Choosing Life or Death?
A Special Report from the March for Life in
By: Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Along with over 200,000 other people I "braved" the bitter cold on Monday, January 24, 2005, to stand in solidarity with our first neighbors, children in the womb, who have no voice but our own. It was a stirring, prophetic day that has enormous significance for all who are dedicated to the fundamental human rights issue of our age, restoring the right to life and the freedom to be born to children in the womb and stopping the advance of the culture of death to include the handicapped, the ill and the elderly.
My morning began, as it has for at least the last eleven years, by attending the 11th Annual National memorial for the Pre-born and their Mothers and Fathers. Though I have been attending the March for more years than that, this event has become one of the most significant events of the entire experience. This year, the ecumenical service was held in the Senate Russell Building. As always it was sponsored by the National Clergy Council, a growing Alliance of Christian leaders founded by Rev. Rob and Dr Paul Schenck, longtime heroes of the pro-life movement. It was co-sponsored by the National pro-Life Religious Council.
Christians from across the entire spectrum of Christianity gathered, led by clergy of each of their respective churches and communities. The ornate beautiful Senate room was filled. The front seats were occupied by Catholic priests and deacons, Orthodox clerics, evangelical, messianic Jewish, mainline Protestant, and "non-denominational" Clergy vested in their distinctive symbols of service and office.
Years ago I mentioned what I called a "silver lining in dark cloud in the culture of death" at this event. By that phrase I conveyed the fact that we had found one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ in our common response to defend those whom Mother Teresa called the "poorest of the poor", children in the womb. Our relationships of brotherly and sisterly affection have only grown over the years as we have stood together, confronting the culture of death, building a culture of life and serving the common good. This year, the intercession, worship, repentance, grieving and resolve to bring an end to the evil unleashed by Roe v. Wade resulted in a profound service that deeply moved the participants.
In a reverent liturgical format, passages from the Sacred Scripture, intercessory prayers and petition of repentance and requests for God’s intervention were led by various representatives of the clergy gathered. We heard from Fr Frank Pavone, an extraordinary priest and leader of "Priests for Life" and its companion "Deacons for Life", which I have the privilege of serving. He spoke of the growing response of authentic Christian unity occasioned by the pro-life movement as a great source of grace. We heard a message on the triumph of the truth from Rev. Kirk van der Swaagh of the National Pro-Life Religious Council.
I sat next to the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Alveda King, one of the most profound pro-life advocates of our age, who graced us with her presence. Seated to my left were one of several Presbyterian leaders and two Orthodox clerics. Together we all prayed for all the victims of abortion; the children and their mothers and fathers. We prayed for the Justices of the Supreme Court, the President and all elected officials. We prayed for the overturning of Roe v Wade and an end to the horror that is its result, unimpeded abortion and the denial of the personhood and humanity of children in the womb. .
We solemnly remembered the infamous "anniversary" of that dark day, the 22nd day of January, 1973, when unelected Justices of the United States Supreme Court consigned an entire class of persons to the status of property to be used, abused and disposed of. This horrendous decision, based on faulty legal reasoning, errant history and absolutely faulty and feigned claims to "science", created a fictitious "right" to take the lives of innocent human life. The majority said they found it in the "penumbra" (a legal fiction, a "shadow") of the U.S. Constitution. That so called "right" to do what is always and everywhere wrong, has protected abortionists who continue to reach into the first home of the whole human race, a mothers’ womb, and through chemical weapons or surgical instruments, kill innocent children by the millions.
After the service I joined the growing, gathering crowd to hear from the President of the United States and other elected officials who support the efforts to restore legal protection to our youngest neighbors. Over a phone line, we all heard President Bush assure us that the government is "working to promote a culture of life, to promote compassion for women and their unborn babies." It was refreshingly different from times, years ago, when we heard nothing from the White House. He continued "We know that in a culture that does not protect the most dependent, the handicapped, the elderly, the unloved or (those who are) simply inconvenient become increasingly vulnerable."
He called our attention to progress such as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, the implementation of which has been delayed by three federal district courts. The President stated that under this law "infants who are born despite an attempted abortion are now protected by law…So are nurses and doctors who refused to be any part of an abortion." He mentioned the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, telling the assembly that "prosecutors can now charge those who harm or kill a pregnant woman with harming or killing her unborn child….We're also moving ahead in terms of medicine and research to make sure that the gifts of science are consistent with our highest values of freedom, equality, family and human dignity. We will not sanction the creation of life only to destroy it." Finally he sought to inspire us with these words "The America of our dreams, where every child is welcomed in law (and) in life, and protected in law may still be some ways away, but even from the far side of the river ... we can see its glimmerings."
This year the stage was filled with the other victims of the lie of the abortion industry, women who had had abortions, believing they would find some kind of "relief" only to find their lives deeply affected by the loss of their child, many still trying to recover from the deep wounds of their wrong decision. They held stark black signs that read "I Regret My Abortion". They were associated with the "Silent No More" Awareness Campaign.
Then, in the midst of a growing sense of hope in the crowd, we received the horrific news that the United States Supreme Court had, that very day, refused to hear the Appeal of Governor Jeb Bush, to save the life of Terri Schindler Schiavo, the brain-injured Florida woman whose case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court refused to reinstate a Florida law that permitted her feeding tube to remain in place over her husband's objections. The action (or inaction) of the U.S. Supreme Court has apparently cleared the way for the intentional starvation of Terri, an act of active euthanasia.
Brother Paul O'Donnell of the Franciscan Brothers for Peace, spoke on behalf of the thousands gathered when he proclaimed "Terri Schiavo has a right to life," Terri's father Bob Schindler added, "What they've done here today is incredible. It's judicial homicide." The evil irony was immediately apparent to everyone present. On the day that we had gathered to expose the insidious action of the United States Supreme Court in Roe v Wade, their inaction underscored how the deep roots of the culture of death have sunk in this land we love. It also underscored the importance of the appointment of new Justices.
I then joined my dear friend, Archbishop Randolph Sly, of the Charismatic Episcopal Church (C.E.C.) who had invited me to march with their contingent because, later in the day, I would be a speaker, along with Father Frank Pavone, at their ecumenical "Liturgy at the Time of Death for the Pre-born", a service they regularly hold for the daily victims of death by abortion. This year, this stirring service was to be held before the United States Supreme Court. The International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church is one of the fastest growing Christian communities in the world. The good Bishop Sly also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Common Good, an open movement of Christians committed to building a culture of life, family, freedom and solidarity. I founded Common Good in a further response to my own sense of mission to respond, as a deeply committed and faithful Catholic, to the call of Pope John Paul II to the new evangelization of culture.
As we moved toward the Supreme Court, the streets and sidewalks of Washington, D.C. were filled with people of every race; men and women, young and old. The authentic diversity was also evidenced by their signs of identification. The authentic ecumenism, one of the fruits of this great human rights crusade, was apparent everywhere. As someone who has worked for Christian unity my entire life, I was deeply moved. However, as a Catholic clergyman, I want to make a couple of personal observations.
I was rightly proud yesterday to be both a Catholic and a Deacon of the Catholic Church. The strong presence and vital role of the Catholic Church in this human rights struggle was everywhere to be seen. From the myriad of Catholic Bishops who addressed the Rally before the march to the overwhelming number of Catholic clergy, religious and lay faithful who filled the Streets of Washington D.C. The leadership of Pope John Paul II on this fundamental human rights issue of our age was also evident everywhere, in the signs - and the slogans that filled them - taken from his wonderful letters and messages to the faithful! Thank God for this Pope of life and family!
I was also encouraged by something else of real significance, the median age of the crowd. At fifty, I have been involved in the pro-life movement for over three decades. This issue motivated my choice to obtain a law degree. It has occupied much of my legal career, including four trips to the U.S. Supreme Court as co-counsel. But as I surveyed the crowd, I saw a sea of young people; High School age, College age and in their early twenties. They are carrying forward the mission of building a new culture of life and civilization of love. Thank God! It will take years. Their presence and passion filled me with great hope! They also made me realize my age. One young novice from a new religious community thanked me for my early work, many years ago, in helping Father Michael Scanlan in his extraordinary mission of rebuilding a Catholic College, Franciscan University of Steubenville. It seemed like ancient history to me. I quickly learned it really is. I mentioned to this young Sister that I had received my undergraduate degree from Steubenville in 1977. "I was one years old, deacon" she said, smiling widely with the twinkle of God’s presence in her eyes.
When the March was over, I joined Bishop Sly and the clergy and lay faithful of the CEC in front of the United States Supreme Court. While the fresh snow fell and blanketed the ground I thought of the promise of the Lord recorded by the Messianic Prophet Isaiah:
"Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan's plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing, and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land; But if you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: for the mouth of the LORD has spoken! (Isaiah 1:15-21)
I thought of the role of this Institution in unleashing the horror of the millions of innocent children who had been killed. Earlier in the day, while marching, I noticed that many young people had signs and clothing that had "1/3" written on them. As I looked more closely I discovered the meaning of the numerical fraction. One third of their generation had been taken through the evil of abortion. I remembered my own experience, years ago, being involved in early cases protecting the rights of pro-life people to speak in the public square. I thought of the progress that has been made…but most of all I mourned for Terri Schiavo who represents one more example of the spread of a culture that has accepted evil and called it a "right". This Court had once again failed to hear the cry of the poor. How a society treats their most vulnerable speaks to the very heart of the nature of that Nation. Where is justice?
As the snow continued to fall, we prayed and we interceded, for the children, their parents and the Nation that refused to embrace them. We prayed for Terri and her family. We once again heard a stirring call from Father Frank Pavone, to keep on in our efforts and an update from Rev. Rob Schenck on how we can help Terri and her parents. He then led us in prayer for both.
When the time came for me to speak, I reminded the gathered assembly of Pope John Paul’s prophetic warnings from his encyclical letter "The Gospel of Life" where he warned of a "counterfeit notion of freedom" as a raw power over those who are weaker. In that letter he also warned that this could lead to the "death of true freedom" and the rise of a "tyrant State." I encouraged all present to take back the word "Freedom" from those who have stolen it. We simply are not "free" to do evil. It can never lead to true freedom but always leads to slavery. Freedom must be exercised within a moral constitution; it must be exercised in conformity to what is true. We are called to exercise our capacity to choose for the good.
The Thirty Second "Anniversary" of Roe v Wade soon ended as the day turned to dusk. The Streets slowly emptied. As I drove back to Chesapeake, Virginia I spent three and a half-hours in the car, praying and reflecting on this prophetic day and the events in which I had participated. They represent only a small portion of all that had occurred that day. The myriad of groups present at the March held meetings not only that day but during the days immediately preceding and following the March.
The day had changed me. It filled me with a strange mixture of hope and deep sadness. I remembered the many scriptures that were present on the signs carried by participants. One of the more prominent was "I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live". Deuteronomy 30:19.
That is the question for America.
It is not all that complicated.
It is about Choosing Life or Death.
Deacon Keith Fournier is a Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia who also serves the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with approval. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. Fournier is a human rights lawyer and public policy activist. He is the Senior Editor and Correspondent for Catholic Online and a frequent contributor to numerous publications.