A twenty-year old Aussie reader recounts his recent experience of the dynamic American pro-life scene: a month spent in the United States with former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson, whose dramatic conversion to the pro-life cause we related here.
Abby Johnson, abortion clinic director turned pro-life author and activist visited Australia in July 2011. She was special guest speaker at the Annual Right to Life Australia conference held in Melbourne, followed by a whirl wind tour of the country with her husband Doug and young daughter Grace. Along the way I caught up with Abby and struck up a friendship. You know the sort of friendship: Abby saying “Hey! why don’t you come over to the US for a visit” and me saying “Yes, I will! ” ... but actually doing it!
The ‘reason’ for the visit, if I needed one, was to take part in the annual March for Life to be held in Washington in January of 2012. “An awesome learning experience,” I thought. But Abby had more than the Washington March in store for this Aussie fledgling.
The Road To Washington
January 7th at 7:00 pm I was met at the Austin Texas airport by Abby and Grace Johnson, an entourage of pro-life activists from Austin Coalition for Life, and some young out-of-towners, Victor and Jessica, who were staying with Abby for ‘experience.’
As it turned out I also had lots to learn from Victor and Jessica! These two young pro-life activists are students who hail from Franciscan University of Stubenville, Ohio, where they work for the cause on their university campus. In addition, every Saturday, they walk their talk along with over 100 of their fellow young students, rising at 5 am to pray and make their way down to the local abortion clinic to save babies.
Passion and prayerful love
The first thing that struck me on setting foot on pro-life US soil was the strong message of joyful love. These guys didn’t know me from a bar of soap but they were so thrilled to greet me. Already I knew they loved me! They loved me because I cared enough to visit them and join them in their work. They love their work, they love their precious country. They love life regardless of the death culture they personally have survived and continue to endure. They know they are the survivors of the abortion holocaust and they are on a mission to rid their beloved country of that scourge; prepared and ready to work 24/7! They are driven by two things: passion for the unborn and prayerful love for the mother.
Abby and Doug graciously let me sleep off the travel exhaustion. When I surfaced I was quickly put to work with Victor and Jessica and others in the office of the Austin Coalition for Life: calling local churches to encourage participation in the planned 40 Days for Life events; helping with mail-outs for the upcoming Austin Coalition for Life (ACL) annual fundraising dinner; and moving furniture about, rearranging offices in the building so as more fruitful work could be done.
Most mornings I accompanied Heather, newly elected president of ACL, to the front of the local privately owned abortion mill. I stood back with others in silent prayer while the counsellors approached those entering the clinic, urging and imploring: “Don’t go in there, they want to do you harm, they want to do harm to your baby”; “We love you, we are here to help you”; “We want to care for you and your baby”; “Let us help you!”
Most evenings I was treated to real Texas food down-town, and the chance to meet the locals. These people are as large as the state they live in. I soon became very attached to them.
Week one went on this way: rising only to drive to places to pray for mothers and save their babies. I soon realised how it was possible for Abby to walk out of Planned Parenthood and into the arms of these people the day she decided she could no longer go on as an "abortion provider." These guys mean it and Abby got that message loud and clear... through prayerful love.
I found out more about Victor and Jessica too. They are also part of the Crossroads organisation: a project founded in 1995 by Steubenville student Steve Sanborn, in response to John Paul II’s call to the youth of the world to take an active role in the pro-life movement and to establish a Culture of Life. Each summer young adults undertake four simultaneous pro-life walks across America, covering over 12,000 miles through 40 states. On the way, collecting financial support for their efforts at daily Mass, they raise stunning amounts for pregnancy support ($1.5 million last year). All the while they are converting the hearts and minds of others to the dignity and sanctity of human life.
Walking with pro-life warriors
As week one ended I now prepared to accompany my entourage to San Francisco for the 8th annual West Coast Walk for Life.
With Abby elsewhere on another pro-life speaking mission, Doug, Heather and I went on ahead to take in some of the sites of the city blessed by St. Francis. Mere words cannot describe the astonishing generosity of these people. They stopped at nothing to show me about and give me a good time. And despite its notoriety, I fell in love with the crazy old coastal town!
Abby arrived, and so too the day of the West Coast Walk for Life. Founded in 2005 by two young women, the first Walk attracted about 7,000 people. This year over 40,000 were expected. Organisers were not disappointed.
We took a familiar tram (ex-Melbourne stock!) to the park where the pre-Walk fair had commenced. I was stunned to encounter this massive crowd, double the population of my home town in country Victoria, the majority of whom were young people my age: vibrant, excited to be there at ‘their’ event.
Abby was billed to speak at some stage so we were ushered up to the front where I ran into Father Frank Pavone, founder and director of Priests for Life. What an honour to have my photograph taken with this warrior. Fearless pro-life Catholicism at its best, Fr Pavone is best known for holding requiem Masses for the aborted babies rescued from street dumpsters. Well, isn’t that what priests do: bury the dead?
Then I met the founders of 40 days for life, Shawn Carney and David Bereit: two of the original four who sat around a table back in 2004 and decided, “we just have to do more!” 40 Days for Life campaigns, managed by local volunteers in each of the cities involved, consists of 40 days of prayer and fasting — always during Lent but now popping up at other times of the year — combined with round-the-clock vigils in shifts outside a "clinic" or hospital that does abortions. The year they added fasting was the year Abby Johnson walked out of the abortuary in Bryant, Texas, where she worked, never to return.
There have been nine co-ordinated 40 Days for Life campaigns since 2004, in 422 cities across the United States and Canada alone, not to mention cities all over the world, including England and Australia. The 40 Days for Life campaign is working. "Clinic" workers are walking away from their jobs; the charnel houses are closing down; many babies are being saved.
Back to the Walk itself. I joined the throng of the estimated 50,000 pro-life supporters and marched through downtown San Francisco. We stretched from City Hall along a two-mile parade route down San Francisco’s busy Market Street to the Embarcadero. Heavily dominated by energetic young people, we prayed, sang hymns, and chanted pro-life slogans as we walked through one of America’s liberal bastions. We were met at various points along the way by a few pro-abortion hecklers who yelled profanities and tried to confront us. The size and passion of the pro-abortion forces has dwindled over the years with a rally the same day attracting a mere 200 “pro-choice” participants. As our vastly superior numbers telegraphed: not even the spurious "pro-choice" slogan can hide the fact that the pro-abortion cause is a lost one. It is hard to get passionate about killing when there is so much love about.
The Washington Experience
But this time of year in the United States, all roads lead to Washington. A full week jam-packed with pro-life activities, involving a Who’s Who of the movement, culminates in the March of all marches.
We were met in Washington by a blizzard. While everyone at home was sweltering in the Aussie summer there I was braving below zero degrees and falling snow. Very damp all round. Yet nothing dampens the enthusiasm of the masses who converge on this annual event. Anyway, I was warm inside with excitement and pride.
Students for Life
Event 1 for Abby was the Students for Life 2012 Conference and book signing. It was a packed house. Over 2,000 young students crammed into the auditorium; another thousand outside wanting to get in!
While it has links to the pro-life movement as far back as the early 1970’s, as it exists today, Students for Life was founded in 2006. Since then it has helped start over 350 new student pro-life organisations, trained hundreds of previously existing student pro-life groups, and instructed over 7,000 pro-lifers at its annual national conference. On the Sunday of the conference, Students for Life were busy hosting workshops, break-out sessions and presentations on how to envision a world without abortion.
Governor Mike Huckabee, Congressman Chris Smith, Lila Rose of Live Action, Jill Stanek, the brave nurse responsible for the "Born Alive Infant Protection Act," and David Bereit of 40 Days for Life addressed the National Conference and spoke to students about what their nation will look like once Roe v. Wade is overturned. They mean it! The overturning of this horrific law that has paved the way for over 53 million lost American lives is a clearly emerging reality.
Later on that evening we rallied with Bryan Kemper, the dynamic and indefatigable founder of Stand True Ministries. Having recently converted to Catholicism, Bryan has been snapped up by Priests for Life and is their number one youth officer. Bryan’s huge contribution to this year’s March for Life was to rally together youth from all around the world for The March for Life Youth Rally. An exciting evening of inspiration and learning for youth from all over the world, I also managed to catch this event! The message that Bryan delivers with God-sent certainty is crystal clear and powerful:
"You are the generation that will bring this holocaust to an end. You are the generation that will end abortion."
Preparing to leave, Abby beckoned me. I was about to meet a living miracle. She introduced me to a sweet Chinese mother with a radiant face who was holding a beautiful baby boy. It is a profound and staggering story. I hope the reader is sitting down.
Living in China under the ‘one child policy,’ the mother was detected as pregnant with her second baby. Very advanced in the pregnancy, approaching the ninth month, the mother was dragged in for a forced and very brutal abortion. Given the task of gathering up the corpses of the babies, the nurse realised that this mother’s baby was alive. Instead of dumping it in with the other dead and dying babies from the day’s "work," the nurse hid the baby in a doctor's bag and smuggled it out of the building. At the end of that horrid day of trauma, death and unspeakable misery, the mother returned to her home — to find the bag on the back door step of her home, containing her new born son, alive! Through the baby’s father’s connections the family was able to escape to the United States to safety.
I was speechless. Riveted to the spot. Gazing at this precious child, so wanted and so loved; chosen and saved by God for great things.
Meeting the cream
Monday morning: day of the big one!
We rose early and headed down to the foyer of the Hyatt hotel where a pro-life trade fare had set up. Moving from conference room to conference room I met them all, the cream of the United States pro-life movement.
There was Joe Scheidler, the grandaddy of the pro-life protest movement, famous for his book, 99 Ways To Shut Down The Abortion Industry. With him were his devoted shadow and wife Anne, and his dynamic son and fellow activist, Eric.
I then bumped into "Save the Stork" project brain child, David Pomerantz and crew! Within a couple of months they were due to launch their baby-saving project in Dallas. Using a bus equipped with a state of the art sonogram machine they are able to intercept abortion-minded mothers at the door of the death clinics and show them a photo of their baby. I researched the progress of this project on returning home. On average, 30 women a week step up into the bus for a free sonogram, with three in five choosing to keep their baby. A pretty impressive stat! Once again their message is one of love. “We love these women,” says 23-year-old Pomerantz. “We are showing them the love of Jesus, and we are delivering this loving message in a strong way.”
In the Hyatt foyer I also met Priests for Life executive Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jnr., whose battle for civil rights for all humanity continues on behalf of the coloured people of the United States, whose mothers and unborn are the primary targets of the abortionists.
You name them, they were there. What about Hairdressers for Life! Yes, hairdressers like to talk, and they talk pro-life talk to their young clients as they get their hair done. Not to be outdone, the cab drivers in Taxis against Abortion drive slowly around the block while talking their young clients out of being taken to the abortion "clinics."
Next I met Lila Rose, the attractive young founder of Live Action, the group of young people who, through undercover surveillance, have managed to shut down Planned Parenthood centres across the country. Lila’s story encourages me. The first pro-life meeting she held at University attracted two people. Today, thousands pack in to hear Lila’s latest ‘tricks’ to expose the lies and real motives of Planned Parenthood.
The fight goes on and on. These grass-roots activists are saving babies while they wait on the legislators to do their bit. The loud message is one of ACTION!
Yes, we must work at a political level, we must change the laws to give unborn children the same protection all other citizens expect — but the babies cannot wait. While we work tirelessly at a political level we must save the baby. We must intercept, counsel and help the mother so as she chooses life not death for her baby. We must use every moral trick in the book to close down the dodgy clinic in our neighbourhood.
More living miracles!
Abby then introduced me to Rebecca Kesiling, the first miracle of the morning. Rebecca was conceived in rape. Her mother sought out an abortion a number of times but it was illegal in her state. For that simple reason this beautiful young lawyer with flowing blond hair and beaming smile stands before me, bursting with love and enthusiasm for life. Rebecca exhausts herself telling her story to those who think babies should die simply because they were conceived through force.
With tears of joy and laughter in my eyes I met miracle number two, Jacob Foster, a charismatic young man blessed with the extra chromosome that classifies him as having Downs Syndrome. Jacob is part of the 10% of ‘downsies’ who made it to birth and beyond. A miracle in itself. But this bright young guy heads a vibrant group of activist called Downs Syndrome for Life who fight for the rights and dignity of children who, in alarming numbers, face the death penalty simply for carrying this extra chromosome. Jacob and his mates are in town to join in the March, draw attention to the widespread discrimination that babies detected with an extra chromosone face, and to have a really good time as well!
Massive media cover-up
To my great delight, Victor and Jessica and their colleagues of Crossroads have gathered in Washington for the March, so the pro-life party continues!
Dragging ourselves away from the Hyatt we headed toward the presidential Mall for the commencement of the March. Being with Abby I was led to the stage where the numerous speakers gathered. For four solid hours the swelling crowd was addressed by city dignitaries, politicians, clerics and ministers of religion, while pro-life activists mingled with the crowds and the throngs of media.
The result of a meeting of committed pro-life leaders in the wake of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the first Washington March for Life was held on 22 January 1974, attracting 20,000 people. The number of attendees has yo-yoed over the years, steadily increasing to this year’s massive 400,000 plus. Unfazed by the bleak, freezing weather, dampness and exhaustion, dedicated champions of the unborn travel miles and camp out in the snow to take part in this event. Commencing with a rally on the National Mall, the March snakes its way up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme court building on Capitol Hill.
From the stage I looked down at this sea of people. If 40,000 people in San Francisco stunned me, how do I begin to absorb this humungous crowd?
Well over 400,000 people gather to March against abortion, but the newspapers deny it is happening. Even though the city of Washington prepares accommodation and food for the event months prior, still the media will not report it.
We wandered back to the Hyatt where the events continued. That evening we attended a cocktail function with Americans United for Life [AUL] where Abby gave her annual report.
Founded in 1971 as the first national pro-life organization in the United States, AUL is a nonprofit, public-interest law and policy organization whose vision is a nation in which everyone is welcomed in life and protected in law. These are the essential legal guns who form policy and write legislation, the nuts and bolts that gradually build the laws that restore the most basic right — the ‘right to life’ for unborn humans — while David and Lila, Bryan, Victor and Jessica and their colleagues do their baby-saving work on the streets. Their website sums up the MO:
"Our mission at Americans United for Life is to defend human life through vigorous legislative, judicial, and educational efforts, on both the state and national level."
Unwinding with "the very best"
Time for dinner with Bryan, Rebecca, Abby and others, then back out into the blizzard and on to the Dubliner hotel where I finally found a piano to warm my fingers on. Crowds of pro-life activists push into this well known and ancient Irish pub in Washington to catch up with old friends, unwind and relax after the big day. Once again Abby puts me ‘up close’ with well known and admired activists such as Jill Stanek. This gentle nurse morphed into a political activist after finding a live baby, a survivor of abortion, on her hospital ward. Jill went on to be instrumental in the passing of the Born-alive Infants Act signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. Like Abby, Jill’s life was dramatically changed through the pro-life movement.
I met up with Lila Rose again and the Erwin Brothers, makers of the October Baby movie. The film is a work of fiction but inspired by abortion survivor Gianna Jessen, who rocks us all with her joy at being alive and her love and forgiveness of her natural mother. Only this generation could make a movie like October Baby and bring it to success on the big screen.
Aware that we have just one short event before a day of sight-seeing tomorrow, we partied around the piano long into the night, sharing the incomparable company of pro-life activists. My late grandfather used to say to my mother: “The very best people in the world are the people who do pro-life work, you couldn’t be in better company.” Well, I pray that by now he is in even better company. But this will do me for a while.
To my delight, on Tuesday morning I found myself once again before a piano. This time I played the American and Australian national anthems for congressmen and dignitaries in the Caucus Room of the Capitol before Abby addressed them, explaining the mission of Americans United for Life.
There was one last event, which, to my surprise — of course I should not be surprised — was the greatest challenge of them all. Abby addressed students of the local Washington Catholic University. There I heard for the first time, antagonistic, cynical, pro-abortion questions. Abby answered them with a skill they were not expecting. If only these hapless victims of bad "Catholic" education knew how full of love their hearts would be if they owned up to their own hearts and minds and joined the dynamic and youthful American pro-life movement. There is room for them too!!
A Life-changing Tour
I must confess that there were moments during this amazing experience when I thought of home and a rush of shame would cut me deep. I felt embarrassed and ashamed at the apathy of the people of the "Lucky Country." In my home state of Victoria, babies are legally being killed in their mothers' wombs right up until birth, some even born alive, cold and unloved. Yes, we have activism. Some... but not nearly enough.
The words of Bryan Kemper weighed heavy and hit me like a brick: “You are the generation that will end abortion.” The defense of the babies being dragged to death is not the job of my parents and grandparents. It is me and my generation of survivors of the holocaust who must do this work. It is not hard work. It is fun, exhilarating, dutiful work for God. And the rewards are unending. All I have encountered for a week in the United States is joy and love... what is hard about that?
The grand finale of this life-changing, "pro-life tour" finally arrived. Wanting to go home but aching to stay, I found myself at the podium with microphone in hand introducing David Bereit, founder of 40 Days for Life, to the supporters of Austin Coalition for Life. I was once again reminded that the power of prayer and fasting will change the world.
So, how was I to sum up the pro-life movement of the United States of America? The answer was in front of me. That night I met Elizabeth, a beautiful baby girl with a mop of dark hair resting in the arms of her young mother. Maria was intercepted at the front of an abortion "clinic" and Elizabeth’s life was saved. Maria was not depressed or sad. Maria radiated pride, joy and love.
I eventually returned home to address the newly formed Youth for Life conference in Melbourne; my capital city where over 300 babies are drowned every year after being born alive following late-term abortions. Burning with the zeal of St Paul, I look fixedly at the group of 40 enthusiastic young friends in front of me. “YOU,” I tell them, “are the generation that will overturn abortion!”