‘All In’ For Pro-Life
1/1/2015Alton J. Pelowski
Having served New Jersey’s 4th congressional district for more than three decades, U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith is one of the most senior and respected members of Congress. He has authored numerous pieces of legislation the fourth most in the House of Representatives including many related to human rights. He currently serves as co-chairman of a number of congressional caucuses, including the Pro-Life Caucus, the Alzheimer’s Task Force, the Coalition for Autism Research and Education, and the Caucus on Human Trafficking.
Before assuming office in 1981 at age 27, Smith worked as executive director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee. Since that time, he has been a leader in many legislative victories, including banning partial-birth abortion and preventing federal funds from promoting abortion abroad. In 2011, together with Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Smith’s co-chair of the Pro-Life Caucus, he introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.
Columbia editor Alton J. Pelowski recently spoke with the congressman about this legislative work and the future of the pro-life movement.
Columbia: How did you first get involved in the pro-life movement?
Rep. Chris Smith: When I started college, several years before Roe v. Wade, New York had just legalized abortion under Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, and others were pushing legalization in New Jersey.
My involvement began when I took an assignment on the topic for one of my classes. While doing the reading, I encountered a number of facts and stories, including one story about a child in New York who survived a late-term abortion. The abortionist and so-called advocates were upset, seeing it as a complication. And it just struck me: Thank the Lord that this baby survived. Where was this little child’s human rights?
From there, I formed a group called the Trenton State College Pro-life Committee. My wife, who got involved in the movement in 1974 as a freshman, was president of the group for a time as well. We held seminars, inviting people to speak about topics like abortion and euthanasia, and we also worked with Birthright, which was really the first pregnancy care center organization of its kind. From the outset, we understood that abortion involves two victims: the baby and the mother. This is why we did everything we could to help the mothers, too.
Columbia: Was this work related to your decision to run for office?
Rep. Smith: If it weren’t for my work in the pro-life movement, I probably wouldn’t have run for Congress. I majored in business and thought I’d have a business career. But the sheer human need was a magnet, and it coincided with the maturing of my faith as a Catholic.
Columbia: What role has your Catholic faith played in your advocacy for the unborn?
Rep. Smith: My family was very devout, and I went to Catholic grammar and high school. I also had lots of questions, and I remember reading Bishop Fulton Sheen’s books and many others to help answer them. And all of a sudden, a frontal attack on the most innocent and defenseless person on earth a child, a baby was right in our own backyard.
I began to realize that there really is no other institution on earth that is more comprehensive and consistent than the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, our culture buys into euphemisms and shallow bumper sticker slogans. But for the Church, it’s all about truth.
Then certain Scriptures began informing and motivating me. What stood out above all else was the verse in Matthew 25, where the Lord said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do likewise to me.” The unborn child is the ultimate “least of these.” Others are similarly disenfranchised and vulnerable, but the child has no say, no voice and if we don’t rise to their defense, the culture of death will claim even more victims.
Columbia: You have been vocal about many other issues related to human dignity as well.
Rep. Smith: My pro-life work led to all the other human rights and humanitarian work. It’s all interrelated. The Church and government need to stand side by side with those who are weak and vulnerable.
I began the effort against human trafficking around 1995 and introduced a major bill on it in 1998. In 2000, I was the prime sponsor of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which became the law of our land, and I wrote two other human trafficking laws in 2003 and 2005.
Likewise, I also wrote four torture victim relief bills to help those who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and 13 veteran-related bills, including the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001.
Columbia: What are some key developments that you have observed in the pro-life movement over the past 40 years?
Rep. Smith: At first, we hoped that Roe v. Wade could be overturned in just a few years. Most of us were incredulous that a society could embrace dismembering and chemically poisoning children by calling it a benign act and good for women. The other side has marketed the culture of death effectively, but a lie can only sustain its potency for a limited time. In this case it’s been decades, but I believe that the abortion culture’s days are numbered because of the pro-life movement’s persistence, faith and love, even for our most egregious opponents.
Every year, the movement has grown stronger. More young people are involved than ever before, and polls suggest that increasing numbers of young people are pro-life. There’s been a sea change. The number of actual abortions has gone down, and much of that is directly tied to the Church’s presence and the many ministries and education efforts. The expansion of pregnancy care centers has been key to this.
Especially important have been healing ministries like Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard, which reach out to women who have been wounded by abortion. For Christians, this is what this movement is all about: God is the one that judges, not us; we try to bring his Divine Mercy and radiate Christ.
The Knights of Columbus has also played a pivotal role. When I was director of New Jersey Right to Life, our organization would not have existed if it weren’t for the Knights’ support. And now, the Ultrasound Initiative is saving lives every day of the week.
Columbia: A record number of pro-life laws have been enacted on the state level in recent years. What do you think the reason for this trend is, and do you see it extending to the federal level?
Rep. Smith: More and more of our state legislators are not only excellent lawmakers, but they are also persistent. They just will not quit. Coupled with faith, this is helping to usher in a culture of life. In the last three years alone, more than 200 pro-life laws have been passed at the state level.
At the federal level, 18 pro-life “riders,” as we call them, restrict funding for abortion. I authored one in 1983 on the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, which is still in existence. The Hyde Amendment has also survived every attack imaginable. We’re currently looking to strengthen the Weldon Amendment on conscience rights, especially for churches.
With the shift of power in the Senate, I am very hopeful about the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would save lives by restricting abortions after 20 weeks. Although it’s sure to be vetoed by the President, we just have to keep persisting.
People lament that we don’t make more progress in politics, but we’re also fighting to stop the pro-abortion side.
There are still unmet needs legislatively, and we have had setbacks. In my opinion, the biggest in recent years was Obamacare. When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, the President provided assurances that it would not cover abortion, and even issued an executive order to this end. Nevertheless, a study by the Government Accountability Office found that Obamacare insurance plans routinely use taxpayer money to cover abortion on demand.
Columbia: What other political challenges are facing the pro-life movement in the United States?
Rep. Smith: We are faced with the high bar of overcoming a Supreme Court decision and the so-called constitutional right to abortion, which was created out of whole cloth out of “raw judicial power,” as Justice Byron White said. It has survived, obviously, because of the support of individual members of the high court. That’s why we need a president who will appoint justices that recognize this abuse of power. Sadly, President Obama’s appointments to the federal courts have been strongly pro-abortion.
Meanwhile, the killing continues every single day, in clinics all over the country. Many of these facilities even receive taxpayer dollars. Planned Parenthood, which performs more than 330,000 abortions per year, receives hundreds of millions in federal funds, and it continues to expand.
Columbia: How have these domestic challenges extended beyond the borders of the United States?
Rep. Smith: In 1994, I raised issues repeatedly at the Cairo Population Conference, where the Holy See stopped the Clinton administration from establishing an international right to abortion as a matter of global law. Twenty years later, we’re still fighting the same battle.
The Obama administration is trying to hijack the United Nations’ post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals by linking global health programs with so-called reproductive rights. Groups like the World Health Organization and the U.N. Population Fund, aided and abetted by the administration, are pushing for this language right now.
This is being done by stealth and puts developing countries in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia, such as the Philippines, at grave risk. We’ve already lost a number of countries, such as Uruguay, to the abortion culture. If we don’t remove that language, these development goals, which will be in effect from 2016 until 2030, will transform the world toward the culture of death.
They’re also hijacking the Organization of American States as we speak. Because of Roe v. Wade, the United States has never ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which recognizes the rights of the unborn. The abortion advocates are trying to replace that with a right to abortion. Their preferred term for abortionists is “human rights defenders.” It’s Orwellian in the extreme.
Meanwhile, we on the pro-life side are fighting for sustainable development goals that truly reduce maternal and child mortality and implement noble and important life-affirming initiatives not integrating the killing of unborn children on demand.
Columbia: How have you managed to maintain your ardor for the pro-life cause throughout your long political career?
Rep. Smith: I look at politics as a kind of ministry, to defend and advance the Gospel of Life. Like many ministries, it is very challenging.
I couldn’t do it without my wife, Marie. We’re best friends, married 37 years with four children and three grandchildren. She works on the international level and runs a pro-life NGO. She has always been gentle, but with a rock-solid backbone. It’s a great combination, because in this job, you really do have to manage disappointments or you’ll become numb. I am also blessed to have a very good staff, people who are totally committed to the culture of life.
Finally, we are inspired by the pro-life movement in the United States and countless organizations working to save lives, including the Knights of Columbus. I can’t say enough about the healing ministries. I’ve met so many women who have been healed and found reconciliation after being deeply wounded by abortion. They are among our strongest and most articulate leaders.
Columbia: What do you say to people who are skeptical or cynical about pro-life politics?
Rep. Smith: As ugly as politics can sometimes be, large numbers of ethical, committed people are involved. They just don’t make the news very often. Still, there are too few laborers in this vineyard. We need more people to engage in politics and work with us.
The pro-abortion side knows that they’re in a war. They have almost unlimited money, and payroll working 24/7. It’s all about coercing people to accept their jaundiced view toward life and to be complicit with it. Their plan is to eliminate all conscience protection. Even the former executive director of the U.N. Population Fund said that the last frontier to overcome is the faith community.
We need to push back, as never before. We don’t want our kids or grandkids to inherit the culture of death. In order to prevail here, we have to be all in. There can’t be any counting of the cost.