Now that George W. Bush is safely installed in the White House, we seem to have a little more hope for the immediate future of the Culture of Life in America. As we plan our next moves and coordinate our activism based on a more sympathetic administration, it may be worth doing a retrospective look at some little known Catholic activism and ask, "Is activism really worth it?" If, in the course of the speculation and conjecture that follows, the reader can suspend skepticism for a moment, I will examine the role of lay activism and its effectiveness, and collateral issues such as obedience to our bishops wishes, in the unfolding of the story of some courageous and faithful Catholic pro-life activists from central Pennsylvania.
A basic premise, given the election just past, is that Bush won by keeping social conservatives, especially the pro-life vote, within the camp. Bush’s long time friend and pro-abort Republican Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, was long rumored to be at the head of the field of vice presidential candidates. Had George W. Bush chosen Ridge, it should be obvious to any objective observer that enough of the base would have walked away from the Republican party to give Gore the victory.
How did Ridge fall from VP frontrunner status back to the relative obscurity where a pro abort Republican belongs? The story goes back to Ridge’s days as a little known US Congressman from Erie PA.
After an Erie area March for Life delegation met with a freshman Congressman Ridge in Washington on January 23, 1984, the March 1984 issue of the Erie Echo reports Ridge responded, "Does government have a right to force a woman to be an incubator for nine months for another individual?" Ridge served in the US Congress for twelve years during which time he was able to accumulate an almost perfect pro-abortion voting record.
While the remainder of the state had never heard of him, wealthy pro-abort Republicans, including Elsie Hillman, a wealthy pro-abort PAC contributor from Pittsburgh, tired of the pro-life Republican leadership of the 1980s, saw Ridge as a Catholic family man, veteran, and ruggedly good-looking candidate who could be quietly groomed, via the State Governor’s mansion, for eventual national leadership, putting an end to the control of the party by the pro-life right wing.
To this end, Ridge was pulled from his relative obscurity in Washington to become a front runner for the Governor’s position. Utilizing a campaign that emphasized his moderate to conservative positions, while minimalizing if not obscuring his pro-abort voting record, Ridge was elected Governor of Pennsylvania in 1994. Few Catholics, even pro-lifers, realized the depth of Ridge’s pro-abort sentiment. It was simply assumed that Ridge was pro-life and his campaign rhetoric, if anything, supported that misconception.
The outgoing Governor Bob Casey was a faithful pro-life Catholic even in the midst of the moral rot of his Democrat party. Governor of Pennsylvania from 1986 to 1994, Casey persevered through the 1992 Supreme Court Case, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which challenged the constitutionality of 1989's Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act. The law required parental consent for minors, a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, the filing of detailed reports about each abortion and distribution of information about alternatives to abortion, and was upheld by the Supreme Court.
In his campaign, Ridge pledged to uphold the victories hard won by Casey in defending the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act. His actions once in office belied his pro-abort stance and angered many Catholics who had voted for him. His complete failure to enforce the dictates of the Abortion Control Act proved Ridge's 1994 promise to uphold it was "campaign rhetoric."
It should have come as no surprise, however. While a Congressman, Ridge had initially supported Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy, preventing US funds from going to overseas agencies supporting abortion services, then subsequently reversed his position. Just as one of Bill Clinton’s first acts as President was to overturn the Mexico City policy of the previous administrations, one of Ridge’s first acts was to overturn the 14 year old policy of Pennsylvania regarding family planning services. According to The Newsletter of Planned Parenthood of the Susquehanna Valley:
"...Since 1981, Pennsylvania has been one of only a few states that did not invest funds in contraceptive health services. Governor Tom Ridge made good on his campaign pledge to support funding for comprehensive family planning services by including $2.03 million for 'women's medical services' in his first budget...(legislators) inserted language that could have prohibited medical providers like Planned Parenthood from responding to patients' requests for abortion information or referral...Governor Ridge removed the ...'gag rule' language before signing the final budget. Ridge noted that he was 'expressly withholding (his) approval of that language'."
In May of 1995, Ridge emphatically stated that Pope John Paul II’s new encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, would not cause him to reassess his position on the issue. In 1996, Governor Ridge joined other pro-abortion republican Governor in calling for removal of the pro-life plank from the Republican National Platform. Then during 1997, his Department of Health waived a requirement of the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act that requires an abortion clinic to obtain a written transfer agreement with a local hospital, allowing a new abortion clinic to open in State College. Newspapers quoted the clinic's director as saying the waiver allowed the clinic to open early, and the first abortion clinic ever in the central Pennsylvania Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown was open for business.
On January 20, 1998, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare mailed a Planned Parenthood brochure to all PA Medical Assistance recipients. According to the Pro Life Union Inc. of Southeastern Pennsylvania News Bulletin, Respect Life Sunday 98:
"State of PA Caught Marketing For Planned Parenthood: This past January, PA residents who receive medical assistance from the Pa. Dept. of Welfare (DPW) received a brochure in the mail promoting Planned Parenthood. It was titled, "We're More Than You Think." It listed the "services" offered and advised the recipient they could come to PP without a referral or insurance . . . Although the brochure arrived in an unmarked envelope, recipients recognized it as typical of mailings they receive from DPW. . . "
"On further investigation, it was learned that the postal meter numbers used for the mailing belonged to DPW. . . Finally, on April 10, a letter was written admitting that DPW had made an "arrangement" with PP of Chester County, whereby PP supplied the brochure, but DPW stuffed, addressed and paid the postage . . . Another interesting fact, not previously known, emerged in the newspaper accounts. Frances Sheehan, Exec. Director of PP of Chester County, stated that "the actual text of the brochure was reviewed and approved by the governor's office prior to printing."
In January 1998, Ridge was entering into his 1998 reelection campaign full swing, his greatest challenge coming from a pro-life Catholic independent, Peg Luksik. Already he was telling political allies and members of the press of his intention to be the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2000. It is against this clearly defined backdrop, of an ardently and publicly pro-abort, ambitious "Catholic" politician, that our tale of heroic Catholic activism develops.
In early 1998, in the same Diocese where an abortion clinic had opened seemingly unnoticed by local diocesan offices, the faithful pro-life Catholics who had been picketing that new abortuary in State College learned, to their horror, that the Governor who had made that clinic possible was coming to Altoona. This was not just a secular appearance, or even a personal meeting with Catholic leaders.