Prolife Across America founder recounts four-plus decades trying to end abortion
Mary Ann Kuharski is one of the founders of Prolife Across America, which creates and places billboards in the Twin Cities and across the country. She has been active in the pro-life movement since 1970. She and her husband John have 13 children, including six who are adopted, and 22 grandchildren, and are members of St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony. Kuharski is an author and speaker on life and family issues. She recently was interviewed about the 40 years since Roe v. Wade and her involvement in the pro-life movement.
How did you get started in the pro-life movement?
A friend saw a flier at a church, St. Olaf in downtown [Minneapolis]. She said, “You should get involved.” I had a couple of young kids and I didn’t really care that much. I had been working on the north side helping with some other things and between that and my babies, that’s all I needed to do to keep busy.
Then, she called me again and said, “I can’t believe you’re not interested in this issue when you’re an adopted kid and you came from an orphanage yourself when you were nine months old.” I started thinking about it and I said, “Yeah, she’s got a point. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt me to get involved.” At that time, they started the northeast chapter of MCCL [Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life] and so I became one of the officers.
My heart really went out to the girls and women that might be pregnant. When they formed Birthright in 1972, they had a big meeting at St. Thomas and I was there.
What was your reaction to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision?
It was a shock. I think it was a devastating shock to those of us who had been in the movement thinking that this is going to go state by state and we’ll beat it back.
And, what we didn’t realize was that the Supreme Court — seven of the nine justices — took it out of the 50 states’ hands and gave us the most liberal law in the world.
People to this day don’t know that it’s legal through all nine months. Yes, the majority of abortions are done between the ninth and the 12th week of pregnancy, but they’re [also] done when you can cradle a baby in your arms.
So, it can be done at any stage of pregnancy. They created a law that was not there before, and that’s really a shame and devastating to happen in a so-called free society.
When did you get involved with Prolife Across America and the billboards?
In 1989. I had been working with another group called Human Life Alliance and I talked them into doing bus ads. We were doing ads on the sides and backs of buses.
But that was only the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. It was very limited advertising. So, the four of us [including another couple] decided that we would go off and we would start this [billboard organization].
By 1990, we put up our first set of billboards. We did it from my home. There was no office. There was no phone number, it [ad] was black and white because we didn’t have any money for color. We used the old Chevy slogan, “Listen to the heartbeat.” And then, we just put, “heartbeat at 24 days.” I was hoping Chevy might sue us and then we’d get more publicity.
How effective do you think the billboard effort has been over the years?
I know it’s saved lives. I absolutely know it. In fact, I know it so well because our opponents call me and tell me how much they hate them.
One woman called and said, “This is the sneakiest, most underhanded thing I’ve ever seen.” She identified herself as a pro-choice leader. She said, “And then, you’re using children on top of it.”
And, I said, “You bet we are.” It’s the children; that’s exactly what we’re talking about here — the future of America. So, why wouldn’t we use children to remind us of exactly what we’re doing here when we’re ending the lives of little babies who can’t speak for themselves?
In terms of people’s attitudes about abortion, what do you see today?
You know what I see? I see people my age maybe more permissive than the younger generation. My son went to the March for Life last year and I teased him and said, “What did you see? A bunch of little old ladies with rosaries and tennis shoes?” And he said, “Mom, the young people took over. It’s all the young people, and they were everywhere — busloads full of young people. There were college kids, high school kids, young adults, young families with [kids in] strollers.” Well, that’s a dream come true to know that.
What gives you hope today?
I think young people in the movement. And, we know who wins in the end. I’m here for the long ride. I don’t need to see success. I know who wins in the end. I just want to be on His side. That’s the reason why I’m here.
You are known as a person who uses an overwhelming positive approach when it comes to delivering a pro-life message to the public — the many smiling babies on your billboards being a prime example. Talk about this approach and how effective it has been.
When we first started, I couldn’t explain abortion to my children without crying at the breakfast table. If I couldn’t tell my own kids, how could I tell somebody else.
It’s just not in me. My nature isn’t like that. I have to believe in something positive. What is more beautiful than human life?
There’s a place for the negative. I’m not against showing that. It’s just not something I could do.
The other thing is — let’s be real — the advertisers [in charge of renting billboard space] won’t even let us use the word abortion or any kind of negative ads on a billboard. I’ve got agencies that won’t work with us now because they say that we’re too graphic. They want me to take out the words that they think are inflammatory, like “heartbeat at 18 days.” So, I don’t work [with] those agencies.
Do you see yourself as staying hard at it, or do you think it may be time to step back soon?
I’ll be here. I’ll be buried with this. I won’t quit. My kids know it, my grandkids know it. My grandkids are now doing papers on it. In fact, my granddaughter who’s in college said her goal is to take over my job.
What will it take to end abortion?
Prayer. Prayer and fasting. And, forgiveness. We need to forgive, we need to tell everybody about God’s love and God’s mercy. He’s poured it all out on us. Now we need to tell other people who don’t know about God’s love and God’s mercy.
And, pray for our enemies. Pray really hard every single day for them.
Sometimes, I’ll get a call on the phone. There’ll be a really shaky voice and I’ll hear, “I’m scheduled for an abortion, but something made me call you instead.” And, I think, “Somebody was out there praying that the next person who saw that ad would call us.”
Pray. And, if you can’t give us money so we can do more, then pray for those of us who are in the trenches who are trying to do the best job we can do at what we’re called to do. I think prayer is what fuels us — I really am convinced. We’re God’s arms and legs.
This is an issue of hope, not hopelessness.