40 years after ‘Roe’: Pro-life leaders plan for future of movement

40 years after ‘Roe’: Pro-life leaders plan for future of movement

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The Hope Mobile Unit parked at St. Jerome Parish during the Jan. 6 Family Festival. About 90 percent of women who see an ultrasound exam of their unborn child choose life. The ‘Hope’ van gives free exams to pregnant women. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

The Hope Mobile Unit parked at St. Jerome Parish during the Jan. 6 Family Festival. About 90 percent of women who see an ultrasound exam of their unborn child choose life. The ‘Hope’ van gives free exams to pregnant women. (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

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Many of those now in leadership positions within the pro-life movement were young children or not even born when seven justices of the U.S. Supreme Court cast their infamous Roe v. Wade opinion, legalizing abortion in 1973.

Nancy Keenan, who recently resigned as president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, complained that younger women were not taking up the banner of abortion rights.

Melanie Pritchard, a longtime local pro-life activist, is in her early 30s. She said she found Keenan’s resignation from NARAL encouraging.

“They don’t have young faces and I don’t think they’re going to get them, but we do,” Pritchard said. “The young generation is standing up now, and they might not be able to vote yet, but they are there in great numbers.”

Pritchard said young people are finding the truth about what abortion does with their own eyes.

“They see the truth in ultrasound imaging and they’re starting to get evidence of what abortion does through internet searches and online resources,” Pritchard said.

John Jakubczyk, an attorney and the former president of Arizona Right to Life, agreed that young people are increasingly pro-life.

“The pro-life movement is younger and alive. The pro-abortion movement is led by older people who are dying,” Jakubczyk said. “The only reason they remain in control is because they control places of power, which include the government, the media and universities.”

Mike Phelan, director of the Office of Marriage and Respect Life Issues, offered a similar opinion, adding that he thinks technological advances have helped the cause.

“There’s a reason abortion is a bad word that nobody wants to use,” Phelan said. “Everybody can look at 4-D ultrasound images and nobody wants to say, ‘It’s no big deal to destroy that.’”

“The movement as a whole is younger and more vibrant in a lot of ways because it is more decentralized,” Jakubczyk said. “There’s a new generation of leadership coming up the ranks, and that’s a good thing for the future.”

Where do we go from here?

Local pro-life leaders are hoping that more people will get involved in defending the life of the unborn and protecting women from abortion. In the last few years, retreat experiences such as Rachel’s Vineyard and groups like Silent No More are bringing new energy to the cause.

Pritchard said the voices of thousands of women who regret their abortions are helping pro-life efforts in a big way. As women begin to openly discuss the trauma of abortion, it’s creating a domino effect, persuading others not to make the same mistake, she said.

“Those who have had abortions and who are now coming out and speaking are some of the strongest voices we have,” Pritchard said. “They know the way it affected them and why it’s wrong and why it’s not the right solution.”

At the parish and diocesan level, leaders say they need more of a commitment from people.

“Everybody’s busy,” Jakubczyk said, “We need to have people willing to make the commitment to two hours a week or a month — we need more people to be involved at the parish level.”

Last month, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted called on local Catholics to embrace a five-point plan that was issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help build a culture of life. The plan calls on Catholics to make a monthly holy hour of eucharistic adoration, pray the rosary daily, abstain from meat every Friday during the year and perform other penitential acts. Catholics have also been asked to participate in the next Fortnight for Freedom that will take place June 21-July 4, 2013.

“History teaches us that God works through saints. He works through people — usually unlikely people — and He makes them holy,” Phelan said. “They accomplish miracles and that’s what we’re waiting on in this fight.”

Phelan acknowledged that the sheer number of abortions — more than 50 million in the United States since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — is staggering.

“The numbers numb you,” he said. “Not only have these American babies been killed, but we’ve been extremely effective at exporting abortion throughout the world through organizations like International Planned Parenthood.”

Science has helped the pro-life movement with its ultrasound images, but “we now face the danger of a deeper coarsening of our consciences, and so now there is a greater burden for us to make sure the truth is out there,” Phelan said.

Matt Anderson, who recently joined Phelan’s staff to help support educational efforts at the parish level, said he’s eager to get the word out about human life.

“There’s a definite need for greater education of the lay faithful and a return to an understanding of the Catholic ideal of the dignity of the human person so we can build a culture of life instead of the culture of death that surrounds us,” Anderson said.  “As Catholics our only hope is to be the light.”

Anderson said he wants to be a resource to help parishes accomplish that.

“I’d love to be able to go to an RCIA meeting and give the Church’s teaching on life and the dignity of the human person,” Anderson said. “I want to be a sounding board for parish leaders and be somebody who can assist them in the educational process.”

Nikolas Nikas, president and general counsel for the Bioethics Defense Fund, wants people to remember that despite 40 years of Roe, the pro-life movement is still in its young years. He often compares the centuries-long battle to eliminate slavery and achieve equal rights for Blacks — a struggle that encompassed multiple court cases, Supreme Court decisions and the Civil War — to the effort to overturn abortion on demand.

“Don’t give up — keep fighting for the truth,” Nikas said. “Keep speaking the truth and explain that truth has supremacy over power. We may or may not see success in our lifetime but we must remain faithful.”

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