John Paul had a prophetic message on the role of post-abortion women in the pro-life movement

I was in primary school when Evangelium Vitae was promulgated twenty years ago today. Over the years, it has become my all-time favourite papal encyclical. As a pro-life manifesto, it informs, edifies and encourages. Quite an achievement because a lot of pro-life texts that reveal the nastiness of abortion should have a warning label that they’ll make the reader feel dispirited.

Not all tonics come in bottles, and if you are feeling worn out from fighting the pro-life cause, there is no better pick-me-up than reading Evangelium Vitae.

One reason that it is so uplifting is that Evangelium Vitae put forward great ideas that have been adopted by pro-lifers to tremendous success. One of the best was that St John Paul II tapped post-abortion women as having an influential role. Two decades ago, St John Paul II said to them, ‘as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life.’ This has turned out to be prophetic.

We have seen this in recent years with the growth of such noble organisations as Silent No More, Rachel’s Vineyard and the platforms afforded to post-abortion women by parishes and pro-life societies. The advent of the internet has allowed post-abortion women to blog, tweet and put up Facebook statuses that can change the minds of other women who may be thinking of abortion.

It is often quite a heroic sacrifice for post-abortion women to talk about their past, often times they do not paint themselves in a good light. Some of the women have suffered more than others; those who took to substance abuse or those who were never able to conceive another baby. They are being selfless in that they do not want another woman to endure the pain of an abortion and so they speak out, honouring their consciences even at great personal cost.

Very articulate women have come forward, such as Martin Luther King’s niece, Alveda King, who has remarkable calm and credibility. Steven Tyler’s ex-fiancée, Julia Holcomb, tells a harrowing story about how she came to abort Tyler’s baby that would melt the hardest of hearts.

Some years ago, when I was doing pro-life work in New York, I worked alongside an African American lady who had undergone an abortion in her younger years. She was extraordinary in convincing young black women not to have abortions, sharing her own testimony with them and shattering the myths that they would be ‘empowered’ by abortion. First-hand, I saw that she saved dozens of babies.

Women who bitterly regret having had an abortion, and who honestly and with great humility admit their mistake, are a thorn in the side of the pro-abortion lobby.  It is easier to attack an argument, a moral precept or a slogan than a subjective personal experience. Yet, they are often insulted as hypocrites, on the basis that they had an abortion, but speak out against it.

It’s is the pro-abortion campaigners that are the hypocrites, they say they champion women’s rights, but they censor a post-abortion woman’s right to free speech. It is precisely because, as St John Paul II said, these women can be ‘eloquent defenders’ of the right to life that they rattle the pro-abortion providers who took the right to life from their unborn children.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald on the 20th Anniversary of the promulgation of Evangelium Vitae


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