I can thank pro-life lawyer Angela Costigan for this quote. She used it in her talk at the July 1990 “Challenge of the 90’s International Pro0Life Conference,” in Ottawa. What follows will explain why I find this saying relevant to the present pro-life sentiment in Canada.
About mid-July, I left for Ireland just after Bill C-43 had been passed by parliament. As I was celebrating the golden jubilee of my ordination to the priesthood, I had no time to keep in touch with happenings in Canada. But since my return a few weeks ago, I have detected what I might call a “What’s the use” atmosphere among pro-life people. One senses a defeatist attitude which, while not expressed in words, shows itself in lack of action and even in a lessening of financial support for Campaign Life Coalition. It this state of mind were expressed in words it would say something like this:
“We have worked our butts off for the past twenty years or so in the pro-life cause. We have talked, written, picketed, gone to jail. And it has all been for nothing. We have lost. So let’s accept defeat with dignity and get on with the living of life in other less contentious areas.”
I sincerely hope that I am wrong in my assessment of the situation. But if I am even partly correct, it would be a tragedy. Quitters don’t win: and we’ve got to win!
The lessons of history
The history of opposition to slavery in American and the British colonies is a great example of heroic adherence to a cause. In spite of tremendous opposition and many lost battles, the abolitionists never gave up the struggle for the rights of the black people – who were born into slavery by the mere fact of their colour.
The following quote from The Crusade to Freedom in America, will give some idea of the thickness of the social stone wall which the abolitionists faced:
“The slave is a slave because he has black skin. We dare not educate or instruct him in religion because it would increase his desire for freedom. People who spoke out and were mobbed, hanged or tarred and feathered had only themselves to blame.”
A Louisiana law (1883), stated that “Whosoever in any public discourse from the bar, the bench, the pulpit, the stage or any other public place whatsoever, shall make use of language…having a tendency to produce discontent among the coloured population, shall suffer imprisonment and hard labour not less than three years and not more than twenty-one years or death at the discretion of the court.”
The Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that: “The criminal offence of assault and battery cannot be committed on the person of a slave – for he is mere chattel and his right to personal protection belongs to his master.”
In the famous – or infamous – Dred Scott Case (1857), the U.S. Supreme Court, by a majority of 7 to 12, confirmed the “non-person status of slaves” settling the issue once and for all – or so they thought! The judge – a Catholic – publicly chided the anti-slavery people for attempting to impose their morality on others. He pointed out to them that slavery was legal as the Supreme Court had stated and that they were not forced to own slaves themselves. Ring a bell?
We shall overcome
Yet, in spite of this – naturally speaking – insuperable opposition, the abolitionists never gave up the struggle; it was a long, long journey. In 1671, the Quakers began their active opposition to slavery. And slavery was not legally abolished until 1865 by the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That was almost two centuries later. If courageous people had “thrown in the towel” because the situation seemed hopeless, we might still have slavery today. But they stuck to their guns and eventually were victorious.
One of the best examples of am man who never quit is the great Englishman, William Wilberforce. His heroic work for the abolition of slavery in the British Dominions is recorded in The Man who Freed the Slaves, by Audrey and Herbert Lawson. Wilberforce’s Evangelical Christianity spurred him to devote his considerable oratorical and organizing abilities to the changing of the social mind of England towards the horror and injustice of slavery. His fearless speeches in the British House of Parliament were probably more responsible than anything else for the ending of slavery in the British possessions. He never saw the success of his efforts. The Slavery Abolition Act of Britain was passed one month after his death in 1833.
If there is anything worse than slavery, it is abortion. Slavery deprives the victim of freedom. Abortion deprives the victim of life. Countless people over the centuries have considered freedom more precious than life and have chosen death rather than renounce it. Of the two I believe abortion is the worse because you can always free a slave. But, they are very closely allied. Here is a quotation from Abortion and Slavery, a book by Dr. John Willke, President of the U.S. National Right to Life Committee:
“For a non-legal person, total control by the owner was the bottom line. It was against the law to teach a slave how to read. Slaves were not allowed freedom of assembly or the religion of their choice. It was illegal for them to marry. They could not own anything.”
Since the unborn child is a non-legal person he or she, like the slave, is deprived of all the above mentioned rights by a stroke of the abortionist’s weapon.
Pro-life equals abolitionist
Pro-lifers are the abolitionists of today. And, like the original abolitionists, they must never think of quitting. I think we can take example from our pro-life friends in the United States. In spite of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which appeared to settle the abortion on demand question forever, they did not quit. Rescues have been going on all over the States. People have been arrested, tortured by the police, spat upon and jailed for months. As I write, I believe that Joan Andrews is in jail again, probably for the 50th time. We can’t all be Joan Andrews, but we can all be inspired by her example to do what is within our power and ability.
According to a report in the June Advocate, more than half a million pro-lifers took part in the “Rally for Life ‘90” in Washington during Holy Week. They were addressed by the President and the Vice-President. Since I began writing this column, I have watched the U.S. news (July 24th). The pro-abortionists are very alarmed by the proposed replacement of Justice William Brennan on the Supreme Court. He is David Souter and is considered a “conservative” and they are terrified that he might just turn the tables on Roe v. Wade.
By the time you read this column, you will know whether or not he was accepted by the House of Representatives. But I am convinced that, without the courageous and persistent activity of U.S. pro-lifers, neither the politicians nor the pro-abortionists would be so concerned about the issue. I detect an almost imperceptible turning of the tide in America. It cost so much to restore human rights to the black people in America. It may take the same to restore human dignity to the unborn. What about us in Canada? Are we going to withdraw from the fray and leave our defenseless unborn babies at the mercy of their enemies? God forbid! Remember: “Winners never quit and quitters never win!”