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PAVONE AND KING: The civil rights front line is now in the womb
Americans are spurning abortion as their parents rejected discrimination
It was during the March for Life in 2003 in Washington, D.C., that the two of us first marched together, based on our shared belief that the pro-life movement is the civil rights movement of the 21st century. Now in 2014, as our nation prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are seeing history repeat itself, and it gives us hope.
The year 1964 was an important one for minorities in America. It began with Lyndon Johnson's declaration of a "War on Poverty" in January, and ended with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in December. Right in the middle, in sweltering heat of a Washington summer, President Johnson signed one of the most historic bills this nation has ever seen.
Crafted by President John Kennedy, the Civil Rights Act did not take shape overnight. The need for a radical change in the federal government's "hands off" policy that allowed for the unequal treatment of blacks in the southern states started to become obvious in 1945, when the contributions of African-American servicemen during World War II came to light. Every year from 1945 until 1957, Congress tried, unsuccessfully, to pass a Civil Rights Act. When the focus turned to voting rights, momentum picked up and Congress was able to enact the first Civil Rights Act.
The Dirksen Center, in its comprehensive history of the 1964 Act, notes that the earlier acts, in 1957 and 1960, "made moderate gains for minorities. More importantly, they foreshadowed increasing support for more substantial civil rights guarantees in the 1960s and contributed to a climate of opinion favoring these guarantees."
We find ourselves in a similar place today in the pro-life movement. There is increasing support for the rights of the unborn, reflected in virtually every poll undertaken this century. There is a climate of opinion that abortion hurts women, fed in part by the voices of women who have had abortions and know the terrible reality of choice. Congress is taking increasingly strong steps to move our nation closer to the protection of children in the womb.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2014 would prevent taxpayer money from funding an action that vast majorities of the American public find reprehensible and that, even if they are willing to permit, they do not favor paying for.
The Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act would protect children in the womb from being killed based on discrimination toward that child's gender or race, and would also protect mothers from being coerced to have their children killed because of the child's gender or race.
Finally, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would protect children in the womb from 20 weeks of development forward based on the scientific evidence that such children are capable of feeling pain.
Abortion supporters and like-minded lawmakers are fond of saying none of these bills has a chance at becoming law. However, having a president unwilling to sign the legislation is not reason to fail to introduce it, begin the debate, and have the votes that will put lawmakers on record as to where they stand on these issues. This is a process that can take years; moreover, the important midterm elections this November will likely gain more momentum for such bills.
The federal government's willingness to discuss protections for the unborn is very much like the government's shift, a generation ago, away from Jim Crow laws and toward civil rights for all Americans.
Another important similarity between the climate in the early 1960s and now is that both eras saw an increase in activism. More people are getting involved in the pro-life movement at the grassroots level, and are doing so from very diverse backgrounds, including atheists, secular humanists, and the homosexual community.
Also, when the nightly news brought scenes of African-Americans being beaten, sprayed with water hoses and set upon by dogs into white America's living rooms, opinions began to change in favor of civil rights. So it was when Americans were shown the reality of late-term abortion through the lens of the abortionist Kermit Gosnell's murder trial Philadelphia last year. Many media outlets had to be prompted to cover the story, but when they did, Americans were horrified at pictures of full-term babies with their necks slashed, and testimony about aborted babies drowning in toilets and gasping for air.
Support for late-term abortion is at a record low and outrage about taxpayer-funding for abortion, fueled by anti-Obamacare sentiment, is growing. We believe that these chinks in the armor of choice will lead to greater protections for all the unborn.
Just as those civil rights crusaders of a generation ago dared to let themselves dream of a day when an African-American could hold the highest office in the land, today's civil rights leaders look forward to a day when a child in the womb could simply hold the right to be born.
In a 1967 Christmas sermon, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "The next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. ... Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such . And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won't exploit people, we won't trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won't kill anybody."
As we wind down the observances of Black History Month 2014, we vow to work harder, together to protect the unborn from the iron feet of oppression.
Father Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life. Alveda King is director of African-American Outreach at Priests for Life.
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