When I was at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, one thing I did on a regular basis was have conversations with leaders of national anti-abortion organizations. I did so in the hopes that they would get a better understanding of the abortion process, the abortion doctors and the women who desired abortions. If I had any kind of agenda, it was the hope that if these leaders understood more about the reality of abortion, they might be more inclined to tone down their rhetoric a little (and thus be less likely to incite some would-be assassin). Also, to be honest, it was a good way for me to test my debating skills.
One person I spoke to on a regular basis was Father Frank Pavone, the Director of “Priests for Life.” We
met maybe twice a year formally and occasionally ran into each other at protests and other events. I know that Frank was always grateful for my candor. I have to admit it was often a one way conversation in that I was trying to educate him on why clinics did what they did. Still, he always said that he got a lot out of our conversations, but who knows?
One day, during one of our meetings, he asked if I might be interested in meeting with a bunch of “his folks.” Not being shy, I said I’d meet with anyone. So, he invited me to come up to Staten Island to his “national headquarters” to meet with a group of his priests and staff. I jumped at the opportunity.
When I arrived at his office I was warmly greeted by the receptionist and other staff. I have no doubt they were alerted to the fact that I was coming. I wasn’t nervous at all. Indeed, I felt like some of them were more nervous than me. I have to say I was excited about being in the “lion’s den.” Frank eventually came out, got me a cup of coffee and we talked for a bit in his private office. He then walked me down the hall to a large conference room.
Seated around a conference table were about 20 priests. I sat at the head of the table. It was a very strange feeling (as a former Catholic) to be surrounded by them but I was not nervous at all. I was totally ready for any of their questions.
I kidded around about being a “former Catholic” then went into a 20 minute monologue. I talked about who our doctors were and what motivated them, I admitted that there were bad doctors that we wished we could close down, I confessed that our clinics are not perfect, that some women do ultimately regret their abortions, that abortion is a form of killing, that late term abortions, although rare, were “gross,” that I totally defended their right to protest at a clinic, that women know they are aborting some kind of “life”, that our clinics tried desperately to make sure the woman never came back, that some doctors do make a nice living but that a lot of them gave away their services, that the number of abortions fortunately was going down and that a number of clinic staff also talk to their local antis.
When I was done, I apologized for going on so long and said I’d be happy to answer any questions.
You could hear a pin drop. Cue the crickets.
Indeed, it got very awkward so I chimed in and said “C’mon folks, hit me with everything you got!” They chuckled and Frank looked around and said “any questions?”
Ultimately, one young priest shyly raised his hand and said “Do you know Doctor Tiller?
I said I did. Waiting for some zinger about third trimester abortions, I braced myself for the follow-up.
“Well, what is he really like?”
This is it? This was their tough question?
I answered the question but while I was talking, I realized what I had just done. I had thought of practically every charge or accusation that they could come up with and answered all of them as honestly and candidly as possible. I laid it all on the table. Geez, I had told the priests that abortion was “killing” and, after that, they didn’t know what to say in response.
Ultimately, at one point some older priest with an edge to him asked me about the “partial birth abortion” procedure. I first surprised him when I said that the procedure, as described by the anti-abortion movement, was basically accurate. That surprised them because they were used to hearing the pro-choice groups say that there was no such thing as a “partial birth abortion.” I said I don’t care what you call it but there is such a procedure. I then I added that I felt that in some ways the PBA was a more “humane” form of abortion because the fetus was left intact and it gave the mother the opportunity to see it and say “goodbye.”
You could have cut it with a knife.
All in all, it was an exhilarating experience for me. Frank later told me that it was “fascinating.” Whether or not it made any difference is beyond me. But what it did teach me is that advocates of abortion rights just need to be brutally honest about abortion, not try to sugarcoat things and just trust women to make the right decision.