We catch up with friend and colleague Rev. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, and notable pro-life leader, on the development of the pro-life movement in recent history, especially after Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States.
What does it mean to be pro-life? Do you believe in a consistent life ethic?
The reason any issue is an issue at all is that it impacts human life. Everything from stopping a nuclear war to repairing potholes, therefore, is a “pro-life” issue…and we should recognize that as the very valid “consistent ethic of life” that the Church teaches. But that is obviously too broad a concept to sustain a movement which, on the contrary, needs to be The pro-life movement is not simply about the fact that “all life is sacred.” It is “pro-life” in the sense that there is a specific group of people, children in the womb, who have been deprived of a specific and most fundamental right, the right to life. As we call ourselves pro-life, therefore, we also should use the term “anti-abortion,” which reminds us and everyone else that the goal of this movement is to stop the violence of abortion and restore protection to children in the womb.
How has the pro-life movement evolved since you started?
The pro-life movement has grown in at least two very significant ways. First of all, the number of groups, their sophistication, and their size have grown significantly. When I started, for each group doing one or another particular type of pro-life work, there are often twice as many doing it now — and that is not a bad thing. Secondly, the movement is more shaped by the experiences of loss and devastation that abortion brings to individuals, couples, families, and all society. Every day, more people know others who have had abortions and see the tears on their faces and the bruises on their personalities. They also experience the absence of those who have been killed. This experience reinforces the timeless message that abortion is wrong and is not a solution to anything.
What strides have been made by Donald Trump and his presidency for the pro-life movement?
The first and greatest thing President Trump did for the pro-life movement was to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House. Beyond that, he has done all that past pro-life presidents have done, and more — which is exactly what he and his team promised to me and other pro-life leaders who serve on his pro-life advisory coalition and Catholic advisory group. He has used executive orders to take money away from the abortion industry, has signed legislation enabling states to defund Planned Parenthood, and Advocates for legislation defund Planned Parenthood domestically and to protect children in the womb (like the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act). He continues, moreover, to fulfill his promises to appoint pro-life judges to the courts — not only Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, but many judges on the other federal courts, which are equally important to our cause.
How do we work together with other churches in the movement? With Protestants, secular people, people of other religions, and atheists?
The key to building coalitions is to keep a very narrow focus on what the collaborative mission is. In the case of this movement, it is to stop the violence of abortion, to protect the children in the womb. No other agendas should intrude on this simple and profound goal, which needs to be all-consuming and the full-time focus of more and more people. By keeping this focus, we can make people who are otherwise different from us in belief or spirituality comfortable in knowing that we do not have ulterior motives in their regard, but rather will work with them as equals, with full respect and enthusiasm. This formula has worked very well for me over the years, as I serve not only as Director of Priests for Life but also President of the National Pro-life Religious Council (NPRCouncil.org), and have assisted groups like Secular Pro-life and Libertarians for Life (founded by Jewish Atheist Doris Gordon who, when she was alive, was a good friend.)
Are you optimistic about the future of the movement?
The future of this movement is victory. The signs are everywhere: opinion polls trending in a pro-life direction, political and legislative victories all across the nation, the decline of abortion facilities and abortionists, and more. Most powerful, however, and something the other side can do nothing about, are two other dynamics. First, the voices of those who have been wounded by abortion and are Silent No More (www.SilentNoMore.com) are awakening the world’s conscience on this issue. And secondly, the voices of those conceived after Roe vs. Wade who, in calling for the protection of children in the womb, are also speaking up for themselves, aware that they were not protected when they were in the womb. These voices provide a momentum for pro-life that is irreversible.