With spirit and enthusiasm, the keynote speaker at Life Legal’s Fall banquet (Nov. 11, 1999, Oakland, Calif.) used common sense, philosophy and theology to encourage his audience to keep fighting for the right to life.
The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, exhorted the attentive audience of more than 200 people to respond to the “urgent need” to defend life at every stage of development, from conception to natural death. A Catholic priest, Pavone stressed the ecumenical nature of his mission and the common ground between clerical efforts and the work of Life Legal Defense Foundation.“ There is a kinship between our work,” he said.
“Where are people able to hear the truth” about abortion, euthanasia and related subjects? Not in public schools or the mainstream media, he said, “although our efforts in those areas must never slacken. The two great areas still open to the truth are the pulpits and the streets.” Priests for Life trains and encourages leaders of all faiths to take public stands with their congregations on life issues. Meanwhile, pro-life individuals, including those defended by LLDF, speak from the streets.
“This is the hope of turning America around on these critical life issues,” he said. “Together we will turn this nation around,” Pavone said. He firmly believes that with God’s help, eventual victory is guaranteed. “What’s in question is not the final outcome of the battle, but the final outcome of us. You and I are in the middle of this battle whether we like it or not.”
Knowing that many attorneys were in the audience, Pavone spoke about the contradictory nature of laws governing life issues. He remembered a woman in Idaho who had changed her mind after hearing him tell how the law protected animals, but not unborn children. The church-going woman approached Pavone after the service at which he had preached. She said she had entered church that day “100 percent pro-abortion,” but changed her mind after hearing him tell about how sea turtles are protected. Pavone had once walked up to a sign on a Florida beach while visiting that state during one of his many trips for Priests for Life. The sign warned people away from an area where sea turtle eggs were incubating. “Do not touch the sea turtles or their eggs. They are protected by local, state and federal law,” the sign proclaimed. Meanwhile, in nearby cities, unborn human children were being aborted. “It made (her) think,” Pavone said. “What in the world is going on? We don’t have the right to smash a turtle egg, but we can kill an unborn child.”
At the Supreme Court level, Pavone found contradictions between the Roe v.Wade ruling that made abortion legal in the United States in January of 1972, and the case of Sierra Club v. Morton handed down just eight months earlier. In the Sierra Club case, the court wrote a life-affirming, almost poetic opinion saying just as the ordinary corporation is a person as it approaches the court, so should land, nature and air be considered persons in the eyes of the law. Those inanimate objects “form the core of American beauty,” and those “inanimate objects should have standing” before the court, the majority agreed. Eight months later, the same court ruled that “the word person as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does not include the unborn,” Pavone said.
The justices in the Roe majority said they were unsure whether the unborn child was a human covered under the Constitution. Lacking proof, they leaned toward the right of adults to decide the unborn child’s fate. “You don’t know if it’s a human being, but it’s OK to destroy it,” Pavone said, immediately pointing out how other laws forbid the use of lethal force when there is doubt. For example, if unsure whether a figure behind a tree is a bear or a man, a hunter may not shoot. The hunter must be sure before he fires.
The issue raises the “question of the authority of the government itself—Do we have the authority to declare what might be human?” “When people see clear violations of the eternal law by the (civil) law, we’re in an arena which is a prelude to martyrdom. What is a martyr?” Pavone asked. “One who does not have the right to hold on to life if holding on betrays the One who has absolute dominion over life.” It is the opposite of suicide, he said, pointing out that the martyr does not seek death. “You, brothers and sisters, are working in the antechambers of martyrdom,” Pavone said to the LLDF audience. When the law restricts people from using public sidewalks and steadily shrinks the size of signs they may carry, “how far will it go before someone comes along and says you are breaking the law if you speak against abortion? If you think against abortion? If you preach against abortion?” Part of his job is to give people “the courage to be martyrs,” Pavone said, while LLDF’s job “is to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Even with support from organizations such as LLDF, there will be pain for those who support life, Pavone said. “The good news is that life will win. The bad news is that in the process, we suffer.”
Using theology, Pavone pointed out that abortion is “exactly the opposite of love. Love is sacrifice of the self for the good of the other person. Abortion is sacrifice of the other person for the good of the self.” In addition, abortion supporters have twisted Jesus’s words at the Last Supper.
Anticipating his sacrificial death, Christ said, “This is my body, which will be given up for you.” The abortion movement says, “This is my body, don’t tell me what to do with it.” In our society, which “has absolutely gone crazy with death,” false gods encourage people to turn suffering into violence. “The true God transforms violence into suffering,” he said. The suffering of one once-anonymous woman has been transformed for good in recent years, he said. “You know what is the biggest failure of Roe v. Wade?” he asked the audience. “It is that Roe is now pro-life.”
Norma McCorvey, who Pavone said has suffered greatly, used to be the symbol for abortion. Recently she converted to Catholicism, crediting Pavone for introducing her to the Catholic faith. However, Pavone said the first step in her conversion came when she received an apology from the director of Operation Rescue for critical remarks he had made about her. “She began to realize that ‘evil is not me. He can respect me while hating what I do.’ ”
In that spirit, Pavone urged respect for the dignity of every single human life.He reminded listeners that “the only way some of the pro-abortion people are going to come over is if we respect them. They themselves betray that dignity, but they don’t lose it,” he said. He also encouraged those who defend life at every stage to “let no one ever tell you that you belong to a movement that is narrow, that is exclusive.”
The supporters of unborn children, of retarded, brain-damaged or disabled people, of old people close to death—“We are the ones with open arms.”