I'd be glad if you bought it at Amazon or Kindle. But rescuers bank accounts are often skimpy, so the book is posted here for you, as free as you should be. Other folks might grab it; I'll put up with that.
Hey, other folks! Buy the book, you kaplakadon!
God’s Act, Our Response
Afterword by Katharine O’Keefe
Accounts of Filipino nonviolence are from God With Us: The 1986 Philippine Revolution, by Alfeo G. Nudas, SJ (Manila: Loyola School of Theology, 1986), pp. 58-59. Used with permission.
Accounts of Filipino nonviolence are from God With Us: The 1986 Philippine Revolution, by Alfeo G. Nudas, SJ (Manila: Loyola School of Theology, 1986), pp. 58-59. Used with permission.
2nd edition 2012
Copyright © 2000 John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe. All rights reserved.
Lots of words here.
None of them match the wonder of you.
The book draws heavily on ideas taken from pamphlets and booklets published by the Pro-life Nonviolent Action Project, of which I was a co-founder in 1977 and later coordinator. Part One, “No Cheap Solutions,” is a revision of a booklet published by the Prolife Nonviolent Action Project in 1984. Some of the ideas in the book have appeared in ALL About Issues, Life and Family News, HLI Reports, and Homiletic and Pastoral Review.
I am indebted to the other founders and coordinators of the Prolife Nonviolent Action Project: Jeanne Miller, Dave Gaetano, Lucy O’Keefe, Burke Balch, Leszek Syski, John Leary and Harry Hand.
Kathie O’Keefe, my sister, has allowed me to add a dimension to the book with her story “Does a Mother Forget?” and her article “A Right to Compassion.”
Some books about the rescue movement have skipped carelessly over the roles played by women in the movement; the record should be kept straight. The first rescuers, in 1975, were eight women, led by Chris Mooney. The first rescuer to go to jail was a woman, Jo McGowan, in 1977 in Massachusetts. When a group of men made a big deal of establishing a policy of refusing to pay fines, the first person who paid a high price for that policy, suffering alone in jail, was a woman (or girl), Jeanne Miller, who went to jail in Connecticut on her 18th birthday. The person whose sacrifice and courage put the rescue movement before the nation was a woman: Joan Andrews. When I found bodies in Maryland, I did what I could as long as I could; but when I couldn’t stand any more, I called for effective and strong help from a woman: ChristyAnne Collins. The first national rescues, with events across the country, were organized by two women, Lucy O’Keefe and Jeanne Miller. The first series of consecutive rescues, in city after city, was organized by a woman, Juli Loesch. Some men helped to start rescues overseas, but the key work in European and Latin American rescues was done by two women, Joan Andrews and Kathie O’Keefe.
“Rescue those who are being dragged off to execution, and do not stand back.” Why is that a controversial idea? It may be hard to do, but it should not be hard to explain or to justify. Emmanuel, Solidarity is about pro-life nonviolent action, the “rescue” movement. Why should we do it? How should we do it? Will it hurt more than it helps? Is it just another project that will come and go? What is it all about? Will it lead to violence? This book explores the basis of the rescue movement, and makes three claims.
First claim. Rescue: It’s common sense. We know where and when a child’s life will be in grave danger; we should be there to help, if we can. We know where and when a pregnant woman will be in grave trouble; we should be there, if we can. But abortion distorts our thinking severely. When abortion enters the picture, things that were obvious become subjects of prolonged debate. Prolonged debate is entertaining for many, but it is deadly for preborn brothers and sisters and harmful for parents in crisis. There is urgency about this debate. Are preborn children members of the human community? Do they deserve equal protection? Are their rights derived from the State or from God? If the State refuses to protect them, who should? How? These questions are important and urgent, and should be debated openly—and answered. Then we should act.
Part One discusses the appropriate response to the plight of the individual child and the individual mother scheduled for an abortion. Clearly, when a homicide is being planned and a preventable death is imminent, the appropriate response is action to stop the killing. There are many criticisms of the rescue movement, but none are serious enough to stop action that will save a child’s life.
Second claim. Rescue: It’s the clear lesson of history. Evils like slavery and abortion are ended by warfare or by campaigns of nonviolence, not by changing the law. For decades, most of the pro-life movement has been trying to protect children by changing the law, pursuing a strategy that has no precedent in human history. Why? At what point will pro-lifers let go of a bankrupt strategy and look at something else? For many years, the proponents of the strategy of law-alone have refused even to debate their strategy. They have had enough clout to push other views aside and enforce a “consensus.” But we need an open debate on the issue, because the strategy of protecting children and mothers by changing the law is not just slow. If history is a reliable guide, it will never work. Only a campaign of nonviolence will succeed.
Part Two is about the search for appropriate response to the millions of abortions each year. When we look at the unimaginable number of abortions in our world today, it is clear that we should try to find a way to respond to the whole problem, beginning with the crises faced by individuals but moving on to the global crisis as well.
We have to choose between war and a campaign of nonviolence; history does not provide us with a third option. The law can follow after us at some time, but we must begin by establishing “facts on the ground.” When we have made it clear that a community will respond whenever a child and a pregnant woman are in danger, then the society as a whole is forced to choose whether to jail those who kill or those who rescue, whether to restrain abortionists or bishops. The myth of neutrality—which is really an oxymoron: neutrality always favors the oppressor, never the oppressed—is no longer an option.
Part Two also explores the history of nonviolence, and its demonstrated power to change societies, showing that the power of sacrificial love is measurably as great as the power of the bullet.
Third claim. Rescue: It’s the teaching of the Catholic Church. The route to freedom from social evil is solidarity with the victims. Solidarity can take many forms, but the most obvious form is presence with the victims at the time of their greatest danger. The only teaching of the Church about abortion that reaches the public ear, generally, is that abortion is a sin. The Church does teach that, but also teaches the way to freedom: solidarity. Perhaps we should listen. Common sense, history and the Catholic Church all say the same thing: Rescue those who are being taken off to execution, and do not stand back.
Part Three explores the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on nonviolence. The Catholic Church draws insight from her own rich tradition as well as from modern leaders of nonviolence like Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King. She speaks of “solidarity.” The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is not only a personal sin, but is also a social evil, and that the route to freedom from a social evil is solidarity with the victims of the evil.
Part One: Common Sense
Chapter 1: No Cheap Solutions
If you remain indifferent in time of adversity,
your strength will depart from you.
Rescue those who are being dragged to death,
and from those tottering to execution withdraw not.
If you say, “I do not know this man!”
does not He who tests hearts perceive it?
He who guards your life knows it,
And He will repay each one according to his deeds.
Common sense demands that if we know where and when a child and a pregnant woman are in grave danger, we should act to protect them. But how? What do we do? Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge how explicit instructions about a task should be.
One of the first jobs I ever had was working with a truck farmer, selling produce door-to-door in a wealthy suburb of Washington. The farmer would pick me up in his panel truck, and we would go through the neighborhood; he would run to get business, and I would run to deliver the apples, peaches, squash, whatever. My task required that I smile, but not that I think.
One morning as we were backing out the winding driveway of a particularly wealthy customer, my boss ordered: “Watch out that side.” So I watched with interest as we ran slowly over a couple of small shrubs. When the truck’s wheel hit a bush, the wheel went under the branches and lifted them up. The branches didn’t start down until the wheel hit the trunk; the first part of this process of flattening was uplifting. It thought it was very interesting. However, when my boss realized what was going on, he was irate. But he hadn’t said I should tell him anything, just that I should watch.
How explicit should orders be?
I am not sure that the pro-life movement has done much better than I did in that truck.
The right-to-life movement has been working for years to educate the American populace about abortion. Abortion kills living human children, abortion exploits vulnerable women, abortion degrades society. It is not a necessity; there are viable alternatives. Early human life is complex and delightful, giving evidence of a creative power comparable (if not identical) to that which produced the universe. So sensible people with even a minimum of human feeling or conscience should choose life.
But what does that mean, in practice? How does this decision take shape?
First, it obviously means that couples who discover that they are parents should allow their children to live. It means that the pregnant mother, even if the father abandons responsibility, should seek support and let the child live. It means that the unhappy citizens of a society in which unplanned and unwanted pregnancies are common must make plans to offer help to reluctant parents.
But this deals only with the immediate crises. How do we get to the roots of the problem? Why are unplanned pregnancies and abortions so common? Is there a discoverable basic cause that can be dug out? In the United States at this time, there are several causes of abortion, notably: decades of propaganda from Planned Parenthood and other eugenics organizations teaching that sex need not lead to babies, and the Supreme Court decision of 1973 which prevents the prosecution of abortionists regardless of when they interfere with a pregnancy to kill the child.
To get to these roots, the pro-life movement has launched extensive educational efforts, and extensive political efforts, on top of offering extensive help in choosing alternatives to abortion.
That is all well and good, but I find myself wondering repeatedly what it is that we are really supposed to do. We educate, and say: “Look!” Building on the anger of those who have taken a look, we lobby, and tell our legislators, “Look!”
Are we clear about what we are to do after we have all looked?
The mandate in scripture is clear. In Proverbs, it is written: “Rescue those being dragged to execution. From those tottering to death, withdraw not.”
Enough looking. Enough talking. Enough ignorant evasion of responsibility. When you know that an innocent and helpless child is about to be killed, intervene. With the help of God, use the strength you have to rescue those without strength.
How explicit must the instructions be?
The early pro-life movement
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two decisions—Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton—that ended all legal protection of preborn children throughout pregnancy throughout the United States. Justice Harry Blackmun, who penned the decisions, may have thought he was settling a vexing question. But in fact, a movement was born to respond.
In the first decade after the decisions, there were three parts of the movement. First, there was offering alternatives to abortion. Pregnancy aid is the necessary underpinning of all other pro-life work, but by itself it is only pro-alternatives, or “pro-choice.” Offering an alternative—even if you make the offer at the door of an abortion clinic while doing “sidewalk counseling,” guaranteeing that everybody considering abortion knows what they are doing and knows that there are alternatives available—is pro-choice. This valuable work is truly pro-choice, not pro-abortion, but it is only pro-choice. By itself, offering alternatives to abortion is not an adequate response to the violent deaths of millions upon millions of children, although it is a necessary and laudable response to the plight of the mothers (and fathers).
Second, there was the educational effort. Quite properly, education consumes a major portion of pro-life energy. There are literally billions of people who need to hear what is involved in early human development, who need to hear what is involved in an abortion.
But often there is a tremendous gap between what a teacher intends to teach and what a student actually learns. These are overlapping phenomena, with some tentative connections, but a good teacher will keep asking what lesson is really being learned.
Currently, many adolescents are learning lessons that neither pro-lifers nor pro-abortionists intended to teach, and the lesson is catastrophic. On one hand, there are pro-life people saying that in just a single year in the United States alone, about 1.5 million children are being killed, that we are in the middle of the greatest war in the history of mankind, that worldwide one person in three is being killed, that in one generation over one billion people had been killed by surgical abortion worldwide (by surgical abortions alone, not including abortion by drugs and devices), and so on.
Pro-abortionists, on the other hand, are working hard to convince the American populace that abortion is simply not all that exciting. In their view, abortion may be unpleasant, and there should be better ways to engage in non-productive sexual play, but abortion is a fact of life and we should relax about it.
The catastrophe is that a growing number of members of the post-Roe generation are combining the thoughts of pro-lifers and pro-abortionists in a way that their teachers can barely imagine. They agree that life begins at conception and that we are engaged in a holocaust, but also agree that it is no big deal. The new generation has learned that murder and mayhem, even holocaust, are acceptable! The teachers may be polarized, but the students integrate the two messages into a witches’ brew.
In the city of Washington, the children who grew up surrounded by death are now killing each other to an extent that baffles the police and all concerned citizens. Over half (55 percent) of the generation who came into life and were detected in utero since 1973 have been killed by abortionists, and the survivors have been taught to accept such bloodshed as a part of normal behavior. So many young Washingtonians accepted bloodshed as a part of normal behavior that when this generation was old enough to carry guns, the city earned the title as the “murder capital of the world.”
The lesson that holocausts are acceptable is not seriously challenged by the visible actions of pro-life educators. Actions speak louder than words, and inaction is also eloquent. The message we intend is that the global situation is horrifying, but our body language often gives a more mellow lesson. The steps taken by many pro-lifers in response to abortion were similar to the actions of citizens who see a threat to the value of their property. Regardless of the teachers’ intent, the lesson that was communicated was that a holocaust is not much more serious than the proposed construction of a highway across a popular park, or the decision to locate a dump near an affluent suburb.
The failure to examine carefully what pro-life education actually does is terribly dangerous. The educational work must go on, but it must be supplemented by action.
The third part of the movement was the struggle to protect children by law, through legislation, litigation and elections. In the late ‘70s, pro-life people were hopeful that much would come of these efforts. Although some were skeptical that any good would ever come of politics, many pro-lifers worked hard to produce the 1980 electoral victories, which gave us a weak pro-life majority in the Senate, a pro-life majority in the House, and a pro-life President. For a while, the political situation of the pro-life movement did look pretty good. But the political victories were squandered in 1981 and 1982; internal bickering guaranteed that there would be no great legislative victories.
The focus shifted back to the courts, where pro-lifers hoped that judges appointed by Presidents Reagan and Bush would overturn Roe v. Wade. But even when pro-lifers expected that Roe was about to fall, no one in the country had a plausible scenario for moving from the end of Roe to protection of the preborn. There would be some changes. Without Roe, the phrase “abortion rights” would sound increasingly strained. The social approval of abortion would decline. Some states would try to protect children by law within their own boundaries. But for the preborn, none of that would matter much: killing would still be available a few hours away, over a state line into California or New York or Colorado or Maryland or some other haven of abortionists, and the death toll would continue to climb. But still, there was hope for some incremental improvement.
Even this forlorn hope proved groundless. In 1992, with five appointees on the Supreme Court joining the two pro-lifers who dissented from Roe v. Wade in 1973, it seemed that Roe was about to fall. But it turned out that three of the five Reagan/Bush appointees were not pro-life; the Court upheld Roe. Then Bill Clinton was elected, and 20 years of focusing on the law as the principal means to protect the preborn came to an end.
While it would be a needless mistake to abandon the legislative effort altogether, it is clear that it was a great mistake to put all the pro-life eggs in that one basket. It was a mistake in 1980, and it will always be a mistake.
The effort to change the law and pro-life education are both designed to change the future. I’m interested in the future; I have seven children. But our preborn brothers and sisters are dying today, and so we must act today. Future-oriented work is of no avail whatsoever to those in our community whose rights, whose very lives, are threatened today.
These three elements—offering alternatives to abortion, education, and politics—did not constitute a complete movement. Something was missing. The missing element was not just a detail or another program. At that time, the right-to-life movement did not embody the statement that a preborn child is a brother or a sister, entitled to the same respect and protection given any other human being. The movement lacked any effort to protect the children being killed in our midst. There was no direct protective action.
The price for protecting a person who is scheduled to die can be considerable. But when we tell others in our educational and political work that the children condemned to death are innocent and worthy of protection, those words should galvanize effective and immediate action by all loving and courageous people—including ourselves.
If the right to life is so important, it must imply responsibilities for those around the threatened individual. The people around a child who know of a threat to that child have a responsibility to intervene and protect.
What was missing in the right-to-life movement was the simple statement, fleshed out in action, that the preborn are our brothers and sisters.
The three parts of the movement in its first decade did not add up to a coherent whole; the central piece, protection of living children threatened with violent death, was missing. There was no clear recognition of the responsibility to act.
The normal response to a child in danger is immediate and direct action. That should have been the first priority of the movement from the beginning. The heart of the movement, the future of the movement, is direct loving action to protect our preborn brothers and sisters.
How much retreat is tolerable?
The need for action can be explained by analogy. Imagine a society that has decided to get rid of the grave problems of adolescence, and has set about doing so quite firmly by grading all children as they reach the twelfth birthday. Each month, on a specific day, everybody with a twelfth birthday in that month reports to the town hall, where the child’s grades from school, evaluations from social workers, and medical reports from doctors are all collated, and each child is given an overall rating. The purpose of the scientifically designed rating is to predict which children are likely to cause trouble during their adolescent years. Three children out of ten each month are discovered to be potential delinquents—and they are executed.
In this society, many of the problems of adolescence—teen pregnancy, illiteracy, drug abuse, juvenile crime, etc.—could be eliminated almost completely.
Of course, the slaughter of the children would bother some people.
Imagine further that a group of people in this society oppose the monthly executions, and they meet to discuss what to do about the appalling slaughter. Some of them say, “We should try to work through the system.” (And later they do enter into the political process and work hard to put together a campaign to bring the percentage of the destroyed down from 30 percent. They set a reasonable goal, 25 percent, and they bicker back and forth in the parliament, eventually compromising on 27 percent, thereby saving a substantial number of lives). Other people say, “We really should launch a large educational campaign. If people saw the terror on the faces of these twelve-year-olds who are being led off to die, they would pause and rethink this whole thing.” (And later the educators go to work, bringing new recruits to the life movement every day). Yet another group of people proposes to set up programs whereby parents, if they choose, can have their children exiled instead of having them executed. (And later they do so, saving many lives.)
Then someone in the back of the meeting stands up and says, “The great majority of us oppose the slaughter. Why don’t we go down to the Town Hall on execution day and just stop it?”
But the people respond to this simple idea negatively. Some say, “Well, you know, you have to respect the law, you don’t want to break the law.” Others say, “Well you know, you have to be prudent. What are the police going to do, and what’s the army going to do, if we act so rashly?”
How seriously should we take the voices of caution and moderation, including some who claim to speak for the Church, but who respond to the idea of protecting children with fear of the police and an overblown respect for the letter of the law? Is this caution a faithful response to the Lord, who identified himself with the poor and the broken, and who said, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brethren you do for me, and whatever you fail to do for them, you fail to do for me”?
This imaginary situation is not really very different from our own situation, except for the ages of the victims. But is there a significant difference between a twelve-year-old and a twelve-week old child? There is controversy in America today over the age question; but do pro-lifers themselves have any hesitations or mental reservations about the question?
We live in a society that does, on a regular basis, in specific times, at specific places, kill children aged twelve weeks (or eight weeks or 24). To be sure, we should maintain a dialogue with people who believe that twelve-week-old children are less than human; but for ourselves, we must make up our minds without a scrap of ambivalence that these children are our brothers and sisters, are not different from twelve-year-old children, or people of our own age and maturity.
The questions that we can ask about the imaginary society are questions that we must ask about our own. There are people standing in the back of the room saying, “Pro-lifers speak for the majority. What we must do is intervene directly, as a community, saying with our whole being that these children are our brothers and sisters, that we are going to be faithful to them.”
Since it has become apparent—at least for the present and for the foreseeable future—that legislative efforts to protect preborn children have no reasonable prospect of success, pro-lifers are clearly obliged to find another way of protecting children. There are over a million and a half children dying in the U.S. each year, about 50 million around the world each year (from surgical abortion alone). We say that we are their protectors, their friends. In the midst of this incredible bloodshed, if we say or even imply by our actions that we feel we are beaten, when we have not been shot at even once or imprisoned, we reveal ourselves to be the weakest of friends, the most pitiful of allies, giving only timid lip service to lofty beliefs.
The search for a way to protect preborn children when legislative efforts have faltered must lead pro-lifers to adopt nonviolent direct action.
Mildred Jefferson, the Boston physician who led the National Right to Life Committee in its early years and who worked for years to build the pro-life movement, used to thrill pro-lifers across the country by quoting William Lloyd Garrison: “I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch.” I was always uncomfortable with those words, though I found them inspiring. I was uncomfortable because we have been in a terrible retreat. We have given up an immense amount of ground that we need not have given up.
When we stand in the doors of an abortion clinic as a community, saying, “Nobody dies here today”—when we stand there, loving the children whom we haven’t met and sharing their vulnerability, loving the women who are coming there in terrible trouble and in need of our help, loving the abortionists who are our enemies but whom we are called by the Lord Jesus to love— when we stand in those doorways and act on our commitment to our preborn brothers and sisters—then and only then should we assert proudly, “I am in earnest; I will not retreat a single inch.”
Does Scripture prohibit rescues?
Many good people who are wondering whether they should engage in direct action to save the lives of preborn children are held back by a misreading of Scripture. Scripture says that we should obey the law, so the question arises whether rescues challenge not only men but God as well.
Initially, it is important to note that pro-lifers have not agreed that rescues are illegal. At other times, in other places, other people have decided for a variety of reasons that they should break the law. That is not what is going on here.
The argument about the legality of rescues involves, obviously, legal argument. Pro-lifers have been convicted of various offenses, but they continue to claim that they are innocent. The legal question requires a careful discussion of its own, and the question here is about the teaching of Scripture concerning such action. But the discussion of Scripture should not be understood as any kind of admission of guilt before the law. Pro-lifers do not agree that rescues are illegal. It is not an established and incontrovertible fact that we are breaking the law.
In the Pentateuch, in Deuteronomy 30:19, there is the injunction: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may life in the love of Yahweh your God, obeying His voice, clinging to Him.” Obviously, the choice we are called to make with regard to the right to life of preborn children is clear and unequivocal.
In Proverbs 24:12, there is the injunction: “Rescue those being led away to death, hold back those who are being dragged to the slaughter. Will you object, ‘But we didn’t know’? Has he who weighs the heart no understanding, he who scans your soul no knowledge? He himself will repay a man as his deeds deserve.” This passage makes it clear that there is a distinct obligation to intervene; there is a command to do so; it is disobedient to refrain. Further, those who offer excuses like, “I didn’t know anything about it,” are liable to judgment.
In Matthew 25:40,45, Jesus taught: “ . . . the King will answer, ‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me . . . in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do this to me.’” This passage clarifies and strengthens the injunction from Proverbs: There is an obligation to protect the helpless and innocent. The obligation is heightened greatly by our Lord’s assertion that he identifies with them.
The duty of Christians with regard to preborn children threatened by abortion is clear. But there may be complications arising from the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 ruled that abortionists cannot be prosecuted for their activities. As a result of that ruling, it appears that abortion is legal, and that interfering with abortion is illegal. Is there still a duty to protect children, or is this duty altered by the Supreme Court? How much obedience is owed to civil authorities?
In Mark 2:23-28, Jesus taught that a Pharisaic reading of the law is wrong: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In Matthew 12:7, Jesus recommends that those who are troubled with scruples about the law should meditate on the meaning of the text: “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.”
Once, after Jesus cured a man, he was asked whether it was lawful to cure on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:9-14). He responded, “If any one of you here had only one sheep and it fell down a hole on the sabbath day, would he not get hold of it and lift it out? Now a man is far more important than a sheep, so it follows that it is permitted to do good on the Sabbath day.” The letter of the law must give way before life-saving efforts.
But what of the passage in Matthew 22: “. . . give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s”? This passage is not troubling; the coin had Caesar’s image on it, and belongs to Caesar; but a child is made in the image of God, and belongs to God. It is blasphemy to assert that a child can properly be rendered to Caesar, that a child’s life can be disposed of at Caesar’s whim. To do so deifies the state.
The argument for obedience to civil authority is frequently based on Romans 13: “You must all obey the governing authorities. Since all government comes from God, the civil authorities were appointed by God, and so anyone who resists authority is rebelling against God’s decision . . .” This passage is compelling, but must not be read in isolation. Consider the passage in Acts that balances the command to obey established authority. In Acts 4:18-19, we read: “So they [the Sanhedrin] called them [Peter and John] in and gave them a warning: on no account to make statements or to teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John retorted, ‘You must judge whether in God’s eyes it is right to listen to you and not to God. We cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.’” The passage in Acts makes it clear that the injunction to obey authority has limits. The apostles decided to ignore established authorities when God’s commands were clear and were incompatible with the orders of the Sanhedrin (or Caesar, or the United States, or any specific state). If the command to rescue those scheduled for execution is clear, a Christian can ignore lesser laws with a clear conscience.
It is the consistent teaching of the Fathers of the Church, including Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, that an unjust law is no law at all, and that an unjust law is not binding on the conscience of a Christian. Even if the Supreme Court decisions of 1973 and their sequelae had created a situation in which it was in fact illegal to intervene to protect preborn children (there is no reason to conclude that is our situation), still the teaching of the Church is clear. A law that proscribes effective protection of children is an unjust law; it does not bind our consciences.
Far from teaching that it is impermissible to act directly to protect preborn children, Scripture teaches that there is a moral obligation to act. Rescues save lives, in the manner that is commanded by Proverbs.
The fact that rescues save lives is a great challenge to the consciences of pro-lifers. If it is possible to save a life, then the power of life and death has been placed in our unwilling and unprepared hands. We did not seek this power, but it is ours. If we have it and fail to use it responsibly, we are responsible. In fact, we stand condemned. That is quite sobering.
Pro-lifers, including God-fearing and obedient Christians who profess to love preborn children, share in the guilt of abortion. Pro-lifers who have done little or nothing need to repent of their inaction. Perhaps unaware, they have stumbled into sin (“Preserve me, Lord, from my hidden sins”). The sin here, of course, is turning our backs on preborn children whom we could protect from death. Once the sin is pointed out, there is a duty to repent, to reform, to end the sinful activity (or inactivity).
Competition with prayer?
It would seem that there might be a grave problem in the assertion that the center of the pro-life movement must be action. Isn’t it presumptuous to say that the power which the movement must rely on is its own action? Shouldn’t we rely on the power of the Lord?
It seems clear to me that we should indeed rely on the Lord completely, but prayer is not in competition with rescuing babies. Rather, rescues are the fruit of prayer. Prayer can and should—and in this case must—include action.
Sometimes the call for more prayer is a disguise for disobedience. When we pray, we need to listen, not just offer the Lord our suggestions about how to run the universe. Suppose you pray, asking the Lord to protect children, and the Lord responds by inviting you to work with him in this great task: “Give me your life, and I will use you to change hearts.” If you respond to his invitation by asking again that he protect children, that is disobedience, not prayer.
Consider the powerful words of Isaiah about fasting, which is one part of prayer. He wrote: “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and turning not your back on your own. (Isaiah 58:6-7)
According to Isaiah, prayer and fasting cannot always be separated from action.
Jesus taught that there are some things, some evils, that are driven out only by prayer and fasting. His disciples came back to him at one point and complained that they were unable to expel a demon. He responded by chiding them for their lack of faith, but also said that devils of that kind are driven out only by prayer and fasting.
Clearly, if there exist evils that are so strong that fasting is needed to drive them out, abortion is among them. A proper fast is certainly necessary as a part of our prayer for the preborn and for their parents.
But what form does this fasting take? The fast we undertake should rend our hearts, not our garments. Fasting certainly means more than simply refraining from food. The prophet Isaiah said that the fast pleasing to the Lord is an active care for widows and orphans. The word “widow” should not be understood in an exclusive sense. Basically, it means a mother who is without a husband. Usually in the past a mother without a husband was so because the husband had died. But increasingly in our times mothers are left without husbands because the man has left, walked away from his responsibilities. In our time, the protection that the Bible encourages for mothers without husbands applies to unmarried women with children.
Similarly, the word “orphan” applies to children who are deprived of parental protection, even if the parents are still alive. The scriptural injunction to protect orphans applies to preborn children who are threatened with abortion.
It would seem, then, that the prophetic words of Isaiah describing a fast acceptable to the Lord apply to action on behalf of pregnant women in need of support and preborn children in need of protection. Rescues at abortion clinics, then, can be a way of fasting, and an important part of prayer.
Prayer and fasting must be at the heart of efforts to protect the preborn. For that reason, rescues must be at the heart of the pro-life movement.
Are rescues traumatic for women?
Some people argue that there is a serious problem with rescues: They may occasionally protect children, but they are traumatic for women at the clinics waiting for abortions. There are several points I would like to make in response.
The first point is based on my own story of involvement in the pro-life movement. I came into the movement slowly even after I had become convinced that the issue was important. During the war in Vietnam, I was a conscientious objector, and I did alternative service working as an orderly at a hospital in Boston. One evening when the nurse on duty and I finished our work early and had about an hour to sit and talk, she told me about her decision the year before to have an abortion. During that hour, this good friend of mine, whom I respected and loved, explained her decision and told me that it had been difficult but that she was quite sure she had done the right thing. She said she had prayed about it a great deal ahead of time.
Because I trusted her, I was initially inclined to accept what she said about the abortion, inclined to accept that it had been the right decision. I did not know much about abortion then, except that it was the termination of a pregnancy and that the Catholic Church frowned on it.
But she was quite insistent that she had made the right decision; she “did protest too much.” By the end of the hour I knew that she had not made the right decision, though I did not know clearly why it was wrong, and was puzzled about why she was still disturbed about something she had done a year before. I did some research to find out why this friend of mine was so upset, and quickly found that she had good reason: she was a mother, and her child was dead, and she had not begun to grieve for her child because she had not yet admitted that anything was wrong.
By God’s grace, I came into the movement because of my concern for a friend, a woman damaged by abortion. By God’s grace, from the beginning of my involvement in the right to life movement, I never saw abortion as a gift to women. By God’s grace, from the beginning of my involvement in the right to life movement, I saw clearly the importance of finding ways to protect children and simultaneously to support women.
At that time, I accepted the all-too-common canard that pro-lifers cared only about children and not about women. I accepted the media image painted of the right to life movement. Out of snobbery, I stayed away from pro-life groups.
When I did become involved, bit by bit, I kept watching for ways to respond to the horror of abortion that would protect children and simultaneously help women. I did some work in offering alternatives to abortion, including organizing a small support group for women who had chosen to carry their children to term. But it was clear to me that alternatives-to-abortion work was not a response to the plight of the preborn child threatened with destruction. Such pro-choice work was simply not enough.
The sermons of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., opened my eyes to a possibility. He set out to protect blacks from segregation, but he insisted throughout his work that he was helping whites as much as—or even more than—he was helping blacks. He insisted that segregation was more damaging for whites than for blacks, and that his nonviolent efforts would open their eyes and free them spiritually as well as help blacks materially.
Rev. King’s insight had a clear application to the pro-life movement. He had found a way of getting past the apparent polarization between blacks and whites, and his example offered a real hope that pro-lifers could find a way of getting past the apparent polarization between children’s rights and women’s rights.
During a rescue, the simple physical presence of the pro-lifer would make the necessary statement about children, by preventing the abortion from taking place. The simple, peaceful presence would say what we wanted to say about children, would say to the preborn children, “We are here, we are present, we love you,” and would communicate that nonverbally. Since that communication would be nonverbal but complete, we could then go on to say verbally what we wanted to say to women in an abortion clinic: that we were there to offer help, that we were there to offer concrete alternatives. We could point out the possibility of acting justly and generously, even in the midst of a difficult, unplanned, unwanted pregnancy.
Theoretically and practically, rescues made it possible to do something concrete about love for preborn children and for women simultaneously.
I came to the conclusion that I should rescue because I thought it was important to help children and women simultaneously. So when people tell me that rescues are not helpful to women, that they are an assault on women, they have to explain this accusation carefully to be credible. I came to rescues as a part of the right to life movement precisely because they are specifically designed to support women even while making a statement about preborn children.
Precisely because I believe that there is real urgency about guaranteeing that women feel support from pro-lifers, I think we should rescue.
The second point I would like to make here is also based on my own experience.
In a book about the possibility of finding links between the pro-life movement and the peace movement, a thoughtful activist and radio commentator from Pennsylvania, Steve Levicoff, raised the question of trauma for women at abortion clinics, and expressed his tentative judgment that sit-ins at the Pentagon were legitimate, but rescues at abortion clinics were not.
Before I read Levicoff’s book, I had been aware that peace folks had something to learn about children from pro-lifers, but had accepted the idea that pro-lifers could learn tactics and strategy from the older and more experienced peace movement. Reading Levicoff’s chapter on civil disobedience, I decided that was an error. Levicoff suffered from a complete blindness about the impact of demonstrations at the Pentagon on a large group of bystanders—a blindness that still afflicts much of the peace movement. It is a blindness that I can address from personal experience.
It is true that there are patients at abortion clinics, and that it is an immense challenge to act nonviolently when faced with such vulnerable and emotionally battered women. But this fact does not constitute a major difference between pro-life nonviolence and action at the Pentagon. It is incredible that after all these years peace folks still see the Pentagon as a faceless institution where there are no emotionally crushed and vulnerable people witnessing their demonstrations.
My brother’s body is buried in Arlington cemetery. Most demonstrations that take place at the Pentagon include a march past the cemetery. How does it happen, after all these years, that so many peace folks remain unaware that it wrenches the hearts of families of the dead when the accusation “Genocide!” is hollered out near the cemetery?
It is no comfort at all that the focus switched to nuclear weapons, not to our presence in Vietnam. It is the same word, the same aura, the same self-righteousness.
My brother Roy taught me to think, and taught me the meaning of love. Until he left for Vietnam, he and I spent a great deal of time together. He took time to sit on the back porch with me, talking about everything in the world.
An aspect of love that he talked about a great deal, and struggled to internalize, was that love and gentleness are far more strenuous than hatred or violence. He taught me that gentleness requires far more strength and commitment and thought than brutality. For example, if two people are fighting and you want to separate them, you risk being drawn into the fight yourself unless you are capable of immobilizing both of them at the same time.
He had some ideas about gentleness that I would criticize. But I criticize on the basis of what he taught me, within the framework that he taught me, with analytic tools that he taught me.
He went to Vietnam as a medic in the Special Forces. In his view, this was an act of love, love for his family and his country. In my view, killing folks is a damnably clumsy way of expressing your love. Nonetheless, it was love, and it was a love that he acted on at the risk of his life.
Roy was killed in the Tet offensive in 1968. At the time, the Special Forces were operating clandestinely in Cambodia and Laos; Roy was operating out of a camp at Dakto near the CambodianLaotian-Vietnamese border. I don’t know which country he was in when he was hit.
The Army sent us a little tale of heroism, about how he was crawling around helping his men get under cover when he was hit himself. True? Who knows? Wherever he was, mortar fire took off the back of his head. Four days later, we heard he was missing. Three days later (on my 18th birthday), we heard he was dead. A month later, his body finally arrived in the United States, and we buried his body in Arlington cemetery.
Military personnel took charge of most of the funeral, but a civilian funeral parlor handled some details. After the funeral mass, a civilian undertaker grabbed one end of the casket, leaned away from the weight, and tugged it out of the church, his free arm flailing wildly and unceremoniously.
At the cemetery three members of an honor guard fired rifles to pay measured homage to a sergeant. The three flat cracks died immediately in the fog; there was no echo at all.
When the ceremony at the graveside was over, the funeral director said brusquely, “Okay, that’s it. Everybody go home.” It was the first funeral I had ever attended, and I was startled when we were told to leave while the casket was still sitting there. I left reluctantly, and regretted it bitterly. For decades, I could not forgive myself for leaving his body in the hands of people who did not know him, did not love him, were not respectful of him. I pray that he was buried by the military—respectful out of some degree of camaraderie and maybe a little fear of meeting the same fate themselves—and not by the sloppy, casual civilians.
A year and a half later, I came under the influence of Thomas Merton, and made a commitment to pacifism. My parents thought that I was betraying Roy. There was a rupture in the family that did not heal for a decade. To them, it seemed that I was spitting on his grave, ignoring his bravery and his love.
I applied for conscientious objector status and did alternative service, and argued with many people about the war, about killing in general, and about whether they should join the military. But I always felt very distant from the mainstream of the peace movement, because I felt they were condescending toward men who went to Vietnam and risked—and sometimes lost—their lives. On a gut level, I have always felt much closer to military folks than to peace folks.
So what happened in me when I saw pictures of flower children poking daisies into rifle barrels? A large part of me just went quiet and waited to see what would come next. “Okay, flower child, I’m open. Show me that your love is deeper than Roy’s, and stronger and purer.” And when the flower child—or a friend, or some spiritual heir years later—went past my brother’s grave hollering, “Genocide!” I felt a rage that I could not express. My dead brother. My family torn by misunderstanding. My own failure to put into flesh a love that is stronger than Roy’s. My unfulfilled commitment to reconciliation. For me, a commitment to peacemaking is an arduous task, but here in front of me (usually on television or in the newspaper) was a lot of sloppy, laid back, comfortable sloganeering. The slogans drew lines, forced people to take sides, but I found both sides intolerable.
“The Pentagon is a faceless institution.” Maybe. But the men and women who work there have faces. And more importantly, I have a face, and so do millions of family members all over the country. When demonstrators at the Pentagon don’t see our faces, it may be because we hide them while we cry.
Levicoff was wrong about the possibility of nonviolence at abortion clinics. But more, I think he was wrong about the reality of nonviolence at the Pentagon. I do not think that either effort should stop, despite the hazards: we must deal with pain, not avoid it or anesthetize it. Wiping away tears is urgent, but stopping the flow of blood takes precedence. And in that agonizing situation where you must try to do both but usually fail to do either—there, to my surprise, pro-lifers are ahead of peace folks.
The third point I would make about the danger of emotional trauma to vulnerable women at an abortion clinic is also based on personal experience. I was arrested at an abortion clinic in Washington, DC, in 1977, on the seventh floor of a building that housed two abortion clinics, several blocks from the White House. During that rescue I was the first person and the last person arrested. When the police arrested me the first time, they carried me to the elevator and threw me in, then went back to get somebody else, leaving me there on the floor. There were feet all around me. One of the bodies attached to these feet closed the elevator door and we all proceeded to the lobby, where everyone else got out. I stood up, pushed the elevator button, and went back to the seventh floor.
By the time I got there, the police had already cleared that floor and gone on to the third floor, where there was another rescue. I was the only pro-lifer on the seventh floor.
When I stepped out of the elevator, there was already a woman coming down the hallway, led by clinic personnel, on the way from the waiting room on the left to the operating room on the right. The people from the clinic had some things to say to me. None of the words quite registered, but none of them were friendly in tone. I wasn’t paying any attention to them, because I was looking at the woman—the girl, really, about sixteen years old—who was on her way to have an abortion. We stood there and smiled at each other for some minutes. It was like love at first sight: I liked her, and she liked me, and we just stood there and grinned and grinned. It seemed to me that there was a real bond between us, based perhaps on the fact that both of us, in different ways, had become passive victims. She had gone into an abortion clinic and become a patient there, and was going to do what she was told to do by the clinic personnel. I had become a victim of the law; the police were going to come and haul me away. It seemed to me that we recognized this quality in each other as we stood there and smiled.
It troubles me that it simply did not occur to me to do what I was there to do in the first place, that I did not say, “Come on, let’s get out of here, you and me. Let’s go!” It seems likely to me, in retrospect, that she would have come. But we had divided up the roles in the rescue: I was there to block a doorway and somebody else was there to counsel. I failed to break out of my assigned role and seize the immediate opportunity.
The reason I describe the incident, though, is not to probe my failure, but to point out that it simply is not my experience that women inside an abortion clinic are traumatized by the presence of people giving witness to the tremendous value of their children. I am quite sure that although I failed to protect that child (as far as I know, that child was killed that morning), it was nonetheless a good thing for that mother that I was there, that she saw with her own eyes that someone who was willing to be arrested for the sake of her child was also capable of looking at her, understanding what she was doing, and loving her. I think that was important to her.
I have not seen her since, and I do not know what the impact of my presence was. I can only speculate, based on subjective impressions that I formed standing there in the hallway after being bounced on my head. But I flatly reject the claim made by abortion propagandists that women are traumatized by our presence. There’s more to be said.
My fourth and last point has to do with those women who are upset when we come. What causes them to be upset? Is it because of our point of view, or is it rather that our point of view finds an echo in them?
The reason abortion is difficult is because the conscience of the person having the abortion is troubled by the reality of the preborn child there. What we do by our presence there is to remind people of the plain truth that a preborn child is there. We bring out into the open the incredible violence that takes place hidden away in an abortion clinic.
It is proper, it is important, it is urgent, that executions take place in a troubled atmosphere. When somebody is killed, dismembered, ripped to shreds, it is obscene to maintain a polite façade. To do so adds considerable insult to fatal injury.
The abortion clinic personnel make a great effort to see to it that abortion appears to be gentle and polite and nice. They surround it with cookies and soda, with lounge chairs and a cheery decor. But the façade is destructive, not only of the truth, but also of the women who, even if they have the abortion, still will desperately need at some point to come to grips with what they have done. In due time, they must see clearly that they are parents and that their children are dead.
Given a choice as to whether an execution will be a polite event or a chaotic and troubled event, I think it is better for all concerned that the execution be as honest as possible, and that the violence be in the open. So I am not inclined to apologize for the fact that in some cases our presence does seem to upset people, does cause them to think about what is going on.
We are not engaging in any violence ourselves; we are bringing out into the open the violence that is already there. We are removing the façade of politeness and making sure that the underlying horror is exposed to the light of day, at least a little bit.
In the long run, it will be easier for women who have had abortions to face the truth and begin to deal with it if they are not alone in their sense that something wrong has happened. Even when rescues fail to protect lives, and even when they are a trigger for emotional scenes, they are still a real service—not only to the truth, and not only to the conscience of the community—but also to women having abortions that day.
From the beginning of recorded history, lawyers have been creating tangled knots. It is not within the scope of this book to explain the legal situation of rescues in scholarly detail. This is only a sketch of the current status of the law.
It is true that many people have been convicted of trespass for rescues at abortion clinics all over the country. For some, that ends the argument over legality. But others insist that might does not necessarily make right, nor do current decisions determine the final state of the law.
Several thoughtful judges, beginning in Virginia and Missouri, have listened to arguments about the “doctrine of legal necessity” and have embraced them. “Legal necessity” refers to a claim that otherwise illegal activity was justified because it was necessary for some higher good. This common law principle is really just common sense translated into legal terms. Obviously, if you see a child drowning in a pool on property surrounded by “No trespassing” signs, you should ignore the signs and save the child. If you know that somebody is sleeping in a burning building, you can break in to save them. These acts of trespass or even breaking and entering are obviously justified when they are necessary to save life. And this common sense principle is recognized in law.
The principle applies not only to life, but also to property; you can break into a burning building to save furniture.
Pro-lifers argue that if you can break and enter to save furniture, you can trespass to save lives. To understand the force of this point clearly, you must recall that rescues are not merely protests, they do in fact save lives. The number of children saved varies greatly from time to time and place to place, but a reasonable estimate is that children are saved at a rate of one per rescue.
In Maryland, a second legal defense was tested, a twist on the necessity defense. Debbie Braun, arrested at an abortion clinic in Kensington, Maryland, asserted that she acted to protect not only children, whom the courts ignore, but also women, who are not told of the risks to their health that abortion entails. She had a friend who almost died from a botched abortion at that particular abortion clinic, and knew of one death there. She asserted that her trespass was justified because it was necessary to protect women from exploitation and injury. Although courts had ignored children’s rights, it seemed reasonable to hope that they would protect women.
The defense of necessity as it applies to women was rejected by Maryland’s courts, although Debbie Braun was subsequently acquitted on a technicality. But the question of legal necessity will be raised again and again as long as people believe that the law should be related to justice.
Even when state law explicitly forbids effective protection of preborn children, it is still reasonable to maintain that rescues are legal. Article VI, paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution provides that: “All treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges of every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or law of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” In Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 700 (1900), the Supreme Court declared that “International law is part of our law . . .” The U.N. Charter is therefore (arguably) binding in American courts. And the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights declares that human rights are to be protected before birth as well as after.
Also, the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (the Nuremberg Charter) provides that individual citizens are responsible for violations of international law, including “Crimes Against Humanity: namely, murder, extermination . . . and any other inhuman acts committed against any civilian population.” This would indicate that abortion is illegal regardless of what the Supreme Court did in 1973; prosecution of abortionists is possible under this provision. And certainly acting to prevent illegal abortions would be legal.
Most important, though, there is the underlying issue of the nature of law. For centuries, there was a general consensus among lawyers and legislators of the West that law must conform to justice, and that when it did not it was not true law. It is a recent phenomenon, historically speaking, that lawyers are trained to believe that law is whatever a government capable of enforcing its mandates says it is. A more refined version of this theory holds that laws passed by a legitimate lawmaker are law: the process confers legitimacy.
This recent theory of law, called positivism, remains fashionable today, although it was tested by the Third Reich in Germany. The idea that the German people owed obedience to their rulers, whoever they were and whatever they said, was based in part on this positivist theory (and in part on simple brutality). Many people believe that the theory was discredited forever by the German experience; in any case, the theory was weakened.
There is a resurgence of natural law ideas among legal theorists today. Natural law theory was clearly the basis for the Nuremberg decisions, which declared retroactively that some decisions made within the Third Reich were morally indefensible, and that some acts performed by government employees who were following orders were punishable crimes, orders notwithstanding.
In part, the Nuremberg trials were the decisions of the victors punishing the vanquished. But the theory which made this possible was natural law, and a flat rejection of positivism.
Rescuers should not have to tolerate any hint from pro-life attorneys that direct action to protect the preborn is “illegal.” Coming from lawyers who understand that the preborn are members of the human family, such pre-judgments are a form of treachery, abandoning natural law, abandoning Nuremberg—and abandoning the preborn.
The role of the police
What is the proper role of the police at a rescue, where they are sent to “enforce the law”? How should pro-lifers ask the police to act?
The question is urgent, because it is clear that the police officer who removes a pro-life activist from an abortion clinic is participating in an abortion. Once a pro-lifer has taken a position between the abortionist, his weapon, and his victim, no one will die—unless the pro-lifer is removed. The physical presence of the pro-lifer is the last protection the child has. The act of removing the pro-lifer is like firing a slow bullet at the child.
On the other hand, the police officers are low-paid civil servants doing a dangerous job. Everything they do, all of the time, is treated with contempt. That is an unjust pattern. Further, it is important to be clear about the fact that the pro-lifer who rescues at an abortion clinic is usually risking some time in jail (although the risks are increasing), while an officer who refuses to arrest that pro-lifer is risking his career.
Still, sensitivity to the police is not reason to refrain from action. On the contrary, a consideration of their role provides yet another strong reason to rescue.
The time will come—though who knows whether it will be in two years, or 20, or 200 years?—when, once again, the police, acting not only in the name of justice but also in the name of the law, are going to go into abortion clinics, not to arrest the pro-lifers but to arrest the abortionists. It is going to happen. When it happens, it will be important that these low-paid civil servants—the police—get moral guidance and moral leadership from pro-lifers.
When my son Paul was four years old, he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. He responded, “I’m going to be a protector. When the bad people go to a place and they are going to be mean to babies, I’m going to stand in the doorway with my arms spread out so they can’t go in and tell them, No! You can’t be mean to the babies!”
I wish he knew nothing about any such possibilities. He did not get those words from me, though I recognize the activity he described. But I mention the story to raise a question: Is he talking about being a police officer, or a criminal? Should I encourage this dream? How?
The plan he described is, in a sane world, a description of a police officer. But will such activity still be cause for arrest when he comes of age? Should I teach him to want to be a police officer? If I encourage him to imitate the police, should I talk about wearing brass buttons and a badge? Doesn’t he already have the essentials?
When he asked me whether the police were good, I said yes, without equivocation. Why, then, he asked, did they arrest me and take me away? For years, he and I discussed that question with distressing regularity.
In the late 1970s in California, a retired police chief rescued at an abortion clinic. When his former subordinates arrived on the scene, they were startled, and asked him what he was doing there. He responded that he was doing the same thing he had done all his life, protecting people, and asked them what they were doing there.
If the police are expected simply to enforce the law as it is interpreted by their superiors, they have taken a significant step toward Fascism. The difference between cops and robbers, between the police and other hired guns, is that the police are on the side of justice and the law, while thugs are not. When this difference breaks down—because the police are no longer clearly on the side of justice, but are in fact clearly on the side of injustice—that profession too is stripped of honor by abortion, like the medical and legal professions.
A plea for nonviolence
Scripture teaches that a human being is made in the image of God. Scripture teaches further that God’s anger lasts but a moment, while His Love lasts forever. In building a movement that will have to last for years, then, it would seem prudent to emphasize the spirit that endures, not the emotion that passes. While anger at abortion is legitimate—and obvious, natural and necessary—it is not a strong basis for an enduring movement. Love for our preborn brothers and sisters, on the other hand, is a permanent basis.
It is not hard to understand violence. Four-year-old Mara Grace told her father one evening that she had had some trouble at school. A little boy had been bothering her. Mara Grace said to her father, “Bobby pushed me.”
Her father responded, “Yes, and what did you do?”
“Well, he pushed me.”
“Yes, well, what did you do?”
“I shmushed him in the belly.”
“And what did he do?”
“He stopped pushing me.”
There is an attractive wisdom in her simplicity, but it would be an error for adults to build a strategy for dealing with adults based on how four-year-olds explain matters to each other.
Preborn children have the same rights to protection that anyone else has, but their protection must take into account their unique relationship with their mothers. It is not possible to harm a preborn child without going through the mother. It is not possible to hug the child without hugging the mother. A preborn child isolated from his or her mother is a theoretical construct, not a reality. To protect the child, you have to deal with the mother.
If the means you use to protect a child make the mother turn away from you in fear, you have failed. Violent means are likely to do just that.
If the means you use to protect a child make her wonder whether you are approachable and trustworthy, you have failed. Large rescues pose that problem, and it can be overcome then; but how many pregnant women want to explore the psyche of a man with a smoking shotgun?
Abortion is a form of domestic violence. It is not reasonable to try to calm a family and make peace between generations with a bomb or a gun. Any intervention must be designed to heal and reconcile, since abortion is a lethal breakdown between generations within a family. To respond to a family crisis, the rescuer should be present with those in danger, sharing their vulnerability. But it is hard to imagine how to end domestic violence by having outsiders intervene violently.
Violence may indeed stop the killing briefly, but it is very difficult or even impossible to figure out how to take the next step, reaching out to the mother. A violent response to abortion may sound brave, but is extremely shortsighted.
Curiously, it happens quite frequently that the most outspoken critics of nonviolence are contemptuous of pacifism. Frequently, it happens that the same individual will criticize rescues at abortion clinics as an over-reaction to abortion and criticize pacifism as an under-reaction to the Soviet threat. It would seem to me that if you denounce pacifists for failing to do enough in the face of unjust aggression, you should do more than they do, not less.
Abortion has been called, accurately, the greatest war in the history of the world. My response to abortion is nonviolent because I believe that the power of nonviolence is immense.
The abortion holocaust involves massive amounts of bloodshed. Surgical abortion takes the life of one person in three or four worldwide; the casualties from other methods of abortion are impossible to calculate exactly, but certainly take far more lives than surgical abortion. So abortion and the response to it involve apocalyptic questions. In that context, it is important to be obedient to the Lord of the universe, who ordered us to love our enemies.
But who is the enemy? Clearly, the enemy is not women at the abortion clinic. Beyond that, though, I would argue that not even the abortionist is unequivocally the enemy; the pro-life struggle is with powers and principalities. The abortionists are prisoners of evil, just as women are victimized by abortion.
Once again, I would like to explain an idea using my own experience. At the end of Holy Week in 1983, I was arrested at an abortion clinic. I was there with a group of people who were determined to offer a chance for life and for reconciliation within families to anybody who came to the abortion clinic that day. Five of us were prepared to take whatever means were necessary to offer such help, even if extending the offer led to our arrest.
At this particular abortion clinic, the Sigma abortion clinic in Kensington, Maryland, if you wanted to speak to women seeking abortions, you had to trespass on private property. The parking lot for the abortion clinic was private, and there was a strip of grass around the parking lot that was also private, so that when a woman got out of her car she was already on private property. And at this particular place, abortion clinic personnel had “trespassers” arrested quickly.
On Holy Saturday morning, I spoke with one couple out in the street next to the abortion clinic. They saw the pro-life picketing and stopped their car to watch a few minutes before driving in. By God’s grace, after they heard what happened in there, they turned around and left. One child’s life was saved, at least for the day.
About an hour later, I saw the abortionist drive past the abortion clinic and go up a hill nearby. Presumably he wanted to avoid being noticed. I followed him up the hill, and was there when he parked. He stayed inside his car for about ten minutes, probably waiting for me to go away. When he finally got out of the car, I approached him and introduced myself. He responded immediately and angrily, “Who are you and what right do you have to accost me in this manner?” I responded that my name was John and that I was a human being. And on that basis, we struck up a conversation.
As we walked down the hill, he told me that I should rejoice that I was alive. I assured him that I did rejoice that I was alive, and also that he was alive. Together, we both rejoiced that we were both alive. It was incredibly banal. But the odd thing about it is that these banal remarks were pertinent, because we disagreed explicitly about whether to rejoice about the lives of the preborn children at the foot of the hill.
I urged him to take the day off. It was a beautiful day, a spring day in Washington. It was the day before Easter, and was also near the Jewish Passover. I said that babies and growing things and spring time and beautiful days all go together, and that he should take the day off just to rejoice in the life all around. He listened but did not respond. I pointed out to him that he had no real desire to do what he was about to do. I reminded him that he was a free person, and that he could do as he saw fit. I reminded him that he was responsible and could make decisions. I urged him to make a free responsible decision to let those children live.
For a split second, his eyes lit up. And then, it seemed to me, I saw the bars of a prison fall back across his eyes. His shoulders slumped and he continued to walk toward the abortion clinic. I followed him and kept talking, but after that moment I did not expect to make any headway.
Responsible spiritual writers repeatedly warn that it is dangerous to rely too much on feelings, or on fleeting visions, so I am cautious about any speculation about what I saw there. Still, it did seem to me that I saw a man, a brother of the Lord Jesus, a creature made in the image and likeness of God—in prison. I cling to the memory of that moment, because it opened for me the possibility of empathizing with an abortionist. The memory of that moment makes it possible for me to separate the sin from the sinner. With every fiber of my being I hate the work that he does, and I spend many of my waking hours fighting that work. But by God’s grace, I have been preserved from hating the people who are involved.
A human being who decides freely to sin is responsible for that decision, and will be punished. Some parts of the punishment begin immediately, and sometimes the punishment is visible. On a beautiful day, this man was deprived of joy.
But by God’s grace, I am able to pray for him, not merely as a matter of rote nor as a matter of obedience, but with my whole heart. Maybe I witnessed his damnation, witnessed him refusing to accept grace as it was offered to him, but that is not for me to judge. It may be that I saw a seed planted that will flower one day. I don’t know the real meaning of what I saw; I have no way of interpreting reliably the brief light in his eyes. What I do know is that I saw him as a man like me, a sinner in need of God’s grace.
The incident helped me to focus on how much nonviolence had already taken hold in the pro-life movement, and how much work was left to do. The pro-life movement is maligned in incredibly perverse ways. No movement in history has been as thoroughly nonviolent as the right to life movement, and yet we are repeatedly accused of violence. No other movement has so thoroughly understood that the individuals who are involved in violence are quite often victims of that violence. Most pro-lifers consider women to be victims of abortion along with their children. This perception is not unanimous, but it is movement-wide. It would be easy for pro-lifers to adopt an attitude of condemnation toward such women, but in fact that simply is not what happens. Most pro-lifers perceive correctly that women are victims of abortion.
Astoundingly, this immense achievement is completely unselfconscious. By and large, pro-lifers think of 99 percent of their potential enemies as victims.
The remaining one percent of potential enemies include the abortionist, the abortion counselors, the abortion referral workers, pro-abortion politicians and judges. I must say that I struggle with that. Often, I do not think of them as victims of the violence; I think of them simply as enemies. So the moment of grace given to me on Holy Saturday was particularly significant. The glimmer of insight into the abortionist made it possible for me to begin to see that he too is a victim, enslaved by sin.
Our true enemies are powers and principalities. Wherever there is life, there is hope, throughout the whole human race. Any activist who has spent time at an abortion clinic trying to persuade women to leave knows that hope is very real there. But the hope that we hold out for preborn children and for women applies to abortionists also. We can hope for their transformation, their salvation.
Is nonviolence enough?
Abortion is a massive problem. Worldwide, considering only what happens after implantation and setting aside for the moment the whole issue of non-surgical abortion, one person in three or four is killed by surgical abortion. A proportional response to that would be a nuclear holocaust destroying the northern hemisphere—proportional, but neither intelligent nor discriminating. So it is urgent to develop a massive but thoughtful response. Is nonviolence a sufficient response?
Some pro-lifers are lulled into inaction by an abuse of the “slippery slope” concept, by the idea that if we relinquish the political battle to stop abortion, then there will be infanticide and euthanasia, and then destruction of the handicapped, and then if we aren’t careful the killing will begin in real earnest. It is weird to see how many sensible people have such an idea in their heads, either consciously or unconsciously. The slippery slope is a real threat, but we have already reached the stage of brutality that sometimes comes at the end of a bloody war: people are killing children and abusing women, routinely, everywhere, without fear of any consequences, protected by law.
It is not sufficient to change the future. Now is the time to act.
To show that nonviolence is a sufficient response, we have to start by shaking the word free of nonsense. If we allow the term “nonviolence” to be captured by those who view it as a limitation on action, the word will be destroyed. Nonviolence is not a limitation. Rather, it is an insistence that love has no boundaries or limits. It is built on a realization that we are called to love our enemies as well as our friends. It is a commitment to the hard task of reconciliation.
Recruiting for rescues, from the beginning, has been a twofold mission: to encourage responsible and effective action (in this context, that means action as forceful as warfare), and to teach that nonviolence qualifies as such. From the beginning, one of the challenges has been widespread ignorance about nonviolence.
There are pro-life leaders who view nonviolence as one form of struggle on a continuum that goes from argument to shouting to shoving to picketing to nonviolence to guerrilla tactics to conventional warfare. Their view is that you must judge how serious the situation is, and respond proportionately. When Mrs. Grimes refuses to give out candy on Halloween, you don’t stage a sit-in in her front hall; you put her trash can on her roof. And when Germany invades several nations, you don’t stage a sit-in at the German Embassy; you go to war. When restaurants in 15 states refuse to serve blacks, you stage sit-ins at lunch counters; that is proportionate. That is one view of nonviolence.
Curiously, many of the proponents of such a view of nonviolence—including most of the board of directors of National Right to Life Committee since 1981—have been critical of rescues at abortion clinics. It appears that they hold that killing tens of millions of children and abusing their mothers is less heinous than segregation.
In fact, abortion is a massive evil, and nuclear war would be a proportionate response. Fighting abortion will eventually require the maximum response. If it were true that nonviolence was simply an intermediate step on the way to war, then war would be inevitable.
But there is another approach to nonviolence, seeing it as action that is completely different from violence, not as an intermediate stage between debates and warfare. What Mahatma Gandhi demonstrated—based on what Jesus Christ taught—was that active love, a campaign of nonviolence, can be a proportionate response to the greatest of evils. Because Gandhi brought about India’s independence without going to war with the British, we can hope that a campaign of nonviolence will protect the preborn, now and in the future. Nonviolence draws on an eternal power, the power that created the universe and then redeemed it. Because nonviolence can alter societies, it is reasonable to act nonviolently rather than go to war. It can be proportionate.
In their pastoral letter on war and peace, The Challenge of Peace, the American Catholic bishops urged a new examination of nonviolence. They noted that its potential had not been adequately explored. In considering possible alternatives to the nuclear holocaust and the race to prepare for it, they were not prepared to state flatly that a firm commitment to the love described by Isaiah in the “suffering servant” passages is the only alternative, but they did go so far as to call for an exploration of the potential in nonviolence.
Such exploration is sorely needed. To this day, even in the United States which has a national holiday for a leader of nonviolent action, nonviolence is alien to many people. Many people are still resentful of the abuses of “nonviolence” during the 1960s, when the idealistic and the selfish were commingled and cowards were routinely self-righteous. Part of the bitter legacy of those divided times is that many good men cannot give serious consideration to nonviolence. Their thinking goes from prayer at the doors of the abortion facilities to a careful critique of bombing, with only a passing nod at the nonviolent option.
Nonviolence, like grace or eloquence, describes a mode of action. It is not just a philosophy or some arctic moral principle.
But often, peacemakers have not been candid about the glaring facts that conventional warfare is more expensive than nuclear warfare, requiring more effort, more planning, more courage; and that nonviolence requires even more effort, planning, expense, sacrifice and even bloodshed. Discussion of civilian-based defense (CBD), to which the bishops have alluded in their pastoral on war and peace, is eviscerated by this failure.
The idea of CBD is that loving anarchists will act courageously and protectively regardless of brutal laws, thereby rendering a brutal government impotent. If nobody obeys unjust laws, the power of the oppressive government becomes meaningless. But CBD is utter nonsense if we are unable to stop abortion regardless of the law. We must succeed in our nonviolent work to protect the preborn from abortion, not just undertake a noble effort, to give CBD any credibility. If we are incapable now of protecting the lives of the preborn, who die at scheduled times in appointed places, now when the penalty for protective intervention is a little time in jail, how can we dream that we will be capable of protecting anybody else or anything of any value when a more openly brutal government destroys randomly, suddenly, and the price of resistance is likely to be death? CBD demands courage. Our courage is being tested now, and it appears that the number of people willing to take risks to protect children is not large.
During the Cold War, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn criticized the American strategic decision after World War II to rely on the nuclear umbrella. He pointed out that that decision was made because it seemed cheaper and easier than maintaining conventional forces in Europe to face the Soviet threat. But nuclear weapons did not protect the Hungarians or Czechs. Conventional forces, with greater flexibility, might have been able to act. But such intervention would have demanded great courage, and such courage was not forthcoming because as Solzhenitsyn noted, there had been no need to develop courage in the shade of the nuclear umbrella.
Obviously, nonviolent intervention requires even more courage than conventional warfare. The decision to work for peace and justice, and to do so without inflicting death on the violent and unjust, to do so by absorbing the violence and the injustice in our own persons, to do so in this bloody century, demands a sober preparation for martyrdom. Flatly, it must be said that we are not ready. In fact, it was noteworthy that the criticism of the Iranian martyrs spurred on by Ayatollah Khomeini was not that they are dying for the wrong cause, but that they are willing to consider martyrdom at all. In our pop-psych vocabulary, we even have a phrase to dismiss the whole concept—“martyr complex”—as if Sts. Peter and Paul, Stephen and Lawrence, Maximilian Kolbe and Franz Jägerstatter were all psychotic.
When you start down the road of violence, you hope that you won’t have to travel far. But if you have to go a long way down the road, the end of the road is the death of your enemies. When you start down the road of nonviolence, you hope that you won’t have to travel far. But if you have to go a long way down the road, the end of the road is martyrdom.
Invoking God’s power
At root, nonviolence is based on faith in the saving power of God. A strategy of nonviolence invokes the same power, the same spirit, that led Jesus to mount the cross. This is not a slight power. This is the same power that created the universe and sustains it.
We can, we should, we must invoke the power that Jesus revealed when, speaking from the cross about those who were killing Him, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”
We can, we should, we must invoke the power that Jesus displayed after His resurrection when he turned to His friends—who had betrayed Him and run away when He was in mortal danger— and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
We can, we should, we must invoke the same power that the apostles displayed when they were questioned about their activities—continuing to preach the word of God—and they said, “We must choose whether to obey the law of God or the law of man.” They chose, and they continued to preach the Gospel in defiance of the orders of the authorities of their time.
We can, we should, we must invoke the same power that led the martyrs of the early Church to lay down their lives in order to give witness to the truth. The blood of the martyrs watered the Church.
This is the power that we invoke: the power of the Lord Jesus, the power of the apostles, the power of the martyrs who were prepared to die in fidelity to Him.
Such a campaign of nonviolence in obedience to the Lord Jesus is not a minor event. It is not a small step taken before turning to violence. This is an effort to draw on that same power that created the universe, redeemed the universe, and ever sustains the universe.
The pro-life movement as it was developed in the early years, with three parts, was not sufficient to protect children and women from abortion. Offering alternatives to abortion is pro-choice—truly pro-choice but only pro-choice. Education, while urgently necessary, is extremely dangerous when it is not accompanied by action to clarify the urgency of the message. Legislation may shape the future, but children are dying now. What was almost completely missing in the first decade of the pro-life movement was not merely a detail. The movement failed to enflesh the basic statement: the preborn are our brothers and sisters.
It was tempting to dream that we could protect the preborn by easy means. But after more than a decade of slaughter in this country, and a billion deaths worldwide, pro-lifers finally saw clearly that the task was urgent and difficult. There would be no cheap solutions. To act on a commitment to the preborn would require substantial sacrifice on the part of all who valued the lives of other human beings.
The appropriate response to the slaughter of the preborn is clear: rescue them. For the sake of the future, we should educate and legislate, but the immediate task is to rescue the threatened.
The failure of the pro-life movement to undertake nonviolent direct action in the early years is not a reason for shame, but past inactivity should not prevent anybody from acting now. God will soften hearts and will give His Spirit, which is not a spirit of timidity or cowardice.
There have been some criticisms made of nonviolent direct action. While it is always necessary to refine one’s methods, the blanket criticisms are invalid:
• There are strong arguments for obeying the law even when it is flawed. But in this case, such arguments fall by the wayside, because the child’s right to life takes precedence. Further, the religious underpinning for strict obedience to the law has its limits: When it is necessary to choose between obedience to God and obedience to man, it is better to obey God. In this case, Scripture is clear: rescue those tottering to execution.
• A decision to emphasize nonviolent action is not a step away from prayer. Such action is properly a part of our prayer. The evil of abortion will not be driven out without much prayer coupled with fasting. In Isaiah, there is a clear call to fast, but not simply by refraining from food. Isaiah taught that fasting includes works of mercy.
• It has been said that rescues are traumatic for women at abortion clinics, who are vulnerable. This is not true. There is no need to balance the pain of women against the deaths of children; rescues are a service to women as well as children.
• Rescues are not disrespectful of the police. Rather, they are a performance of the proper duties of the police. In the future, when the police are once again defending lives, it will be important for us to work together. In the meantime, it is urgent that we be faithful to the Lord, who alone can judge.
Our efforts should be based on love, not on anger or a desire for vengeance. Love will last longer as a motivating force, and is a more practical choice. The pro-life movement should undertake direct action, based on love, wherever preborn children are threatened.
PART TWO: Drawing Insights from History
Chapter 2: The Search for a Strategy
Chapter 3: The Violent Option Fails
Chapter 4: The Power of Nonviolence
Part One presented a complete argument about the responsibility of an individual facing abortion. Part Two is about the search for appropriate response to the millions of abortions each year.
At a convention of the National Right to Life Committee one year, rescuers confronted one of the eminent leaders of the movement who had criticized rescues and asked him what he said about the children who had been saved by their actions. “One little baby!” he said. “We need to save millions, and this illegal stuff makes that harder.”
Rescues are indeed a response to one little baby, and one little mother. But we don’t have to choose between one today and a million tomorrow. The rescue movement offers a long-term strategy that is better than the old pass-an-amendment strategy. That long-term strategy is the subject of Part Two.
There are three key arguments here. First, we do indeed need a strategy, but a strategy that focuses primarily on changing the law is nonsense. Only warfare or a campaign of nonviolence can end abortion, making it possible to change the law. Second, the violent option should be debated openly; it is a temptation only when it is whispered in the dark. Third, a strategy of nonviolence can succeed.
Chapter 2: The Search for a Strategy
We need a strategy
Until the late 1980s, most pro-lifers had a strategy in mind for ending abortion. The strategies changed from time to time, and may not have been realistic, but they existed. Today, many people no longer have any strategy, good or bad. They are just drifting along, trying this and trying that. We need an articulate and comprehensive vision of what we are setting out to do.
Some people are content with a pragmatic cafeteria approach, or smorgasbord. But this approach has several serious pitfalls. First, it tends to be reactive rather than pro-active. Without an articulate strategy, it is hard for pro-lifers to see what steps they should take on our own, and they tend to allow the abortionists to seize the initiative. Smorgasbord may win some battles, but not the war.
A second problem with smorgasbord is that it is often consequentialist, evaluating actions solely by their results, their fruits. But consequentialism is an inadequate moral theory, and an inadequate tool for discerning God’s will for us.
The pro-life movement will never get anywhere as long as we evaluate all our actions in terms of their measurable results. Pro-lifers must try to obey the Lord, and let him determine the consequences. As long as pro-lifers undertake only those actions whose short-term consequences they can foretell, they will be utterly crippled. Pro-lifers have a chance of victory only when they stop looking for it.
The paradox here is not just a clever trick. Jesus said, “He who to seeks to save his life will lose it, while he who is ready to relinquish his life for the sake of the kingdom will live forever.” That is a ringing denunciation of consequentialism. The followers of Jesus are required, commanded, to take the focus off results, and fix their eyes on the Lord, who will show the way. To get results, pro-lifers must place their trust in the Lord, put their plans in his hands, and seek his will.
Third, the smorgasbord approach offers little or no reason to avoid violence. If pro-lifers are experimenting, trying all methods, why not try violence and see what happens? The smorgasbord approach cannot answer questions like that.
There are other dangers that arise when you drifting without a plan. Pro-lifers without their own plan can easily be coopted by other people. For example, many pro-lifers have been sucked into conservative coalitions. Many people believe that abortion is one manifestation of the moral rot of America, which a conservative revival will end.
But abortion is not a partisan issue. Pro-lifers work toward the day when all people of good will, of all parties and nearly ideologies, will once again protect the helpless. Liberals as well as conservatives can and should defend the preborn.
After the election of Bill Clinton, many pro-life leaders said that the nation had elected the “most liberal” president ever. Liberal in what sense? Liberals are proud of their work to expand the boundaries of the human community, breaking down the barriers of race and creed and sex. But excluding the preborn from the family shrinks the community; that’s not liberal. Similarly, promoting “abortion rights” isn’t liberal any more than promoting states’ rights was liberal, unless you accept the assumption that preborn children are nonentities. Pro-lifers reject that assumption. We consider preborn children to be members of the human family. So we do not see abortion as a right, new or old; we see it as a gross violation of human rights. What’s liberal about human rights violations? It is a sloppy error to call abortion “liberal.”
The conservative coalition benefits conservatives. But it does not automatically help pro-lifers, let alone babies.
On the other hand, pro-lifers must also be cautious about left-wing coalitions. I am a lefty-for-life myself—a pacifist, feminist, pro-welfare Democrat with a broad streak of anti-authoritarianism. But protecting children from slaughter must always take precedence over partisan squabbles and strategies.
When there is no coherent strategy, people can simply lose track of the goal, drifting farther and farther away from a determined effort to protect their brothers and sisters. I have met generous individuals who have worked hard to provide support for individual women or couples, but have completely abandoned the idea that we must protect children. At a meeting of the Scottish branch of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, I met a man who opposed rescues “because you must allow the woman freedom of conscience.” I asked him what the difference was between a rescue and the actions of the police if the laws that SPUC promotes are ever passed. He couldn’t explain the difference, but stuck to the idea that pro-lifers should only offer help, and must not actually intervene.
Fortunately, this phenomenon of having virtual pro-choicers consider themselves to be pro-life simply because they prefer life to death is not yet widespread in the United States, but this mind set is a danger. Pro-lifers who look only at the daily challenges and do not try to see ahead can drift into a quiet conviction that what we must do in the long run is to accept the hard task of offering alternatives to abortion. That task, overwhelming though it might be, is not enough.
I experienced this temptation acutely when I was working to set up a pregnancy aid center in the same building as an abortion facility. The work of volunteers in the center was to catch women on their way to the abortionist and help them choose life. But the work involved sitting quietly, day in and day out, about 80 yards away from executions. There was an overwhelming temptation to adopt an attitude of friendly competition, a “live and let live” attitude, not towards the children but toward the abortion clinic.
Many pro-lifers today are doing whatever they can to protect babies and pregnant women, trying whatever works. Such a pragmatic, experimental approach is admirable, but it is limited. Pro-lifers need an articulate and comprehensive vision of the task ahead, a strategy. A long-term strategy must be more than a collection of tactics.
Relying on the law is a dead end
The dominant strategy of the pro-life movement has been a legal strategy, an effort to reverse Roe v. Wade by amendment or through the courts. The National Right to Life Committee has championed this great effort, and has resisted other strategies, including rescues. Rescues might save babies and mothers one by one, but they disrupted the long-range goal of protecting all children and all families. They argued that in the long run abortion would be stopped only by the law. They felt that when pro-lifers were arrested, that gave the pro-life movement a bad reputation, and also eroded respect for the law, which was very important to them, since they intended to end abortion by law, and wanted the laws to work.
There are many problems with the NRLC approach. For one, it confuses the goal of the pro-life movement with a tool. The goal is protection; the law is one powerful tool.
Consider the comparative situations of Poland and Mexico. Although the statistics from both countries are problematic and subject to dispute, it appears that abortion is more common in Mexico where it is illegal, than in Poland where it was considered legal by the government (prior to 1993). Children are protected better by the moral commitment of the people of Poland than by the machinery of law in Mexico. That doesn’t mean that the law has no role at all in protecting children; but it does indicate that the law must be understood as a part of a larger picture.
In fact, there are strong anti-abortion laws all over Latin America. That’s great, as far as it goes. But many pro-lifers there are mesmerized by these laws, and somehow believe that a strong law means that babies are protected. Like magic, you wave the law and peace is restored. So in Rio de Janeiro in 1991, there were 40 to 50 abortion clinics advertising in the Yellow Pages, but pro-lifers have found it very hard to get organized to do much about it, because they had a good law. It is very hard to get people to look at reality when they are determined to look only at theory.
Some racists are inclined to dismiss the difficulty of enforcing laws protecting babies in Latin America. They insist that in the developed nations, a strong law means something, means real protection. But look at Britain, that extremely law-abiding nation with the friendly Bobbies who don’t even have to carry guns. In law-abiding Britain, almost all abortion is illegal, but no one knows it because the law is a joke. No one tries to enforce it. Abortion on demand is not legal in Britain; the law says that you need to have a couple of physicians sign off that the abortion is medically necessary. But everyone knows that that loophole is big enough to cover anything, so everyone ignores the law. In Britain, where you think it means something when you say that the law is law, the abortion law is a transparent farce.
All pro-life activists are familiar with Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. She had a friend, something of a mentor, named Havelock Ellis. Ellis was a member of the Eugenics Society (“more from the fit, less from the unfit”), and he convinced her and many other people that the only way to make eugenic theory work, to drag it out of the realm of airy theory and make it a part of life, was to give birth control drugs or devices to everyone, and persuade them to use them. The rich already used birth control, but the poor were multiplying and they needed access to potent drugs. Ellis was an extremely influential person in the eugenics movement, and helped to lay the foundation for global abortion. But Havelock Ellis opposed the legalization of abortion, because he saw clearly that the law could be warped without a great change, that abortion could become widespread without changing the law, by exploiting loopholes or encouraging lax enforcement or simple non-enforcement. But changing the law, he predicted, would stir up the opposition. His strategy was simple fraud, with nothing complicated in it: just pretend to give people what they want, and then do what you want.
Why, 80 or 90 years later, are we still so anxious to be fooled by Havelock Ellis? Pro-lifers need to decide whether they want a law that sounds great or real protection for babies. If you choose real protection, you may eventually get a good law too. But if you choose to have a good law, maybe you will get it and maybe you won’t; but if you get it, it is likely to be an empty shell, a scam.
Enforcing laws requires that determined and alert adults care for babies. Babies are protected by the determined action of vigilant adults who take action when babies are in danger, not by a piece of paper.
The strategy of relying on the law had further flaws. It was necessarily reductive, since it relied on a search for consensus. The reductive search for consensus must always wander farther and farther away from the restrictions of principle, moving from the Hatch amendment to rape/incest exceptions, ending in squabbles over funding restrictions. Politics is the art of the possible, and relies on compromise. But pro-lifers are not authorized to compromise away the life of a single child! Even if a deal were offered bluntly, “Let us kill one, and a million will be protected,” that is not acceptable. If that one child were to sacrifice himself freely, that would be a different matter, but nobody other than the child can make that decision. A compromise like that was proposed centuries ago by Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified: “It is better that one should die than that the nation should perish” (John 18:14). Caiaphas was wrong then, and his proposal, however tempting, is still wrong today.
Sometimes there is confusion about who has the right to life. The point must be made clearly: rights reside in the individual, not in a class of people. It is the individual child who has the sacred and infinitely precious right to life, not the generic “preborn.” If rights did reside in a class of people, it might be sufficient to work to change the future through political or legislative action, or through education. But rights reside in individual human beings, made in the image of God. Consequently, we have a sacred responsibility to work seriously to protect individuals who are threatened today.
“If you save one person, it is like saving the world.”
Further, the energy that was poured into politics has not borne much fruit. There were some successes: Federal funding of abortion was stopped for years, for example. But as the years passed after 1973, more and more pro-lifers shifted their focus from abortion to euthanasia and infanticide. The realities, apart from the rhetoric, grew worse. Globally, the much-exalted “right to choose” was being eroded, but not by any counterbalancing right to life, but by coercive population policies. Often, these ant-life and anti-choice policies were designed and supported by Americans. During the Reagan administration, American funding of incentives— the threshold of coercion—increased dramatically.
Pro-lifers generally felt they had won a great victory when American funding for International Planned Parenthood Federation was cut off as a result of the Mexico City policy. A quarter of IPPF’s $52 million budget was from the U.S. The cutoff was good, but Planned Parenthood used the cut-off to paint themselves as persecuted pioneers, and quickly raised money to replace the American cuts. And the American funds for Planned Parenthood were channeled to other depopulation agencies, including Planned Parenthood/Western Hemisphere, an affiliate that promotes but does not provide abortion. In fact, American funding for depopulation work climbed steadily under the “pro-life” administrations of Reagan and Bush.
In practice, the legal strategy seeks to protect children by authorizing the police to restrain abortionists, in the name of the community. But if no one in the community feels that we have a duty to restrain the abortionist, regardless of the currently non-protective laws, why should we authorize others to act in our names? If I don’t have a duty to do something, how can I place the burden on someone else?
The problem here is ancient. Do rights and duties come from the State, or from God? John Kennedy, in his inaugural address, spoke of a torch passed to a new generation. The torch, as he described it, was not merely a symbol of life and leadership passing from one generation to another; it was far more specific than that. He said:
Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come from the hand of God, and not from the generosity of the State.
We dare not forget that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . . .
The torch that was passed was a “revolutionary belief,” the belief that “the rights of man come from the hand of God, and not from the generosity of the State.” According to Kennedy, that belief was and still is revolutionary, was and still is under attack, was and still is in danger of being forgotten by Americans.
Kennedy said we dare not forget we are the heirs of that belief. But the Supreme Court dared to forget, and demolished legal protection of the preborn. Kennedy also stated that his generation was “proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.” He was simply wrong about that; his generation was willing to witness and to permit the fairly rapid disintegration of protection for basic human rights. Kennedy’s words meant nothing whatsoever to Justice Blackmun and Justice Brennan.
But the tragedy is deeper. Even pro-lifers talk of “restoring the right to life.” How can you “restore” what is still there? This is not merely sloppy language. Many pro-lifers—general public aside— believe that the right to life was abolished by the Court. That is nonsense! You could more easily abolish the sea and the sky! If the right to life is an inalienable gift of the Creator, our loving Father, then no one else can bestow the right, or remove it, or restore it. The right stands firm forever. Abortionists ignore it and kill children, but the right is a solid, objective fact, unaltered and unalterable by any action of the State.
With the right to life comes the duty to protect that right. That duty too is from God, not from the State, and the State cannot absolve anybody of that duty. A key function of the State is to ensure that this duty is discharged in an orderly and effective manner, but the State didn’t invent the duty any more than the State invented humanity. The State does not have the power to alter the solid, objective fact that you and I and every member of the human community have the duty to act as our “brother’s keeper.” The law should help to carry out that duty, but cannot simply abolish it.
The clear lessons of history refute the arguments proposed by National Right to Life Committee and others. Rescuing children by direct action is not only the most obvious response to the plight of individuals, but is also the best long-term strategy for responding to this social evil.
In the history of the human race, massive and deeply entrenched social evils like slavery or colonialism or abortion have been ended by only two means: warfare and campaigns of nonviolence. For 20 years, the American pro-life movement focused on a dream, trying to end abortion by changing the law. This effort was noble, but history offered no reason to believe this was possible.
Wars have altered social conditions effectively. Americans won independence by war. Slavery was ended by war. Some people nitpick at that, arguing that slavery was ended by Constitutional amendment. But the legislation ending slavery officially was impossible before the war and inevitable after the war. Similarly, the Nazi holocaust was ended by war. World War II was not fought to end the slaughter; the end of the slaughter was an accidental by-product of the war.
Nonviolence has also changed social conditions effectively. In India, Gandhi led a campaign of nonviolence that ended British rule there. In the American South, Rev. Martin Luther King led a campaign of nonviolence that ended segregation there. The civil rights movement also worked to pass legislation, but the power of the movement was in the visible willingness of King’s followers to suffer for justice; the changes in the law were a fruit of that courage.
Besides the two familiar examples of successful campaigns of nonviolence—Gandhi and King—there have been two more recent and far larger campaigns of nonviolence. In Poland, the Solidarity movement broke the power of the Communist dictatorship, setting in motion a series of events that led eventually to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union. Polish nonviolence was not the only force at play—for seven decades faithful believers prayed for Russia, and the arms race destroyed the weak economy of the Soviets, Communism doesn’t work anywhere, and the speed of modern communications made cooperative action easier for the resistance—but Polish nonviolence started the momentous transformation. Similarly, in the Philippines, a nonviolent revolution toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
There have been some suggestions of alternatives to war or a campaign of nonviolence as effective means to end deeply entrenched social evils. Michael Bell, a great pro-life leader from Bournemouth and an early supporter of rescues in England, suggested the end of slavery in the British Empire as a counter-example, a social evil ended by some means other than war or a campaign of nonviolence. It is true that slavery in the British Empire was ended peacefully by a change in the law, but this is not a good counter-example, because the decision to end slavery in the empire was made by the British, not by the people who were affected by the decision. The ability to make a decision in London ending slavery overseas was a consequence of prior conquest. Slavery was not a deeply entrenched and pervasive social evil in Britain, where the decision was made to end it. In those places in the empire where slavery was a problem, the power of the decision was a delayed consequence of warfare.
The Exodus ended the evil of slavery for the Israelite people, and they did not take up arms against the Egyptians nor endure a period of creative martyrdom. That may be a real counter-example to my argument. I offer two points in response. First, the Psalms describe the Exodus as a war that God fought. Second, even if this is in fact a legitimate counter-example, it is hard to use it in planning a response to abortion. Can we turn to God and ask for his intervention today, just as he intervened against the Egyptians 3,000 years ago but not since? The Exodus, if it is a counterexample, may be the exception that proves the rule.
Christians believe that God’s action against the Egyptians foreshadowed the victory that Jesus Christ won against sin and death. But Jesus’ action, I would argue, fits the pattern of martyrdom or nonviolence. In fact, Jesus established the pattern.
At a day-long discussion of pro-life nonviolence sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Institute in Washington in 1991, George Weigel suggested the emancipation of the serfs in Russia in 1861 as a counter-example. But according Alexander II, the person who ended serfdom, this change was the result of a war. Alexander II said that when Russia suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Crimean War, it became clear that the nation needed to adapt to the new world, and so he ended serfdom.
It is not uncommon to hear people suggest that abortion and infanticide in the Roman Empire were ended by the spread of Christianity, and to suggest that evangelization is the way to end abortion today. I support evangelization, but the idea that it ended abortion in Rome is not the whole truth. There were abortion and infanticide in the Roman Empire, and these evils were opposed by the Christians. At a later time, these evils were not tolerated in Christian Europe. But there were some intervening events: the Roman Empire was swept away by warfare. Hundreds of years later, when civilization re-emerged from the rubble, it was a Christian civilization in which abortion and infanticide were considered criminal. People who suggest that we end abortion today the same way the early Christians did, by prayer and by quiet protection of exposed infants, are ignoring hundreds of years of pervasive violence and chaos. The brutality of the Roman Empire was not ended in a tidy transformation of society.
Some people have suggested that we remember social evils when they are ended dramatically, but that there may be some evils which ended quietly. If an evil ended without a war or campaign of nonviolent resistance, we might not remember it for long, because our history focuses on drama and violence. It is hard to answer that argument; how do you remember those events that historians have forgotten?
The only example I have heard proposed of a pervasive social evil that ended quietly was anti-Catholicism. But it is not clear that anti-Catholicism ended quietly; it not clear it has ended at all. Four Catholic bishops were arrested in the late 1980s and early 1990, and almost no one knew about it. They were not arrested for drunk driving or anything like that; they were arrested for actions that they undertook prayerfully—rescuing babies from death. Many states and Congress considered legislation raising the penalties for the actions these bishops undertook. When the actions of several bishops are called “terrorism” or “fanaticism,” and when they are labeled as felons, we are in the middle of a Church-State confrontation that is deeper than anything in American history. It seems to me that if an unprecedented confrontation is easy to overlook, that is evidence of persistent anti-Catholicism.
Some people look at changing demographics and express hope for a peaceful return to pronatalist laws. The next generation is always made up exclusively of children of those parents who had children. People who promote abortion may vote themselves, but they rarely produce a large family of new voters. Anti-natalism is an idea that cannot be passed from one generation to the next for very long; it dies out naturally. This sunny proposition may account for changing attitudes toward abortion on campuses in the 1990s; student views began swinging back toward protection of the preborn. That is a good trend, but it seems to me that a trend is not the same thing as a reversal; a return to protection will not happen until there is a massive upheaval of some kind.
I know of no counter-examples to the proposition that massive deeply entrenched evils like slavery and abortion are ended by war or by campaigns of nonviolence. The long, expensive, difficult struggle to end abortion in this country by changing the law was never more than a dream. It bore some fruit by focusing attention on the issue, and the Hyde Amendment certainly saved many lives. But the idea that we would end this pervasive evil by changing the law had no basis in human history.
The real goal is protection of children and women. A Human Life Amendment would be a good tool, but is not an end in itself. It is surprisingly common to see intelligent pro-life leaders confuse the means with the end.
Globally, over 1.5 billion babies have been killed by surgical abortion in one generation. Billions more have been killed by nonsurgical methods, by abortifacient drugs and devices. Despite that colossal rate, some people still dream of stopping this slaughter— unprecedented in the history of the globe, with a body count that is greater than the total of all other forms of interpersonal violence put together since Cain killed Abel—with the same methods we use to adjust our taxes. This is total lunacy.
Legislation is a necessary part of the whole. But in a crisis like this, good legislation is a product, not a tool. Legislation is more like an announcement of victory than a way to get there. It is a fruit, not a tree.
If Roe v. Wade falls, that will be a great step forward. However, it is the rescue movement that matters. Massive and pervasive social evils like slavery and colonialism and imperialism—and now abortion—have never in human history been extirpated by legislation.
Chapter 3: The Violent Option Fails
If there are only two realistic options for ending abortion, both should be discussed openly. Why not respond to violence with violence?
In an earlier chapter, I argued that on an individual level, it is shortsighted to try to protect a preborn child without considering the child’s unique relationship with his or her mother. But on a social level, it is even more obvious that violence is shortsighted. No advocate of violence has a reasonable plan, or even a hazy sketch, for ending abortion by violence. The most ambitious and far-seeing of them may gesture in the direction of guerrilla war, but none spell out their plans.
This narrowness is not excusable. The scope of abortion is unimaginable. Abortion is not a national problem; it is global. Pro-lifers in the United States often make the rhetorical point that “every 23 seconds, a baby dies.” The horrendous statistic does not convey an accurate picture; it blurs time, ignoring concrete reality. Few children are aborted at midnight, or on Sunday. Saturday morning, all hell breaks loose all over the country. 23 seconds is an average that hides the bloody reality of Saturday morning, when perhaps 10,000 babies are killed in five hours across the nation. But also, the figure is narrow-minded nationalism. Globally, babies are dying every second. The children of God who are killed by abortion do not carry the flags of their nations like tiny Olympic runners to the throne of God their Father. God doesn’t care whether his children are American or Chinese or Nigerian. The killing is global, and the response must also be global. Guerrilla warfare is not an intelligent response to global problems. Are we ready for a world war over abortion?
To be fair to the advocates of violence, they are not alone in the illusion that the task is ending abortion in America; most American pro-lifers cling this myth. But the idea that abortion can be stopped in America alone ignores recent history. One of the powerful arguments for ending legal protection of babies in the United States was that abortion was available to the rich who could travel overseas, but not available to those who could not afford to travel. In the 1960s, one of the most popular hosts of a daily television show for children, Sherri Finkbine, used a prescription drug called thalidomide. She was pregnant when it was discovered that thalidomide was the cause of an epidemic of babies born with deformed limbs. She decided to abort her child, and her trip to Sweden for an abortion was discussed around the world, and provided an emotionally powerful argument for changing protective state laws. Since that time, international travel has become much easier. Clearly, ending abortion in one country is a good step, but it is not enough.
This problem is obvious in Ireland, although Irish pro-lifers are extremely reluctant to face it squarely. There is no surgical abortion in the Republic of Ireland, and little in Ulster except in Queen Victoria Hospital in Belfast. But still, the British government releases statistics annually on the number of preborn babies killed, and the statistics include the homelands of the dead. According to the British, about 4,000 Irish mothers travel across the sea to Liverpool or Manchester every year for abortions. It is good that there is no killing in Ireland, but Irish babies are still killed. The Irish who keep abortion out of Ireland are protecting their consciences, not their preborn brothers and sisters.
Under the Irish Constitution, children are citizens from conception. From the Irish perspective, the British are listing the killing of 4,000 Irish citizens each year. But they don’t raise the issue in international court, and very few travel across to England to protect their helpless countrymen from death at the hands of the British.
Irish babies are not safe from killing until abortion stops in Britain. In fact, they aren’t safe as long as there is killing anywhere in Europe. And neither are American babies, or any babies. Protecting children in one nation is a good step, but no more than that. Children must be protected everywhere they go.
Abortion has become a global problem. It is first and foremost a personal evil, but it is also global. The staggering abortion statistics within the United States are only a fraction of what is happening around the world. Accurate global statistics are not available; estimates of surgical abortion range from 20 million annually to 100 million annually. But even using the low estimate, surgical abortion takes far more lives than famine, malnutrition and warfare together.
Abortion is a global phenomenon, deeply entrenched and fiercely defended; it won’t be stopped by a few home-made bombs or a few snipers. Abortion is promoted by the governments of all industrialized nations. It is promoted by all United Nations bodies and by the World Bank. Every government that has nuclear bombs promotes abortion; none of the pro-life nations are nuclear powers. Those who promote a violent response to abortion have rarely if ever thought their campaign through to a plausible conclusion.
How, then, can anyone plan a violent response? It is sobering to note that a nuclear war destroying the nation of the North would be a proportionate (not discriminate, logical, intelligent, or recommended—just proportionate) response to abortion. The scope of the problem cannot be overestimated easily. If we try to establish justice by warfare, killing an adult for every child killed, then we can take out all of the USA, and all of Europe, and all Japan, and Australia, and we have made a good start but have not matched the body count from abortion. And that is just surgical abortion. If you try to estimate the number of deaths from chemical abortion, the total may increase two-fold, three-fold or even four-fold. To avenge the deaths of all the children killed by chemical as well as surgical abortion, we would have to destroy the whole human race.
In any case, it is difficult to construct a plausible scenario for ending abortion by war. Perhaps it could happen, but when you describe a realistic scenario, no one wants to do end abortion that way.
For example, Muslims who are faithful to the Koran, a growing power globally, hate abortion. Some also hate the West for pushing it. American foreign policy defines population growth in Africa as a threat to our national security, and we have been engaged in covert psychological warfare all over Africa and the developing world for two decades. The developing world, led by Muslims, may one day get around to responding justly, obliterating Washington, New York, and London. In a war pitting angry Islam against the decadent West, a war which could end abortion, which side would you bet on? And more importantly, whose side would you be on?
We should maintain a commitment to nonviolence because in the long run that is the only realistic way to protect children without warfare. Small decisions we make now, in the embryonic or fetal stage of the pro-life movement, can set the stage for war or peace.
Clearly, killing one child in three demands a massive response, but the road pro-lifers travel must be traveled for miles. If you harass the abortionist, what do you do next? And after that? Why not bomb, why not kill? Why not get on with it, and declare war? On the other hand, if pro-lifers are not going to declare war, then they should stay off the road to violence. A person who is not planning to go to war but who chooses violent tactics has already made a decision to abort the work, to begin but not finish.
There is a right way and a wrong way to explain why we should maintain a commitment to nonviolence. The wrong way is to urge everybody to calm down because things are not really all that bad yet. That is the message of many columnists across the nation, inside and outside the pro-life movement. The ignorance of that message will not be hidden forever, and it will be rejected. Those who rely on that message to avert a violent response to the holocaust have lost track of reality.
Further, the message contains an implicit challenge. If you teach that violence is to be saved for the most serious occasions, and this is not one of them, how does someone who sees the holocaust more clearly get it through your head that killing even one child, let alone millions, is serious? Clearly, he blows something up, responding to your challenge.
Response to anti-abortion violence
The arguments for nonviolence have not persuaded everyone, and there is a small group of anti-abortion activists who promote or at least defend strategies of violence, including bombing abortion facilities and killing abortionists. The most articulate spokesmen for the violence faction are Michael Bray, author of A Time to Kill, and Paul Hill, who killed an abortionist in Florida. So an argument for nonviolence should include a direct response to their ideas.
In A Time to Kill, Bray offers the justification for bombing and killing. But the shape of the argument is frankly bizarre. Almost all of the book is a labored proof that there are Biblical and historical precedents for violence in response to unjust violence. Granted. So what? The question that matters is whether violence is appropriate in this situation, and Bray just barely addresses that.
Bray offers four pages about women and abortion. Reviewing scripture and early Church history, he finds that “the woman is not viewed as a victim, but as a bearer of true guilt.” He charges that “Christians have shied away from proclaiming this truth in reaction to the frequent charge that pro-lifers hate women. The imputation of victim status to women was a concession which ostensibly served polemical and political purposes,” but “the truth remained compromised.”
Bray is wrong about the reason that most pro-lifers have been quick to understand why women have chosen abortion. There are very few adults in America today who do not have friends who have had an abortion. We learned from friends why women choose abortion. Obviously we do not justify abortion, but we have seen over and over how and why women choose it. It is the facts of our friends’ lives, not politics or polemics, that persuaded us that women are frequently deceived and exploited by the abortion industry.
One obvious change between abortion a century ago and abortion today is that it is far easier today for men to walk away from a sexual encounter and deny any responsibility for a subsequent pregnancy. For several decades, there has been no social penalty whatsoever for the irresponsible father—no stigma, little recourse without a messy lawsuit, no angry relatives with shotguns. Women who have abortions are being just exactly as irresponsible as millions of men today—no more and no less. There are differences: when the mother walks away from their child, she has to take action, and the child dies. But she is imitating millions of men. It is incredible that Bray comes down so hard on women without criticizing the men whom they are imitating.
A second very obvious change between abortion today and abortion a century ago (or in Scripture and in the first centuries of the Church) is that there is a huge propaganda apparatus promoting abortion. It is foolish for women to let Planned Parenthood shape their values. But it is far more foolish for Bray to overlook the impact of the sophisticated, thoroughly tested, unceasing barrage of pro-abortion advertising, through every available educational outlet including many churches.
Bray devotes a single paragraph to the historical examples that rescue leaders cited when they argued for nonviolence:
In our land, anti-abortion activists have adopted a sit-in strategy of intervention which was inherited not from the Scriptures, but from the Civil Rights movement. The sit-in tactic served well the purposes of exposing racial prejudices in India (under the rule of the British) and the United States. Such peaceful opposition won success in countries with a collective Christian conscience. The same level of success may not be forthcoming in a pagan land where the people have had their consciences seared by two decades of legalized childslaughter. And it is arguable that the force option has been thwarted by the credal status given the principle of nonviolence.
It is very hard to imagine how anyone would set the civil rights movement and Scripture at odds! In the aftermath of the movement, frauds like Jesse Jackson and Marion Barry have claimed the mantle of the civil rights movement even as they abused Scripture beyond recognition. But during the civil rights movement, it was unmistakable, it was undeniable, that the work was based on Scripture! It was led by Baptists, meeting in Baptist churches, singing Baptist hymns and Negro spirituals, urging their followers to study Scripture and imitate Jesus. Rev. Martin Luther King’s sermons on the eve of demonstrations were fiery explorations of Scripture. Setting the two at odds, as Bray does, is nonsense.
With regard to Gandhi’s campaign in India, it would perhaps come as a surprise to the Hindus and Muslims who built the campaign that they succeeded because their oppressors were Christians. The Indian heroes who marched on the salt works, deliberately risking severe beatings and possibly death, believed that the human capacity to endure suffering exceeded the human capacity to inflict suffering. They tested that idea in a crucible, and it held up. They did not convert to Christianity the next day.
It is amazing that Bray would hold up the British as an example of a Christian nation with a “collective Christian conscience” that could be touched (in contrast, perhaps, to Lutheran Germany?). The English were pioneers in genocide: they cleared the Highlands brutally, and then developed Malthusian doctrines to hound the survivors who had fled from the land into cities throughout Britain. Under Oliver Cromwell, they tried to exterminate the Irish. Just a few generations before the confrontation in India, the British imported food from Ireland during the Great Famine, caring for their animals while their neighbors died wretched deaths. The British have done great things; I am proud to speak the language of Shakespeare, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis and innumerable others. But Britain is capable of cold brutality. A statue of Cromwell the butcher still stands proudly and defiantly in front of Westminster Hall.
Bray argues that it was possible to appeal to the Christian conscience of the United States in the 1960s, but not the Christian conscience of the United States in the 1980s. That is an interesting idea, and there were great changes during that period. But it is sloppy to make such an important point, which is central to his argument against nonviolence, without any support or discussion.
The real puzzle about Bray’s book is why he believed that he was saying something significant when he belabored the obvious, listing violent events in the Bible and in history. The answer is ugly. There haven’t been a great many pacifists in the rescue movement, but Bray knew the few who led the movement in the 1980s. Most of his book is an assault on the ideas taught by Harry Hand, Samuel Lee and myself. Further, although he knew us, he didn’t bother to get our ideas right when he attacked them. He kept his views secret, but we did not keep our secret; in fact, we trumpeted them. So it is fair for us to expect him to present them accurately, not caricature them.
I have known Mike since 1984. We worked together planning rescues, and were arrested together. We went to jail together for a short time, in Montgomery County, Maryland. He played a role in building a nonviolent campaign in 1984, which opened with a rescue in Gaithersburg in May, with 140 people risking arrest, followed by a series of smaller rescues throughout the summer and into the fall.
On November 17, 1984, there was a rescue in Wheaton, Maryland, at which 47 people were arrested. The organizers— Harry Hand, Tom Herlihy and myself—were extremely pleased about that rescue because those risking arrest to protect children and women included 17 clergy. It seemed that the long hesitation about nonviolent action among church leaders was ending.
On November 19, the same abortion clinic was destroyed by fire. Of the 17 clergy arrested two days before, only one—Mike Bray, who was co-pastor of the tiny Reformation Lutheran Church in Bowie, Maryland—stayed with the rescue movement.
During a trial in Montgomery County, Mike approached me and asked what I really thought about the bombing. Sure, he said, we oppose them when we talk to the press, but privately, what did I think? I denounced them, and said that I thought they were probably being done by pro-abortionists. I said that I didn’t know whether the bombs really hurt the abortion clinics, because insurance might pay for all the damage that had been done. But in the mean time, I was picking shrapnel from the bombs out of my reputation, and there was no insurance policy for that.
Mike looked uncomfortable. So later that day, when we were convicted and jailed, we picked up the conversation again. We didn’t talk long enough to get to root disagreements, and talked past each other a little bit. Mike talked about how bombing could close the abortion clinics and drive up their insurance rates. I talked about the Catholic Church urging nonviolence in El Salvador and Nicaragua. But in part of the discussion, we found a clear and sharp distinction between our views, on confrontations with the Soviets. I argued in favor of the nonviolent strategy in Poland; Mike supported the armed resistance in Afghanistan.
The November bombing ended clergy involvement for some years, but also wrought havoc on our plans for 1985. We had begun planning to close all the abortion clinics in Washington on January 22, during the annual March for Life. The plan was ambitious, but not unrealistic; we succeeded in 1986 and 1987. Distracted by the violence, we abandoned plans to organize rescues all over the city, and decided to organize civil disobedience at the Supreme Court, with people kneeling on the steps praying. It was not a rescue, since no one was about to be killed there, and the event could cause confusion for people who still didn’t understand that a rescue is not just a demonstration. But it would be a way to challenge the tens of thousands of pro-lifers there for the March for Life, and we expected to recruit new activists. We planned to have Bray, the only pastor still actively involved with us, lead the prayer.
That didn’t work out as planned, because he was arrested for bombing. We went ahead with the demonstration on the steps of the court, and both the positive and negative predictions came true: we caused confusion, and found the best recruiter the rescue movement ever had. A curly-haired man came out of the crowd and exhorted others to join in the prayer on the steps. We were arrested and didn’t see the man again for some time. But on his way home on the bus that evening, Randy Terry started dreaming. In the mean time, though, Mike Bray was in jail.
From the outset, Bray said he was innocent. Harry Hand, who was then coordinator of the Prolife Nonviolent Action Project, spoke with the Bray family several times. One of the questions Harry pressed was straightforward: “He says he is innocent. But did he do it?” Harry received repeated assurances that Mike Bray had not bombed any abortion clinics. The charge, we were assured over and over, was false, not factual. So PNAP told people across the nation that Bray had not done it, that the charges were bogus, that he was being framed. In A Time to Kill, Bray writes that many people stood by him “on the assumption that I had not performed the deeds charged to me.” That is not a completely candid description of what happened; there was no “assumption.” Mike Bray and his family deceived us repeatedly; we believed them, and put our reputations on the line defending Mike.
I was questioned many times by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). At one point, I agreed to take a lie detector test. Halfway through the test, I understood that the BATF agents were not interested in learning whether I was involved in the bombing; their question was more specific. They wanted to see whether I really believed Bray’s denials. I did, and passed the test.
Even after it became clear that Bray was involved in bombing, I still thought that he had once been involved but had since turned away from violence and adopted nonviolence. I asked Mike if he could put that in writing, and after some discussion he gave me a short statement for publication, saying:
A theology of “community responsibility” is provided for us in the Old Testament. And this responsibility to “neighbor” is in no way diminished by the Lord Jesus. Indeed, an entire parable—the Good Samaritan—emphatically underscores responsibility to neighbor.
“Sit-ins” are “a more excellent way” than bombings for the very reason that they exact from the community its responsibility to its neighbor; while bombings circumvent the call to community, and in fact relieve the community of its obligation—giving it a “cheap solution.”
I understood that to be a strong endorsement of nonviolence, and a criticism of bombing. So I was shocked when Mike published essays he had written in jail, promoting bombing.
When Life Advocate was preparing to publish A Time to Kill, they sent me a draft for comment. I offered many criticisms, including the fact that Mike expressed contempt for rescues, but never explained why he was involved in them. Did he hold strong pro-violence views when he worked with us, took our money, traded on our credibility? Or did he change his views later? It would be an interesting story, and I thought he should tell it, since it involves questions about his honesty. The publisher and author decided not to answer this question.
Lying is not a peripheral issue in the debate between violence and nonviolence. Secrecy and deception were key to Mike’s tactics; they are completely incompatible with our strategy. Bray has sometimes urged that the different camps just go their different ways, disagreeing with each other respectfully. He and others are fond of calling this a “pro-choice” position, and saying cutely that they may be personally opposed to some tactic, but don’t want to force their morality on others. But as this incident shows clearly, it isn’t that simple; you have to choose one or the other. Our commitment to open-ness is a threat to secret guerrillas; their commitment to secrecy is a threat to our efforts to win the trust of the public and of our opponents.
It is perturbing that the book is focused so narrowly on attacking pacifism. What’s the point? You can demolish theories of pacifism and still find violence to be a stupid response to a domestic dispute in the short run, as well as counter-productive in the fight against socially accepted abortion in the long run. But more, I was the most visible pacifist in the rescue movement, and it seemed to me that Bray was distorting my views very badly. It was not just that the views he attacked weren’t mine; I had never heard of most of the people he quoted as experts on pacifism.
Bray worked with people who were committed to nonviolence. But he never quotes us, although we were the ones who made nonviolence an issue. Nor does he quote the people who shaped our thought. He demolishes straw men. I find that sloppy and rude. If he’s going to attack pacifism because I am a pacifist and I led rescues, then he should attack my ideas, not 16th century Anabaptists.
To answer me, he has to deal more fully with Gandhi and King. He has to answer Thomas Merton. And especially after the jailhouse debate, he has to respond to events in Poland. In his book, there is nothing about the Solidarity movement in Poland. Poland today has problems, but the Soviets are gone and there is peace. In Afghanistan, which he proposed as a model as good as the Polish model, the Soviets are gone and the killing continues.
Women are strangely absent from his book, except as guilty parties (Joan of Arc and Lorena Bobbitt are exceptions). He quotes Mother Teresa, because Harry Hand quoted her so often: but he does not name her, perhaps because he attacks her words. He does oppose executing mothers, although he holds them guilty; the distinction he makes is that killing an abortionist will prevent an abortion, while executing the mother is a punishment after the fact. But is he “pro-choice” about that, too? Would anti-mother vigilantism have a deterrent effect, which is the first good effect he describes resulting from violence? He never mentions Mary, the mother of God, whose example at the foot of the cross inspires many nonviolent activists.
A major argument of the book is that many Christians are uncomfortable with God as he revealed himself in the Old Testament. Bray says that God is not queasy about violence in pursuit of justice and truth. In particular, he argues that several passages in the New Testament have been taken out of context to paint a picture of Jesus that is not compatible with the “Lord of Hosts” revealed in the Old Testament. When Christians recall how violent Jesus really was, he says, they will have fewer qualms about shooting abortionists.
The question here is whether Jesus has called us to imitate him or not. Bray notes that Jesus was the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God, but describes this as a particular and temporary role that he accepted and completed, before returning to his more customary role as Lord of all. But the Church spent centuries arguing against this kind of parceling out of different parts of Jesus, ascribing different characteristics to his humanity and his divinity. Jesus did not deny the need for justice, but he took the place of the guilty. That was the meaning of the crucifixion. And when Jesus asked us to take up our crosses and follow him, he was not referring to lumber from Joseph’s workshop; he was referring to the work he did on Calvary.
The book ends by distinguishing between killing abortionists and challenging the authority of the government. “The thorny issue of overthrowing an apostate government is another subject.” That sounds like an ad for a sequel. But in the mean time, Bray has left a huge issue dangling. The problem is, when you kill adults, the government takes notice, and may respond with overwhelming force. If you define the issue militarily, as you do when you pick up a gun, the U.S. government is very likely to win, decisively. Then what do you do? Bray expresses contempt for Mother Teresa’s words on fidelity without concern for results, so he must address predictable results.
The first person who killed an abortionist was Michael Griffin. On March 10, 1993, he shot and killed David Gunn. Griffin has since said that what he did was wrong, but his action got Paul Hill thinking. After the shooting, Paul Hill published a paper entitled “Should We Defend Born and Unborn Children with Force?” He argued that it was justifiable, and later he acted on his ideas, killing two people and wounding a third.
In his paper, Hill makes a series of arguments that resemble Bray’s in many ways. Like Bray, he draws on sources from the Reformation; he is a Presbyterian. He says nothing whatsoever about women, or about the particular relationship between preborn children and their mothers. He states explicitly that “Christ had a direct command from God that he should offer his life as an atoning sacrifice. His case was unique. We have no such command. We have the God-given responsibility to take defensive action to protect life.” Unlike Bray, he makes a point of praising nonviolent activists; like Bray, he invites them to “consider the justice of taking all action necessary to protect innocent life.” Like Bray, Hill calls for a war, but offers no predictions about its course or outcome, except to note that he and his friends are a little short on weapons right now.
Violence that failed
Proponents of a violent strategy do not look very far down the road that they propose. With a few facile references to John Brown, they proceed to advocate taking up arms against abortionists, ignoring the fact that the abortionists can demand and receive the backing of the police, and if need be of the armed forces of every developed nation except Poland and Ireland.
Advocates of violence in response to abortion are dishonest when they focus exclusively on resistance figures who succeeded. Some failed, with dreadful consequences.
Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) led a group that (allegedly) tried to blow up King James I and the Parliament on November 5, 1605. He was responding to a very real problem: the persecution of Catholics. But he failed to end the persecution, or even to wreak vengeance. He was caught and executed, and his death was not the end of the incident. His violence was used as an excuse for further repression. To this day, many of the English remain prejudiced against Catholics, and they celebrate Guy Fawkes Day each year, recalling how dangerous the Catholics have been, and perhaps can be once again. Fawkes failed: he accomplished no good, but rather brought on more violence and more discrimination—for centuries.
Fawkes is not responsible for the fratricidal warfare in Ulster today. But a long history of religious strife in Britain and Ireland explains most of the bitterness. Fawkes shares some responsibility for that, almost four centuries after his escapade. Paul Hill’s violence could have a similar impact.
Nat Turner (1800-1831) led the most famous slave revolt in the American South. In 1831, Turner and 60-70 followers killed about 60 white slave-owners in Virginia, including Joseph Travis, who “owned” Turner. The Virginia militia responded, and hanged Turner and 20 of his followers. Other whites killed another 100 slaves.
For the next 30 years, many Southerners used the incident to justify their refusal to debate the issue of slavery. Whatever his intentions and however good his cause, the impact of Turner’s rebellion can be assessed in retrospect: he failed to win freedom for anyone, and his actions served to harden the hearts of millions of people. The story had the same kind of powerful impact in the South that Uncle Tom’s Cabin had in the North.
John Brown, of course, is the most commonly cited historical model justifying anti-abortion violence. John Brown took over the arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to spark a general uprising of the slaves in the Shenandoah Valley. He failed, was caught and executed. But within a couple of years, the tension he had helped to exacerbate led to a war in which the North fought against the South and won, and ended slavery. Brown’s plan was flawed in detail, but was more or less reasonable in the larger picture, in the sense that it was attached to reality. To this day, some people consider him a terrorist and others consider him a great hero. It is possible to consider his efforts as completely successful in the end, vindicated by history.
However you evaluate John Brown, it is not reasonable to compare anti-abortion violence to his attack on Harpers Ferry. Abortion vigilantes who refer to Brown do not have a plan. They adopt Brown’s flaws – that is, his violence – but not his strength – that is, a plan. A war over abortion today would be a losing cause. The only connection between Brown and today’s vigilantes is the violence. Imitating Brown’s violence is a bad idea from anyone’s perspective if you don’t have any reasonable hope that the violence will lead to a general uprising.
In explaining how bad abortion is, some proponents of violence will compare abortion to the Nazi holocaust, and show that the bloodshed today is worse. I agree, but I am baffled when the same people turn around and recommend that we respond with a few snipers. Either the problem is bigger than the Nazi threat, or it’s not. If it is bigger, then our response to abortion must be bigger than Eisenhower’s response to Germany. Advocates of violence who do not have a very large plan are irresponsible.
A violent response that fails can leave a legacy of bitterness for years, a legacy that will make it far harder to protect children and end abortion. The advocates of violence, whatever their intentions, can do immense damage that will be measured in the blood of babies.
Accidental drift into violence
No one is seriously planning to end abortion by nuclear warfare, but some pro-lifers are drifting into violence. The people who are careless about violence are ignoring the unimaginable size of the problem. If you start down the road to war, how far will you go?
Most responses to abortion today are trivial compared to the scope of the problem; the evil of abortion is as great as anything ever seen in the recorded history of the human race.
Mother Teresa has said that the fruit of abortion is nuclear war. Her serious words—a modern version of the message of Fatima—make sense. Abortion involves the decisions of millions upon millions of people to abandon hope in the future. In the decision to abort a child, parents act upon the view, articulate or not, that the future is not worth a struggle, for this generation or the next.
In the 1970s, there was a pro-abortion slogan: “If men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” In a sense, abortion is a sacrament: it brings about what it symbolizes. It is a potent symbol of despair, and it is a potent cause of despair. After hundreds of millions of people dip deeply into despair, we are ready for nuclear war. The construction of weaponry is almost a detail; the real preparation for nuclear war is in the human heart, which needs to be hardened, needs to learn the taste of despair. Abortion is the most important aspect of global preparation for thermonuclear destruction; the factories that build the weapons are necessary for war, but they are mere details compared to the habit of smashing children.
For those who are tempted to start down the road of violence, it is worth pondering the fact that the only disproportionate response to abortion is all-out nuclear war. If we measure our concern about babies by the size of the weapons we use to defend them, then we have to be ready to use all modern weapons, up to and including strategic nuclear missiles.
The toughest part of the rescue movement, undoubtedly, is watching friends get hurt. How do you control yourself when you see pro-abortionists or police attacking a beloved friend? Maybe you can take it when you are hit yourself; can you take it when a friend is attacked? When you have faced that challenge and thought it over and wrestled with it, it is a little easier to understand why so many Catholics sing with respect and affection and curiosity about Mary at the foot of the cross.
The principle model of nonviolence is Mary. The Filipino nuns under the treads of the tanks were praying the rosary. Lech Walesa was given the Nobel Peace Prize for the work of Solidarnosc, and he put the prize at the Shrine to Mary at Czestochowa.
It is instructive to contrast Mary’s actions in Scripture with those of St. Peter. When Jesus was threatened, Peter turned immediately to violence, chopping off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus told him to back off. When Peter understood that he was not supposed to be violent, he didn’t know what to do, was confused, and slipped into cowardice, denying that he knew Jesus. He knew how to fight, and he knew how to run; he did not know how to hold his ground peacefully. Mary knew how to stand still peacefully. She had saved her son from death when he was a child. But on Calvary, she stayed with him and watched him die.
Her peaceful presence did not save him from death, and we hope that our peaceful presence will save our brothers and sisters. But her peaceful presence is still the best model for our work. When our brothers and sisters are threatened, we stand in solidarity with them, sharing their vulnerability.
It is not possible to maintain a respect for motherhood if you are contemptuous of, or even careless about, the person who was the mother of Jesus. Imagine talking to God the Father about Jesus, saying, “Look what our son did.”
A Christian who will not give respectful thought to Mary, but says he is respectful of motherhood, is a liar. If you do not see Mary’s role as the mother of Jesus as important, then your attitude toward motherhood is as bad as the pro-abort feminists say: you see her as a breeder, a womb.
Mary was with the Lord in jeopardy twice. The first time was when he was a target of Herod’s death squads who were supposed to kill the new pretender to the throne. She and Joseph took Jesus and fled to Egypt. That was a successful rescue, by any standard. The second time, Mary was with Jesus at the foot of the cross. That too was a “successful” rescue, although understanding that requires a completely new definition of success. Jesus turned rescue upside down; his death was our salvation.
God works through women when He wants to get serious. The New Covenant was sealed with blood of Jesus, but it was an agreement made between God and Mary. God spoke to a long series of men about the Covenant: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, the prophets. But when the time came for the new and eternal covenant, a marriage between us, so that the Son of God is a son of Adam, that covenant was made between God and Mary. God spoke to her, not to her father Joachim. The Covenant was sealed with the blood of Jesus, and he alone is our hope and our salvation. But the Covenant was made between God and Mary.
The real strategy
The strategy we need must have four characteristics. Our response to attacks on our brothers and sisters must be personal and penitential, massive but peaceful.
It must be personal because abortion is an attack on my neighbor. I am the older brother of the child in danger of violent death, and of the woman who needs compassionate help. The problem is mine.
It must be penitential because the incredible violence of abortion did not spring out of a void; it has a history. It is in some ways a manifestation of deeper problems. No one among us is completely innocent of the evils that led and lead to abortion. We need to repent.
The response must be massive, because the problem is massive. And it must be peaceful because the alternative is unimaginably bad.
These are the requirements. Can we find a model or develop a strategy to fit these requirements? I believe we can, that we can build a successful nonviolent campaign. But first, we need a clear grasp of the power of nonviolence.
Chapter 4: The Power of Nonviolence
“O words are lightly spoken!”
Said Pearse to Connolly,
“Maybe a breath of politic words
Has withered our Rose Tree;
Or maybe but a wind that blows
Across the bitter sea.”
“It needs to be but watered,”
James Connolly replied,
“To make the green come out again
And spread on every side,
To shake the blossom from the bud
To be the garden’s pride.”
“But where can we draw water,”
Said Pearse to Connolly,
“When all the wells are parched away?
O plain as plain can be,
There’s nothing but our own red blood
Can make a right rose tree.”
“The Rose Tree,” by W.B. Yeats
Padraic Pearse was a pivotal figure in the development of nonviolence in this century. Despite that, he is familiar to all those who drink stout, but may not be well known to the rest of the world. Pearse led the Easter rebellion in Ireland in 1916. It was his intention to lead an uprising that had no hope of immediate success, expecting the British to over-react and execute him and his companions with brutal haste, and expecting further that the British over-reaction would light a fire, start a new rebellion that would have a real chance of success. Pearse was not disappointed. He and his companions were executed quickly; the Irish people rose in anger; the wide rebellion did in fact win independence for Ireland.
When Gandhi was planning the campaign for independence in India, he examined the work of Pearse. Pearse was a soldier (though not necessarily a very good one); he armed his followers and they shot at British soldiers. But he understood clearly that his death could have far more impact than any killing he might do with his rifle. He showed practically that martyrs have tremendous power, a power that can be exercised deliberately.
Gandhi picked up on that insight, dispensed with the distraction of rifles, and led a campaign of people who were ready to suffer to gain freedom. His campaign won the independence of India. He showed the world that a campaign of nonviolence can achieve whatever the force of arms can achieve.
There is an urgent need to strengthen the understanding of nonviolence within the pro-life movement. The protection of our preborn brothers and sisters requires that we act directly and immediately, that we take substantial risks ourselves, that we undertake a struggle that will grow to dimensions greater than the Civil War. This long struggle can be nonviolent and still be successful, but we need to understand what we are doing.
As pro-life nonviolence grows, the violence that has been unleashed against babies and pregnant women is diverted, ever so slightly at first, to adults and men. When men are sufficiently involved in the protection of babies that they are at some risk, that is an important step, but it is a small step. The time is coming when protecting the preborn will require risking our lives. Those who rely on their own strength will find other jobs to do. But those who follow the crucified and risen Lord will make themselves available to Him, will follow Him, wherever He goes—and He was crucified.
What Is Nonviolence?
George Patton, the flamboyant World War II general, told his men, “Your job is not to die for your country. Your job is to make that other son of a bitch die for his country.” That’s a clear view, but there are other ways to get things done. The task of nonviolence is to confront violence and to end it by absorbing the violence.
In this century, two new methods of altering society have been tried, tested. They are not utterly new; they are new only in their magnitude. One new method is nuclear weaponry, which has changed the nature of warfare, nearly abolishing the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. The other was pioneered by Gandhi and King: the campaign of nonviolence.
During the civil rights struggle, there was tension between violence and nonviolence. One group that called itself nonviolent (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) applauded when cities burned down in Maryland and elsewhere. Is nonviolence a fraud? Is it just a step toward warfare, as in the case of the great Irish pioneer, Padraic Pearse?
The choice of nonviolence has consequences. There are a variety of tactics that may seem to be acceptable in the face of millions of killings, but which turn out to be compatible only with a long-term strategy of violence, or war. Specifically, a commitment to a strategy of nonviolence means an end to all forms of petty harassment and minor violence. Those who would carelessly give the pro-life movement a violent shape now, in its embryonic stage, may think that their activity does not matter, because the enemy is a holocaust. But the movement will grow. Minor violence, if it is the way we choose to go, will develop into major violence.
Rescues are often criticized as forms of harassment or violence. Rescues are not designed to harass abortionists, although the abortionist may feel harassed. The nonviolent activist is committed to the conversion of the abortionist. The dynamic of nonviolence is a healing, reconciling dynamic. It is not weak or hesitant to confront, but it seeks to heal, not to conquer of humiliate. It is a manifestation of love, focusing on children, on women, on families, clinging to the possibility of hope even in the shadow of death.
Nonviolence begins with prayer. In the late 1970s, before rescues at the Sigma abortion clinic in Kensington, there were all-night vigils, praying and fasting in preparation for action. At dawn after these vigils, the activists prayed together, and committed themselves to life and nonviolence. Each person would affirm publicly: “In the face of death, I choose life. Amidst violence and bloodshed, I choose nonviolence.” Then they would pray for each other, asking God for a Spirit of love and courage.
The word nonviolence gets abused almost as much as the word “love.” But the key notion is simple. At the heart of nonviolence is the idea that violence begets violence in a cycle that continues until someone decides to forgive the attacker and refuses to retaliate. The decision to absorb violence and end the cycle is called nonviolence.
Forgiveness is meaningless when it comes from insulated bystanders. The uninvolved bystander who watches an assault and then “forgives” the attacker is not a peacemaker; he is an accomplice. Nonviolence cannot be passive; it requires an act of solidarity.
Frequently, nonviolence is misunderstood completely. There are social studies textbooks in American classrooms that tell the hapless student that social tension is expressed in a variety of ways, ranging along a continuum from arguments to leafleting to picketing to civil disobedience to property destruction to assassination to warfare. In that view, the animating spirit of nonviolence is simply irrelevant.
But there is another view, holding that black is black, white is white, day is day, night is night, peace is peace, and war is something else instead. According to people who hold this simple idea, dying is different from killing, and Jesus can be distinguished from the Pharisees who condemned him and the Romans who killed him.
It has been fascinating to watch the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) and the National Organization for Women (NOW) work systematically for years to blur the differences between violence and nonviolence. The key word in their campaign of disinformation was “harassment.” This word was the verbal link between rescues and bombing, and made it possible for them to lump all activism together. The campaign to discredit rescues this way was already formulated in the late 1970s, when pro-abortion strategists met in New York and, according to participants from the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (CARASA), agreed that rescues were nonviolent, but decided to link them with arson anyway. Later, when Congress and various state legislatures were considering bills to raise the penalties for rescuing, the key to promoting such bills was smudging the differences between violence and nonviolence.
The truth is, nonviolence is utterly different from violence. Nonviolence is not a step on the way to war. Rather, the final test of nonviolence, if lesser means do not succeed, is martyrdom. Pro-abortion hecklers in Los Angeles in the late 1980s understand that, and chanted at the rescuers, “Where are the lions when you need ‘em? Bring on the lions! We want to feed ‘em!”
One key reason for choosing nonviolence is that we are guilty ourselves. If we were the good people, fighting the bad people, we could just get on with our war, and kill them. But in fact, we are sinners also. In fact, we share responsibility for the abortion holocaust specifically. It is a mistake for us to insist too much on strict justice; if that wish is granted, we will all lose our heads. So we act with the tools of the sinner: repentance, solidarity with victims, love, reconciliation.
Abortionists deserve to die. But before we rush to carry out the sentence, we need to recall that other people also deserve the same fate. Laissez-faire bishops deserve to die. So do no-trespassing, keep-off-the-lawn law ‘n’ order judges and legislators, and pro-choice-to-kill teachers and counselors, and cops who arrest rescuers.
What about people who throw their trash on babies’ graves? Most of us live in communities where babies have been thrown out in the trash, and their bodies are now in our landfills. When we throw out our trash, we are desecrating their graves. What about people who pay for the slaughter with their tax dollars? What about the self-important and even the lazy, who walk past the sites of death without doing anything about it?
If we kill everyone who deserves to die, who can escape?
Justice? Pure justice is the midst of savage society-wide slaughter is indistinguishable from madness. If everyone who deserves to die is killed, no one survives. We need mercy, not justice!
At Mass, Catholics pray: “In love you created man, in justice you condemned him, but in mercy you redeemed him.” We need that mercy. We need reconciliation with the Lord. We need the redeeming love of the Father, revealed in Jesus, poured out in our lives, the Spirit of courage and love that animates the Church. We can assert with absolute and eternal certainty that the mercy revealed by the Lord is a better idea than gunning down everyone who deserves to die.
The central prayer for Roman Catholics is the Mass, an entry into the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lord. The Mass begins in a curious way. The priest says, “To prepare ourselves for this celebration, let us call to mind our sins.” That is a bizarre beginning. If you were to go to a party, and the host greeted you as you hung up your coat with a cheerful invitation to remember your sins, you would expect an orgy. It would be prudent to retrieve your coat immediately and leave.
Some priests dispense with the bizarre invitation, because it appears to be such bad psychology, and improvise their own greeting. But I think the apparently bizarre greeting is wise. Standing before God, I recognize my sins, but dare to trust the Lord. I do not approach the Lord in my own strength, displaying medals and awards, waving my curriculum vitae. Instead, I come as an adopted son, grateful that I have been rescued over and over from sin and desperation.
The Mass begins with a clear and explicit recognition of the fact that we are not worthy to have the Lord enter our lives. We state that fact and move on. I am not worthy, I am a sinner, I am a mess—but the Lord has invited me. I am here because I was invited, and I will keep my eyes fixed on the one who invited me.
It is far easier to walk on water than to stand proudly in the presence of the Lord. But we need not be angels to stand in the presence of God, because he has invited us.
My strength is not my own. Left to myself, I am in trouble. But over time, I have come to know and trust the Lord. He has saved me from selfishness, from fear, from sin and its effects, over and over. His act of salvation was accomplished once and for all in history, but I experience His saving power over and over. This is the power that makes nonviolence possible.
Similarly, when we approach an abortuary, we should approach with prayer, with a clear awareness that the Lord, who draws near to the poor, is there with the children whom we will try to save. In fact, He identifies with them. It is appropriate for us to approach the site of these unjust executions with the same reverence that we approach the Mass.
When we approach an abortion clinic, we step far beyond the bounds of civilization and sanity. We stand in the shadow of death. There, we will be inoculated against compassion, like the rest of society, or we will learn the Lord’s love.
Are we good enough to do the job? The answer to that question is no, and we should be ready to admit it quickly. We are sinners, responding to the invitation of the saving Lord.
We cannot say that we are good and they are evil. We are all sinners. Some of us know the saving power of the risen Lord; others may learn of it tomorrow; others may refuse His grace. But who is who? In the presence of the Lord, I keep my eyes fixed on Him, and that makes it hard to judge that I am good and that man over there is bad. I may suspect that someone over there is a sinner, but I know that I am a sinner.
Further, the root of most of the violence in the world today is not greed or pride or hatred, but lust. Abortion, the result of irresponsible sex, kills far more people globally than starvation and warfare put together. In American culture today, when “lusty” is almost a synonym for “healthy,” who can claim to be free of any taint of that deadly sin?
Sometimes pro-lifers are tempted to think of themselves as the forces of light and abortionists as the forces of darkness. But consider two hypothetical individuals.
One individual is sure that life begins at birth. He says that Adam became an individual when God breathed his spirit into clay, and so we become human when we draw a breath right after birth. Suppose this hypothetical individual is a doctor, and he is faced with a woman distressed about an unplanned pregnancy, in college, abandoned by her boyfriend, etc. She wants help. Why shouldn’t he do an abortion?
Is that man deliberately turning his back on the Lord if he commits abortion? Is it possible that a doctor can commit abortion blindly, in ignorance of what he is doing?
Put next to this hypothetical abortionist a pro-lifer, who knows full well what the truth is, who is not confused by gnostic blather about ensoulment. The pro-lifer knows full well that the child is a brother or sister. Proud of holding the truth, the pro-lifer is contemptuous of the abortionist. But the pro-lifer, with full knowledge of what abortion is, refrains from protecting the child because he equates the law of man with the law of God.
Is it clear that the abortionist is the evil one, and the pro-lifer is the good one? Is it possible that this hypothetical abortionist is open to the truth, and will learn in time? Is it possible that the abortionist, in fact, is secretly waiting to be convinced by the pro-lifer, but is nauseated by the self-righteousness of the prig? Is it possible that the clear knowledge possessed by the pro-lifer conveys grave responsibilities? Is it possible that the pro-lifer is required, because of his knowledge, to act in some way to protect children? Is it possible that the failure to act is a serious sin? Is it possible, in short, that some abortionists and tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God while some pro-lifers sit outside wailing and gnashing their teeth?
There is no new message here: We hate the sin, but we love the sinner.
When we go into a situation of confrontation and conflict, where lives are at stake and action is urgent and people will get hurt, we must remember that we are sinners, that we share the guilt of abortion, that even the abortionist is a brother. We must act to protect our helpless preborn brothers and sisters, but we must never cease to love our opponents. If we were the good people and they were the bad people, we could perhaps just go to war and try to wipe them out. But it is not that simple. We are implicated. And it is our brothers and sisters that are on the other side. Our response, then, must be healing and reconciliation.
The force we need must be a force that heals, that reconciles, that builds bridges, that confronts but does not humiliate. That force is called nonviolence.
Social evils of the magnitude of abortion have been ended, in human history, by only two means: warfare and nonviolence. History does not provide us with a third option. Clearly, we are heading inevitably towards massive social disruption, including violence towards adults. If pro-lifers engage in violence, however justifiable, then the violence will continue without end. But if we absorb it, and forgive the attackers, then the violence can be ended.
At first, violence will fall on us as well as on children and their mothers. But in time, it will fall on us instead of babies and pregnant women. Then we will be making some headway.
We must be ready to make large sacrifices for the good of the community. The violence that has been unleashed in our world must be absorbed by us, and ended with our decisions to forgive. That is called nonviolence.
When we adopt that basic dynamic, we have not automatically made all the tactical decisions that will came before us. But nonviolence sets the tone for all our decisions. We are not resistant to jail, for example; if we are acquitted, that is wonderful, but if we go to jail, that too is wonderful. We place ourselves trustingly in the hands of the Lord, and while we struggle for life, the results of our work are in His hands.
(The emphasis on fidelity can be abused. Mother Teresa’s words about fidelity are used by many unfaithful people to cloak their ineffectiveness. She will answer to the Lord for her fidelity—but she was very effective.)
How Effective Is Nonviolence?
One model of nonviolence is the nonviolent campaign waged by Gandhi to free India from the British. George Washington led us in war to free us from the British; Gandhi led the Indians in a campaign of nonviolence to do the same. The war that Americans recall with greatest pride was a war to achieve national independence. The same goal has been achieved by nonviolence.
There are some people who say that the Indians could not have succeeded against a more brutal empire, like the Germans. This is racism, pure and simple. The British are not morally superior to the Germans. Both nations, like all nations and like all individuals, have a history of glory and of shame. The British tried to clear Irish Catholics off three quarters of their land and give the farms and pastures to their own people. The British raised cash crops in Ireland while millions of Irish people starved to death. The Germans built universities, wrote literature admired around the world, were models of efficiency. To assert that the Indians succeeded against the British because the British were so generous, unlike other nations, is blind prejudice and racism. Gandhi’s accomplishment was truly comparable to Washington’s, and should not be dismissed.
Gandhi persuaded his people that their power to endure suffering was greater than the power of the British to inflict it. When Gandhi’s followers were beaten at the salt works, and marched with discipline up to the soldiers who beat them bloody, they convinced the world that they had a strength and a spirit that matched the strength and spirit of the British.
Gandhi believed and taught that love is stronger than death. For him, that was not poetry; that was a solid truth that could be tested in the real world. He tested it and found it to be true.
Martin Luther King provided the second familiar model of nonviolence. Again, it is instructive to compare his achievement with achievements of others in our history. President Lincoln ended slavery in this nation by war; King broke the back of segregation with a campaign of nonviolence.
In American history, we revere Washington and Lincoln. But their achievements in war were matched by comparable achievements in nonviolence. Nonviolence has the power to change society as effectively and definitively as war.
Too often, pro-lifers who talk about King recall only two aspects of his teaching, that he used nonviolence to challenge bad law, and that he was frustrated by apathetic and lukewarm support more than by outright opposition. Both points are interesting and worth pondering, but not central. What was central to his life and teaching and success was his God-given conviction that when we love our enemies and forgive them, we draw on a power greater than the law. He saw clearly that blacks suffered from the evil of segregation, but the same evil did far deeper damage to whites. Segregation was destructive of life on earth for blacks, but destroyed the eternal life of unrepentant whites. He saw how to serve blacks and whites, overcoming polarization. He saw that love, forgiving and self-sacrificial love, is a force that can make a difference in the real world, in the political arena, in the life of a nation. He spoke and wrote eloquently about the “strength to love,” which he learned by praying about the Sermon on the Mount and the Cross of Jesus Christ.
He taught his followers to pray, to fast, to repent of their own sins and their complicity in the sins of the nation, and then to act out of love. That love, we saw, had power.
By God’s grace and by the power of a risen people committed to peace, India achieved independence, the South desegregated— and we will protect our preborn brothers and sisters.
The perception of nonviolence is often very distant from the reality. I got a vivid reminder of the animosity stirred by the word nonviolence at a workshop with Mubarak Awad, the first Palestinian to call openly for a strategy of nonviolence. Shortly after the intifada started, he was arrested, thrown in a cell for 41 days, then exiled. At this workshop, a woman described a project she had undertaken, sculpting the heads of a collection of peacemakers. She said that when she told people about her new project, a common reaction was, “Oo-ooh! Why do you want to do those horrible people? They are so arrogant! So angry!”
A part of the explanation for this perception is that nonviolent methods are sometimes employed when it is not appropriate, when negotiations or dialogue or legislation or debate might be more appropriate. A sit-in to protest budget cuts at a college that has cut the scuba-diving classes is silly and alienating; it is not nonviolence. Nonviolence is not an alternative to negotiations; it is an alternative to violence.
Perhaps the greatest distortion of nonviolence is the popular myth of secular nonviolence, based—curiously—on stories about Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King. Gandhi and King inspired secularized Americans, but the facts remain: Gandhi’s life was dedicated to God, not to lofty principles, and King was minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no basis in history for the belief that a commitment to peace can be sustained by a secular society.
It is difficult to imagine how to sustain nonviolence without relying on God. Where else does peace come from? Ask Gandhi or King or the nuns in the Philippines who stopped tanks with their rosaries or Lech Walesa with his picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa pinned to his lapel. None of them talks about the power of positive thinking or warm fuzzies.
St. Francis of Assisi was an advocate of nonviolent means of transforming society centuries ago. His example was powerful, and he also wrote about how to bring peace into an area wracked by warfare. He was probably the first person to write systematically (if briefly) about Christian-Islamic relations. For 13 centuries, Christians and Muslims have been killing each other. After 13 centuries of stumbling around in a dark alley, now we are stumbling around armed to the teeth, distributing weapons to anyone capable of holding yet another gun. It may be worthwhile looking carefully at what St. Francis said. His program was nonviolent, with three parts: presence, preaching and martyrdom.
Presence: You cannot love people whom you do not know. If we are serious about peace between Christians and Muslims, we have to start there. Dialogue, service and social justice all begin with “presence.”
Preaching: The Church’s commission to preach the Gospel is not fulfilled unless some people are speaking explicitly about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of God, savior of mankind, Prince of Peace.
Curiously, when the question of preaching the Gospel in Muslim countries comes up, many people, including missionaries, say, “You can’t preach the Gospel there, because it is illegal.” That is a non sequitur. The list of saints who broke the law to preach the Gospel is extensive and familiar.
That brings us to Francis’ third admonition: be ready to die for the faith.
Twenty years after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, revisionist historians claimed that what he really did was simply to harness the power of the press. This cynical and reductive view is not complete or honest; he led nonviolence. Although the press and the law certainly helped, the campaign of nonviolence had a power of its own. The people who followed him said they were living the Gospel, and they lived it in private as well as in public. And yet, it the core of this revision was shared implicitly by many liberals, who were contemptuous of pro-life nonviolence and asserted that all the pro-lifers were trying to do was get media coverage. To understand the attacks on our work, it is very useful to study other nonviolent campaigns, who were subjected to the same criticisms.
Pro-lifers can learn from King, but there are major differences between his work and the rescue movement. One major difference is that rescuers strive for immediate and measurable results. Rescuers really want exactly what they ask for; they intend to stop the killing there that day. Sometimes their peaceful presence with children and women is enough to protect them. Rescuers may or may not be interested in what happens with the law; the law is a different topic. King, by contrast, did not want a sandwich when he went into segregated restaurants; he wanted to change the law. The measurable, pragmatic results that rescuers want set rescues apart from “civil disobedience.”
On the other hand, because rescues are effective and can be justified by an appeal to utilitarianism, many critics try to evaluate rescues solely in terms of measured results. Rescues save many lives; such scrutiny is not unwelcome. But utilitarians cannot ever grasp fully the heart of actions that are primarily acts of fidelity. For example, some rescuers refuse to walk away from the door of an abortion clinic long after their counseling work has been terminated by police interference. The decision to stay near doomed children at that time, in imitation of Mary and John at the foot of the cross, is based on fidelity, and cannot be explained adequately in utilitarian terms.
The rescue movement began in the 1970s with small actions. It grew in the 1980s, as hundreds of people got involved. With the jailing of Joan Andrews and the recruiting work done by Randy Terry, the movement grew into the thousands. By 1991, the rescue movement was the largest nonviolent movement in American history. But it was still minuscule compared to the problem it confronted. Children will continue to die until there is a massive campaign of nonviolence larger than Gandhi’s. That will not happen quickly, but it must happen eventually.
After tens of thousands of arrests, some pro-lifers began to feel that the rescue movement was achieving some power. But it was still small compared to the problem. During the American Revolution, George Washington was sometimes a little annoyed about the limitations of the help that the French offered. They did not want their army to get shot at. What kind of an ally is that, marching all over the place and eating your food, but not risking any casualties? Pro-lifers are in a similar situation: like the French army 200 years ago, we have come to help the embattled, who are getting slaughtered. Consider: 1.5 billion babies dead, 1.5 billion women wounded, 60,000 allies imprisoned briefly. If the allies— pro-lifers—had been one percent of the total casualties, that would be 15 million killed and 15 million wounded. But pro-lifers are not a tenth of a percent of the casualties, not a hundredth of a percent. They represent 4 thousandths of a percent, and get to that fraction only by counting prisoners who are taken and released immediately. The rescue movement is tiny, and rescue leaders would do well to be humble about it.
Even after people adopt rescues as a central part of their work, the potential for getting sidetracked is considerable. Lawyers frequently see rescue cases as vehicles for legal challenges. That is fine; rescues are a part of a whole picture which includes litigation. However, when lawyers or organizers ask that you delay rescuing children because such action will endanger court action, they are no longer focusing on loving action to protect our preborn brothers and sisters, and they are betraying the nonviolent movement. Children come first, and the law must follow after as well as it can.
Gandhi and King are not the only models available to us. It cannot be said too often: we need not bog down in our thinking about nonviolence, referring only to those two. Remember that Solidarnosc, a committed nonviolent group, transformed the western edge of the Soviet empire, nonviolently. Remember that the Philippine Revolution, ousting a dictator and putting in Cory Aquino, was nonviolent.
Also, the Irish example did not begin or end with Padraic Pearse, however great he was. The Irish have an ancient tradition of practicing one part of a long-term campaign of nonviolence. I have a good friend who is always asking when we will get on with the “Irish solution” to abortion. By that he means the terrorist bombings carried out by Communists in the Provisional IRA. But in fact, the Irish solution is not bombs. The Irish maintained their national identity and pride during hundreds of years of foreign oppression and domination by nonviolent means. There were armed rebellions in one generation after another. But what was far more important was that the Irish were faithful to the Lord, faithful to the Church, faithful to their spouses—and they had babies. That is the Irish solution: babies, babies, babies.
Whatever happens in this generation, the struggle will go on for a long time—and the next generation will be made up exclusively of the children of parents who had children.
A model of nonviolence: the Philippine Revolution
In 1986, the Filipinos elected a new president, Corazon Aquino. Abortion was not a major issue in the election, but it is interesting to note that Aquino was pro-life, and the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was pro-abortion. When he saw he had lost, Marcos refused to honor the results of the election, and held to power. The Filipino bishops declared solemnly that the power of the government had no moral basis, and said that if the government refused to correct the evil, then the people had a serious moral obligation to do so. The bishops said carefully but clearly that the people must act, and must steer a difficult course between apathy on one side and violence on the other. Their statement was clear and courageous.
A crisis was precipitated by the courageous decision of some military leaders to switch their allegiance from the dictator to the duly elected president. Marcos ordered his army to take control and to put down the “rebellion”—and the nation was on the brink of civil war.
When Marcos soldiers began driving toward camps controlled by forces loyal to Aquino, about a million people poured into the streets of Manila, blocking the way of the tanks. Nonviolent people, armed only with love, stood between the two armed forces. In retrospect, the victory may look cheap, because it was quick. For the people who risked their lives, it may not have seemed so cheap.
It is worthwhile reading the accounts of people in the streets carefully. The following is the account of Sister Pingping Oscariz, DSP, one of the nuns under the wheels of a tank.
“Sisters, please stay with us!”
I look around and I see only one Sister with me. That’s Terry. Terry and I are supposed to be just passing through at Ortigas, on our way home to Pasay. We have just come from another part of EDSA (We, the Daughters of St Paul, come here in shifts. As soon as we heard the cardinal calling for help, we posted sheets where the Sisters could sign up for the shift they wanted.) Terry and I, with a few others, signed up for Sunday morning. It’s now afternoon—it’s our turn to go home, rest a little, then come back a little stronger.
But the people plead: “Sisters, please stay with us. Don’t go away, please!”
Terry and I stay with them. Now what are we supposed to do? The people tell us what to do: “Sisters, please stay in front.” They are assigning us a place right almost under the wheels of the big tank! My God, if that tank moves . . . What can we possibly do against this big war tank?
Terry and I start praying to Our Lady in her rosary.The people join us. We announce, “The first sorrowful mystery is the agony of Our Lord in the Garden.” As we pray, negotiations are going on between General Tadiar and some laymen. Tadiar is adamant. He wants to move the tanks to Crame. We now go to the second mystery. We announce: “The second sorrowful mystery is the scourging of Our Lord at the pillar.”
Some people have a bright idea. They want us to climb to the top of the tank and lead the rosary from there. I look to the top of the monstrous tank. It’s far too high for us and how shall two nuns clamber up the metal side of this tank? We decide to stay below, here with the people, in front of the wheels. The photographers are jostling one another to take a good picture of the tanks, the marines, and us (the people). When I open my mouth to plead with them to calm down a little, that they pray with us instead at this time of danger, someone aims his camera at us. (Result: the picture of two nuns, one of them her mouth wide open, a picture flashed on the screens across the world and printed in local and international publications.)
General Tadiar shouts to the people: “Will you please clear the road so we can pass!” No one moves. We announce: “The fourth sorrowful mystery: Jesus receives his cross and carries it.”
My eyes are on the treaded wheels. Lord, what a way to die. I prefer being riddled with bullets to being flattened out and crushed under these wheels. My Sisters will still recognize me if I die riddled with bullets, but not if I am crushed, bones and all, beyond recognition. Have mercy on us, O Lord.
Suddenly the huge war tank in front of me roars to life and the earth shudders under us. The tank roars louder. And it begins to move against us! The people give out a cry—and they begin crying. My impulse is to stand and flee. But I hold myself in place and make my offering: “Lord, I offer you my life. I am glad to die as a Daughter of St Paul!”
Some hours afterwards, I find myself kneeling in front of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, in our chapel here in Pasay, recalling the horror of that moment. Recalling also the grace of that moment: I held my ground when the tank moved against me. The rest is history.
This short account is loaded with lessons for the rescue movement. The first thing to notice is her memory of the moment: she remembered it as a grace, a gift from God. She does not remember or rejoice in her own strength, but in God’s gift to his people.
Notice her clear recognition at the beginning of her poverty and helplessness and vulnerability: What can we do against these war tanks? The clear answer is nothing; stopping the tanks is impossible. They took on an impossible task, out of obedience to the Lord, with whom all things are possible.
Note what they did under the wheels of the tank. They prayed; and, more specifically, they prayed the Rosary, meditating with Mary on the passion of the Lord. No one in our time need be ashamed of the rosary.
Their understanding of their work was that they were to stay with the people, solidarity with the vulnerable.
Pro-life leaders who have struggled to maintain control during a rescue will recognize the response when people were getting out of control at one point. The sisters took control, shouting for people to pray.
They thought that they were through with their work when their real work began. The Lord calls us beyond our expectations.
They were praying a sequential and orderly prayer, with specific ideas in a line, and that by God’s providence they were meditating specifically on the Lord’s crucifixion at the time of their greatest danger. Sometimes pro-lifers look specifically for rescue texts, but that is not necessary. From the perspective of the Lord and the perspective of the Church, our daily prayers, those quite humble prayers, are precisely what we need at the moments of greatest drama and danger. Changing a diaper or washing the dishes or stopping a tank or being beaten by the Los Angeles police: it is all part of the same reality of love and service to the Lord and his people.
Note that when it was over, they thanked God.
Another moving account from the Filipino Revolution was written by Sr. Pilar Verzosa, a pro-life activist. Like many rescuers, she was tempted to see her work as a failure.
Sister Pilar, like Sister Pingping, was part of human barricade keeping soldiers loyal to the dictator from attacking soldiers who had defected to the elected president. She too saw the power of communal prayer, and specifically of singing. On many occasions, the Filipino leaders restored or maintained order by singing, a tool of immense power.
The situation is explosive, made more so by the people taunting the Marines. Two sisters are leading the rosary. I join them. Not all the people are praying with us . . .
They used prayer to restore and maintain order. When they started praying, they were not thinking about God, they were thinking about disorder and how to control it. God, who is Lord of the universe and who lives in unapproachable splendor and majesty, is humble. He takes us where we are and accepts the gifts we offer, like the scribblings of a three-year-old child with a new box of crayons. If all we offer is our mouths, because we want to restore order, He will help us restore order and then take over our hearts.
[Several of us] decide to walk into the forbidden enclosure where the tanks and marines are waiting for their next orders. . . . Our hearts are pounding against their rib cage.
After some hesitation, I put my foot forward crossing the forbidden line. And immediately the other sisters dare to cross over.
Note the power of example, the power unleashed by the first act of courage. For us, things have taken years, not a moment; but we see the same thing. One person acting in obedience to God— like John Ryan or Joan Andrews—opens the eyes and hearts of many others.
Again, though, when they cross over the line, they are empty and helpless and totally at a loss.
But what should we do here? Can somebody please tell us what we should do next?
Juli Loesch Wiley says: God gives us all the courage we need when we need it—but no extra, and not until we really need it.
I try talking to a marine. He doesn’t answer me. I try talking to the others—they just stare at me. I talk in Tagalog, in English, and I feel so dumb talking alone. I try my Ilocano. It works! I establish a little contact. I tell one marine, “I suppose you are doing this because you were told to.” The marine answers back, “Oh, no, Sister. We have our own minds. We don’t just follow orders.” There is some hostility in the voice, but I am happy someone is talking to me.
Although this conversation was in the Philippines, in a different culture, a different language, a different issue, different circumstances, it sounds completely familiar to rescue leaders in the United States.
The next day, Sister Pilar was part of a barricade that broke.
The lieutenant listens. He sees that we come in peace, unarmed. We are here to prevent fratricidal war . . . He withdraws his men.
The people give out a victory cheer! Suddenly the lieutenant and his men, already a few meters away, turn their truck around and start coming back at us. Perhaps our victory cheer sounded like a celebration of their defeat—they feel humiliated. They are coming at us to demolish us. We are stunned. We meant no harm. . . . “Don’t shoot, we are your brothers and sisters.” But they are no longer listening. Suddenly the lieutenant barks out the command: “Fix bayonets!” My God! They start advancing at us, the steel points ready for the thrust into our bodies. We all close ranks . . . in tight “kapit-bisig.” Fr. Kreutz, just before the blow, orders the barricades to break up and let the soldiers through.
Fear seizes all of us and people begin to cry—believing it was all a useless effort, believing a bloody civil war is just a few seconds away. . . .
[Later that night,] I hear the announcement that killings have already started . . . All our instructions to the young, all our seminars on peace, all a lifetime’s efforts to promote active nonviolence, all our prayers—all have meant nothing after all . . .
Pilar was part of the only barricade that broke that week. She thought they had failed, and that civil war had started. But in fact, unbeknownst to them at the time, the units that went through their lines defected to Aquino. What they experienced as a failure was, by God’s grace, one of the greatest victories of an amazing week.
Part Three: Prophetic Church
Chapter 5: A Century of Insight
Chapter 6: Transforming Grace
Part One considered abortion and a nonviolent response from the perspective of individual children and parents. Part Two looked at the same questions, but from a social and historical perspective. Part Three addresses the same questions again, this time drawing on the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Pope John Paul II’s teaching about “social sin.”
Abortion is an evil that touches all parts of society. Motherhood, once respected, is now derided. The maternal womb, once the archetype of safety, has become the most dangerous place on earth. The medical profession, once dedicated to healing, has turned to killing. The legal profession, once dedicated to justice, now condemns the innocent to death without trial, hearing, appeal or delay. Courageous leadership is a fading memory; political leaders rely on polls. The generation that grew up denouncing German compliance with immoral orders now demands that police officers enforce trespass laws against bishops and other rescuers without hesitation or conscientious objection. Calls to action are rarely anything more than fund-raising appeals, or at best rhetorical calls for more rhetoric. Our language has been so perverted that piles of corpses can be justified by invoking the shibboleth “freedom of choice.” Our dumps and landfills have become cemeteries. The champions of women’s rights defend or excuse coercive abortion, coercive sterilization, coercive IUD insertions, and pressure for female infanticide for a quarter of the women in the world. African American leaders, faced with massive destruction of black families in this nation, are almost unanimous in their support of the racist organization Planned Parenthood.
Abortion is a great evil, but who is responsible, and how is this evil to be remedied?
The squinting minimalist blames the woman and the abortionist; they and they alone are responsible for the death of the child. The remedy is to excommunicate her and jail him. Experience, if not common sense, has discarded that solution.
Polarized crusaders blame the pro-death factions of society. They see a great divide in society between the pro-life and the pro-death factions. They labor to widen this gap, and work hard to recruit new support from the dwindling pool of uncommitted bystanders, preparing for a great showdown. In their view, the other half of society—“them”—is responsible for the bloodshed, and the remedy is war.
The Pope’s theology of social sin makes it possible to form of very different picture of the evil and the solution. Abortion is a social sin: all of us bear some responsibility for it. The remedy is repentance. We pray, fast and give alms. In particular, our fasting and alms-giving includes acting to protect the preborn. When we act protectively, we deliberately share the vulnerability of the children and pregnant women, joyfully accepting the consequences of our actions. A part of our life-saving work is a deliberate decision to make sacrifices on behalf of children. In traditional Catholic phraseology, that is called “making reparation for sins.” In Martin Luther King’s words, we act in the belief that unearned suffering is somehow redemptive.
Abortion, says the Pope, is a social sin. The remedy begins with repentance.
Chapter 5: A Century of Insight
In the 20th century, much public discourse assumes a stance of atheism or agnosticism. God is left out of public discourse. The idea of a pluralistic society means, in practice, that the claims made by God are ignored or pushed to the margins, to be handled on the weekend by professional God-people.
This does not mean, of course, that theological divisions cease to trouble society. It means only that the assumptions and language of atheists have priority over those of believers. And idolatry, as long as it avoids explicit use of theological terms, can run rampant.
For example, the assumption that power is derived from the barrel of a gun is idolatry. To call it the worship of Mars is to use terms that Mao wouldn’t use, but clearly a discussion of the ultimate basis of power is a theological argument.
Similarly, many people in the luxurious West believe that sex is necessary for all true wisdom, the center of a vibrant life, and is even the basis of the effective use of martial power. It is not inaccurate to label that as the worship of Venus.
Occasionally, media moguls let slip their fanatical belief in the power of the press. The idea that speedier communications via computer and telecommunications was principally responsible for toppling the Soviet empire is a ludicrous notion, but some people take it seriously. That degree of delusion can be described as idolatrous, as the worship of Mercury, the messenger god.
Some people really do believe that when you understand economics, you understand humanity, and so when you control the economy, you control humanity. When you want the power to change things, the first thing you need is money. This is not a rare set of convictions. I would condense these ideas—“Mammon is the source of wisdom and power and happiness”—and label them idolatry.
Idolatry was attractive in ages past because it seemed to explain things, and that attraction remains today. A godless culture may insist that it worships no gods, pagan or otherwise. But constant reference to various basic transcendent realities—such as sex, economics or power—that shape everything in life, that explain everything that is happening, and that satisfy our deepest drives— is in fact idolatry, even among the godless who insist that god and worship and idolatry are mere metaphors.
The language of worship and idolatry, whether it is a factual description of what people are doing or only a metaphor, does have the advantage of helping us to be clear about some of the claims of Christianity. When we say that we worship Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, the Son of God and son of Mary, we reject the worship of Mammon, Venus, Mars and Mercury. It is our belief that the universe is ruled by the Lord, not by money. It is our belief that our ultimate happiness depends on the Lord, not on Venus. It is our belief that all strength belongs to the Lord, not to Mars. It is our belief that clarity of mind is a gift from the Lord, not from Mercury.
It is our belief that action in obedience to the Lord is the appropriate response to the abuses that must inevitably proceed from idolatry, from a widespread reliance on the power of something other than the one true God.
What the recognition of idolatry does, at least, is to help us to shake loose our convictions from the habitual thoughts of the surrounding culture.
For example, many people believe that rescues are primarily a way to tap the power of the press. I reject that. The power we invoke is the power of the crucified Lord, not Mercury.
Many people believe that rescues are primarily a way to challenge an unjust law, to get the issue back into court. I reject that. We invoke the power of the crucified and risen Lord, not just the power of politics.
Many people believe that the rescue movement will be broken when the opposition learns how to “hit us where it hurts, in the pocketbook.” I reject that. We invoke the power of the crucified and risen Lord, not of Mammon.
The language of idolatry helps us to see what we are setting aside, but also helps us to see what we are choosing. In response to the power of the government, money, the press, and all other powers arrayed against us, we assert that Jesus Christ died for all of us, and that he has called us to love him and love each other. He has a special love for the helpless, like the preborn, and he has given us the privilege of sharing in his saving love. He calls sinners, and died to open and change our hearts and free us from delusion and the power of sin. He has called us to suffer with him to touch the hearts of all who believe that slaughter is necessary in their lives.
Our “strategy” is to live and act as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is permanently incomprehensible to people who believe that worship is a Sunday thing.
When people base their work on the Gospel, there is a danger that they will equate the their work with the Gospel, like some liberation theologians. Pro-life work touches so many questions that we can drift into reducing the Gospel of Jesus to our ideas about life. The call to protect the helpless from the strong is part of the Gospel, not the whole. Our strategy is based on the Gospel, but is not a summation of the Gospel. When abortion is as rare and unacceptable as cannibalism, the Gospel will still be central to human life. The Gospel describes the real heart of the rescue movement, the central “strategy.”
I am not the Savior of the world, and neither are you. I cannot save everybody, and neither can you. But I know who is, who can— and I work for him. And his clear command is that we take care of people around us when they are in need. That remains the “strategy,” in its simplest form. This care for others can be called “solidarity.”
Solidarity in Scripture
The call to solidarity is based squarely on scripture. In fact, it is a modern formulation of the teaching of Paul’s Letter to Philemon, a masterful use of the idea of solidarity.
The letter is a response to slavery, although it is not about the “issue” of slavery, the political and social issue that was debated in the 19th century. Paul’s response to the problem begins in a place that is not always familiar to social reformers: the dignity of the individual. Paul wrote to a slave-owner, Philemon, about a slave, Onesimus, but never addressed the issue of slavery directly. The social reformer who only wants to hear about issues, not about people, might not see the wisdom in this approach. But the truth is, slavery is always about specific persons like Philemon and Onesimus, and that is what makes it wrong.
The dignity of the individual is central to the teaching of the Church and central to the Church’s work for social justice. While it is true that Paul told slaves to obey their masters, it is also true that he asked a slave-owner he knew well to accept a slave as a brother, as a blood brother. He wrote as “a prisoner for the Lord,” and called Onesimus his son, and made an appeal not to Philemon’s sense of duty, but to his love. There can be no doubt about the response that Paul wanted and expected, although the letter is quite polite.
The Social Gospel
From the perspective of a Catholic who tries to think with the mind of the Church, rescues are not at all foreign. Rescues can be understood and interpreted within the context of a century of Church teaching on social justice.
The great Pope Leo XIII, whose encyclicals laid the groundwork for this teaching, was blunt about unjust laws, calling them “null.” In Diuturnum (1881), he taught that “if the will of the rulers is opposed to the will and the laws of God, they themselves exceed the bounds of their own power and pervert justice; nor can their authority then be valid, which, when there is no justice, is null.” Leo XIII was very respectful of civil authority—except when it contradicted the law of God.
In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII wrote: “Authority is a postulate of the moral order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees enacted in contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience . . . ; indeed, the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results in shameful abuse.”
He also noted what Pope Pius XII had said during World War II, that, “to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority.” Then Pope John XXIII concludes, “Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force.”
The Declaration on Procured Abortion (1975) also states firmly: “Whatever may be laid down by civil law in this matter, man can never obey a law which is in itself immoral, and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle the liceity of abortion.”
The Vatican’s declaration, The Dignity of Procreation (1987), stated that a “movement of passive resistance to the legitimation of practices contrary to human life and dignity is beginning to make an ever sharper impression upon the moral conscience of many,” and urged that conscientious objection vis-a-vis laws destructive of human life be “recognized and supported.” This was probably a reference primarily to physicians in Italy who refused to participate in abortion, but it certainly encourages all those who assert the primacy of conscience in the face of laws that are destructive of life.
The American bishops taught the same thing in their Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities (1985): “Consistent with our nation’s legal tradition, we hold that all human laws must ultimately be measured against the natural law engraved in our hearts by the Creator. A human law or policy contrary to this higher law, especially one which ignores or violates fundamental rights, surrenders its claim to the respect and obedience of citizens while in no way lessening their obligation to uphold the moral law.”
In The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II wrote at some length about the clash between civil law and moral law. In fact, the second-longest exposition of a specific problem in the encyclical is a section on a line from Acts 5:29—“We must obey God rather than men”— subtitled “Civil Law and the Moral Law.” The only section that is longer is the key analysis of “The Eclipse of the Value of Life.”
In the section on civil law, Pope John Paul II reviews what what was said by the Fathers of the Church and by his predecessors, and then he adds very specifically (in #72):
Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Disregard for the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good. Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.
This teaching of the Church means that any edict or statute which declares abortion to be legal is null, and has absolutely no claim to our obedience. The British Abortion Act of 1967 is null, and the British bishops should say so. Roe v. Wade is now and always has been null and void, and the American bishops should say so.
Even so, some people hold the opinion that no one is obliged to protect children. It is a good thing to do, they say, but it is not an obligation. That is nonsense. Proverbs 24:11 states flatly: “Rescue those being dragged away to execution. Do not stand back and watch them die.” For people who need to see explicit and authoritative marching orders, there they are.
Pope Paul VI was impatient with empty rhetoric. He wrote in Octogesima Adveniens, “It is not enough to recall principles, affirm intentions, underline the strident injustices, and offer prophetic denunciations: these words will not have real weight unless in each person they are accompanied by a more vivid awareness of his responsibility, and by effective action [emphasis added].” He insisted that we accept responsibility for the evils around us: “It is too easy to shift the blame for injustices onto others, if one is not at the same time convinced that each man participates in them and that personal conversion is the first necessity.”
In The Gospel of Life (#73), Pope John Paul II was explicit again: “Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection.”
His call for conscientious objection is not the same as a call for rescues, but it is certainly suggestive. Conscientious objection is a “grave and clear obligation”; other forms of nonviolent resistance may not be obligatory, but are consistent with the spirit of this call to action.
Further, the Pope resorts to the language of martyrdom here:
It is precisely from obedience to God—to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty—that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for “the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev13:10).
Some people are persuaded that when a child is about to be killed the laws against trespass are still morally binding. When rescuers are arrested, they are often arrested for trespass, and the trespass laws appear to be reasonable and just laws. The Church teaches that property can be an extension of the person, and has resisted Communist attacks on the concept of private property. But private property is not an unlimited right. Pope Paul VI wrote in Populorum Progressio: “As the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” Never!
Pope John Paul II’s call to action
In two remarkable encyclicals—The Gospel of Life and The Splendor of Truth—the Pope outlined his understanding of the threats to life in our time, and his response. In the confrontation with the “culture of death,” he calls for a new civilization, a new culture of love and solidarity. The encyclicals are ambitious documents, so ambitious that it is tempting to dismiss them as pious calls for the Second Coming. But this Pope has helped to topple several dictatorships, and advised friends who were dismantling the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union. If he urges that we build a new civilization, he may mean exactly what he says.
The Pope’s strategy does not make the rescue movement central. But his strategy is not addressed specifically to abortion, either. Where he does deal with abortion, the principal manifestation of the culture of death, his analysis and solutions are supportive of rescues. As noted above, he urges obedience to God, not to the State, and calls for martyrdom. But there are other less explicit but perhaps more significant elements in his teaching.
The Pope’s analysis of the culture of death refers to a “structure of sin.” In The Gospel of Life, he uses this key phrase when he is explaining the “eclipse” of the value of life (in #12) and then again when he is explaining the eclipse of the sense of God and man (#24). Then he explains at length (in #59) what he means by the phrase, showing that in our time abortion is promoted by a whole network of organized forces.
The Pope also uses the idea of “solidarity” throughout The Gospel of Life. In particular, he says (in #70) that for peace to be lasting, it must be built on “the values of the dignity of every individual and of solidarity between all people.” Near the end of the letter (in #101), he refers to the civilization he urges us to build as “a culture of love and solidarity.”
The Gospel of Life is the Pope’s most direct response to the culture of death, but there is an associated letter, The Splendor of Truth. In that, the Pope outlines the foundations of morality, answering specific threats in our time. One noteworthy aspect of The Splendor of Truth is that it refers to martyrdom 18 times. After describing the crisis of our age as a crisis of conscience, he says that martyrdom is the specific antidote to that crisis.
In #93, he addresses the crisis explicitly: “This witness [martyrdom] makes an extraordinarily valuable contribution to warding off, in civil society and within the ecclesial communities themselves, a headlong plunge into the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil, which makes it impossible to build up and to preserve the moral order of individuals and communities.”
These three key elements of his teaching—social sin, solidarity and martyrdom—lay a firm foundation for the rescue movement.
Chapter 6: Transforming Grace
There is no formal teaching from the Vatican asserting flatly that the way to save babies is nonviolent direct action. This is not surprising; the hierarchy of the church has generally taught principles, and left it to laymen to apply those principles. In the 1965 Vatican II document, the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #5, the Church teaches: “Christ’s redemptive work, while of itself directed toward the salvation of men, involves also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring to men the message and grace of Christ, but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal sphere with the spirit of the Gospel. In fulfilling this mission of the Church, the laity, therefore, exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders.” The responsibility of the laity in the temporal order is stated again in #13: “The apostolate of the social milieu, that is, the effort to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws and structures of the community in which a person lives, is so much the duty and responsibility of the laity that it can never be properly performed by others.”
However, a systematic approach to pro-life nonviolence can be based on the prophetic writing of Pope John Paul II. In Poland, much of the effective nonviolent action was shaped by the thinking of the Pope about solidarity. A careful exploration of that body of teaching, developed in three letters, explains rescues.
To apply papal teaching to rescues, there are three key points to grasp. First, abortion is a social sin. Second, the route to freedom from this great evil is solidarity with the victims. Third, solidarity requires that we share their vulnerability and adopt nonviolence.
Abortion is a social sin
A key problem that we have in understanding that abortion is a social sin is that we are so familiar with abortion as the sin of individuals, specifically of the mother and the abortionist. People can hear the statement—“abortion is a social sin”—and nod, but miss the point completely. When the Pope calls on us to examine the structures of sin that have been built by liberal capitalism or Marxist collectivism, it is clear to us that we are hearing a thought that isn’t explicit in the Bible nor in the writings of the early Church. On the other hand, when he says that abortion is a social sin, that does not sound like a new thought; it sounds familiar. But it is a new thought, and we have to unlearn or transcend old patterns of thought in order to grasp the new.
What is “social sin”?
Pope John Paul II’s pastoral letter On Reconciliation and Penance (1984) expands on the idea of responsibility for the evils around us. In this powerful document, the Holy Father explains a term that is generally abused by the left and ignored by the right: social sin. Social sins are “the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins.” What are these personal sins, and who commits them? The Pope, talking not about hesitations on the lofty road to holiness and canonization but rather about sins against justice, mentions laziness, fear, silence and indifference. In fact, he calls it a sin to think that it is impossible to change the world, or to avoid the necessary effort and sacrifice.
There are roots in our tradition for this concept. In scripture, God dealt with the “people of Israel,” leading a people out of slavery, disciplining a people. The social unit was called to repentance. At Fatima, Mary asked us to pray for the conversion of Russia, a nation. Evangelicals speak of the judgment on our nation, not just on individuals. But one of the most influential political analysts of our time remarked that the notion of social sin is “rather dubious.” This category of sin does not appear in older catechisms, and gets uneven treatment in newer catechisms. What is this thing?
When Pope John Paul II convoked the Sixth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, he assigned the theme of reconciliation and penance. During the preparation for this synod, and during the course of it, many bishops spoke of social sin. The concept was adopted by the Pope in his exhortation On Reconciliation and Penance in 1984, and entered even more deeply into the teaching of the Church when he applied the concept to global problems and used it to offer solutions in his encyclical On Social Concern. Of course the concept is built on the developing teaching of the Church, especially the social teaching that began with Leo XIII. But it is new.
In his apostolic exhortation, the Pope described four meanings of the phrase social sin. The fourth meaning, which the Pope discarded, is perhaps the most familiar. “Social sins” such as the “corporate greed” of the “military-industrial complex” were used to justify a variety of personal sins, such as cowardice, treachery and the sexual revolution (“Make love, not war.”) This widespread abuse of the concept has kept and still keeps many people from using this language.
The legitimate uses of this concept are described in the apostolic exhortation On Reconciliation and Penance. The exhortation has an introduction and three parts. In the introduction, Pope John Paul II explained that the bishops of the world spent two years reflecting on the words of Jesus Christ when he began his preaching: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” They looked at the shattered world around them, and saw abuses of human rights, attacks on religion, discrimination, violence, terrorism, torture, stockpiles of weapons, inequitable distribution of resources, and other problems that have their root in original sin. It was their view that none of these problems could be solved until the root problem was addressed: sin.
In Part One, the Pope discusses the idea that conversion and reconciliation are the tasks of the Church. Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son is the clearest example of the task. Reconciliation is, first of all, a gift of God. The Church works to reconcile men with each other and with God; this work begins within the Church, which is called to be reconciled as well as reconciling. Means of reconciliation include prayer, preaching and witness.
In Part Two, he affirmed that love is greater than sin. In chapter one of Part II, he described sin, the tragedy of mankind. Sin is, first, the exclusion of God, whether by active opposition to him or simple forgetfulness. In Genesis, the Pope noted, we see that sin very quickly ruptured the human family, leading to the chaos of Babel. The passage that is pertinent to rescues comes at this point, a description of personal sin and social sin. After that, there is a clear description of mortal and venial sin. Finally, the Pope notes that at various times in history, the moral conscience of many people has been clouded, and people have lost a sense of sin; we live in such a time. Secularism and consumerism undermine our sense of sin; errors in the human sciences of psychology, sociology and anthropology have diminished our understanding of human freedom and responsibility; and a sense of sin has been often been wrongly identified with a morbid feeling of guilt.
The discussion of sin is followed by a description of the mystery of religion, the mystery of Christ, the mystery of God’s loving kindness.
Part Three is about the pastoral ministry of penance and reconciliation. The Church has two principal means to promote penance and reconciliation: catechesis and the Sacraments. The section on catechesis starts with a long discourse on ecumenism, on the need for peace within the Church.
That is the context in which the concept of social sin was first used in papal teaching. The most pertinent sections are in Part Two.
“Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person,” the Pope affirms clearly. It has consequences for the sinner himself, disrupting his relationship with God, weakening his will and clouding his intellect. This forceful statement about the personal nature of sin would seem to negate the existence of social sin.
But the expression has at least four meanings. First, and most generally, it is simply a recognition of the fact that all sin, however private and secret, affects other people in some way. Just as we are bound together in the mystery of the Communion of Saints, so— unfortunately—are we able to hurt each other. Sin is social.
Second, more specifically, there are sins against our neighbor, against our brothers and sisters:
Some sins however by their very matter constitute a direct attack on one’s neighbor and, more exactly, in the language of the Gospel, against one’s brother or sister. They are an offense against God because they are offenses against one’s neighbor. These sins are usually called social sins, and this is the second meaning of the term. In this sense social sin is sin against love of neighbor, and in the law of Christ it is all the more serious in that it involves the second Commandment, which is ‘like unto the first.’ Likewise, the term social applies to every sin against justice in interpersonal relationships, committed either by the individual against the community or by the community against the individual. Also social is every sin against the rights of the human person, beginning with the right to life and including the life of the unborn, or against a person’s physical integrity. Likewise social is every sin against another’s freedom . . . against the dignity and honor of one’s neighbor . . . against the common good . . . The term social can be applied to sins of commission or omission . . .
Third, the expression refers to relationships between communities or blocs. Class struggle, for example, is a social evil. The East-West confrontation is (or certainly was) a social evil.
The fourth use of the phrase that Pope John Paul II mentions blurs social and personal sin, tending to obliterate personal sin. This usage, he writes, is “not legitimate or acceptable, even though it is very common in certain quarters today.” The Pope remarks drily that “according to this usage . . . practically every sin is a social sin, in the sense that blame for it is to be placed not so much on the moral conscience of an individual but rather on some vague entity or anonymous collectivity.”
Although the expression has been and will be abused—like love, peace, freedom, and many if not most of the words of our language— still it has a legitimate meaning. And abortion is a social sin.
It is in the nature of a social sin that society is turned upside down. Healers kill, judges condemn the innocent, cops become thugs, sanitation workers become grave diggers, our priests worship Isis, and the proponents of nonviolence are seething with anger.
The exhortation describes the inter-connections between personal and social sin:
Whenever the Church speaks of situations of sin, or when she condemns as social sins certain situations or the collective behavior of certain social groups . . . she knows and she proclaims that such cases of social sin are the result of the accumulation and concentration of many personal sins. It is a case of the very personal sins of those who cause or support evil or who exploit it . . .
Often, in discussions of excommunication for pro-abortion politicians who claim to be Catholic, pro-lifers are asked to point to one woman who had an abortion specifically because of these politicians. In the absence of a corpse, the politicians are defended. This is confusing personal and social sin. One need not find the corpse of the child killed by the politician’s words in order to assert that he is implicated in the social evil, that he supports abortion on demand, which he calls “freedom of choice.” His personal sin is causing or supporting the evil.
. . . of those who are in a position to avoid, eliminate or at least limit certain social evils . . .
If this were a law, it would be denounced as unconstitutionally vague; it is even more elastic than the abusive racketeering laws. But of course, God can see the heart, and will judge us according to standards that man-made law cannot apply, cannot approach. So the Pope reminds of us that before God, who sees the heart, we are responsible for what we do and for what we fail to do in the face of injustice.
. . . but who fail to do so out of laziness, fear or the conspiracy of silence, through secret complicity or indifference . . .
The language here is powerful, reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets. Those who fail to protect the helpless because they are lazy or indifferent are implicated in the social sin of abortion. The judge or legislator who fails to protect babies because he is lazy or afraid or uninvolved is guilty. Weakness in the face of social sin is culpable.
. . . of those who take refuge in the supposed impossibility of changing the world . . .
The Pope is describing social sin here, describing serious sins against justice. In describing sin, he specifies people who do not believe we can change the world, who give up in the face of slaughter because they believe that the struggle is futile.
. . . and also of those who sidestep the effort and sacrifice required, producing specious reasons of a higher order.
Governor Mario Cuomo has a complex theory of separation of Church and State, by which he means religion and reality, that he uses to excuse his support for abortion. Cuomo doesn’t have the honesty to say, “I think we should kill babies and abandon women.”
He sidesteps, and equivocates, “producing specious reasons of a higher order.” The Pope concludes this assertion:
The real responsibility, then, lies with individuals.
After this analysis, no honest person will go back to pinning the responsibility for abortion on vulnerable women and a few thousand bloody-handed men.
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew, there is a description of the Final Judgment, in which the blessed are rewarded for their service to hungry and thirsty and poor, and others are consigned to hell, not for what they did but for what they failed to do. What did they do to deserve hell? Nothing. The failure to act in love is damnable.
This is a crucial insight. No one has ordered American citizens to kill a child. Courts have mandated that all citizens participate in abortion by funding it, but no one has ordered any of us to go out and get a suction machine or a curette and kill someone. If there had been any such direct command, we wouldn’t be all tied in knots debating about respect for the law. The problem is that we have been ordered to refrain from action, and that is a little trickier. But the Gospel and the Pope reject the proposition that there is a significant difference between action and inaction. If the Supreme Court or Parliament or some runaway activist judge commands immoral action, you must refuse to obey; and if the Court or Parliament or a judge commands immoral inaction, you must still refuse.
The American bishops are as forceful as the Pope in their denunciations of sins of omission. In their pastoral letter on economics, they taught that “the ultimate injustice is for a person or group to be actively treated or passively abandoned as if they were nonmembers of the human race.”
The Church’s teaching on abortion has developed. One hundred years ago, perhaps, or even 30 years ago, abortion was in fact the sin of isolated individuals. But today it is not, and the Church has reacted to this new reality. Abortion, the Pope has taught, is a social sin, and social sin is is not quite the same things as individual sin, although it is always rooted in the sins of individuals. That means that many people who think of themselves as removed from the crime may in fact be implicated.
This new concept makes it clear that governors who argue against legal protection of babies and who pay the salaries of killers are implicated. They are not just giving scandal, doing things which lead others into sin—which is serious enough. They are not just guilty of discrimination, of treating a class of people as less than human, which is another grave sin against justice. They are also guilty, specifically, of the social sin of abortion.
It should be emphasized that this is a new development in the teaching of the Church. The idea that abortion is the sin of a woman and an abortionist is antique, a piece of history. In our time, abortion is promoted and executed by complex social machinery. The Church has responded to the new reality, and teaches that abortion is a social sin.
The route to freedom is solidarity
One aspect of the Pope’s teaching about social sin is that it helps to respond intelligently to the prompting of the Holy Spirit that so many of us have felt. Rescuers often feel a strong urge to repent for abortion. But most of us have not been involved in abortion directly. When Randy Terry started his rescue group in the late 1980s, Operation Rescue, he often talked about the need to repent for inaction. That was a good start, but often this exhortation missed the key point. The idea of social sin helps us to understand why we should repent: because abortion is a social sin, of our society. Speaking not of inaction but of abortion, we pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive others.”
The Pope stated explicitly that the reason the Church has adopted this language of social sin is in order to understand how the Lord frees us from it. This is not theory for philosophers in ivory towers; this is intensely practical advice for people who seek to do God’s will, to worship the Lord freed from the power of sin and death. The Pope teaches, in his encyclical On Social Concern, that the route to freedom from social sin is “solidarity with the victims of the evil.”
How do we end the evil of abortion, get free of this colossal evil? How do we repent? The Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has answered that question, at least in outline: solidarity with the victims of the evil. Solidarity with the victims of the social evil of abortion is called a rescue.
Solidarity, like sin, can take many forms. But it should not be hard to understand that the most basic expression of solidarity with victims is simple presence with them in the hour of crisis.
In the encyclical On Social Concern, the Pope uses the concept of social sin to discuss a variety of global problems, including “the all-consuming desire for profit” and the “thirst for power.” Then he explains that his decision to analyze the problems this way is practical: “To diagnose the evil in this way is to identify precisely, on the level of human conduct, the path to be followed in order to overcome it.”
Our emotional responses to sin in our lives are not reliable guides. For pro-lifers, this lesson is easy to grasp, but should still be made explicit. Most people, faced with the bloody slaughter of adults, are horrified, but faced with the bloody slaughter of babies, are indifferent. Many people are tolerant of warfare but appalled by starvation. Some people are disturbed by the consumption of meat, but are tolerant or even supportive of sodomy. Our emotional reactions to specific sins are interesting but irrelevant.
It is important to understand this, because one of the potent arguments in favor of killing babies is based squarely on the perception that some “good” people abort, from which observers conclude that abortion cannot be bad. This is an effort to draw conclusions about morality strictly from emotions.
Abortion is a social sin, in our society. You and I are responsible. This nation is called to repentance.
But why should the person who never went to an abortionist repent, and of what? The point is not to stir feelings of guilt, but rather to stir up a quiet awareness of the fact of responsibility, as members of a community in which innocent children are killed daily. When we understand sharply that we are part of a sinful structure, then we begin to long for the freedom that God offers.
God does not want us to “feel good about ourselves”; he wants us to be free from the bondage of sin, free to worship him in truth. When we long for this freedom to love God, then we will seek out the road to freedom and walk that road, whatever it takes, whatever it costs, wherever it goes.
“Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil,” thinks modern man, “because I feel good about myself and my friends are all pretty mellow, and we have our drugs but we don’t get violent about them, and when we kill people it is all hidden away, and our theologians tell us that hell has been abolished.”
The Lord offers a different way. He invites us to walk in the shadow of death and to fear no evil, because he is at our side. But why should we walk that way? Why shouldn’t we live in tranquility? The problem is that tranquility in the midst of slaughter is possible only if we choose blindness or drugs.
The route to freedom, teaches the Pope, is solidarity with the victims. When we see ourselves entrapped in a structure of sin and long for freedom from it, then we can pose the right question, and this is the solution. This practical solution begins to become clear when we use the language of social sin.
What is this “solidarity”? It is described at length in the encyclical On Social Concern (1987). This letter from Pope John Paul II is a part of the Church’s social teaching which began with Rerum Novarum (1891) written by Pope Leo XIII. It was written 20 years after Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio, and was described by Pope John Paul II as a reflection on that encyclical. Summarizing Pope Paul VI’s letter very briefly, he said that in our times peace is possible only if we are committed to human development. Of course, globally, there has been a battle over how to respond to poverty; eugenicists and rich allies are committed to the view that depopulation is the route to prosperity; the Church’s view is that development is the route to peace and prosperity. Updating the Church’s posture, Pope John Paul II has said that if development is the new name for peace, then solidarity is the new name for love.
In this encyclical, the Pope assesses the previous 20 years, not finding much progress toward peace. In chapter 5, he offers a theological reading of modern problems, and says that we cannot gain a proper understanding of the evils we confront until we name them accurately, and for that reason he developed and used the language of social sin. “To diagnose the evil in this way is to identify precisely, on the level of human conduct, the path to be followed in order to overcome it.” The path he described, in #38-40, is solidarity.
His analysis of social sin and solidarity is general; he was not writing about abortion. Rescues began in 1975, before he became Pope; rescues started without his insights. And his teaching was built on experience other than ours. But there is a congruence between his thought and rescues.
In #38, the Pope defined “solidarity.” He said that the path to freedom from social sin requires courage. “One must have the courage to set out on this path, and, where some steps have been taken or a part of the journey made, the courage to go on to the end.” Courage is not the highest of the virtues, but without it, you have little opportunity to practice the rest.
This courageous decision must be based on discernment of God’s will, since there is no other solid foundation for ethics. But he immediately added that he did not mean to exclude participation by nonbelievers; rather, he expressed a hope that they would understand the need to work for a transformation in spiritual values. Christians call this “conversion,” and recognize that it is God alone who can change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. Those who feel personally affected by the injustices heaped on others are on the path to conversion.
The courageous decision to turn away from social sin and to follow God’s will has a name: it is called “solidarity.” The virtue of solidarity “is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, the good of all and of each individual.” Then he repeated the central point that structures of sin are conquered, presupposing the help of divine grace, only by a “diametrically opposed attitude: a commitment to the good of one’s neighbor with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to ‘lose oneself’ for the sake of the other.”
In #39, the Pope gave a humanist perspective on solidarity. He wrote that the exercise of solidarity is valid when we recognize one another as persons, not just as instruments with some work capacity or physical strength to be used and then discarded. In this section, he described the virtue in terms that all people of good will can recognize, and said that the path to peace and human development is solidarity.
In #40, the Pope’s description of solidarity goes beyond the insights of a good humanist to Christianity. Solidarity, said the Pope, is a Christian virtue like charity. “In the light of faith, solidarity seeks to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimension of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation. One’s neighbor [including the preborn child] is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but becomes a living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. One’s neighbor must therefore be loved, even if an enemy, with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her; and for that person’s sake one must be ready for sacrifice, even the ultimate one: to lay down one’s life for the brethren.”
In fact, he taught, the model for our solidarity should be the intimate life of God, one God in three persons. This specifically Christian communion is the soul of the Church’s vocation to be a sacrament.
Having described solidarity, the Pope proclaimed that social evils can be overcome only by the exercise of human and Christian solidarity, to which the Church calls us and which she tirelessly promotes. There are some priests and bishops who have not been tireless in promoting solidarity with the victims of abortion, but their failure is not a flaw in the Church’s teaching: the Church promotes solidarity.
To illustrate the meaning of solidarity, the Pope mentions two outstanding examples of this virtue: St. Peter Claver and St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe. St. Maximilian Kolbe was the founder of the largest religious community in Poland before World War II. During the war, he was imprisoned at Auschwitz, where he gave his life in place of another prisoner, a man he did not know.
When rescues were just starting, there were several days each year when many of us tried to act: January 22, Good Friday, the Feast of the Holy Innocents—and August 9, the anniversary of the beheading of the pro-life anti-Nazi Franz Jägerstatter. There was friendly argument about commemorating Jägerstatter’s death, since it meant that we would not celebrate Maximilian Kolbe’s feastday a week later.
St. Peter Claver was canonized by Pope Leo XIII, who noted that this Jesuit priest from Spain had devoted his life to service of slaves in the New World, calling himself the “slave of the Negroes.” Peter Claver worked with Father Alfonso de Sandoval, about whom it is said that “when he heard a vessel of Negroes was come into port he was at once covered with a cold sweat and a death-like pallor at the recollection of the indescribable fatigue and unspeakable work on the previous like occasions. The experience and practice of years never accustomed him to it.”
Peter Claver understood the need for action. He said, “We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips.” He understood nonviolence, and did not regard the most brutal of slave-owners as despicable barbarians beyond the mercy or might of God. He was an ascetic who used extreme penitential mortifications; he prayed in his cell with a crown of thorns and a heavy cross on his shoulders. But he did not take himself too seriously. When he was commended for his zeal, he replied, “There is nothing but self-indulgence in it; it is the result of my enthusiastic and impetuous temperament. If it were not for this work, I would be a nuisance to myself and to everybody else.”
Peter Claver was criticized unjustly for years, and never fought back: “It behooves me always to imitate the example of the ass. When he is evilly spoken of, he is dumb. When he is starved, he is dumb. When he is overloaded, he is dumb. When he is despised and neglected, he is still dumb. He never complains in any circumstances, for he is only an ass. So also must God’s servant be.”
The two examples of solidarity that the Pope offers were a martyr and an ascetic who prayed with a cross on his shoulders. Clearly, those who follow the way of solidarity must be ready for suffering and death.
In the life of Jesus, you could say that his decision to be in solidarity with us was best expressed at the Last Supper, when he blessed and broke bread, said it was his body, and shared it with us, then blessed a cup of wine, said it was his blood, shed for us, and invited us to drink. That decision to be with us, to be incorporated into us, is inseparable from the events that followed immediately, his arrest, conviction and execution. If you decide to share your life with a bunch of cowards and blind fools in a dangerous world, you will get hurt. He made that decision with his eyes open. His decision to love us is our salvation.
Nonviolence is tested by suffering
Solidarity usually requires some action on our part. But suffering does not; it is something that happens to us. We do not seek it, we do not choose it, we may try to avoid it, we do not “do” it, we simply endure it. And yet it is clear that our willingness to suffer out of love for our brothers and sisters is our greatest strength. In our weakness, God’s strength is made manifest.
From the beginning of the rescue movement, organizers knew that they were taking some risks. But the risks grew in the 1990s. In 1982, an effort to recruit 1,000 people for a rescue in Maryland included an assurance that the worst that could happen to them, barring unforeseen and unforeseeable complications, would be 15 days in jail. But by 1990, the worst case scenario for a rescue anywhere in the nation included the possibility of a RICO suit, wiping out the rescuer financially, permanently. Such drastic losses were not likely—the people who lost RICO suits in Pennsylvania continued to live normal lives—but they were possible.
Rex Moses, the rescue leader in Texas, confronted the fear of financial loss head-on. He was very wealthy before he became a rescuer, and he felt the tug of material. He noted that many people who would risk their lives to save a baby would not risk their income. So he left his lucrative business and dumped his possessions. He was happy to do that for the Lord and for the vulnerable children of God. But his decision illustrated the rising cost of rescues.
There were other new problems. In many jurisdictions, police brutality became standard. Torture—euphemistically called “pain compliance”—became the normal way to handle not only political dissidents in Iraq but also rescuers in southern California.
In Los Angeles in 1989, a police officer slipped during Thanksgiving dinner, and mashed his finger with a nutcracker. “Aha!” he thought. “A way to handle anti-choice fanatics!” So the Los Angeles Police Department began experimenting with finger-crackers to be used on nonviolent activists—in the United States, in 1990!
In some Eastern Europe nations, the secret police were being disbanded at the time, some with expertise in subtle methods of torture. It appeared that there might be a market for their brutal skills in this country.
In 1986, there was one pro-life prisoner of conscience serving a long jail sentence in the land of the free. In 1990, there were 200.
The risks have been increasing. What are we to think about this new suffering that rescues will bring?
The answer to this has always had two sides. On one hand, it is not good to let this nation slip farther and farther into barbarity. Judicial tyranny and police brutality are significant evils, and we should resist them. Those many people who have devoted time and resources to this should be thanked. The Free Speech Advocates, the Rutherford Institute, and the soft-spoken hero John Broderick come to mind.
On the other hand, suffering is a gift, even if it comes to us through the mediation of brutal men. Our greatest strength is our willingness to suffer. It is unearned suffering that will change the hearts of abortion-minded Americans, and abortion-minded people everywhere. The test of the reality of our nonviolence is suffering.
Suffering is loaded with paradox, is perhaps the central paradox of our history. Mother Teresa, who has much experience with suffering, said in an address June 4, 1982 in San Francisco:
For love to be true, it has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us. When we look at the cross, we know how much he loved us.
One day, I met a lady who was dying of cancer. She was in the most terrible pain. I said to her, “Know that this pain, this suffering, is but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close to him on the cross that he can kiss you.”
And the lady joined her hands and said, “Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.”
. . . Suffering is a gift from God. It’s a sign that we have come so close to him that we can share his passion, that we can share the joy of loving with him in pain, in suffering. Suffering is not a punishment, it is a gift. A gift that purifies us and sanctifies us. It’s really the kiss of Jesus.
Pope John Paul II’s letter On Reconciliation and Penance offers clear insights into the social sin of abortion. His encyclical On Social Concern explains solidarity. Reading his 1984 letter On the Christian Meaning of Suffering is perhaps the best way to begin to understand nonviolence.
In the Introduction, the Pope points out that St. Paul found immense joy in suffering, and invites us to make the same discovery. Suffering is inseparable from our earthly existence, and essential to the nature of man, prodding us to go beyond ourselves.
In the “world of suffering,” there is physical pain that is addressed by physicians and nurses. But this “world” includes many varieties of moral suffering, such as the death of one’s own children, the lack of children, persecution, mockery, loneliness, remorse, difficulty understanding why the wicked prosper and the just suffer, etc. We suffer whenever we experience any kind of evil; in fact, the language of the Old Testament does not have a specific word for “suffering,” it just spoke of “evil.”
The “world of human suffering” is like a scattered people, a dispersed nation. “The world of suffering possesses as it were its own solidarity,” he says. “People who suffer become similar to one another” for a variety of reasons, “perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering.”
The second half of this century is such that “we cannot think of this period except in terms of an incomparable accumulation of sufferings, even to the possible self-destruction of humanity.”
Why is there suffering, and why is there evil? Man puts these difficult questions to God, and “it is well known that concerning this question there not only arise many frustrations and conflicts in the relations of man with God, but it also happens that people reach the point of actually denying God.” But “God expects the question and listens to it.” In the book of Job, there is an extensive discussion of the problem, reviewing the partial truth that suffering is a punishment for sin, but going beyond that: the innocent suffer, and this is a mystery that the human intellect cannot completely penetrate. The book of Job poses the question, but does not give the solution.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, there are other valid but incomplete insights: some punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline God’s people; suffering serves for conversion; “the purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man”; it strengthens goodness.
“Love is the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery.”
In the life of Jesus, there is a persistent or even permanent duality of approach. On one hand, he was aware of the saving power of his own suffering, and moved toward it steadily. In the eight beatitudes, at the heart of his teaching, he spoke of the happiness of people tried by various sufferings. He reproved Peter when Peter asked him to abandon his morbid thoughts of suffering and death. He suffered voluntarily and innocently. On the other hand, at the same time, when it was said about him that he “went about doing good,” what that refers to, very specifically, is that he relieved suffering in a wide variety of forms: the lame, the blind, the dumb, the possessed, the condemned, and especially the sinners.
Jesus was the Suffering Servant, the “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. By his suffering, accepting it obediently “with that love for the Father that overcomes the evil of every sin,” he restored the relationship between God and humanity. He proved the overwhelming truth of love through the truth of suffering.
On the cross, he experienced a moral suffering unique in history, expressed in the words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He perceived the suffering which is estrangement from God. It was precisely through this suffering that he accomplished the Redemption.
With this event, suffering was transformed, entering a new dimension. By the passion of the only Son of God, suffering has been linked to love, that love which creates good. “The cross of Christ has become a source from which flow rivers of living water.”
According to the Pope, “with the passion of Christ all human suffering has found itself in a new situation.” Human suffering has been raised to the level of the Redemption. St. Paul, for example, “experienced the power of the resurrection of Christ on the road to Damascus, and only later . . . reached that share in his sufferings of which he speaks.” For Paul, glory and suffering are inextricably intertwined. We are all familiar with the notion that “to wear the crown of peace you must wear the crown of thorns.” But Paul’s experience challenges us to look deeper: he graduated from the glory of the resurrection to the love of the cross. Glory is hidden in the very suffering of Christ. Not only Paul, but all who suffer, are invited into a glorious union with Christ.
Suffering is creative; Christ’s sufferings created the good of Redemption. And although the redemption was completed, all who suffer are invited to share in the work of redemption. Although completed, it is constantly being accomplished, and we are invited to make our own contribution.
We enter suffering “with a typically human protest and with the question why.” But we cannot help noticing that “the one to whom [we] put the question is himself suffering and wishes to answer from the cross, from the heart of his own suffering . . . Still, it takes time to perceive the answer, because Christ does not answer directly and does not answer in the abstract . . . Suffering is a call, a vocation . . . Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed . . . It is then that man finds in his suffering interior peace and even joy.”
Much of the burden of any moral suffering is the crushing sense of futility, the sense of the uselessness of suffering, and the sense that we have become burdens to others. This crushing burden is the motivation for euthanasia. But faith offers us the certainty that those who suffer are serving the salvation of others, carrying out an irreplaceable service.
The point of nonviolence is to make ourselves available for this service. Our acts of solidarity with the preborn and with their vulnerable parents may or may not lead to our suffering. The decision about whether we will be mocked, beaten or jailed is not our decision; we decide only to be available.
The belief that nonviolent action with all its apparent limitations has the power to turn a people from sin is based on an understanding of the immense power of suffering.
. . . it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world’s salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of Redemption.
In fact, the Pope addresses the question of suffering in response to social sin directly:
The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structures of sin which today’s world brings with it—the greater is the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself. And the more the Church feels the need to have recourse to the value of human sufferings for the salvation of the world.
In the end of the letter, having invited us to share in the saving work of the Lord by suffering, the Pope states firmly the flip side of suffering. While suffering with Christ has immense value, we are still unequivocally called to relieve the suffering of others. Speaking of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Pope teaches that we are supposed to stop and care for the suffering. “This stopping does not mean curiosity but availability.” We are to bring help, “help which is as far as possible effective.”
Although institutional help by professionals is laudable, still John Paul II teaches that “every individual must feel as if called personally to bear witness to love in suffering . . . no institution”— no amendment, no law, no program, no educational outreach— “can by itself replace the human heart, human compassion, human love or human initiative, when it is a question of dealing with the sufferings of another.” That is, the fact that there is a pro-life movement does not relieve me of the personal call to act personally to protect my threatened brothers and sisters.
The call to act as a Good Samaritan is not a call to the elite. The Pope ties it to the “disturbing words of the Final Judgment, noted by Matthew.” Jesus taught that “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me . . . as you did it not to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it not to me.”
At one and the same time Christ has taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. . . . The mystery of the Redemption of the world is in an amazing way rooted in suffering.
In his preaching, Jesus said, “Repent and believe the good news.” But who should repent, and of what? We need a comprehensive and accurate description of the evil of abortion, an accurate diagnosis of the disease. This is available in the prophetic letter On Penance and Reconciliation. Abortion is a social sin.
God’s response to the sin of mankind was to come live with us and die for us. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Following Jesus, the Church teaches in the encyclical On Social Concern that the route to freedom from social sin is solidarity with the victims of the evil. That is what a rescue is.
Since 1990, the cost of rescues in terms of human suffering has risen. The teaching of Jesus about suffering has two sides. The overwhelming sense of futility, uselessness and despair that is often the result of suffering is evil; we are called to relieve suffering. But also, we are called to share suffering, since suffering with Christ or his people is immensely powerful, not futile. The Church proclaims that human suffering united with Christ is redemptive. On Human Suffering teaches us that suffering is not an unforeseen and troubling accidental result of some rescues. Rather, it is an indispensable part of our response to the social sin of abortion. It is the immense power of suffering that makes it possible for us to believe that we can stop the social evil of abortion without civil war.
“Suffering, more than anything else, clears the way for grace which transforms human souls.”
The Promise of Peace
“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”
The teaching of the Church in the encyclical On Social Concern is that the route to freedom from social evil is solidarity with the victims of the evil. But in the end, it is not our action that matters, it is God’s. Solidarity is our response to the invitation of Christ, who has come to stand with us in our time of trouble, taking the name “Emmanuel,” or “God-with-us.”
Emmanuel: the title is familiar to us from the Christmas liturgy. In Matthew’s Gospel, we read that an angel told Joseph in a dream that the birth of Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means God-is-with-us.
Pro-lifers see many lives in which conception and death, the beginning and the end, are telescoped, rammed together violently. The reason that the movement exists is that so many children are threatened with death just weeks after the beginning of life. So we proclaim the dignity and worth of tiny children, pondering on the mysteries of Mary’s pregnancy, which culminated in Christmas. But also, we are always looking at the deaths of innocent children in our midst, always standing at the foot of the cross of slaughtered lambs.
The pro-life experience has changed my perception of the title “Emmanuel.” It seems to me that Jesus assumed the title most completely on Calvary, that what began in Nazareth and was made visible in Bethlehem was finished in Jerusalem. When Jesus shared our suffering, that was the time when it was most obviously true that God is with us. For rich or for poor, in sickness and health, in good times and bad, until death and beyond, he is with us, faithful to us, united with us. God is with us.
Abraham met the three angels and ate with them beneath the oak at Mamre; God visited him. Moses spoke with God on Mount Sinai; and Elijah glimpsed God on Mount Horeb, not in the earthquake or the fire but in the gentle breeze: God was with them. For us, though, God has gone far beyond those glimpses. Jesus, the Son of God, came into our midst, lived with us, and shared in our lives in every way, including the experience of death. When Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” one aspect of what was finished was that he had completely assumed the title Emmanuel. In every part of our existence, we encounter Jesus; God is with us. He is like us in all things except sin. Nothing separates us from God. As Paul wrote in Romans (8: 38-9), “For I am certain of this: neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ our Lord.”
The Filipinos use a phrase for standing in solidarity, arms linked. They stand “kapit bisig.” I know what that means in practice: standing together, arms linked. But what do these words mean? I asked a friend once what they meant, and she didn’t translate, she gave me another image. She said that during demonstrations against the dictator, they had to hang onto each other, because if someone was pulled away, that person would never be seen again. We stand kapit bisig with babies; when we are broken apart and taken away, they disappear.
I still don’t know the meaning of the words. But in our midst, kapit bisig with us, in solidarity with us, is Jesus, Emmanuel. He doesn’t let go, and we don’t disappear. And his power goes beyond the grave.
His love for us is boundless. Not only does he stand with us, but he gives us opportunities to stand with him. How do you respond to the generosity of God who gave us everything, and then when we threw it all away gave it back again? We owe him everything, twice. How do we respond? The only possible response to such generosity is generosity. His giving overflows, and so must ours.
He lets us serve him as if the struggle were still in the balance. He has already conquered, but we are permitted to share in the triumph, not only as people who show up at the party afterwards and listen to the stories that others tell, but as participants. Like Francis and the leper, we serve the poor and then learn we have served God. We help someone out, and then he thanks us, and we ask his name, and he says he’s the Lord of the universe and the Judge of the world.
The desire to follow the Lord, to be faithful as he is faithful, is what leads us to rescue. He stands in solidarity with us; so we stand in solidarity with those even more helpless than ourselves.
Sometimes, in order to identify more fully with the “nameless, voiceless, helpless” preborn, rescuers call themselves “Baby Doe.” But there is another name that applies to each of these children. Because Jesus said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me,” we know them as Emmanuel, God standing in solidarity with us.
Solidarity, according to the Pope, is the new name for love. Our acts of solidarity with children and women are our response to God’s solidarity with us, the solidarity which in the language of Isaiah is called:
This book focuses on a response to the children and parents, especially mothers, who are threatened by abortion. Such arguments often distract our attention from the real people at the center of the controversy. In order to keep a clear focus on the people who are at risk, I have added some material about children killed by abortion, and included my sister’s story and meditation.
Afterword: Nonviolence and the Image of Blood
Another Afterword: Does a Mother Forget,
by Katharine O’Keefe
Final Afterword: The Right to Compassion,
by Katharine O’Keefe
Nonviolence is most interesting and valuable and valid in situations where it is the alternative to an endless cycle of violence. Like war, a campaign of nonviolence can be a bloody business at times, not because the practitioners spill blood, but because they are needed amidst bloodshed, and often because theirs is spilled.
In Poland and in the Philippines, there was bloodshed. It may have been limited, but it was crucial to the final outcome. The Filipino Revolution was sparked by the unjust killing—the martyrdom—of many people, including especially Benigno Aquino. And in Poland, Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko’s martyrdom lit a fire that could not be quenched.
Shifting words and images
Grasping the meaning of bloodshed can be almost impossible in our time, when the image of blood is almost completely negative. The response of modern man to blood is not the same response that others have had throughout history.
In the cultural struggle of our time, many words are used by pro-lifers and pro-abortionists as if they meant the same thing to both sides. But the words often have very different or even opposite meanings. When we say “love,” we mean the willingness to do good for the beloved; they mean sex. When we say “faith,” we are referring to a decision to respond to God’s revelation; they mean self-confidence. When we say “hope,” we mean an assurance about things to be revealed in eternity; they mean “I kinda wish.” When we say “freedom,” we mean that our lives can match our aspirations; they mean having a variety of choices. Obviously, we differ about the meaning of “human” and “family.”
We also differ in our understanding of the images that we use. St. Paul said that the cross was foolishness to the Greeks, but wisdom for us. It isn’t surprising that people react very differently to the cross; that’s a difficult image, full of paradoxes. But today, people have vastly different attitudes towards simple images like water.
Throughout most of the history of Western literature, water was a symbol of rebirth. In the Odyssey, Odysseus wanders for 20 years on the sea, and then returns to—is reborn—in Ithaca. The Israelites left slavery behind when they crossed over the Red Sea. They came into a new life when they crossed over the River Jordan. Jonah emerged from the belly of a whale repentant and ready to preach. In the waters of baptism, we are reborn. In Shakespeare’s plays, in The Tempest, a life of injustice and treachery is drowned and a brave new world emerges from the water. In King Lear, Lear crosses over from delusion to truth when he is completely drenched during a storm on the blasted heath. For most of our history, the image of water has been associated with new life or rebirth.
Today, though, water has connotations of death. When you see a movie or a play, and somebody falls into the water or drives off a pier, you do not expect them to emerge changed; you expect them to drown. “Go take long walk off a short pier” means “Drop dead,” not “Be renewed.” Our cultural attitude toward the symbol of water has changed, from life to death. Virginia Woolf and others have taught us to fear drowning.
There is a fascinating poem by one of the Romantic poets of the early 19th century which has a transitional image of water. In that poem, someone drowned in a baptismal font. In that poem, the symbol of life becomes a symbol of death. At that time, the symbol was still shocking.
The same thing has happened with our attitude toward blood. Most people today think of blood simply as bad news, as death. But that is not the connotation that blood has carried in the past. For much of history, blood has been a symbol of life. To grasp that requires a mental struggle, but the struggle is worthwhile.
The ancient attitude toward blood can be glimpsed in primitive societies, for example in the legendary hunter who shoots a deer with his bow and arrow and then looks the dying animal in the eye and thanks it for the gift of life for his family. The deer’s blood was bad news for the deer but good news for the family. Or in another primitive society, boys who have been reading Tom Sawyer might make a commitment to each other to be blood-brothers, by cutting their wrists a little bit and sharing their blood. (Mark Twain wasn’t worried about AIDS.) Before you dismiss the practice as gross and as extremely dangerous, note that the idea is not to die together, but to share life together, even in the face of deadly threats. (Got it? Okay, now dismiss Tom Sawyer as gross and dangerous.) The blood is a symbol of life.
The blood of the Lamb of God is at least that significant. Jesus has chosen to be a blood brother.
In the novel The Cypresses Believe in God, the great Spanish novelist José Maria Gironella wrote about a young man giving blood at a hospital for someone who needed a transfusion. He gave his healthy blood to save life. The idea of a transfusion may be the closest we can get to the ancient attitude toward blood as a symbol of life, not death.
The blood of Jesus is like a healthy transfusion. The blood of the Lord Jesus is supposed to pump in our veins.
On Valentine’s Day, we exchange cute pictures of hearts. The little cutouts do not have anything left of the old symbol. St. Valentine was a martyr who used the powerful muscle as a symbol of love. I got a glimpse of what he meant when I was in high school. I worked in a lab synthesizing drugs. One summer, I helped with the drug trials, injecting mice and then seeing where the drug showed up. I killed hundreds of mice with a little guillotine, and then cut out their hearts. Believe me, a beating heart, even from a tiny mouse, is an impressive item. For several minutes after the heart was cut out, it beat and beat and beat. It was very impressive. And a human heart is much bigger.
Valentine’s symbol was a gross, graphic effort to use an image of something of immense power, as great as the power of death. In fact, Valentine the martyr knew that the blood of Jesus was a power far greater than death.
The word blessed refers etymologically to blood. It means “sprinkled with blood.” The very ground, the dirt, of the Colosseum, has been prized for centuries by people who remember that Christian martyrs poured out their blood there. The ground was blessed, sprinkled with blood. Today, perhaps the barbed wire at Auschwitz is a similar symbol: the blood shed there inspires us more than the brutality inflicted there frightens us. We identify with the victim of evil, not the perpetrators of the evil.
During a rescue in 1977, pro-lifers saw blood on the liner of a trash can in Milan Vuitch’s abortion mill at 1712 I Street, just a few blocks from the White House. The blood reminded us that we stood on holy ground, desecrated by slaughter but consecrated by innocent blood.
In Deuteronomy, the Lord says: “I set before you life and death; choose life that you and your children may live.” Pro-lifers today can choose violence or nonviolence. Whichever way, there will be blood.
The Tobit Project: From Image to Reality
“Father, one of our nation has just been been murdered; he has been strangled and then thrown down in the market place; he is still there.” I sprang up at once, left my meal untouched, took the man from the market place and laid him in one of my rooms, waiting until sunset to bury him (Tobit 2:3-4)
Rescues and nonviolence don’t make sense to people who want to belong to a safe pro-life club and do safe clubby things. They make better sense when you put them in the context of reality, amidst the massive bloodshed and death of our age. If we are going to risk bloodshed, we need clarity about the plight of children. The Tobit Project provided a glimpse of what happens to our children.
In August 1986, I was with a friend going through the dumpster of an abortionist looking for financial records when we found four small mesh bags of tissue in the trash. The tissue resembled rice pudding, with a few spots of blood. We examined the tissue for some minutes, suspecting that we had found tiny bodies. When we were unable to recognize any part, we concluded that the bodies had probably been disposed of elsewhere, and that we were looking at placental material or something, and we threw it all away.
Over the next few days, the two of us discussed our find repeatedly, and I consulted Dr. Bill Colliton, a pro-life obstetrician/ gynecologist, about the tissue. Colliton suggested a couple of other possibilities, but the more we thought about it, the more worried we became.
On August 19, I returned to the dumpster with another friend, and picked up some more trash, looking for bodies. Again, we found mesh bags of tissue. This time, the tissue was bloodier. Again, I poked through the messes, looking for fingers or toes, but found nothing. I saw what looked like tiny pieces of liver in each bag, but was just guessing.
In those early days, we were very clinical: “Is this the liver, or a clot of blood?” Our emotions surfaced later.
At the house where I was poking through the trash, friends came down to chat, and were interested in ghoulish possibilities, but the investigation was time-consuming and mostly boring. Four of the eight apparent corpses were freshly killed, but four were from August 16 (I think), and they stank fiercely. Keith Rothfus stayed with us, praying quietly for us, for which I am immensely grateful. But the other two went back upstairs to watch TV, which was perhaps a healthy reaction. You cannot let this stuff take over your life.
I did not throw these specimens out; I was pretty sure they were corpses. I took them home, wrapped them, and put them in the freezer. I did not tell my wife about it, and was a little nervous every time we needed something from the freezer.
Over the next week, I spent some time trying to get them to Bill Colliton. My schedule was full and so was his, and transportation was a hassle. At one point, I put the corpses in an insulated jug, with a couple of cans of frozen orange juice to keep them cold, and took them downtown to give them to a friend who was planning to drive out to see Colliton. But that did not work out.
We called another physician, Bill Hogan, who had taken some of the early bloody photos which were used in Jack Willke’s Handbook on Abortion. Hogan said that suction abortion before ten weeks would be likely to smash everything beyond recognition. He said we might find bone slivers in the remains of older children, or might be able to pick out liver tissue. He said he would be glad to look at what we had, but did not expect that he would be able to tell us much that we did not already know. Instead, he gave us the name of a pathologist who could examine the remains with a microscope.
We called the pathologist, Mike Dolan, who confirmed what Hogan had said. But he was discouraging about recognizing anything by the naked eye. Even what appeared to be liver tissue might be just blood clots; only examination under a microscope would tell us for sure.
I should emphasize that the doubts expressed by Colliton, Hogan and Dolan were not about whether the tissue was in fact fetal remains, but about whether they could identify it positively, and testify in court as expert witnesses that they had seen smashed bodies. After discussing the circumstances of the remains—eight mesh bags from an abortion clinic, each with a spot of blood that resembled liver—none of them had any real doubt that we had eight corpses there.
Dolan was about to leave town for ten days. He told me how to preserve specimens in the future, and said that he would be willing to examine them for me when he returned.
I decided to dispose of these eight, and get fresh specimens for Dolan when he came back to town. So I carried my yellow jug with eight corpses and two cans of orange juice home, and put the corpses back in the freezer. Then I waited for an opportunity to bury them quietly.
I was determined not to let my wife know what was going on. Her life with me is weird enough without corpses in the freezer. So I wanted to dig the graves discreetly. But what with scheduling problems and rain and whatnot, time passed, and the corpses never made it into the ground. Then a new problem arose: I started going a little bonkers.
For one thing, where was I going to put the corpses? In the orchard, the meadow, or the woods? In the woods, I could mark them, without any fear of being asked for explanations any time soon. Should I mark them, or just get them into the soil like dead mice? In the orchard, I could remember where they were without marking the graves. But if these eight are just the beginning, I may need the space in the meadow. Mass grave, or eight separate graves? I wasn’t worried about the depth; the soil here gets rocky a ways down, and regardless of good intentions at the outset, I would not dig much past the rocky level.
The big problem, though, was that I had no reason to doubt that more corpses were being dumped. Each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, another half a dozen or so children are killed there. I could call a press conference and display the corpses, and make life hard for the abortionist for a few days. But then he would continue as before, except that now he would flush the bodies down the toilet. The more I thought—to be more accurate about it at this stage, “stewed”—about it, the more I thought (stewed) I should try to keep retrieving the bodies. The public relations angle was interesting, but not very interesting, especially since the poor bodies are mangled beyond recognition. Until there was an exposé, the bodies would keep landing in the dumpster, three times a week.
Slowly, the recognition dawned on me that I knew where and when bodies were being dumped, regularly, as in Argentina under the junta or in Cambodia under Pol Pot.
I left bodies rotting in that dumpster in Bethesda. I had to admit that I did not have the inner strength to go get them. (I didn’t have time, either; but even if I had, I would have let ‘em rot.) Until I knew where they are going, I was not going to consider getting any more.
I kept going back in my mind to that scene in Gaithersburg, with Keith helping us pray, but two good, sane, pro-life friends deciding to watch TV. What has happened to us that we can watch TV as bodies are unwrapped in the basement? Poor naked little bastards.
I had never felt so keenly that abortion has three sets of victims: children who are killed, women who are exploited, and all the members of the surrounding community—who are offered a powerful lesson in impotence and apathy and despair.
As time passed, we became extremely angry. Our anger was not at the parents, nor even at the abortionists whose work we uncovered. We became enraged at the cold, callous society that allowed such things to take place in broad daylight. We fantasized about going into the offices of lukewarm clerics and piling bodies on their desks. We felt the urgency expressed so well by Archbishop Weakland in the bishops’ pastoral on economics, that “the greatest injustice” is to treat a person as a nonperson, to act as if they simply are not there.
Over time, the horror weighed us down. There was one body in particular that broke my heart. I found a body bag, a small mesh bag that fits over the intake of a suction bottle to catch the pieces as the machine sucks the child out. In the bag, there was a pile of mush, with a hand sticking up. I picked up the hand and lifted it out slowly. The arm came out, then the rib cage, then a torn abdomen and the legs. I had the whole body except the head and one arm. This was in a mesh bag from a suction abortion, and at first I could not understand how the body had gotten through the tube. I guessed that what must have happened was the hand got caught by the suction first and was pulled into the cannula. The arm followed. When the shoulder hit the mouth of the cannula, the body was stuck until the cannula cut through the chest and ripped off the head and one arm; the body went through a little more. The hips did not fit until they were crushed in. Then the legs went flapping through. That body broke my heart.
I had looked through gore for fingers and toes, had learned not from a textbook but from observation that all eyes are blue before birth, had admired the beauty—the stunning beauty like the glory of the earth as seen from outer space—of skulls, with lacy plates forming. I have never heard anyone before or since talk about the beauty of the skulls of babies. They are so fine, so delicate in appearance although they are quite resilient, so clearly the objects of loving attention by a great creator. But for some reason, nothing moved me as much as this body.
In the dumpsters, I cried out to God in agony. I saw the unchecked power of death. In the face of these dead babies, who could speak of sweetness and light? All hope and all joy seemed to be extinguished; it seemed that only the blind and ignorant could maintain hope.
An image of God’s love came to mind. In the U.S. Capitol, off the rotunda, there is a room full of statues of American heroes, one from each state. One of them is Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan missionary who worked all along the coast of California, holding up a large cross, about two feet high. This symbol of missionary work is by no means unique to the Franciscan saint, but it is a gesture I had never understood well. I had never been able to imagine what you would say while holding up a cross like that. That audiovisual aid did not correspond to any thought that I had ever wanted to communicate.
I had seen someone hold up a cross that way once before. At the close of an all-night vigil outside an abortion clinic in Kensington, Maryland, during our dawn prayer service, a man from a Catholic Worker house suddenly held up a small cross, as if he were warding off vampires. I was intensely embarrassed. I could not imagine what might be going through his mind. It is not that I was unmindful of the significance of the death of Jesus, but I felt that crosses belonged on the wall. The gesture seemed bizarre.
But in the dumpsters of Washington, I came to understand why one might use it, what one might want to communicate that would be helped by a cross held aloft. It is a statement of God’s love.
I came to a new appreciation of Jesus as savior. The words of the prophet Zephaniah moved me deeply. Zephaniah said, “You have no more evil to fear.” How true, I thought, but at what price?
Zephaniah said, “Do not let your hands fall limp.” We frequently found hands and feet with fingers or toes sliced off, and sometimes we would hunt through the gore trying to find the missing digits, while these words echoed in my mind, as a plea for life.
Zephaniah said, “He will exult over you, and renew you by His love.” O God, I prayed, is that true? Jesus Christ, Lord of the universe, where are the toes? Is it true? You will “renew” and “exult”? Who can imagine exultation? Zephaniah said, “He will dance over you, as on a day of festival.” I thought, How can I believe that before I see it? Dance? With what opiate?
The world is full of saviors. In Harvard Square in the 1960 and ‘70s, there were lots of them—Guru Maharaji, Kahlil Gibran, Meher Baba, the Church of Scientology—lots of them, all selling sweetness and light. I’m in favor of sweetness and light. But the question that matters about it is, can you get there from here? Or is like the old Yankee gag about getting directions to someplace over the hill: “Let me think. You could go that way . . . Nope. Or you could try this way . . . Nope. Come to think of it, you can’t get there from here.”
In the dumpsters, sweetness and light is an attractive offer.
But the overwhelming reality of death snuffs out shallow hopes and dreams, crushing them contemptuously.
In the dumpsters, the difference between Jesus and all the other purported saviors stands out. The first thing you hear about Jesus is the story of His crucifixion. In the dumpsters, when your heart cries out in pain, the first thing that Jesus says is, “I am with you.” If he wants to go on to talk about sweetness and light, he can do so credibly—because he begins by saying, unmistakably, “I am with you.” In the dumpsters, the blandishments of other saviors do not mean anything. How can you believe them? They offer an alternative to pain, but once you have slipped into the abyss, alternatives are irrelevant; you need a way out. Jesus doesn’t offer a lot of philosophy about pain. Or if he does, that is not the way he begins to teach. He starts by saying, unmistakably, from the cross, “I am with you.”
When I cried out in pain, broken and crushed, he did not explain it or drug it or ask me to look at flowers. He said, “I am with you.” Because he knew the pain, understood the question that was deeper than a verbal question, understood the question that agony does not pose but is, his response could be credible. He said, and I heard, “I am with you.”
Because he had been broken like the children whose bodies I was recovering from the trash, he had credibility. When he spoke of peace, his peace was stronger than death, not a dishonest pretense that death no have power.
I heard him and I clung to him and he saved me from despair. I know he lives, and I know he is Lord, because I saw his power over death. I know I cannot explain that adequately; but I know what I saw. I saw the power of death, and I saw the power of his love beyond death.
Because he was broken as the dumpster babies were broken, and because he was killed as they were killed, he and he alone has credibility when he talks about sweetness and light, about a resurrection. If he says he will renew you and dance over you, it is credible. He bought the right to speak to people in agony. He paid for the ability to comfort the broken-hearted.
Perhaps that was what Fr. Junipero was saying when he held up that cross in California.
Pain or no, we were collecting more and more bodies. By early 1987, eight of us were engaged in the task of retrieving bodies from five abortion clinics in the Washington area. At the Hillcrest abortion clinics, we found bodies that would fill your hand, bodies of children around 20 weeks old. The task of retrieving the bodies was draining, physically and emotionally—and I opted out as often as I could. With hundreds of bodies accumulating, we had to think through the proper way to bury them. How should the remains of the bodies from a holocaust be buried? A few pro-lifers launched a project—the Tobit Project—to find churches and organizations who would help with proper burials.
But in Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington and elsewhere, pro-lifers who were retrieving bodies had to re-invent the wheel. Specifically, we had to insist that human bodies—arms, legs, eyeballs, and other body parts, whether attached or scattered—should be buried respectfully. That does not sound particularly complicated or controversial, but we do not live in normal times.
Should the children be buried in haste, secretly, as had happened in at least two cities? What is the point of the burial, anyway?
A funeral serves a variety of purposes. It is an expression of love for the deceased person. It offers support to the family. It heals the community. The ritual provides balance and continuity. Among Christians, a funeral is a proclamation of the resurrection.
For Catholics, a funeral is a time to pray for the dead. Some Christians hold the view that prayer for the dead is a waste; final exams have arrived, and you pass or fail, and then it is over. This argument aside, all people believe that remembering the dead and mourning them is good and necessary.
But after an abortion, this aspect of a funeral is altered, since we never met the preborn children whom we bury. In fact, pro-abortion philosophers deny the personhood of preborn children for precisely this reason; nobody has any fond memories of their foibles. Still, the outlines of a moving story are known: nameless and voiceless and powerless, they were rejected and killed.
Funerals are supposed to be a service to the families of the deceased. But for victims of abortion, that is a little complicated. You cannot invite the family of the deceased to the burial. They probably don’t want to hear that the “procedure” at the abortion clinic produced a body. They are likely to be enraged to learn that their names are available to pro-lifers, who have been portrayed (dishonestly, of course, but repeatedly) as vindictive terrorists.
Even when you can match individual bodies with the names of patients who had abortions on a particular day (easy in Chicago, where each body had the mother’s name attached, but very difficult in Washington, where the bodies were scrambled, and the lists of 30-50 mothers were separate), a phone call to the parents of the deceased could trigger a lawsuit for harassment, or even criminal charges.
Still, it is overwhelmingly obvious that abortion reveals a desperate need for prayer for the family of the deceased. The Church can’t ignore the family simply because they don’t show up for the funeral; their absence shows how much they need our prayers.
Funerals serve to repair the community. But with abortion, this aspect of a funeral is also controversial. Many people are very offended by the suggestion that they are affected by abortion.
The abortion holocaust has been with us for a generation, but very few pastors are prepared to deal with its complications. Some are beginning to learn how to deal with post-abortion syndrome (PAS), but the widespread devastation in a community is still generally unnoted. Abortion kills a child, defiles a mother—and destroys community. Everybody near an abortion clinic is offered a powerful lesson in apathy and despair. The entire surrounding community is taught to ignore bloodshed. Either we resist that lesson, or we learn it. Once we learn to mind our own business when children and women are attacked, will we still be able to resist anything?
The abortionist assumes that the community is too weak to protect children. He spits in the eyes of all local pro-lifers, confident that their brave words about the humanity of the preborn are devoid of force. He assumes that he can kill children and abuse women without any interference from pro-lifers. Too often, his assumption is correct.
The community that is afflicted with abortion is in desperate need of healing. What will it take to open our eyes, if corpses in our trash cans do not stir us to action?
The ritual of a funeral provides sanity and balance, restoring a sense of order and continuity. The fact that there is a ritual is an assertion that “we have been here before,” that this pain, as bad as it is, is still a familiar part of the human condition, something that previous generations have seen, something we can cope with. Ritual, by itself, even when every syllable of it is incomprehensible, has a powerful healing function.
But after an abortion, there is no funeral rite. The absence is devastating. If there is no ritual, then the question arises: Have we been here before?
Christian funerals proclaim that Jesus, by His death and resurrection, broke the power of sin and death. Presumably, that includes abortion. But if this proclamation is made in secret, and the message is hidden in a pauper’s grave, then the messengers have not fulfilled their responsibilities.
What should we have learned from the discovery of corpses in our trash? Sin abounds; does grace abound the more? What on earth does it look like?
In the end, hundreds of the bodies from Washington were buried next to Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia, near the offices of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life. One of the bodies we retrieved is in a tomb at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.
Elsewhere, people suffered for their respect for the bodies of the dead. In Milwaukee, Monica Migliorino Miller went to jail for months for her role removing babies from the trash and burying them.
The Transforming Power of Blood
The blood of those babies broke my heart. The blood of Jesus healed it. I saw in the crucifixion a revelation of God’s overwhelming love.
The blood of babies challenges us to act. The blood of Jesus enables us to act, and to act with love, the power that is stronger than death.
We are all familiar with the idea that to wear the crown of peace you must wear the crown of thorns. But Pope John Paul II says that St. Paul’s attitude toward the cross was not like that. Paul saw the glory of the resurrection, and then later saw more, saw the overwhelming love revealed on the cross.
The blood of Jesus is not about death, it is about life. When God offered a covenant to Abraham, Abraham was ready to seal the deal by giving God what he valued most, his own son and heir. God intervened and said that the other bloody deities of the world might demand such sacrifices, but he did not. But centuries later, when the covenant between God and Abraham was perfected, the deal was sealed with blood, with the blood of Jesus.
The solemnity of the agreement was clear from the value of the sacrifice: God’s own son. The determination of God to fulfill his side of the agreement was clear from the value of the sacrifice: God’s own son. The unimaginable love of the Father for us was revealed in that sacrifice: he gave his own son. Who can understand that? We will spend the rest if eternity plumbing the depths of that profound mystery.
But when we begin to grasp what God did in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, when we begin to see it, a new wonder is hidden behind that. God has invited us to be recipients of his colossal and eternal love—but also to be participants in that same love. He has invited us to share in creation, making new and eternal creatures: babies. And he has invited us to share in redemption, pouring out our blood for the sake of God’s children—babies who are threatened by death and mothers who are being deceived and exploited, and our opponents who are blind and living in darkness. Paul said, “I make up in my own body the sufferings lacking in Christ.” Nothing was lacking, of course, but Paul was right that we are invited to participate.
God does not need our help in the works of creation and redemption—but he chooses to allow us to participate. That is what a rescue is all about. That is why we can rejoice when we are beaten and humiliated and jailed.
Sometimes we can see clearly how God uses what we offer. In 1983, on Holy Saturday (at the rescue mentioned in chapter one), I was arrested with a group of folks at Sigma abortion clinic in Kensington, Maryland. That day, I was dropped on my face with my hands cuffed behind my back, and I bled all over the place. Head wounds are very dramatic. As it happened, my sister Kathie saw all that blood, and by God’s grace that event was one of several things that helped her to understand her abortion, and helped her to return to life, return from death to the Lord. My blood was a small part of her healing, but still a part. To help your sister return from despair to hope: wouldn’t you be willing to bleed all over and even die for that? By God’s gift to me, I was allowed to be a part of God’s work in her life. What a gift, for my sister but also for me.
When we are at risk, a variety of things happen. We feel fear, and try not to be mastered by it. We see various evils, like police brutality. But the most important reality is that we share in the sufferings of Jesus. We have made ourselves available for the service that is suffering.
When we act in solidarity with the threatened, we have the right and the power and the duty to forgive. Before we are threatened, we do not have the right to forgive: “Hey, Hitler, I forgive you for killing people I don’t know.” That’s meaningless: bystanders can’t forgive. But when we are assaulted with the babies and mothers, we have the power to forgive. We should be ready to exercise this colossal power, because we chose deliberately to be there, in response to an invitation to the Lord. We didn’t stumble blindly into this; we are not taken by surprise.
When you suffer with the children and their parents, you are given a stunning and world-changing power. The power to forgive is an immense power, an unbelievable gift from a loving God. When you see that, it is almost embarrassing to add the obvious, that forgiveness is also a duty, because our Lord has asked us to forgive even as he has forgiven us.
In Washington in 1987, rescue leaders announced plans to close all the abortion clinics during the March for Life, as they had the previous year. But the night before the march, when all the rescuers gathered to pray and make final plans, it was a pitifully small group. There were a dozen abortion clinics in DC, and there were not even two dozen rescuers. Still, they trusted the Lord and pushed ahead.
Last-minute calls revealed that one abortuary had closed, and several were delaying their abortions until the afternoon. Only one was opening in the morning. So 20 rescuers went there, and closed that one until late morning. By mid-morning, a blizzard took over our work, and shut down the whole city. Everything closed, killing centers included. Because of the snow, they were closed the next day, and the next and the next. Then it snowed again, and the city closed for two more days.
When the rescuers gathered on the night of January 21, they had little power to offer to the Lord. But they did what they could, and the Lord blessed the work, and there was almost no killing for a week.
Obviously, the rescuers had nothing to do with that blizzard. But if they had not tried, there would have been killing that morning. The small group of rescuers delayed the killing, and then God arranged more delays. Who knows how many hundreds of women had their appointments canceled not once but twice? How many of them thought to themselves: “Hm, I wonder if someone is trying to tell me something?”
God did most of the rescue work by himself, but the rescuers were a part of it, by his invitation, by his grace.
The cross of Jesus, breaking the power of sin and death, was the central event of human history. We are called to understand it, and to be recipients of that grace. But also, in the immensity of God’s love, we are invited to participate.
Does a Mother Forget?
by Katharine O’Keefe
Does a mother forget her baby? For me this has been the central question of the abortion issue. When I was considering an abortion, I was told that the sooner I had it the less I would feel it afterward. The idea seemed to be that the love I felt would be killed at the same time as the child. Or, if it lived, it would always be the same size and same importance.
The child was definitely not important to anyone I spoke to. As for me and my love—well, I was considering an abortion, wasn’t I? So how large a love could that be? And what kind of life would a child have with a mother like that, a mother who thought of an abortion? I decided to have an abortion and forget about it.
But I cannot forget the child. I don’t want to, and after ten years, I see that I won’t. Whether it emerged as repression, anger, guilt, shame, remorse, love or action, I have always had a feeling for that child, and I always will.
At first I did not believe I loved the child, because I considered an abortion. Others went along with this. The idea was that I would have some other child whom I would love right from the start.
A pro-life counselor might have shown me that everyone I knew was threatening rejection if I did not have an abortion. Such a counselor might have shown me that everyone was speaking of this child as an economic disaster, and in no other way, that the abortion was their idea, that I was procrastinating and evading and they were making appointments and decisions, that anyone facing such a storm might think of the unthinkable, that there were other ways of thinking about the child and other people who would help me. But there were no pro-life counselors in my life. I was separated from my family. I was separated from the Roman Catholic Church.
Despite the separation, I expressed some reservations about whether a Catholic could do this. The people I knew contacted the local liberal priests. These priests sent an offer to absolve me after the abortion. They gave me to understand that the Church would soon be approving abortions. Of course, I could not wait till the Church got around to admitting it had been wrong, so I should just go ahead.
I did not believe these priests were men of God, but I did think the Church might soon approve abortions. The nuns had taught me abortion was wrong, but they were screwed up, I thought. It would happen. However, I had enough of the nuns left in me to say I did not want absolution from that type of priest.
All these things together clouded my mind. I thought I was not a mother, not yet, not really, or at least not very much. I was just a little bit pregnant and I would have a little bit of an abortion and afterward I would be a little bit sorry. Then I would forget it.
So I did it. But when I came out from under the anesthetic, I realized that the child was gone. All along on another track in my mind, I had known a child was there and I had been glad. I did not connect this child with the abortion I was arranging. As soon as I came to, I missed the child. I cannot describe the shock I felt. I turned cold from head to foot. My heart seemed to stop and then go on beating somewhere far away. I said to myself, “What have I done?” There was some kind of an answer which was so terrible that I cannot remember it even now. And I suppressed all memory of the entire experience right away. I said I should go forward and at least get the benefit of what could not now be undone.
I suppressed the experience, and the original suggestion—that you won’t feel much—seemed to be true. However, I was numb with shock, not indifference.
Some women who have late abortions see their children. Then they have an image for their mind and imagination to work on. But most women have nothing from their senses to explain their emotional state. Does someone you never saw and do not know, someone who is dead, someone whom the nation says was not a person—does this someone matter? A survey would not have turned up an adverse effect. In fact I was better suited to the world as it now is. I was afraid to live my soul, and the world as it now is does not want people who are living their souls.
To put it another way: would a marketing survey show the damage done to Christmas over the last fifteen years by its increasing commercialization? Did Scrooge know what was wrong with himself before he saw the three ghosts? The damage done to Christmas is like the damage abortion did to me. In fact, maybe they are coming from the same source.
I know I turned my mind away from this child who found no room at the inn; who came unto his own and his own received him not.
Then I had an experience which influenced all my thinking. I was working in a medical bookstore, a section of a large university bookstore. The medical section was well stocked with books that had color plates showing every disease and deformity medicine hopes to cure. All of these pictures were extremely ugly, and some were indescribably grotesque. For example, the book on forensic pathology had plates showing slashed throats and burned bodies that made you realize how television conceals the truth of the violence it portrays.
The people who worked in the medical section became quite hardened to these pictures. In fact, we would search out ever more ghastly pictures and leave the books, opened at these pictures, by the telephone or cash register in other sections of the store. There, they would catch the clerks in the other sections off-guard as they phoned or rang up a sale. Since the other clerks had their minds on poetry, art and college cups, you could hope for a good loud scream from them.
These pictures were photographs of real human beings, not drawings. Most subjects faced the camera, and you could see their faces. Their expressions were semi-dead. The overall impression was so awful that people cried out in horror when they were caught off-guard by these pictures.
Then one day I saw a picture of Mother Teresa with a child who had one of these diseases. I cannot remember what it was. But whatever it was, I recognized it; it had been one of the more ugly pictures in the medical books. But I was struck by the fact that this picture was beautiful. You could see the same physical facts. But Mother Teresa was holding this little child and smiling at him, and the child was smiling back. Then I realized that the ugliness in the other pictures had been behind the camera, in the mind that took the pictures.
Let me say in passing that there are a lot of very ugly minds taking pictures which are used as evidence that groups or individuals lack quality of life. The ugliness in these pictures is probably the greatest indictment against the affluent hypocrites of our society. It’s one place where the hidden hatreds are plain.
Because of this experience, I came to respect Mother Teresa. Then in the late ‘70s, I heard she was against abortion. I also heard that John Paul II was against it. Then I knew the Church would not change. I concluded that I was on the wrong side of life, over with the ones taking ugly pictures. I started to say abortion was wrong. I went back to the Church—the nun’s Church, the one the gates of hell would not prevail against, not the one where there was no hell. I tried to straighten out my life. And I tried to find a statement about abortion that articulated and provided a philosophical basis for my feelings.
I was not able to find such a statement. Everything I read seemed to push my reasons for opposing abortion away. I had some reason other than what I read, but it hovered just out of reach. Trying to touch it pushed it away like a balloon.
My brother and my sister were actively opposing abortion. Through them I became drawn into the Rescue movement. First, I saw a picture of the police dragging my sister Lucy away. I was conscience-stricken that she should suffer like that for a crime I had committed. Then during a Rescue the police let my brother John fall on his face with his hands cuffed behind his back. His cheek was cut and bleeding when I picked him up at the police station.
I resolved to be at the next Rescue, my goal being to rescue John. I had a hazy notion of hitting any officer who dropped him, so it is fortunate that the next Rescue did not happen at once. But this resolve made me think. I asked myself many times why they saw abortion as bad for reasons; and I saw it as bad, but seemed to have no reasons. People I respected opposed it; I myself just felt uneasy. Sometimes as I listened to pro-lifers, I would think: “I had an abortion and it is not as bad as you are making it sound.”
Then one day as I was driving I thought to myself: “That was your own child; you killed your own child; that’s why you feel bad.” Up till then I had been trying to understand abortion-the-issue: fetal viability, the composition of the Supreme Court, legislative versus legal powers, how much can Reagan do, etc. And all these issues were tracking along above my feelings. In just the same way as I did not realize the abortion was going to kill the child, so I did not realize that abortion-the-issue was about my own child. But that day, I finally saw what was on my mind. The whole world seemed to be frowning at me. The trees were cold, bare and hard. I looked up at the sky which was clouded over. It seemed to be an angry stone face.
As I looked, God put it into my heart to remember a line from Tennyson: “Every cloud which spreads above and veils love/itself is love.” I thought then that I was looking at what had happened to my love for my child, that it had all turned into anger at me. And I was glad in a way that I had finally found that love.
I think that before this, I had felt a fear that my wish had come true, that I would only feel a little regret—that my child had no one to love him. This fear was so terrible I couldn’t think about it. Maybe only another woman who has had an abortion can really understand the strange mental contortions and the pain.
So then I knew how I felt about abortion. But I felt a terrible weakness and a kind of despair—a moral weakness, a despair at the ugly power of the pro-death forces, a feeling that the child was gone and there was nothing to be done.
It amazed me to see pro-lifers taking on this terrifying force. I had a feeling about them which is expressed in the words “how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace.” Whenever I saw a pro-lifer taking on the forces of death—being ridiculed, ignored, abused, hit, kicked, arrested— and overcoming—praying, singing, speaking the truth to hostile taunting assemblies—I would feel the truth of those words. To see them fight for the babies was a gospel of peace to me.
Then I was transferred to Seattle. There was no Rescue movement there. And my new job was very demanding. I told myself that I was through with abortion. I should move on. I should succeed in the world. I should forget pro-life. And I did. Except when I looked up at the mountains, I would think: “I lift up mine eyes to the hills; whence shall my help come to me.” Then I would think of all the pro-life prisoners, particularly Joan Andrews.
Now and then I would hear how things were going. It always seemed that more people were in more trouble. I became more and more disturbed by my own inaction. Yet I did not have the power to act. I prayed for strength and it did not come. I began to despise myself, and I thought the best thing in the world would be to be as brave as the people I had known for awhile. But I did not want to be like them and suffer.
Then I was transferred back east. I began to have terrible nightmares: the world was ending and I had not acted against abortion. Or I was dying and I had not acted against abortion. Then Joan Andrews got out of prison, and I heard her speak. I began to think I knew what purgatory was—a sense of wasting one’s life without the power to change. For I still wanted everything I had.
Since I woke up from the abortion I had been working to prove that something could be salvaged from the mess. Otherwise I would hear what that voice said when I said, “What have I done?” All I could get was things; therefore I wanted things.
I heard a rumor that Mother Teresa had said that women who had abortions should go to jail. I don’t know what she meant or who she was thinking of. But suddenly my own mind cleared. All this time, sorry though I was, I had been withholding something from my living. I decided to remember my child and act.
And suddenly I had strength. I thought it would be justice for my own child if I went to jail. Suddenly I wanted to establish justice for that one child. If this meant giving up my career and things, so be it.
I could not forget my child, though I burdened myself trying to forget and hating myself for trying. The day I decided to remember, I laid my burden down. Then God stepped in to help me do this without dying of selfish fears.
So I say: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.” My child has a mother.
The Right to Compassion
by Katharine O’Keefe
I believe a woman’s most basic right is the right to have love and compassion, especially for her own child. Women are oppressed when they are afraid to exercise that right. Unjust social conditions can create this fear and take away this right. But abortion on demand does not restore this right.
Abortion is not compassionate. If a newborn child were left naked on the beach in the hot sun till it was burned red and then it were thrown in the ocean till the salt in the burns killed it, we would be horrified at the mother who did this. This is the equivalent of a saline abortion. So abortion is acquiescence in the loss of the right to have love and compassion.
Throughout history women have used abortion to say that they have lost the right to have love and compassion. Desertion, divorce, beating, or poverty can make the exercise of this right frightening. But to give in to fear, to lose this right, has never been seen as anything other than a personal defeat until our time.
Even now those who support abortion do not actually like abortion in the same way that those who support the right to vote like voting. Even diehard N.O.W. people want to say they are for “choice,” not abortion. They think that an abortion is more like a bankruptcy than a liberty. But they think that, as bankruptcy may be necessary at times to conclude a financial failure in an orderly way, so abortion is at times necessary to conclude a failed sexual transaction.
What they refuse to see is that abortion is like hit and run rather than bankruptcy. Rather than winding up a problem in an orderly way, abortion—like hit and run—makes a bad problem worse. And the basic reason it makes it worse is that it replaces a right—the right to have love and compassion especially for one’s own child—with fear.
In an abortion, the woman takes the position that she is afraid to exercise her most basic right. Whatever fear causes her to give up her right will dominate her from then on. At any rate that’s how I interpret the troubles women have after abortions. Even pro-death people say “she had an underlying problem.” That is true—and now the problem is in the driver’s seat.
It is said: “Love casts out fear.” So then there is no escaping the fear until there is love. But what happens when a person decides that the fear was justified, and anyway that there was no one there to love? Where will the love come from?
We sing, “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.” I used to say, “Great, but where is Gilead?” I know now where it was for me. The road to Gilead was finding God’s forgiveness and believing that the child is all right. When I firmly believed these two things, then I was able to remember that I had loved the child. To remember that you did love that individual child is to be in the town of Gilead.
Love should be, wants to be, put into action. In the town of Gilead, I heard in my heart, “Get rid of everything that came from the abortion and go to jail for the crime.” Another person might have heard their love say something different, but this is what I heard. And when I did it, I was made whole. Not perfect, but wholly myself. Love cast out fear.
What does it profit a woman to gain the whole world and “suffer” the loss of her child? In an abortion you “suffer the loss of your own child.” Women who have had miscarriages used to talk to me, saying that they had felt a similar loss. I could not understand them, because I knew they had nothing to feel guilty about. But I see now that even when guilt is gone, there is still a loss. But it is not the suffering of abortion. It is not the suffering of fear, of attempting to enjoy the illusory gain of the real loss of the child.
You could compare the two women in the story about Solomon and the baby. One woman’s baby died. She denied that anything had happened, took the other woman’s baby, and would have allowed this second baby to be cut in half. She “suffered the loss of her child” through denial. The other woman was ready to give up her child rather than let it be harmed. Even if she had given it up, she would not have “suffered the loss of her child” in the same way as the first one, because she still had her love. She would not have developed the brutal attitude of the first woman who, in the end, was into lying, kidnapping, perjury and murder—and all for nothing. “Let the other child die.”
When you lose a child, it can destroy you, and the more you deny the loss, the more likely is the destruction. But in abortion, you are encouraged to deny the loss.
Of course, all this has come about because of very real problems. Women have not always been respected for their role as mothers. Sometimes the special vulnerabilities of this role have been exploited. But the answer is to end the exploitation, not to end the role!
Feminists in America regard the role of motherhood, the role itself, as exploitation. Seeing a lack of respect for the role, they say that women are exploited by the role, rather than explaining how women are exploited in it. Consequently, they have directed their efforts at fighting the role, not the exploitation and the lack of respect.
Needless to say, this has increased the lack of respect, causing a vicious circle to develop. As motherhood is increasingly unprotected, its problems become increasingly severe, and the flight from it increases. The message is obvious: If mothers aren’t respected, don’t be a mother.
Women do have a choice. Will we fight for our most basic right—the right to have love and compassion, especially for our own child? Or will we give up that right and demand “the same rights as men”? Will we work to end all the oppression that makes compassion too frightening? Or will we choose to perform horrors on the helpless?
In these days, we are free. We must choose our own history. Was it our glory or our shame that every previous generation entrusted the helpless and defenseless to us? Solomon tried the spirits of the woman before him to learn who was a mother. The Supreme Court, though far less wise, has done the same in America. And around the world, this is the time when woman’s souls are being tried.
I deeply believe that we do ourselves a terrible wrong when we choose to suffer the loss of the child. I believe we have a primary right to have love and compassion, especially for our own child. Solomon said, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” This means we could overcome the oppression if we really stood up to it.
And to those who have had abortions, I would say, “You above all should fight for the rights that would have saved your child. For your own sake, you should say, `Let the child live.’ For your own sake, your life should testify that love is indeed stronger than death.”
Within the pro-life movement, it is particularly necessary that women be respected. If our society moves toward ending abortion, people will look to pro-lifers to show them how to construct a social order without abortion. And if they see the same old oppression of women that led to abortion in the first place, they will conclude that we are at best starry-eyed idealists who will not face reality, or at worst that we are hypocrites.
People might be happy to believe that good treatment of women is a better solution than abortion. So they will be quick to note whether women are in fact being treated better. I would say that anyone in the movement who treats women badly is building a house on sand. The work will not last. Abortion could be driven out and come right back, because women were not freed from oppression.
The man whose honor and pride are rooted in being a good husband and father sets the woman free to exercise her primary right: compassion.
And there are spiritual mothers, like Mother Teresa or Corrie TenBoom or all the women volunteers who ever came forward, or the teachers and nurses of the old school. Do they not depend on spiritual fathers and husbands whose honor and pride are rooted in firm decisions that make a space for love and compassion?
Abortion comes from Satan, but he found the oppression of women by men his most effective instrument yet. At least that’s how I see it. But when I look around, I see that others think that concern for women is a non-issue.
Fr. Charles Curran, for example. He justifies some abortions by reference to the oppression of women. But those who rightly oppose him do not always work to end the conditions that made Fr. Curran popular. Those conditions, left unchanged, will make a “Bishop Curran” or even “Pope Curran” popular in the not too distant future.
Yet, Fr. Curran does not really care about women. He never speaks about the Blessed Mother. A Catholic who really cared about the role of women would love to think about her.
What are her lessons to us? Doesn’t the dogma of the Immaculate Conception show that there was a soul there from the moment of conception, a soul to be free from sin and to receive grace? Why did Christ have a human mother and not a human father? If He was a person from the moment of conception, the Second Person of the Trinity, and if He was true man, then don’t we have to believe that we are all persons from the moment of conception? Not legal fictions of American law, but persons.
Mother Teresa says Christ came as child to teach us to love from the beginning. And mothers trying to heal from abortions and miscarriages claim they know they damaged their child by their intention before they actually destroyed it. So maybe the mother and child exchange with each other, communicate with each other as persons in love. Love can be nonverbal and below the conscious level.
It has been agreed that Mary was the Mother of God, but St. Joseph was not the Father of God. But once Christ was born, both raised Him. So her title might be based on the fact she carried Him in her womb, not on her relationship with Him while He was growing up.
“Mother of God.” “Blessed art thou among women.” Who could do better?
Chacour, Elias, with Hazard, David. Blood Brothers (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984). If it is possible to maintain the hope in the middle of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it is possible anywhere.
Easwaran, Eknath. A Man to Match His Mountains (Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1984). Nonviolent action among Muslims in Pakistan.
Gandhi, M.K. My Experiments with Truth (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1927)
John Paul II. On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1984)
John Paul II. On Reconciliation and Penance (Boston: DSP, 1984)
John Paul II. On Social Concern (Boston: DSP, 1987)
King, Martin Luther. Strength to Love (New York: Harper & Row, 1963). This collection of sermons shows the real heart of nonviolence.
Macken, Walter. Seek the Fair Land (London: Macmillan, 1960). The Irish withstood genocidal pressure for centuries by nonviolent means. Macken’s three novels explore this truth.
Macken, Walter. The Silent People (London: Macmillan, 1962)
Macken, Walter. The Scorching Wind (London: Macmillan, 1964)
Merton, Thomas, Gandhi on Non-Violence (New York: New Directions, 1964). This short introduction to Gandhi is useful to people who are not going to plow through 80 volumes of Gandhi’s autobiography.
Nagai, Takashi, The Bells of Nagasaki (Kodansha, 1984). The power of love in the face of the bomb.
Nudas, Alfeo G., God With Us: The 1986 Philippine Revolution (Manila: Ateneo de Manila University, 1986). The story of a great but little-noted success of nonviolence.
Sharpe, Gene, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, three volumes: Power and Struggle, The Methods of Nonviolent Action, and The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent Publishing, 1973)
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, “Matryona’s House,” in We Never Make Mistakes (New York: W.W. Norton, 1963). This story is not about any great campaign of nonviolence, but about the simple heart of the work.
Steiner, Jean-François, Treblinka, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967). Nonviolence begins to resist evil when it is seductive, before it is openly brutal. This book shows the seductive power of evil.
Zahn, Gordon, In Solitary Witness (Templegate, 1986). nonviolence in the Third Reich.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe comes from a remarkable family. His father was an astrophysicist who discovered that the earth is pear-shaped, and spent most of his career studying the origin of the moon. His mother wrote several books about Maria Montessori, John of the Cross, and Emily Dickinson. His nine brothers and sisters include a CIA agent who captured one of Osama bin Laden’s lieutenants, the historian who explained the immense influence of the eugenics movement after World War II, a war hero, three who wrote about education, a physicist specializing in weather, a civic leader in art and education. Amongst them the nine siblings contributed 27 remarkable children to the next generation.
He and his wife Betsy have raised six wonderful children.
Cavanaugh-O’Keefe is sometimes called the “father of the rescue movement.” He would prefer to avoid paternity suits over the matter, and in any case notes that women did most of the work building the movement.
Cavanaugh-O’Keefe has written about eugenics, in The Roots of Racism and Abortion, and about immigration in Sign of the Crossing and Welcome Date TBD.