Hoodwinked No More
"Virginia is full of individuals committed to principle. And from looking around this room I can tell that when it comes to this quality we are definitely not alone! All of you have made the trip here because you believe in the sanctity of human life and the preciousness of every one of God's creations. You are right morally; you are right medically; you are right ethically; you are right politically; and, I promise you, one day you will be recognized as right in the law across this land!"
Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, addressing the opening session
of NRLC 2004
"Why don't you and daddy make them stop?"
Kay James, speaking at the same session, describing what her son said
after seeing a picture of an aborted baby dumped in a trash can
"Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of [people] willing to be co-workers with God."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The opportunity to have my four children present at the closing banquet of NRLC's annual convention was, from a personal standpoint, the highpoint of a three-day educational teach-in that left myself, my wife, and the other 1,000 attendees charged up to face the challenges of the remainder of 2004. But that particular moment for me was only the pinnacle of a delightful gathering that ranks among the very best conventions I've had the good fortune to attend. In the days following the July 1-3 gathering, I've given considerable thought to why that was so.
As the stories beginning on page 12 and the many photos scattered throughout this edition illustrate, the convention offered a rich intellectual smorgasbord which provided nutritious fare for every palate.
But it was not only the number of workshops (65), general sessions (3), Prayer Breakfast, and Banquet that accounts for the energy and enthusiasm and eagerness that was almost palpable. Thinking back, the super-charged atmosphere cannot be explained even by the reverential tribute we paid to Ronald Reagan, our first unapologetically pro-life President, or the stirring words of encouragement delivered via video from President George W. Bush.
All of this, and much, much more, it seems to me, were threads of a larger tapestry. Woven into virtually every moment were powerful reminders of exactly why so many tens of thousands of people volunteer healthy chunks of their lives to winning the day for unborn babies.
On the softer side, there were Gary Cangemi's amusing but evocative "Umbert the Unborn" cartoons. Gary has a special gift that he employs to help us understand that the unborn is one of us, temporarily housed inside his mom's womb, to be sure, but as alive as you and I and deserving no less respect.
In that same vein other talks deepened an appreciation for the remarkably transformative powers of ultrasound. Pictures of Umbert's spiritual brothers and sisters can be seen affixed to refrigerators all over the world, and they are changing the way we think about the unborn.
On the grimmer side, we talked almost in a hush of the bitterly harsh, largely silenced question of fetal pain. For 31+ years, the Abortion Establishment has succeeded in editing this unwelcome reality out of the public conversation.
When the abortion crowd went to court to challenge the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, they could not have anticipated the doors they would be flinging open. That our moral imaginations might be reshaped in the process is staggeringly ironic.
Again, it was not just the impact of the incredibly violent, grotesque nature of partial-birth abortion that was detailed in three courts around the country. It was even more, (if only to a limited degree), that people learned how blase abortionists are, talking of cracking children's skulls open the way you'd casually discuss prying open an oyster shell.
Combine that moral insouciance with the scientifically unassailable testimony that unborn babies 20+ weeks can suffer pain and you have the kind of court proceedings which historians someday will read in utter astonishment. For the first time the public became privy to a dark side of our national life which, for sheer ugliness and reprehensibility, refuses to take a backseat to any atrocity.
I began by suggesting that what gave the convention its special spark was that it took us "back to basics." For example, even after 31 years and all the heartache we've experienced and heard about, many in the audience were still stunned by the post-abortion testimonies of Jennifer O'Neill, Melba Moore, and Vera Faith Lord.
Yet, in years to come, we might look back and see that the "men and abortion" workshop signaled a genuine turning point. For all the reasons David Wemhoff and Dr. Michael Rollins described so eloquently, men rarely talk privately, let along publicly, about the loss of their children. But Wemhoff and Rollins courageously provided a first-hand look at the spiritual agony guys experience when, in spite of every effort they make, wives and girlfriends abort their children.
To be sure, this was not the first such workshop, any more than the two workshops that addressed the abortion issue in the context of the African-American community were the first time convention goers had heard about how to work with Black men and women to save unborn babies. But in both cases, the level of insight, accrued wisdom, and intensity of personal conviction was light years beyond previous presentations.
When we add to the mix a strong contingent of pumped-up high schoolers and college students, the lesson is obvious. Our Movement is making exemplary headway into sectors of our population previously under-represented.
And why not? Young people, increasingly, are pro-life. And from listening to the speakers, it is as if African-Americans and Hispanics have a pro-life gene. It just hasn't yet been "expressed" (as the scientists like to say).
Why? Primarily, I think, because they have been targeted by Planned Parenthood and its ilk, and because there is a learning curve to working in a manner that is most consistent with a community's history and constellation of values. Our Movement is growing stronger and becoming more diverse by the year, thanks to the work of people like those who spoke at the two workshops and who honored singer Melba Moore at a Friday dinner.
I would just add in conclusion that nobody - - and I do mean nobody - - underestimated the challenges we face in 2004. But, likewise, no one left with his or her chin down.
The attendees went back to their hometowns confident that we have the moral resources, the steady leadership, and the unfailing commitment to handle whatever comes our way. They remain steadfast in the conviction that facts matter, that truth matters, and that someday legal protection will be a right that does not require birth to attain.
Like the sensation of twitching in limbs that have been amputated, old mental habits still linger among the pro-death set. They probably still think that they can hoodwink the American public indefinitely.
Thanks to you, they are about to experience a rude awakening.