must resound where everyone can hear it and where nobody can ignore it. Responsibility to end the killing rests with the people, and the people must make their will known publicly. Our media is the streets.
A. What are the Helpers of God's Precious Infants?
This apostolate, headed by Msgr. Philip Reilly from the Diocese of Brooklyn, characteristically involves a Mass, a rosary procession from the Church to a nearby abortion facility, a period of prayer at the facility while trained counselors assist the girls going in, and then a rosary procession back to Church. The organizers obtain a permit ahead of time, so that the group is accompanied by the police and cooperate fully with them. Many bishops have led their people in such processions, and the power of prayer has turned many abortion-minded women away and closed down abortion facilities. This explanation is found on the Helpers' website:
The Helper's of God's Precious Infants are a group of people committed to maintaining a loving and prayerful presence outside, of the abortion mills where God's children are put to death. We unite ourselves with these victims in solidarity with their pain, as they are put to death at this modern day Calvary. We pray in reparation for the injustice being performed on their tiny bodies. Just as Mary and John lovingly stood and prayed beneath Jesus' Cross as he died, we wish to remain with these children in the hour that they we crucified.
We pray to obtain God's mercy for the abortionist and his staff who do the killing. The message of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants to the abortionist and all who help him to kill God's children is that, though we love them, we will never accept what they do.
We plead with our voices for the lives of the babies being carried in by the pregnant women who have scheduled appointments with the abortionist that day. We ask each mother to change her mind. We reach out to her with the love of Christ; we do not judge nor condemn her for what she is planning to do. We simply promise her support and assistance if she should change her mind, and prayers for her healing and conversion if she should proceed with the killing of her child.
Most of all, we love the unborn children who will be brought there that day. These children have been rejected by their parents, and are doomed to die. The only human love they may ever encounter in their short lives may be from those of us standing outside.
B. Notes on Sidewalk Counseling
The next several pages deal with sidewalk counseling, in regard to its legality and methodology.
One of the points that we should keep in mind is that the amount of time that a sidewalk counselor has to speak to an abortion-bound mother is directly dependent on how far away from the door of the abortion facility the counselor can begin the conversation.
Now many times, because of driveways or the setup of the facility, the counselor cannot come near the mother. (It is for this reason, of course, that some counselors have to raise their voices to allow the mothers to know that someone is there to offer alternatives. This leads some uninformed individuals to claim that we "yell at" the women.)
I have witnessed other situations, however, that can provide us better access to these mothers with just a little adjustment on our part. First of all, it may be a good idea to station pro-life people at every stop sign and street light within several blocks of the abortion facility, and give out pro-life literature to each and every car. The point is that anyone driving to that abortion facility has to pass one of those corners. Moreover, they may more willingly take the brochures, because they will not necessarily know that the literature being handed out has anything to do with abortion until after they accept it (whereas two feet from the door of the abortion mill, there will be no doubt.) Another consideration is that it is much more difficult for the abortion-minded girl to stop and think when a crowd of people is watching her and some of them are hurrying her inside the abortion mill. On the other hand, in the time it takes to drive a few blocks, in the privacy of one's car, the material in a pro-life brochure can be read and absorbed.
In using this technique, it certainly does not matter that most of the cars may not be going to the abortion mill. So what? Distributing pro-life literature to them too can only advance our cause.
As a related consideration, those stationed closer to the doors of the abortion mill need to exercise good watching and "quick response." Sometimes one can see a car parking a on the same street a half-block away. The presumption should always be that these people are coming to the abortion mill, and the counselor should get to that car right away, before the pro-abortion escorts do.
Sidewalk Counseling: Still a Constitutional Right
Free Speech Advocates
Pro-life individuals have saved countless babies and their mothers from the horror of abortion by means of "sidewalk counseling." Sidewalk counselors stand outside abortion facilities where they greet arriving women and their companions. Counselors use spoken words and printed literature to provide information about abortion risks and alternatives, with a view to helping the expectant mother to choose life for her unborn child.
Effective sidewalk counseling can save many children from the abortionist's knife. This means less profit for the abortion mill. As a result, many abortion businesses have resorted to schemes to harass sidewalk counselors such as making false accusations to the police, employing pro-abortion "escorts" to block, mock and interfere with counselors, and filing lawsuits seeking injunctions or damages against counselors.
More recently, the U.S. Congress passed a law—the so-called "FACE" bill -- specifically targeting pro-life protests. Then the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Madsen case, upheld a "speech-free zone" excluding pro-life individuals from the sidewalk outside a Melbourne, Florida abortion mill. These developments have caused many law-abiding pro-life citizens to fear that they no longer have the right to engage in sidewalk counseling.
In Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed an injunction restricting pro-life activities in Melbourne, Florida. The Court's decision, announced on June 30, 1994, upheld some restrictions and struck down others. Several portions of the decision are of particular relevance to sidewalk counselors:
1. The Court struck down a ban on "approaching any person seeking the services of the Clinic unless such person indicates a desire to communicate by approaching or inquiring of the respondents." This means a ban on sidewalk counseling is unconstitutional.
2. The Court struck down a ban on "observable images," rejecting the abortion businesses' attempt to prohibit "disagreeable" images such as graphic pictures or strongly worded messages on signs.
3. The Court upheld a "speech-free zone" on the public sidewalk adjacent to an abortuary but struck down a similar zone extending onto private property. The Court reasoned that where protesters have repeatedly used public places to engage in unlawful obstruction of access, the protesters may be excluded from those places. Where the protesters have not blocked access, however, a "speech-free zone" is unconstitutional.
In sum, Madsen reaffirms that sidewalk counseling is a constitutional right but warns that those who persistently break the law may find themselves excluded from the sidewalk where they wish to counsel.
Sidewalk counseling = free speech
Is sidewalk counseling a constitutional right?
Yes. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the "freedom of speech." The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that peaceful communication —such as spoken words, display of a sign, and leafleting—are all protected forms of free speech, especially in public places like sidewalks and parks.
What if somebody tells me to "shut up" or go away?
The right to free speech in public places does not depend upon the consent of the listeners. Otherwise hecklers could silence any unpopular speaker. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that speech cannot be censored simply because the speaker's message irritates or offends a listener. In fact, the Supreme Court has even mentioned the phrase, "Abortion is Murder," as an example of free speech.
The so-called Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which President Clinton signed into law on May 26, 1994, does not prohibit sidewalk counseling. FACE makes it a federal offense when someone "by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with" any person because that person is "obtaining or providing reproductive health services." FACE specifically exempts "any expressive conduct (including peaceful picketing or other peaceful demonstration) protected... by the First Amendment...."
A sidewalk counselor who uses neither force, nor threats of force, nor physical obstruction, does not violate FACE.
Sidewalk counseling remains a constitutional right. There is of course no guarantee that sidewalk counselors will never face harassing lawsuits or false charges. Nevertheless, the person who carefully obeys the law while sidewalk counseling can minimize the chance of legal problems while continuing to reach out to help mothers and their babies.
Sidewalk Counseling is still an important part of the pro-life apostolate.
P-- We make ourselves PRESENT at the place where babies are aborted. There we PRAY for them, for their parents and all involved in performing the abortions that day.
I -- INFORMATION is offered to the parents as they enter the abortuary. This INFORMATION tells the truth about abortion, about the unborn child that is aborted, about the effect of abortion on the mother and offers
A -- ALTERNATIVES to the death of that child.
Sidewalk counselors have the right to free speech and exercising this right can save babies from abortion. But we also believe that for those babies who are not saved, our human presence and our prayers give their short life something of the dignity a human person deserves.
A Letter from a Grateful Mom:
Dear Sidewalk Counselor,
Sorry it took me so long to write. I wanted to wait until I got my baby boy's pictures back. His name is D and he weighed 7 lbs., 3 ozs. and was 21 inches long. My parents flipped at first, but now that he's here he is the best thing that ever happened to them. I will be starting college next semester to become a lawyer.
D is the best thing that ever happened to me and I have all of you to thank for it. J (her husband) is doing fine and he sends his thanks also. I have sent a photo of the miracle that you helped create.
Thanks. We love you,
For more information write:
Catholics United for Life
New Hope, KY 40052
Copies of this pamphlet are available for $8 per 100. Write to:
Catholics United for Life
New Hope, KY 40052
The Chicago Method
Through the use of a unique sidewalk counseling technique known as the "Chicago Method," hundreds of pregnant mothers have been turned away from Chicago area abortion centers. You too can be trained to save babies using this method.
The Chicago Method has been tried under various circumstances, varying degrees of harassment, and varying access to abortion mill victims, and has proven effective even under the most difficult conditions.
A Description of the Chicago Method:
When you approach the pregnant woman and her escort, say, "Excuse me. Are you going to the medical center here? Did you know about the medical malpractice lawsuits against this place?"
Give the pregnant woman and her escort factual information about the specific abortuary they are about to enter. Repeat this information until it produces the desired effect of disturbing them. Develop visual aids, such as a sheet that summarizes the malpractice lawsuits against the mill, especially the abortion-related lawsuits. Newspaper articles about scandalous conditions in the abortion mill are also helpful.
After a minute or two, when the potential abortion client is sufficiently and justifiably disturbed by negative factual information about the abortion clinic, give her literature about an alternative center where she can go immediately for a free pregnancy test and counseling help.
The pregnancy help agencies used in conjunction with this method will ideally have a neutral-sounding name like "Women's Aid Center." It's purpose is to attract and help women who are undecided about abortion or who think they need abortion.
You might mention that the alternative center is a non-profit group concerned with women's health and safety, that it has no malpractice lawsuits against it, and that its services are free. Encourage her to go there immediately. You might even offer to escort her there.
At the pregnancy help agencies pro-life information and presentations are effectively given.
Trouble Shooting the Method:
In situations where there is no pregnancy help agency available, use the same technique to draw women to a nearby restaurant or coffee shop for more extensive counseling.
It is absolutely vital to the success of the technique that you not disclose that you are an anti-abortionist or that the agency you are taking your clients to will not give them an abortion or a referral. You need not lie to accomplish this. Just reveal as much of the truth as you need to and no more.
It is important to meet potential turnaways as far away from the abortuary door as possible. Walk up the sidewalk or street to meet them whenever you can. The closer the pregnant woman gets to the abortuary door the greater the temptation is for her to rush past you and go in. This is especially true if she is being led in by a deathscort or boyfriend.
If a woman refuses to stop and listen to you, say something like "That place has many lawsuits against it, Miss. We're trying to warn people about it." Sometimes this warning will make her curious enough to come out after thinking things over.
The "Don't kill your baby!" approach often makes future communication difficult. Remember that at a busy abortion mill women may go in and out of the building several times before having their abortions. They are more likely to come out if you are not picketing or waving pro-life literature at them, telling them not to kill their baby. Picketing and last effort tactics have their place, but usually not in conjunction with this counseling technique.
If a woman asks you whether the alternative center does abortions, say something like "They'll give you all the help you need. They give abortion information and confidential medical referrals. They'll be glad to talk to you about it, and their services are free." This is precisely the truth.
Do your best to change the subject by telling her how to get to the alternative center. It is helpful to have professionally printed cards from the pregnancy center that relates general facts, such as that no appointment is needed for free confidential pregnancy tests, and that gives directions, and hours. Let the prospective turnaways find out for themselves that the pregnancy help center is in the business of saving lives and not destroying them.
Two counselors is the optimum number for effectively counseling one pregnant woman. Large groups tend to intimidate her.
You should escort the turnaway to the pregnancy help center if possible. She may need your support at this point until she can talk with the counselor at the center. The pro-life escort should preferably be a woman, since most turnaways will feel more comfortable going into a strange building escorted by a woman.
Do not take too much time with each client, The quicker the turnaway the better. The average time for this method is two minutes from initial contact to the escort phase. This will free you up to talk to other women going to the clinic.
Lawsuits are a matter of public record and are available for scrutiny and public use at any county court house. The clerks at your court house will be glad to tell you how to look up any lawsuit that might have been filed against an abortion mill or abortionist. This information will help you prepare some of the handouts that were mentioned at the beginning of this brochure.
Atrocity stories about an abortuary may have been exposed in newspaper articles. More commonly, you will find these stories by doing some elementary research on the malpractice lawsuits on file, or by speaking with women who have been exploited by abortion. Use these news clips and stories.
Counselors who do not have the "gift of gab" can use the Chicago technique effectively. It can be taught in minutes and requires absolutely no knowledge of such subjects as fetal gynecological problems, and so on. Counselors who have had virtually no success using the "Please don't let them kill your baby" approach have been able to turn many women away from the mills using the Chicago Method.
The Chicago Method rarely causes a hostile response from those who are approached on the street as potential abortion mill clients. Because the method is "low key," it leaves the door open to future communication with those who enter the abortion mill and later come out because of second thoughts about the abortion or about the safety of the abortion.
For information on the Chicago Method contact:
The Pro-Life Action League 6160 N. Cicero Ave. #600 Chicago, IL 60646 Phone (773) 777-2900
For information on establishing a pro- life pregnancy help center of the type described contact:
Pearson Institute 3195 A. South Grand Blvd., 2nd Floor St. Louis, MO 63118 Phone (314) 772-2228
For more ideas on sidewalk counseling and other effective ways to see abortion stopped in your community, Joe Scheidler's book Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion is a must.
We acknowledge the contribution of Greg Morrow, Laura Nelson, Richard Freeman and Dave DeFank to this Method of Sidewalk Counseling. A special thanks to Richard Freeman for his contribution of the original text.
The Pro-Life Action League
6160 N. Cicero Ave. Suite 600
Chicago, IL 60646
Office - (773) 777-2900
Action Hotline - (312) 777-2525
C. Why Pray the Rosary at Abortion Mills?
-Fr. Frank Pavone
Prayer at abortion mills is absolutely necessary, and the Rosary is an especially appropriate form of prayer.
We pray at these places to confront the killing, lies, and exploitation that goes on inside. Prayer unites us to the Lord of Life, and calls Him to make present the Victory of Life. We pray for our own conversion and for the conversion of the mothers, the fathers, the abortionists, and the general public.
Why is the Rosary especially helpful?
1. The Rosary has been constantly recommended by Popes and saints. It contains all of salvation history. It immerses us in Scripture. It has gained great victories for Christianity through the ages.
2. The Rosary honors a Mother, and calls "blessed" the fruit of her womb. This counteracts the abortion mentality, which sees motherhood as more of a burden than a blessing and sees the fruit of the womb as disposable.
3. The Rosary has a calming effect as our fingers handle the beads, our lips repeat the Hail Marys, and our mind calmly reviews the Mysteries. An abortion mill can be a place of great tension, especially if there are counter-demonstrators. The Rosary helps us "keep our cool."
4. In the Rosary, we proclaim that we are sinners. "Pray for us sinners." "Forgive us our trespasses." It proves false the accusation of pro-aborts who tell us we are "self-righteous." Rather, we are the ones who need to repent of our negligence and inactivity regarding abortion.
5. The format of the Rosary allows everyone to participate. It can be prayed while walking and can be adjusted to any time-frame. A practical suggestion is to have half the group say the first part of the Hail Mary and the other half respond. If there is only one person leading the prayer, most people cannot hear it, especially with the noise of traffic.
Pro-lifers must never be silent! Continue to take to the streets! Continue to save babies! Continue to pray the Rosary! Continue to wake up America about abortion!
D. Violence and Abortion
The activities we describe here have nothing to do with violence, and abortion supporters know it.
Often enough, the general public does not. Reporting or discussion of public demonstrations against abortion easily gets lumped together with talk of "violence." There have been unfortunate instances of violence from both sides of the abortion dispute. Fortunately, these have been dwarfed in number compared to the peaceful, well-organized, family-type gatherings that occur all over the country to call for respectful protection of the unborn.
While abortion-supporters are forced by clear evidence to increasingly admit that pro-life people are peaceful, they are often heard claiming that the mere fact that we claim that abortion is killing creates a "climate of violence" against abortion providers. In fact, the Governor of Missouri, in vetoing legislation that would ban partial-birth abortions, was reported to say that he did so because such legislation would constitute an open invitation to violence against abortion providers.
Subsequent to one incident in which an abortion provider was killed, I was asked by the media what I thought of the one who shot him. "He's pro-choice," I declared. "What do you mean," I was asked. "Well, for thirty years, the pro-choice movement has been telling us that sometimes it's OK to end a life to solve a problem. Now, when someone comes along and ends a life to 'solve a problem,' he is living out the pro-choice philosophy."
We provide here some reflections on this aspect of the abortion controversy.
Whose "Rhetoric" Leads to Violence?
By: Fr. Frank A. Pavone
Take careful note of the latest tactic of the pro-abortion forces.
They cannot say that the pro-life movement promotes violence, because the leaders of every major pro-life group in the nation have expressed their opposition to the shooting of abortionists.
So the pro-aborts take this approach, as summarized in the New York Times of July 30, 1994: "Opponents of choice who call physicians 'baby killers' one day have no credibility to the next when they issue polite statements of regret after physicians and escorts have been gunned down in cold blood," said the statement issued by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
There it is. We oppose violence, but our message promotes it. The implication is, "Shut up." The conclusion is, "Go away -- don't speak to anyone about "baby-killing." It's quite a self-serving conclusion for the pro-abortion people, of course, because if pro-lifers keep quiet, then abortion will continue unchallenged. That's what pro-aborts have wanted all along. Now they exploit the unfortunate shootings to their own advantage.
But whose rhetoric really fuels violence?
It is the rhetoric of "choice" that fuels violence. By exalting "choice" and "freedom," even when the free choice is the killing of a human being, this rhetoric degrades the value of all human life. "Abortion on demand - no apologies." That is the rhetoric of violence. It does not deny that abortion kills children. It simply says, "I don't care. My choice is more important than the child's life."
It is the "pro-choice" rhetoric that promotes violence. A pro-abortion demonstrator in Little Rock, Arkansas in the summer of 1994 held a sign saying, "Keep Baby-Killing Legal." He was serious. That's the message of their rhetoric. As Mother Teresa said in Washington in February, 1994, "If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?"
Pro-abortion forces promote the death of a child as a solution to a woman's problems. Can't they see that this is the same thinking by which some will then promote the death of an abortionist as a solution to society's problems? It is the same wrong idea that we can do evil to achieve good.
When pro-lifers call abortion the killing of a baby, they condemn such violence. The pro-life message is a message of peace, of life, of love. It is not mere rhetoric, it is truth. Abortion does kill a baby. Either society faces this truth and eradicates abortion, or the killing of babies continues.
Pro-lifers are to refrain from violence. They are also to refrain from silence. To know the truth and not speak up is irresponsible, and leaves unchallenged the violent rhetoric of those who support abortion.
A Protective Ring or Violence?
by J.C. Willke, MD
Introductory Comment: The following article by Dr. Jack Willke appeared in the March 1995 issue of Life Issues Connector, the quarterly publication of Life Issues Institute. I have always agreed that the peaceful presence of pro-life people outside abortion facilities is a deterrent to violence. I have personally seen the effects of such peaceful activity in every one of the 50 states, and I have personally spoken to people at the highest levels of the US Justice Department about the fact that measures which prevent people from intervening peacefully to save lives from abortion will increase the chances that some will intervene violently, which is something we do not want.
Consider also, in the light of the theme of this article, the following lines from a February 10, 1998 news report: "Richard Andrews regularly blocked the entrances to clinics with fellow activists in protests starting in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s, a group of Washington clinics successfully sued to stop the blockades. Soon afterward, Andrews set his first fire at a clinic in Montana." Is there any relationship between the stopping of the peaceful blockades and the starting of the fires? Read Dr. Willke's article, and ponder the question!
Fr. Frank Pavone
The only sure answer to stop violence against abortion facilities and their providers would be to eliminate its basic cause, that is, to stop killing babies inside. Since that isn't going to happen in the near future, it is important to closely examine such violence. I propose that sidewalk counselors have been a "protective ring" around these facilities, and that legislative and judicial actions that have drastically limited and even eliminated such "protective rings" have allowed violence to escalate.
I myself have only rarely been a part of sidewalk counseling, but have been anything but a disinterested observer. My own position has been unequivocal condemnation of violence against the bricks and the persons in the abortion industry. I have held no quarter for those who kill babies, but have consistently stated that violence on the outside will never solve the violence inside. Also, while harboring the deepest respect and admiration for those heroic souls who have sat-in, I have had real reservations about them because of the negative public image it has created for the pro-life movement.
This being said, let us trace a bit of history. Back in the 1970s, the practice of picketing in front of an abortion chamber began. It spread from location to location, and then from Saturdays only (the heavy "kill days") to multiple days in the week. By the '80s, sidewalk counseling, as it came to be more properly called, was a common practice throughout the U. S.
In the early '80s fire-bombing reared its head. Using the bully pulpit I had as president of NRLC during that time, I would look directly into the lens and say, "If any of you are thinking of fire-bombing an abortion place, please don't. You will hurt the pro-life movement. You think you may save some babies. For a few days in some cases you might, although those women will probably go elsewhere. What you will do is turn public opinion against our movement and delay the day when we can finally stop the killing completely. Remember, we are people of peace. Our basic ethic is to stop violence, the violence that daily kills over 4,000 unborn babies. If we adopt their evil ethic, violence, we gut our own. Remaining peaceful is the only way we will win the minds and hearts of the people. "
Others were saying much the same and that message slowly got through. Into the late '80s, fire-bombing became much less frequent. We must remember that such firebombing was always done at night, directed only against bricks, never against persons.
Then came the sit-ins. The participants were peaceful, nonviolent and prayerful, adopting the tactics of Dr. Martin Luther King. The physical beatings, jailing and punishment taken by the participants from police, was clear witness to the deep dedication of those involved.
Is it a pure coincidence, in the late 1980s when the sit-ins were at their peak, that fire-bombings sank to their lowest levels? Is it a coincidence that by 1993, with rescues beaten back by the courts that such violent episodes had quadrupled compared to 1988?
These peaceful sit-ins, however, were publicized by the national media as violent events, exactly the opposite of what they actually were e.g., a local peaceful sit-in, reported in the paper often had a picture of a burned-out abortion mill (from a thousand miles away) printed alongside of it.
The abortion industry itself cried loudly in protest. Legislatures and judges listened and the anti-sit-in juggernaut began to move. Jailing became more frequent. Court-orders set boundaries. The high court ruled the RICO bill could be used. Finally the U.S. Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act (FACE) making sit-ins a federal felony. The result, to a significant extent, has been to remove the "protective ring" of sidewalk counselors that had been in front of those entrances. Most recently the violence has escalated from attacks on the persons of the abortionists, to random shootings; from targeted reprisal to terrorist activity.
The question is, why the escalation? A moment's reflection is relevant. There are about 1,000 abortion facilities in the U.S. Abortion has been legal nationwide for 22 years. Sidewalk counselors have witnessed in front of these kill centers constantly during these years. There are intense emotional gut issues often involved in the abortion decision and there are over 4,000 such daily. How often could not a reaction to "her killing my baby" have caused a rejected, unstable boyfriend or husband to literally go crazy over the frustration, loss and anger generated and result in retaliation?
But, incredibly almost 35 million abortions, over 22 years, at 1,000 locations have resulted in—(tragically)— only five fatal retaliations. This is a minuscule number considering the depth and power of the emotions generated. Truly the news that ought to be publicized is not that five adults have been killed, but that there have been only five.
Rather than indicting our entire movement because of these unbelievably few incidents, the media should be extolling the extraordinary peaceful, nonviolent and prayerful aspects so characteristic of this movement, utterly unique in history, as it is. Sadly, such an evaluation has not appeared in the secular media.
Another answer is the obvious fact that the alleged assailants are very likely mentally unstable and are not members of, nor representative of the pro-life movement. All responsible leaders of the pro-life movement have unanimously and unequivocally condemned such violence. These assailants may be anti-abortion, but they are not prolife.
The analogy with the Black Panthers is worth recalling. Dr. Martin Luther King adopted Gandhi's method. He insisted that the civil rights sit-ins and demonstrations be peaceful. His supporters complied, except for the Black Panthers. This small group sought the same goal, civil rights, but employed violent means. They killed people. But there is a crucial difference today. Then the media nearly unanimously supported King's efforts. The Black Panthers were reported as a tiny extremist group not representative of the civil right's movement.
Today the media is almost unanimously opposed to the civil right of the unborn. Today's violent extremists have been held up as typical of the pro-life movement rather than the aberrant, atypical, sick exceptions that they so obviously are.
And what of the abortion industry's new charges that our "inflammatory rhetoric" is precipitating these new events? This is unmitigated nonsense. It is not because we verbally accuse them of "killing babies" that these tragedies have occurred. No, it is because they are brutally killing babies. Our people are just telling the truth. The pro-abortion goal here is obvious. They want to prevent us from informing people of the true nature of their "business." Pro-lifers should see through this immediately.
All of this having been said, however, why the current upsurge of violence? There were just as many babies being killed annually 10 and 15 years ago as today, but the violence today is different. Why?
To better understand this, let me cite a few experiences in one medium-size city.
Case 1. A distraught husband on the losing end of a furious argument with his pregnant wife had been told by her that she was going to get the abortion. He wanted his baby in the most profound fashion. He suspected she was getting the abortion that day. He called the clinic. Was his wife there? They said, "No." She was, and was being aborted at that very time. When he discovered it the man simply "lost it." In a towering fit of anger, he went to the clinic to get even. He was stopped by those in that "protective ring." They talked to him, calmed him down, advised him against violence, prayed over him, with him, and then shared his tears. He cooled off. They accompanied him home.
Case 2. I spoke to a very dedicated father of five, who has been in front of one or another of Cincinnati's abortion mills every Saturday for the last twenty years. He is a big man, very peaceful and religious. I asked him how many times he himself had prevented violence over these years. He told me of several additional instances.
Has it not been the same in other cities?
I suggest that this vital function of sidewalk counseling has not been generally recognized. Yes, pro-lifers are there as a pro-life witness. Yes, they are there to save babies. Yes, they are there to help women, before and after the abortion. But they are also there to prevent violence. Their presence has been a "protective ring." These peaceful, prayerful people, have undoubtedly prevented hundreds, probably even thousands of episodes of violence.
There are many deeply dedicated pro-life people. Most feel, and rightly so, that they have done their bit by volunteering to speak, counsel, write letters, stuff envelopes, march in Washington, etc. But such efforts are not enough for others. These folks feel deeply that they are called to use their own bodies to try to stop this holocaust. Their reward is the baby and mother saved. They need a physical and emotional outlet, and participation in sidewalk counseling for them is not merely personally and spiritually fulfilling, but also functions as an emotional safety valve. But, time went on. The death toll mounted. The expectation of stopping abortion began to fade, and for many, a more activist physical role was the response. This manifested itself in thousands of people sitting-in. If there ever was a pressure valve, an escape valve for emotions, sit-ins certainly provided it. How many know that over 70,000 such heroes and heroines have been peacefully arrested compared to less than 5,000 during the civil rights era?
But then the judicial and legislative screws were tightened. Sit-ins were forbidden in a draconian fashion. The emotional pressure cooker, the frustration not only continued but escalated while the pressure valve was effectively shut off. Overwhelmingly, most pro-life people have directed their energies to other pro-life activities, but, certain unstable few apparently have not. With this we have seen a new escalation of violence, this time targeted at abortionists and tragically, most recently, indiscriminately against those working in the abortion industry.
There is no question why the abortion industry wants that "protective ring" removed. It is bad for business, very bad for business. It has caused them to lose untold dollars. But having removed the "protective ring" they are now paying a certain price. Sadly the pro-life movement is paying a far greater price because of the portrayal of all pro-lifers by the media as terrorists.
Could it be, that the judicial, legislative and abortion industry's "solution" to sidewalk counseling and other peaceful protest such as sit-ins has been counter-productive, has been rather, to a large extent, the cause of much of this escalation of violence? Could it, in fact, be pouring oil on the fire? Could it be that the recent violence is, in considerable measure, a result of the suppression of peaceful, prayerful protest outside of abortion facilities? Could it be that if that "protective ring" was still there, that these tragically unbalanced, unstable, atypical individuals would have been "caught, " counseled, cooled off, steered away, prevented from doing what they planned?
Jack Kennedy's words back then are worth remembering. "If peaceful protest is made illegal, violent protest will become inevitable."
Priests for Life encourages you to use the resources of Life Issues Institute, 1721 W. Galbraith Rd., Cincinnati, OHIO 45239, Phone 513-729-3600, Fax 513-729-3636, Email LifeIssues@aol.com
WE WILL NOT GO AWAY
Note: Every time there is an incident of violence against an abortionist, abortion-rights leaders throughout the country blame peaceful pro-life street activity for what happened. In response to this reaction, the following statement was issued in 1994 by pro-life leaders, both rejecting violence and refusing to be accused of promoting precisely what we reject. It is interesting to note, furthermore, that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had to respond to the same criticisms when violence on the part of some in the civil rights movement was blamed on the peaceful activity he was organizing.
The recent violent acts of a few people have made some question whether pro-lifers should continue their street activities.
We first of all reject violence as a solution to any problem. Pro-life people who choose to kill are being inconsistent. Pro-abortion people who lament the killings are also inconsistent because they tolerate daily killing of babies. The only consistent and correct position is to reject both the violence of shooting and the violence of abortion. That is the position we take.
Pro-life "rhetoric," furthermore, is not a cause of violence. To say "abortion kills babies" is not "rhetoric"; it is truth. To be silent would be irresponsible, and it is not an option.
In reality, "pro-choice" rhetoric fuels violence, because it says life may be destroyed at will.
The pro-life message needs to be proclaimed on the public streets of America. The biggest mistake prolife people could make at this moment is to retreat from the streets. To do so would deprive countless people of hearing the pro-life message, would lead to the loss of many lives that can be saved by prayerful presence and counseling at abortion mills, and would create a vacuum which would likely be filled by more violent activity.
Throughout world history, social reform has been effected by people bringing their message to the streets in organized non-violent ways. This is the moment to increase such activity. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees the rights of Americans to do so, even when their message is one of great controversy.
Pro-life presence in the streets, furthermore, does not have to be limited to the abortion mills. Presence at the mills is essential, but the women who buy abortions do not live at these places. They are in every community and neighborhood. By spreading the truth on every street corner, pro-lifers can save lives and help persuade the public that violence is never a solution. We intend to plan, promote, and intensify peaceful, prayerful and legal pro-life street activity throughout the nation. We will not stop it until abortion stops.
If America wants to reject violence, let it reject abortion without further delay!
Fr. Frank Pavone National Director, Priests for Life
Fr James Heyd
Rev. Flip Benham
Fr Charles Fiore
Rev Keith Tucci
Dr. Curtis I Harris
J Randy Hinsely
Revs Gordon & Nancy Peterson
Fr. Paul Marx
Fr Matthew I Habiger
Monsignor Phillip Reilly
Theo Sterns I .O.P.
Fr Ivan Rovera
Rev Johnny Hunter
Rev. Kirk Heldreth
Edward J. Martin
Chris & Joan Bell
Rev Michael S Warren
Timothy R Fix
Mercedes Arzu Wilson
Jerome F Coniker
Rev Gerald Frank
Rev. James J Pinto
Rev Terry Gensemer
Rev Michael McHugh
Rusty Lee Thomas
Robert Peters, Esq.
J T. Finn
Rev Michael G. I Haley
Rev Robert Schenck
Tim & Terry Palmquists
Robert E Cooley
Mr. Gerry Zeller
Rev. Daniel Vinzant
Fr. Francis Butler
E. The Civil Rights Movement
Note: Priests for Life invites pro-lifers and other members of our nation today to reread these historic letters, and see how many powerful parallels there are at this moment between the principles Dr. King enunciated in his quest for racial justice, and the principles the pro-life movement enunciates in the quest for justice for the unborn. Note also the similarity of so many of the criticisms leveled against Dr. King and his co-workers with the criticisms of pro-life people, especially those who directly intervene to save the lives of the unborn.
We are committed, over three decades after this letter was written, to applying its wisdom to the eradication of abortion from our land. We have the same sense of confidence which comes through in Dr. King's letter, that the day of justice for the unborn will not long be delayed.
Fr. Frank Pavone
The following is the public statement directed to Martin Luther King, Jr., by eight Alabama clergymen:
We the undersigned clergymen are among those who, in January, issued "an appeal for law and order and common sense," in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.
Since that time there had been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.
However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.
We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experience of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.
Just as we formerly pointed out that "hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions," we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.
We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.
We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.
Bishop C. C. J. Carpenter, Bishop Joseph A. Durick, Rabbi Milton L. Grafman, Bishop Paul Hardin, Bishop Nolan B. Harmon, Rev. George M. Murray, Rev. Edward V. Ramage, Rev. Earl Stallings
April 12, 1963
Dr. King's Response: The Letter from a Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state. with headquarters in Atlanta. Georgia, We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South. and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here, just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham, But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known, Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.
Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants- for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations, As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.
As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us, We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" 'Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail? We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.
Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could he delayed no longer.
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half- truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked; "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo, I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was "well- timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jet speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to deep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" -- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws, This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?"
The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust, I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. it gives the segregation a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of' the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. substitutes an "I-it" relationship for an "I -thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances. for they are morally wrong.
Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.
Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of' the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
We should never forget that everything Adolf -Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God -consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the Federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral: it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation, We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood, Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of the few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."
I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.
If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble-rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black-nationalist ideologies - a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "get rid of your discontent;" rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime, the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
I had hoped that the white Moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as 'dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation.
Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.
But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.
In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.
I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern," and I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings, Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of' complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?" Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do Otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the church was very powerful -- in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mires of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christian for being "disturbers of the peace" and outside agitators. But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "A colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment, They were too God- intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent -and often even vocal-sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the, church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.
I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -- and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.
Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.
It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "non violently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."
I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest"; they will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience's sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience. I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
F. A Recent Letter
In the process of updating this brochure, we came across this letter to the editor which appeared in the National Catholic Register in December of 1999. It raises an important point for our consideration.
Respect Sidewalk Rescuers
The Register's …[recent article on prayer vigils at abortion mills]… insinuated that …[the approach being described]… shows the face of Christ to everyone involved with abortion while Operation Rescue had a "take-no-prisoners" style. This is a very false and prejudicial characterization of rescues and the rescue movement. When a person lays his body down before the door of an abortion center, he is performing a sacrificial act of love in defense of the unborn scheduled to die and also for the mother who is about to aid in the killing her own child. The rescue movement was never about militancy or "taking no prisoners." No matter the media image, rescuers were and are extremely peaceful and loving and bore the brunt of excessive police brutality in their efforts to protect the unborn. A rescue is a further act of defense for the unborn - it is a loving and necessary act that says we will, with complete nonviolence, not simply allow the unborn to be put to death.
While the rescue movement is accused of militancy by its enemies, it is especially painful to hear pro-lifers insinuate that rescues are not prayerful or loving actions. We should not get sucked into bashing one pro-life activity in order to promote our own.
It's easy to bash rescues nowadays since so few of them take place because the federal government did all it could to shut the rescue movement down, thus making rescues unpopular because of the sacrifices it takes to do them. All that is needed to do rescues now is courage. As a front page Register article in the same issue demonstrates ("Court Restricts Pro-Lifers Who Carry Graphic Signs"), perhaps even picketing with the signs of aborted babies will become illegal if the California courts have their way. Will we then hear pro-lifers criticize picketing and accuse it of being un-Christlike witness in favor of staying in Church and praying?
Despite…[their] loving presence, even [those who simply stand and pray have been] accused of harassing women and …[are] being sued by the National Organization for Women under RICO [Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act] and the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Years ago no one ever pitted rescues against sidewalk counseling or vice versa. Both are acts of love in defense of life.
Monica Migliorino Miller
Citizens for a Pro-Life Society
G. The "Prodigal Project"
One of the newest things people can do in front of abortion facilities is to handout brochures designed for the staff of the facility. A group of former abortion providers, called the "Society of Centurions," has begun an outreach to the men and women who provide abortions, telling them they can get out of that ugly work and find peace again in their lives. The Centurions know, because they have been there themselves.
These brochures should be given to anyone at all who works in any way in the abortion facility: doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, security guards, etc. They have already been used with a great effect, and at one abortion mill several workers left as a result.
Abortion destroys not only the babies and their families, but also the people who perform them. Such people need to know that the pro-life movement cares about them, and will help them to find forgiveness and peace, just as the Prodigal Son did (Luke 15).
Write to us at Priests for Life to obtain your set of brochures for the Prodigal Project (PO Box 141172, Staten Island, NY 10314), and pray for the success of this effort!