Pro-life Movement's Signs of Confidence (Part 1)

Father Frank Pavone on the Power of Its Message

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NEW YORK, JAN. 19, 2005 ( Father Frank Pavone sees a dead-end to the pro-abortion movement, as it contains the seeds of its own destruction.

On the eve of major pro-life marches, the director of Priests for Life shared with ZENIT how he sees the movement. Part 2 of this interview will appear Thursday.

Q: A Walk for Life is scheduled this January in San Francisco, where until recently there were more abortions than live births. Last spring, pro-lifers were a big presence at the pro-abortion March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C. Is the pro-life movement taking a different direction, by going into «unfriendly territory» and reaching out to the many women who have had abortions?

Father Pavone: To go into unfriendly territory is, in fact, an essential element of the pro-life movement from the beginning because it is an essential element of evangelization. The message of respect for life means we respect even the lives of those who hate us, disagree with us and support what we detest.

The fact that the Walk for Life is expanding into areas such as San Francisco, and that pro-life people are going into the heart of pro-abortion marches, is a sign of the movement’s continued confidence in the power of its message.

While standing with a pro-life sign at the March for Women’s Lives, Janet Morana, our associate director at Priests for Life, had a pro-abortion woman come up to her and say, «I can’t march with these people anymore — I want to join with you.» The woman tore up the pro-abortion sign she had been carrying and started holding one of our pro-life signs.

These events are also a sign of the youth of the movement, because many of the participants in both events are young people, carrying a new awareness of how abortion harms women and harms them.

The outreach to those who have had abortions is particularly strong these days, because the evidence of the harmful effects of abortion is more plentiful than ever.

Q: The attention given to high-profile pickets outside clinics in years past seems to have subsided a bit. What has been happening with the clinic protests? What tactics are being used? What is their success in recent times?

Father Pavone: Physical presence at the clinics continues, and two of the most successful forms of that activity presently are the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants and the Face the Truth tours.

The Helpers, founded by my colleague Monsignor Phil Reilly of Brooklyn, bring hundreds of people at a time out to abortion clinics. Usually led by a bishop, these vigils provide people a sense of safety and comfort because they start in church with Mass, are escorted by police, consist of the recitation of the rosary and lead back to church.

The presence of a bishop, of course, also assures people that there is nothing about this activity that is contrary to the Church’s teaching. The carefully outlined series of rosary prayers also makes practicing Catholics feel at home. They know what to expect.

The Face the Truth tours are also becoming more popular. Sometimes held in front of clinics, but often on other streets as well, these tours consist of people prayerfully holding large signs that show what aborted babies actually look like.

This is becoming more popular as people understand that there are principles of social reform that are not hard to discern from the history of past social movements that worked to uproot injustice by visually portraying the victims of that injustice.

The civil rights movement, the child-labor reform movement and the abolitionist movement are just three examples of movements that have achieved their goals by forcing society to see the violence that those who permit it want to hide.

We at Priests for Life sponsored a 10-day Face the Truth tour in all five boroughs of New York City in 2003. Women came up to us on a daily basis, saying that they were planning to have an abortion, but the signs changed their minds right then and there.

Q: When has the movement been most successful in helping to limit and end abortion? Has the movement changed the culture, or simply achieved piecemeal limitation aimed at limiting access to the procedure?

Father Pavone: Actually, abortion itself has done more to turn people away from abortion than the pro-life movement has done. What I mean is that it contains the seeds of its own destruction, as all evil does.

I believe in the «dead-end rule,» which is that if you go down a dead-end road and ignore the signs that say it’s a dead end, you will soon learn by personal experience that it’s a dead end.

Many have ignored the signs that the pro-life movement has set up, telling society that abortion is not a solution. But having gone down that road, they learned for themselves how devastating it is. Now they are coming back, repentant and healed, and they become the sign.

That is why Priests for Life co-founded the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, to give women wounded by abortion the opportunity to bear witness to that pain and to that healing. The voices of these women are having a profound impact, undermining the stance of the pro-abortion groups, who all claim to be «pro-woman» and in favor of women’s lives and health.

The culture is changing in favor of life. The legislative and political victories have also been real, but are by definition incremental and gradual. The pro-life legislation signed by President George W. Bush has laid significant foundations in the law for the eventual restoration of protection to the unborn.

[Thursday: The Church’s role]

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