Last December 30, a 22-year-old hair-styling student from New Hampshire, John Salvi, entered an abortion clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts and started shooting. He killed Shannon Lowney, a 25-year-old receptionist, and wounded three other people. He then proceeded to another clinic a few blocks away, where he shot and killed 38-year-old receptionist Leeanne Nichols.
The following morning, I had CNN on the hotel TV as I dressed for a funeral. Robert, my older 34-year-old brother, had succumbed to cancer 3 days earlier. He had been a pro-life lobbyist in Washington. As my husband and I got ready, steeling ourselves for the difficult day ahead, I listened to Shannon Lowney’s fiancé tearfully mourning her untimely death, and angrily defending her pro-choice employment. It was a sad enough day, made sadder by another blow to the pro-life movement and the thought of two more families, that holiday season, plunged into grief.
It was very hard making arrangements the day Robert died. A tear soaked group of us bravely processed to the church, to speak to the priest about the funeral; then to the funeral home, and finally to the cemetery. Though his death was expected, the actual event left us shocked and numb. We were amazed that we could manage to function . . . but we had to, of course. And here it was, three days later, and two families who had probably been planning New Year’s Eve festivities were suddenly faced with the unbelievable necessity of making plans to bury their loved ones. They, unlike my family, had had no time to prepare, no time to say goodbye. And now they have a reason to hate the pro-life movement, blaming it for Salvi’s act of terror.
It seems ironic to me that the Brookline killings came so soon after Robert’s death, because one thing that Robert was quite concerned about in his last year of life was the escalation of pro-life violence. Of course, contrary to what the pro-choice media would have us believe, Salvi, like Paul Hill and Michael Griffin before him, acted alone. Salvi in particular seems, by all accounts, to be clearly unhinged; though he is (for shame!) a “scripture-quoting” Roman Catholic, a crazy, rambling letter he wrote in prison shows a paranoid and psychotic individual. His motivations were less religious than delusional. Whereas the majority of those involved in the anti-abortion movement are sane, peaceful and law-abiding citizens. However, acts of violence have been on the rise, and there is a faction in the movement that promotes “justifiable homicide” for abortionists and their accomplices, and uses religion as the justification.
Robert and I used to commiserate with each other about this: how the violence allowed the media to paint us all as extremists, how frustrating it was to see the harm that the Pensacola killings did to the movement. I remember one day last August, a few weeks after the Hill shootings. I was sitting at home waiting for my then-overdue baby, and Robert was at home recovering from his latest round of chemotherapy. Both of us had seen, on separate talk shows, a priest arguing for justifiable homicide. As Roman Catholics, we were appalled to see a man in a Roman collar espousing such views.
The priest making the rounds of daytime talk TV was one David Trosch, from Mobile, Alabama. He had first gained notoriety when he tried to publish an ad in the Mobile Register; it showed a man pointing a pistol at a doctor, who was holding a knife over a pregnant woman. The headline was “Justifiable Homicide?” The paper declined the ad but did a story on Trosch, who was then warned by his superior, Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, to be quiet. When Trosch refused, he was eventually stripped of his parish and salary, and forbidden to say Mass with anyone present. But that didn’t stop him from going nation-wide with his “message,” in effect inviting the viewing public to think that there might be something in the pro-choicers’ accusations that the Catholic Church is encouraging violence.
As Robert and I agreed, it is obvious why a man like Trosch would get all the media attention, rather than the thousands of pro-lifers who work in the trenches, day after day, away from the public eye-controversy makes better TV. But, as we also agreed, there is something dangerous going on: more and more, the “fringe elements” of the movement are taking the law into their own hands.
Robert saw the trend toward violence and even toward compromise as a symptom of frustration with not winning a war in which many of the soldiers were sure that God was on their side. Frustration and loss of patience were leading to a willingness to break the rules in order to gain the desired end. Not that there wasn’t an understandable reason to feel thwarted, with all the setbacks the cause had suffered, but Robert, as a believing Christian, and an exceedingly gentle and generous man, was saddened to see people turning to harsh tactics.
Last spring, Robert wrote down some of his thoughts about this, intending to re-work them into an article later. That spring was a time of hope for him: he had endured a bone-marrow transplant, and it had been declared successful. We thought his cancer was gone. (This was in May; unfortunately, in late June a CAT scan showed the cancer back, and spreading.) This was also before the second incident of Pensacola shootings.
Robert was worried that there would be more violence, and he was right. He wrote about the danger of a believing person, in his case Christian, who is so intent on doing God’s work that he forgets that God is still in charge, and so are His commandments. The extreme cases of this thinking would be “pro-life murderers”—people who kill an abortionist to save babies, but deny the victim his own life, and even time for repentance and amendment. Other cases of this thinking in our own movement would be, Robert thought, people who lie to women to get them into anti-abortion “counseling,” who shout “murderer” at women going into abortion clinics, and the publishing of “wanted posters” and other tactics to harass abortion doctors.
As for Robert, his fight was also “pro-life.” He wanted to live, and he hoped God wanted that too, but he didn’t presume that was so. His wife Mary told me that all their prayers for his cure ended with Robert saying “but Your will be done.” All those around Robert were amazed at his optimism, cheer, and his determination to fight for life, even in the face of worsening diagnoses that meant, barring a miracle, he would lose. As I re-read his words of last May, exhorting his fellow pro-lifers to fight fair, I realized that many of them could also apply to Robert’s personal battle. Fighting the “good fight” for him meant keeping going, day after day, while facing pain, sickness, worry and fear—without complaining. He never got angry or bitter with God, he never lost enthusiasm for his work, and he never stopped caring about other people’s problems. He didn’t use his illness as a justification for any type of selfishness or self-service. He would go into the office as much as he could, even a day after chemo, and go to meetings, even when he was feeling awfully self-conscious about his falling-out hair. When he could no longer make it into the office he worked at home from his computer. All the time he hoped he would make it, for his wife’s sake and for ours.
In memory of my brother, and in the light of the Brookline shootings and the debate over pro-life extremism that has followed, I would like to share excerpts from Robert’s writings on fighting the good fight.
It is never correct to say that God is on our side. It is in fact quite presumptuous. He is not here to do our bidding, after all. All we can actually hope for is that through our own choices we will put ourselves on God’s side of things. Of course where we mess up is that we desire it to be the other way around, and then in our minds make it so. We bow to the temptation to have God on our team, with ourselves as coach.
It is this view of things that leads a person, dedicated to defending human life, into cold-bloodedly murdering a human life. When Dr. David Gunn was murdered outside his Pensacola, Florida, clinic by Michael Griffin, one of the first sober realizations for some was that, although it had taken many years, it had finally happened. The passions engendered by this debate of human life and death had finally, tragically, overtaken one of us. But what we then discovered shocked us: the pro-life murderer was not pointing to passion as the cause of his crime but was in fact denying a crime had occurred at all. He believed himself morally justified in what he had done because Gunn was an abortionist. We were further shocked to hear voices in the pro-life movement agreeing with him. Others, including a Roman Catholic priest, had the moral clarity to condemn his actions, but added the mitigating statement that his actions would in the future save babies from Dr. Gunn’s hands, thus indirectly justifying the deed anyway. ·
It is hard for most of us to envision God applauding this person’s action, clapping him on the back and exclaiming “Good shot!” But it is not difficult to imagine a teammate doing just that. And what a teammate! “Lord knows, if we are to win this thing we need God on our side,” says the pro-lifer, and away he goes to “off” an abortionist. With “God on our side” there are many things we can do, from bombing clinics to destroying clinic equipment to screaming “murderer” at a pregnant woman entering the abortuary. But the conflict surrounding abortion is not a game between teams but rather a fight between the elemental forces of good and evil. That is not a battle mere humans are meant to win or lose. The choice presented to us in this fundamental struggle is to fight either against Light, or Darkness, and to do so until we pass on from this existence. Far greater forces than us will eventually win, and lose. And the fact that we have already been told the outcome, that Good will triumph over Evil, does not give us the right or the excuse to attempt to hurry that outcome along in our own time, by our own devices. The choice which is presented to us, in this abortion battle, is not ultimately about which side we are on but whether we desire to lose our soul, or save it.
* * * * *
On a filthy street in a decrepit part of town in a city called Calcutta a small woman hovers over a dying man. She does not ask what this man had done with his life, nor does she care what his politics are. If he were Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin I do not think she would hesitate to help him. She rescues child molester and child protector alike. She does it because it is the right thing to do, the moral thing, the Godly thing, if you will.
What Mother Teresa does not do is lead a crusade whose goal is to end poverty in the world. We do not see her on Phil Donahue exhorting people to contribute to her organization which will end poverty and hunger by the year 2000. She does not do this because she knows a simple truth, that the poor will always be with us, and that we are not meant to create a Heaven on earth. Besides, God has sent her plenty that comes right to her door step. She knows that if everyone helped a few people around them, we might actually come close to performing the impossible. Still, such ruminations are not for her, as she and her helpers move from dying body to dying body.
. . . It is our pride that whispers to us that abortion is such a horrible thing that we must end it. It is pride that further whispers to us that we can end it, and that we have the power. We are fooled in some cases because we struggle to eschew obvious self-pride which is easily seen and in fact pride ourselves on our efforts to practice humility. But as soon as we listen to the whisperings, as soon as we believe that we can win this frightful war, there is almost nothing that some of us won’t do, to make victory possible (including shooting a human being down in broad daylight) … Once we allow pride to have its way with us by actually thinking that we can (and even must) win this struggle it is no longer a question of whether we will compromise but rather how much The ultimate responsibility for the world rests on shoulders far bigger than ours. This does not release us from responsibility but instead focuses our attention on our individual responsibility to do what is right, what is moral. When we suffer losses in the political fight over abortion we can shrug them off because a) we know we will ultimately win (although not necessarily in our lifetimes), and b) we aren’t expecting to win anyway. It is right to fight abortion, not because you can win, but because of what abortion is.
* * * * *
A Washington Post story dated April 8 tells of an old woman being called at 3 o’clock in the morning by a man informing her that her son, a 47- year-old abortionist, has been killed in a car accident. The man identifies himself as a state trooper. The phone call is a lie, and Dr. Frank Snydle comes home several hours later to find his mother hysterical. His mother is 80 years old, and has a heart condition. Her crime? Her son performs abortions. His car windows have been smashed, and his home and office picketed The Post reports that “Wanted” posters featuring a $1,000 re ward for information leading to his arrest or the revocation of his medical license have been circulated widely . . . The posters also list his mother’s address and phone number and the license plate for two ex-girlfriend’s cars.
. . . Little is said [by pro-lifers] about such events because of the desire to present to the press a unified front, as much as possible. Also there is understandably a great reluctance to chastise fellow pro-lifers, not least because with some groups such criticism can be answered with outraged cries of treason. But partly because there isn’t swift condemnation from within the ranks when such acts are perpetrated, these abuses have been increasing. Dr. Gunn’ s murder, rather than being the culmination of such acts, may be only a new beginning.
. . . It will be difficult for many to accept that their best-intended efforts to rid the world of a tragic wrong can be in themselves wrong. It is so easy for those of us who believe we are on the right side to look the other way whenever the fight against abortion seems to call for questionable methods. Furthermore, the willing performance of immoral acts will more often than not produce consequences undesired by the perpetrators. Terror did not ultimately convince the world of Hitler’s rightness, nor did it work for the Soviets. But Jesus Christ continues to win converts 2,000 years after His death, with a message of peace, love and compassion. The pro-lifer who uses terror tactics, such as picketing doctors’ homes or calling in anonymous death threats may succeed in stopping that doctor from performing abortions, but he will not have converted that doctor’s heart. Certain abortionists (and a few of their clients) have reported that the violent behavior of some of the pro-lifers has increased their resolve to defend abortion. In short, as all dictators have discovered, if you win by terror your victory lasts only as long as you have the energy to maintain the terror. That is not how we should be trying to win this struggle.
A woman who is looking for help and understanding is certainly not going to appreciate the fact that the people she has turned to have lied to her. Perhaps some women will accept the argument that the abortion situation makes such lying necessary. But many won’t. They are looking for people to trust and that trust has been violated. Some of these women will leave, and their babies will be lost. And word will spread, and other women won’t even try, believing that the pro-lifers are as much liars as the abortionists.
Blowing up clinics, or fire-bombing them, or even breaking in and destroying equipment, may seem to some acceptable guerilla tactics to win this war. But what gives us the right to potentially put people in danger to further our cause? How does the midnight bomber really know the clinic is empty, or that the explosion won’t hurt someone a block away? The same holds true for the arsonist-what if the whole block is destroyed and people are killed? In destroying equipment one runs the risk that an item may not be thoroughly damaged, and may be used on a woman, injuring or killing her. Even if these events aren’t likely, who are we to take such risks? Besides, even if these actions are successful in stopping one clinic from performing abortions, you have not produced true converts, only resentful people reluctantly complying, for now, with what is demanded of them but vowing to get even someday. And another clinic across town or across the country continues its work.
Public perception is a crucial element in any struggle in the public square. It is so much harder to prove your position if the populace is not sympathetic to your side. Currently, to the dismay of many, pro-lifers are being perceived as angry, violent radicals who will hurt you if you don’t agree with them. This perception is unfair when applied to the anti-abortion movement in toto but it accurately defines an increasing minority.
. . . The answer to all this is a Chestertonian paradox. In order to win this struggle we must avoid trying to win it. We must do what we do against abortion not because this or that action will secure us a victory but because it is right to perform that action. We can fight endlessly for good, moral legislation to save unborn children, but with the willingness to lose a fight rather than sacrificing principles to win. We can try to remember Christian charity and compassion for those among us who are risking their chances of eternal happiness by fighting against God. Instead of hating these people, and trying to hurt or terrify them, we should be praying for them, and treating them with the basic civility Christians used to be known for. The children they are complicit in killing go to God. The real victims are those people who, either by their own volition or the persuasion of another, are through their actions repeatedly driving a knife through their own souls. We must continue to educate, to provide the calm voice of reason and logic to counter the often hysterical rantings of the other side.
We must try to “play this game ” as if we were on God’s team, trying to follow His coaching, and not as if we were coaching God.
* * * * *
If I were coaching God, Robert would have won his fight with cancer, and be here to write this himself. I and many others certainly lobbied hard for that. But the worldly failure, for us believers, is really Robert’s gain, because he is with God. And, whether you are a religious person or not, Robert’s thoughts may help to make sense of setbacks in a struggle for the good. When our attempts
to educate the world about abortion seem to fail, we have to remember that lives are saved one at a time, and that, successful or not, we may not abandon the moral path. Hatred and violence only hurt our cause and harden people’s hearts.
Robert’s way of hope and faithful perseverance is the only way to truly win.
Maria McFadden, a.k.a. Mrs. Robert E. Maffucci, is our new Executive Editor.