This was, I believe, my last column for the East Tennessee Catholic, published right around this time in 2010. Since this is the time of year for participating in Martin Luther King parades and Marches for Life, it seems like a good day to share it with you.
Our small delegation from Immaculate Conception’s Social Justice Committee slogged down Kingston Pike, through ankle deep puddles and muddy grass, wet to the skin. Although our participation in the annual March for Life in the face of such weather proved our dedication to the pro-life cause, it wasn’t much fun.
Less than a week earlier, we had marched in the Martin Luther King parade. Unlike the snow we had braved the prior year, we were blessed with sunny weather that made the 2.5 mile walk a pleasure, especially with all the smiling people shouting greetings and encouragement from the sidelines.
As the chair of our Social Justice Committee, I had the task of promoting both these marches. In advance of the MLK event, we shared with the congregation the words of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers … At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.”
The following week we drew a parallel between the two marches. We reminded everyone that the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement were fueled by Dr. King’s commitment to organized non-violent protest, a philosophy he adopted from Mohandas Gandhi. Dr. King said: “The method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity.” It is good to be reminded that we are not just marching to make ourselves feel good, but to effect change.
The proximity of these events made me wonder about Dr. King—were he alive today, would he march for the pro-life cause? Would he recognize abortion for the civil rights issue it is? I wanted to think so, but finding concrete information is difficult.
Pro-life websites claim him for our side, but can offer only indirect evidence. Pro-choice websites paint him as a certain supporter. Their argument centers around the Margaret Sanger Award, which Dr. King accepted from Planned Parenthood in 1966. But in 1966, Planned Parenthood was promoting birth control, not abortion. One of their pamphlets, published in August 1963 and titled Is Birth Control Abortion? said: “An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it.”
While Dr. King is on record as supporting birth control, he cannot have known the truth about Margaret Sanger and her racist, eugenicist agenda, just as many people do not know it today. Had he done so, he surely would have refused an award which honors the woman who said of her strategy: “We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population. and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” (Margaret Sanger’s December 19, 1939 letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble, 255 Adams Street, Milton, Massachusetts).
Advocates of King as pro-lifer point to his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he espoused natural law theory, saying : “[T]here are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all. . . . A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”
They also point to the pro-life commitment of some of his closest associates, Dr. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Jesse Jackson (yes, until the early 1980s!) both of whom are on record as deploring abortion. In truth, many black leaders of King’s time called it genocide.
Finally, Dr. King’s niece, Alveda King, has said: “What would Martin Luther King say if he saw the skulls of babies at the bottom of abortion pits? If Martin Luther King’s dream is to live, our babies must live. ” (Martin Luther King’s Niece Supports Right To Life, Boston University Daily Free Press, 18 January 2000, p.1)
At the dedication of memorials at the Birmingham church at which her father served as pastor, she added: “The great irony,” she said, “is that abortion has done what the Klan only dreamed of.” She told a meeting of Priests for Life that the killing of a quarter of the black population of the US has not been from the lynch mobs of her childhood days, but from abortionists, “who plant their killing centers in minority neighborhoods and prey upon women who think they have no hope.”
And on that note, staying true to their founder’s ideals, Planned Parenthood has purchased a medical building at 710 Cherry Street in East Knoxville, a predominantly black neighborhood. Non-violent protest deterred them from locating in mostly-white Bearden. While not offering surgical abortions, this center prescribes the abortion pill, RU-486. Pro-life advocates from both inside and outside the neighborhood are already organizing, fostering tensions just like Dr. King in the cause of justice for the unborn.