Chris Slattery RIP: Remembering a Pro-Life Giant

Family, friends and admirers gathered Nov. 27 at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle for the funeral Mass of the man whose network of New York City pregnancy centers is credited with saving the lives of more than 40,000 babies.

Chris Slattery is seen in his signature hat.
Chris Slattery is seen in his signature hat. (photo: Courtesy of Chris Slattery / Register files)

YONKERS, N.Y. — The Nov. 27 funeral Mass for Chris Slattery, the renowned longtime pro-life leader in New York, was a fitting end to a lifelong struggle against abortion. 

On a cold, windswept day, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Yonkers was full of family, friends — Catholic and Protestant — laughing and crying, as they reminisced on Slattery’s life and legacy as a hardscrabble warrior. There were 13 Sisters of Life present, as well as two men in leather jackets with the words “Pro Biker Pro-Life” across their backs. The Mass was concelebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne of New York and 10 priests. 

Slattery died on Nov. 22, after a protracted battle against cancer. He was 68.

“Chris was an innovator, and he inspired many people to get involved in the pro-Life movement,” said Brian Caulfield, who works for the Knights of Columbus and serves as vice postulator for the cause of Blessed Michael McGivney. “He had strong opinions and wasn’t always easy to get along with — but there is no denying his total commitment to the cause. He was 100% focused on turning around abortion-minded women. He was a genius and was never intimidated.”

Chris Slattery funeral Nov. 27, 2023
From nuns to pro-life bikers, mourners gather for the funeral Mass of pro-life stalwart Chris Slattery.(Photo: Sabrina Ferrisi photos)

From Advertising to Pro-Life Leader

Slattery was the founder and director of EMC Frontline (formerly called Expectant Mother Care), New York City’s largest network of pregnancy-care centers. According to EMC’s website, the network has saved 43,000 babies since opening 40 years ago — an average of more than 1,000 babies saved per year. Slattery turned over EMC Frontline to the nonprofit CompassCare Pregnancy Services, under the leadership of Rev. James Harden, this past month.

During the 1980s, Slattery worked for an advertising agency in Manhattan when he spotted a friend in front of a building at 7:30 a.m., trying to convince women not to have abortions. Slattery joined the discussion and helped to convince a 15-year-old not to abort. Six months later, he held that 15-year-old’s baby in his arms — an event that changed his life.

By the 1990s, Slattery was working in the pro-life movement full time, not only by running EMC, but also with his involvement in Operation Rescue, a pro-life organization characterized by nonviolent protests and blocking the entrances of abortion businesses. 

While some pro-lifers focused individually on influencing political policy, others on counseling women and others on protesting, Slattery focused on each one.

Legal Troubles

His work toward saving babies juxtaposed with a constant barrage of lawsuits against him by the pro-abortion governments of New York City and the state of New York, always with the intent of shutting down his pregnancy centers.

“I represented Chris for 20 years. He was a pioneer in pregnancy centers,” said Christopher Ferrara, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society. “He was always being hassled by the attorney general of New York. He would get subpoenaed and then we would get it quashed.”

The most recent lawsuits emerged after the state, then the city, passed a law in 2019 called the “Boss Bill,” which made it illegal for any employer to dismiss an employee who had procured an abortion.

Slattery ended up suing both levels of government through EMC’s nonprofit entity called Evergreen. Evergreen won its case against the state on appeal in the 2nd Circuit Court, with the judge ruling in favor of the right to associate with like-minded people. The lawsuit against New York City is still in the courts.

“Chris has been under attack constantly. He never did anything for his own benefit. I don’t know how he did it. He was a true hero, getting it from all sides. He’s a giant — right up there with Joe Scheidler,” said Ferrara.

Thomas Brejcha, founder, president and chief counsel for the Thomas More Society, said, “He just embodied the energy of the pro-life movement. He was upbeat and assertive in an effervescent way. If I ever get out of purgatory, I will recognize Chris in heaven with his cowboy hat.”

‘Pro-Life Superhero’

People recalled Slattery’s constant movement. He attended national pro-life conferences up until nearly the end of his life. 

“Chris was ubiquitous. He was really everywhere,” said Gerald Yeung, former chair of Westchester Putnam Right to Life. “Chris had big ideas. He could not always implement them, but he was a visionary, always. Chris was one of the first to introduce mobile units with ultrasound machines. 

“He was always on the cutting edge. There were ups and downs — but I always considered him a pro-life superhero for being there, front and center, in the fight against the powers that be.” 

Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a Presbyterian minister and head of the Christian Defense Coalition, presented some remarks during Slattery’s funeral. 

“We have grieving hearts today, but we take great comfort in knowing that Chris has passed from this physical world into eternal life with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whom he so deeply loved and served,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney said that Slattery was one of the most interesting people he had ever met, without question. He joked that Chris would always tell people how they could do things better.

“If you hear a voice in the background while I am talking — that would be Chris speaking from heaven, telling me what to include in my eulogy and what to leave out, and to speed it up, if I am taking too long,” he said to the laughing congregation.

“Being a pro-life leader in New York City for over 40 years is one of the most challenging vocations in the world. And I would dare say there are few people who could have stood it under the constant pressure that Chris did every day: the attacks, persecution, jailings, lawsuits, being demonized by the media — and having to raise millions of dollars to keep the doors of EMC open,” said Mahoney.

Counseling Skills

Friends recalled how Slattery, a longtime supernumerary of the personal prelature Opus Dei, was always on the phone, counseling women — no matter the circumstance.

“He was a very good counselor, very charismatic,” said Caulfield. “I once sat in a counseling room with him and watched him turn a woman away from abortion in front of me. She had come in for a free pregnancy test. He would say, ‘We will help you, and this is what we are going to do.’ He was a master at this art. He had this confidence about him, and he was sure of what he was doing.”

Mahoney told the congregation that, in the pro-life movement, Chris was a legend. 

“No one in the pro-life movement, no one, has saved more children than Chris and EMC. And that testimony will live on long after Chris has passed — what a legacy,” he said to thunderous applause.

Slattery’s wife, Eileen, was also honored, for standing “shoulder to shoulder with Chris” throughout their marriage. 

“Chris was not a touchy-feely kind of person. However, there was a deep reservoir of feelings and compassion in his heart that he expressed in his own unique way,” said Mahoney.

In the most powerful moment of the funeral, Mahoney recalled a line from the movie Schindler’s List: “There will be future generations because of what you did.”

“Katie [Mahoney’s wife] and I were just rewatching Schindler’s List, and there is a moment at the end of the film where the Schindler Jews came, and they laid rocks of remembrance on Oscar Schindler’s grave: 6,000 of them from the 1,400 that were saved. … Can you see the day in heaven where thousands of children come up to Chris? Thousands of families, thousands of aunts, uncles and grandmothers, and teachers and lawyers, and they say, ‘Thank you. Because of your sacrifice and commitment, you gave me life and a destiny, and I am eternally grateful for that.’”

This story was updated after posting.