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The Pro-Life Movement: “light keepers in a time of darkness.”

by | Sep 27, 2019

By Dave Andrusko

When I can squeeze it in, I try to catch remarks delivered by the uniformly pro-abortion Democrats running to be their party’s nominee to take on pro-life President Trump.

Over lunch today, I sat down in front of my monitor and listened to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) deliver her brief speech to the New Hampshire Democratic Party Convention which took place September 7 in Manchester.

What first grabbed my attention was the music Rep. Gabbard chose to have played as she came up on stage. “Oh, Freedom” by the Golden Gospel singers.

It was a natural lead in, because she began her remarks with an immediate reference to the Gettysburg Address and President Lincoln’s never to be forgotten passage in which, in the context of all the carnage at Gettysburg, he talked about “a new birth of freedom” for our nation.

Unfortunately, that Gabbard’s noble beginning fed into the usual usual denunciation of the usual usual targets.

But Rep. Gabbard’s allusion instantly made me think of what many people believe is the single greatest speech ever delivered at a National Right to Life Convention—high praise indeed for there have been many stirring addresses. I am referring to the remarks of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus at the 1982 convention.

In his remarks Fr. Neuhaus, for many years the editor in chief of the influential “First Things” magazine, gave great meaning and currency to the convention’s theme: “A new birth of freedom.” His death in January 2009 was an immeasurable loss.

The following is the story I wrote that appeared in the July 1982 edition of National Right to Life News.


The Pro-Life Movement today stands as the principle defender of the historically radical belief that “every person has an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Reverend Richard Neuhaus told an overflow audience at the 1982 NRLC National Convention.

Rebutting the stereotype of the Movement as a reactionary force Neuhaus argued that on the contrary the pro-life movement is radical, “not by virtue of how far out it is but by virtue of how deep and central is the question it raises.”

That question, which Neuhaus said is the beginning of all moral judgment and all just law, “is simply this: ‘Who then is my neighbor?’”

Neuhaus told his audience that the outcome to the debate over abortion is fundamental. Abortion is not merely one issue among many. The answer we give to that question, Neuhaus said, will “define the America that we pass on to our children…”

A humane and progressive society is marked by an ever more expansive definition of the human community for which we accept resistibility Neuhaus said. “The American people do not subscribe to the narrow and constrictive logic of Roe v. Wade that would exclude from that community those who fail to meet the criteria for ‘meaningful human life,’” he said.

Neuhaus shrewdly observed that those who would presume to speak of “meaningful life,” or “unloved children” are saying much more about themselves than they realize.

“If we say a life is without meaning, we are not saying something about that life; we are saying something about ourselves,” he said. “Meaning is not ours to give or withhold. Meaning is there to acknowledge and revere.”

Likewise, when people speak of a child that is unloved, “we are not saying something about these children; we are saying something about our failure to love,” Neuhaus said.

Piercing the rhetoric that pro-lifers seek to “impose their morality,” Neuhaus argued that “it is more accurate to say that our goal is to restore the legitimacy of law by bringing law back into democratic conversation with the convictions of the American people.” That fundamentally necessary conversation was broken off by Roe v. Wade, Neuhaus said, “and among the victims of that broken conversation is the legitimacy of the law itself.”

Pro-life initiatives would restore the opportunity to converse. Neuhaus noted that irony of those who oppose even the consideration of a human life amendment.

“Why do our opponents so distrust the judgment of the people?” he asked.

“Why are they so afraid of the democratic process? Are their numbers so few, are their arguments so weak, that they dare not expose their case to the light of public debate in the legislatures of this land?”

The authentic liberal vision of American, he said, is one that “is hospitable to the stranger, holding out arms of welcome to those who share the freedom and opportunity we cherish.”

But, tragically, American, a land of immigrants, has closed its doors to the ultimate immigrant. Neuhaus said: the unborn child.

Those threatening newcomers “are stopped before they enter our line of moral vision,” Neuhaus said. “They are stopped early, still in the darkness of the womb, before they can force us to recognize them as ourselves, before their all too person-like appearance can lay a claim upon our comfort and maybe upon our conscience.”

In its Roe v. Wade decision, “the court invoked the darker side of our national character,” he said. “We were given license, indeed encouragement, to close our heart to the stranger, to patrol the borders of our lives with lethal weaponry.”

Later in his speech, Neuhaus again challenged the mythology that portrays pro-abortionists as a liberal, progressive force and the pro-life movement as an anti-liberal force. On the contrary, it is the members of the Movement who “are light keepers in a time of darkness.”

Indeed, “You are not the defenders of an old order but the forerunners of a world yet to be,” he noted. “What we would retrieve from the past is the promise of the future.”

Neuhaus said he believes “this great testing of the American experiment” will prevail on the side of life. “And yet, if that hope is deferred for a time, we must not be discouraged,” he said. “We are recruited for the duration, we must be long distance radicals; we must never give up.

Referring to the convention’s theme [“A New Birth of Freedom”], Neuhaus concluded, “I do not know if there will again be a new birth of freedom–for the poor, the aged, the crippled, the unborn. But we commend this cause to the One who is the maker and the sure keeper of promises, to the Lord of life.

“In that commendation is our confidence: confidence that the long night of Roe v. Wade will soon be over; confidence that the court will yet be made responsive to the convictions of a democratic people; confidence, ultimately, in the dawning of a new and glorious day in which law and morality will be reconciled and liberty will no longer war against life.”

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