About Marching On

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Since there has been much march talk in the news, as Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy seems to be coopted by every “progressive” cause, most disturbingly the abortion industry, and since we just marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Nellie Gray, the founder of the March for Life, I wanted to visit in with the March for Life (it’s more than, and increasingly, one cold day in January). So I talked with Jeanne Monahan, now the March’s president, for an alternative view of women and the war that’s being waged on them in the name of equality.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: The federal government’s Government Accountability Office has recently said that it is investigating Planned Parenthood. How long overdue is this? What are your expectations? What’s the first and last question you’d want answered?

Jeanne Monahan: This is a follow-up GAO report to one from three years ago which covered up until 2009. Since that time the great work of Alliance Defending Freedom, Live Action, Family Research Council, Americans United for Life and so many other groups has shown that under this president, Planned Parenthood has been a huge priority despite increasing signs of impropriety and possible illegality. As state after state sought to dissociate itself from the abortion giant through the legislative system, this administration has stepped in with either lawyers or financial support for PPFA. Hopefully this GAO report will report on the group thoroughly and reveal to American taxpayers how their money is being used and abused in the abortion industry.

According to the organization’s latest annual report (FY 2011–12) Planned Parenthood received $542.4 million out of federal, state, and local governments last year — a $55 million bump from 2010. And judging by its $155 million surplus, the organization hardly needed the money. PPFA claims that the government money helps women, but by their own reporting, cancer screenings dropped by 29 percent in 2011–12, and the number of mammograms performed at Planned Parenthood stayed the same: zero. Most critically, despite this drop in women’s services, the number of abortions performed by the organization climbed to 333,964 —  an increase of 4,519. In just three years, Planned Parenthood has caused close to 1 million deaths through abortion — and that does not include the handful of women’s lives lost in botched abortions.

LOPEZ: How would you begin a conversation with people inclined to have warm feelings for Planned Parenthood? So that we’re heard by more than just pro-lifers?

MONAHAN: One major concern was revealed by a poll from this past spring. The poll commissioned by National Right to Life found 88 percent of respondents said that they were familiar with Planned Parenthood, with 41 percent saying that they were very familiar and 47 percent saying that they were somewhat familiar. Forty percent said they knew someone who had received services at a Planned Parenthood. Although 63 percent said that they had a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood, including 38 percent of those who identified themselves as pro-life, 55 percent of those polled did not know that Planned Parenthood performs abortions. Among the most discouraging findings of the poll: 50 percent of pro-life respondents did not know that Planned Parenthood performs abortions! Of the 45 percent who knew that Planned Parenthood performs abortions, the majority greatly underestimated the number of abortions Planned Parenthood performs annually. Too often in the pro-life community we assume everyone is as up to date on news related to the life issue as we are. By doing so, we lose people before we even begin. These are the kinds of discussions I would like to have with people who have warm feelings towards the organization. Representatives Pete Olsen (R., Texas) and Diane Black (R., Tenn) deserve kudos for requesting this report — and it should lay a good foundation for exposing Planned Parenthood for what it is — unhealthy for both babies and expectant mothers.

LOPEZ: Nellie Gray died a year ago now. What have you been reminded of or learned from her history and experience to reflect on if we want to truly help end abortion, and help mothers and fathers be mothers and fathers?

MONAHAN: Nellie Gray was a woman with a mission. After retiring from her career with the federal government in her mid forties, Nellie dedicated her entire life to the protection of the pre-born following the 1973 Supreme Court decisions in Roe and Doe. Nellie started the March for Life with a number of friends on the first anniversary of these court cases, and grew the March and surrounding activities in the years that followed. Nellie was truly united with her mission — her life was in many ways all about saving the little ones — and she did this heroically until the last moment of her life, at the age of 88 (literally — her last recorded conversation was about the March for Life). I believe that Nellie can serve as a role model especially for lay people in the world. We, too, have unique missions and vocations and are called to do our part to protect the most vulnerable among us. Nellie’s tenacity, perseverance and surrender are character traits that we can all learn from.

Nellie was also a woman of faith and hope. She prayed ardently for the conversion of those who were not like-minded on the abortion issue, and sometimes had the gift of seeing the “fruits” of her work and prayer. One example of this is from the mid 1990s, when Nellie stood at the March for Life rally podium with Dr. Bernard Nathanson (self-proclaimed architect of abortion and an abortionist); Norma McCorvey (“Roe” of Roe v. Wade), and Sandra Cano (“Doe” of Doe v. Bolton). Similarly, we can all grow in the virtue of mercy towards those who do not see eye-to-eye with us, as well as a commitment to pray for these same people.

Nellie knew well that abortion was never good, in any circumstance. In the same way, the longer I work in the pro-life movement, the more I am convinced that our role in creating a culture of life is to continue to simply “bring abortion into the light.” What I mean is that the more we can direct people to see the truth with their own eyes and hearts about both the beauty of the gift of life (through ultrasounds, great stories about adoption, etc) as well as the heinousness of abortion (hearing testimonies of former abortion clinic workers, post-abortive women, etc.), the more people will identify with being pro-life. 

LOPEZ: Do we need to do more to help encourage adoption? To help pregnant women and families see this as an attractive option?

MONAHAN: Yes! A number of years ago, Paul Swope wrote a masterful piece on the psychology of a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy, “A Failure to Communicate.” He explained adoption is viewed in a very negative light — it’s seen as a “death” by a woman facing an unexpected pregnancy, because she ultimately believes that a truly good mother would never make such a choice. While this could not be further from the truth — choosing to be a birthmother is a heroic thing — it does get to the crux of why over a million babies are aborted annually in the U.S. while only an estimated 18,000 infants are adopted. I am of the mind we need to do whatever possible to help promote adoption and, in particular, the reality that a woman who chooses to be a birthmother is making a noble decision. The March for Life will be actively involved in this issue, including co-hosting an upcoming briefing on the Hill on adoption. 

LOPEZ: What are you most excited about as head of the March for Life organization? 

MONAHAN: Every day is an adventure in this job, so it’s hard to narrow it down to one single thing. This summer we expanded our staff significantly, welcoming Tom McClusky, who will head up our legislative work, and Bethany Goodman, who will lead our Evangelical outreach and our social-media campaigns. Our ultimate goal is to impact a culture of life not only on the anniversary of Roe but every day of the year, through education, social media, coalition-building, and, soon, legislative work. Watching the March for Life organization grow in these areas and others this year has been an honor and a challenge. I am most excited to broadly watch and participate in doing our part to create a culture where no woman would ever want to choose abortion.