New York Governor Andrew Cuomo offended many people during an interview last week in which he suggested that being “right-to-life” makes you a member of an extremist group. While a spokesman for the governor says his quote was taken out of context, it’s business as usual for pro-lifers, who are often stereotyped as hateful, oppressive, or violent.
No doubt, the term “right-to-life” will be wielded as a weapon many more times by those who want to ensure it has a negative connotation. And journalists who are abdicating their responsibility to provide balanced and objective reporting will allow that to happen.
But what if politicians and the media looked beyond the press releases and soundbites that define the perpetual political season in modern-day America? What would they actually find?
Yes, the pro-life movement includes some – shall we say, characters – as most movements do. A handful could even be considered extremists. But labeling everyone who believes in the sanctity of unborn life with this broad brush is an example of the simplistic, angry rhetoric that passes for political discourse nowadays.
Putting Love Into Action
I’ve spent years interviewing people, some of whom would consider themselves part of the right-to-life movement, people who back up their beliefs with loving action. Consider Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, Superior General of the Sisters of Life in New York City, who I interviewed a few years ago.
The Sisters’ mission is supporting young women in crisis pregnancies with nowhere else to turn. At the time of our interview, seven Sisters lived in their Manhattan convent with seven guests who were either pregnant or had already given birth.
Mother Donovan explained that when the Sisters get a call for help, “We speak to (the woman) and say, ‘What are the desires of your heart?’ Inevitably she’ll say to us, ‘If this wasn’t the situation or that wasn’t the situation, I’d want this child.’…Then we start putting together ways in which we can meet her needs so she can fulfill her heart’s desire…95% of the women who call us will bring their child to birth.”
Mother Donovan knows that the topic of abortion can be a heated one where people disagree vehemently. Yet she said the politics of those who come to them don’t matter to her or any of the Sisters of Life. Why? “We’ve found that the simple alchemy of love – loving those that come to us one heart at a time – that is what changes them…What we see is abortion and those kinds of decisions are fueled by fear. St. John says, ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ When one is supported and surrounded by love, they see the world and themselves differently.”
It’s obvious that Mother Donovan and her approach would fall under the category of “right-to-life.” The Sisters aren’t just anti-abortion, but fully and wholly pro-life because they support those who need it after their babies are born as well. What should also be obvious is that her work is grounded in love and compassion, not hate or extremism.
The same can be said of the people who work at the New York Life Center, profiled by Ed Wilkinson in the Brooklyn diocesan newspaper “The Tablet” a year ago. The center is a non-sectarian facility for “pregnant women and young mothers” run by Catholics to help women of all faiths. It helps these women choose life by offering them material, emotional and spiritual support both before and after their children are born. The story highlighted several women who came into the center for help while Wilkinson was there. They included a non-English speaking Hispanic woman who needed a jacket for her young son, a jacket she received free of charge. There were also two Muslim women who had received support from the center when they weren’t sure they’d have the material means to have their babies. With the center’s help, they gave birth to their children and were thrilled they did. These two women still come to the center for occasional help, and are grateful to office manager Laura Sica – the only full-time employee – for her perpetual willingness to help them.
Again, do the people who run and volunteer at the New York Life Center sound like examples of extremism or love in action?
Where There Is Hatred, Let Me Sow Love
No doubt, the Sisters of Life and New York Life Center folks would respond with love to the people who hold them in contempt. And of course, their approach would be the right one, the Christian one. This trend toward hate mail and wishing all kinds of vile and evil things on people who disagree with us is a ridiculous response from Christians who were mandated to, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
But at the same time, politicians should reconsider their completely unnecessary defamation of right-to-life voters. It’s high time that Democrats and Republicans, regardless of the issue they’re discussing, stopped talking unity out of one side of their mouths – while promoting divisiveness out of the other.
Meanwhile, members of the media should consider profiling people and facilities that do pro-life work so they can bring a much-needed balance to the topic. It’s harder to label people once you’ve actually met them face-to-face and gotten to know and hear their stories.
Maybe witnessing the simple alchemy of love in action would produce the kind of unity and goodness we all claim to want in the world.
(Photo via Maryland Right to Life)