Archive for the ‘Pro-Life’ Category

Be Thankful for a Growing Culture of Life

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

(I was asked by to contribute my thoughts to a forum on National Review Online, about what we have to be thankful for in the current political and cultural climate.  Here is what I submitted.)

In the aftermath of the elections, many of us who are engaged in the struggle to promote a Culture of Life are having a hard time seeing any cause for thanksgiving.  A committed anti-life Administration was brought back into office, the defense of authentic marriage suffered a setback, and many commentators are suggesting that the Republican Party jettison its pro-life, pro-marriage positions.  On the world stage, peace seems more elusive than ever. In such an environment, can we see anything to be thankful for?

While our modern media tends to concentrate on the big picture, the reality is that a true Culture of Life is the product of a myriad of decisions made on the personal, individual level.  When we look there, we see hope.  We see fewer abortions taking place in America, as more individual women and men choose life over death, and more families support and welcome them.  We see more women and men speaking out about the pain of their abortions, and the healing they’ve experienced through ministries like the Sisters of Life.  We see more young people standing up for purity and virtue, like the Generation Life missionaries in the Archdiocese of New York.  We see young adults at Pre-Cana classes choosing to get married, instead of conforming to the emotional dead end of the hook-up and cohabitation mentality.

Such small steps are invisible to our media culture, but plain to see for those who look in the right place.  By the grace of God and the cooperation of everyday people, a Culture of Life is being built within the ruins of our age, one heart and one life at a time.  That gives us great cause for thanksgiving.

A Hero Among Heroes

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Last night, the media and the political world were all focused on the Al Smith Dinner, where Cardinal Dolan hosted the two presidential candidates and many of the leading public officials and political figures from New York and across the nation.

I’m sure it was a wonderful event, full of the best professionally-written jokes.  But they were all looking at the wrong dinner.

I had the good fortune of being at the right one — the annual Great Defender of Life Dinner, hosted by the invaluable Human Life Review.  Every year, this event gathers pro-lifers from New York and around the nation, to offer an evening of fellowship and mutual support.  It gives us a chance to see the real face of the pro-life movement — not the blinkered media stereotype, but the wonderful, dedicated people who are committed to protecting and preserving human life at all stages.  It is a celebration of their love for each other, love for God, and love for the precious gift of life.  So many quiet, ordinary people — so many heroes for life, building a true civilization of love in their everyday lives.

Every year, there is an award for a Great Defender of Life, and this year there were two recipients.  The first was Advocates for Life, an organization of young pro-life attorneys and law students who are dedicated to resisting the culture of death that is so deeply entrenched in the law and in the legal community.  It is very uplifting to see so many of my fellow attorneys who have enlisted in this great cause.

The second honoree has a special significance for me — former Senator and federal judge James Buckley.  For those of us who came of political age in the Seventies, Mr. Buckley was a major formative figure.  A man of deep moral fibre, he was a model to us that it was possible to be a man of principle in the world of politics.  On so many of the crucial issues of the day, he gave witness to the importance of high moral standards, and a commitment to the common good of all.

In his long and distinguished career, one of the highlights was his sponsorship of the Human Life Amendment.  This was the first comprehensive attempt to overturn the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, and Senator Buckley’s 1975 floor speech in support of the amendment is a classic statement of the fundamental pro-life position.  (This speech can be found in the Human Life Review’s volume on “The Debate Since Roe” — a must read for pro-lifers)

Before the dinner, I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Buckley, and I was able to tell him that he has long been one of my heroes.  In his typically humble, self-effacing manner, he accepted my compliment and managed to turn it into a genial joke, precisely what one would expect from a true Catholic gentleman.

Last year, the honoree at the dinner was Paul Greenberg, the great journalist and essayist.  During his address, he said something that has stayed with me, and that should haunt all of us: “Whether the issue is civil rights in the middle years of the 20th Century or abortion and euthanasia today, a still small voice keeps asking: Whose side are you on? That of life or of death?”

To many of us, that still small voice was heard in the soft, erudite tones of our Senator James Buckley, speaking gently but firmly, giving witness consistently and heroically for life, and encouraging us all to join him in that noble cause.

May we all answer in the same way as did this Great Defender of Life.

There Is Another Way

Saturday, September 15th, 2012

Over the last week, like many Americans, I have watched the news videos of violence around the world.  I have been shocked and angered by the attacks on American embassies and Western businesses, and the murder of innocent persons.  I have also listened and read the responses of our political leaders and pundits — all of whom, it seems, are advocating for retaliation, the use of force, and more violence.

But there is another way here.  We do not always have to resort to more violence, more killing.  Legitimate self-defense is necessary, but we have to question and challenge every use of force.  Violence is not the only way to deal with problems.  There is also the way of peace.

Pope Benedict is in Lebanon right now, giving a courageous personal witness to that way.  And he is using his position as Vicar of Christ to tell us that we need to seek peace and justice, and not to perpetuate the violence.   His address to the public officials who greeted him in Lebanon is a profound and eloquent call to the way of peace, and should be read, studied, and taken to heart by all our political leaders.

A few highlights are worth sharing here. On the dignity of the human person as the foundation of a peaceful society:

The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity. Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God… We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.

On the need for solidarity among people as the path to peace:

Mankind is one great family for which all of us are responsible. By questioning, directly or indirectly, or even before the law, the inalienable value of each person and the natural foundation of the family, some ideologies undermine the foundations of society. We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence. Only effective solidarity can act as an antidote, solidarity that rejects whatever obstructs respect for each human being, solidarity that supports policies and initiatives aimed at bringing peoples together in an honest and just manner…  Nowadays, our cultural, social and religious differences should lead us to a new kind of fraternity wherein what rightly unites us is a shared sense of the greatness of each person and the gift which others are to themselves, to those around them and to all humanity. This is the path to peace! This is the commitment demanded of us! This is the approach which ought to guide political and economic decisions at every level and on a global scale!

And on conversion of heart that all are called to:

A new and freer way of looking at these realities will enable us to evaluate and challenge those human systems which lead to impasses, and to move forward with due care not to repeat past mistakes with their devastating consequences. The conversion demanded of us can also be exhilarating, since it creates possibilities by appealing to the countless resources present in the hearts of all those men and women who desire to live in peace and are prepared to work for peace. True, it is quite demanding: it involves rejecting revenge, acknowledging one’s faults, accepting apologies without demanding them, and, not least, forgiveness. Only forgiveness, given and received, can lay lasting foundations for reconciliation and universal peace.

The Holy Father is calling upon all of us to look at the deplorable situation in our world in a new light — the light of the Gospel, which is the light of love.  We must demand that our political leaders break free of the false consciousness that impels them to advocate for violence in response to violence, to force in opposition to force, and to power against power.

God demands that we live in peace with our brethren around the world, regardless of our differences.  Our Holy Father is showing us the way.  Let us pray that our political leaders will see that, and choose the way of peace.

Protecting our Pro-Life Brand

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

I am known among my friends and colleagues as a political geek, so I am frequently asked my opinion about particular candidates.  One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “Is he pro-life?”

I think that we pro-lifers really need to start to pay attention to protecting the integrity of our brand name, because it is becoming seriously diluted.

Certainly, lots of politicians will describe themselves as “pro-life”, when it is to their political advantage.  But what does that mean?

If they mean “opposed to stabbing babies in the neck and sucking out their brains” (partial-birth abortion), or “opposed to strangling babies born alive despite the abortion” (the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act), then that’s definitely a “pro-life” position.  If the standard is “won’t force people to pay for or perform abortions against their religious beliefs” (the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act), then that’s a “pro-life” position too.   We could go beyond individual pieces of legislation, and if the candidate “won’t appoint Planned Parenthood or NARAL ideologues to key policy positions”, then that’s a “pro-life” position as well.

So a person’s stand on specific issues, and their track record on particular policy matters, are clearly important — actions speak louder than words.

But the label “pro-life” has to mean more than just “how many boxes can I check off on this list, so that people can be convinced to call me ‘pro-life’”.  If that’s all it is, the term has become meaningless — and we will always be vulnerable to manipulation by politicians and interest groups with malleable principles but the ability to craft clever position papers.

I guess I’m just tired of hearing people describe a candidate as “pro-life” when the best that can be said about him is that he’s “anti-abortion in most cases”, or that he’s just “better than the other guy”.  We should demand more of our politicians, and we should demand more of ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll never get anything more than what we’ve been getting for years — lip service at election time, crumbs from the table afterwards.

Being “pro-life” — as opposed to merely taking “pro-life” positions — has a much broader and deeper meaning.  It involves a recognition of the sacredness of life, its inherent dignity, that views each individual human being as having inestimable value because he or she is made in the image and likeness of God.  It rejects a reductionist or utilitarian view of humanity, where lives are disposable if they are inconvenient, not “useful”, or if they came into being in a way that we disapprove.   It entails a commitment to defending each and every life against abuse, from whatever source.  It calls people to acts of direct service to the poor, the vulnerable, and the frail.  It is an attitude of reverence in the divine presence, seen in every human person.

To get a sense of what our “pro-life brand” really means, people should take a look at the beautiful statement by the U.S. bishops, Living the Gospel of Life.  Certainly, Pope John Paul’s great encyclical The Gospel of Life should also be studied.

The goal of the “pro-life” movement is not just to win elections, pass particular bills, or appoint specific people to courts.  The goal is to transform hearts and minds, so that we can build a Culture of Life and Civilization of Love.

That’s the real definition of our brand, and we should protect it and market it to a culture that desperately needs it, and to people who hunger for it.  The real “pro-life” brand will sell itself, because it speaks to the truths that are already written deep in the human heart.

Hard Cases, Small Steps

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

The political world has been abuzz lately over comments made by a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri.  When asked about whether pro-lifers would accept a ban on abortion that permitted an exception for rape or incest, the candidate made some ill-conceived remarks that seemed to minimize the horror of rape.  This incident has now been used by the forces of the Culture of Death (including their allies in the media) to flog pro-lifers as being radical or anti-woman.

Some clarification and explanation is in order.

The unquestioned goal of the pro-life movement is a conversion of the hearts of individuals, and thus of our culture, so that every innocent life is protected from conception until natural death.  This protection will involve changes in the law so that the practice — and even the concept — of abortion would be completely eradicated from our land.  Given our presumption that every human life has inestimable value, and that innocent life cannot be taken, we work towards the ultimate goal of enacting laws to prohibit abortion with no exceptions.  One vehicle for this would be a Human Life Amendment.

In short, we aim to build a Culture of Life, in which all lives are valued.  To get a glimpse of this goal, and how we can get there, I suggest that people read the great statement by the United States Bishops, Living the Gospel of Life.

Unfortunately, our culture is not yet ready to accept the changes in attitude and in law that we are seeking.  While there have been shifts in public opinion over the years in favor of the pro-life position, there are still a large number of individuals who either approve of abortion, or who are willing to tolerate it for a perceived “greater good”.  We must redouble our efforts to reach out to our brothers and sisters who believe this, to convert their hearts.

One way that we seek to achieve this conversion of heart is by taking  incremental steps towards our ultimate goal — in short, building a Culture of Life, brick by brick.  This is why we support measures that limit and restrict abortion in various ways, such as parental notification laws, bans on late-term abortions, and such.  By supporting these initiatives, we are not accepting the morality of abortion — we are seeking to mitigate the damage, and to use these bills as a vehicle to educate people about abortion, as a way of calling them to conversion.  This approach to legislation was specifically approved by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical The Gospel of Life (see paragraph 73).

This is where the “rape exception” comes into play.  Pro-lifers hold steadfastly to the fundamental truth that a baby conceived in a rape is an innocent human being whose life may never be directly terminated.  We see rape as a horrific act, an inexcusable violation of the dignity of a woman, a depraved crime that should be severely punished by law.  We believe that a woman victimized by rape must receive our support as she strives for healing.  But we do not accept that the path to healing passes through the abortion clinic.  We firmly believe that one cannot heal a victim of violence, by taking the life of another innocent person.

Unfortunately, many people disagree with us — people who either consider themselves pro-life, or who are willing to support some of our goals.  These people are potential allies as we try to pass common-sense laws to restrict abortion.  We wish to build alliances and coalitions with these potential supporters, not alienate them.  So, many pro-lifers in the political and policy arena are willing to tolerate a “rape exception” to a ban on abortion.   That is not to say that we consider such an exception as a final goal — but we take what we can get, when we can get it, and press on from there, always moving forwards.

There’s an old adage that “hard cases make bad law”.  They also make unsatisfactory compromises, and disappointment.  But they sometimes can produce small steps towards our ultimate goal.

 

Polling Life

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Kathryn Lopez of National Review Online recently invited me to contribute to an symposium commenting on recent poll results that show a drop in the number of people who consider themselves to be “pro-choice” (to an all-time low of 41%), and a rise in those who call themselves “pro-life” (to 51%).  When you break out the numbers in the poll, it actually is a bit more encouraging — 72% think abortion should be restricted to some or no circumstances.

Here is what I contributed to the symposium:

Recent poll results, which show a significant decline in the number of Americans who identify themselves as “pro-choice,” will no doubt surprise many people. After all, didn’t the Supreme Court claim, in its Casey decision, that it had settled the issue of abortion? Hasn’t abortion become such an integral part of women’s health that it is impossible to conceive of American society without it?

That is certainly the conventional wisdom. But this conventional wisdom is utterly wrong, because the power of the truth and love will always find a way into the human heart. As more people experience the wonder of modern sonograms and fetal photographs, they are enthralled by the beauty of human life. And they are repelled by the inhumanity of “pro-choice” advocates who callously speak of unborn people as disposable when inconvenient. People recognize that attitude as false, and unloving.

The challenge for defenders of life is to build upon this fundamental sense of the truth about human life, and the love it engenders. Certainly, we must work for laws that give commonsense protection for the unborn, and that encourage the choice for life. But even more important, we must continue to give clear and unambiguous witness to love — by speaking with compassion and kindness about this issue, and by giving practical help to struggling mothers and fathers, and to those who are suffering after an abortion.

More and more people are seeing the truth and rejecting the lies. And this is opening the human heart to the love that will ultimately transform our culture.

The Power of the Truth

Friday, May 4th, 2012

On April 30, I attended the public meeting of the Westchester Board of Legislators, to present the statement of the Archdiocese in opposition of the “clinic access” bill that would unfairly restrict the free speech rights of pro-life witnesses outside of abortion clinics.

That statement reads as follows:

A bill is now pending before the Westchester Board of Legislators, which will violate the Constitutional rights of those who give pro-life witness outside abortion clinics.

We urgently call upon all members of the Board to oppose this unjust bill.

This bill is premised upon the false assumption that there is a significant problem with disorder outside of abortion clinics. Actually, law-abiding citizens give peaceful and prayerful pro-life witness on a regular basis, offering valuable information to women approaching the clinics without violating any of the currently-existing federal and state laws regarding access to abortion clinics. Despite such a clear record of respect for the law, this legislation is designed to prevent pro-life advocates from speaking freely merely because their speech is considered unwelcome by some powerful interest groups that favor and profit from abortion.

This legislation is fundamentally unfair to ordinary citizens who wish to express their Constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. It is vague and ambiguous so that ordinary people could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited.  Ultimately, it is unfair to women who have a right to information before they make their decision
as to whether or not to have an abortion.

This legislation does a disservice to these women, to their unborn children, and to society as a whole, and should therefore be rejected.

I have been present at many legislative hearings, and I generally have low expectations.  We have to bear in mind that most legislative hearings are not like court proceedings — it’s not like arguing to a neutral jury or a judge who’s open to hearing both sides.  The legislators have largely made up their minds already.  But in some cases, hearings are a good place for the public airing of reasons for and against legislation, and some legislators may actually listen to what is being said.  Some of them are looking for a reason to take a position on a bill, and the hearing may give them that hook to hang their hat on.  I have been to several hearings where there was good interaction between legislators and witnesses.  Not many, but a few.

In a way, it’s not so much what is said by the witnesses, but their presence and witness — so that the hearing becomes an indicator to the legislators of the depth of feeling about bills and a gauge of the political mood of the populace.

In that light, the hearing was fairly typical of what I’ve experienced.  The public witness of so many pro-lifers was a good sign — it sent a message to our allies on the Board that they have a lot of support, and hopefully gave some of the wavering members some reason to lean our way.  Having so many “regular people” on our side — as opposed to the largely institutional witnesses on the other side (e.g., employees and activists from Planned Parenthood) — was a very good thing.  I think that the legislators are more impressed when lots of people testify who don’t make a living out of the issue at hand.  Five voters count for a lot more than one “spokesman”.

The most powerful testimony was given by a young African-American woman, who spoke of her own abortions, and how she has come to regret them.  She has now dedicated herself to going to abortion clinics, and giving sidewalk counseling to other women contemplating abortion, to make sure that they understand that they have a choice.

But there were so many others, who stood outside on long lines in the cold, awaiting an opportunity to come into the legislative chamber.  The hearing went on until after midnight, and many stayed until the wee hours to present their own testimony.

The struggle against this bill is not over.  A final vote will be taken on May 7.  We are hoping that the County Executive will veto the bill, and that there will be enough votes on the Board to sustain the veto.  Residents of Westchester should contact their legislators — even if they’ve done so already, they should do it again, and again, and again.  To find the name of your legislator, go here.  Email and other contact information can be found here. The most effective advocacy comes from sustained contact between constituents and their legislators over a long period of time — visits, calls, emails, etc.

So often, we feel powerless in the face of the large, powerful and rich forces that are arrayed against us.

But the power of the truth, and the witness of those who are willing to testify to it with love, can never be underestimated.

Another Threat to Freedom

Friday, April 27th, 2012

On April 30, the Westchester County Board of Legislators will vote on a “Clinic Access Bill”.  This kind of legislation is a persistent feature of pro-abortion advocacy.  It is designed to chill the free speech and assembly rights of pro-lifers who pray and witness outside of abortion clinics.  Since the pro-abortion forces can’t bear the possibility that women might choose against abortion, they aim to silence us by passing vague laws that are designed to intimidate pro-lifers into silence out of fear of arbitrary prosecution and punitive lawsuits.

The Archdiocese issued a strong statement against this bill last fall.  Many pro-lifers and lovers of freedom will attend the Board hearing on Monday, to urge the legislators not to give in to the well-funded pressure from the abortion industry.  I will attend too, and deliver the following remarks.  Please pray for us.

My name is Edward Mechmann. I am the Assistant Director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York, and a resident of Westchester County.  I submit this statement in opposition to the proposed legislation concerning access to so-called “reproductive health care facilities”.

First, the proposed changes to the law are unnecessary.  There is no evidence that there is a substantial problem that needs to be addressed by this bill.  According to statistics provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there has been only one arrest in the entire state since 2000 for violations of the State clinic access law, and no criminal convictions. There is no need to strengthen laws that are never used, since there is no problem that needs to be addressed.

The second reason for our opposition to this bill is that  it is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.  It is a established principle of constitutional law that any attempted regulation of speech be content-neutral, and narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest.  This is particularly true when the speech occurs on a public sidewalk, which has been described by the Supreme Court as a “public forum” where citizens generally have a First Amendment right to speak and gather together.  This bill fails to satisfy this standard, and creates a significant risk that people would be prosecuted or sued for the mere exercise of their right to free speech and assembly.

This bill is not neutral, because it specifically targets the conduct and speech of those who oppose abortion.  It is also vague and ambiguous, so that persons could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited.  One of the provisions would make it a crime to “interfere” with the operations of “reproductive health care facilities”.  Yet that term is undefined and utterly subjective in meaning, and would thus chill the free speech and assembly rights of those who wish to speak to women seeking to enter those facilities.

Another provision of the bill would create a protected zone that includes “any public parking lot” within 200 feet of the clinic, as long as it “serves” the clinic. These terms are undefined and hopelessly ambiguous.  For example, what does it mean for a parking lot to “serve” a clinic, and how can that be determined?  There is no test clearly defined in the statute.  The result will inevitably be arbitrary and selective enforcement, and the chilling of free speech and assembly rights.

This unnecessary bill is clearly aimed at suppressing the rights of those who oppose abortion, because that speech is disfavored by the owners and operators of abortion businesses.  This discriminatory legislation dishonors the constitutional rights of pro-life citizens, and robs women of an opportunity to hear the truth about abortion.

It should be rejected.

Rejoicing in the Rain

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

It is an old cliche that you can’t really appreciate something just by having it described to you — that you have to experience it yourself.  I’m not sure I believe in that, but when it comes to the March for Life, I think there’s something to it.

I think that many people expect that the March is a political event, a “protest march”, and that it is an expression of outrage and anger over the legalized destruction of unborn human beings.

Actually, the March is a prayerful pilgrimage that celebrates life.  The outrage is there, but joy is the dominant emotion.

Yesterday, I went to the March for the eighteenth consecutive year.  It was the first time that I can recall it raining on us — and it really rained on us.  Together with the chilly temperatures, the precipitation would have put the damper on just about any outdoors event, and kept the crowd down to a minimum.

Not the March for Life.  It was as huge, exuberant crowd — hundreds of thousands, from all over America and abroad.  We talked to people from all over the East coast, and from places as far away as Michigan, Kansas, Illinois, Florida, and Missouri.  There were groups from Canada, and from every religious traditions — mostly Catholics, but Evangelical Christians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox Christians, and Jews.

The dominant spirit of the event came from the teens and young adults.  They were everywhere, tirelessly praying, chanting, singing.  We old-timers were a bit worn out by the time we got up to the Supreme Court, but the kids were still bursting with their love for the gift of life.  It was enough to uplift even a cynic like me.

Again, it’s hard to get a feel for the event unless you see it for yourself.  You can check out some great pictures here and here, and there are some great videos up on YouTube (including this one, which leads off with some very lively kids from Chicago who were giving great witness to life on the steps of a Senate office building, and goes on to give a good sense of the March).

Even better, mark your calendar for January 23, 2013 (the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade) — and join us for the largest, longest-lasting, and most uplifting event of public witness in our nation’s history.

Truly a blessed event.

And So We March

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Tomorrow, January 23, thousands of people will make a pilgrimage to Washington, DC, to give witness to the dignity of every human life.

If you’re going, I hope to see you there — you can’t miss me in the crowd, I’ll be standing with some Sisters of Life.  If you can’t make it, please join us in prayer.

You may also wish to watch this video from Students for Life, to get a sense of the spirit of the March: