As Fr. Frank Pavone flies out to speak and preach in Seattle on Divine Mercy Sunday, he will be visiting a state whose voters and politicians have shown no mercy toward his cause.
Pavone is national director of Priests For Life. Washington is a state that voted to legalize abortion in 1970, three years before the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, and lately has given thumbs-up to assisted suicide.
In the Evergreen State, ruling Democrats have made support for abortion rights, plus sex education, a kind of ideological litmus test requirement of political orthodoxy.
Yet, Pavone is an optimist, with a streak of boldness in him. The activist priest will carry his pro-life message Saturday afternoon to St. Michael's Catholic Church in Olympia, where pro-choice Democrats (including Gov. Chris Gregoire) are often found in the pews.
After preaching at Seattle's Holy Family parish on Sunday morning, he will lead prayers at 3:30 p.m. outside Planned Parenthood's offices on East Madison Street in Seattle.
"Given the history of Washington, it's especially important to emphasize that if this state was the first to change course toward allowing abortion, it can be the first to change course and lead us back to protect the unborn," he said in an interview.
Roe v. Wade spawned the pro-life movement in America: The anniversary of the ruling is marked each year by big marches in both the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C., and at the State Capitol in Olympia. As marchers headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court this year, however, a newly installed pro-choice president was lifting the so-called Mexico City rule.
The Reagan-era rule, reinstated by Bush II, required that all non-governmental organizations receiving federal money refrain from performing or promoting abortion services, as a family planning tool, in other countries.
Pavone will not only preach but strategize when he visits Olympia and Seattle over the weekend. He will "encourage the troops" in both cities.
"The great thing about American elections is that there will be a next one," he said. "I'll be focusing on the next election. Participation is inherently Christian. Christianity does not ask people to be insulated from the world."
A leading abortion rights supporter, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is expected to seek a fourth term in 2010. Murray has twice been reelected over Republican House members with anti-abortion records: In 1998 her opponent, Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., was a leader of pro-life forces in Congress.
Still, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington , the state's leading pro-choice lobby, has suffered its lumps. It backed losers in the 2000 Democratic Senate primary, the 2004 race for state attorney general, and in 2007 boarded the sinking ship of Seattle City Councilman David Della.But the state's secular, libertarian streak was on display in last November's election.
The Evergreen State became the second jurisdiction in America (after neighbor Oregon) to legalize assisted suicide.
It has now approved allowing life to be terminated prior to birth as well as before natural death.
"Washington is in many ways leading the nation," Pavone acknowledged. "The outcome of this particular effort will impact what the euthanasia movement does in other states."
Unlike in the case of abortion, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has not recognized a "right" to die.
Instead, Pavone predicted, the country is in for "state-by-state battles" over assisted suicide.
America's voters faced a seemingly clear choice on the abortion issue last fall. Obama had a down-the-line pro-choice Senate voting record.
Sen. John McCain affirmed his pro-life views: GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is active in a group called Feminists for Life. Still, Obama reached out to the evangelical community -- even inviting pastor Rick Warren to deliver an inaugural invocation -- and carried the Catholic vote in November by a 54-45 margin. But the pro-life camp has seen no outreach in the first 90 days of Obama's presidency. Abortion rights advocates have cheered his rollback of Bush policies.
"Anything, anything that reduces abortions helps the cause," Pavone said.
The activist priest is, however, sharply critical of Obama for repealing the Mexico City rule. He argues that it fuels "an abortion industry" eager to recruit doctors to perform the operation and sell its wares overseas.
"For them, it's about access," Pavone said. "The reason they are lobbying the United Nations, to see that family planning is geared their way, is there is a lot of money in that."
A part of Pavone's visit is geared toward what he calls the Rachel's Vineyard ministry. It is directed to women who have undergone abortions and come to regret the choice.
"We reject abortion but we do not reject those who've had abortions," said Pavone. "We're going in not with condemnation. We call people back, we welcome them."
In 2007, there were 1.2 million legal abortions performed in this country, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control.I've covered both pro-life and pro-choice marches on the Supreme Court, listening to passionate arguments and hearing powerful accounts of personal experiences -- back alley illegal abortions, and legal abortions later regretted. The figure cited above makes many Americans uneasy, myself included.
'Came across, last week, a striking argument by Joseph Wright, a visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute.
Wright goes beyond legal battles to argue for a pro-life that addresses socioeconomic factors that cause women to seek abortions.
He argues that increasing economic support for low-income families could decrease abortions by as many as 300,000 each year, noting that in the strong economy of 2000 there were 300,000 fewer abortions than in 1990.
It's a big reason for our state's pro-choice Democratic politicians, and pro-life Republicans in the other Washington, not to shred the social safety net and perhaps strengthen its mesh..
An end note: If you are interested in hearing or joining Fr. Frank Pavone in Olympia and Seattle -- or respectfully disagreeing with him -- go to the priestsforlife.org web site. The Travel Schedule heading contains a full list of events.