When Nikolas Nikas joined the Board of Directors of Life Legal Defense Foundation in 2006, he brought with him not only his knowledge, skills and experience as a pro-life attorney, but also the organizational and planning abilities of one who has founded and successfully run his own non-profit pro-life organization. Nik received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in government and international relations from the University of Notre Dame. He received his law degree from Arizona State University. Nik and his wife are the parents of five children and live in Phoenix, Arizona.
How and when did you become interested in pro-life legal work?
My father had died when I was 16 years old. In 1995, our youngest daughter Sophia died within a half an hour after she was born. I was always pro-life, but I think that having these personal experiences of just how precious life is reinforced for me the necessity of defending it. To think that life in the womb was being destroyed on a huge scale convinced me that if I were going to continue to practice law I would do so in the pro-life cause. I can honestly say that I would not be a practicing attorney if I were not doing pro-life law. I have been involved in pro-life work since 1990. I first worked with LLDF in 1990. [Legal Director] Katie Short approached me in 1990 when I was working for the American Family Association Law Center and asked me to help defend some pro-life people. This was the Planned Parenthood vs. Holy Angels case in San Francisco. So my association with LLDF goes back 20 years—years before I was on the Board. In the beginning, my practice was both pro-life work and religious freedom work. I shifted fully into pro-life work in 1997.
You run your own non-profit pro-life organization, don’t you?
Yes. The Bioethics Defense Fund [www. bdfund.org] is a non-profit public interest law and policy organization that defends the dignity of every human life from beginning to end. We do so through litigation, legislation, education and media. We address the full range of life issues: healthcare rights of conscience, human cloning and destructive human embryo research, end-of-life issues such as physician assisted suicide and healthcare rationing, and of course abortion.
Having your hands full with your own prolife organization, what persuaded you to join the Board of LLDF?
First of all, I had that sixteen-year relationship with Katie [Short] and I knew that anything that she was involved with would be an effort of integrity well worth supporting.
Second, I don’t see pro-life law as a zero sum game. I want to see the end of the Culture of Death. If I can help LLDF be more effective and more efficient, that is good for all of our pro-life organizations. I am not doing this just to have a job. I am doing this because the Culture of Death is the grave evil of our time and people need to rise up and respond to it. I would like to see LLDF and every other pro-life organization thrive. If I can make just a small contribution to it I am helping the cause.
Would you comment on how the issues facing pro-life advocates have increased since Roe vs. Wade was decided in 1973?
The threat to innocent human life has expanded greatly. From 1973 on there has been the threat to human life from the practice of human abortion, which is rightfully called an atrocity. But now we also have—as people predicted—threats at the end of life like euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. And with the booming of the biotech revolution we now have new threats that weren’t even around at the time Roe was decided, such as assaults on humans in the embryonic stage of existence: embryonic stem cell research, the push to clone human embryos, genetic engineering, animal/human hybrids, and the push to create synthetic human life.
All these things threaten human life at a very early stage, but not in the context of abortion. The pro-life movement has to understand that you can save lives by opposing destructive human embryo research, you can save lives by banning the cloning of human embryos, and you can save lives by preventing the misuse of genetic engineering. We’re not Luddites.
We don’t say all technology is bad. What we do say is that science has to be bounded by moral norms. Some scientists believe that they should be able to do whatever they want. As I said to a group of law students to whom I spoke the other day, science may teach you how to build a hydrogen bomb, but only morality and ethics can tell you whether you should drop it.
Would you include in your enumeration of threats to human life arising out of the biotech revolution in vitro fertilization (IVF) and egg donation?
IVF is an area in which a great number of human beings in the embryonic stage of existence have been destroyed, and egg donation poses a medical risk to the women asked to donate their eggs. The whole area of IVF and egg donation is an area in which the pro-life cause has been behind the curve. Pro-lifers were so focused on reversing Roe vs. Wade— understandably so—that in 1978 when the first test tube baby was created they did not see the danger. For every child who is born using IVF there are other human beings in the embryonic stage of existence who may be destroyed in the process or frozen and cryo-preserved. Those embryos eventually die because they cannot be in that condition forever. Many times the clinics want to get rid of these so-called “surplus” embryos and so they discard them. They are discarding human beings, albeit in an early stage of existence.
As for egg donation, it depends on what you are using the eggs for. If you are donating the eggs for IVF, you are going to have all the problems with IVF that I just mentioned. If you are donating the eggs so they can be used to clone human embryos that is grossly immoral also.
Not only that, but the egg donation itself carries medical risk that most women don’t realize. Typically, to remove an egg from a woman you have to stimulate her with hormones, you have to retrieve the egg surgically, and you have to do this in a way that does not affect her future fertility. So there are also issues of informed consent.
There is a great quote I use from C.S. Lewis when discussing IVF and egg donation: “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.”
How can LLDF be most effective in the ongoing battle for life?
As the threats to human life have expanded beyond abortion I would like to see LLDF expand their response to meet these new threats. While we continue to “defend the defenders of life” we should expand the services we offer because the threats are coming from new places and all innocent human life is precious no matter how it’s assaulted. We need to be there. The end-of-life area is a huge area that needs more attention. We have done some work in that area, but if healthcare gets rationed, we will have to respond. The cheapest way to cure anyone at the end of life is to kill them. This will be a huge threat, so we will have to re-double our efforts in this area. People need to be loved at the ends of their lives, not discarded or killed.
What is the current state of the battle for life?
The battle for life may be a long one. It will require fortitude, courage and hope. But we have made progress. Years ago the other side denied that an unborn child in the womb was a human being. Science has overwhelmingly proven that it is a human being. Now they argue that aborting that human being is necessary for equality. This is a morally flawed argument that will also fail.
Most young people are pro-life. But people are frustrated because of the huge toll that has been and continues to be taken: 40 to 50 million or more unborn children slaughtered in the womb. The numbers are so overwhelming that at times people despair. But we have made progress and we have to keep fighting.
Social reform movements take a long time—sometimes decades or even hundreds of years. The most important thing people can do is not give up, not let the frustration and numbers overwhelm them and cause them to throw up their hands and say, “We can never win this”. We are going to see the end of abortion in our time, or our children or grandchildren will see it in their time. The only way we fail is when we give up—when we don’t show up for the battle.
I would say to the supporters of LLDF that their constant support for our work— their prayers and financial donations—are concrete ways of saying, “We’re not giving up”. Roe vs. Wade could be reversed in five years, or three years, or two years— who knows? Or it might be—I shudder to say—longer than that. We just need to keep fighting this battle no matter how long it takes, no matter what the sacrifice.