John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe is best known for his work as an activist, building the nonviolent branch of the pro-life movement. He has been called by “Father of the Rescue movement” by Time, NY Times Magazine, Joan Andrews, Joe Scheidler, and others. LA Times writer Jim Risen’s history of the rescue movement, Wrath of Angels, also uses this title. Cavanaugh-O’Keefe notes that the title is odd, because the real leaders of the rescue movement were mostly women, including Jeanne Miller Gaetano, Dr. Lucy Hancock, Jo McGowan, Joan Andrews, Juli Loesch Wiley, Kathie O’Keefe, ChristyAnne Collins, Monica Migliorino Miller, and others. Nonetheless, his writing – especially No Cheap Solutions and Emmanuel, Solidarity: God’s Act, Our Response – influenced activists in the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, all over Europe, Philippines, Korea, and Australia.
Cavanaugh-O’Keefe has been arrested 39 times for civil disobedience. He was in the first group that was jailed for pro-life nonviolent action (in Connecticut, 1978). He was among the three organizers of the “We Will Stand Up” campaign, the most successful event of the rescue movement, closing all the abortion clinics in eight of the nine cities that Pope John Paul II visited in 1987. He initiated the Tobit Project, taking bodies out of dumpsters in the Washington area and providing respectful burials.
He has written extensively about eugenics and population control; see especially The Roots of Racism and Abortion. He participated in efforts to resist the population reduction campaigns, particularly in South Africa under the apartheid government, and in Bangladesh; see especially “Deadly Neocolonialism.” He supported the work of the Information Project for Africa, which brought feminists and pro-lifers together to resist coercive depopulation measures at the UN population conference in Cairo.
He has written about eugenics and human cloning. When President Clinton established his National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), Cavanaugh-O’Keefe helped form a grass-roots commission in response – the American Bioethics Advisory Commission (ABAC), and served as the ABAC’s first executive director. The first policy question that the Clinton’s NBAC addressed was human cloning, and their report has sections on eugenics and dignity that were written in response to input from Cavanaugh-O’Keefe. When the NBAC completed published a report supporting human cloning as long as the clone is destroyed in the embryonic or fetal stage, the ABAC worked with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against this “clone-and-kill” proposal.
He has written about eugenics and immigration; see especially The Sign of the Crossing and Welcome Date TBD – and the work in progress, McGivney’s Guests.
Throughout his life, Cavanaugh-O’Keefe has worked to cross-fertilize, and to maintain civil dialogue with opponents. He worked with Pro-lifers for Survival, as editor of the group’s publication, P.S. This ambitious organization brought peace activists and pro-life activists together; their challenging work was later taken over by Cardinal Bernardin. Cavanaugh-O’Keefe was proud to be invited to contribute to the Women’s Studies Encyclopedia; crossing an ideological divide, he wrote their article explaining the pro-life movement. He worked with a common ground group in the Washington area, bringing pro-life and pro-choice activists together – not to find compromises, but to encourage respect and understanding.
In 2012, Cavanaugh-O’Keefe began working to strengthen the unity of the Catholic Church by encouraging pro-life and pro-family activists to re-consider their positions on immigration, and encouraging pro-immigration activists to reconsider their positions on life and marriage. See www.SignoftheCrossing.org.
He and his wife live in Maryland, where they raised six children and now enjoy 14 (plus) grandchildren.