Anyone paying attention to the news lately can't be blamed for thinking that those who defend the lives of the unborn by opposing legal abortion are not the most loving bunch, and perhaps not the most sane. But undue focus on the aberrant acts of a crazed few can overshadow the goodness of the many.
The morning after abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered, shot in his own church, allegedly by an anti-abortion activist, the first thing I saw once inside the doors at Saint Patrick's Cathedral, the spiritual headquarters of the Catholic Church in New York City, involved abortion. And, no, it wasn't one of those gory placards you inevitably see on the news. In calming colors, I read, beside a picture of a young woman in obvious, but not overly emphasized pain: "We made the decision together. But I've never felt so alone. Abortion changes you."
That display sits on a table that also holds Mass and confession schedules, conveniently placed near the spot where security checks your bags. It's there for worshippers, haven-seekers and tourists alike to see. It directs you not only to think with compassion about the evil of abortion, but to a Web site — abortionchangesyou.com — that offers an anonymous haven for those who have lived with the consequences of choosing an abortion. The site is not sectarian or pedantic. It's a loving resource for those who otherwise feel bereft.
It's no surprise to anyone familiar with Saint Patrick's recent history that compassion would be the focus here. The cathedral used to be home to one of the foremost defenders of the lives of the innocent unborn, John Cardinal O'Connor, former cardinal of the archdiocese of New York.
O'Connor's most enduring legacy may be a religious community he established, the Sisters of Life, who spend their days praying for the protection of human life, but also doing the hard, physical work of protection—helping mothers have and raise their children, educating and loving those who made decisions they deeply regret.
O'Connor once wrote — in a comment widely quoted on pro-life blogs after Tiller's murder — "If anyone has an urge to kill someone at an abortion clinic, they should shoot me. … It's madness. It discredits the right-to-life movement. Murder is murder…You cannot prevent killing by killing." That clarity did not die when O'Connor passed away in 2000. In response to the Tiller murder, U.S. Catholic bishops have said they will pray for Tiller's family. Evangelical, Wendy Wright, the current president of Concerned Women for America, formerly of Operation Rescue, which is known for its protests outside abortion clinics, said she was "disturbed and saddened." One Catholic priest went even further, calling on readers of his diocesan newspaper to "do acts of penance and reparation to seek in some way to remedy the evil done," including, he wrote, "for the few who are taking quiet or public pleasure in Tiller's death."
Some pro-life activists, of course, don't help things. The sign at St. Patrick's and the work of the Sisters won't make major headlines anytime soon. Instead, quoted all over is Randall Terry, who does not speak for me or most of the pro-life activists I know, saying in the immediate wake of the Tiller shooting: "George Tiller was a mass-murderer. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller's killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions."
Abortion is murder. But that was not the press release to send out in response to a man's brutal slaying. I was not "more concerned" about politics, as real and true as the concern may be. Terry is in no way responsible for Tiller's murder, and that he would be overwhelmingly upset by what Tiller did is justified. But he needs to know that his statement is inevitably going to drown out the principled but merciful responses. It's just the way the media frenzy goes. In protecting human life, we must rise above that tempting distraction in order to change — and save — lives. We must oppose abortion not out of hate, but out of love, as so many do. You won't read about it in a government report and you won't hear about it on the evening news, but it's right there on 5th Avenue in the Big Apple.
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.