Abby Johnson Remembers Dan Berrigan
Both Abby Johnson and Dan Berrigan are Consistent Life endorsers.
Abby Johnson ministers to abortion clinic workers to help them leave the industry and heal through her organization And Then There Were None and her book, Unplanned, recently adapted as a feature film, which tells the story of her conversion from Planned Parenthood Clinic Director to pro-life advocate. The movie did very well, coming in fourth at the box office in the U.S. the weekend it was released in March.
The original version of this was written immediately after Dan Berrigan died, in unfulfilled hopes of being published in a Catholic publication. We’ve updated it for the third anniversary of his death.
Religious and secular media outlets, blogs, and religious news stories were filled three years ago this week with news about Fr. Dan Berrigan, S.J., who died of natural causes on April 30th, 2016, at the age of 94. Few know that this noted international anti-war activist also embraced other issues of justice, including abortion.
Many of us, including me, were too young to have read about his anti-Vietnam war activism in the 1960s and 1970s, and his arrest protesting nuclear weapons in the 1980s. Fr. Berrigan’s nonviolence was radically rooted in the Gospel of Life, and that led him to also protest abortion. In the late 1980’s and early 90’s, Fr. Berrigan participated in Faith and Resistance retreats in Rochester, New York. In 1989, after he presided at a mass outside an Army Depot in Seneca County, he joined protestors trespassing over a fence into the depot and was arrested. Immediately after being booked and released, he and other consistent life demonstrators sat for three hours at the Ob-Gyn clinic in the Highland Hospital of Rochester, New York, convincing several women not to have abortions. The clinic closed three hours early that day.
Again in 1991, he was arrested for peacefully trespassing at the Rochester Planned Parenthood. Hours before, he had participated with other consistent life ethic activists in erecting a cross at the federal building, protesting US support for UN sanctions in Iraq that were killing children.
Fr. Berrigan saw “an interlocking directorate of death that binds the whole culture . . . an unspoken agreement that we will solve our problems by killing people . . . that certain people are expendable. . . . We need to cherish and embrace and foster life in all areas that from womb to old age.”
The Culture of Death lies to us. It tells us that abortion should be categorized as human rights, women’s rights, or reproductive rights. The Consistent Life Ethic categorizes abortion where it belongs, as an issue of violence alongside euthanasia, war, and the death penalty.
When Amnesty International began promoting “abortion rights” in 2007, Fr. Berrigan said, “One cannot support an organization financially or even individually that is contravening something very serious in our ethic.” Even though Fr. Berrigan strongly supported international human rights and the abolition of torture, some of his fans in the peace movement were pro-choice and criticized him for not supporting Amnesty International.
Fr. Berrigan remained faithful. His faithfulness challenged everyone to look at the connections of all life issues under the Consistent Life Ethic. Because it was challenging, he faced criticism from both some people in the peace movement and also some in the pro-life movement.
It can be hard sometimes to accept all the Church’s teachings on life when our own minds and hearts haven’t taken the leap of acceptance. Once we accept it, it can be hard to stay faithful. We might hear harsh words or rude social media comments because we stand for one or more life issues when people in our lives strongly disagree.
That’s okay. They are imperfect sinners just like us.
Every time I post something on Facebook about ending the death penalty, I receive some nasty comments and lose some Facebook followers that I thought were truly pro-life. I’m not surprised anymore. When we are persecuted for standing up for God’s truth, we are blessed.
So if you struggle with maintaining a belief in the Consistent Life Ethic, stay with the struggle in prayer. Be willing to keep your heart open to what God has to show you.
I like to say that we are consistently pro-life because we’re consistently pro-love. We try to love even those who persecute us. Respect for life and nonviolence come from love. Love is of God. I once thought my pro-choice opinion correct and I often said unkind things about pro-life activists until God showed me the truth. A local Coalition for Life group loved and prayed for me while I worked at Planned Parenthood, even though I at times harshly criticized them and their work. Now I’m transformed and some of them are my closest friends.
I urge all of us not to close our hearts. All hearts can be converted.
For our commemoration of Daniel Berrigan at the time of his death, see Celebrating the Life of Daniel Berrigan
For a poem he wrote, see “Seamless Garment” – Poem by Daniel Berrigan
For more of our posts on notable people, see:
Courageous Woman: Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001) / Julianne Wiley
Valentine Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass / Carol Crossed
How to Value People Like Mister Rogers / Andrew Hocking
The Redemptive Personalism of Saint Oscar Romero / Julia Smucker
Elizabeth Cady Stanton / Mary Krane Derr & Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Remembering Rep. Walter B. Jones, Jr. / Patrick O’Neill