Updated: Jul 16, 2020
“I think abortion should be legal out of a sense of compassion towards people who are disabled. How can you force a person who is disabled to have to be born into a world where they can never be successful?”
The high school student’s disturbing question pierced the air and left the room tense. Camille Pauley, President and co-founder of Healing the Culture, had just spoken about the four levels of human happiness in a crowded classroom and was ending her presentation with a Q&A session. From her wheelchair in the back of the room, Anneke, a bright and brave student with spina bifida, raised her hand to challenge this line of thinking.
“For me, success is being here with my friends, learning, loving God and being with my family,” Anneke answered. “You are excluding me from the opportunity to have that kind of success, because you think success means athletic and academic achievement.”
Impactful messages that highlight the inherent value, dignity and potential of each human person like this, though usually delivered by Pauley, are at the heart of Healing the Culture. This non-profit organization ‘evangelizes and converts people to be deeply, authentically, and permanently pro-life.’
Pauley, before co-founding Healing the Culture in 2003, had been involved in the pro-life movement since she was in high school and credits her upbringing and education in the Catholic faith as a major cause of her life’s work.
“Being Catholic, I learned as a child about the important principles of ethics and justice and human dignity and that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. That knowledge and those beliefs were kind of a no-brainer for falling into a pro-life position that the unborn child was dignified and human and had rights as well,” Pauley described. “I got my pro-life start in high school. I had always been pro-life, but my neighbors across the street were strong conservative Baptists and they invited me to come and pray with them in front of an abortion clinic. I did and I prayed the rosary while they sang. Just watching the women come in and come out and realizing what was happening inside that building and seeing it for real in front of my eyes was devastating to me and broke my heart. I knew on that day that this was going to be my life’s work and it was.”
Pauley served as the Director of Education for Human Life of Washington, the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, and as a registered pro-life lobbyist from 1993 to 2003. Along with other responsibilities, Pauley testified at numerous governmental hearings, published life-affirming newsletters and assembled people to peacefully march and rally.
“I really felt as a young pro-life professional, at first, that lobbying to change the law was going to be the answer to the problem of abortion. It took awhile for me to realize, through kind of our own crash and burn history here in Washington state, that you need the law to control the heartless … [but] it doesn’t change your culture. You really have to work through education and evangelization to change a culture and the law is there to serve as almost a bolstering of what you’re teaching in the culture,” Pauley said. “I met Fr. Robert Spitzer who was on the Human Life [of Washington] board of directors. He was slowly formulating these ideas in his head that our pro-life movement had no real, strong, philosophical, and rational articulation of why you should be pro-life in the first place and desperately needed it.”
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Pauley worked with Fr. Spitzer on his life-affirming logic and reflections to complete multiple publications and the founding of Healing the Culture in 2003. Though Healing the Culture began with only two employees, the organization quickly found its voice and a substantial role in the pro-life movement by, rather than only sending speakers to give speeches at high schools and colleges, training tens of thousands of American and Canadian teachers, pastors, parents, students and others to “[dialogue] with people on the abortion issue from a much deeper perspective using philosophy and reason.”
“There’s nobody else doing this work. Everybody is focused on really important things like helping pregnant women get the care that they need, changing the law where the law is unjust, educating people on the biology of the human being at the very beginning stages of early life, but nobody is engaging in this deeper philosophical dialogue about how we define ourselves and what we think is most important,” Pauley explained. “If you don’t do that, you can’t keep good laws. If you don’t do that, people don’t care about the biology. They say, ‘Oh, that baby looks cute, but we have to avoid suffering.’ People don’t care about the practical situations to solve the women’s problems. They will come up with a solution to the problem that destroys the suffering person, because it’s easier.”
Though Pauley’s primary method of teaching people about the unfathomable sanctity of human life and the philosophical roots that undergird this principle is through trainings, she has accepted debate challenges including at the University of California at Berkeley in November 2017.
“I was invited to participate in a debate against an abortionist for seven hundred students and after the debate [and the “hostile” Q & A session] … four students came up to me and there was a bunch of people around them listening. These four students wanted to argue about how I could support a pro-life position when you have so much suffering going on,” Pauley retold. “I just looked at them and I said, ‘Okay, you tell me. You’ve grown up with abortion as a solution. Has it solved any of these problems? Because you now have abortion all over the United States legal through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever paid for by tax dollars. Has it solved any of these problems?’ They had to admit no. I said, ‘You guys are going to Berkeley. I didn’t have this opportunity. You guys are smart. You can think of solutions to these problems that don’t include the violation of human rights and the destruction of the dignity of the human person.’”
After a moment of reflection, one of the four students spoke.
“I wasn’t pro-choice. I’m pro-abortion … [but] you’re right, I never thought about it. I just had always been told that abortion is a solution to all of our problems and I had been told that we’re supposed to embrace it in order to be pro-woman. I never thought of it in terms of what we’re doing to the dignity of human people and whether or not there are other solutions.”
Pauley promptly addressed the moved student and his peers.
“I challenged them [and said], ‘You talk about starvation in the world. What about hydroponic farming? What about getting rid of the kind of governments that are preventing food from getting to people, because they want control so they isolate people in these tiny areas? Why don’t we talk about that?’ They’ve never thought about these things before when they talk about abortion.”
Pauley, through her organization’s pro-life trainings, resources and outreach, hopes to change how our culture defines human life.
“We have allowed the powerful people in our culture, and by that I mean the politically powerful, the academically powerful and the educationally powerful people in our culture, to define human beings as a physical, material [and] chemical existents in the moment … When you see the human person the way the powerful people in our culture define them today, you are nothing more than a thing and it’s no wonder that we exclude the disabled, the terminally ill, the elderly, the unborn, the weak and the disenfranchised from cultural relevance,” Pauley described. “But when you view the human person in terms of the self-transcendent being capable in their future of bringing love and goodness and justice and compassion and generosity and faith and peace into the world, you open the door now. Not only to embracing all human beings as human persons, but you open the door to a society of peace.”
Pauley views a true understanding of the human person as important for the protection and wellbeing of the special needs community.
“The oppression and discrimination against people with disabilities comes from the same root as the oppression and discrimination against vulnerable populations historically and against the unborn. Part of our goal is to get people to think of people with disabilities differently than they are now. They are not people with disabilities. They’re human beings made in the image and likeness of God just like you and me … Embracing the dignity of the disabled population is one of the four pillars [of Healing the Culture]: the elderly, the terminally ill, the disabled and the unborn,” Pauley explained. “There are a lot of other groups of people who are oppressed as well, but these are the four whose lives are at stake as a matter of policy … Laws are being crafted to exclude these human beings from the right to life based on their current status: the current status of the unborn being unborn, the current status of the elderly being old, the current status of terminally ill people being actively dying [and] the current status of disabled people having a certain level of disability that we have deemed to be more than we’re willing to tolerate. That is a tremendous violence against the human person.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, Healing the Culture has created an online platform called respectlife.university where videos succinctly articulating pro-life positions are regularly posted. Also, Pauley and her team have transitioned their in-person Life Advocacy Student Training (LAST) seminars to a virtual format with the help of Students for Life of America.
“We graduated over fifty pro-life student leaders from across the country representing about twenty different universities [through the online LAST trainings since the pandemic started],” Pauley said. “They’re free and they are three ninety-minute sessions in three back-to-back weeks. We’ll be doing four or five more of them next school year and so anybody who wants to sign up for one of those or get in touch with us. They can send us an email at healingtheculture.com.”
Despite a global pandemic, Camille Pauley and Healing the Culture still seek to transform our culture through their message emphasizing the true and immeasurable value of every human person.
Camille Pauley: President and co-founder of Healing the Culture
Camille Pauley speaks to faculty and students at Christendom College about the Ten Universal Principles on October 13, 2008
Camille Pauley (top row, second to left) addresses several graduates of the Life Advocacy Student Training (LAST) online program over Zoom in May 2020