Political Responsibility and the Right to Life
National Right to Life Committee Prayer Breakfast
July 2, 2004
Fr. Frank Pavone
Introduction by Ernest Ohlhoff, Director of Outreach, National Right to
Life: It is a privilege to introduce our keynote speaker who, in addition to
becoming a extremely famous person in the pro-life movement has also been a very
close friend of mine for many, many years. Fr. Frank Pavone is the Co-Founder
and National Director of Priests for Life and also President of the National
Pro-Life Religious Council. He has traveled in all 50 states and 5 continents
preaching and teaching against abortion and helping other priests to do the
same. Fr. Pavone is frequently interviewed by the media in outlets such as the
New York Times, the Washington Times, Hannity and Colmes, The O'Reilly Factor
and many more. He was instrumental in the conversion of Norma McCorvey, the Jane
Roe of Roe v. Wade. He was also asked by Mother Theresa to address the clergy of
India. In 1997 the Vatican asked Fr. Pavone to help coordinate pro-life
activities around the world as an official for the Pontifical Council for the
Family. In 1999 the Daily Catholic named Fr. Pavone among the top 100 Catholics
of the Century. In 2001 he received the Proudly Pro-Life award from the National
Right to Life Committee. I can't think of any words that can express our deep
appreciation for the tremendous energy and work that Fr. Pavone has brought to
the pro-life movement. It is my pleasure to introduce Fr. Frank Pavone.
Fr. Frank Pavone:
Thank you very much, brothers and sisters. It is a pleasure to be with you
always. It is a special honor to be with Bobby Schindler this morning and to
hear the tribute and for all of us to take part in the tribute that will be
given to Terri Schiavo. I am not going to dwell on the specifics of the case
because obviously we look forward to what they have to say about this but let me
just say one thing. The whole controversy that has been surrounding Terri - let
no one in this Nation think that this is about somebody's right to die because
their suffering is too much. What this whole debate is about is some other
people's right to kill because their inconvenience is too much.
As far as the teaching of the Church is concerned, the position of Christians
throughout the centuries: Any judge, any court, any law that deprives someone
like Terri of the right to life or of the right to be fed or nourished is not a
bad law; it's no law at all! It has no authority!
What I am going to talk to you today brothers and sisters about are some of
the dynamics that lead to problems like this, some of the situations we face in
our country now especially as we approach elections 2004. Because what we do on
November 2nd of 2004 in large part will determine how many more Terri's there
will be and how much more bloodshed there will be in this nation and in this
I am not going to hesitate between now and the elections to be far more vocal
than I have been in the past. If the Church can't speak at a moment like this,
the Church becomes completely irrelevant for this society. That's why the battle
swirls when we come to an election season and people start talking about a
phrase that is found nowhere in the Constitution - so called "separation of
church and state."
Let's reflect on this for a moment, brothers and sisters. We need to get a
handle on what this phrase means and what some people try to make it mean. Of
course there is a division of labor, which is very legitimate, between Church
and State. The Church does not have a standing army. The Church does not deliver
the mail. The Church cannot say that there are 51 states instead of 50. At the
same time the State does not administer the Sacraments or lead people in Sunday
worship or determine where pastors are assigned. The State cannot say that there
are eight sacraments instead of seven. There is a certain legitimate autonomy,
is there not, that we all acknowledge and accept and can live with.
The problem is that people forget the third element of the equation. Because
in our lives, in our world, in our nation there is the Church, there is the
State, and then there is morality. Morality, brothers and sisters,
overlaps the concerns of both the Church and the State.
Our Founding Fathers understood something - that the great experiment of
self-governance on which they were embarking would never succeed if God
were separated from the State or if the State were separated from morality. They
Our Founding Fathers were religious men. They said so. We don't have to
wonder about this. It's not a mystery. We just have to go back to what they
wrote and to how they spoke.
There are few resources better than Original Intent, a book by David
Barton of the WallBuilders. David quotes page after page, chapter after chapter
from the writings of our Founding Fathers where they acknowledged Jesus Christ
and entrusted him with the remission of their sins and their conviction that as
this great Nation took birth and expanded, that without an acknowledgment of
God, this great experiment would never succeed.
Listen to these words that the signer of the Declaration of Independence
Benjamin Rush wrote - "I sat next to John Adams in Congress and upon my
whispering to him and asking him if we would succeed in our struggle with Great
Britain he answered me, 'Yes, if we repent of our sins and fear God.'
"This anecdote," Rush continues - "Will, I hope, teach my boys that
it is not necessary to disbelieve Christianity or to renounce morality in order
to arrive at the highest political usefulness or gain."
We have to go no further than our Declaration of Independence to see that it
is also a declaration of dependence upon God.
Brothers and sisters, ultimately there are only two forms of government.
There are many different sizes, shapes and colors of governments throughout the
history of the world but they ultimately fall into two categories.
The type first of all acknowledges that our rights come from God and that
government exists to secure those rights. The other type says that government is
the source of those rights and therefore can alter, add to them, subtract from
them or deny them completely.
Let's make no mistake about it. One of the things we are going to be deciding
on November 2nd is which of those two types of government America will continue
Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973 as we all know. Most people don't even know
about that decision or what it said. They think it was about legalizing a
medical procedure called abortion. Of course it was about that but that was only
one of its consequences.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Roe v. Wade decision was the
establishment of a different form of government in America.
The decision did not deny that the unborn child is a human being. Some people
think that they didn't know any better or didn't want to know so they just
pretended that the unborn child isn't human, because, of course, if the child
isn't human then they can destroy it. But the court didn't say that. If the
court had said that, at least they would have maintained a basic moral
principle, which is that no government has the authority to destroy innocent
life. Because if you say "It's not human, therefore we can destroy it" -
well you may be wrong, factually, but at least you preserve the principle. But
the Court didn't do that.
As to the question of whether this unborn child is in fact a new human life
the Court said, "We don't know and it's not up to us to say." Then on the same
page of the decision they declared that this unborn child - we're not sure who
he or she is - is not a person under the Constitution. You see what the problem
is? Separate a human being from the human person…separating a human life from
protection of the Constitution, therefore declaring a new kind of authority,
namely, we can decide that some human lives don't have to be protected.
Any candidate for public office who declares support for Roe v. Wade is
declaring support for a different kind of government than our founders
"Oh, but it's the law of the land," some of them will say. Let's see what our
Founding Fathers thought about the law of the land. Most people think that our
Founders established a democracy. They did no such thing. Let me read
what they thought about democracy.
John Adams - "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes
exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit
James Madison - "Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and
contention, have ever been found incompatible with personal security. They have
in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their
What were the Founders talking about? Didn't they establish a democracy? When
they wrote the word democracy, they had in mind the technical meaning of
the term, which is that, whatever the majority says, goes. So that
theoretically, if the majority of the people said that murder was OK, it would
be OK and there would not be a higher recourse except that the majority would
eventually change its mind.
Our Founders established instead a Republic…not based on the rule of
the mob but of the rule of law. Furthermore, they acknowledged that there
is more than one kind of law.
Let me read on that point what the US Supreme Court Justice and signer of the
Constitution, James Wilson said. He said "All laws may be arranged in two
different classes: divine and human. But it should always be remembered that
this law, natural or revealed, made for men or from Nations comes from the same
divine source. It is the law of God."
Now listen to this assertion. He says, "Human law must rest its authority
ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine."
Let these words reach the great state of Florida. Let these words reach every
state of our Nation coming not from us and not as a matter of opinion but as a
teaching of those who established this great Nation.
Alexander Hamilton, signer of the Constitution, says, "The law dictated by
God himself is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over
all the globe, in all countries and at all times. No human laws are of any
validity if contrary to this."
Can they be more clear? Can it be more obvious? Can it be more certain that
when a candidate for office stands up and says that it's OK to have the practice
of abortion, when a judge stands up and says it's OK to starve somebody to
death, can it be clearer that they have radically departed from the most
fundamental principles on which this Country was founded? And not just this
Country but every civilized society.
Now brothers and sisters, we have experienced in this Nation the holocaust of
abortion, nationwide, throughout all nine months of pregnancy now for 31 years.
I have a question for public officials and candidates for public office who
support the ongoing legality of this procedure. We have just been through court
proceedings in New York, Nebraska and San Francisco regarding the Partial Birth
Abortion procedure. We have had practicing abortionists take the stand under
oath and testify to the details, not only of the Partial Birth Abortion
procedure but of all the other abortion procedures. They testified about them
all. The transcripts of these sworn testimonies not of what somebody else did or
of what some past history represents but of what they currently do legally
in this Nation. Those transcripts are publicly available. We have them on our
website at Priestsforlife.org. You can read them, you can download them, you can
print them, you can quote from them, you can spread them around. The candidates
for public office and those who are in public office - they can read them too.
They're written in English. Of course that doesn't necessarily follow, right?
Excuse the harshness of this but this is sworn testimony that came out of
another court case in Wisconsin a few years ago by a practicing abortionist,
Martin Haskell. He says, "When you are doing a dismemberment procedure
usually the last part to be removed is the skull itself and it's floating free
inside the uterine cavity so it is rather like a ping pong ball floating and the
surgeon uses his forceps to reach up and try to grasp something that is freely
floating around. So there are several misdirections, misattempts to grasp.
Finally at one point or another the instruments are managed to be placed around
the skull or a nick is made in some area of the skull that allows it to start to
decompress -- then once that happens typically the skull is brought out in
fragments rather than as a unified piece."
We could spend all day quoting things as gruesome as this that have been
sworn to in public courts of this Nation. My question for public officials, who
say that they are pro-choice, my question for candidates who not only say that
this is their position but campaign on it and say "We're going to make sure no
one ever loses their right to abortion," -- my question to you is, When you
say the word abortion are you talking about the same thing? Just answer that
one question and I will be satisfied. Then you can go off and say anything you
want. But are you talking about the same procedure that has been described in
courtrooms throughout this country? That's what I want to know and that is
what I want to hear the answer to from these public officials.
Brothers and sisters, you and I may never get the answer to that question but
then again you and I have a power that they don't have. We decide whether they
get into office or not.
Let's make no mistake about it. There is a wide range of issues about which
we must be concerned: poverty, education, housing, health care, war and peace,
capital punishment …many, many issues that we have to evaluate and we have to be
active in advancing and protecting and enhancing the lives of our fellow
Let's also be no mistake about it: Both from the point of view of the Church
and also from the point of view of common sense - among all the issues that we
have to consider when we evaluate who we are going to vote for none is more
important than the right to life. Let me explain why.
I want to give a hypothetical here that might sound ridiculous, but what if
somebody stood up and said, "I'm asking for your vote and I support terrorism. I
think the terrorists had a right to do what they did. I would never advocate it.
I would never do it myself, but I believe they have a right to do what they
Now if a candidate stood before you and said that -- my question is not
whether or not people would vote for him, because they wouldn't. My question
also is, Would you even ask what that person's position was on all the other
issues? You wouldn't even ask! "Well sir I disagree with you on terrorism
but what's your health care plan?"
Notice what we're saying here. We're not saying that health care is not an
issue. We are not saying that it is not important to look at. There are ideas
about housing and education and war and peace and many issues. We are not saying
that that is not important. What we are saying is if a politician can't
respect the life of a little baby, how is he supposed to respect yours?
"Oh, Fr. Frank, abortion is just one of many issues." Yes, and the foundation
of the house is just one of many parts of the house. Take it away and see how
well you can build. All these other issues, all these other concerns are like
the walls and crossbeams of a house. In fact this is an image that again is not
the possession of one denomination or another. This is not a religious teaching
we are putting forward here. This is an image that the US Catholic Bishops have
used in their document "Living the Gospel of Life." They said abortion
strikes at the house's foundation. So does euthanasia. Being right on all of
these other issues can never excuse a wrong choice in regards to direct attack
on human life.
That's why I call upon those - if I can speak for a moment to those who in my
own Church community, in the Roman Catholic Church -- whether you are a lay
person, minister in some capacity of lay ministry, if you are a deacon a priest
or a Bishop: I don't want to hear anymore that all issues are equal! You stand
up and you say that all the issues are equal: number one, you're insulting our
intelligence and number two, you're contradicting the teachings of your own
Let's make no mistake about it, abortion and capital punishment are not
equivalent. There is a big difference between the state in certain limited
circumstances exercising its God-given authority to protect the rights of the
citizens from someone who is going to destroy their lives when there is no other
remedy, and the rights so called of an individual to put an innocent baby to
death. There is a big difference.
Not to mention the fact that if you count all those that have been executed
by capital punishment in our entire history, it doesn't add up to the number of
babies we kill by abortion in five days.
And I have had enough of people trying to say that people are not pro-life if
they support the right of this nation to defend itself even in war if necessary.
If you believe that abortion is somehow equivalent to the act of the defense
of the nation against those who are trying to destroy our lives, our rights and
our freedom, you have obscured the entire principle. It is precisely for the
defense of life that in certain limited circumstances states have the
authority to use military force. It is precisely for the defense of life. It is
not a contradiction. It is consistent.
Brothers and sisters another question has to be asked both of capital
punishment and of war: When in the exercise of any of those activities do we
deliberately target an innocent child? When? And yet abortion is not even
abortion by definition unless you target and successfully destroy an innocent
Now, some people think that elections are contests between candidates.
They're not. An election is not a contest between two or more candidates.
An election, brothers and sisters, is a contest between two or more teams.
The people of this nation have to decide what team they are going to be on in
each election in which they are eligible to vote.
Because it is the team better organized, it is the team more active, the team
larger and more well prepared whose candidate wins. And whose candidate wins?
The team who gets more people actually out to vote.
There are things that we can do. There are things that you can do.
There are things that the Church can do to call Christians, to call all citizens
to their political responsibility. One of those things is to get them to
register to vote. Some churches do voter registration campaigns. We don't have
to rely only on the churches though. Your groups, your organizations, your
meetings, your bible studies, your prayer groups. It is time now in the meetings
of those groups between now and whatever the deadline for registration may be in
your state that you use those meetings as an opportunity to get people to
register to vote.
Some people say, "Well I only have one vote." Of course we do. You can only
cast one vote but you can influence thousands of votes. That's what we
have to call on our brothers and sisters to do. How do they influence thousands
of votes? By getting others registered, first of all. Secondly, by informing
them of the positions of the candidates and of the issues.
One of the resources we provided this year is a website; this is in regard to
the presidential race, called votinginfo.org. Votinginfo.org is a c-3 friendly
website that will allow people to simply inform themselves on the positions of
candidates. There are many other resources on the Internet as well regarding
where the candidates stand.
What is critical for people to do is to realize that it is not morally
responsible to go into the voting booth and just vote according to the letter
after the name. You have to look at the name itself, at what that person stands
for. Some people are in "automatic pilot" mode. "Oh my parents, my grandparents,
we always voted for this political party." There is nothing wrong with belonging
to a political party. There is nothing wrong with being loyal to a political
party. But there is something very wrong when our loyalty to a political party
is greater than our loyalty to God and to basic moral principles.
We've only just begun. I don't mean in reference to this talk, because our
time is running out. We've only just begun in reference to this election. We
must build a team that unambiguously and without compromise says that we are
going to use our vote this year to advance the culture of life because this is
not a matter of pro-choice wins or pro-life wins. Brothers and sisters if
pro-life doesn't win, nobody wins. There is no victory in death!
We at Priests for Life are at your service individually, your groups,
your parish, and your dioceses. Between now and November we are at your service
to come to your communities and speak, to assist you with voter education and
information - in spreading the teaching of the Church on political
responsibility. In fact political responsibility.com has been set up to assist
the pro-life movement and all Christians in knowing what they can do, how they
can do it and why they should do it to advance towards Election Day.
Let us make no mistake about it. God calls us to renew the earth. He doesn't
call us to sit back and just observe and then comment and complain. He calls us
to be a community of faith that renews the face of the earth.
And do you know what he said through his own Son? "The gates of hell will not
prevail against the Church," he told us. We might think that means that the
Church will survive all of the attacks that are launched against her. Yes,
that's true. But think about it again. In a battle the gate does not run out
onto the battlefield to attack the enemy. The gate stands still to defend the
city against the enemy attacking it. When the Lord says "the gates of
hell will not prevail against the Church," who is doing the attacking, who is on
the offensive? It is the Church storming the gates, and gaining ground
for God and for human rights.
So I tell you today, the gates of falsehood will fall in the presence of
truth. The gates of sin will melt in the presence of grace, and the gates of
death in this Nation, in this election; the gates of death will flee in
the presence of you, the people of life.
Do what you need to do. Christ is risen! Let us proclaim it and let us
change this land. God Bless you.