Martin Luther King. Mother Teresa. John Paul II. The life’s work of each of these unlikely champions was essentially to witness to the human-rights violations of their times. They did not speak from the government halls of power. They did not control personal fortunes. They did not command military forces. Yet the nonviolent witness of these ordinary people carried enough influence to inspire people around the world to question, to argue, to rally, to act. Their common method of social change was witness — the irresistible power of speaking the truth in love.
Their witness was by word and by deed. Instead of turning a blind eye to injustice and the degradation of the human person in its many forms, they did what they could, and challenged us to do the same. Rather than inciting violence, they let their love for broken humanity show forth without apology. By shining the light on the darkness in our souls and in our world, they were witnesses to man’s inhumanity to man. By becoming a living testimony to the injustices that they personally perceived, they made a profound difference.
And that is why pro-life citizens are winning in the human-rights movement against the crimes of abortion, human cloning, destructive human-embryo experiments, and euthanasia. We are winning because we have never forgotten that failing to witness is the only way we’d lose.
We are winning because the millions in this movement have continued to steadfastly witness in the courts, in the legislatures, in the media, in schools and universities, in the arena of electoral politics, and in communities of faith. Some witness around the kitchen table, or in the car driving with their children. Some witness when they hold the hand of a friend, look her in the eyes, and say, “I am here for you and your baby.”
There are witnesses who dedicate their lives to peaceful and prayerful protest in front of the abortion facilities that exploit the lives of women and destroy their children. And there are witnesses in pregnancy-resource centers who counsel to and provide practical resources for women in unexpected pregnancies.
There are witnesses who advocate with maximum determination in the courtrooms and legislatures, and there are witnesses who organize fellow students to stand for the counter-cultural position that human life is not a cheap commodity.
There are witnesses who respect their vocation to heal by refusing to participate in life-destructive medical practices, and there are witnesses who give psychological and spiritual counsel those who have fallen prey to the lie of abortion.
There are witnesses who teach our young adults that human sexuality is a profoundly meaningful mutual gift of self that expresses the human call to love and be loved, rather than a casual sport that reduces men and women to objects to use and be used.
The hundreds of thousands who witness in today’s March for Life in Washington, D.C. and in other cities follow in the powerful and effective tradition of nonviolent civil protest. As they march for the principles of human dignity and equality, they represent the millions of unsung heroes who in countless ways serve as witnesses to the human lives devastated by 35 years of Roe v. Wade’s court-imposed regime of abortion on demand.
The witnesses who support the cause with their financial resources are indispensable witnesses to love — love that is defined by one human being making a sincere gift for another without expecting anything in return.
Those on the sidelines may not perceive the victories won each day in minds changed, laws made, hearts melted, and lives saved. But those of us who enter and remain in this cultural battle must remember the lesson from history that it is the witness that wins. Theodore Roosevelt probably said it best in his 1910 speech at the Sorbonne in Paris:
It is not the critic who counts,
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled,
or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena;
whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again;
who knows the great enthusiasms,
the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy course;
who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly;
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who know neither victory or defeat.
In the tradition of nonviolent civil action, those who witness against the culture of death are succeeding in building a legacy of love for the least amongst us. By refusing to be silent, countless human lives have been and will continue to be saved. Today, the witnesses for life recommit to the mission of making abortion and other life-destructive medical practices unthinkable, unnecessary and illegal. We recommit as an act of witness to the millions whose lives were lost but never forgotten.
— Dorinda C. Bordlee and Nikolas T. Nikas are attorneys and co-founders of Bioethics Defense Fund, a public interest law firm that advocates against the human-rights violations of abortion, human cloning/destructive embryo experiments, and physician-assisted suicide through litigation, legislation and education.