Tenth Annual Proudly Pro-Life Awards Dinner Provides a Powerful Testimony for Life
By Richard Kimble
The grand ballroom of the historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was filled to capacity as the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund hosted the Tenth Annual Proudly Pro-Life Awards Dinner on April 29 in New York City. Nearly 700 enthusiastic pro-lifers gathered to honor and pay tribute to special friends from the entertainment community who have been outspokenly and unabashedly pro-life.
Receiving this year's proudly pro-life awards were:
Ben Stein, a movie and television personality who is currently a celebrity judge on the CBS hit, Star Search. Ben Stein promotes the sanctity of human life everywhere he goes and is particularly effective when he speaks to college students at campuses across the country.
Margaret Colin, an actress currently appearing in the Broadway production of A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, and honorary co-chair of Feminists for Life.
Jennifer O'Neill, an actress best known for her role in Summer of '42 and currently spokeswoman for Silent No More, an advocacy group dedicated to helping women who are suffering from having undergone an abortion.
Acting legends Patricia Neal and Celeste Holm were honorary chairwomen of the dinner, while Monsignor James Lisante served as master of ceremonies.
The following are inspiring excerpts from the dinner:
Ben Stein: I would not be on any other side of this issue than the side I'm on. This is the side that is pro-woman - - we try to save the lives of 700,000 women a year, and save millions more from humiliation, embarrassment, dereliction, and breast cancer. This is the side that is pro-man - - we try to save the lives of 700,000 young men a year, and try to save the fathers who are involved in the horrible decision to abort from shame, humiliation, and disaster. This is the side that is pro-freedom - - we're for the freedom of a human being to be. We are on the side against the totalitarians who say that a Jew or a Catholic does not have the right to be - - it's the same thing when you say that a baby does not have the right to be. Every baby that is conceived has the right to be; that is a basic. And I will tell you something that I never felt before in my heart until this year: I feel strongly that the tide is turning in our favor. We had a lot of years wandering in the wilderness; we had a lot of years when I felt as if the people who came to this room were the last of a dying breed. That has all changed. We owe a lot of thanks for that to Mr. Bush who has stood up unhesitatingly for life.
I do a lot of different things, but I spend most of my time traveling around the country speaking at college groups - - mostly invited there by college Republicans, but sometimes by Right-to-Life groups. And five years ago, four years ago, three years ago, if I gave the part of my speech that I always give in which I say that one of the best, most important ways to give your life meaning and to live a decent life is to value life when it's old, when it's infirm, when it's a different skin color, when it's a different race, when it's a different sex, when it's a different religion, whether it's born or unborn - - and if you value life when it's unborn, you set a standard for valuing life and for giving dignity to life that will stick with you and the society forever.
I used to get "boo-ed" when I said that. I kept saying it; for the last year I get wild applause at the campuses all over America. The tide is turning! I know that no one in this room chose this side because it was the easy side or because it was necessarily even the winning side - - but we are winning. God bless National Right to Life who carry the banner high for every human being born and unborn in this world. Thank you very, very much.
Margaret Colin: I have been pro-life since the eighth grade which, if you refuse to do the math, was when Roe vs. Wade was passed. And that law removed the legal protection, as everybody in this room knows, for the unborn children; and it launched my parents - - but especially my mother - - into the world of political activism. Protest marches in Washington that all five of the Colin children partook in, pro-life committees, petitions to Congress, helping to create the New York State Right to Life party (for a while the third largest political party in New York state). All five of the Colin children have either run for office on the political Right to Life party, marched on Washington, stood up among their friends in school and on playgrounds to support the dignity of life - - and my sister Lorna dedicated 10 years of her life teaching the dignity and the value of human beings and the real presence of human existence in the womb to everyone she met for 10 years of her very young life. So I am a product of two very passionate, very intelligent parents. And all five of us continue to share this work. So if anyone deserves this award, it's certainly my mom and my dad.
And I now have the great pleasure of passing this on to my boys, to Sam and to Joe. Their time representing life and their path is not always going to be easy for them; it won't be easy at school, it won't be easy at work, or with their friends sometimes - - but the conversation between people of different opinions on this subject must continue. And I know that they will find soulmates who share their beliefs as I have with my husband, Justin Deas. My three fabulous fellows have put up with an awful lot since Mom came out as pro-life. There are parties at our house that turn somewhat explosive once they realize that picture with President Bush in the lobby is for real. It's not a mock-up, you know? And there are several repercussions in our home because of that. And I want them to know and to share the compassionate pro-life message - - the resources available to women in crisis pregnancies, their responsibility in the life force, their roles as sons and fathers and grandsons, and about college outreach programs that will help them keep their opinions as they go into college and not be forced to change their opinion because now they're educated.
When I go to work as an actor, people assume that I have one profile as an actor. You can tell me what that is; I don't have to tell you! And that's the reason that I am being honored tonight, because I am an actor with a different belief system. I'm not alone. Ben Stein said it very eloquently. So while I am not worthy of any honor at all, I am very grateful to all of you that I can take the pro-life, pro-woman message into my workplace, building on your legacy and keep opening the minds to the glory of all human life. And I thank you very much.
Monsignor Lisante: Celeste Holm first was known on the Broadway stage and then went on to win an Academy Award for Gentlemen's Agreement as Best Supporting Actress. She went on to be nominated for an Academy Award for All About Eve, as well as for Come to the Stable where she played a nun with Loretta Young. And I stopped on my way here tonight over to Central Park West to visit with Celeste Holm, because today is not only a day when she serves as our chairperson, but also a day on which she is celebrating her 84th birthday. She has won every award that you can win, and she's pretty much semi-retired in terms of her acting career. And yet, in agreeing to be chairperson of our dinner tonight, Celeste received from people who might surprise you because they are certainly powerful in media circles, calls from friends who said, "Whatever you do, don't get associated with those people." "Those people" those crazy people are you and me. Let's hear it for crazy people everywhere.
I met Patricia Neal over 20 years ago, and we have become good friends ever since. One time when she was on my television show, I said to her, "Pat, in so many ways you are a female Job." She had, as you know, several strokes which put her in a coma for a month. She had a daughter who died of the measles at the age of seven. She had a son who was hit when he was an infant by a car in New York City, and he remains alive but brain-damaged and will be forever. Another daughter who suffered from drug and alcohol addiction; a husband who was great to her once she had the strokes, but he ultimately left her for a younger woman.
And I said, "In your life, Pat, if there was one thing you could change, what would it be?" And Patricia Neal said, "Father, none of the things you just mentioned." But she said, "Forty years ago I became involved with the actor Gary Cooper, and by him I became pregnant. As he was a married man and I was young in Hollywood and not wanting to ruin my career, we chose to have the baby aborted." She said, "Father, alone in the night for over 40 years, I have cried for my child. And if there is one thing I wish I had the courage to do over in my life, I wish I had the courage to have that baby."
Patricia Neal has put herself on the line in saying to many, many women who have experienced abortion or thought about abortion, "Don't make my mistake. Let your baby live." What's particularly painful, but poignant in this story is that some years later, Patricia became good friends with Maria Cooper, the only child of Gary Cooper and his wife. And Maria Cooper said, "You know, I know you had the affair with my father and I have long ago forgiven that. But one thing I find it hard to accept is that as an only child, I so wish that you'd had my brother or my sister. Because in so many ways, I wish so much that you had chosen life."
Jennifer O'Neill: I'll tell you my story just very briefly, although each person that I have ever known who has had an abortion, as individual as they are, so are their stories. But the common thread of course is the loss of our babies, and then the ravaging damage that follows not only for the mother, but for the dads - - not all the guys are bad guys - - and for the extended families.
Well in my case, I was in my early 20s. I had married when I was 17 and had my daughter (she was about 3 or 4) and I was engaged to this man, I was madly in love, I was going to spend the rest of my life with him, and I became pregnant. And I was so excited. And I went down to his place of business to tell him about the exciting news, and suddenly I was looking at someone that I couldn't even recognize. Here was this man that I loved saying to me that he didn't want "it." And not only did he not want it, but he was going to make it his business to make sure I got an abortion.
I went back and I was stunned and felt totally betrayed. And I went and I talked to my parents. And they told me what they believed at that time - - the same lie that is told from the pit of hell today: that the baby was just a blob of tissue under 8-10 weeks gestation; that how could I even imagine having a baby with a man when he didn't want it; I could always have another baby; it wasn't even a baby. I'm not a stupid person. But when everybody is saying the same thing from friends to my doctor who told me the same thing - - now we are all responsible for everything that we think, say, and do ultimately, and this is not a finger-pointing mission - - but I know for a fact that if I had seen an ultrasound of my baby, I would have chosen life.
I didn't have my faith then. The reason I wrote Surviving Myself is because I did want to tell that story of that life that looked so good and hurt so badly, but that I came to my faith at 38 years old after almost dying three times and having an abortion and dealing with all of those issues - - and that in God's arms and in His grace there is forgiveness and restoration. And I wanted to tell that story: that it doesn't matter how old you are or where you've been or what you've done, you can start again.
But at the time I didn't know that. That hole in my heart wasn't filled. I made a choice that I knew - - even though I didn't know God's stand on it at that time - - I knew in my heart that something was wrong. When you break a moral code, you break a heart. And then the residual just runs through your lifetime, a lifetime of shame and guilt. I was so shameful that I folded, that I gave into the pressures of others, that I didn't stand up. And I surely hated myself.
There are 25 million walking wounded women out there, and not all of them are thrilled with their abortion. Most of them, and men as well, don't realize that a lot that afflicts their lives was born of that abortion. Because they're told it's okay. They can't even grieve the loss of their baby. And if they go try to get help with the advanced alcoholism, drug use, or all the things that are done to try to numb your emotions, or the failed relationships and marriages and difficulties dealing with your own children that you have after that or the ones that you had before abortion. Or the 140 immediate medical problems that follow abortion, but of course that's not ever in the statistics because the abortion clinics don't see you - - they send you to the hospital.
Of course the aftermath is awesome, but we know the math as well. We know that abortion is a business. We know that abortionists and counselors are finally speaking out, and they talk about things like counting body parts, and the fact that they don't let the young women or men see the ultrasound. And they say that it's nothing, it's a procedure, it's eight minutes. And they're damaged for a lifetime. But our babies - - 45 million babies!
I'm encouraged. I'm encouraged with our President. I'm encouraged that this year partial-birth abortion will be banned. Yes! I'm encouraged to see some young people. Feminists for Life is such a great group, and its sister-group too, Silent No More, is fantastic. And their theme, "women deserve better," is true. We deserve to know the truth if we find ourselves with an unwanted pregnancy - - to know the facts and to know the risks.
I want to tell you a story. The story I'm about to tell you is when I was a little girl. I was about 10 years old and I always loved animals; I still do to this day. And I could never have them; I wasn't allowed them. But I had an aunt that had lots of cats, and she finally talked my parents into letting me have a little kitten. It had to live outside. And so I had Groucho, the cat. Well, Groucho ended up having a lot of litters - - so I guess it wasn't Groucho, maybe it was "Grouchette." But there was a point at which it became a nuisance to my parents, and so they came to me and they said, "We want to take Groucho to the pound, and she'll find a home. And if you agree, then we'll get you a dog." And I said okay. And I gave my cat up. And I carried shame for that for so many years. And that's a cat. Can you imagine how we who have lost a baby to abortion feel about ourselves?
And someone very wise said to me years later, "Jen, you know, you really shouldn't have been asked to make that choice at that age. It was a little unfair." And I say it to you now. That there is not a woman that should ever find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy that should ever have to make the choice of abortion. We need to be there. We need to be there for them emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually. We need to be there with open arms.
Have you ever made a mistake? Have you ever made a mistake, and you knew it was wrong, and really all you wanted was for someone to just put their arms out and say, "It's okay. Choose life, and we'll help you. Choose life, and we can have you stay in this home over here while you do it if your parents kick you out. Or we can arrange for adoption if you don't think you can take care of the baby, but we'll give you classes meanwhile. Or we'll give you counseling to put your relationship together with the father if you'd like. We're going to give you every option. Except abortion."
I want to thank each and every one of you for being here again. Again, I cannot tell you what it means to me and to those that are struggling for the truth and life, which each and every one of us are. And I implore any of you out there, because I can never speak in a room of ten people or ten thousand, and not know that there are other women or men that have suffered abortion in that room. And some of them have never told anybody; it's their deep dark secret. I implore you to get help with that because there is healing and there is forgiveness and there is release. And you have no idea that when you give that over, how your life will change, and more importantly what an incredible voice you'll be for others. And I ask you again to be bold and don't fence-sit. Because we're going to make it because this is God's will. Thank you so much.