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Great Escape

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July 2019

Ever notice that each day of the week has a different feel? Monday feels different than Friday, but also different than Tuesday. It’s true now and was true growing up. Sunday had its special feel. It was morning Mass, followed by Flash Gordon on the TV. We ate our big meal early afternoon, which left lots of time for doing other stuff. Very often, we kids spent that time at the movies. For 50 cents, we could see a double feature. The movies were our escape into the world of comedy, mystery, horror, drama, or action and adventure. Hollywood could bring it all to life—in Technicolor.

For action and adventure, few movies could top The Great Escape. It’s based on the true story of the efforts of heroic British soldiers to escape a Nazi POW camp. Brit prisoners lived by an unwritten code: escape or die trying. Though their story was compelling, Hollywood understood that to appeal to American audiences, the movie needed a couple American prisoners. Actor Steve McQueen, a guy’s guy, played one.

McQueen did his own stunts, which made him a perfect fit. When the Nazis discovered the escape, the chase was on in all directions. McQueen commandeered a Nazi motorcycle and headed for the Swiss border and freedom. He got there, only to find rail fences topped with barbwire. Revving up his cycle, he jumps high over. A great many baby-boomers probably trace their passion for motorcycles to that jump. It was cool beyond words.

The desire for freedom is so strong that people will do desperate things to attain it. In the decades before our Civil War, up to 100,000 slaves desperate for freedom used their own escape route. Founded by Quaker abolitionists, the Underground Railroad was a secret network of homes and safe houses where slaves could stop for food and clothes before moving to the next stop on the road to freedom. Their destinations were the free states, and eventually Canada.

Each house had a “station master,” who with the help of a “conductor” would get slaves to the next station. The helpers spoke in railroad code. Slaves used spirituals to communicate. The Promised Land, or Canaan, was Canada; the River Jordan was the Ohio River. Escaping was dangerous for all concerned. Under federal law, slave catchers could take slaves out of free states and return them to their masters, where severe beatings and even death awaited. Those helping the slaves could be fined and imprisoned. But freedom for the slaves was too important for either slave or free person to not take the risk.

With thoughts of the Underground Railroad, a Michigan woman claiming to protect a different type of “freedom” recently made the news for running a different kind of safe house. Shelley O’Brien, the mother of three and grandmother of seven, offers free lodging at her small hotel and free transportation to and from an abortion. Bothered by the pro-life laws passed in several states, she says that without the right to abortion, “we’re done for as a civilization.” Concerned about the prospect of back-alley abortions, she strongly believes that no one needs to proceed with a pregnancy. “People aren’t perfect, and people shouldn’t have to die for their mistakes.” She’s even designed a room dubbed “Jane’s Room,” in honor of Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.

There’s something commendable about O’Brien’s fighting spirit. She understands that people must sacrifice and take risks to bring change. But she is so sadly misguided in what she seeks. For starters, Norma McCorvey did not have an abortion, later realized that she had been used, and eventually became an ardent pro-life champion. For another, civilization won’t end if abortion is outlawed. Civilization has prospered in the centuries that it has been outlawed. Today, abortion and the abortion mentality are major culprits in the drop of the U.S. birthrate to a level well below replacement. We’re headed towards demographic disaster.

But worst of all is O’Brien’s confused notion that killing another human is an exercise in freedom. Our culture wrongly claims that freedom is doing what we want to do as individuals. If each of us lived on our own deserted islands, it might work. But we don’t. We live in community, which means that our actions must be based on the common good. O’Brien is correct that people should not need to die for their own mistakes. But why should a totally innocent unborn baby need to die? Mother and baby can both be helped.

The great irony is that O’Brien compares her endeavor to the Underground Railroad. On the Railroad, there was no intention that anyone would die. It was just the opposite—everyone lives free. But with abortion, death is the object. Its very purpose is to kill. That’s why it’s not a freedom at all. Think of it this way: legal abortion is the only “freedom” that always ends in death. Not freedom of speech, or the press, or religion, or assembly. With abortion there is always one dead, and sometimes two. Often the mother is seriously wounded, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, always spiritually.

When we appreciate what freedom is—and isn’t—we can see the need for those new pro-life state laws. For millions of innocents, they provide an escape route from what has become a death chamber: a mother’s womb. Whether it’s Alabama’s outlawing abortions except for serious medical problems, or Georgia and other states’ protecting unborn once a heartbeat is detected, the laws give the unborn a chance for freedom. And as for that Hollywood boycott of Georgia, not to worry. Georgia survived Atlanta’s burning. It will survive Hollywood.

In the movie, McQueen didn’t quite succeed. The Nazis nabbed him before he could jump a second fence. But with his spirit, audiences left assured that he would make it. If we are determined to help, so will the unborn. The Promised Land is close. Canaan awaits.


Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2019. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at and on Facebook.

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