Published January 27, 2006
Spirits were high and momentum was on the side of some 2,000 Catholic and other pro-life faithful who gathered under a blue sky on Jan. 21 for a Mass and memorial near the Georgia Capitol to mark the 32nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision to legalize abortion and to mourn the deaths of 45 million unborn children.
State representatives expressed optimism for the passage of pro-life legislation this year with the new Republican majority in the state House of Representatives, sprinkling in Scripture as they vowed to support life. And newly installed Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory declared himself a friend to all people of good will of Georgia who strive for peace and justice, and pledged to carry on Archbishop-emeritus John F. Donoghue’s pro-life leadership.
At the pro-life memorial on the steps of the Capitol Archbishop Gregory compared the pro-life movement to the struggle for civil rights and called upon attendees to join together with other people of faith and good will to raise the consciousness of the nation and to stop the taking of unborn human life through legalized extermination. Having grown up in the 1950s in Chicago, he recalled how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message was not always seen as popular or even important to the nation.
“Public opinion, it may be suggested, is against our efforts in the same way as public opinion was often highly critical of the work of civil rights,” he said. “But our challenge is not simply to counter dubious or even hostile public opinion but essentially to restore the conscience of a nation that has been numbed by misinformation that suggests we can ignore the dignity of a life that has begun in the womb but is not recognized as worthy of our respect, our protection or our concern. There are so many analogous comparisons that can be made and ought to be made between the struggle for civil rights and for the life of the unborn.”
The day began with Mass to honor the unborn at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was celebrated by Archbishop Gregory and concelebrated by Archbishop Donoghue and some 40 priests of the archdiocese. The clergy wore the color violet in response to the bishops’ call for penance for violations to the dignity of the human person through abortion and for prayers for a legal guarantee to the right to life. The events coincided with the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of Jan. 22, 1973. Following the Mass Catholics joined other pro-life supporters at the steps of the Capitol for the annual pro-life memorial and March for Life sponsored by Georgia Right to Life.
Catholics from around the archdiocese overflowed from the Shrine and packed their strollers and signs under their chairs and cuddled babies in their arms as they mourned the legalization of abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. One woman with two long braids from Macon hobbled on crutches into the Shrine, where she expressed her hope about pro-life legislation to be heard in the 2005 General Assembly. Another expressed hope that her parish would find the time to start a pro-life group and recalled the roots of her activism in 1974. One mother of four explained that she’s a strongly pro-life member of the Presbyterian Church of America, a conservative denomination, which broke off from the Presbyterian Church and takes a strong stand against abortion. Nearby a pro-choice group met at Central Presbyterian Church, reflecting the cultural fault line of disagreement that has formed within churches and between conservative and liberal Christians on the issue, and the prayerful pro-life partnerships that have formed in defense of life between Catholics and groups including Southern Baptists and evangelicals.
Archbishop Gregory, in his homily, spoke of the 1973 end of the moral code that unborn human life is precious and inviolable. Millions of Americans have now become “callous and indifferent to the slaughter that occurs daily in our cities and towns … to the annihilation of nearly 3,000 unborn children on a daily basis,” Archbishop Gregory said, acknowledging that even some Catholics believe it’s an acceptable political position to assert abortion rights.
“Following the leadership of Archbishop Donoghue I fully renew the truth of Christ’s teaching that all human life is sacred at each and every moment of existence. I call upon Catholics everywhere to reflect upon and submit to this teaching not from a partisan or political position but from an open and humble heart,” he continued. “And I say this as well to all people of faith, whatever the creed, to accept the truth which beckons us, to honor life as God has commanded, and to turn your hearts and minds to work with us and end this American nightmare, this holocaust bridging the 20th to the 21st century. Rise up my friends and use every legal means at your disposal. Rise up and speak and work in defense of life.”
Drawing upon the day’s Gospel reading to love even one’s enemy, he reminded them, too, to “be perfect” and of their duty to love those who disagree with them on the issue and those who choose abortion, and to pray for their conversion.
“Let us go forth on this day for as long as it takes towards the perfection of God to which our Lord calls us, peace through justice, victory through self-sacrifice, and life, the fullness of life, at his hands alone.”
Mary Rogers was the cantor and sang “Rock-a-bye baby in Jesus’ arms, free from all sin, free from all harm, sent by the Father from up above to teach the little children of Jesus’ love.”
Students participated from various Catholic schools, and girls in plaid uniforms and sweaters and boys in khakis and blue shirts brought forward the gifts of bread and wine. Parish pro-life leaders were also commissioned.
While the pro-life movement may be comparable to the civil rights movement, Loretto Grier-Cudjoe expressed her dismay after the Mass that more black Catholics don’t see it that way. Grier-Cudjoe came—even with a cast on one leg—from Macon, where she attends St. Peter Claver Church and is the legislative representative on her parish women’s council.
“We’re hoping the Women’s Right to Know Bill will pass this year. We have enough people in the House to get it out of committee,” she said. “A lot of young people are misguided. It’s too available. They have abortions so quickly.”
She struggles as an African-American to find more black Catholic pro-life supporters even in her own parish and family.
“Many are loyal to the Democratic Party before the Catholic Church, but I’m loyal to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ … They don’t want to give support to any pro-life activists,” she said. “They don’t want to be unpopular amongst people that have opposing viewpoints. They don’t say anything. I’ve found that true even up the line in the Black Catholic Congress.”
Her faith doesn’t allow her to vote for pro-choice politicians, even if it means not voting for anyone, and she appreciates the strong stand Archbishop Donoghue took on his position to withhold Communion from them. She’s concerned about the disproportionately high rate of abortions among African-Americans, and is advocating for the NAACP, in which she’s active, to take a pro-life stand. She’s also a member of the black pro-life Life Education and Resources Network.
Liz Oliver, a member of St. Jude the Apostle Church, Atlanta, is saddened by the effects of abortion and hopes her parish will establish a pro-life group.
“Changing hearts is what you need to do. I’ve always felt that people who are facing abortion should be able to see that the generous thing to do is to be responsible for one’s own actions,” she said, noting that the legality of abortion makes it easier for people to justify.
At the Capitol, participants held signs ranging from “Thank you President Bush” and “Choose Life” to a graphic picture of an aborted fetus. A wooden crucifix held high seemed to reign over the crowd. St. Mary’s Church in Rome held a banner stating the archdiocese’s participation in a fund-raiser for GRTL that raised about $330,000 for its pro-life TV ads. GRTL president Caryl Swift praised Archbishop Donoghue for his pro-life leadership and welcomed Archbishop Gregory. The new archbishop called attendees to work peacefully for justice.
“We have engaged in this struggle for 32 years and are willing to continue as long as it takes to secure the safety of all of the unborn … We shall only grow stronger and more determined until some day we consider a child in the womb not a choice to be made but a child to be loved.”
Swift noted that “moral values” were the number one issue for people who voted in November 2004, and read a proclamation from President Bush, and praised his pro-life leadership which includes signing the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, and preventing tax dollars from going to organizations that promote abortions in other countries. He’s also pledged to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices as positions open.
Rep. Glenn Richardson, speaker of the Georgia House, who attended along with several other Republican lawmakers, then took the podium. He spoke of the hope to pass the Women’s Right to Know Bill, with a Republican majority in both the House and Senate.
“For too long too many ideas have sat and not been addressed even in committees, but we will address them now that we have a Republican majority in the Georgia House,” he said.
The right-to-know bill would require a doctor to inform a woman patient fully on the abortion procedure and on adoption options, to tell the probable gestational age of the baby and to allow for a 24-hour waiting period before performing an abortion. In 2003, 34,545 abortions were performed in Georgia, up from 31,680 in 2000.
Other bills expected in the legislative session include the Parental Notification of Minors Seeking an Abortion Act and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. A proclamation was read on behalf of Gov. Sonny Perdue declaring it National Sanctity of Human Life Day.
Rep. James Mills proclaimed like a preacher in his genteel Southern accent the Angel Gabriel’s declaration in Scripture to Mary that “you are with child.”
“I call it the first angelic sonogram. He did not say you are with a fetus, he did not say you are with a blob of tissue,” the legislator said.
As the sound of a beating heart silenced the crowd and they began the pro-life memorial walk, Tammy Woyce, who is a member of the Presbyterian Church of America, reflected, while strolling with two of her children, on God’s law for mankind.
“We’re all created in God’s image and one of the commandments is not to kill and life begins at conception. God knows every child’s heart and soul,” she said. “The Bible tells us how to live and if we go against God’s law we’re going to suffer for it.”
She sees one indirect consequence in the high divorce rate. She believes the place to start is by changing people’s hearts.
Fifteen-year-old Georgia Miller attends a Christian school in Gainesville and believes that even if abortion were illegal teens would continue to have sex and get pregnant. But “I feel maybe the support is growing and hopefully we can change some people and get back the right to let children live.”
Donna Whitaker, who attends Crossroads Community Church in Lawrenceville, carried the sign “I regret my abortion” and said that for years she privately suffered over the decision and didn’t grieve.
“I knew it was wrong, but I made the choice because I believed it was my right and I didn’t have God in control in my life. I was in control,” she said, adding that she now believes that while the fetus is unborn it is a separate human life the pregnant woman must respect. “For 20 years I thought (the suffering) would go away after the baby was removed from me, but it didn’t go away.”
Attorney Frank Mulcahy lobbies for the Georgia Catholic Conference at the General Assembly and said their pro-life priorities are directed at any legislation that protects life from conception until natural death. He is grateful the historic Republican majorities will be more favorable to pro-life legislation. During the 2003-2004 legislative session the state Senate adopted both the “Women’s Right to Know” and the “Unborn Victims of Violence” bills, but the House leadership didn’t allow committee hearing on these bills (except one subcommittee hearing on the victims bill) and thus, none of the bills could even be debated. “I believe that, on a bipartisan basis, the majority of both legislative houses would have voted for these pro-life bills in the past if they were allowed to vote.”
He encouraged persons to pray for legislators on both sides of the issue, to follow the progress of legislation and call or e-mail their senators and representatives.
Mary Boyert, director of the archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, also invited Catholics to join her at the pro-life day at the state Capitol on Tues., Feb. 8.
“It’s a great way for somebody who’s never been down to the Capitol to be walked through” the issues, she said. “It’s really important that our people come forward and join us in these efforts.”
She believes the large Mass turnout shows a great deal of renewed support. “The possibility of actually getting some legislation passed is definitely exciting. I just sense a great deal of enthusiasm and support.”