Remembering pro-life heroes

Phyllis Bowman, right, with Ann Widdecombe

The pro-life movement is an area where those of faith and no faith are increasingly coming together to campaign for the sanctity and dignity of human life.

It can therefore provide a bridge between people of different faith positions as well as campaigning on these vitally important issues. The movement is very diverse today and as well as campaigning also provides much needed care and support. Here is a list (which is not exhaustive) of some of those pioneering individuals who have influenced and shaped the pro-life movement today.

Phyllis Bowman

Phyllis Bowman was a woman whose contribution to the Pro-life movement is only beginning to be fully recognised. Whilst being a person of great faith she understood the importance of a secular evidenced based approach to pro-life campaigns. This view was something that she saw as necessary in order to ensure that the Pro-life message was not attached to one religious viewpoint. Holding firm to this conviction helped to create a wide and diverse constituency of support.

Phyllis’s desire for wider support could lead to confusion about her faith. However her strong prayer life and relationship with God strengthened her resolve and was a key inspiration. Each day she prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the unborn. She was a committed Catholic following her conversion from Judaism. Her lifetime of work was recognised when she was made a Dame of St Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II.

Phyllis’s main achievement was in founding the Right to Life Foundation, which continues her valuable work today.

Father Lee Kaylor

Alongside fellow priests, Fr Frank Felice and Fr Voight Emmerick, Fr Lee Kaylor founded Priests For Life. This organisation today has a primary membership of bishops, priests and deacons but there are also lay associate members. It now has been established as a Private Association of the Christian Faithful in canon law. The main aim of Priests For Life is to enable and equip the clergy to fight the culture of death.

It was in 1990 that Fr Lee Kaylor came to hear about a proposed piece of legislation in California, which went against the pro-life cause. He wrote to other priests in Calafornia in order to gain support to oppose the legislation being passed. The response was overwhelming and there were many offers of financial and practical support.

From this encouraging start, Fr Kaylor went to establish the national organisation, which has since done so much to galvanise the clergy. Today Priests For Life has a significant national voice and has even featured in discussions within the US Congress. It is a shame that it has not yet developed an international presence, as the work that it does deserves to be more widely known.

Sister Roseann Reddy and the Sisters of the Gospel of Life

Meeting Sister Roseann Reddy is an experience that is hard to forget. Her larger than life personality and her commitment to the pro-life cause are her hallmarks.

It was the encouragement of Cardinal Thomas Winning that saw the development of the Sisters of the Gospel of Life. In 1997 he invited woman facing a crisis pregnancy to seek help from the Catholic Church. He approached Roseann Reddy to help in this work. After a period of discernment Roseann approached the Cardinal to discuss with him her strong sense that God was calling her to build a new religious community based upon the values of life.

The sisters new life began in January 2000. Their main apostolate is the Pro Life Initiative, which aims to give practical support and advice to pregnant woman who are in crisis. This work is undergirded by the daily Mass, holy hour, Rosary and the recitation of the Hours. Despite being in its infancy, The Sisters of the Gospel of Life have had a significant impact upon the Pro Life Movement in Scotland and they are encouraging more woman to explore their vocation to share in this vital life and work.

Nellie Jane Gray

The March for Life is now a major focal point of the Pro Life movement in the USA. It is a key witness to life values and has significant press coverage. The numbers taking part each January are impressive, especially as the weather conditions are often poor. It was thanks to Nellie Jane Grey’s efforts and determination that the first March For Life took place on 22nd January 1974, with an estimated 20,000 people taking part.

Nellie Jane Gray was a convert to the Catholic faith. Graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in business and a Master’s in Economics, she worked for the federal government for 28 years. During her working life she attended Georgetown University Law School and eventually practiced law before the U.S Supreme Court.

Following Roe vs Wade, which legalised abortion, she retired and became a prominent pro-life activist.

The March for Life is a worthy legacy for this passionate woman who died in 2012.

Professor Jack and Nuala Scarisbrick

LIFE is possibly the most prominent pro-life charity in the UK. LIFE does not undertake political campaigning but was founded to provide an alternative to those faced with difficult decisions in pregnancy. Today LIFE supports both men and woman with long term alternatives to abortion. Counselling, practical support, a national helpline, sex and relationship education and schools work all form part of their important work. They also offer specialist fertility treatment that has been developed in relation to the charity’s view on the status of the unborn child.

For similar reasons to the stance taken by Phyllis Bowman, life is not associated with any particular religious body or faith based views. This is reflected in the diversity of support that the charity receives. Membership currently stands at around 12,000 although a much higher number support the charity financially.

LIFE has an absolutist view of abortion and believe that abortion is wrong in any circumstances. They are opposed to any destruction of human embryos and are against all forms of assisted suicide.

Jack and Nuala Scarisbrick founded LIFE in 1970 in response to the 1967 Abortion Act. From the beginning they had the strong conviction that all human life should be respected, from conception to natural death.

More recently Jack founded Zoë’s Place, a baby hospice, after recognising that a large number of families with children suffering from life-limiting conditions were desperately in need of specialist facilities. Zoë’s Place is an integral part of the pro-life movement recognising the dignity of human life and providing support to families. The first hospice opened in Liverpool in 1995, followed by Middlesbrough and Coventry.

Professor Scarrisbrick, who is also a renowned historian, was awarded the MBE in 2015 in recognition of his tireless work.