The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform

This latest chapter of my life began with a call from Bill Calvin, former Exxon friend, who retired four years ago to devote his life to the pro-life cause. He didn’t get me, but left a message about a breakfast at the Park Avenue club he wanted me to attend. The Park Avenue club is that converted barn on Park Avenue just north of the former Exxon Research and Engineering property. I am quite familiar with it because it is partially sponsored by the Boy Scouts and I was a member of the executive board during the period when it was being constructed. The scouts, along with a couple hospitals and maybe the Big Brothers of Newark, provided a chunk of investment money up front and were guaranteed a portion of the income from the club, which is run by a vendor, Club Corporation of America or something like that. So I thought it might be a nice affair and decided to go.

What Bill wanted me to see was a presentation by Gregg Cunningham of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), based in Anaheim, CA. Never mind the broad implications of its name, the center is about stopping abortion. Check out their website:

Cunningham’s belief is that people must be shocked into jumping off the fence between pro-choice and pro-life (or pro-abortion, anti-abortion, if you like). He also believes in the power of the visual image, especially the disturbing image of an aborted fetus. His posters and truck-sized banners feature blown up images of tiny babies who have been sliced up in the process of “terminating” a pregnancy. Initially, they are pretty shocking, but you get used to them. I say that after hours of driving behind a picture of a small, 10-week old infant on the back of one of CBR’s trucks. I find myself staring at the severed right leg, a perfectly shaped appendage laying next to a dime to give it a size reference. The message is inescapable: this corpse used to be a baby, complete with a heart beat, brain waves, fingers, and toes.

Cunningham is not alone in his efforts. As you can see from the website, he is supported by other groups, including Fr. Frank Pavone, of Priests for Life,, a Roman Catholic organization of ordained priests. From April 1-10, Fr. Pavone, who is based in Staten Island, is conducting a “Face the Truth” tour in all boroughs of New Your City. Bill Calvin, who is coordinating the northeast for Cunningham, is organizing our truck tours in conjunction with Fr. Pavone’s demonstrations. We started at Staton Island University and a St. John’s University extension on Staton Island. We moved on to Fordham University in the Bronx (where I drove the truck though streets that were not designed to easily transport vehicles of that size. I now have a greater understanding of what Jesus was talking about when He referred to “the eye of a needle.”). Over the weekend, as I took a couple days off, they hit Manhattan and its major sites, Madison Square Garden, Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park, the Empire State Building, and the like. This coming week we will be taking the truck through Brooklyn and Queens and Long Island, also in cooperation with Fr. Pavone’s group. Say some prayers for our safety, but mostly for our effectiveness. Regardless of your stand on “reproductive choice” it’s hard to support dismembering the tiny human beings shown on CBR’s website.

Speaking of safety, Cunningham, a lawyer and former Air Force Colonel, is keenly aware of its importance. All police forces in the areas we drive are notified in writing of our routes. These letters certify our constitutional right to free speech and refer to court cases where CBR has sued and won. We never travel without a security vehicle, which is an authentic police car with radios and lights and even a steel grate between the front and rear seats. A video camera is continuously recording the truck from behind, and truck and car are supplied with still cameras (to photograph any mischief-minded attackers) and mace. We do get the finger from time to time (called “the buzzard” by experienced drivers) but no serious incident has occurred so far.

I did feel a bit uncomfortable last weekend as we drove back and forth in front of the “Women of Faith” conference in downtown Columbus. Some of these women had difficulty containing their rage when confronted with the reality of the abortion process. The images we present are well documented and accurate, but the pro-choice crowd typically dismisses them as “fake.” This from the group that routinely describes abortion in terms of “removing tissue” from the womb. As all mass murderers know, it’s easier if you first de-humanize the victim. I’m not suggesting that most of the women who abort their children are murderers in the sense we normally take it. I am suggesting that they are often lied to about the nature of abortion. Most women are horrified at the prospect of destroying their own children, so they must be told it’s only a procedure for terminating their pregnancy. Of course, by the time they are aware of their condition, the “mass” in their womb is already a tiny baby.

Our world sometimes requires hard choices. As a man, I can’t imagine the terror that grips a young woman who finds herself “trapped” in an unwanted pregnancy. I don’t have solutions to all the social problems these “unwanted” children may cause. I ache at the thought of someone close to me, or anyone for that matter, experiencing the despair of having to bear a baby with no support from family or community. These are bad things, but as bad as they are, they don’t justify the killing of innocents. Reproductive choice ought to be about deciding whether or not to have a child, not about deciding whether or not to kill it.

DadObservations04/06/03 2 comments


David • 04/11/03 12:01 AM:

I am immensely proud of Dad. I think it’s awesome that Dad is getting involved in a cause he feels passionately about. To me, that is living the Gospel. And in Lent, what better way to follow Jesus than through such almsgiving? Thanks for inspiring all of us with your good works.

Along with Gospel teachings, I am reminded of Martin Luther King. I went looking for a quote from his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” and I serendipitously found the following:

“The question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice-or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill, three men were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. So, after all, maybe the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists”

I’m not sure how parallel the quote is, but I like it just the same. The images and message of Dad’s group are extreme, and shocking, and horrible, and creative too. The original quote I was looking for had something to do with MLKs greater dislike of people who know what is right and wrong, and knowingly choose not to act in favor of the right. It’s beautiful to see Dad acting in this favor!

Patrick • 04/13/03 6:48 PM:

I also cheer Dad for his positive actions.

But mostly I cheer Dad for his complicated view of abortion, his hard, honest take on the reality of the world. I think if more people were able and willing to view the world in its intricate complexity, we would avoid a lot of contention.

I find it hard to believe (in two senses) that people today can honestly believe that an aborted fetus is “only tissue,” or that they would decry the documented photos of tiny babies as fakes. Similarly, I find it hard to believe that anyone really believes drugs are harmless, or doesn’t know that AIDS is transmitted by needle sharing and unprotected sex. I wonder if we’re focusing on “education”—trying to convince ourselves that women who abort or drug abusers or AIDS patients really didn’t know what they were doing—in order to avoid the much deeper moral problem that people know what they’re doing and still do it.

I don’t know what effect Gregg Cunningham’s campaign has on the thousands of people who see it. I, myself, would use a different tack, something less confrontational and contentious. I imagine a lot of people are offended and angered, and I am not sure those emotions can ever bring a person closer to God and moral action. Of course, I say “I would” because I am not actively doing anything. Except maybe talking calmly with individuals who ask me my opinion. But this doesn’t happen often.

So, again, I applaud my father for his example, and I am sure that in his own conversations he is open and understands the complexities of such a thorny subject as abortion. I imagine those conversations reach people’s hearts far more than those pictures.

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