On Friday night, Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum (R.) and his wife, Karen Garver Santorum, received an award from the Sisters of Life, the order of religious sisters founded by the late John Cardinal O’Connor in 1991. The Sisters were established, according to the late cardinal archbishop of New York, to “restore to all society a sense of the sacredness of human life.” (To read more about the Sisters, click here.)
The John Cardinal O’Connor Award was given to the Santorums in recognition of “the courage, nobility, and love with which they live their vocation to marriage and family life,” Mother Agnes Mary, the superior general (a former professor at the Teacher’s College at Columbia University) of the Sisters of Life said. “They have publicly witnessed to a private suffering shared by many families throughout the world.” In 1998, Mrs. Santorum published Letters to Gabriel, a memoir of her pregnancy and the 20-week life of their fourth child, Gabriel Michael Santorum. Gabriel was born prematurely and died two hours after being delivered.
After a few weeks under an extra-hot spotlight, following comments made to an Associated Press reporter (who just happened to be married to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s campaign manager) about homosexuality and other lightening rods, the senator obviously appreciated the warm, familiar audience of mostly Northeast Corridor Catholics on Friday night. To the receptive audience, most, if not all, genuine pro-life advocates — especially the sisters, who as the senator noted with awe, are the face of love, a face the anti-abortion movement needs to be constantly and consistently and forthrightly dedicated to — the senator recounted the story of what was considered a legislative loss, but wound up a true win for human life.
It’s a story he has told a few times now — most recently at his commencement addresses this year at St. Joseph’s University and Christendom College — but that not enough people have heard. It’s a reminder that the fight is often worth the effort, even when you technically lose in the eyes of most of the world — and you may not always know the fruits of your work, either.
Here’s the story, as Santorum tells it; he was fortunate enough to find out how he won during what would have otherwise been considered a legislative defeat:
In 1998, I was on the floor of the United States Senate debating the override of the president’s veto of the partial-birth-abortion bill. The next morning was to be the vote. We did not have the votes to override the president’s veto. The debate had ended that night, it was eight o’clock. The Senate was wrapping up, but there was something inside me that felt that I had to say more, even though there was no one left in the chamber besides the presiding officers. I went back in the cloakroom and called my wife. She picked up the phone and we have six little children and they are all seemingly at once crying in the background, and I said, “Karen, the vote’s tomorrow. We are not going to win and everybody’s gone. But something tells me I need to say more.” And through the din of the children crying, she said, “well, of course, if that’s what you need to do, do it.”
So I went to the presiding officer and said, “I’ll only be a few minutes, I don’t want to keep you late.” Over an hour and a half later, I finished my talk.
….And we finished up the Senate and closed it down, and the next day the vote came, [and] not one vote changed. But five days later, I got an e-mail from a young man at Michigan State University. And this is what the e-mail said: “Senator, on Thursday night I was watching television with my girlfriend. We were flipping through the channels and we saw you standing there on the floor of the United States Senate with a picture of a baby next to you. And so we listened for a while and the more we listened the more we got interested in what you were saying. After a while I looked down at my girlfriend, and she had tears running down her face. And I asked her what was wrong, and she looked up at me and said, ‘I’m pregnant, and tomorrow I was going to have an abortion, and I wasn’t going to tell you, but I’m not going to have an abortion now.’ ”
In April of that year, a little girl was born and given up for adoption. She is four years old today. Now according to the world, when I spoke on the floor of the Senate that night, I had failed. I did not succeed. But God gave me a gift that many of you as you stand and fight the causes that you believe in may never get, He gave me the gift of knowing that faithfulness to what you believe in can lead to wonderful acts and wonderful miracles.
The Lord works in mysterious ways — even through C-SPAN.