On Oct. 6, the 2012 National Black Catholic Vigil for Life was held, during which black pro-lifers prayed for the approximately 1.3 million unborn babies who die because of abortion each year in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42% of that total is composed of black babies, even though only 12% of the American population is black.
Yet, even though abortion disproportionately affects the black community, its most visible spokesmen are almost uniformly “pro-choice.” For example, Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is a Democratic Missouri congressman (and United Methodist pastor) with a solid pro-abortion voting record. Except for the rare exception like Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., those in the caucus share Cleaver’s beliefs.
Black leader Al Sharpton is a staunch defender of legal abortion. And Jesse Jackson, who like Sharpton is an ordained Baptist minister, made a stunning reversal on the abortion issue. In 1977, he was declaring his pro-life views in the National Right to Life News and at the annual March for Life in Washington. But, by 1988, when he ran for president as a Democrat, he declared, “It is not right to impose private, religious and moral positions on public policy.”
A number of courageous Catholics and other Christians are bucking this pro-abortion trend, however. In this article, the Register profiles the work of three of these African-American proponents of the culture of life.
Father John Raphael is best known as the black priest who traveled to the University of Notre Dame in 2009 to criticize the university’s decision to honor President Barack Obama, who holds staunchly pro-choice views.
While Father Raphael was cheered by some, many in his native New Orleans were angered by the trip. “That’s fine,” said Father Raphael. “I want to get the African-American community to think about the abortion issue, so the publicity did me a service.”
A native of New Orleans, Father Raphael attended Notre Dame and, after graduating, joined the Josephite Fathers (originally founded after the Civil War to serve black Catholics). Ordained in 1995, he is currently serving as chaplain at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, Tenn.
The priest first decided to become active in the pro-life movement when, as a seminarian, he saw a screening of Dr. Bernard Nathanson’s 1984 pro-life film The Silent Scream. He recalled, “I realized that I couldn’t just be personally pro-life, but had to be actively involved.”
Father Raphael's efforts to encourage other blacks to embrace the pro-life cause include bringing pro-life presentations to parishes he has served, as well as to Howard University in Washington, where he served as a chaplain for five years. He also has led groups of black parishioners to the March for Life in the nation’s capital.
A major problem in fostering the growth of pro-life sentiments is that most African-Americans have a strong attachment to the pro-abortion-rights Democratic Party, Father Raphael said, whereas the pro-life position is “too closely aligned with the Republican Party.”
Stressing that his own approach is completely non-partisan, he said, “I’m trying to bring about a deep appreciation among African-Americans about the humanity of the unborn.”
And despite the difficulties caused by the partisan divide, Father Raphael promises to continue his pro-life ministry, because “we must translate our belief in the sanctity of life into laws which protect the unborn.”
Gloria Purvis is a member of the board of directors for the Northwest Center, a maternity home and pregnancy center in Washington that serves predominantly black and Latina women.
Women who live in the home have no other place to go and while there must abide by its rules and work to resolve the issues that led to their crises. As Purvis explained, “These women not only have a crisis pregnancy, but a crisis life.”
Born into a Methodist Episcopal church, she was educated in Catholic schools and subsequently had a conversion experience while praying before the Blessed Sacrament. Today, she is married — her husband, Mike, is also an active pro-lifer — and has one daughter.
Purvis became active in the pro-life movement about 15 years ago. While at Mass, she reflected on the Creedal claim: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” She recalled, “I was struck by the gravity of that statement. We’re saying it in front of heaven, and those words have consequences. We cannot be silent about abortion and contraception.”
Along with her work for the Northwest Center, Purvis's pro-life activities for the black community include having served as a featured speaker at conferences offered by the Josephite Fathers and involvement with the Sisters of Life and the Gabriel Project, which offers crisis-pregnancy counseling and alternatives to abortion.
“People are often uninformed on life issues,” Purvis noted about the black community. “If I, for example, talk about what a gruesome procedure abortion is, people are horrified, even priests. They don’t really consider what happens with abortion.”
Even before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that struck down the nation’s anti-abortion laws, the black community was being sold on the idea that contraception and abortion would reduce poverty, allow women to get an education and otherwise improve family life, Purvis said.
“We were told these things were good for us, but, today, we can see that they’re not.”
Purvis, who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, noted that she too was told that she should get an abortion during her high-risk pregnancy, despite being educated, married and having financial resources.
Added Purvis, “You can imagine how women who are single or poor are pressured to have abortions.”
Planned Parenthood and Race
Ryan Scott Bomberger grew up in a mixed-race adoptive family with 13 children. He is of mixed parentage himself, with a white mother and black father — and is the product of rape.
Bomberger realizes he was a prime candidate for abortion and is grateful to his birthmother, whom he has never met, for putting him up for adoption when he was 6 weeks old.
“The odds were against me from the start,” he said. “It’s been a huge motivator in everything I do. I am thankful to God, who rescued me from what could have been.”
His Caucasian adoptive parents were in the minority in his family, which included adopted children of black, Asian, Indian and mixed race like himself. “We were full of love, but not color-blind,” Bomberger said. “We love our colors; we love the differences — and we’re bound together by what we hold in common.” This includes a strong faith in Christ (Bomberger is an evangelical Christian).
This background provided much of the inspiration that impelled Bomberger and his wife, Bethany, to launch The Radiance Foundation in 2009. The Virginia-based foundation’s activities include public speaking, as well as the billboard/Web campaign TooManyAborted.com.
The campaign includes 20 billboards and 100-plus bus and railway posters that “expose the crisis of fatherlessness and how it influences abortion,” Bomberger said.
“Abortion has decimated the black community, and it’s had far-reaching ramifications,” Bomberger remarked. “Fewer than 30% of black households are led by two married parents, leading to generations of people dependent on welfare.”
Bomberger is distressed that the nation’s first black president has been such a stalwart supporter of legal abortion. “We have never had a president so pro-death and pro-abortion in history,” he said. “He has been relentless in supporting both abortion and Planned Parenthood.”
After the Radiance Foundation was launched, it quickly raised the ire of abortion lobbyists with its life-focused message. Planned Parenthood has held national phone conferences on how to respond to Radiance’s message, Bomberger said, and even created a documentary on how to respond to his group’s claims.
Pro-abortion groups on Capitol Hill have also designated Radiance “an enemy of choice and Public Enemy No. 1,” Bomberger said. “It’s quite flattering.”
Bomberger believes Planned Parenthood is an organization that promotes eugenics, with the black community having been a chief target. This topic is the focus of the TooManyAborted.com website, which cites the support of Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger for the 1939 “Negro Project” that promoted birth control in poor Southern black communities as a means of reducing poverty.
“Planned Parenthood has historically targeted poor and black populations in an effort to reduce or eliminate their birth rate,” Bomberger said.
He was not surprised by abortionist Ashutosh Ron Virmani’s recent remarks to pro-lifers who confronted him, as recorded in a video posted on YouTube. “Let me see you adopt one of those ugly black babies,” Virmani said angrily.
“It’s disgusting, it’s despicable — but it doesn’t surprise me, coming from a Planned Parenthood abortionist,” said Bomberger. “These are not upstanding citizens; they’re in it for the money. It reinforces what Planned Parenthood has been and continues to be.”
Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.