Many in the pro-life movement were just born when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States in 1973, and some weren’t born until years later. They never knew a time when it was illegal to end the life of an unborn child, and they have always lived in the shadow of the Supreme Court decision that enabled abortion on demand. Here, some share their stories.
Jennifer Medley, 40, of Ashland, Wis., has been in the pro-life movement since she was a teenager. She chose abortion for a controversial topic in a public high school speech class assignment, and she participated in pro-life youth groups. She became a Birthright counselor in her college years and prayed the Rosary in front of abortion clinics. When she lived in Ohio, she helped start a pro-life group in her parish and designed their website.
|Jennifer Medley and family. Courtesy of Jennifer Medley
Then she got married and had four children in four years, now ages 1 and a half to 5, and sometimes she takes them to rallies.
“People have said to me, ‘You are kind of living pro-life,’ and you might look at it that way,” she said.
Medley squeezes in volunteering while she raises a family, mostly working behind the scenes on pro-life websites and keeping connected with the movement with prayer.
“What I’m seeing now is that pro-life is less spoken about from the pulpit and from the people,” she said. “I’m feeling that there’s a kind of political correctness taking over the value of life and that people are losing touch with what it’s all about. It’s like they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings about things like contraception and living together, either. People seem to be giving the impression that they wouldn’t do it, but they won’t tell anyone else what to do.”
That attitude may be rooted in the fear of turning people away from God, she said, but it’s also preventing people from speaking up for the unborn.
Eight years ago, Becky Visosky was watching television and complaining to her fiancé about a news segment on abortion. He said to her, “It’s really kind of amazing that if people believe that millions of children are dying, that they aren’t doing more about [it].”
Visosky, 38, started researching abortion and, she said, “I found ways to get off my couch.”
She began volunteering with Rachel’s Ministry and other pro-life ministries in the Diocese of Dallas, and three years ago left a successful law practice to become the committee’s director of communications.
“As an attorney, I could see that Roe v. Wade is grounded in a misunderstanding of the Constitution, and this is not a controversial view,” she said. “But I think we have seen some very positive developments, like several years ago with the Supreme Court’s opinion prohibiting partial birth abortion. There also has been an increasing recognition of the humanity that abortion involves, and an increasing realization of the toll it takes on women, and not just physical.”
Visosky decries the false freedom that many women believe abortion has given them. It’s tied in with loosening the reins on sex and with “the new virtue of everyone having the freedom to do whatever they want.”
“I think my entire gender has been sold a bill of goods,” she said. “But abortion really gave a free ticket to men who are no longer responsible. So you have women standing outside abortion centers because they feel that they have no other option. The men in their lives don’t have any obligations, or may even be forcing them into abortions.”
Visosky hopes that in her lifetime, abortion, like slavery, will become “an unthinkable” thing to do.
Tammy Pagels was 17 when she became pregnant from a rape and her mother forced her to have an abortion.
“I felt helpless,” she said. “I was afraid of my mother and I didn’t have the voice to speak out.”
She told her future husband Darrell about it early in their dating, and he supported her journey to healing.
|Deacon Darrell and Tammy Pagels. Courtesy of the Pagels
“He is the one who taught me that God is the one who will be there for you,” she said. “Everything is possible as long as God is the center of your life.”
The couple now has six children, ages seven months to 13, and Darrell, 40, was ordained a deacon four years ago. They are both coordinators of the Culture of Life in the Diocese of Pueblo, Colo., and are promoting the abortion healing ministry of Project Rachel.
“Having an abortion — having a child who is no longer with you — is something that never leaves you, no matter how much you pray every day,” she said.
Pagels came to a “different place” in her life through confession and Eucharistic adoration, and was able to forgive the man who raped her, her mother, and herself.
“I want other people to hear my story because you never know if someone out there is going through the same struggles that I went through,” she said. “I want to get out the message to young people to respect life, and to remember that a child is God’s work, God’s creation, from the moment of conception.”
Pagels encourages prayers for mothers who had abortions, and for their children. “Pray that they have somewhere to go and someone to turn to,” she said.
Reaching out to the Hispanic population is one of the pro-life movement’s newest focuses.
“When people come to this country wanting better lives, they sometimes see aborting as something progressive,” said Gloria Santana, 31, a peer counselor at the Sacramento Life Center and parish pro-life liaison at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Sacramento. “They are offered an option, and they think this is better, and out of ignorance, they think this is normal, that abortion comes with the American dream. They are going to buy into that culture, and that’s what they believe.”
|Gloria Santana and family. Courtesy of Gloria Santana
Although she was raised in a Catholic home, she never learned about the sacredness of life. So when she was 18 and her best friend got pregnant, she thought it was her “duty” to drive her to an abortion center.
When Santana was 23 and pregnant with her second child, she was given the pro-life film, “Silent Scream,” to show to a parish youth group.
“Everything came back to me,” she said about her friend’s abortion. “I could have been speaking for that child. At that moment, I realized that I could not be passive. I could not let my children grow up without hearing this. I made a promise that the best legacy I could give to them is being pro-life. Not just a passive person, but a warrior who will stand up and become passionate.”
Santana is involved with the diocese’s Rachel’s Vineyard retreats for healing after abortions.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I had gotten pregnant at 16 or 17 because I was never evangelized about the sacredness of life,” she said. “It was heartbreaking for me when I did learn about it and realized what abortion was and the truth about that evil.”
As president of the Pro-Life Club at St. Francis Catholic High School in Sacramento, Cara Cooper, 17, tries to instill in members the importance of not only standing up for the rights of those who have no voice, but also the importance of living a chaste life, respecting all people and living the way that Christ taught us to live.
“One thing that we have to offer the pro-life movement is that young people are really good at portraying the positive side of things,” she said. “We’re happy to be alive and we are celebrating life in general, and life in every stage and life in every single person.”
Her parents, Stephen and Charmaine Cooper, not only influenced her with their own pro-life passion, but became witnesses to the dignity of life when they declined advice to abort two difficult pregnancies. Instead, they welcomed their daughters with love. Polly, 15, has autism, and her twin was lost in the womb. Olivia, 12, has multiple impairments.
“They are very healthy and they are very happy,” Cooper said. “We wouldn’t have them today if my mom had taken the doctor’s advice.”
Love of technology is another benefit that young people bring to the pro-life movement.
“We’re coming out on Facebook, Twitter and blogging to spread the word of what it means to be pro-life. Our voices are being heard around the world,” Cooper said. “The older people are going to have to pass this down to the youth now because we really have a strong voice.”
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.