The prolife movement is broadening.

For years, the prolife movement was stereotyped as a Catholic endeavor. Now that it is recognized as spanning all faiths, there are efforts to put it into political, instead of religious, pigeonholes.

The media, as well as proabortion leaders, consistently portray the movement as a New Right road show, relegated to the far fringes of political life. But from its beginning more than a decade ago, the prolife movement has included articulate spokesmen from the Left—pacifists, antinuclear activists, and minority leaders. Often, this is not known.

Many prolifers at the liberal end of the spectrum are frustrated—shunned by the Left, they are reticent about risking full identification with conservatives. In many cases, they have formed groups that maintain a separate identity while cooperating in broader prolife coalitions. At the January 22 March for Life each year, their presence is fleetingly seen in stray banners announcing Feminists for Life, Socialists for Life, and even Atheists for Life.

Pat Goltz, founder of Feminists for Life (FFL), was ousted from membership in the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1975 because she spoke out publicly against abortion. Her group is a network of a few thousand women who favor adding both the Equal Rights Amendment and the Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

FFL President Mary Ledbetter explains that equality for women is a priority they cannot separate from their concern for the unborn. “The inequalities women experience in society are factors in their seeking abortion,” Ledbetter says. With some notable exceptions, “right-to-life groups have sadly neglected women who get abortions,” she believes. “You have to change the hearts and minds of women. You can’t put a 24-hour guard on them.”

Her perspective differs substantially from conservative groups that tend to emphasize only the unborn child’s right to exist. Feminists are troubled by the blame some prolifers affix to women. At the 1982 March for Life, for instance, one poster held aloft said “Wanted for Murder: 1.5 million women who had abortions last year.”

Women’s rights supporters in the prolife ranks see abortion as a crime with two victims, not one, so they are active in counseling, educational efforts, and other alternative services. One group, Women Exploited, is a support group patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous for women who have had abortions and deeply regret it. FFL’s Milwaukee chapter runs a home for women and infants up to age one, and helps find housing for unwed mothers to share. Ledbetter praised Christian Action Council, a Protestant prolife group, for its crisis pregnancy centers.

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Other rationales for their opposition to abortion include what liberal groups call “consistency”—opposing nuclear war and capital punishment as well as abortion. Black prolife support arises out of an uneasy suspicion that abortion is a thinly disguised means of ridding society of unwanted minority members. Some black leaders flatly call it “genocide.” Concerns about the profit motive fueling abortion clinics and society’s oppression of its weaker members lead others to view abortion as a betrayal of true liberalism.

Speaking at the National Right to Life Committee’s annual meeting last summer, Lutheran clergyman Richard John Neuhaus said, “It really matters little whether we call ourselves liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. What matters is that we are radical. This movement is radical not by virtue of how far out it is but by virtue of how deep and central is the question it raises. That question, which is the beginning of all moral judgment and all just law, is simply this: ‘Who then is my neighbor?’ ”

Liberals on the whole appear to be profoundly divided on abortion. When The Progressive ran an articulate prolife article by writer Mary Meehan, the editor was surprised to see that the letters pouring in split almost 50–50. At the same time, many conservative prolifers are increasingly aware of the need to give themselves, as one leader put it, “an image transplant.” Even the most ideologically committed New Rightists agree. Paul Weyrich says being yoked with left-leaning groups for the sake of the unborn is a necessity. “Some see that as being in league with the Devil,” he says. “I’ve told these people, ‘God forbid that right-to-life should become strictly a New Right issue.’ Then it would be relegated to a small minority within a minority.”

Juli Loesch, president of antinuclear Prolifers for Survival, sees a growing compatibility between left-wing peace movements and the prolife position. She credits the Catholic bishops for this: “In a large, institutional way, they have pointed the way toward being prolife and liberal” due to their anticipated support for a nuclear freeze.

Among black leaders, Jesse Jackson, who directs Operation PUSH in Chicago, is perhaps the most outspoken. He has written, “How we will respect and understand the nature of life itself is the overriding moral issue not of the black race but of the human race.… In my mind serious moral questions arise when politicians are willing to pay welfare mothers between $300 and $1,000 to have an abortion, but will not pay $30 for a hot school-lunch program to the already-born children of these same mothers.”

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Many prolifers have adopted the mindset of abolitionists from the mid-1800s, who protested the legal (at the time) definition of blacks as three-fifths human, to be managed at the discretion of their owners. The arguments for slavery and “choice” are surprisingly parallel. Proponents of slavery told abolitionists to mind their own business, and not impose “personal morality” on the property rights of others.

As spiritual descendents of the antislavery movement, moderate and liberal prolifers protest what they perceive as hypocrisy on the part of other liberals. Neuhaus calls the unborn child “the ultimate immigrant,” and has reminded fellow liberals that “the humanity of a nation is measured not by the respect it shows the strong and successful but by the care it demonstrates toward the weak and the failing.”

Besides clergymen such as Neuhaus and Jackson, and authors such as Bernard Nathanson (Aborting America) and Jeremy Rifkin, left-leaning prolifers lack prominent leadership, especially among politicians. Their Senate hero, Mark Hatfield, is taking a back seat during the current session’s abortion debate. Only one of the Democratic presidential contenders for 1984 is prolife—former Gov. Reubin Askew of Florida. Yet even he has relegated the cause to the back seat so far.

On the plus side, however, prolifers believe medical advances will help persuade their proabortion colleagues to rethink the issue. Surgeons have operated successfully on unborn children; and the rate of survival among premature babies is increasing.

Public opinion on abortion remains uncertain: polls show people are as likely to support “the right to life” as they are “the mother’s right to choose,” depending on how the question is worded. Efforts to educate people out of their apathy are, fortunately, coming from all sides, not just the right wing. That may spur opinion to shift more readily.


Author Catherine Marshall Dies

Catherine Marshall LeSourd cultivated a lifelong habit of meeting God at every turn and documenting the results in her best-selling inspirational books. At the final turn in the road on March 18, she peacefully “slept her way into heaven,” a family friend said, following heart failure at a hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida. The LeSourds maintained a residence there as well as a farm in Lincoln, Virginia.

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Known professionally as Catherine Marshall, she was 68 and had suffered from a respiratory ailment that required intensive care for a month last year and again just before her death. Louis Evans, Jr., pastor of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., said, “Christendom has suffered the loss of a perceptive and powerful writer.”

Evans, along with Marshall’s son Peter John Marshall, officiated at her March 22 funeral service in Washington. She was buried next to her first husband, Peter Marshall, in Brentwood, Maryland. Since 1959, she had been married to Leonard E. LeSourd, editor of Guide-posts magazine for 28 years and currently associate publisher at Chosen Books. LeSourd encouraged her to keep her first married surname.

It was Peter Marshall’s ministry and sudden death in 1949 that led Marshall to realize her girlhood dream of becoming an author. Widowed at 35, she edited a collection of her late husband’s sermons called Mr. Jones, Meet the Master and wrote his biography, A Man Called Peter. The anthology sold out before its publication date, and the story of Peter’s life was a New York Times best seller for more than 50 consecutive weeks. In 1955, Twentieth Century-Fox made it into a movie, which became a tremendous box-office hit, detailing Peter Marshall’s two years as U.S. Senate chaplain and his previous pastoral work.

The Senate’s current chaplain, Richard C. Halverson, knew the Marshalls well. He recalls that “Peter was the preeminent preacher in the Presbyterian church in my seminary days. The influence of Peter’s life was magnified thousands and thousands of times because of her writings,” which, he says, “were a tremendous comfort to me personally.”

Comfort and inspiration flowed from Marshall’s pen, but her presence evoked challenge and exhilaration. Evans’s memory of her is one of “intellectual intensity and spiritual vitality.” He likened her to a thoroughbred: “strong and powerful, yet highly sensitive to the reins of God’s control.”

For the past 23 years, second husband Leonard LeSourd helped harness her talent, and together they produced 16 books, two of which are scheduled for future publication. Her novel Christy has sold 8 million copies, endearing her to readers whose letters she answered personally. LeSourd says “it was a rare opportunity and privilege to have those 23 years.” He warmly reminisced about conversations they shared: “We would talk about characters and plot. We’d argue and struggle. I loved it; she was so intense, always testing our beliefs and convictions.”

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Another pet project was The Intercessors, part of a nonprofit corporation the LeSourds founded. The Intercessors include about 800 people who simply covenant to pray for others. The initiative began three years ago, LeSourd explained, when Marshall said the Lord “made it clear to me I’m to learn more about intercessory prayer and do something about it.” He watched her dig into mountains of material on prayer and conduct intensive Scripture searches.

The legacy of her Bible study and spiritual growth is left to readers of her works, in which she “made Jesus very real to people,” LeSourd said. The two shared a thirst for fuller knowledge and experience of the Holy Spirit, and helped encourage the renewal movement in contemporary Christian faith.

Her best-known nonfiction works include To Live Again, Beyond Ourselves, Something More, and The Helper. Her autobiography, Meeting God at Every Turn, was published by Chosen Books in 1980. A new novel, Watershed, will be published by McGraw-Hill in 1984. Set in the 1930s, it is a fictionalized account of her preacher-father’s life and tells the story of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood of that era.

As a child, Marshall puzzled over the words of the Westminster Confession telling her that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” From the age of nine, when she received Christ at a church service conducted by her father, she centered her life in him. In her autobiography, she reflected on what she had learned:

“Even though I’m now a grandmother I know more clearly than ever that I’m still as needy and dependent on the Lord’s help as when I was a child, first hearing his voice. He has allowed me to go off on selfish tangents and wander down wrong paths, but always he meets me at every turn and brings me back to him.”


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