For her, that has included an abundant family and work for the church.
Wills is associate director for education at the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Register correspondent Kathryn Jean Lopez talked to Wills about how she wound up where she is professionally and personally.
How did you become involved in the pro-life movement?
You'll be sorry you asked! Come with me to the confessional. I am not among those amazing and wonderful people who've been actively opposed to abortion since 1973 or the late 1960s. I was one of those who went merrily about the business of life, “too busy” to get involved in anything outside my home and job. Our first child was born in 1973 and I started law school the following year. The next two arrived in my fourth semester and after I'd been practicing for one year. Juggling three kids and two jobs takes a toll on family life, so eventually I quit — in 1985 — became pregnant again and began a serious grown-up study of the faith.
Up to that point, I had thought of abortion — rarely — only as a private wrongdoing. I soon realized that abortion is catastrophic — for individuals and for civilization. Has there ever been a time in the history of the world when killing on this scale took place with the general approval of society? When the killing was carried out — not by trained soldiers or murderous thugs — but by physicians, at the request of young mothers? Other than grandmas, maybe, is there any segment of society sweeter, more sensitive and caring, and less prone to violence than young women? What forces in our culture, I wondered, could trap girls into being parties to killing, and what does this mean for our future?
By temperament I'm disposed to sit around and curse the darkness rather than get involved in anything, but the enormity of the evil afoot and the saintly example of pro-life volunteers in and around Coral Gables, Fla., led me to take a baby step, volunteering at a local crisis pregnancy center.
The stories of the women who came for help would break your heart. Often they had already been through an abortion, were suffering deeply and could not face that ordeal again. Almost always, the boyfriend whom they loved and trusted did not want to be inconvenienced by the burden and/or expense of raising a child. The young woman either feared approaching her family for help or, too often, her family viewed the child's death as the easiest solution.
It takes a lot of courage for a young single woman to continue a pregnancy without emotional and practical support from the baby's father or her family. I also saw how their lives changed dramatically for the better through the love, respect and support the crisis pregnancy center volunteers offered them.
How important is it that lay people — and women especially — are representing the bishops in the way you do?
It's very important for the public to see laywomen presenting pro-life teachings of the Catholic Church. The abortion lobby would like everyone to believe that the only pro-life Catholics are the select group with miters and crosiers and that the rank-and-file are “pro-choice.” They claim the Church and the pro-life movement are dominated by men determined to keep women in traditional roles.
I don't know if they believe this bunkum, but it has no basis in reality. Look how the bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities stacks up: of 13 staff members, 12 wear skirts and high heels — occasionally, anyway — and only one is comfortable with facial hair. And we 12 are not exactly Stepford wives. Three of us are lawyers, another is completing her doctorate, another is working on a master's degree and our boss has represented the Holy See — along with Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon and other accomplished women — at major U.N. conferences from Cairo to Beijing.
And fundamentally, of course, there's nothing pro-woman about destroying one's child. Emo -tionally, spiritually and physically, abortion deeply wounds women. It practically encourages men to be cads, forcing single women to cope alone with an unplanned pregnancy.
As Feminists for Life points out, those mantras of “her body” and “her right to privacy” really translate into her problem. True feminists today, and the early feminists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, see abortion as the “ultimate exploitation of women,” to quote Alice Paul, original author of the Equal Rights Amendment.
How big is your family?
Big, but not big enough. My sainted husband of 30 years and I were blessed with a daughter and four sons, and when the older kids were toddlers, we came to love and then adopted an orphaned teen-ager from Nicaragua who lived with us while studying here.
But we would have loved to have a few more children, mainly because we miss the exuberance and fun that little people bring to a household.
Do you think abortion will always be legal?
No. Roe and Doe and the whole line of cases that followed are fundamentally flawed. For 30 years, the Supreme Court has deprived state legislatures of the power constitutionally delegated to them, all the while trying to maintain the fiction that its abortion rulings are dictated by this or that privacy right, or maybe it's a liberty interest, situated here, there or somewhere else among the amendments to the Constitution.
I know of no prominent abortionist, clinic owner or abortion activist who was won over by intimidation or bloody fetus photos.
It has even claimed that earlier abortion decisions, although perhaps wrongly decided, should nevertheless be upheld on the grounds of stare decisis [let the decision stand] and preserving the court's supposed reputation for resisting the winds of public opinion. And if the cost of preserving that reputation is 1.3 million dead children a year, tant pis!
Nullifying some 30 state bans on partial-birth abortion in the 2000 decision of Stenberg v. Carhart was only the latest and most egregious example of outcome-based opinion writing. If the rule of law is to survive in the United States, abortion law will be reversed and jurisdiction over abortion will return to the states. Of course, that's only the beginning of the end. Planned Parenthood complains that 86% of counties in the United States currently have no abortion “provider.” So we're getting there, but a country that can look the other way while 1.3 million abortions are being done annually is not ready for a total ban.
That's why one or two more “pro-life” justices on the Supreme Court will not be enough to end abortion. For that we will have to do better in converting hearts and behaviors. We need to teach everyone about the true, sacred meaning of the human body and the marital act.
Is there one argument or one experience you think could make a pro-lifer out of the staunchest abortion advocates?
Only one thing. The “staunchest abortion advocates” are very few in number and I think their advocacy can nearly always be traced to a personal abortion experience, theirs or that of a close family member/friend.
In the latter case, they love the woman who's had an abortion and think condemning abortion would mean condemning her. More often, I think the problem is not being able to come to terms with their own abortions. We all find it hard to acknowledge our mistakes, face up to our failings. We rationalize endlessly and try to get our friends to validate our decisions. Appeals to principles don't crack this mind-set, but love and prayer can. These are deeply wounded women who need the healing and forgiveness only God can give, but we can be instruments of that healing and forgiveness.
I know of no prominent abortionist, clinic owner or abortion activist who was won over by intimidation or bloody fetus photos. Many “converts,” however, have pointed to the love, prayers and kindness of pro-life individuals as the cause of their conversion.
And, sometimes, God mysteriously awakens their consciences, perhaps in answer to the prayers of pro-lifers. Some in our office pray daily for the conversion and salvation of prominent abortion-ists and activists. Really, who's in greater need of prayer than they? And it doesn't have to be an entire rosary — a Hail Mary every time you open the fridge or get into your car could make a huge difference.
You wanted to mention Regnum Christi. Tell me about that.
Since my discernment retreat last September, Regnum Christi has been the greatest motivating force for holiness in my life. This includes the words of Father Maciel and the examples of Le -gionary of Christ priests and Regnum Christi members. Before then, I've often held back a little out of fear, complained about the little crosses even when I had the sense to value the big ones. Now I cherish them all.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.