SCRANTON — It was a win for the ages…and the “pre-ages.”
Pro-life perseverance and patience paid off on June 24, 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that virtually erased and rendered mute the Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand in America.
Catholics throughout the Diocese of Scranton were quick to note the high court’s reversal on the abortion issue was the answer to a half-century of prayers, coming — “God-incidentally” — on the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the birth date of the late Nellie Gray, foundress of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and the first to coin the term “pro-life.”
Maryann Lawhon, president of the Hazleton Area Chapter of Pennsylvanians for Human Life (PHL), witnessed firsthand the horrors of legalized abortion in 1977 when, as a young nurse working in the obstetrics unity of a West Virginia hospital, she stumbled upon an abandoned newborn — completely unaware the Supreme Court’s Roe decision made the atrocity legal.
After being reprimanded for bringing the revelation to the staff’s attention, and against instruction to “do nothing,” she held the infant, baptized him and declared, “I name you John. I will tell the world what I saw here today. I will be your voice.”
“Promise kept,” Lawhon proudly noted, referring to her “Voice of John” respect life educational apostolate based in Hazleton. “My immediate reaction was of absolute joy, a victory for the child in the womb!”
Lawhon said she shed “tears of joy” during the “surreal moment,” recalling decades of pro-life marches, peaceful protests outside of abortion clinics, prayer chains and carnation sales in defense of the right to life.
“Justice for the 63 million children who have died,” she continued. “A victory for humanity!”
So, mission accomplished?
“No,” Lawhon explained. “God has a plan, so this is a time to listen to the fears and address the concerns of a society which has known a world where abortion has been both justified and normalized.”
Maria Lutz Barna chimed in, “My mother (Katherine Lutz), Mary Farley Pane and Loretta McNellis are dancing in heaven,” referring also to the two original founders of the Grassroots Hazleton Chapter.
“Today, the ‘voice of John’ has been heard,” Sugarloaf resident Caroline Cummins said in reaction to the monumental Supreme Court decision.
“No more Roe. God’s will was done on June 24, 2022. Praise the Sacred Heart of Jesus!” Jean Klingerman of Drums exclaimed.
Eternal gratitude punctuated the post-ruling comments of longtime pro-life activist Ada Magni.
“This law is now in the ash heap of history,” she said, while noting abortion continues to be legal in Pennsylvania through the first six months of pregnancy for any reason, except the sex of the baby. “Now that the power has been turned over to the states we must put pressure (on legislators) to pass the Life Amendment so we the people have a voice in protecting the unborn in our state. Pray we must to make abortion illegal in Pennsylvania.”
At 93, Betty Caffrey has served as president of the Wyoming Valley PHL Chapter for the past 47 years and spearheads the Human Life Resource Center in Wilkes-Barre.
“After almost 50 years of waiting to hear Roe was no more, I thanked God for the victory but I know that the battle has just begun,” Caffrey began in her response to experiencing history. “Those who oppose us will never mention the baby. We must as Catholic Christians become ‘warriors for life.’ We will all be held accountable to God for what we did not do. No excuses.”
She continued, “We will be held responsible for every life taken. Now is the time as Catholics of this diocese to become active in defending life. We need leadership in every pulpit and pew.”
“God will bless our efforts once again, and the killing of the unborn will cease only if we work to make the truth known. When the babies’ lives no longer matter, then who is next?” Caffrey concluded.
Her PHL Chapter vice president, Chris Calore, lauded the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a great victory for America and all unborn threatened with abortion.
“The good Lord answered the prayers and the good works of the many who have worked in defense of the most vulnerable,” Calore stated. “Thanks to Nellie Gray and to the countless souls whose efforts contributed to this blessed Supreme Court decision. It is a time to celebrate; however, our work for the pro-life cause is never over.”
One of the diocese’s most visible and vigilant stalwarts in the nearly half-century battle against abortion has been Helen Gohsler, who served as president of the Scranton Chapter of Pennsylvanians for Human Life for nearly 40 years before stepping down from the high-profile post.
Reacting to the long-awaited Supreme Court decision nullifying Roe v. Wade, Gohsler added her voice to the joyful chorus of longtime colleagues and ardent pro-life patriots who have passionately dedicated much of their lives to protecting the sanctity of all human life, with special thanks for area clergy.
“I believe I speak for the Scranton Pennsylvanians for Human Life chapter when I say we are most grateful to those priests and pastors who, over the years, have responded to the cries of the unborn and have supported us in our prayers and efforts on their behalf,” she remarked.
Sarah McNellis has been active in the pro-life cause since its inception 49 years ago and founded the Saint Gabriel’s Pro-Life Movement in Hazleton in 1973.
“At the first March for Life in Washington organized by Nellie Gray, I marched with 20,000 other pro-lifers from the Wyoming Valley area,” McNellis explained.
As a registered nurse and the mother of five children, she recalled the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion in the United States on Jan. 22, 1973.
“We marched on January 22, 1974,” McNellis proudly stated. “From that moment on I joined the pro-life movement to reverse this awful (court) decision. That decision was reversed on June 24, 2022, on Nellie Gray’s birthday. How wonderful and appropriate!”
Having been involved in pro-life work for so many years, Hazleton PHL Chapter vice president Carol Matz was uncertain she would ever see Roe v. Wade overturned in her lifetime.
“When the landmark ruling was announced I was elated,” Matz said, “and to know that I and many others were part of this was quite humbling.
“So while we celebrate, we also are aware that the fight continues. We need to look to state legislation and push for more protection statewide for unborn children, while at the same time looking for more ways we can assist mothers in need so they do not feel alone, unloved or unsure of how they will be able to care for a baby.”