Jeannette religious groups protest abortion despite national decline
Black-and-white placards with a jagged red EKG line running through the center to a red heart have cropped up in yards and roadsides across Jeannette and Greensburg.
The message emblazoned on the signs: Unborn Lives Matter.
In smaller print along the bottom are the names Knights of Columbus — a Catholic fraternal organization — along with Ascension and Sacred Heart Catholic churches, which started posting the signs in mid-July.
“To try and get awareness,” said Robert Pacelli, grand knight for Jeannette’s Knights of Columbus 1222. “(The signs) started with the Black Lives Matter movement, and we felt we wanted to get our message out that all lives matter. … All lives matter from conception to death.”
The Rev. Paul Lisik, the priest in charge of both churches, declined to comment, noting that Knights of Columbus is heading the movement. Pacelli said Lisik has been supportive in allowing the group to use the church names, adding, “It’s trying to get the churches’ names out there. Church attendance is dropping. Just to get the name out there, we feel it’s important.”
Decades in decline
The local pro-life campaign comes as many states have introduced tougher abortion laws or bans and at a time when abortion rates — both locally and nationally — are the lowest since the early 1970s.
Between 2014 and 2017, prior to any of the recently proposed or passed legislation, abortion rates dropped 7% in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health research and policy organization that collects the most detailed abortion data in the United States.
About 862,320 abortions were performed across the United States in 2017, or about 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, data shows. That is the lowest abortion rates have been in the country since 1973, when the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court established abortion rights nationwide.
Pennsylvania also saw a small decrease in abortions, with 28,234 performed on state residents in 2017 — nearly 1,000 fewer than the year before and the lowest number in 45 years, according to figures from the state Department of Health.
The abortion rate in Pennsylvania in 2017, the latest year data is available, was 11.8 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 44. In 1980, the abortion rate was a record 23.1 per 1,000 females in that age group. Statewide, Pennsylvania residents had 61,064 abortions that year, state records show.
The overall drop over the past several decades also have been seen in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, which in 2017 saw 3,220 and 404 abortions, respectively.
Allegheny County residents had a record 9,572 abortions in 1979, the first of six consecutive years with more than 9,000 abortions.
Westmoreland County residents in 1980 had a record 1,444 abortions. That fell during a 10-year span from 1976-85 that saw more than 1,000 abortions performed each year, state records show.
Defending choice, life
Data do not account for “back alley abortions” performed outside a health care facility, said Sara Dixon, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania.
A growing number of women are self-regulating abortions by ordering abortion pills online, where they are easy to get and making it appear that they suffered a spontaneous miscarriage, The New York Times reported this month. Such pills are often prescribed by abortion clinics during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.
It is impossible to know how many women are choosing such underground abortions, the newspaper reported, with some experts estimating it could be thousands a year while others say tens of thousands.
Those numbers could rise dramatically if abortion rights continue to shrink or go away altogether, Dixon said.
“We’re looking at potentially Roe v. Wade going back the the Supreme Court,” she said. “If abortion is banned, it doesn’t stop abortions. It just makes them more unhealthy, more deadly, people trying to do them themselves.”
Protesters have taken to the streets for decades for anti-abortion rallies, with Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood being no stranger to such demonstrations. In 2015, protesters filled sidewalks near the Liberty Avenue health center in downtown Pittsburgh, calling on the government to stop funding Planned Parenthood and protesting allegations the group was selling fetal tissue for profit.
Groups like the Knights of Columbus often raise money for pro-life organizations and facilities, along with other initiatives like “spiritual” adoptions (or praying for a unborn baby for nine months), encourage chastity among religious education students, participate in the March 25 Mass for Life and more, according to the organization’s website.
The Jeannette chapter hosts a fundraiser in Greensburg to support Life Choices, a pro-life group that started in Armstrong County, giving church patrons the opportunity to donate money toward the organization.
Locally, Pacelli said community reaction to the Unborn Lives Matter signs and the organization’s stance on abortion has been good.
“We’ve had some signs that were stolen, some signs that were just taken down and laid down in the yard. Other than that, I don’t know of any push back,” he said. “We’re just trying to bring awareness to the unborn and trying to get the understanding that all lives do matter.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .