PUNTA GORDA | Ask good questions, tell good stories and listen. Those were three points a young, international speaker for life offered to participants of the state Respect Life Conference.
Canadian Stephanie Gray has formally debated abortion doctors and proponents of abortion at universities and organizations such as Google. As she speaks, she relies on the power of storytelling to relay the message that all life is sacred. She offered examples of storytelling to both adults and youths gathered at the statewide conference. The Venice Diocese also asked her to speak to each of the three Catholic high schools in the days after the Sept. 29 conference.
In one example, she spoke about being on a university campus where the discussion revolved around whether a woman who is impregnated through rape should be an exemption to an allowable abortion. While Gray offered salient arguments, one young woman kept questioning her points with, “Yeah, but …” She did so during the presentation and afterwards when the two had a private discussion.
It was during their private discussion that Gray realized the woman’s obstinance to any points offered might be personal. Perhaps the wall was out because the problem was not in her head but in her heart. Gray shared the story of a friend who was a victim of sexual abuse and how she helped her as best as possible. She explained how sexual assault is traumatic, but added an abortion won’t take that pain away. The woman replied. “Yeah. Ten years and counting.”
“And I said I was so sorry for your suffering,” Gray recalled. “In that moment the whole course of our conversation changed. I set aside all my arguments and stories that I knew to tell her in order to hear hers. As she left that day I saw a person transformed.”
But Gray added the transformation didn’t happen because the woman’s mind was changed. Rather it happened because the woman was asked how she was doing, did she feel safe and was the abuser still a part of her life. It reminded Gray of something she had heard from Justice for All.
“When someone asks about rape, they aren’t asking if the baby is human; they are asking if the pro-lifer is human. Do we care as much about the person in front of us as we rightfully do about the child in the womb? Do we reverence them? And do they know that?”
The issues of abortion and sexuality were the focus of three speakers and a panel discussion about post-abortion counseling. During that panel on post-abortion counseling, Catherine Davis, founder and president of the Restoration Project in Atlanta, Janine Marrone, a local pro-life advocate who initiated Luncheons 4 Life, and Sylvia Jimenez, Diocese of Venice director of Project Rachel, offered insight on working with women following abortions and the long-lasting effects of the trauma. Davis is also founding core member of the National Black Pro-Life Coalition.
After offering a presentation to the youth track, Pamela Stenzel shared her views on chastity and abstinence at the main conference. Along with speaking on international stages about chastity and abstinence, Stenzel now has gotten back to her roots of working with pregnancy crisis centers.
On the evening of the preconference Sept. 28, the address was offered by Terry Beatley, president of the Hosea Initiative, who had written a book based on an interview with Dr. Bernard Nathanson, known as the father of modern abortion. Dr. Nathanson had been a part of National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws — NARAL — but years later he recanted his support of abortion, which the obstetrician/gynecologist termed as “women’s health.”
In her presentation, Beatley urged those gathered to understand the culture, context and the history of abortion. She shared the strategy that NARAL used in the 1960s to overturn New York’s state law that banned abortion. Before that time, voters never had to contend with the abortion issue in the voting booth, so NARAL implemented a strategy to win over voters. First, they framed the debate not around ethics or health, but around choice, and from there worked up “cynical” slogans, such as “Women’s right to choose,” and “Four of five women support legalized abortion.” They also used the media to further their cause, especially offering interviews to young reporters who were “indoctrinated” with thinking about women’s rights in the college environment, Beatley said. They also offered erroneous statistics about the number of illegal abortions had by women and the number of deaths from those abortions.
Next, Beatley described what she termed as the “Catholic strategy” of changing voters’ minds. “Dr. Nathanson told me this was the most brilliant political strategy of all time,” Beatley said.
These four points include how NARAL would blame Church leaders — from the pope to local pastors — for any death of a woman from an illegal abortion. Next, they would support any candidate or legislator who would soften their stance against a pro-choice agenda. Again, they would use the media to emphasize that candidate. Finally, Beatley said NARAL would make sure the Catholic voter would separate their religious doctrine from the voting — a term known as the straddle
“Blame, support, emphasize, straddle — that’s the Catholic strategy,” Beatley said. “They needed a political victory to deceive enough voters.”