More United and Stronger Than Ever

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. With NRLC’s annual convention coming up in less than three months, it seemed a story about a previous convention would be perfect for our year-long “Roe at 40,” which brings you some of the best stories from National Right to Life News going back to 1973. This  appeared in the July 2005 edition. If you are not a subscriber, please call us at 202-626-8828.

Mark Pickup

Disability rights activist Mark Pickup

It’s no exaggeration to say that when a local newspaper that would, figuratively speaking, rather have bamboo shoots stuck under its fingernails than say something favorable about pro-lifers runs a series of very even-handed stories, you suspect it’s going to be a very good convention. And, sure enough, those articles in the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune proved to be a harbinger of great things to come for NRLC 2005, hosted by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which took place June 16-18 in Bloomington, Minnesota.

There was simply no weak spot. As a friend said at breakfast the day we were all flying home, “That was the best set of general sessions I’ve ever attended.” To which I could have added, “Ditto for the workshops.”

Consider for a few moments who addressed the attendees at the four general sessions and the Friday morning Prayer Breakfast. Getting the convention off to a tremendous start, Nigel Cameron, one of the foremost bioethicists in the world, patiently, thoughtfully detailed the threat of an ethically unfettered biotechnology to life and to our common humanity. His remarks were chilling, but we were warmed by his assurances that the pro-life community is rising to the challenge.

I was struck by many things in the remarks of a special assistant to President Bush for domestic affairs, who spoke Thursday night. Articulate and unpretentious, his remarks conveyed an utter commitment to helping the President build a Culture of Life, and a total command of all the life issues, from abortion through euthanasia to stem cell research. A very impressive man.

But what I will remember long after the specifics of his remarks fade was how he lingered in the hall until the very last person who wanted to talk with him (and there were many!) departed.

We knew going in that we were in store for a very emotional, even gut-wrenching time. Terri Schindler Schiavo’s family had graciously agreed to address the convention at a time when the wounds were still fresh.

The stage was set with the Friday morning Prayer Breakfast remarks of Mark Pickup, the disability rights activist who suffers from muscular dystrophy. He spoke movingly of his own conversations over the years with the Schindlers and reminded us of a great truth.

“After the wall-to-wall media coverage of the Terri Schiavo killing, no one can say they didn’t know this happened. No one can presume it was the only case.” In a voice so soft it was almost like a whisper, Mr. Pickup said, “Everyone is confronted with Cain’s ancient question: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?'”

At the Friday afternoon session “Vote Smart 2006,” the crowd listened carefully to an animated discussion of a different phase of our involvement: the political process. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty warmly greeted attendees on behalf of his state, while NRL Political Director [and now NRLC President] Carol Tobias reminded us that it’s never too early to gear up.

But first and foremost Tobias wanted to thank pro-lifers. “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for everything you did to re-elect President George W. Bush,” she said. “Every phone call that you made to find volunteers and to get out the vote, every piece of literature you distributed, every friend or neighbor that you talked to. Everything you did-all made a difference. It made the difference.”

If that weren’t enough to fire us up, there was Mississippi Lt. Governor Amy Tuck, a close personal friend of both the executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, Scott Fischbach, and Minnesota State Senator Michelle Fischbach, Scott’s wife. Tuck offered generous kudos to National Right to Life and to the kind of grassroots pro-life activists who had traveled from all over the nation to be together.

“You know when we in Mississippi are looking for guidance or help in writing or structuring legislation, we turn to National Right to Life, who never fails to provide us with timely information and knowledge when we need it most,” she said. “I consider it a real pleasure to be counted among your number as we work together to preserve the most precious right of all–the right to life!”

No one who was in the audience will ever forget the Saturday morning general session, which everyone had been anticipating. There were few dry eyes as Bobby Schindler talked about the utterly unnecessary death of his sister, Terri Schindler Schiavo.

But as a number of people remarked to me immediately after the session, this was the first time they heard about the Terri her family knew, not the public Terri whose tragic plight we had followed hour-by-hour. This Terri was a shy woman who inspired pranks in her brother and devotion in her younger sister, Suzanne.

This was the Terri who grew up in a close-knit Catholic community, whose friends were taken with her quick laugh. This was the young woman whose room was strewn with toy animals, who so loved the family dog that when he collapsed she administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and was devastated when he died.

We cried and we wept, we cried and we wept, and between we gave Bobby and Suzanne and their parents, Bob and Mary, one standing ovation after another. There was, as Mr. Schindler later told me, “There’s a lot of love out there.”

The convention ended on the highest possible note. Sen. Sam Brownback [now Kansas governor], a tower of pro-life strength, delivered a closing Banquet speech that practically demanded that we get up that moment to go out and organize. And no account of the convention would be complete without a mention of the special award NRLC gave to Jeanne Head.

Miss Head is a genuine force of nature whose single-minded devotion to thwarting anti-life forces at the United Nations inspires awe in her friends and (as her UN colleague Rai Rojas put it) fear in her opponents. Jeanne was as responsible as anyone for the UN General Assembly resolution that calls on all nations to enact laws prohibiting all forms of human cloning.

We came into the convention strong and united. We came out even stronger and better prepared to carry the flag of the littlest Americans.