Eunice Kennedy Shriver, pro-lifer

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, pro-lifer August 24, 2009

There is nothing particularly newsworthy about a coalition of pro-lifers releasing a public manifesto that criticizes politicos who support abortion rights.

Nevertheless, a full-page advertisement in the New York Times during the 1992 Democratic National Convention raised eyebrows because a few prominent Democrats endorsed “A New American Compact: Caring about Women, Caring for the Unborn.”

One name in particular jumped out in this list — Kennedy.

“The advocates of abortion on demand falsely assume two things: that women must suffer if the lives of unborn children are legally protected; and that women can only attain equality by having the legal option of destroying their innocent offspring in the womb,” proclaimed ad’s lengthy and detailed text.

“We propose a new understanding, one that does not pit mother against child. To establish justice and to promote the general welfare, America does not need the abortion license. What America needs are policies that responsibly protect and advance the interest of mothers AND their children, both before AND after birth.”

Near the end, the statement added: “We can choose to reaffirm our respect for human life. We can choose to extend once again the mantle of protection to all members of the human family, including the unborn.”

It really wasn’t a surprise that Eunice Kennedy Shriver — who died on Aug. 11, after a series of strokes — was among those who signed the document, along with her husband Sargent Shriver, the 1972 Democratic nominee for vice president.

Yes, she was the sister of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert Kennedy, and Sen. Edward Kennedy and part of a family dynasty that changed how Americans view progressive politics and Catholicism.

But Eunice Shriver also attended convent schools, considered becoming a nun and remained a daily-Mass Catholic throughout her life, while teaching the Rosary prayers to her five children and 19 grandchildren. She was a public supporter of Democrats for Life, Feminists for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports pro-life women who seek public office.

“She was pious, I think, a very, very pious woman,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., stating the obvious during a six-hour public wake and Mass for his aunt at Our Lady of Victory Church on Cape Cod.

An official tribute went further while connecting her faith with the issue that dominated her public life.

“Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing,” said the family’s public statement. “She was a living prayer. … She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more. She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy.”

The mainstream obituaries and media tributes that followed her death also connected Shriver’s work with the poignant life of her older sister Rosemary Kennedy, who was mentally disabled. In a historic 1962 article for the Saturday Evening Post, Eunice yanked one of Camelot’s most tragic secrets into the open — under the stark headline, “Hope for Retarded Children.” In the decades that followed, she worked tirelessly to pull Rosemary into the family circle.

Nevertheless, elite journalists failed to connect the dots between Shriver’s fierce activism on behalf of children facing disabilities and her commitment to defending the lives of the unborn, including babies with Down syndrome and other genetic flaws.

For Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sanctity of life was a Catholic issue, a political issue and an intensely personal issue.

“She was preeminently pro-life, against abortion and there to protect and underscore the dignity of every person. This, of course, manifested itself in her love for children with disabilities,” noted Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, in a reflection posted online.

“While Eunice’s works were remarkable, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that her Catholic faith and education was a very important part of what motivated her and helped her to interpret reality. … It was certainly the soil out of which grew her passion and dedication to the less fortunate and those who are challenged by disabilities and mental retardation.”

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