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Central America: Five Countries in Fifteen Days

JCWillke   |   April 01, 2005

This whirlwind trip was a five-nation tour of Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala. They all have laws against abortion. In two, these protections are enshrined in their constitutions. My wife, Barbara, and I lectured largely on the first week of life. This included fetal development, stem cells, cloning, emergency contraception and in vitro fertilization. In every case, one of their main concerns was emergency contraception and its abuse. With warm cooperation from pro-life workers as well as top government officials, we felt that our trip was extremely productive.

It began in the Honduras capital of Tegucigalpa, where we had our annual International Right to Life Federation board meeting. We welcomed our newly nominated member, William Saunders, representing the US. He is a long-time official at the Family Research Council and was appointed by President Bush to the US delegation to the UN.

After the board meeting, we spoke at a seminary to over 150 candidates for the priesthood. All board members took turns contributing and there were several media interviews. That night we had dinner courtesy of our hosts, Leonardo and Marta Casco-Fortin, with a variety of important officials, university professors, etc. The next day we had a lengthy meeting with the Health Minister and then on to the airport.

In Nicaragua, they kept us busy for an hour-and-a-half lecture, plus questions to leaders of their major charity, Caritas. The Bishop from Granada accepted a set of our four Spanish language one-minute radio spots, Life Jewels, containing 250 mini-messages. He assured me that he would make copies and have them aired daily on 30 stations across the country. This was repeated in all five countries. Again, we had several major speaking engagements. We also had a lengthy conference at their first pregnancy help center with an impressive group of about 20 young ladies.

Next we flew to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Here we had a happy reunion with Dr. Alejendro Leal, a young professor of genetics at C.R. University. We had worked with him 10 years ago in Rome. We went directly to a Catholic TV station and recorded a full hour program. After this, we went to the College of Pharmacy. This included a lengthy discussion with the dean about abortive drugs and the nation’s policy on their availability. Costa Rica’’s constitution protects the preborn baby from conception. Accordingly, there is substantial conflict about the sale of the “emergency contraception” pill. He will pass our literature on to all the medical students.

We went to another valuable meeting with the Minister of Health and Social Security, discussing the government’s role in the above abortive drug. Girls can purchase it over-the-counter at this time, but our visit may stimulate action against it.

Then we met the UN ambassador from Costa Rica, who extended a hardy handshake. “We met, Doctor, ten years ago in Paris, at a large family-life meeting.” I said, “At the palace of Versailles?” “Yes, but years before that when I got your first book.” This sort of interchange has not been unusual after lecturing in 74 countries. Twice his secretary interrupted our intense hour-long conversation with e-mails from the UN meeting going on in New York at the time. We thanked him warmly for Costa Rica’s lead in the UN on pro-life issues.

We had brought five separate boxes of Spanish pro-life literature, recordings and radio discs — one box for each country. All of this was warmly welcomed.

In El Salvador, we were up early and had a one-hour radio interview, then off to a TV station for a half-hour taping before a quick breakfast and a one-and-a-half-hour lecture at a boy’s school. After lunch, we led a question-and-answer period to a standing room only auditorium of 700 girls at a high school, then a 45-minute TV interview. That evening we spent two hours at a major meeting of an interesting high-level audience of doctors, lawyers, professors and other VIP-types. It was a good day.

The next morning, we went to the Central Catholic Office, where we met Monsignor Antall, an old friend. We then had three separate radio interviews, a two-hour lecture with questions, a 45-minute TV interview, two more radio interviews, another half hour on TV, more consultations and then an airbus to Guatemala City.

Our first interview the next morning was with the editor of La Prensa, Guatemala’s largest newspaper with a three million circulation. As with most journalists on our trip, he spoke excellent English and was a very pro-life gentleman. From there we went to a lengthy interview with the Guatemalan Minister of Health. As with so many other officials we met, this gentleman was pro-life and anxious to receive the information we brought, particularly on the subject of emergency contraception. After lunch, we spoke to a group of faculty members at an all-English school. Again, we used slides with a very lively interchange. From there it was back to the hotel and a long interview with the country’s second largest newspaper. That evening we gave a full presentation at the home of one of our hosts. Again the guests were community leaders, professors and pro-life activists.

The next day we addressed a major conference at a girl’s institute. The auditorium was jammed. We left posters and brochures, just as we did at other places.

We were then off to a radio-TV station, called the Family Christian Network, where we taped several programs.

We had been scheduled to meet the president of the Guatamalan Congress, but there was rioting around the capitol as the lawmakers were voting on a free trade agreement. Accordingly, we met with his secretary, the number two person. He evidenced grave concern over the abuse of the emergency contraception pill. Guatemala protects unborn human life from conception. As a result, he had been told that it was not abortive. I believe that he will now put a label on these prescriptions and stop their over-the-counter sale. Finally, we did another lengthy newspaper interview.

So it went. At every major large meeting we used slides, using our own slide projector. In some areas, translation was not needed. In most, however, we used concurrent translation. Everywhere, we met warm and enthusiastic cooperation, highly attentive students, and always, many questions.

At these meetings we passed out Spanish language editions of Life or Death, Did You Know, Eight-Week flyer, Stem Cell and other brochures, posters, Q and A books, video tapes, CDs and PowerPoint discs.

All in all, while it was an extremely crowded schedule, we felt that it would be difficult to think of a more productive two weeks in our life. We came home exhausted, but fulfilled.

The mission of Life Issues Institute is to change the hearts and minds of people through education. Clearly that was our goal during this latest trip. Our hope and prayer is that this newfound information in Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala will be applied toward saving the lives of countless preborn children.

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