Last week, hundreds of people gathered in Washington, DC for the 7th Annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Participants joined together for prayer, fellowship, and a program. Reflecting the theme of this year’s breakfast, “Celebrating the Beatification of Pope John Paul II,” four speakers paid tribute to the late pontiff. Their remarks offer both encouragement and warning for pro-life Americans.
Bishop William E. Lori, of the Diocese of Bridgeport, and a member of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered the keynote address. He praised John Paul II for achieving in his lived experience, teaching, life of prayer, and on the world stage, “a unique and profound synthesis of the dignity of the human person and those freedoms inherent in our humanity.” He said, “John Paul II’s witness to human freedom and dignity should strike a chord in our nation, where religious freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment of the Constitution and where, as a people, we have always believed that God, and not the state, is the source of those rights.”
However, he continued, “Increasingly, religious freedom in our country is viewed as a carve-out, an exception built into laws that are otherwise an affront to human dignity.” Bishop Lori then cited the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) as an example of the “subtle undermining of religious freedom” that is occurring in the West. The PPACA “calls into question the ethical and religious freedom of health professionals and faith-based health care institutions.”
To counter these constraints on freedom, Bishop Lori urged three pro-life bills before Congress – the Protect Life Act, the Abortion Nondiscrimination Act, and the Rights of Conscience Act – “be swiftly enacted and signed into law.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich described the documentary film he and his wife produced on Pope John Paul II’s pilgrimage to Poland in 1979, which played a pivotal role in the downfall of Communism in Europe. Despite this victory, achieved principally through a spiritual transformation stronger than earthly powers, a growing crisis of secularism in Europe is spreading to the US. It represents “a decisive break with the essentially religious nature of historic American civilization.” 
Drawing upon the work of George Weigel, Gingrich observed: “American elites are guided by their desire to emulate European elites. And as a result anti-religious values are coming to dominate the academic, news media and judicial class.”
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell gave remarks on his Catholic faith as a moral compass for his career in public service. Despite a pro-abortion majority in the Virginia legislature that blocked several pro-life bills introduced this session, Virginia has made progress under the leadership of Gov. McDonnell, his administration, and pro-life legislators. In 2010, Governor McDonnell amended the FY 2011-2012 state budget to limit Medicaid funding for abortions. Earlier this year, Virginia passed an historic law requiring abortion facilities in which five or more first-trimester abortions per month are performed to abide by many of the same regulations as hospital facilities. On April 8, the Commonwealth became the seventh state to opt-out of subsidizing abortions through the state insurance exchange mandated in PPACA.
Lila Rose, the 22 year old founder of Live Action, the pro-life new media group that produced undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees counseling individuals posing sex traffickers on how to obtain secret abortions for underage girls, spoke about being pro-life as a Gospel mandate.
Ms. Rose concluded by comparing the test of America’s greatness to the test of Christian charity, drawing from Pope John Paul II’s famous quote:
“America you are beautiful . . . and blessed . . . . The ultimate test of your greatness is the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless. If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace, then America, defend life.”
 The text of Bishop Lori’s address, “Blessed John Paul II: Champion of Religious Freedom,” is available at http://www.bridgeportdiocese.com/index.php/ourbishop/article/2011_0427bishopspeech.
2 For background on pro-life bills to protect healthcare rights of conscience, see http://www.aul.org/2011/05/overwhelming-majority-of-americans-support-protecting-conscience.
3 The text of Newt Gingrich’s speech is available at http://www.facebook.com/notes/newt-gingrich/text-of-my-speech-to-the-national-catholic-prayer-breakfast-this-morning/170642579658012.
4 To learn more about state opt-out legislation and request AUL’s model, see http://www.aul.org/initiative/opt-out.