ROME – If one were to identify a celebrity in the contemporary fight against abortion, that person probably would be Alveda King.
It’s not primarily her cameos on the silver screen in the late ‘80s, nor her frequent appearances on Fox News as a conservative commentator, which have awarded King with this star-like quality. Nor is it simply in light of her illustrious family – including her uncle, Martin Luther King Jr. – which, like few others, have molded American society.
Instead, King’s superstar status derives from her public, relentless and consistent advocacy for the pro-life movement. Today, she acts as the Director of African-American Outreach for Gospel of Life, led by Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life, and she’s also the founder of Alveda King Ministries.
Throughout her career, King has been a pro-life advocate from the pulpit of churches to marches before the Supreme Court. More recently, she has brought her voice to the Vatican for a conference Dec. 11-13 called “Catholic Inspired Organizations: Promoters of Humanity in a Transforming World,” followed by an audience with Pope Francis.
The message she brings to Rome is one of optimism for her cause, identifying a ‘moment’ in the United States in which the administration and the Catholic Church, in ecumenical dialogue with other denominations, can turn the ship around on abortion. The key to success, in her view, lies in what some might consider the most unlikely of sources: Millennials.
Sitting before a small group of reporters, including Crux, King sipped a freshly made cappuccino, the glint of the large silver cross dangling from her neck reflecting on the lens of her glasses.
Two things are striking about her on a first meeting. One is the singsong quality of her Georgia drawl, which is often cut by her rather abrupt silences, when her fingers touch and her eyes close in a posture not dissimilar from that of prayer. The other is her undeniable ability to command attention, a quality that is no doubt embedded in her genetic fabric and reminiscent of her uncle and her father, A.D. King, also a renowned leader of the civil rights movement.
“When peripherals collide, convergence is imminent,” she said answering a question on the current political environment in the United States and its impact on the pro-life movement. King pointed to what she believes is an historic opportunity, where Christians under President Donald Trump finally have a platform to put an end to permissive abortion policies in the United States.
She expressed gratitude to the U.S. bishop’s conference, which, she said, by recently electing Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City as the head of its Pro-Life Committee, has reinforced its commitment to life issues and the rights of the unborn.
“With the conference of bishops, for example, one might care about this cause, one might care about another cause, several causes… but then there is one that causes them to come together, and that’s the life issue,” King said, her tan freckles stretching over her smile. “More and more there are bishops and priests, and monsignors and nuns, who are just pushing and working.”
This momentum, she added, offers an opportunity to put an end to what she described as the “barbaric practice” of performing and promoting abortions and the overall dismissal of human life, from the unborn to the elderly.
“I do believe that we have come to a time in history when it’s going to be attacked effectively,” King said. “You’ve got the United States president, you’ve got the Catholic Church that’s connected all over the world saying ‘No’. This is a civil right.”
The belief that Trump’s election might bring a wave of change in the ongoing fight against abortion was met with skepticism by some Christians, who doubted the sincerity of his commitment to life issues. One year later, Trump’s outspoken defense of the Little Sisters of the Poor, his commitment to the Mexico City policy banning the U.S. from funding any foreign NGO providing abortion services, and his tweets in support of Charlie Gard, seemed to show that being pro-life might be more than just a political ploy to court Evangelicals.
“President Trump, amazingly, when he was running for office, his awareness for the sanctity of life appeared to just grow,” King said. “Some people didn’t believe it at first, it just didn’t make sense. It just reminded me of myself so much.”
Until 1983, King was a pro-choice advocate, having transferred her zeal for human rights activism in the brewing women’s movement. “I join ‘cause I’m a freedom fighter. You come up with some movement, and I’m in!” said the self-proclaimed flower child.
“I’m just ready to fight, every movement needs a fighter!”
During that time, King had two secret abortions and suffered a miscarriage, allegedly due to the consequences brought on by the previous operations, one of which she says took place without anesthesia. She admits that at the same time that she preached to her church members to get married and “court, not date,” in her private life she was divorced and in a relationship.
When King got pregnant once again, she let slip to her grandfather that she intended to go through with another abortion. “That’s not a lump of flesh,” he told her, “That’s my great-grandchild!” The father of the child also encouraged her to not to go through with the abortion and eventually King listened to “these two black men fighting for life.”
“In 1983 I was born again,” she said before retreating into one of her characteristic silences.
King’s new life has now led her to Rome, where she was scheduled to meet with Francis on Wednesday Dec. 13. The author and activist expressed delight at the Argentinian pontiff’s ministry and style, praising his ability to relate and be close to the average person. “He is a man after my own heart!” she added, clapping her hands and causing her bracelets to jingle.
During his trip to the United States in September of 2015, Francis listed Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example of someone who inspires good works while addressing a joint session of Congress and has often quoted him during his interviews and speeches.
King’s hope for the Vatican conference is to be an inspiring voice for the many leaders and advocates for life that will be present and thank them for their witness. “This work is very difficult. It’s grueling, it’s hard, it’s unthankful often… so if I can encourage some people while I am here, that’s what I want to do,” she added.
Ecumenical collaboration is at the heart of promoting a culture of life in the U.S. and in the world, King said, and quoted her uncle’s famous 1963 ‘I have a dream!’ speech in Washington D.C.
“Men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Ultimately, the hope for the fight against abortion in the U.S. is getting young people on board and aware of the importance of the issue, King insisted. “We need young people. We need Millennials with understanding.”
A 2014 pew survey on Millennial views regarding abortion found that young Catholics and Protestants in the U.S. are split down the middle on the issue, while 70 percent of ‘nones’ support it and 69 percent of Evangelicals oppose it.
According to the conservative activist, the pro-life movement “has had a shot in the arm by Millennials,” many of which in her view are drawing in numbers to support life and advocate for the weakest in society.
While the debate might still be out on whether younger generations will actually commit to a pro-life stance, King firmly believes that the Trump presidency offers an opportunity for Christians against abortion that is too good to miss.