The following is sort of a love letter to the pro-life movement generally, and Birthright—the crisis pregnancy that was the nursery of my beliefs—and my parents specifically. My mom started a local Birthright chapter when I was ten. I’m so thankful for her example and the education that gave me. This describes much of that education. It is long. But I’ve cut it down from a 20 page speech, so be thankful. Ahem:
If you’ve been in the pro-life movement for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the phrase “culture of life.” Culture is the things that binds us together, the beliefs and values that we hold in common. It is our history and our celebrations; our language and our literature. A Culture is not made of those who hold everything in common, but those who share important connections. The Culture of Life is a diverse, world-wide community of people bound by the belief that all human life has inherent value. The guiding principle of Birthright sums up one aspect of this belief: “It is the right of every pregnant woman to give birth, and the right of every child to be born.”
The true scope of “the culture of life” is often misunderstood. Many people hear that phrase and thinks it means only those who oppose abortion or euthanasia politically . Being a part of the culture of life is more than a political opinion, it is being a member of what Pope John Paul II called “an authentic civilization of truth and love.”
From my parents’ example, I saw a real and relevant response to abortion every day. My mother and father as well as the other women and men in the Birthright culture meet the needs of real mothers and their children in practical, compassionate ways. I saw that abortion is not just an unfortunate fact of life, that the over 50 million children in this country who have been killed by abortion are regrettable, but really nothing can be done. Not only can something be done, but an ordinary person who holds no great position of power and influence can positively impact the life of a real mom and her baby.
From the example of my mother and other Birthright volunteers, I saw that to do the thing set before me today would impact the lives of other people far into the future. The Culture of Birthright does not march on seats of power or petition the mighty. It does not shout. The Culture of Birthright quietly takes the lost and confused by the hand. In small, comfortable rooms across the world, mothers are offered hope and a shoulder to cry on and practical solutions to each unique circumstance. Throughout my life, I have seen my mother and the other Birthright volunteers offer hope to the mothers who come to Birthright.
In addition to my experiences with Birthright, I was part of the student pro-life movement and worked for political candidates. In fact, my earliest political experience was pulling my red wagon around our neighborhood and distributing campaign material for Ronald Reagan. I was 6. These experiences lead me to a career at the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, DC.
While working at National Right to Life, I learned even more about the diversity and the commitment to the defenseless that characterizes the Culture of Life. Individuals from all races, faiths and backgrounds have come together and given of themselves for unknown mothers and their children.
I also had the opportunity to learn about the Culture of Death and those who have committed themselves to promoting and protecting abortion at any cost. This commitment has cost the lives of countless of children and has damaged millions of women and their families. The Culture of Death is well-organized and well-financed, but despite this, the Culture of Death is fading. The number of abortions has steadily declined since the early 1990s. Moreover, pro-abortion groups bemoan the “graying” of their organizations. Meanwhile more and more young people are self-described pro-life or oppose the vast majority of abortions. At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, huge numbers of the participants are students.
Like a tapestry, there are many interconnected pieces in the Culture of Life. There are national legislative organizations like the National Right to Life Committee which seek to pass protective legislation and to educate the culture on the realities of abortion at a national level. These groups look at the big picture: where we are going and where we have been. They seek to stem new threats against life and to promote the message of life on the broadest level possible. There are political action committees that seek to elect pro-life legislators who will stand for life. There are local and state grassroots organizations that work within their communities, both through legislation and educational efforts. There are youth organizations on college and high school campuses. These groups have the unique ability to speak truth directly to their peers facing abortion decision.
Then there are crisis pregnancy centers, such as Birthright. Unlike the other threads in the tapestry, Birthright is not involved in legislative efforts. The work of Birthright and other crisis pregnancy centers is to meet the needs of individual women and their families. The purpose of Birthright is to provide life-affirming options in the face of difficult circumstances. Even if abortion were outlawed tomorrow, Birthright and other CPCs would still be needed to be that soft, reassuring voice and that steady arm to guide mothers through difficult decisions and hard circumstances.
President Bush has describe the Culture of Life saying, “The Culture of Life is a welcoming culture, never excluding, never dividing, never despairing and always affirming the goodness of life in all its seasons.”
The Culture of Life is welcoming. It does not exclude based on race, creed, class or circumstance. Speaking of the women who came into that first Birthright in Toronto, Canada 42 years ago, your founder Louise Summerhill said “I can never see anything wrong with any of them.” The Culture of Life does not say some children are worthy of life and some children are not. It does not say that some women have no right to give birth to their children. It welcomes them all.
It does not divide bad circumstance from worse to absolutely unimaginable. The Culture of Life sees each beautiful individual and helps her work through her own circumstances. While we do not—indeed we cannot—minimize or deny the problems facing mothers in crisis pregnancies, we realie that there are life-affirming solutions to these problems.
The Culture of Life does not despair. Sometimes the reality of abortion, the reality of millions upon millions of lost lives, the reality of millions of broken women is overwhelming. It can be easy to despair. Sometimes the woman who is not open to the truth can be disheartening. But we do not despair because we realize that every life saved has value and that each woman who chooses life for her unborn child strengthens and enlarges the Culture of Life.
The Culture of Life always affirms the goodness of life in all its seasons. We recognize the beauty of every mother and every child, and we come alongside families to bring life-affirming positive options so that life can be valued.
The Culture of Death assumes that each life is placed on a scale and if the hardships, costs or inconvenience outweigh its so-called “potential” then that life has no worth. In high school, I had a teacher who spoke passionately about the children in our city who lived in poverty and didn’t have enough to eat. She was deeply touched by the plight of these children. However, she saw these children and their problems as a justification for abortion. Her cultural assumption was that life that does not meet certain material standards is not worth living. Her solution to the problem of hungry children was to abort children who would otherwise be born into poverty.
The Culture of Life assumes every life is precious and has inherent worth. Problems and hardships must be confronted. Disease, poverty and violence are all issues to which our society must respond. However, the Culture of Life rejects the notion that eliminating human beings solves human problems. We understand that devaluing life at any stage creates rather than solves problems.
Every culture has traditions and a heritage that frames how the members of that culture live and think. The Culture of Life and the Culture of Death also have their own framework. The heritage of the Culture of Life is truth. The heritage of the Culture of Death is deception. These two cultures are battling for the hearts and minds of the broader culture that exhibits confusion and contradiction when faced with important questions about precious young lives.
The Culture of Life is committed to the truth. First and foremost, we are committed to telling the truth about the tiny human being growing in her mother’s womb. At Birthright, the women who come in hear and see about this tiny life within them. Using beautiful medical models of babies in the womb, volunteers tell the truth about life. They speak of the tiny baby who at 18 days after conception has a beating heart and the 9 week old child who has fingerprints and all her internal organs. Mothers learn of the unique DNA that world-renowned geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune once called a “symphony.” At the moment of conception, each human being is genetically complete. We are dedicated to making sure every pregnant woman knows the truth about the child she carries.
Our culture does embraced the wonder and beauty of the unborn child–at times. Pregnant women sing and talk to their unborn children, they send grandma first pictures of baby inside the womb, mothers are careful what they eat and drink and monitor their activities to protect the fragile developing life within. Unless a woman has bought into the deception that her baby is not, in fact, a baby. The Culture of Death denies truth through euphemisms. Terms such as “product of conception” or “blob of tissue” try to hide the reality of the unborn child. The horrible, harmful phrase “a wanted child” seeks to convince mothers in difficult situations that emotions, desire and circumstances can change a baby into “pregnancy tissue.”
The Culture of Life is committed to telling the truth about the harmful consequences of abortion. Abortion is physically, emotionally and spiritually devastating. The Culture of Death must deny the very real, very painful consequences of abortion. To admit that abortion may be harmful would their already shaky foundation.
In a 1993 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League or NARAL president Kate Michelman admitted in a rare moment of complete candor, “We think that abortion is a bad thing. No woman wants to have one.” After the story was printed, Michelman and NARAL desperately tried to back track, claiming she said no such thing. Unfortunately for NARAL, the reporter had recorded the interview. But even confronted with cold, hard facts, Michelman attempted to deny that she had said “Abortion is a bad thing.”
But this is exactly what mothers must know. Pro-lifers tell the truth about the physical risks of abortion and of the pain and heartache women who’ve aborted their children feel. It is critical that mothers know that abortion can lead to secondary infertility, infections and is even connected to breast cancer. They must hear about post-abortion syndrome and the depression and anxiety that often follows an abortion. Yes, Ms. Michelman: Abortion is a bad thing and no woman should have one.
Again, we see the confusion as the broader culture struggles with these two philosophies. Most people support limits on abortion, laws that require women to be told of the harm of abortion. Many say things like “I could never have an abortion myself,” or “I am personally pro-life, but I couldn’t stop someone else from having an abortion.” The natural inclination to protect life and to cherish children has been corrupted by the Culture of Death which pits mother against child.
The Culture of Life assumes that every woman should be able to choose life for her child—Birthright seeks to make this choice possible. One of the things we hear again and again from women who’ve had abortions is the statement, “I had no other choice.” How ironic that the “pro-choice solution” should be an act of desperation. Birthright and all those in the Culture of Life seeks to educate mothers about all their life-affirming options and help them through the difficult—but ultimately rewarding—decisions.
How do we challenge and ultimately defeat the Culture of Death? We have a tendency to think that cultural changes are due to one event: one battle, one speech, one law, one court case. We look for the magic bullet: the politician, the judge, the advertising campaign that will completely alter cultural opinions. The reality is that numerous factors over time influence shifts in our beliefs and values. The Culture of Death did not take hold overnight and it will not change overnight. But I am confident that a cultural shift is occurring because of the truth and compassion communicated by the Culture of Life. The Culture is changing because we show up every day. The Culture is changing because of each woman helped by CPCs. The Culture is changing because we are being light in a dark place.
I think the Prayer of St. Francis best expresses the spirit of The Culture of Life:
“Lord make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life.
April Thompson has been active in the pro-life movement from her youth, due mainly to the influence of her mother,a crisis pregnancy center director since 1984. Her experiences include serving as president of Texas Collegians for Life and of National Collegians for Life. After graduating from college, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked for National Right to Life as a lobbyist and in Media Relations. Now a homeschooling mother of four, she writes (sporadically) on politics, homeschooling and life on her blog Question the Culture. Follow her on twitter: @OddlySaid.