Attorney Rich Ackerman was raised in a pro-life Catholic family, but the issue wasn’t a major concern until the day he learned that a girlfriend had aborted his child. In the 17 years since that life-changing moment, he has completed law school, founded two pregnancy centers in southern California, and started a non-profit law firm that works on pro-life causes. He also is a partner in a traditional law firm. He and his wife are the parents of four children.
What inspires your pro-life work?
I grew up Catholic so a pro-life attitude was present in my household. Then I had a relationship with somebody who aborted our child without telling me. I found out after the fact. That was 17 years ago; I am 37 now. Although I doubt I will see Roe v. Wade go by the wayside in my lifetime, I do think each of us has to do what we can for life. Legal or illegal, the fallout for families from abortion is the same. It hurts and it ain’t good. Even if we can’t knock Roe v. Wade out, we have a duty to act, a duty to engage in peaceful action, to help the individual.
What influenced you to use your knowledge of law in the cause of life?
Dana Cody and I went to the same law school. She had started the Republican Law Student Association and I joined. We were a minority — the whole five of us. We had to hang together. Later, we kept up with each other’s work and have continued to do so.
Given your experience, what do you think of the role of fathers in decisions for or against abortion?
For the first nine months, fathers have no sayso. A man is not deemed a father until the baby is born. Sometimes, once the child is here, the child is used as a pawn. One of the worst things you can do for families is to deprive a father of his chance to be a regular father. If we were more inclusive as a society, we probably would have fewer guys feeling disconnected.
Can you update us on your current case for Life Legal Defense Foundation?
The case against Planned Parenthood involves a former chief financial officer of Planned Parenthood and is on appeal. This is California, and I can’t predict where the case will go, but as we have seen in many abortion cases, what is right doesn’t really matter. In this case the issue of failure to report suspected abuse of minors is clear: Of 30,000 children treated by Planned Parenthood in Riverside, Los Angeles, and Orange counties, there were no cases of abuse reported. A half-dozen children under six were reported to have had STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). We cross-checked with local law enforcement and found nothing. That type of case is required to be reported in triplicate: to the state, to the local law enforcement agency, and to the local department of health and human services. We found nothing. STDs are not airborne. Why were there no reports? Planned Parenthood has lobbied the state legislature to protect privacy to the point that molesters are protected, children continue to be abused, and for that Planned Parenthood defenders are called heroes for allowing ‘choice.’ Planned Parenthood has got its fingers—strike that— its claws—in everything. The way things are now, a molester can take a child to a Planned Parenthood clinic and the six-year-old child’s ‘privacy’ is protected. That’s outrageous. When we argued against that, we were told, ‘You are trying to shut down a legitimate business, and the right of privacy is constitutional.’ That was a pretty dark day, one of the darkest days in my legal career. You realize that in the courtroom we had a judge, a bailiff and others who, if they come across information about a child being abused, are mandatory reporters (people required by law to report that they suspect a child is in danger). But for Planned Parenthood, the rules are different. And the rules remain different for Planned Parenthood even though its eugenics aspect—its disproportionate locations in minority neighborhoods in L.A., for example—is alive and well.
You have been heavily fined and had to turn yourself in to the state bar when ruled against in a pro-life case. Is that level of sacrifice worthwhile to you?
If one less person shows up at Planned Parenthood or one more person chooses life, it is worth it. That is a cliché, but you have to do this one life at a time. Meanwhile, we have to realize that in the current climate we will lose 90 percent of our cases. There is going to be large degree of self-doubt. I am fortunate that my wife is very supportive of me.
What is the most satisfying work you are doing now?
It is our adoption option program, because it is personal. This can be a help to both mothers and fathers when there is a decision to give up the child for adoption. One set of parents gives a great good to others. And through our contacts we are able to help expectant mothers who feel that there is no other option than abortion to see that they have a choice, whether to raise the child or to give the child for adoption. We make choice a very real option. I still remember several years ago when I was consulted by a woman in a crisis pregnancy who wanted adoption services. I called everybody I knew in the southern California area and could not find a single person who did such adoptions pro bono. When you have a mom come into the office pregnant and crying and desperate to preserve the life of her child even though her boyfriend has left her for a new girlfriend, that’s as personal as it gets. When you can help with such an adoption, it’s a situation that gets no media, no hype—sort of like the person who prays in the closet unseen—but the effects are immediate and very powerful. I believe we have a duty to engage in peaceful action, to help the individual, sort of as Christ did. When he helped the blind man or a leper, it was interpersonal. We can model ourselves on that. Remember, at that time, the Romans and the Pharisees had the power. Today, I can go out of my way to make myself available on a personal level even if Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.
Why do you offer legal assistance for such adoptions?
Putting things in a faith-based context, it is important to offer help with the challenges of a situation, to support pro-life choices with a local source that can take on a case with two or three weeks’ notice. Sometimes a decision for adoption is made very shortly before birth because a mother has been in denial or ashamed, or was thinking about adoption for a while but didn’t see anywhere to go for help. And our faith-based approach has an ecumenical aspect; in doing this work we are able to get along with people of other denominations regardless of differences in faith within Christianity. I would like to work with people of non-Christian faiths also.
How would you respond to an expectant mother who tells you that the circumstances of her case are just too difficult to face?
One of the hardest issues I wrestle with is “I can’t do this.” I would say, “Yes, you can, and is there any way I can help with that?” It is important for us in the pro-life movement to help in practical ways and to help a mother to see what her role is—maybe adoption, maybe moving back in with her own mom, maybe getting married. We have to preserve the value of life. My mom was blind and raised two kids by herself. Anybody who would have come up to her and said, “You can’t do this,” would have been wrong. And I’m awful happy to be here.
Are you hopeful about the future?
I would like to see adoption services available on a much grander scale so that people really do have choices. I am encouraged by the recent addition to our law firm of a young attorney from Trinity Law School who came to us with an excellent resume, and who is among those willing to do his best for the client as a lawyer, whether you win or not, and to be willing to be available on a personal level to someone who needs help. I am encouraged by the ongoing efforts of LLDF and its supporters to defend innocent life.
Do you recommend pro-life work to colleagues?
As lawyers we have been given a powerful gift: to go between the individual and the government and make a difference. Working for life is one of the best possible uses of this gift. To argue, to advocate, to be somebody’s hero—this is all part of being a lawyer. If you are doing your job right, clients do see you as a hero in the truest sense, as somebody responsible for defending the innocent. If you are not in a position to do direct work, there is another important way to help: You can contribute to the support of Life Legal Defense Foundation. That will enable the rest of us to continue defending life.