Keynote speaker Father Frank Pavone commended those gathered for the April 25 “United We Stand” banquet, calling attendees “members of the greatest human-rights movement of all time.” Sponsored by Chattanoogans for Life, the fifth annual event drew some 350 people from the Catholic and Protestant traditions, whose work also helps advance “the great cause of Christian unity.”
Father Pavone, founder and national director of Priests for Life, said that in his travels throughout the United States he observes that the goal of unity, for which Jesus prayed, is “nowhere more clearly seen as succeeding as in the pro-life movement.”
Despite differences of theology, doctrine, and worship, he said, the “one Lord of human life, Jesus Christ,” draws pro-lifers together, along with the conviction that “no human being can own another human being or oppress another human being or decide who lives or who dies. Together despite denominational lines, this movement gives us an avenue of learning one overwhelming truth: Jesus Christ is Lord.”
The banquet was held at the Chattanooga Trade and Convention Center.
Chattanoogans for Life President Cindy Kedrowski noted that planning the banquet was tough initially because many people had never heard of Father Pavone. Once they heard him, however, they were “deeply touched,” she said. “He’s led by the Spirit and knows the facts, and this came across when he spoke.”
Offering both encouragement and a challenge to his listeners, Father Pavone said, “no matter how old, no matter how young, and no matter how involved or uninvolved [you are] in this movement, there are some lives that only you can save, some abortions that only you can stop, some hearts and minds that only you can turn around.”
Because of the deep conflict about abortion in the American conscience, he said, “it has never been easier to save a life . . . it has never been easier to change someone’s mind and heart about this deeply divisive issue of abortion.”
Even though virtually unlimited abortion has been legal for 35 years, he said, it remains “abhorrent to the human conscience. You can’t take the stigma out of abortion.”
Few people are aware, Father Pavone said, that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision permitted abortion not only in the first trimester but throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
“I could introduce you to doctors who kill healthy babies carried by healthy mothers in the seventh, eighth, and ninth month of pregnancy and proudly advertise for it. This is going on today in the United States of America, and most people have no idea of the number of abortions that don’t have anything to do with health reasons either of the baby or the mother.”
Only a tiny percentage of the abortions performed “have anything whatsoever to do with health,” he said.
Exposing the facts about abortion can help change minds and hearts, said Father Pavone, even without making moral arguments. As an example, he described a conversation he had with a woman who had changed her mind about abortion on the basis of a single homily.
After Mass she told Father Pavone that she had come to church “100 percent pro-abortion” but had completely changed her mind in the space of an hour.
“She said, ‘Father, it was two things that you said. First, you said that the number of casualties our country has endured through its entire history, all the wars put together, does not amount to the number of children killed by abortion in one single year in our nation.’”
The number of babies legally aborted since the Roe v. Wade decision is estimated at more than 49 million, or an average of 1.4 million per year.
Father Pavone had also discussed sea turtles and the fact that in Florida he had seen a sign posted that said sea turtles and their eggs are protected by local, state, and federal law.
“I simply asked the question, if we don’t have the right to choose to smash the egg of the sea turtle, why do we have the right to choose to smash a baby? It didn’t take long [for me] to say those things, and they’re not hard to understand, and you have a woman who considers herself pro-abortion completely turn around.”
He acknowledged that many who are conflicted about abortion and who say they see both sides of the argument believe that the procedure is necessary for women’s sake.
The pro-life movement has an answer to that concern, said Father Pavone: “Let’s love them both. We can and we must because their destinies are intertwined. You can’t love that woman and stand with her and for her rights and her health and her life and be for the killing of that child.
“You can’t because if you harm the baby, you harm the mother too. Nor can you effectively love and save that baby without loving and saving that woman who is in such despair that she feels abortion is her only choice.”
Women don’t have abortions because of free choice, he said, but because they feel “trapped and abandoned, desperate and afraid. They feel there’s nowhere to turn except to the abortionist.”
Again returning to the theme of the pro-life movement as part of the civil-rights crusade, Father Pavone mentioned several pro-life activists with ancestral ties to key figures of the past. One is Lynne Jackson, the great-great-granddaughter of Dred Scott, “whose rights were denied by the Supreme Court of the United States in a decision that is strikingly parallel to Roe v. Wade.”
In the 1857 Dred Scott decision the Supreme Court ruled that black Americans were property and could not claim citizenship.
Another is Father Gerard Wilberforce, the great-great-grandson of the “hero who led the movement to end the slave trade in Britain,” said Father Pavone.
“Father Wilberforce maintains that if William Wilberforce were here today, he’d be crusading with us for the sake of the unborn child.”
On Father Pavone’s pastoral staff is Dr. Alveda King, whose uncle was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. During a recent March for Life he said he asked Dr. King whether the march reminded her of civil-rights movements marches with her uncle. “What she said to me was, ‘Father Frank, this is the civil-rights movement.’”
Dr. King is national spokeswoman for the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, a joint project of Anglicans for Life and Priests for Life. The organization’s goal, described on the website silentnomoreawareness.org, is to make people aware of “the devastation abortion brings to women, men, and their families” and to expose and heal “the emotional and physical pain of abortion.”
Closing the banquet was speaker Peggy English, who this January gave her Silent No More testimony during the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Mrs. English is a parishioner of Notre Dame in Greeneville and music director for St. Elizabeth Parish in Elizabethton.
She described the medical, emotional, and financial concerns that led her to have an abortion as a young married woman with two children, adding, “I was scared, overwhelmed, and felt like a failure. I could not imagine a positive outcome. All of our friends advised abortion. No one tried to talk me out of it, not even my [then] husband.”
Although she believed the abortion would solve her family’s immediate problems, “in my heart and soul, I knew it was wrong. The abortion I chose to have not only murdered my innocent baby, it damaged me physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
Because of harm done to her uterus during the abortion, Mrs. English had to have a hysterectomy. “No more children, ever,” she said. “I was 22.”
Years of guilt, depression, and drug use followed, as well as a divorce. “Depression and thoughts of suicide were frequent,” she said. She went back to school and studied music education and nursing, but after the obstetrics rotation, “I would go home at night . . . and sob uncontrollably. Never would I hold my own baby. I was unforgivable, but I knew I could ease the pain and shame. Again I turned to drugs.”
Healing came after a conversion experience in 1999, a 12-step program for sobriety, remarriage, and discovering Father Pavone’s Priests for Life website.
“It is critically important for those who have been involved with abortion to have our regrets heard and acknowledged as the truth,” said Mrs. English. “Now each January I am committed to walking with my brothers and sisters who have come forward—the men holding signs that say “I regret my lost fatherhood.” We march with Father Frank. He leads us and gives us the courage to stand up and to be silent no more.”
For more information, visit the websites priestsforlife.org, chattanoogansforlife.org, and silentnomoreawareness.org.