When the recent video of Father Frank Pavone surfaced, in which he was apparently attempting to rouse the consciousness of the American public about abortion prior to the election by laying the body of an aborted child on the altar at the Priests for Life Chapel, I spent countless days thinking about the video, the baby girl, and even our pro-life movement. I spent days praying over and discerning what, if anything, I was going to say about it, as I am thankful for the past work of Priests for Life and Father Pavone in restoring a culture of life, and to be honest, I wanted to stay out of the controversy. My life as a survivor is dramatic enough, trust me. I don’t need more drama. But this isn’t about drama, or controversy. It’s about respect for life.
As a Catholic, I certainly have strong thoughts and feelings about the use of the altar for these circumstances, and I trust that this incident will be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action be taken in regards to it. Discussing all of that is not the intent of this article. There are many more well articulated articles that you can read about this situation on sites like Patheos and even mainstream media sites like the Washington Post.
My intent here is to simply share a perspective that hasn’t been heard yet on this situation. The perspective of an abortion survivor.
To be painfully honest, that video broke me down for a number of days.
Her body blackened by saline solution, lifeless from the destruction of abortion, unclothed, vulnerable, that aborted baby that you saw laying on the altar, I saw myself in her. That was meant to be me. I survived the same procedure thirty-nine years ago that appears to have ended this baby’s life. Yes, I know it’s a miracle that I survived. It’s a miracle that my body wasn’t burned and blackened like hers.
Truth be told, this isn’t the first time that I’ve been impacted by videos and pictures of aborted children. Despite the years of healing that I’ve experienced, despite my years of being in the pro-life movement, I am still highly affected by them, and I believe that I always will, because they hit so close to home to me. I identify with them. That was meant to be my fate, and so I live my life trying to give those children a name, a face and a voice.
And that’s exactly why I’m writing this today, because those aborted children will never have a chance to share their perspective, so I must share mine. Although I’m only speaking on behalf of myself here, and there may be survivors who feel differently, I have to say that I found the incidence of laying that aborted child in the altar to be highly inappropriate and disrespectful.
I’ve read a number of commentaries by pro-life individuals, a number of whom I’ve looked up to over the years, and although many condemned this incident, a number made statements to the effect that it was what that child would want, that it redeemed the horrors of what was done to her by displaying it to the world in the hopes that it would change hearts and minds and influence the election.
I respectfully disagree with those latter statements. As a pro-life movement, our core beliefs are in the respect and dignity of life from the moment of conception until natural death. And in my opinion, that not only includes protecting lives against abortion and euthanasia, but it also involves showing respect for those lives lost.
How do we that? By, of course, sharing the truth about abortion and working to end it once and for all, but also by simultaneously demonstrating that children like the one you saw on the video, children that you see plastered on pro-life signs and educational materials, are not simply an aborted child, but a human being, first and foremost.
How do we do that? We treat their remains, when we find them, with respect, providing them a proper funeral service and burial like so many groups including Citizens for a Pro-Life Society and Priests for Life have done over the years.
And in light of this video, I think the most important way we do that is by showing respect for aborted children by seeing them for who they are, not treating them as a means to an end. Aborted children, their remains, and yes, even abortion survivors like myself, are not props. We are human beings.
For every single one of us, aborted child, survivor, or simply anyone you encounter in this world, our worth comes from who we are, not what we do, or what using us may accomplish.
As a movement, we have spent decades stressing the point that there is inherent worth and dignity in every life, regardless of circumstance. And you may disagree with me on this, (remember this is my perspective that I’m sharing here), but when I watched the video by Father Pavone, I didn’t see or even hear that aborted baby’s inherent dignity and worth being respected. What I saw was a baby being put on display. What I heard was that her meaning and worth came from being shown to the world in an attempt to influence the election.
I write this today not in an attempt to condemn Father Pavone or add to the controversy, but in an attempt to use the incident as an opportunity to share an often unheard perspective and to hopefully encourage all of us to consider our treatment of others, born and unborn, in this movement.
Remember when the Center for Medical Progress videos first surfaced, and we shared those great graphics and memes that stated things like, “I am more than a sum of my parts”? As a movement, we embraced those statements and used them to educate the public about abortion, organ harvesting, and further advance a culture of life because we believe them. Because they are the foundation upon which our work stands.
As I reflect upon this recent video by Father Pavone and many of the statements that I read in defense of it, I keep thinking back to this statement and countless others like it that we make in our work. Of course, a child is more than the sum of their parts, because they have inherent dignity and worth!
When we use the remains of an aborted child, laying them on an altar, as a means to “wake up” the nation, I beg you to question whether that child’s inherent dignity and worth is being respected. I beg you to consider if there’s a better way to engage the nation and at the same time respect that child’s worth.
I know that as an abortion survivor who is public with my story, I have, in many ways, said “yes” to having my story used in this movement as a way to make a difference. But notice that I said “my story,” and not, “me.” I am not here to be used by the movement, but my story is. There’s a difference between the two.
Yes, it may be more difficult to use the story of an aborted child, whose remains have been properly buried and shown respect, to “wake up” the nation, versus simply laying their remains out to the world in an attempt to display the horrors of abortion, but it’s the right thing to do. If the remains of an aborted child or even the life of an abortion survivor like me is simply used for shock and awe, versus a human being with inherent dignity who has a story to share that reflects the devastating truth about abortion, then we have our priorities wrong, and we are not practicing what we preach.
Let’s hold ourselves accountable as a movement by not only showing respect for the inherent dignity and worth of aborted children, but also survivors, post-abortive women, clinic workers and abortionists, with our actions and our words.
If there’s anything we can take away from this incident that we can all agree upon, it’s that our actions and our words carry a huge weight in today’s world of social media and the Internet. Let us handle ourselves in a way that always reflects our beliefs.