By Ed Harpring
I attended my first National Right to Life (NRL) Convention at the Galt House June 26-28. In total, there were over 1,000 participants, approximately 100 pro-life speakers and more than 70 educational sessions.
Having never attended the national convention, I didn’t know what to expect. Research on the convention brought a wide-range of perspectives and opinions ranging from the convention being nothing more than a “partisan political pep rally” to “the premier pro-life educational event of the year.”
However, what I experienced was something quite different and altogether inspiring. The conference was highly educational and, while sprinkled with some partisan politics, provided deep insights into some of the major obstacles faced by the pro-life movement.
With that being said, the biggest impact of the conference was a refreshing and surprising array of heart-felt personal testimonies and life-affirming talks across the full spectrum of life issues.
Noteworthy educational pro-life topics included contraceptive dangers, elderly/disability advocacy, abortion, euthanasia, ethical end-of-life treatments, the Affordable Care Act, chronic illnesses and stem cell research. Some surprising and startling “life-issue” facts emerged from the educational sessions:
- Coerced abortion accounts for nearly 75% of all abortions.
- There are no laws, church denominations or right-to-life groups who insist that unnecessary, heroic or truly futile treatments be provided to prolong life.
- The World Health Organization has named the birth control pill a Group 1 Carcinogen.
- 92% of Down Syndrome children are aborted.
- Unlike embryonic stem cell research which destroys human embryos, adult stem cells (ethically derived from human tissue) have cured at least 73 different diseases including sickle cell anemia, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s and several forms of cancer, leukemia and arthritis.
- 70% of people with disabilities fear pressure to end their lives if assisted suicide becomes legal.
These grim statistics certainly call all of us to continue to be vigilant in protecting life in all its stages. For me, even more gripping were the heart-wrenching and astonishing stories that were part of the conference.
Three inspirational personal testimonies stood out that powerfully demonstrated the fragility and dignity of human life.
The first moving talk, entitled “The Myth of the Unwanted Child,” was presented by Joleigh Little, who works at NRL. She described her tumultuous journey to adopt a special needs child in Eastern Europe. As a pro-lifer, she urged all who value life to help save lives by adopting children, especially special needs children, who are desperate to be part of a family.
Joleigh, who is single, said she has always wanted children and realized that she was “not getting any younger.” Joleigh amusingly told us, “My significant other turned out to be a short, swarthy special needs child.” Clara, whom she adopted from Bulgaria, is now 4 years old, and is missing her leg below her knee.
While describing the orphans who were left behind, Joleigh, while upbeat and humorous, became tearful at times as she relayed, “I’ve heard every possible reason not to adopt these children. But when all of those questions have been considered, it really boils down to this: Do I have enough love? And can I afford to feed and clothe that child until he or she is able to make a living independently? If the answer to both of those critical questions is ‘yes,’ the rest can be worked out.”
The second impressive talk, “My Life’s Blessings,” was given by Melissa Ohden. Melissa described the chilling events of her survival of a five-day saline solution abortion, a method used in late-term abortions. Melissa’s mesmerizing story was not just about surviving abortion, but the subsequent roller coaster ride of life events that followed.
These include her adoption by faith-filled loving parents, her lengthy search for her biological parents, inadvertently finding the nurse who saved her life and overcoming a crisis of faith as she continued to search for the truth about her past. As she began to put the pieces of her early life together, she felt the unmistakable call from God to share this incredible story with the world. Initially she was resistant, but came to realize that God wanted her to help “transform lives by sharing my life experiences and lessons as an encouragement and example for others to embrace the life that God has written for them,” she said.
The last session, “I had an abortion! What do You Say Next?” was presented by three post-abortive women describing how we can help fragile mothers who have been hurt by abortion. These mothers courageously recounted the desperate situations that led to their abortion decisions and the devastation, depression and loneliness that followed.
One of the ladies metaphorically compared the painful and wearisome abortion healing process to the delicacy and slowness of unraveling tangled necklaces found in a jewelry box. Little by little, strands are tenderly released, and over time, the necklaces are fully straightened out and made whole again, just as Christ’s merciful love and compassion, again bring about new life.
Olivia Gans Turner, who founded American Victims of Abortion (AVA), to help post-abortive women with the healing process, summarized her pain as “damaged, scarred and scared.” She concluded the session by answering the question: “What do you say to someone who tells you she has had an abortion?”
She responded, we need to be the face of Christ and simply listen — “It is at moments like this that real wisdom is found in silence.”
The NRL Convention educational sessions certainly strengthened my understanding of the many “life” issues that we face in these trying times, but the touching personal testimonies showed me that real change begins with the heart.
Ed Harpring is coordinator of pro-life ministries for The Archdiocese of Louisville.