The nameless victims of abortion need not be nameless anymore.
The 50 Million Names Project, an effort coordinated by Charlotte Ostermann of Lawrence, Kan., provides an opportunity for everyone who values life to bring dignity to the all-too-brief lives of our smallest brothers and sisters.
The project allows participants to create names for unborn children who have been aborted (more than 56 million since the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalized abortion in the United States) and to make gestures of faith in the names of the children.
The project is a fitting tribute on the National Day of Remembrance for the Unborn, Sept. 13.
“To participate in the project, all you do is create a registration on the site (50MillionNames.org),” Ostermann said.
“As soon as the webmaster approves you, you can log in any time and give as many names as you like. We ask that each name be accompanied by a concrete gesture [of charity], in addition to your prayers for this child’s relatives and abortionist. These gestures are meant to create a ripple of effects in the world in honor of a child who was denied the chance to bless this world himself. They are meant to bring our concern from the abstract, conceptual level to the freedom of our own action and creativity.”
The process is simple but meaningful, as is the project’s logo. Designed by Jordan Barry from Ostermann’s vision, the logo is part of the project’s appeal, according to Ostermann.
“I thought of that water drop as the tiny bag of water surrounding the child in the womb, but many people have looked at the logo and assumed that this is a teardrop — [representing] sadness for the child, which is perfectly true, too,” Ostermann said. “The water beneath is both the sea of Divine Mercy, which now embraces the child, and the ripple of temporal effects we hope to help accomplish on the child’s behalf by praying for his relatives and abortionist and by our gestures of love.”
Juan Mendoza of Salinas, Calif., recalled a trip to Washington, where he attended the March for Life years ago. While in the capital, he also visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I was very moved by the Tomb of the Unknown,” Mendoza said. “Here, our country had fought so many battles and wars, and there were men, lots of men, I was to find out, who died, and there was no way to find out who they were just by the conditions in which they died.”
“I remembered on the plane back to California how, here, there were millions of babies who had died and had no one to pray for them,” added Mendoza, who has begun to participate in the project.
Theresa Burke, the founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, which offers retreats for those who have been involved in an abortion and are seeking healing for the emotional damage they have suffered, explained the importance of naming the babies: “We have found that when a grieving man or woman is given the opportunity to name their or a loved one’s child it allows them to embark on a spiritual relationship with the aborted child. The act of naming the child helps those men and women begin to fully focus on the child’s life.”
Kristofer Cowles, the project’s webmaster, was drawn to help with the project because of its approach to the abortion issue.
“The project caught my attention because of its boldness in the love it expresses,” Cowles said. “The project is simply intended to provide anybody an opportunity to join in the personal tragedy of abortion with those who are already involved: Babies, mothers, fathers, doctors, nurses, administrative staff, insurers and extended families of all of these people are united, whether they know it or not, by abortion. Loving and usually anonymous human beings stand up and name a baby [on the site] and create a bond of love born out of a terrible act of violence.”
Katie McCann of Ohio Right to Life hopes the project will help the world recognize the humanity of the unborn. “I also hope that it will activate pro-lifers, motivating us all to live out our pro-life beliefs every day,” McCann said. “Some of my pro-life friends admit to being passively pro-life, largely because the problem of abortion is so tremendous and seems so insurmountable. But if we can recognize just one victim and appreciate the effect that each of us can have in creating a non-violent, life-affirming world, we can build the culture of life.”
Driven by the Holy Spirit
Cowles said 50 Million Names is having an impact in the struggle to change hearts and enlighten people about the abortion issue.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this project is of the Holy Spirit,” Cowles said. “Too many things, good and bad, have happened for me to believe otherwise. We have attracted the attention of people from all walks of life, faith traditions, political bents and even belief systems. And we have attracted the attention of Satan [through cyber attacks], which I consider a badge of honor.”
While this project has its roots among Kansas Catholics, it is gaining attention from across the nation and around the world, and it has caught the attention of young pro-lifers as well. Ostermann has heard from interested parties in Europe and from as far away as New Zealand, as the project has begun to gather momentum across cyberspace and via word of mouth at World Youth Day and the March for Life.
“Ravens Respect Life at Benedictine College have responded very enthusiastically to the project, carrying our banners at the March for Life and holding an event to collect names on the spot,” Ostermann said. “They each wrote letters to ‘their’ babies and put the book of letters on display for other students to explore, suggesting everyone give names with their own gestures.”
A Turning Point
“I was amazed when young people connected so strongly with the 50 Million Names Project idea,” Ostermann said. “When they can give a name, and begin praying for the relatives and abortionists of individual children, that is a turning point, a hopeful place from which to begin moving toward the future, expecting a tidal wave of blessing because of that connection.”
“This project has started within our Catholic circles,” Ostermann said. “But it must really move out into other denominations. One young Christian blogger has run a post about the project, and another has accepted a guest post from me.”
“50 Million Names is truly a foretaste of Catholic thinking and an attractive one,” Ostermann said. “Protestant friends are able to think differently, through this lens, about prayer itself, heaven, grace, birth control, the communion of saints and the Church triumphant. My Buddhist sister is so completely on board that she has begun voicing her pro-life beliefs in circles where pro-abortion is the assumed position and the norm. Because of 50 Million Names, she is experiencing tremendous healing from an early miscarriage and a sense of being drawn to Mary’s love. She can understand beauty, non-violence and a peaceful gesture and healing of wounds in a way she could never understand ‘straight up’ Catholic doctrine.”
Ostermann looks forward with hope and determination.
“We hope to partner carefully with other pro-life organizations, offering some free banner ad space on our site in exchange for them letting their supporters know about the project,” Ostermann said.
Signatures by State
The goal of the project is to collect 50 million names, 1 million for each state, she said. “I hope that, as each state reaches 1 million names, we can partner with pro-life organizations and legislators to have the names read into congressional records,” Ostermann said.
In what seems to be a never-ending task — the work to end abortion — the 50 Million Names project participants are making a difference.
“For me, the naming of a child individualizes the task of ending abortion,” Katie McCann said. “While we work to end abortion on behalf of every child, I think it’s motivational to think about each of these children as real individuals, rather than as a collective number.”
As Ostermann emphasized, “Violence is not the end of the story! These children exist, and the fact that they are real, unique, unrepeatable and present before the throne of God gives us joy. The gestures given in the names of these children will be a legacy of love that demonstrates our belief in the significance of every human person.”
Laurie Barrows writes from Colchester, Vermont.
This version has been updated since it went to press.