The following appeared in slightly different form in Human Life Review, vol. 32, no. 3 (Summer 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Mary Meehan.
Saving Lives through the Churches, Part II
The first part of this series quoted an activist's question that applies to the second part as well: "Can you imagine what our country would be like today if our churches did everything they could do?"
The first part described the pro-life teaching of the Christian churches through the Protestant Reformation and beyond. It noted the erosion of that teaching in major U.S. Protestant churches in the 1960s and 1970s, giving special attention to a network of ministers who made abortion referrals when abortion was illegal in most states. It focused on efforts of groups such as Lifewatch, NOEL, and Presbyterians Pro-Life to return the mainline churches to their pro-life tradition.
This second and final part describes pro-life programs of the country's two largest Christian denominations, the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. It also reports work among other Baptists, the Orthodox, African American churches, Mormons, and Quakers. While concluding that there's an impressive amount of pro-life work in many churches, it also suggests a need to arouse the inactive and to improve the ability of church people to speak to the wider culture.
Morning Has Broken
Just as the Quakers were first and strongest in the campaign against slavery in the United States, so the Catholics stood out in the difficult struggle against abortion that started in the 1960s. Although their opponents successfully painted the pro-life movement as a tool of the Catholic hierarchy and clergy, the lay pioneers knew they had major problems with both groups. Some bishops were timid, and many clergy were lukewarm at best. So were some key Catholic theologians of the era, leaders of major Catholic colleges and universities, and some elements of the Catholic press.
There are still problems in all of these areas, though most are less formidable now than twenty years ago. Evangelical Protestants joined the pro-life movement in great numbers in the 1980s and 1990s and helped the Catholic activists in many ways--including psychologically, by showing them they were no longer alone. Within the Catholic community, pressure from lay activists on one side, and from the late Pope John Paul II on the other, strengthened the pro-life cause among clergy and hierarchy. Lay involvement continues to be very strong, although by no means universal. Many people in the pews are political liberals who have sided with the Democratic Party rather than their church; many are upper-middle class people who have gone with their social class rather than their faith. And all of them face the temptations of the decadent culture that surrounds them.
Yet there seem to be more Catholic pro-life groups now than ever before. Some of the newer ones, such as the Sisters of Life and the Priests for Life, have brought great strength and competence to the pro-life movement. They have also helped counter the burnout that affects many Catholics who have been in the struggle for decades. The "gospel of life" and the "culture of life" preached by John Paul II continue to inspire all Catholics in the movement--and many activists of other faiths as well. They hope Pope Benedict XVI will be as outspoken in defense of life--early and late, in season and out of season--as John Paul was.
Catholics still stand out in the U.S. pro-life movement because of their sheer numbers. Their church, the largest by far in the United States, claims over 66 million members here.(1) Many practice their faith sporadically, if at all, while many others are deeply influenced by it. Had most Catholics been actively pro-life through the years, the struggle against abortion might have been won long ago.
Here We Are, Lord
Gail Quinn heads the Catholic bishops' pro-life office, supervising eleven other staff members and a $2.1 million budget. A longtime movement veteran, Quinn is cheerful and optimistic despite the difficulty of her job. People sometimes ask her if she's not discouraged that Roe v. Wade endures despite over 30 years of efforts to overturn it. "Well, in one way, sure," she remarked. "On the other hand, 30 years later, for an issue to be as important in the public debate, right across the board, is quite a feat."
The bishops and the Knights of Columbus provide most of the funding for her office. Its formal name is the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, and it's part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Washington, D.C. Quinn and her staff offer to Catholic dioceses and parishes around the country a Respect Life educational program that includes everything from articles and posters to liturgy guides, photos, and clip art. While they encourage parishes to observe a "Respect Life Sunday" in October, their material is intended for year-round use. Its quality is high; but in this age of electronic bombardment and limited attention spans, there probably should be more pieces that are short and lively.
There's much program evidence to support Quinn's remark that "we've got a lot of good people out in the field." Large dioceses have paid and full-time respect-life directors, often with support staff, while some smaller dioceses have volunteer directors. There are also many volunteers at the parish level. Key diocesan directors report much educational work and practical aid to women in need. The Boston archdiocese has its own pregnancy aid center, and Boston parishes collect huge amounts of goods for the center's clients through baby showers. There's also a special archdiocesan fund to help pregnant women who have severe financial problems. (Many clients are immigrants who are "basically alone in the world," Boston director Marianne Luthin remarked.)(2)
In New York, the Catholic Home Bureau spends in the neighborhood of one million dollars a year on its maternity services program. Kathleen Dooley Polcha, who directs the program, estimated that about 60 percent of her clients are immigrants. They have, she said, extremely limited access to money and to employment (because many lack the "green cards" needed for legal jobs), and they often live in very crowded housing. So her program's services "have intensified" to meet these problems. The St. Louis archdiocese has the LifeLine Coalition--a network of Catholic hospitals and social-service agencies, plus Birthright counseling centers. They help pregnant women (both Catholics and others) with counseling, medical expenses, housing, and other needs. Lifeline says that each year it assists "more than 10,000 mothers and their children."(3)
The Detroit archdiocese has Project Life, which offers practical aid to people tempted by either abortion or assisted suicide. When Cardinal Adam Maida announced the program in 1996, he urged the public: "Before you pick up the telephone to schedule an appointment with an abortion clinic or to schedule a consultation with Jack Kevorkian, call Project Life." The program, open to people regardless of religious belief or affiliation, involves assistance from pre-existing agencies--Catholic, private, and public. What Project Life adds to the mix is a hotline referral system so that people don't have to make a dozen calls before they reach the right agency, plus financial aid for emergency costs that other programs don't cover. There were many suicide-related calls to Project Life when Jack Kevorkian, Michigan's "Dr. Death," was still helping people commit suicide. In one case, Project Life put together an assistance package for a woman who had been severely disabled by a stroke. "We were at the end of our rope," her husband later told the Detroit Free Press, adding that Project Life "made us realize that we didn't have to call Jack Kevorkian, because there are people out there who are willing to help us." Another woman had a disease that made it difficult for her to breathe in the summer's heat and humidity. She was becoming quite weak and desperate--until Project Life bought an air-conditioning unit for her apartment.(4)
Kevorkian, though, is now serving a long prison term after a murder conviction for direct euthanasia. There are few calls related to suicide at present; most calls now are for pregnancy aid. Project Life director Paul Yasenak, a Redemptorist brother, described a recent case: a woman who was expecting twins needed financial aid so she could have the rest she needed to assure their health. Project Life provided the aid. In another case, it helped a woman who was subjected to domestic abuse--finding shelter for her and her children and helping with their food costs. Other agencies pitched in with additional aid.(5)
Be Not Afraid
Many diocesan directors encourage parish participation in the Gabriel Project. This is "big in the Baltimore area; it's big in Texas," Gail Quinn reported. "But it's growing in other places as well." In this program, local parishes post on their property large signs that promise assistance to any woman who faces a crisis pregnancy. A team of volunteers helps each woman according to need: transportation to doctors' appointments, a place to live, a parish baby shower. It's a great way for churches to practice what they preach.(6) Diocesan directors also promote Project Rachel, which helps women and men who have been involved in abortion to achieve forgiveness and spiritual peace.(7) And they encourage a great deal of prayer for the pro-life cause.
Some also encourage the work of Msgr. Philip Reilly, a Brooklyn priest who organizes large prayer vigils at abortion clinics. Often led by a bishop, or even a cardinal, the vigil starts with Mass at a church near the clinic. Praying the rosary and singing hymns, participants walk to the clinic and remain there for some time in prayer and song. They do not carry picket signs--just one image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom Catholics honor as the patroness of the pro-life movement. Participants are asked not to talk with one another--and certainly not to scream or shout at anyone else. Msgr. Reilly believes that people at the clinic "must see in us the love of Christ; they must see in us the face of Christ.... The only thing that will pull them out of the darkness is love--a love of a person. And no amount of argument, debating, will ultimately do it." Sidewalk counselors do speak, though, with women about to enter the clinic, and they achieve many "turnarounds." Catholic pro-lifers are using Msgr. Reilly's method in the United States, Europe, Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.(8)
Many Catholic parishes work with the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, a group established by the Catholic Bishops decades ago to lobby for pro-life legislation. The National Committee encourages letters, phone calls, and visits to members of Congress. Many parishes have telephone trees to spread its legislative alerts about crucial votes on Capitol Hill and to request phone calls and e-mails to congressional offices. (9)
Besides working closely with the National Committee, the bishops' pro-life office is active in the public and media debates over abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, and related issues. "Science does not have to kill in order to cure," said one of its newspaper ads on stem-cell research last year. Another ad declared, "Embryonic stem cells tend to be genetically unstable and can form lethal tumors. And they come with a hefty price tag: living human embryos must be killed to obtain their cells." More recently, the bishops' office and the National Committee cosponsored a postcard and e-mail campaign telling U.S. senators that support of Roe v. Wade shouldn't be a "litmus test" for judicial nominees. Roe, said a representative of the bishops' office, "is bad law, bad medicine, and bad social policy." And Gail Quinn urged Catholics: "...do not pass Go, do not collect 200 reasons for delaying. Make your voice heard."(10) Later she estimated the postcard campaign alone had resulted in delivery of seven million cards to senators.
Sing a New Song
All of this is a major support for the pro-life movement. There is one problem, however, and it's a big one. In a 2004 interview, Gail Quinn estimated that "about a third" of Catholic parishes have active pro-life committees. One would think that three decades of hard work would have activated far more parishes. But as farmers and ranchers know, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Quinn's office has no authority over priests and bishops; it can suggest, recommend, or plead for action, but cannot give orders. With a larger budget and staff, however, it could send out organizers to do some diplomatic work with busy bishops and pastors. With even minimal support from clergy, the organizers could look for two or three people in each inactive parish who could organize a telephone tree; recruit volunteers for the local pregnancy aid center; organize a respite care program to help families overwhelmed with chronic illness; find people to do sidewalk counseling at the nearest abortion clinic; set up a Gabriel Project; and/or fill up busses for the March for Life. In other words, there should be a drive to activate the two-thirds of parishes who are, so to speak, away without leave. A good model for this would be what anti-slavery leaders did when they "abolitionized" Ohio and other states in the 1830s.(11)
Also needed is a major effort on Catholic college and university campuses. It could be patterned after a Lutherans for Life program, described in the first part of this series, that sends a team to Lutheran colleges to do intensive educational work on life issues over a short period. If accompanied by help in establishing more student pro-life groups and keeping them active, such a program could have a profound impact on Catholic campuses. So could wider participation in a Feminists for Life project, the College Outreach Program, which encourages campuses to be more child-friendly and more helpful to pregnant and parenting students. It has made a significant impact on Georgetown University, the Jesuits' flagship institution. Vanessa Clay, who helped launch the program at Georgetown, has encouraged students elsewhere to challenge their campuses on this issue. After all, she noted, "Half of their students have the potential to be pregnant, and 100% of their students have the potential to be parents. This really is an issue that affects everyone on campus."(12)
Efforts to jump-start inactive parishes and campuses would require a much larger budget than Quinn's office has at present. The current budget is tiny when contrasted with the magnitude of the problem and the money that private foundations spend to promote abortion. Quinn would like to have more money for organizing inactive parishes. But she also senses that Roe v. Wade is enormously vulnerable right now. So if someone waved a magic wand and doubled her budget, her first priority would be more and "louder" educational work against Roe. "We've got to get rid of it," she declared.
On Eagle's Wings
Meanwhile, other help is on the way; indeed, much of it has arrived already. In 1989 the late Cardinal John O'Connor of New York wrote a column for his archdiocesan paper titled "Help Wanted: Sisters of Life." He soon heard from women around the country who wanted to join his proposed religious community, which he planned as a mixed contemplative-active group. The first eight women joined in 1991. By late 1994 there were 24; and when they joined the Cardinal at a special event in New York City, he pointed to them and said, "My cathedral is here....I am convinced their prayer will work miracles for the cause of human life at every level....I couldn't be happier with any cathedral."(13)
The order now has almost 50 members, including its postulants and novices. Most have attended college; their prior occupations include research science, graphic art, medicine, teaching, and engineering. Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, the order's superior, was previously a psychology professor at Columbia University. Some of her sisters have more offbeat backgrounds; the order's newsletter described one recent postulant as a "talented opera singer" whose family runs an organic farm in Canada and another as "an entertainer at Disney World for nine years." In addition to the traditional religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the sisters take a fourth vow to protect human life. Living in convents in Yonkers, the Bronx and Manhattan, N.Y., and Stamford, Conn., the sisters:
All of this prayer and work doesn't leave much time for leisure. But in their recreation time, the sisters report, they "are often spotted en masse on the walking, rollerblading and bike paths near our convents (quite a scene!)." They also play softball.
Working with the Knights of Columbus, the sisters have a convent and host pro-life retreats at Villa Maria Guadalupe, a property in Stamford, Conn., that the Knights bought last year. Mother Agnes described the Connecticut convent as "the first step" in expanding the order beyond New York. She hopes for additional expansion in the United States, and possibly abroad, "in the next five or six years."(14)
Go, Tell It on the Mountain
Founded in 1990-91, Priests for Life is not a religious order, although it is starting one as a separate group. Working hard to activate parish clergy, Priests for Life has become one of the largest pro-life groups in the country. It relies primarily on direct-mail fund-raising and expects to raise at least ten to twelve million dollars in 2005, according to press aide Jerry Horn. It has a 62-member staff (both clerical and lay), stationed in its headquarters in Amarillo, Tex., and in satellite offices in Staten Island, N.Y., Washington, D.C., Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, and Rome. Horn reported that Priests for Life does not have individual members, but includes most U.S. priests on its mailing list. He added: "We work very closely with parish pro-life coordinators from every diocese... We have an entire department devoted to that activity. We also stay in close communication with the USCCB [U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops], keeping them informed of our efforts. We also do a good job of distributing materials produced by the USCCB." (15)
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, remarked that his group has found priests "to be very receptive and in fact eager" for suggestions on preaching. He said that "priests ordained in the last 20 years are particularly familiar with and responsive to the pro-life movement; many of them found their vocation through pro-life activities." Pavone often speaks in seminaries. (He's a powerful speaker; a Baptist minister who heard him offered the ultimate praise: "He could make a good Baptist preacher!") (16) He places heavy emphasis on alternatives to abortion, urging pastors to include in their parish bulletins, "as a permanent item," a telephone number where women can find alternatives. He encourages pregnancy aid centers "to invite the local pastors--of all the denominations--to come and visit personally and see the services that are offered."
Father Pavone also promotes marches, the Life Chain, pickets, sidewalk counseling, and street protest in general. One of his pamphlets is titled "Our Media Is the Streets"; in it he notes that "no major social movement has succeeded in bringing about change in our country, for better or for worse, without taking to the streets." There are many brochures, including "How to Encourage Your Priest to Be Actively Pro-Life" and "You Can Save Someone's Life Today!" They are on a huge web site (www.priestsforlife.org) that also includes sample homilies, action alerts, personal testimonies, and much else besides. There are radio and television programs as well. Priests for Life depends heavily on Father Pavone's commitment and dynamism. But the group's media efforts seem to depend on him too visibly. It would be wise to give more prominence to other priests in the group--and to its lay staff, also. An ancient philosopher said it well: "A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope." (17)
Priests for Life encourages strong pro-life involvement in politics. It ran a voter-registration campaign for the 2004 election, one that Pavone said "went very well...as we reassured pastors that they can in fact do this activity legally, as long as it is non-partisan." He is well aware of the criticism that "our overall emphasis on pro-life in the political arena helps Republicans." His response? "Sure it does, because the Republican party takes a pro-life position... If a Democratic candidate, or the party generally, decide to take a pro-life position, our work will help them.... To be truly non-partisan means that you don't care whether your message hurts or helps a particular party."
Churches cannot endorse political candidates unless they're willing to give up their tax exemption. But they can lobby on specific issues at both state and national levels, and many do so. USCCB lobbyists work on abortion and euthanasia as well as foreign policy, immigration, and social welfare issues. State Catholic Conferences lobby on life issues at the state level, and Pavone encourages parish priests to do the same. While "many feel they do not have the time," he said, the ones who do lobby have "tremendous influence" because legislators understand that priests can affect many votes.
After years of planning and consulting Church experts on the subject, Father Pavone is starting a new religious society, the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life. This will be a "society of apostolic life," similar to a traditional religious order in many ways. But while the members will live in community, the community demands will be less rigorous than those of many traditional orders. This will enable members to travel frequently in pursuing the society's mission. In June, 2005, 35 laymen attended a retreat in Amarillo to consider becoming priests in the new society. (The local Planned Parenthood director was dismayed when they joined a protest at her clinic.) (18) Ten already-ordained priests attended a similar retreat in July. The men who apply and are accepted will begin their formation and training period in October. Pavone noted that the formation time for the already-ordained "will be shorter than for seminarians, of course, but will vary according to each man's background." He said that "I will personally join the Society, out of the desire to do pro-life work permanently." Society members will include deacons as well as priests, and they will make special promises to defend human life. There will also be full-time lay missionaries.
The society will be based in Amarillo; as it grows, there are likely to be other centers around the country. The Missionaries will travel a great deal, preaching widely in Catholic churches and schools. They will do abortion and post-abortion counseling, give retreats, and present pro-life training seminars. They'll seek dialogues with their adversaries on the abortion side, and they'll do media work. They will encourage pro-life political activity.(19)
All of this makes an awesome agenda, but Father Pavone has not come this far by thinking small. In describing the new society to an Amarillo reporter, he commented: "Eventually it could become very big. Some of these societies have hundreds or thousands of members." (20)
Do Not Pass Me By
Religious orders have arisen within the Catholic Church in response to many specific needs. The Benedictines are noted for their monastic life; the Dominicans for their preaching; the Sisters of Mercy for their care of the sick; the Jesuits, the Visitation Nuns, and many others for their educational work. The Franciscans, known for their spirit of poverty, now have two small communities whose mission includes pro-life work.
The Franciscan Brothers of Peace, a community of ten in St. Paul, Minn., was started in 1982 by two men who were deeply involved in pro-life work and who made it a key part of the new community's mission. The brothers, who include two novices, do sidewalk counseling at abortion clinics and give aid to single mothers in need. They also beg food for distribution to the poor. They have a mission house in a tough neighborhood in North Minneapolis, one plagued by drugs and gangs. Brother Hilary McGee is a chaplain for "throw-away children" in a detention center. Many are from broken homes or have suffered abuse. Brother Hilary remarked, "I've had children hold on to my rosary and ask, 'Will Jesus forgive me for what I've done?' They just want Christ in their lives; they have no one else." The brothers also provide shelter to people who have survived torture in other countries and have sought refuge in America.(21)
Brother Paul O'Donnell, the order's superior and co-founder, and Brother Hilary traveled to Florida and provided major support for Bob and Mary Schindler, parents of the late Terri Schindler Schiavo, during their unsuccessful struggle to prevent Mrs. Schiavo's death from starvation and dehydration. The brothers had special reason for their involvement: the late Brother Michael Gaworski--O'Donnell's best friend, who was the co-founder and first superior of the order--suffered brain damage similar to that of Mrs. Schiavo. (In Brother Michael's case, bacterial pneumonia led to cardiac arrest, and lack of oxygen had caused severe brain damage by the time he was resuscitated. The brothers took turns in caring for Brother Michael for over 12 years; and he, like Mrs. Schiavo, had tube feeding. He died in 2003 after another bout with pneumonia.) Brother Paul told the Associated Press that this experience led him to become "a self-taught medical advocate for brain-injured persons." In a story filed shortly before Mrs. Schiavo's death, the AP reported that Brother Paul and Brother Hilary "serve as much more than spiritual advisers to Bob and Mary Schindler--they prepare meals, chauffeur the family around the state, even pick up their mail and dry cleaning." Mary Schindler's brother told the AP that the brothers "are a tremendous comfort....They'll do anything you ask. They're just a tremendous help."(22)
The Franciscan Daughters of Mary, a small order in Covington, Ken., was founded in 1996 to protect and defend life "in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi." Like the Franciscan brothers in St. Paul, the three professed sisters and two novices spend much time in community prayer. Originally based in Newark, N.J., they moved to Covington last year at the invitation of the bishop there. In Newark the sisters staffed the Rose Garden Home, which combined the work of pregnancy aid with outreach to the poor. Sister Mary Augustine, FDM, said the home helped "over 25,000 people" while the sisters were there. They also spent much time in sidewalk counseling at an abortion clinic in Englewood, N.J., which she described as "the nation's leading provider of partial-birth abortions." In a period of two years, she said, the sisters helped 265 women there choose "life for their children."
The sisters are still dedicated to sidewalk counseling, and they hope to have in Covington another outreach program similar to the Rose Garden Home. They're also planning a medical clinic that will offer prenatal and postnatal care--and probably pediatric services, too. One of the sisters is a nurse, and they expect to have help from Catholic doctors in the Covington area.
The sisters believe that using graphic signs in sidewalk counseling is counterproductive. "Women who have had abortions have told us," Sister Augustine noted, "that when they saw the signs they entered the clinic as quickly as possible and were not open to anything a counselor would want to say." Instead of using religious arguments ("what they are expecting from religious"), the sisters stress abortion's risks to the woman. When a woman has decided on abortion, Sister Augustine said, she is "far from God," but may respond to an appeal to self-interest. They also invite women who are entering the clinic, or have had abortions, to call them on their 24-hour hotline "if they need to talk," assuring them "that we will be there to help them even if they have the abortion." The sisters "will gladly share our techniques with anyone or any group who is seriously committed to saving lives," Sister Augustine remarked, adding: "Their interest is usually piqued by the fact that we have a higher than average success rate. In training them, we go with them to their clinic, observe them and then show them how much more effective our strategy is in saving a child's life." The sisters have given counseling seminars in at least five states. "We'll go wherever somebody wants us," Sister Augustine promised.(23)
Fight the Good Fight with All Thy Might
"In Canada and in the United States, we've been incredibly involved" in the abortion and euthanasia debates, said Knights of Columbus spokesman Andrew Walther. The 1.7 million-member Catholic men's group is also involved in pro-life work in Latin America and the Philippines, where it has many members. It's the largest lay Catholic organization in the world.
There are over a million Knights in the United States alone. They have been involved in the struggle against abortion since before the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, and they're noted for putting their money where their convictions are. They have a great deal of money, too, from their huge insurance business, members' donations, and special endowment funds. In addition to their own pro-life programs, they help finance similar programs of the Catholic bishops and groups such as Americans United for Life, Birthright, the Human Life Foundation (publisher of this Review), Life Athletes, the March for Life, the Nurturing Network, and the Susan B. Anthony List. As noted earlier, they bought the property for the retreat center, Villa Maria Guadalupe, that the Sisters of Life are staffing in Stamford, Conn. Connecticut Knights volunteered much time to clean, paint, and generally spiff-up the building there. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson believes the center will "play an increasingly important role in the worldwide pro-life movement for many years to come."
But the Knights also receive funding pleas from many other groups. The Vatican needs money for its television broadcasting; seminaries need help with scholarships; Special Olympics programs need aid; so does the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center; and many groups request money for evangelizing efforts. Last year the Knights at all levels--local, state and national--gave $135.7 million to Church agencies and charities. Of that sum, according to the Supreme Knight's recent report, pro-life programs received about $5.5 million. Some donations that were counted in other categories, though, such as support for the Vatican's mission at the United Nations, had a strong pro-life dimension.(24)
The Knights have 12,000 local councils around the country. Many of them support local pregnancy centers by financial donations, help with renovations, and "everything in between," Walther said. The Knights also have a long tradition of aiding programs to help people with mental retardation. Their state and local units donated $17.5 million in that area last year; they also provided many volunteers for Special Olympics programs. Walther described efforts in this area as "trying to spread the message of Pope John Paul's gospel of life, that every life has meaning."
The Knights have been active on the legal front, funding briefs in key cases dealing with abortion and euthanasia. In 1998 they helped defeat an effort to legalize assisted suicide in Michigan. And this year, Walther said, Knights in California helped collect a huge number of signatures to place on the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to require parental notification before an abortion can be done on a minor.
The Knights' leader, Carl Anderson, has been involved in the pro-life movement for many years. An attorney, he served in the White House during the Reagan Administration. A young lawyer named John Roberts was on the White House staff when Anderson was there, and Anderson was delighted last summer when President Bush nominated Roberts to the Supreme Court. In August the Knights' annual convention called for Senate consideration of the Roberts nomination "without delay or filibuster" and condemned any attempt to block his confirmation "based upon his position on whether Roe v.Wade should be reconsidered." In a separate resolution-- just in case anyone doubted--the delegates made clear their view of Roe itself: "...the Knights of Columbus will never consider Roe v.Wade to be settled constitutional law, and will always seek ways to restrict its application, limits its reach and eventually to overturn it."(25)
Needing a Friend to Help Me in the End
While the struggle against abortion makes the greatest demands on their time, Catholic groups are also deeply concerned about the threats of euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. With the exception of Oregon, they and their allies so far have out-organized and out-voted the euthanasia/suicide forces in state legislatures and referendums. Catholics' allies have included both secular groups and other religious groups--including Jewish ones, which have a strong tradition against euthanasia.
Greg Schleppenbach, who directs pro-life work for all three Catholic dioceses in Nebraska, has great experience in coalition-building. In the 1990s, worried by threats to legalize euthanasia in his state, he organized the nondenominational Nebraska Coalition for Compassionate Care to stress the alternatives of hospice and better pain control. An old cowboy might have called this, with respect to the bad guys, an effort to "head 'em off at the pass"--and it did just that. With an advisory board that includes the state's attorney general, two former governors, and both U.S. senators, the coalition has serious political clout. Many health-care agencies have given it strong support, and it has organized large and successful conferences. (More recently, Schleppenbach put together the Nebraska Coalition for Ethical Research, which opposes destructive embryonic research and human cloning.)(26)
The National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) has a program to meet another critical need in end-of-life issues--the problem of exhausted family care-givers. Some 1,000 NCCW volunteers offer such care-givers a break by staying with their frail or disabled members for about four hours a week. The respite volunteers serve mainly as companions, especially to the frail elderly: reading aloud to them, listening to their stories, playing cards or board games with them, praying with them, walking outside with them. The program is also available to families confronting severe conditions such as Alzheimer's, HIV/AIDS, and stroke. Most of the volunteers are women, although some men accompany their wives on visits.(27)
This is a project that many other groups could well copy. It would be hard to overstate the problems of isolation and exhaustion that family care-givers face, especially when confronted with severe and long-lasting disability. Respite programs give them a sense of hope and solidarity, as well as practical aid. And the programs introduce new friends and hope into the isolated lives of the patients.
Dioceses and other groups should also think about copying Detroit's Project Life (described earlier) to meet the practical needs of desperate people who are tempted by suicide or euthanasia. This need not involve huge extra sums of money, since existing Catholic hospitals and social-service agencies can provide much of the needed assistance. Many families have themselves been affected by severe and chronic illness, or know other families who have. So it shouldn't be hard to find donors for the added costs of a coordinator, hot line, and emergency fund.
Orthodox Christians for Life: Shout in Joy, O Zacharias
Valerie and John Protopapas were not involved in the abortion issue when their son John was born in 1970. But their baby had spina bifida; and the parents soon realized, in the words of Mrs. Protopapas, that "many doctors were not saving children with spina bifida. ...even though there was help available, they weren't helping them." Their son, though, apparently received the help he needed. When he was 11 years old, Mrs. Protopapas reported that he was doing very well intellectually and showing a special aptitude for foreign languages. He used a wheelchair most of the time but, as his mother remarked, "So did Franklin D. Roosevelt!"(28)
By then his parents knew all about the use of prenatal testing and abortion to eliminate children like their son. In 1986 they joined an Orthodox priest in starting Orthodox Christians for Life.(29) The group is open to members of Orthodox churches or jurisdictions--the Orthodox Church in America, the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, and others--who together claim about four million members in the United States. Some people refer to them collectively as the "Eastern Orthodox." The Orthodox split from the Roman Catholic Church many centuries ago; although close in basic teaching, the two groups still have doctrinal differences, especially over papal supremacy.
Valerie Protopapas said Orthodox Christians for Life has a number of chapters, including "quite an active chapter in Washington, D.C." The national group stands out at the annual March for Life in Washington, with bishops and priests in distinctive Orthodox garb, a colorful banner, and signs with icons. Orthodox Christians for Life is a small group, though, and it's run on a shoestring. Asked whether there are any paid staff, Protopapas quipped, "If I ever got paid for anything, it would probably be the end of the world. Two days after I got paid, the trumpets would sound in the East, and it'd all be over. I wouldn't even have a chance to put it in the bank." There are monthly contributions from some churches, but she said that "we use our own money" when needed. Her husband John, a deacon in the Orthodox Church in America, is the national director; she is the educational director. Their web site (www.oclife.org) includes a comprehensive pro-life handbook.
The Orthodox have always opposed abortion, although they allow it in the rare case when a mother's life is at stake.(30) In their liturgy, they emphasize the Scriptural welcome for unborn children. Celebrating the conception of St. John the Baptist, for example, they sing to his father: "Shout in joy, O Zacharias..."(31) Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern churches have not been plagued by theories of delayed ensoulment. One of the Eastern Fathers, St. Basil of Cappadocia (St. Basil the Great), wrote that the "hair-splitting difference between formed and unformed makes no difference to us."(32) One might say that the Orthodox were in harmony with the scientific facts of life long before modern embryology existed. Western theologians could have saved themselves--and most of today's Christian churches--a great deal of trouble had they listened to St. Basil.
Yet some Orthodox bishops and priests today, Protopapas suggested, do not say much about abortion because they are otherworldly, sometimes naive, and preoccupied with ancient doctrinal issues. "They're still fighting the Nestorian heresy, many of them," she remarked. Years ago, she asked a seminary dean--a "glorious Russian" who was "extremely intelligent" and "absolutely fantastic"--why the Orthodox church wasn't "speaking out on this issue really strongly?" He responded, "But, my child, the church spoke out on this in the third century." To which she replied, "Father, they don't remember what you said yesterday. What makes you think they're going to remember what you said in the third century?"
Church doctrine against abortion is taught in Orthodox seminaries, she said, but "it's not enough to teach the doctrine. You have to teach the young men who will be priests how to deal with the situation.... They don't give them the necessary weapons to go in and deal with the culture. They just don't." Priests must know, especially, how to deal with hard cases; she has reminded them that "sometimes you have to say no." The clergy, she declared, must "stand there in that pulpit and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters in Christ: If you actually are in Christ, you can't do this.'"
Protopapas suggested two cultural factors in the Greek community that work against the pro-life Orthodox position. The Greek culture, she commented, is "like many Mediterranean cultures; the men run everything. And many women get their feeling of liberation, if you will, by doing something like this" (having or supporting abortion). And to some Greeks, she added, being Orthodox is actually "a nationalistic thing"--just part of being Greek--so that the Orthodox faith "is a small thing, way off in the distance." She cited their support for the 1988 presidential campaign of former Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, an abortion supporter who had been excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church many years earlier because he had married outside it. Dukakis, she suggested, "could have killed old ladies in parking lots; it didn't matter as long as he was Greek."
Among the Russians, there's a tendency to see abortion as a political issue. They fear involvement in politics, she said, because in their history that often led to long exile in very unpleasant places. Orthodox Christians for Life, though, focuses mainly on the religious aspects of abortion, as well as euthanasia, infanticide, suicide, and child abuse.(33) It's one of the few pro-life groups to mention child abuse in its list of horribles. Others should follow its example.
The group emphasizes not only the lives of victims, but the souls of victimizers--and of those who stand by and do nothing. Protopapas remarked: "There's a prayer in the Orthodox litany: 'A Christian ending to my life--painless, blameless, and with a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ.' That is a very powerful prayer, and many people pray it without even thinking about it." She added that "we're not asked to win the war; we're only asked to fight the battle as much as we possibly can with what limited resources are at our disposal. But nobody is going to be able to say, 'I didn't know that the battle was going on at the time...I was totally unaware that it was happening.'"
There's a role for everyone, she suggested, including people who are elderly and house-bound. Noting that the "prayers of the faithful and the blessed move mountains," she declared. "The rest of us can be sitting out here and running and screaming and carrying on and jumping up and down--and one little old lady praying in her bedroom probably does more good than the whole group of us put together."
Southern Baptist Convention:
Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention has so much influence in high places that Time magazine has called him "God's Lobbyist." As Time noted, "The men around his longtime friend George W. Bush don't sit around waiting for Land's call. They reach out to him..."(34) His strength comes not only from his friendship with the President and his other credentials (including degrees from Princeton and Oxford), but also from the fact that he represents the largest Protestant church in America. The Southern Baptists have more than 16 million members and, despite the "Southern" in their name, have churches around the country.
Land, a Southern Baptist minister who is deeply committed to the pro-life cause, heads the church's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. In addition to its heavy involvement in public policy-making, the commission offers to local churches a substantial educational program on life issues.
This was not always the case. In 1971, under the influence of "moderate" or "liberal" leaders, the church's annual convention passed a resolution that called for "a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life"--yet also proposed legislation allowing abortion for hard cases and even when there was "carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother." Emotional and mental health can provide a huge, all-purpose loophole. Coming two years before Roe v. Wade, the Southern Baptist resolution was one of many from Protestant churches that gave a green light to judges and politicians who wanted to reduce or remove legal restrictions on abortion. The Southern Baptists reaffirmed their 1971 position a year after Roe, but they made a radical change in 1980. Noting that all "medical evidence indicates that abortion ends the life of a developing human being," they called for a ban on abortion "except to save the life of the mother." (35)
Dr. Timothy George, dean of a divinity school in Alabama, said the 1980 resolution showed "a widespread reaction of the grass-roots constituency against a denominational bureaucracy from which they felt deep alienation." He thought the church in the early 1970s had suffered from "the erosion of doctrinal substance and the failure to think through theologically the great issues of our time."(36)
The 1980 resolution was an early salvo in conservatives' struggle to regain control of the church's bureaucracy and seminaries. This involved many issues besides abortion; the conservatives' belief in Biblical inerrancy appeared to be at the top of the list. In her Baptist Battles, Nancy Tatom Ammerman described how, at one convention, many conservative delegates had started home after winning one crucial vote, but before a second vote that was also important. Conservative leaders called their people back, and moderates joked "that 173 buses had been ticketed that afternoon for making U-turns on the freeway." The battle was both intense and personally difficult for many church members. Ammerman quoted an elderly delegate who said that conventions used to be "real spiritual, and I'd go home and feel like I'd been in heaven. But not these days. I wish it would go back to the way it was."(37)
When the smoke of battle cleared, the conservatives were in full control. They passed a series of pro-life resolutions and focused much attention on alternatives to abortion. Today Dr. Land's commission offers to local churches literature for use on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in January and also throughout the year. Pamphlets range from "What the Bible Teaches about Abortion" to "Alternatives to Abortion: Suggestions for Action." The commission also raises money to buy ultrasound machines for pregnancy care centers, since experience shows that women are far less likely to have abortions if they see their unborn babies on ultrasound. This is called the "Psalm 139 Project" for the Scriptural verse that proclaims, "Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made..." A project brochure quotes a client who said, "Seeing that picture made my decision for me." Another remarked that her child "was tumbling! I didn't know it would be so developed. I couldn't have an abortion after what I have seen."(38)
Another Southern Baptist agency, the North American Mission Board, helps local churches establish pregnancy care centers. Elaine Ham, who directs the board's pregnancy care ministries, said her work includes training volunteers for new centers and generally assisting as needed. In an interview, she noted there are about 110 affiliated centers that "we correspond with and talk with on a regular basis." She added that the "three states that have the most are Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma. But our centers are located all across the country." A center usually has one paid staff member and relies heavily on volunteers for counseling and other work. The centers are open to women of all faiths or no faith.
Evangelism is "the primary purpose" of the centers, though, according to Ham. She remarked that "when a woman visits a pregnancy care center, it's obviously because she has needs in her life. And those needs can ultimately be met through the hope that's found in Jesus Christ." But she said that if a woman does not want to talk about religion, "certainly, that is respected." Counselors are interested in the fathers of unborn children, as well as the mothers. They encourage a woman "to bring the young man in...because he has questions that need to be answered," Ham noted. "You know, he is often just as frightened as she is" and "not knowing where to turn."
When she was director of a center in South Carolina, Ham wrote about the experience of holding in her arms a baby who had come close to being aborted. At the time his mother first came to her center, "The decision had been made, the verdict had been rendered, and the execution date had been set." But the mother "allowed a volunteer counselor to share with her the love of Jesus Christ." The mother changed her mind and, in subsequent months, "we helped her find a place to live, provided maternity and baby clothes, and offered unconditional love and acceptance." Emphasizing that there are many pregnancy care centers around the country, Ham told her readers, "There's probably one in your town. If not, there should be."(39)
Baptists for Life: Then Sings My Soul
Baptists for Life, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., works mainly with churches in conservative Baptist denominations outside of the Southern Baptist Convention. While national in scope, the Baptists for Life are strongest in the Midwest. They place a high priority on helping their neighbors--especially women with crisis pregnancies and people with chronic or terminal illness--and on evangelism. Executive Director Thomas Lothamer summed up their attitude when he declared, "We're change agents. We're ambassadors. And so let's go."
Established in 1984, the group has an annual budget in the range of $350,000, three full-time staff and four part-timers. It offers high-quality literature--and literature with a punch. One of its "Life Matters" church bulletin inserts, for example, deals with abortion of the handicapped by starting with one question, "Did you have the right to be born?" and ending with another, "How welcome are the disabled in your church?"
The group places much emphasis on medical ethics, offering literature, seminars, and free consulting. Fairly often, Lothamer said, there are calls or e-mails from pastors or families faced with difficult medical decisions, and "we try to guide them from a Biblical perspective." Rev. Mark Blocher, a medical ethicist and a Baptists for Life founder, handles many of these queries as well as ones from doctors.(40)
Realizing that many families need assistance in dealing with chronic or terminal illness, Baptists for Life helps local churches provide the aid. It trains coordinators of volunteers--and sometimes the volunteers themselves--for respite programs that help families care for disabled or dying patients at home. Lothamer noted that this can involve "washing dishes or clothes" or giving family care-givers "a break for the evening or even for an overnight." The program, he said, becomes "a conduit for complete care...emotional, physical and spiritual care, along with what happens from the hospice side." Given "the aging of America," he remarked, "this is going to become a greater and greater ministry for local churches." His group also works with missionaries who are taking the ideas of respite and hospice care to Africa "in light of the AIDS situation" there.
Lothamer estimated that Baptists for Life has started about ten pregnancy care centers over the years. It encourages and assists as many as 200 centers a year through workshops at national conventions and by answering telephone queries. And it helps train pastors overseas in pregnancy care and post-abortion counseling. In dealing with a woman who has a crisis pregnancy, a major goal is "to help that woman spiritually, because we feel that's one of the underlying problems that she's going through," Lothamer commented. How about women who don't want to hear about religion, but just want some help? "There is never, ever, ever, ever any pressure put on a woman," he replied, adding that "you can't shove religion down someone's throat." Such a woman, he said, receives "the same care and help that any other woman would receive."
Lothamer acknowledged that negative influences in American culture make his work harder, but suggested that "God does some of his greatest work" when things seem impossible. "And yes, if you looked at the big picture and you thought, 'Oh, man, we're getting bombarded; we're getting beat up'--all that--you might quit. But you don't quit because you know each day is a new opportunity."
African American Churches: Michael, Row the Boat Ashore
Although African Americans make up only about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 30 percent or more of abortions each year. It's estimated that they have lost 14 million of their children to abortion since 1973.(41) Rev. Dr. Johnny Hunter once said that "we just can't keep taking that kind of hit....Just give us a generation or two and we'll be on the endangered species list." Dr. Hunter, a longtime pro-life activist and an ordained minister with credentials from several churches, heads a group called LEARN (Life Education and Resource Network). He and his LEARN colleagues use prayer, education and demonstrations in their struggle against abortion. He believes that "the majority of the black community is more pro-life than anything else." He declared: "Blacks were never taught to destroy their children; even in slavery they tried to hold onto their children."(42)
Where are the key black churches on the issue? Eight major denominations--four Baptist, three Methodist, and the Church of God in Christ--together claim over 23 million members. Most of them apparently have no recent statements on abortion. But the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church has issued pro-life statements, and its social action committee recently established a task force on abortion. Denominational pro-lifers hope this will, as one said, "put some feet" on the official position. Writing in the AME Church's Christian Recorder newspaper two years ago, Tennessee pastor Joseph Parker declared that many "battles for right and justice are far from over," including the one "to abolish abortion in our nation." He urged his readers: "...let's get moving--in prayer, in crying out and in opposition to abortion on every front. Let's, by God's power, grace, and mercy, bring this terrible thing to a halt."(43)
But many black pastors, like many white ones, avoid the issue in their sermons. Dr. Hunter, in a 1996 newspaper interview, noted that there are "inner-city pastors who are dealing with members of the congregation being gunned down in the streets, or trying to get someone off of drugs--they have so many other battles already, that they feel like they have their hands full." But some pastors, he added, are "scairdy cats" and "not really pastors" when it comes to abortion. He recalled one "who was honest enough to tell me, 'Brother, I love you, but if I get involved in this thing, tithes would go down; people would stop paying tithes in my church. But I'll be praying for you.'"(44) Some pastors are clearly on the other side. Rev. Clenard Childress, a New Jersey minister and a major LEARN leader, noted that "many a pastor supports Planned Parenthood, which is the leading abortion provider in the country," and/or the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Childress added that "we have our work cut out for us." They don't have much money for that work; Hunter said the LEARN budget "is always tiny," usually in the range of $30,000 to $70,000. But he added that "God has a way of just helping us out, anyway." He also remarked that the "thing that has blessed me the most" is that young people are involved.(45)
Day Gardner heads Black Americans for Life, an outreach group of the National Right to Life Committee. Gardner, who has a background in business and entertainment, describes herself as a "born-again Christian." While black pastors know that some women in their churches are having abortions, she remarked, "I think a lot of them don't know the rate at which we are aborting our children." Still, she said, it "baffles me" that pastors can "skip around such an important issue." She doesn't think the answer is to organize pro-life groups within the major denominations but, rather, to work across church boundary lines. Black pro-life leaders understand, she said, "that there's no one church or group" that by itself can stop "the horror of killing these beautiful children." The leaders, she declared, are "out their stomping...and we're speaking and we're traveling...we're just doing everything that we can." She often speaks to church congregations and believes that she's "an easier messenger for black women." When a man speaks on the issue, she said, "a woman tends to think, 'Well, you haven't walked in my shoes. You don't know what it is to go through childbirth'" or to be a single mother.
A few years ago, Gardner got together with seven other African American women, including both professionals and "stay-at-home moms." They decided that "we are not going to be quiet" about abortion anymore, but will "talk about it to our families, to our children, to our churches, to our friends, our co-workers." They call their group the Coalition of Women; Gardner lost track of the number of members after it reached 250. There are no dues or by-laws, and news of the group spreads mainly by word-of-mouth. Gardner's office sends a "Welcome aboard" letter to black women who want to join and also sends them information or a speaker as needed.
"But when it comes down to where the rubber hits the road," said Pastor Childress, most African Americans don't vote for pro-life candidates. Instead, they vote for ones they believe "can do us immediate economic good." He suggested that "we're not looking at our destiny and our inheritance that we have in our children." Black voters' strong allegiance to the Democratic Party is a concern he shares with Dr. Hunter and Day Gardner. They realize that the Democratic Party's embrace of the civil-rights movement in recent decades explains much of black voters' loyalty, but they want to see their community become more independent in politics. "I've always said that the pro-life movement is the true civil rights movement of this present day," Childress remarked. Gardner said she votes not for the party, but for "the pro-life candidate."
Pastor Childress hopes to reach many fellow pastors through relatively inexpensive programs on black radio, "because preachers listen to black radio to get a barometer on what other preachers are doing." A pastor "is concerned, because of our competitive nature, about what the church down the street is doing," Childress commented. "He's concerned about the big shots in his area. So he always goes to black gospel radio."
Childress does not hesitate to use the word "genocide" in speaking of abortion's effects on the black community; in fact, his web site's address is www.blackgenocide.org. He said that in a recent month there were "over half a million hits" on the site. Dr. Hunter's site, www.learninc.org, includes material on eugenics.
They already have some deeply-committed pastors involved in LEARN. If they can enlist many more, they will make a huge difference. The church is central to the lives of many African Americans. It's their historic refuge--a place of warmth and welcome, glorious singing, and powerful preaching. Their tradition of dialogue between pastor and congregation helps ensure that people won't be nodding off at key moments. "Black preachers demand participation from their congregations," the authors of Spoken Soul explain. "If they so much as sense a lull, they will not hesitate to ask, 'I'm not boring y'all, am I?' or 'How much time I got left?' To which the only proper response, of course, is a hearty 'No sir!' or 'Take your time, Preach!'" A good preacher can introduce a difficult topic with skill and humor. Thus the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, a Chicago pastor, once told his congregation to "turn to your neighbor and tell them, 'He's going there.'" Then he directed them to "turn to the other side and say, 'I wish he wouldn't.'"(46)
Sister, Help to Trim the Sails
Rev. Janine Simpson, an African American, has in-depth experience in trying to develop more pregnancy care centers in urban neighborhoods around the country. Until recently, she directed urban center development for Care Net, a huge network of pregnancy centers with an evangelical orientation. There's "a disproportionate number of pregnancy centers located in suburban and rural areas," Simpson wrote in a recent article, "compared to urban areas where abortion rates are the highest." While she, like LEARN leaders, criticized Planned Parenthood for targeting minority neighborhoods, she acknowledged that: "Many urban communities view Planned Parenthood as a trusted friend that wants to help, not harm them.... Some people question the validity of any voice that speaks against Planned Parenthood." Also, she said, "The Right to Life movement is seen as a Republican issue."
Simpson said Care Net is working with 16 efforts around the country to develop urban pregnancy care centers. (Some of the centers have opened already.) She believes that the "optimum mix of services for an urban center must be more comprehensive than for suburban centers" because poverty and other problems are so much greater in the cities.(47)
In Louisiana, Barbara and Charles Thomas have developed such a comprehensive program in their North Baton Rouge Women's Help Center. The couple, who are now on the LEARN board, opened the center in their own home in the early 1990s. By 1995, with help from many volunteers, they opened a newly-renovated building for the center. (48) In addition to pregnancy counseling and free baby and maternity items, the center offers prenatal and parent education classes for parents--men as well as women. In a recent interview, Mrs. Thomas, the executive director, said that "we use one of those sessions" for spiritual issues, to "mature them once they give their lives to the Lord." The center also offers a GED and literacy program so young mothers and fathers can obtain high school equivalency diplomas, or at least upgrade their reading and language skills. The local public school system provides the teachers for this program, Thomas said, "and we provide the space and the students."
Thomas is trying to raise funds to "deal with actual job training," too, in fields such as computers, cosmetology, carpentry, and masonry. She has a donated warehouse for the space, and she hopes a local community college will provide the teachers. (Partnerships, she remarked are "the key to getting a whole lot of this accomplished.") The students probably will pay sliding-scale fees rather than full tuition.
The Women's Help Center has a medical director for general supervision, plus a staff doctor who comes in on a regular basis. While the center points clients toward eventual self-sufficiency, right now many clients need Medicaid assistance for prenatal care; so the center also serves as a Medicaid application center. Thomas wants to take this "a step farther" and have her staff doctor "go ahead and see them throughout" pregnancy. Medicaid will reimburse the center for that service; the extra income will not be "a whole lot" she commented, but "it'll add up."
The center has financial support from individuals, businesses, and several churches, and Thomas hopes to obtain more. She already has opened a second center in Baton Rouge. All of this keeps her quite busy, but she wishes that she had the time to travel elsewhere and say, "Okay, hey! We gotta do more."
The Latter-day Saints Do Not Quite Go Marching In, Yet...
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has over five million members in the U.S.; they are called Latter-day Saints or, more frequently, Mormons. Their Church opposes abortion, but allows some exceptions. Church spokeswoman Kim Farah quoted the following from a handbook used in counseling members: "The Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience. Members must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion. The only possible exceptions are when: 1. Pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. 2. A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy. 3. A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth."(49)
A church web site emphasizes that a child "is a gift from our Creator" and that human life "is sacred and should be treated with reverence from its beginning to its end." The Mormons are also noted for their strong emphasis on family life.(50)
The Church does not, however, have a respect-life educational program. Farah said that it's "not affiliated with any pro-life movement" and that pro-life talks "are not given from the pulpit." She emphasized, though, that "the Church's position on abortion is quite clear to those of the faith." (51)
Mormon members of the U.S. Senate are supporting embryonic stem-cell research. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), although generally a strong opponent of abortion, has become a leader in the effort to gain more federal funding for such research. Some observers have attributed the position of Mormon senators to the Church's theology, which they say is ambivalent on when human life begins. Farah reported that the Church "does not have a current position on stem-cell research." But she also said: "We have no position on when the spirit enters the body." Senator Hatch has said he believes "that human life begins in the womb, not a petri dish or refrigerator." Human embryologists, however, say it begins at fertilization, (52) and fertilization now occurs either the old-fashioned way or in a petri dish during a laboratory process. So destroying an embryo to obtain its stem cells for research is an early form of abortion. By ignoring scientific evidence on when each human life begins, Hatch and others are following the bad example set by the late Justice Harry Blackmun and his colleagues in Roe v.Wade. But this problem is by no means unique to Mormons.
The Latter-day Saints have an agency called LDS Family Services that offers pregnancy counseling and other assistance to women in need. The service is free and available to women outside the Church as well as to Mormons. An LDS Family Services brochure speaks of helping "make plans for you and your baby." The only explicit reference to abortion that I found, on one of the agency's videos, is negative. It shows a boyfriend's parents, who clearly want their son to avoid his responsibility, treating the girlfriend in a hostile way and suggesting an abortion to her. "I've always thought abortion was wrong," the young woman recalls later, "but it was hard for me." She says that she listened to her heart and "knew that wasn't the right thing to do."
Another video shows a young woman who goes back and forth between "keeping my baby or adoption." That video does not seem biased on the question one way or the other. But the first video leans strongly to the adoption side and is, in this writer's view, too negative about single motherhood. It's not the ideal, but many women--unmarried, divorced, or widowed--have brought up children by themselves and done it very well. Over-all, though, the brochures and videos are professionally done, attractive, sympathetic to the young women, and clearly pro-baby.(53)
Pro-life Quakers: Let Your Life Speak
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in a collection of denominational statements friendly to its point of view, includes one from the American Friends Service Committee. Quakers (Friends) started the committee for relief work in the early 1900s; but many people involved in it today are not Friends. The committee speaks for itself alone; it has no authority over the Friends or their yearly meetings around the country.(54) (The term "yearly meetings" does not refer only to those annual events, but to the groups, usually regionally-based, that sponsor the annual meetings and provide a base for activity between meetings.)
There is far more diversity among the approximately 200,000 Quakers in this country than outsiders realize. They have no national policy group to speak for everyone; their yearly meetings are autonomous. There's a substantial group of evangelicals among the Friends, and they tend to oppose abortion. Many others, of a more "liberal" theological view, do not believe abortion is wrong and/or believe it should be legal. But there are exceptions among the liberals; the traditional Quaker witness for peace leads them to oppose abortion, and they identify with the consistent ethic of life. (55)
One of them, Missouri psychologist and writer Rachel MacNair, is a past president of Feminists for Life of America and the author of several books. In a 1999 article for Quaker Life, MacNair stressed the violence of abortion, calling it "a brutality forced upon fetal children by sharp instruments or chemical poisons." She also appealed to the Quaker belief in human equality. "If we take an entire class of human beings and put them outside the protection of the human community," she wrote, "we've not only ignored the equality of human beings, but sabotaged all other claims to such equality." MacNair has a Ph.D. in psychology, and her speciality is the horrific effects that killing often has on those who do it. She emphasizes this with respect to abortion clinic staff as well as executioners and soldiers.(56)
Marylander Bill Samuel, Webservant of QuakerInfo.com, was active in a Quaker peace vigil at the White House during the Vietnam War. One day, two other vigilers were late returning from an errand. They had happened on a demonstration against the Catholic Church's pro-life position. "My friends felt compelled to counter-demonstrate," Samuel wrote years later. He added that their "deep conviction that abortion was contrary to the will of God brought me to seriously consider the issue for the first time." The "consistency" position of these and other vigilers made sense to Samuel, who is currently president of Consistent Life and a board member of Democrats for Life of Maryland. He also volunteers at a pregnancy aid center. He has found that: "My pro-choice friends basically seem to accept the world's assumptions about 'unwanted' children and women's options. My pro-life friends reject these assumptions, assuming that God can redeem any situation."(57)
Peace In the Valley?
There is so much splendid pro-life work in the Christian churches--and more now than ever before--that one hesitates to offer criticisms. Yet evading some real problems will not make them go away. Confronting and dealing with them should enhance the pro-life work of religious groups.
The political struggle against abortion and euthanasia has lasted so long and has been so difficult and bitter, that even many deeply religious pro-lifers have come to think of their adversaries as permanent enemies rather than people who can be won over. Some "Religious Right" groups and leaders have encouraged this attitude, especially by shrill language in fund-raising appeals and press releases. This is not true of most groups covered in this series, but the public tends to assume that the loudest and shrillest speak for everyone. Now that overturn of Roe v. Wade may be in sight, it is time--actually, long past time--for the ultra-shrill to moderate their language so they won't, as the saying goes,"snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."
There are language and symbolism problems besides shrillness, though, and they apply to people in the best of groups. The tendency of some evangelicals to divide nearly everything into the "godly" and the "ungodly" is annoying to many outside their community. The emotional style of charismatics and Pentecostals, when evident in public demonstrations, bewilders and sometimes frightens people from more reserved traditions. And it's counterproductive when Catholics emphasize distinctively Catholic symbols--rosaries, crucifixes, and statues--in pro-life marches and protests that are addressed to secular officials and the public at large. This reinforces the sincere, though mistaken, impression of many that abortion is a religious issue only-and a Catholic issue above all. Pro-life leaders, scholars and attorneys can make an eloquent human-rights case--one that appeals to people of all faiths or no faith--until they are blue in the face; but when the symbolism of demonstrators is overwhelmingly sectarian, that overrides all the eloquent statements. There's a similar problem with letters to public officials, if one can judge by the protest mail that Justice Blackmun received about Roe v.Wade and other abortion decisions. A large portion of that mail protested on religious grounds alone. The writers seemed to forget they were addressing a secular judge who was supposed to rule on the law and the Constitution.(58)
A practical start in dealing with this problem would be to convince people that, for every banner, sign or statement that's religious in nature, there should be at least one or two that are not. "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," for example, would be a good start. Law professor Helen Alvaré, who used to be the spokeswoman for the Catholic bishops on life issues, was outstanding in that role partly because she understood the importance of "the language of the American experiment," including the Declaration of Independence and "other great documents in our tradition." In political settings, she said, "I make sure that they understand that our tradition of respect for life--our Catholic tradition--is beautifully consonant with what America hopes for itself." Alvaré remarked that "in a Republican setting I do it one way, and then in a Democratic setting I do it another way." Either tradition, she added, "has within it enough to support that pro-life case." (59)
It's important, also, to be sensitive to the concerns that millions of Americans have about separation of church and state. Many ardent pro-lifers are also ardent in wanting to keep the Ten Commandments on the courthouse lawn, the Christmas creche in front of city hall, and government money for the good works of faith-based groups. They assume that opposition to such practices comes mainly from atheists. In fact, much of it comes from fellow believers who are keenly aware of the misery caused by church-state combinations throughout history. Jews, Huguenots, Quakers, Irish Catholics, and many other groups--remembering terrible persecution of their ancestors--can testify to that misery.
Some people also fear that government subsidy of religious groups means a buy-out of religious leadership (a realistic fear, in this writer's view). (60) Much historical evidence suggests that a clear separation between church and state is best for both institutions. When Christians keep pressing for government endorsement of religious views and symbols, they feed the fears of theocracy that many Americans have. Those fears are genuine; they grow stronger as religious conservatives gain more political power, both here and around the world; and they could produce a backlash that will drag the pro-life cause down. Asking special favors from government also creates a priorities problem that need not exist, making it easier for politicians to buy off religious leaders with subsidies or symbolic gestures instead of delivering on issues that have a high political cost--by opposing embryonic stem-cell research, for example.
It's time to put away the lures of triumphalism, while staying focused on the crucial work of saving lives. It is also time to think about olive branches for adversaries, who really need not be permanent enemies. Courage remains essential to winning the victory, but humility and restraint are needed to achieve true peace in the valley.
Where quotations are not cited to notes, they are from one of the following interviews by the author (telephone interviews unless otherwise indicated): Network), 28 Jan. 2005 Life Committee, 1 Aug. 2005 Baptist Convention, 1 Oct. 2004 1 Oct. 2004 & 10 June 2005 28 July 2005, e-mail replies to queries 29 Sept. 2004 & 8 June 2005 Conference of Catholic Bishops, 28 Sept. 2004 & 27 July 2005 Center, 9 & 15 Aug. 2005
Network), 28 Jan. 2005
Life Committee, 1 Aug. 2005
Baptist Convention, 1 Oct. 2004
1 Oct. 2004 & 10 June 2005
28 July 2005, e-mail replies to queries
29 Sept. 2004 & 8 June 2005
Conference of Catholic Bishops, 28 Sept. 2004
& 27 July 2005
Center, 9 & 15 Aug. 2005
1. Membership figures for the Catholic Church, and for other churches referred to later, are from "inclusive membership" figures in Eileen W. Lindner, ed. Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, 2004 (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2004). The figures are not strictly comparable, however, since some churches count infants and young children, while others do not. And the Yearbook, 357, warns that some churches make "very careful counts" of members while others simply "make estimates."
2. Marianne Luthin, interviews by author, 24 & 25 May 2005.
3. Kathleen Dooley Polcha, interview by author, 1 Aug. 2005; and "Lifeline," www.stlprolife.org, accessed 14 June 2005.
4. "Hot Line Targets Suicide, Abortion," Washington Times, 7 Aug. 1996, A-2; David Crumm, "Church Line Brings Help to Desperate Individuals," Detroit Free Press, 27 Aug. 1997, 1-A & 8-A; and Angela Nooe (of Project Life), interview by author, 4 Oct. 1999.
5. Paul Yasenak, C.SS.R., interview by author, 8 June 2005.
6. The web site for Pennsylvania's Gabriel Project offers much information; see www.gabrielproject.com.
7. See www.hopeafterabortion.com.
8. Philip Reilly, interview by author, 18 Jan. 1999 & 8 Aug. 2005; and www.members.aol.com/infants1 (web site of Msgr. Reilly's group, the Helpers of God's Precious Infants).
9. See www.nchla.org.
10. USCCB, "Catholic Bishops Launch Stem Cell Ads Nationwide," 20 Oct. 2004; www.usccb.org/prolife/stemcellads.htm, accessed 23 May 2005; Cathy Cleaver Ruse, quoted in USCCB, "Catholics Send Millions of Postcards...," 14 April 2005; and Gail Quinn, "Use Today's Powerful Tools to Spread the Word," 6 May 2005, 2.
11. Impressive organizing efforts of the abolitionists are described in Mary Meehan, "Lessons from History," Human Life Review 25, no. 3 (Summer 1999), 21-34.
12. Nicole M. Callahan, "Seeds of Change at Georgetown," American Feminist 11, nos. 2-3 (Summer/Fall 2004), 12-14, 14. See, also, Callahan's "Revolution on Campus" in the same issue, 3-8. More information is available at www.feministsforlife.org.
13. "History," www.sistersoflife.org; and John Burger, "'My Cathedral Is Here,'" Catholic New York, 24 Nov. 1994, 3.
14. Agnes Mary Donovan, interviews by author, 19 Oct. 1996 & 8 June 2005; and "New Postulants," Sisters of Life newsletter, no. 19 (Christmas 2004), 3-4; "Community Life," www.sistersoflife.org, accessed 8 Aug. 2005; and Sisters of Life newsletter, no. 20 (June 2005), .
15. Jerry Horn, 16 Nov. 2004, 31 May 2005, & 2 June 2005, e-mail replies to queries from author; and www.priestsforlife.org.
16. Unnamed minister, quoted by Ernest Ohlhoff (of the National Right to Life Committee), interview by author, 17 Dec. 2004.
17. Attributed to Epictetus, Fragments (abridged version), in Charles W. Eliot, ed., The Harvard Classics (New York: P. F. Collier, 1937), vol. 2, 184.
18. Brandi Dean, "Pro-Life Group Begins First Discernment Retreat," Amarillo Globe-News, 25 June 2005; and Brandi Dean, "Potential Priests Try Out the Pro-Life Life," ibid., 26 June 2005, both accessed through www.priestsforlife.org.
19. See "Frequently-Asked Questions about the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life" and "The Missionaries of the Gospel of Life: Activities and Spirituality," www.priestsforlife.org, accessed 29 July 2005.
20. Brandi Dean (n. 18, first article).
21. "Information," "Letter from Brother Paul" and "Vocation Stories/Br. Hilary," www.brothersofpeace.org, accessed 3 Aug. 2005; and Paul O'Donnell, fbp, 1 & 2 Aug. 2005, e-mail replies to queries from author.
22. Jacki Ragan, "The Passing of a Much Beloved Man," National Right to Life News, Sept. 2003, accessed through www.nrlc.org/news; and Associated Press, "Loyal Monks Help Schiavo's Parents," 30 March 2005, accessed through www.msnbc.msn.com. Brother Paul and Brother Michael co-founded the Pro-Life Action Ministries, St. Paul, Minn., in 1981; that group is still active, especially in sidewalk counseling, and Brother Paul serves on its board of directors. O'Donnell (n. 21, 1 Aug. 2005).
23. "The Franciscan Daughters of Mary," "Our Prayer Life," and "Our Apostolate," www.franciscandaughtersofmary.org.; Sister Mary Augustine, FDM, 3 Aug. 2005, e-mail reply to queries from author; and Sister Mary Augustine, FDM, interview by author, 4 Aug. 2005.
24. "Milestones in the Crusade for Life" and "Pro-Life Programs & Initiatives," www.kofc.org, accessed 14 June 2005; and [Carl Anderson], Report of the Supreme Knight, 2 Aug. 2005, Chicago, Ill., printed version, 3-12, 25-28, & 32-40, accessed through www.kofc.org. The figure for donations to pro-life programs is based on the total reported for state and local councils (p. 11 of the Supreme Knight's report) and the national group's total (p. 34).
25. Ibid., 26; "Nomination of Judge John G. Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court" and "Resolution on Roe v. Wade, 4 Aug. 2005, www.kofc.org.
26. Greg Schleppenbach, interviews by author, 23 Dec. 1998 & 10 June 2005; and www.nebrccc.org and www.ethicalresearch.net, accessed 13 Aug. 2005.
27. National Council of Catholic Women, Respite Manual (Washington: NCCW, 2nd ed., rev., ; Annette Kane, interview by author, 29 Sept. 1999; and Annette Perry, interview by author, 8 Aug. 2005. Unfortunately, though, the current number of volunteers apparently is about half the number in 1999. Perhaps the program needs higher priority or a jump-start. (The program manual, video, and brochure may be ordered through www.nccw.org/publications.)
28. Valerie H. Protopapas, letter quoted in J. P. McFadden, "Introduction," Human Life Review 8, no. 3 (Summer 1982), 5-7. In her letter, Mrs. Protopapas referred to President Ronald Reagan; he responded to her, and this led to a Reagan essay in a subsequent issue of the Review. See vol. 30, no. 3 (Summer 2004), 56-65, for background and a reprint of the Reagan essay.
29. "Orthodox Christians for Life" brochure, 1991, rev. On the diversity within Orthodoxy, see Peter W. Williams, America's Religions (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 302-308.
30. The Orthodox Christians for Life ProLife Handbook (Melville, N.Y.: Orthodox Christians for Life, 2002), 3, accessed on www.oclife.org, names "ectopic pregnancy or a hysterectomy for a cancerous uterus" as examples, saying that "there is really no choice as both mother and the child will die unless medical intervention takes place."
31. Ibid., 7.
32. Quoted in John T. Noonan, Jr., "An Almost Absolute Value in History," in John T. Noonan, Jr., ed., The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), 17.
33. Orthodox Christians for Life ProLife Handbook (n. 30), 48.
34. "God's Lobbyist," Time, 7 Feb. 2005, 42-43.
35. "Southern Baptist Convention," in J. Gordon Melton and Gary L. Ward, ed., The Churches Speak On: Abortion (Detroit: Gale Research, 1989), 153-154.
36. Timothy George, "Southern Baptist Heritage of Life" (Nashville: Christian Life Commission, Southern Baptist Convention, 1993), 4 & 14. The SBC's old Christian Life Commission is now the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
37. Nancy Tatom Ammerman, Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1990), 10-11 & 169.
38. Psalm 139:13-14 (New American Bible); and "He Knew Me from the Very Beginning: Psalm 139 Project" brochure, n.d., received from the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in July 2005. For other information on life issues, see: www.erlc/issues.
39. Elaine Ham, "First Hand Account from a PCC Director," www.namb.net., accessed 15 Aug. 2005. (On this site, search for "Pregnancy Care Ministries.")
40. For more information on this and other programs, see www.bfl.org.
41. Rachel K. Jones and others, "Patterns in the Socioeconomic Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions in 2000-2001, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Sept./Oct. 2002, 228, table 1; and "Black Americans for Life" brochure, Washington, D.C., n.d., [received Aug. 2005].The Black Americans for Life estimate of 14 million African American abortions since 1973 seems reasonable to this writer. But there are enormous difficulties in finding the actual number because of statisticians' tendency to group most non-white races together, the ambiguity of the "Hispanic" label, under-reporting from some states, and varying black abortion rates over the years.
42. Johnny Hunter, "African Americans for Life," interview with Gulf Coast Christian Newspaper, Feb. & March 1996, www.siteone.com/religion.
43. Author's checks with denominational headquarters, Jan., Feb. & Aug., 2005; Joseph Parker, interview by author, 15 Aug. 2005; Luke Robinson (an AME pastor in Maryland), interview by author, 16 Aug. 2005; and Joseph Parker, "Taking a Stand for Justice," Christian Recorder, 17 Feb. 2003.
44. Hunter (n. 42).
45. Johnny Hunter, interview by author, 8 Aug. 2005.
46. John Russell Rickford and Russell John Rickford, Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English (New York: John Wiley, 2000), 51-52.
47. Janine Simpson, "The Urban Initiative," Center of Tomorrow, Spring 2005, 5-20, 8-9, 18, 19, & 11-12, accessed through www.care-net.org. See, also, Sheryl Blunt, "Saving Black Babies," Christianity Today, Feb. 2003, accessed through www.christianitytoday.com.
48. See www.nbrwhc.org.
49. Kim Farah, 29 July 2005, e-mail reply to queries from author. Farah described the source as "a general handbook of instructions which is not published but is made available to Church leaders to counsel members." Yet an official Church web site presents a 1973 statement--which it says "is still applicable today"--that does not include exceptions for incest or lethal fetal handicaps. (See "Frequently Asked Questions/Social Issues," www.mormon.org, accessed 2 Aug. 2005.) On the other hand, the language quoted by Farah is firmer than the 1973 statement when it says members may not "encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion" outside of the exceptions. Farah said the two statements were "intended for different audiences" and that www.mormon.org "is a missionary site," while the handbook "is much more detailed" and gives "context and clarity." (Kim Farah, 9 Aug. 2005, e-mail reply to queries from author.)
50. "Frequently Asked Questions," "Children Are a Gift from God," and "God's Plan for Families," www.mormon.org, accessed 2 Aug. 2005.
51. Farah (n. 49, 29 July 2005).
52. Drew Clark, "The Mormon Stem-Cell Choir," 3 Aug. 2001, www.slate.msn.com; Lawrence Wright, "Lives of the Saints," New Yorker, 21 Jan. 2002, 40-57, 57; Farah (n. 49, both e-mail replies); "Statement of Senator Orrin G. Hatch on Stem Cell Research," 17 July 2001, www.hatch.senate.gov; Keith L. Moore and others Color Atlas of Clinical Embryology (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1994),1; and T. W. Sadler, Langman's Medical Embryology (Baltimore; Williams & Wilkins, 7th ed., 1995), 3.
53. "Single and Pregnant: Help for Birth Mothers" (LDS Family Services/Intellectual Reserve, 2001), brochure; "Single & Pregnant: Considering Your Options" (LDS Family Services/Intellectual Reserve, 2000), video; and "Where There's Help, There's Hope" (LDS Family Services/Intellectual Reserve, 2002), video. (Many thanks to the Church's Michael von Rosen, who provided the brochure and videos.)
54. Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, "We Affirm: Religious Organizations Support Reproductive Choice" (Washington: RCRC, n.d.), ; and Bill Samuel, 17 Jan. 2005, e-mail reply to queries from author.
55. Bill Samuel, in a 19 Jan. 2005 e-mail response to queries from the author, was helpful on diversity among the Friends. He noted, for example, that "in the U.S., Guatemala and Bolivia there are often more than one yearly meeting operating in the same geographic area" and that this is "due mostly to schisms." Williams (n. 29), 128-134, also gives useful background on the Friends.
56. Rachel MacNair, "A Consistent Pro-Life Ethic..." Quaker Life, April 1999, www.fum.org; and Rachel M. MacNair, Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress: The Psychological Consequences of Killing (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood/Praeger, 2002).
57. Bill Samuel, "Reflections on Personal Discernment: The Abortion Issue," Dec. 1994, www.seamless-garment.org, accessed 6 Jan. 2005.
58. Based on the writer's research in the Harry A. Blackmun Papers, Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. But there was such a huge volume of unanswered abortion mail in his papers that the Library of Congress didn't keep most of it. "Following a systematic sample taken by Library staff of the unanswered abortion mail, ten percent of that correspondence was retained." Connie L. Cartledge and others, Harry A. Blackmun: A Register of His Papers in the Library of Congress (Washington: Library of Congress, 2003), 5.
59. Helen Alvaré, "Communicating the Culture of Life to a Secular Culture," address at a conference in Washington, D.C., 24 March 2000, transcript, 6-7, author's files.
60. For excellent comments on the temptations of political power for religious leaders, see Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded By Might (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan/HarperCollins, 1999).