Birthright celebrates 25 years with laughter and tears

GREENVILLE — Birthright of Greenville celebrated its 25th anniversary with a gala banquet at the Embassy Suites on Jan. 14. The evening turned out to be a mix of emotions for the friends and supporters of the organization that offers help to women contemplating abortions.

The crowd that filled the main ballroom had just started on their first course when Father Jay Scott Newman jolted them out of their comfort zones.

“I have bad news for us tonight, folks. Our civilization is killing itself,” said Father Newman, pastor of St. Mary Church.

He spoke about the more than 2,700 innocent people who were killed in the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 and compared that number to the thousands of innocent unborn who are killed every day in the United States by abortion. He said that Christians must join the fight to save them, even though it seems an exercise in futility in today’s culture of death.

“We’re fighting the battle, simply because we are disciples of Jesus Christ. There’s only one answer to this slow-motion suicide of our civilization, and that answer is life,” the priest said. “More than 28,000 women a day come to Birthright because they’re terrified and have no place else to go.”

Birthright offers advice, pregnancy testing and referrals of all kinds — medical, legal, even adoption referrals. The international organization’s purpose is to offer nonjudgmental assistance to women facing difficulties in life because they are pregnant.

“Mostly, we just need to listen, to provide a place where these women can talk through their problems and frustrations,” said Melissa Broering, assistant director of Birthright of Greenville. “We have no agenda, except to save the baby and help the woman. And sometimes to save the woman.”

Birthright does not enter the political fray over abortion rights, does not picket abortion clinics and does not evangelize. The volunteers do not pressure  clients, nor do they try to frighten them. Many of the men and women who staff and support Birthright of Greenville are Catholics, but the organization is ecumenical in nature.

Birthright volunteers also see the trauma that abortion inflicts on women who undergo the procedure.

“A lot of the women we see have been the abortion route before,” Broering said. “We see the effects of it, and we realize that society is not telling them the truth.”

One of those women is Cindy Dee, who aborted the child she conceived as a college student 15 years ago. She suffers guilt and loss to this day.

“I have a hole in my heart, but I’m telling my story to help Birthright,” she said. “They save babies’ lives, and they save more than that: They save the pain and heartaches that last a lifetime.”

She ended her emotional life story in tears, sobering the approximately 300 supporters at the anniversary banquet.

Later, the crowd’s emotions turned from tears to laughter when Mike G. Williams came to the podium.

Williams is a comedy writer for Jay Leno, “Saturday Night Live” and the comedian Carrot Top. He is also a comedian of note himself. His motto is “Laughter is Prozac for the soul,” and his antics and one-liners had the ballroom echoing with roaring laughs. He found humor in everyday anomalies, and the crowd hooted in recognition.

Maureen A. Santangelo of Jesus, Our Risen Savior Parish in Spartanburg came to the banquet to help spread the word about the value of Birthright.

“Their views are my views,” Santangelo said. “Birthright is a fabulous organization that needs to be publicized so that many more people will know about the services they offer, so that many more girls will know there are alternatives (to abortion).”

Catholic radio in the Upstate (WCKI, 1300 AM) advertised the anniversary banquet for free. Catholic radio’s representative in the area, F. Gary Towery, came to the banquet to further support “a good Catholic cause.”

Birthright, Towery’s good Catholic cause, came to Greenville in 1979 and grows every week, according to Broering. The organization is also represented in Columbia and in Charleston. The Web site for the parent organization is