When Judie Brown, President of the American Life League Inc., was invited on TV’s Phil Donahue Show a few years ago (with Faye Wattleton, President of Planned Parenthood), he introduced her by saying, “This woman, Judie Brown, believes you should be chaste outside of marriage. Can you believe it? Is this possible? But wait a minute. With all that venereal disease out there maybe she’s on to something. Maybe she’s right.”
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Judie Brown, 47, has that kind of effect on people. She tells the truth, however unpopular, in a forthright manner, supported by facts, humour and compassion. Although she’s been on several major TV shows like 60 Minutes, Oprah and 20/20 and seems outwardly calm, she says, “Each time I still feel sick to my stomach.”
But she learns as she goes.
For example, when she appeared on 60 Minutes, CBS flew her to New York City from Washington, D.C. where she did a one-hour interview. 60 Minutes aired thirty seconds of it. After that experience she decided to give live interviews only. That type of business decision, (based on economy of time, energy, travel) is typical of her – and of the American Life League, a pro-life organization designed along corporate lines, which reflects her own earlier experience in the marketplace.
New pro-life corporation
In 1979, Judie, her husband, Paul, and four other couples founded their own organization, the American Life League (ALL). They parted ways with the then dominant U.S. pro-life organization, The National Right to Life Committee, because of its muted position on the link between contraception and the abortion mentality.
Begun by ten people, the ALL now has 250,000 members and sixty-three affiliates (including ones in Kelowna, B.C., Poland and Africa). All must adopt its basic philosophy: “God is the author of life and you will not compromise.”
A modern, business-like organization, it has up-to-date technology (hot lines, fax machines), its own publishing and telecommunications centre, and a staff of 65 paid employees, (often heads of households such as single parents who work on a part- or flex-time basis).
It uses professionals for certain jobs; for example, the Treasurer of the Board is a business consultant (as is Judy’s husband, who has given them valuable advice over the years).
The Board is composed of five of the original members who began the organization over a decade ago. As president, Judie speaks for them all when she says their ‘corporation’ exists not to make a profit but to protect life. That’s why they work against abortion – they are in the business of saving babies.
Political and educational
The organization is both political and educational and it uses modern methods of communication to spread their message. For example, the ALL publishes its own popular pro-life magazine All About Issues, which is the largest of its kind (circulation 250,000 in 51 countries).
Judie is very pleased, too, about their latest project, “Celebrate Life,” a weekly, half-hour TV program, which will have a satellite hook-up to 150 Christian stations, and a format comparable to 60 Minutes (interviews and pro-life news analysis). In keeping with their corporate approach, 52 professionally-done shows will be produced for the low budget of $600,000, funded 99 per cent by private donations.
During a pause, when asked if she likes her high-profile, busy job, Judie says, “I don’t see it as a job but as a vocation. I believe God has called my husband and me to do this work. We feel compelled to do it for the kids.” In fact, her 23 years in pro-life work began when the couple had their first baby.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Judie attended Catholic schools and obtained a degree in English and Psychology from the University of California in Los Angeles. After graduation, she worked for K-Mart stores as an internal auditor and supervised forty stores in seven different states. She met her husband, Paul, who was a store designer, at work and romance blossomed. They were married in 1967 and are now the parents of three children: Hugh, 23, Cathy, 20 and Christie, 17.
Early in their marriage while living in Washington, they attended Mass one Sunday with their one-month-old baby, Hugh. The sermon was on the effort to liberalize abortion laws in that state.
They were appalled.
After Mass, an appeal was made for people to distribute pro-life leaflets door-to-door. They responded – and so began their twenty-three years of pro-life activism.
In those early years the young couple moved to several places, but wherever they went Judie volunteered with a pro-life organization or with Birthright.
When they settled near Washington, D.C. (they live in nearby Stafford, Virginia), she joined the National Right to Life committee and became part-time director of Public Relations. However, a year later, she left because of the organization’s unwillingness to address the issue of contraception.
“It was an untenable position for me not to recognize the connection between the rash of birth control and abortions,” she says.
Life has not always been smooth for Judie. A few years after she became president of the American Life League, she faced a personal crisis. In 1968, at age 40, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and required immediate surgery. The night before her operation, in her home with family and a few friends, their family priest said Mass, and gave her the last rites and the group invoked the intercession of St. Gerard, patron of worried mothers. Remarkably, she recovered fully from the surgery and apparently from the cancer.
She considers her healing a miracle and has since attended daily Mass. “My illness was God’s way of telling me to reorganize my priorities by putting my family first and my pro-life work second,” she says.
Although she no loner has an office at her home or takes phone calls there, the demands are many. For example, barely six weeks after her surgery, the Washington Post (magazine section) decided to do a story on her.
They assigned a reporter, Walt Harrington, to follow her around for a day. It happened to be Hugh’s birthday and he was playing football that afternoon. Judie brought him a birthday cake and delivered it to the gym – with Walt tagging along. She dreaded the story he would write. However, to her astonishment, it turned out to be one of the nicest ever written about her and the organization.
Still, despite the demands of her pro-life work, she says blessings abound for her and her family: her personal healing, the flourishing of her husband’s business while others have failed, and the well-being of the children.
What she finds most painful about her position is not the work, but “the manipulation of the grassroots by politicians and even the clergy. When they compromise we lose babies,” she says.
On the other hand, her rewards are meeting wonderful pro-life people in her many travels. “They are terribly unselfish, totally compassionate and willing to sacrifice,” she says. “It just seems to be part of their pro-life ethic.”
As their representative, perhaps that’s why Phil Donahue found her so refreshing. By speaking the truth she stands out in the crowd.