ROCHESTER — Last-minute registrations poured in for Women’s Care Center’s annual fundraising banquet, Theresa Claybaugh, the pregnancy center’s executive director, said Nov. 7 as she scanned the full banquet room at the Diplomat Party House.
Ultimately, more than 275 people had the chance to hear pro-life priest Father Frank Pavone speak about abortion, which was literally the topic of the hour.
At the same moment that the priest was giving his speech at the Rochester fundraiser, the House of Representatives was debating whether to bar public funding of most abortion coverage from a bill that attempts to provide health-care reform in the United States.
That night, the decision was made: Public funding of most abortions was to be excluded from the bill, thanks in part to last-minute lobbying of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and thousands of Catholics nationwide.
Although pro-lifers won one victory Nov. 7, they still face a long fight. To become law, the reform bill also must pass the U.S. Senate; the House and Senate versions of health-care reform legislation must be reconciled until they match; and the reconciled versions would need approval from both bodies and the signature of President Barack Obama.
Yet Father Pavone, founder and national director of Priests for Life and a priest of the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, made it clear that the pro-life community was holding its ground.
“We are not going to stand for a dramatic expansion of abortion or abortion funding,” stated the priest, who also is president of the national Pro-life Religious Council and pastoral director of the post-abortion healing ministry Rachel’s Vineyard.
Father Pavone is one of the most public faces in the fight against abortion. For example, Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decision Roe v. Wade, called him the catalyst that led her to return to the Catholic Church.
“His commitment is so tremendous,” said audience member Mary Jo Maurer, a parishioner of Irondequoit’s St. Thomas the Apostle Church and a member of Women’s Care Center’s board of directors. “No matter what you are doing here, it’s such a small part of your life. He has dedicated his entire life to ending abortion.”
In addition to being an inspiration to some, Father Pavone has helped others to see how they can reach out to women who are hurting, said Dorothy Hayes, a St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner.
“When you look at how wounded people are who have gone through abortion, you want to help them and heal them,” Hayes said.
Father Pavone noted that it is outreach programs such as Rachel’s Vineyard that prove pro-lifers care both about babies and their parents.
“The destiny of the mother and child are inextricably linked,” he said. “You help one, you help the other. You hurt one, you hurt the other. You kill one, and there’s something in the other that dies too.”
During his talk, Father Pavone took issue with the slogan “Freedom of Choice.” Although those who support legal abortion have argued that a woman alone has the right to decide whether to have an abortion, he countered that no one claims that they have the freedom to choose to abuse a child.
“When somebody’s choice destroys somebody else’s life, that’s everybody’s business,” Father Pavone stated.
The reality of the abortion “choice” is that it is often made by women who are scared and confused, the priest said.
“It’s not a matter of freedom of choice,” he said. “It’s a matter of feeling you have no freedom, and no choice.”
Those who advocate on behalf of abortions are often far removed from the actual procedures and the moral conflicts they present, he noted. Providers are often more ambivalent or conflicted, he said. Since the mid-1990s, about half of the free-standing abortion clinics in the nation have closed, as more and more health-care providers refuse to perform abortions, Father Pavone said.
Efforts to improve the quality of care at existing clinics continue to fail under intense lobbying, the priest said.
“Every time we try to pass clinic-regulation laws, they are blocked by people who claim to be on the side of the mother,” Father Pavone said. “You (the audience) are the ones standing with and for women’s rights, and women’s health and women’s freedom.”
Freedom will be the central focus of an upcoming cross-country tour by Priests for Life to frame the abortion debate in a civil-rights context. To illustrate his point, Father Pavone spoke to the young people in the room and noted that the pro-life movement may resonate with them because they were born after Roe v. Wade.
“You realize it could have been you,” he said. “You were deprived of legal protections when you were in the womb.”
In addition to the cross-country tour, Priests for Life also plans to make available DVDs with high-resolution images that trace fetal child development from four and a half to 12 weeks.