By Melanie Sisinni

              Saturday, January 13, was a treacherous day in Erie. Roads were covered in snow and ice, and the wind blew waves onto the sidewalk at Erie’s Bayfront Convention Center, where People for Life held its 46th annual Pro-Life Breakfast. Winter weather couldn’t keep crowds away as hundreds of people braved the weather to attend the event.

              Guests were greeted with gentle guitar music thanks to musician Angelo Philips. Attendees found their seats and removed their many layers of hats, gloves, sweaters and coats before the master of ceremonies, People for Life Board Member Karli Van Der Vorgen, took the stage to greet the captive audience. Van Der Vorgen commented that terrible weather and outstanding obstacles are hallmarks of these pro-life events, but perseverance is key.

              “Last year, our speaker barely made it here,” said Van Der Vorgen. “She came down with a stomach illness and showed up right before she was supposed to speak. If you remember, someone prayed a strong prayer over her that got her through. It was just really amazing. You can really see God’s presence in the room.”

           Van Der Vorgen explained that the key speaker for this year’s Pro-Life Breakfast, Notre Dame Law School professor Sherif Girgis, would not attend the breakfast in person as weather and a family emergency precluded him from flying. Though attendees were audibly disappointed, the overall feeling was appreciative that Girgis could give his lecture via Zoom for the event.

           After the invocation from Rev. Phil Bookhamer, guests were dismissed from their tables to fill their plates with traditional breakfast foods, including eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon and various pastries. 

Clare Caulfield, 18, a member of Saint George Parish, Erie, and
winner of the 2023 National Right to Life Oratory Contest, spoke
during the presentation portion of the breakfast.
Photo/Melanie Sisinni

           People for Life Executive Director Tim Broderick introduced Clare Caulfield. Caulfield, an Erie native, is the 2023 National Right to Life Oratory Contest winner. She approached the stage to give a shortened form of her award-winning speech on misinformation surrounding Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). Caulfield stated that CPCs are often accused of not abiding by the four fundamental principles that guide a medical practice: beneficence, non-maleficence, respect for autonomy and justice. In her speech, Caulfield defended CPCs and stated that abortion clinics are actually at fault for not abiding by those principles. 

           Caulfield finished her speech with a call to action.

           “No medical facility should be unethical but still legal,” said Caulfield. “We should close all clinics that don’t comply with HIPAA, close all clinics that pose as legitimate licensed clinics but are not, close all clinics that don’t abide by the four fundamental principles, and ultimately see all abortion clinics closed.”

           After a brief speech from U.S. Representative Mike Kelly, Girgis joined the breakfast via Zoom to give his presentation.

           In his speech, Girgis emphasized the significance of the recent Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case, praising it as a significant victory for the pro-life movement after 18 months of legal battles. He elaborated on the constitutional and legal reasoning behind the Dobbs decision and defended it on its merits.

           “It’s an extraordinary outcome, and it has already served real practical purposes,” said Girgis. “The New York Times ran a story very much in sorrow from the New York Times perspective, noting that in just six months after Dobbs, in part because of the trigger laws that went into effect right away, 30,000 abortions that would’ve happened, did not. We faced many challenges and difficulties, but we cannot let ourselves lose sight of the fact that we won decisively a half-century battle in this highest of high causes. And every time we’re gathered or working for the pro-life cause, we need to remember that and thank God for that.”

           Girgis then described how he makes the case for the right to life with particularly progressive students. The argument focuses on common ground with progressivism, appealing to principles of expanding care, fighting discrimination, and protecting the weakest, ultimately highlighting the moral worth of unborn human beings based on science and human equality.

Guest speaker, Sherif Girgis, gave his lecture from his home
office in South Bend, Indiana.
Photo/Melanie Sisinni

           “What is progressivism at its best? It’s about expanding the circle of people that we care for in life,” said Girgis. “It is about fighting invidious discrimination based on things that we can control and that have no moral significance and no effect on policy, your race, your religion, your disability, your marital status, and so on. And the pro-life cause does all of those things. It expands the circle of protection to include the unborn. It fights the worst kind of discrimination, which is legal discrimination and discrimination precisely against the weakest and the most vulnerable among us.”

           Bishop Lawrence Persico gave remarks, thanking People for Life for organizing the breakfast and encouraging attendees to keep themselves informed to continue to fight for the pro-life cause.

           “We have to be vigilant and keep up the momentum, watching everything, listening to what the lawmakers are saying and seeing what the government is doing to try to stop pro-life initiatives,” said Bishop Persico.

           Before closing the event, thanking everyone for their attendance, Broderick left the crowd with a quote from John 14: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”