Richard Doerflinger
A More Human Society
July 18, 2017 // Perspective

An unsung champion for life

Richard Doerflinger
A More Human Society

It is widely agreed that the greatest pro-life legislative success since the Supreme Court’s 1973 abortion decision is the Hyde Amendment.

First enacted in 1976, it remains in law today to prevent federal funding of abortion. This provision and others like it have reduced abortions in the U.S. — a recent study estimates that Hyde has saved the lives of 2 million unborn children. It saved millions of taxpayers from supporting a practice they abhor and helped stop the “private choice” of abortion from being elevated into a public mandate.

Less well-known is what it took to get the amendment into law and keep it there. Top kudos go to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) and other sponsors from both parties. But they could not have done it without the help of a lobbyist unknown to the public named Mark Gallagher.

Gallagher passed away recently at the age of 75. He retired a decade before, while continuing his ministry as a permanent deacon. Because his lobbying was never about himself, always about the children and mothers, he would not have welcomed this tribute while alive. So, this is my first opportunity to express what his example meant to me and many others.

Gallagher advocated the Catholic pro-life agenda in Congress as lobbyist for the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, a distinct organization assisting the Catholic bishops, and then for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was one of the most effective advocates Capitol Hill has seen.

How effective? Well, his “decisive impact” on approval of Hyde was cited by the American Civil Liberties Union in its Supreme Court brief claiming the amendment was an unconstitutional “establishment” of the Catholic religion.

That suit failed and rightly so. Lawmakers’ decades-long respect for Gallagher’s advice had nothing to do with a peculiarly Catholic teaching on life. It arose from four things.

First, Gallagher’s grasp of the issue. He literally “wrote the book” on the Hyde Amendment, compiling a briefing book for congressional allies presenting all opposing arguments and well-documented rebuttals.

Second, his uncanny knack for estimating what could pass Congress and detailed knowledge of Congress’s procedural rules — an important gift when opponents exploited or rewrote those rules to block pro-life legislation.

Third, his sincerity and integrity, grounded in deep faith, contained no rancor or partisanship. He had worked for federal anti-poverty programs and Catholic Charities, and he helped pass bills that others called “liberal,” including the Civil Rights Restoration Act, Family and Medical Leave Act and Refundable Child Tax Credit. He embodied a “consistent ethic of life” before that phrase was coined.

Fourth, lawmakers knew Gallagher’s advice would be backed up by their own constituents, as he helped establish a grass-roots network helping Catholics write to their elected representatives. Millions of letters, postcards and emails have been sent to Congress because of his efforts.

His policy expertise was only one facet of his personality. Accompanying him on lobbying visits, I sometimes had to wait while a congressman or aide (regardless of views on the issue in question) asked to take Gallagher aside for moral or spiritual guidance on a personal matter.

And all of this came second to his family — his loving wife Kathy, nine children, 19 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His grown children testified at his funeral that, no matter what was happening in Congress, he was there for every major event in their lives and gave his undivided attention when they needed help or advice. Too many people involved in public policy cannot say the same.

This was Gallagher’s legacy to those who knew him. Faith and family above all. Be the most knowledgeable person in the room, sharing that knowledge humbly and freely. Never forget that you’re working for the most vulnerable, not yourself.

If there were more people like him in Washington, that partisan swamp would be a different place. Church leaders would do well to encourage this.

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