Interviewee: Mary Finnerty
IWY TX 167
Interviewer: Amelia Fry
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Mary Finnerty, of Springfield, Virginia, participated in the Pro-Family Rally, which occurred simultaneously with IWY in Houston. She initially became involved in the pro-life movement after viewing an anti-abortion presentation at a PTA meeting. Following this, she joined Virginia Right to Life and later served as the secretary of March for Life, a national pro-life organization based in Washington D.C.
The interview includes discussion of March for Life and its organizational structure, finances, and demographics, Finnerty’s involvement in the pro-life movement, Roe V. Wade, the Pro-Family Rally in Houston, the Human Life Amendment, and Catholics and their relationship to the pro-life movement. She also discusses her belief that conservative delegates were excluded from state IWY conferences.
Amelia Fry: Number one, could you give me, again, your name?
Mary Finnerty: My name is Mary Finnerty. I’m also Mrs. Paul Finnerty. I’m from Springfield, Virginia. I’m secretary of March for Life in Washington D.C.
AF: And you’re presently, right now today, here doing what tasks, at International Women’s —around International Women’s Year? Or you able to be in any official capacity?
MF: Not at all— I’m here to support the Pro-Life movement in their protection of the pre-born child because —the people in the pro-life movement are so deeply concerned that International Women’s Year supports the slaughter of innocent pre-born children. We feel it’s our obligation to be here to defend those pre-born children, and that’s why I’m here.
AF: Would —can you just give us a good description of the main objectives of March for Life? In other words, is it lobbying? What are your major objectives? You must have told us a million times.
MF: The March for Life is a — an educational and lobbying organization based in Washington D.C. It’s nationwide, and it’s objective is to protect the pre-born child from the moment of fertilization through its continuum of life until its natural death and to protect all life, through all stages until its natural death.
AF: Through what processes would you do this protection?
MF: Our objective now is to have a human life amendment to the Constitution, which would protect all human life, as I said, from fertilization to its natural end regardless of the circumstances with no exceptions. That is our objective. The Supreme Court decision of January 22nd, 1973, allowed the slaughter of pre-born children in this country, and we feel that’s an abomination. And we are working very desperately and dedicatedly to overturn that decision, and make the people of this country aware that this is an act that is just against God and destroying humanity. And we want to protect that humanity by getting an amendment to the Constitution.
AF: Do you have a multi-point plan like grassroots education, education in Congress of Congressmen —?
MF: It includes all that. It includes grassroots education; it includes education of the Congressmen. We feel the way to get our amendment to the Constitution is by working through Congress. And in some cases the legislators have to be educated, as well as the public, so they know who to vote for.
AF: This is where your Washington office headquarters run this —?
MF: Yes, we have our Washington —the entire March for Life movement is completely voluntary. All support that we receive is from personal contributions from individuals. It is non-sectarian. Volunteers from all over the country have dedicated their lives for this purpose.
AF: Who are your major contributors?
MF: Volunteers throughout the country.
AF: I mean in money.
MF: That’s —
AF: Do you get grants?
MF: No, we get no grants. We receive no federal money whatsoever. We receive no grants from anybody. Everything is just private donations made by individuals.
AF: How do you get the donations? Mailings? Or what?
MF: People hear about our work. We have our flyer, which I’ve given you. They know through the media and through our mailings the work we’re doing, and that’s how we get our donations.
AF: So you don’t have any special angels? In my work, it’s the history of suffrage, of course they got a lot of donations, but they also got some very special angels to help with the suffrage movement — big donors.
MF: Our angels are spiritual.
AF: Even just enabling them to pay the rent —
MF: No, no —as a matter of fact, we have nothing like that. Everything is just day-by-day. We’re just grateful for anything anybody sends in.
AF: You’re here to work especially on the anti-abortion issue. There are a lot of other issues swirling around. What relationship do you see to some of the others, like for instance Equal Rights Amendment? Do you see that this has anything to do with abortion?
MF: Yes, I do because I feel that if we did get the Equal Rights Amendment that would lock-in abortion, so therefore I am against the Equal Rights Amendment. The Equal Rights Amendment is also destructive of the family.
AF: How is that?
MF: Just the fact that there are many different issues involved with the Equal Rights Amendment that take away the stability of the traditional family. And actually since we’re talking mainly about abortions, I don’t want to get into the Equal Rights Amendment because the March for Life is actually working for the Human Life Amendment to the Constitution.
AF: Does your organization have an official stand on the ERA?
MF: No, the March for Life has not taken an official stand on the ERA— as of this date.
AF: Most of your membership —
MF: It’s individual opinion, right.
AF: But practically speaking would be opposed because of the —
MF: I can’t speak for most of the membership, but I’d say if they took a poll they probably would be opposed to it.
AF: Let’s talk about your organization more – the structure. How many are on the board? How’s the board chosen and all that sort of stuff?
MF: The board of directors consists of all volunteers as I said. There are fourteen of us, and we are elected annually.
AF: At what? Do you have a national convention or something? Or how are you elected?
MF: Through the —let’s see I’m trying to figure out how to put that. It’s actually selected through the board of directors’ meetings that you’re chosen as a member of the board of directors.
AF: Oh —so the directors —
MF: The membership does not elect the board of directors.
AF: Oh, I see —by board of directors at board of directors’ meeting. Do you have state organizations?
MF: We actually do not have designated state organizations. We have people in states that do work for March for Life, but we do not have designated chapters.
AF: By people in states, you mean people whom you can call to speak to their senators?
AF: And what else do they do – the people in the states?
MF: They’re supportive of March for Life in any way that we need them.
AF: Can you give some examples?
MF: Well, lobbying is one. Yes, that would be one perfect example.
AF: Do they do any organizational work in the states?
MF: What do you mean organizational work?
AF: Forming groups of women for local work in March for Life?
MF: Well, our contacts in the states know who they should contact in order to do any type of work that we need done, and that’s how we handle it.
AF: So that nationally, as I understand it, you have a fairly large and efficient organization.
MF: We do. We have key contacts in each state.
AF: You’re at your telephone in Washington, and you know a women who to call…
MF: We know who to get in touch with.
AF: …in Indiana, when you need to.
AF: What states are most successful for you?
MF: I’d say all the states are.
AF: Do you have some that are more activist than others? We’d like to get a geographic description.
MF: I can say that every state in the United States is active in the pro-life movement for March for Life. I think that is obvious on January 22nd every year. People come from almost every state in the country to march.
AF: And they march in Washington?
AF: Is that your key event?
MF: That is the key event.
AF: (Laughs) That sounds like a nightmare to set up.
MF: We were busy on it from January 24th each year to the following January 22nd.
AF: How do you get housing for instance? Is this your job?
MF: Everybody works together really. It isn’t one particular person’s job. We have a committee that just gets busy, and we all work together.
AF: You’re probably the one in the nerve center, if you’re the secretary. I was going to move to today. What are you working on now? Partly for the record, partly because I want you to orient me, since I’m supposed to be interviewing for the next three days. But could you give me a rundown on your perceptions on what is going on, and what might happen, and what you expect for the next three days?
MF: I couldn’t even begin to perceive what’s going to happen. I really couldn’t.
AF: How is an organization like yours going to function? Do you have delegates? Are you observers? What kind of animals have you been classified as?
MF: When you say animals—who’s doing the classifying? (Laughs)
AF: In the IWY meetings, since this is supposed to be a history of the IWY —
MF: I don’t know what you mean.
AF: They have —I was told this morning for instance I probably cannot get status as an observer with a capital O. The delegates are on the floor, and the security is very tight, right? And there may be other classifications too that I don’t know about yet. So when there is a group like yours with a kind of one issue —how will you bring to bear your one issue to influence what happens?
MF: That will remain to be seen because all the testimony as you probably are aware at the hearings Senator Helms had in September 14th-15th. The testimony showed that throughout the country pro-life people were excluded from the state meetings. They were, in most states, not able to be heard, so therefore we’re going to just have to go about getting our voices heard our own way. The pro-family, pro-life rally that’s going to take place today will be our own.
AF: Oh, where is that?
MF: That is at the Astro Center on the south side of Houston. That’s one way we’ll be getting our message out to the people. We cannot really do it through IWY, since they didn’t want to hear us, so we’re doing it that way.
AF: At that’s primarily aimed at general grassroots support?
MF: Oh, it will be all grassroots support.
AF: You’re getting good press coverage of it, right? It looks like it today as we —
MF: Yes, I would say so.
AF: Phyllis Schlafly is being videotaped over there –just finished. I think there are more press people in here now than there are people to be interviewed, right? [Laughs]
MF: Guess there are right now. Everybody seems to be out doing their own thing right now.
AF: There’s another press —
MF: I see Molly Gray over here, and Molly Gray is President of March for Life. Perhaps you would like to speak with her?
AF: Oh yes! Yes, let’s get her in here. You could both talk to me. We’ll continue with her in just a minute. A little bit on your personal connection with this —how did you first get interested in this?
MF: My first interest was aroused when I saw the slides that the pro-life movement shows describing abortions, and showing what happens to that unborn baby through the various methods of abortion. When I saw how that little life is snuffed out; and that body is shredded into pieces, it aroused my emotions to the point that I had to do something about this. I had to do something and do nothing. Where was this? This was at a P.T.A. meeting in Edison, New Jersey where I lived until four and half years ago.
AF: Were you the type who was involved in community activities?
MF: No, I’m a mother and a wife first. I have four children, and my entire family was my life. I belonged to the P.T.A. because of my children. I wasn’t an officer. I was just a member, and I rarely belonged or participated in many organizations —any organizations that would take me away from the family. But after I saw this, I felt my family and my children meant so much to me that I couldn’t sit back and be guilty of letting this savagery go on in this country without doing something to try and stop it.
AF: And we’re you active in P.T.A. at the time?
MF: No, just observing. No, just a member who went to a meeting, and saw these slides that were presented by a pro-life group in New Jersey. And from that moment on, I had received the message that I had to get involved into doing something to stop this criminal activity.
AF: What did you do at first? Tell me how you managed to obtain the rank of secretary of the whole organization?
MF: To this day, I cannot believe I’ve gotten this deeply involved. It’s just been a process of steps along the way that I’ve been getting deeper and deeper into it. And I’m the type of person that doesn’t want to (laughs). I love my home. I love to sew. I love my children, my husband, and I love doing things with them. So I have found this to be a real sacrifice to my own life to get so deeply involved. And yet, I found myself getting deeper and deeper.
AF: What was your first job in it?
MF: My first job was just being one of the grassroots people in Virginia Right to Life who became involved in spreading the message about what abortion is all about.
AF: In other words, you worked on the local level?
MF: Just the local level.
AF: Are you close to Washington D.C.?
MF: Yes, I’m a half-hour from Washington.
AF: How did you get into March for Life?
MF: —And then I got into the March for Life through lobbying.
AF: They asked you to speak to Congressmen or something?
MF: It all started actually, I would say, with the time that Congress was working on the first Hyde amendment. And the March for Life was lobbying, and I thought I wanted to do something about stopping the federal funds for abortion. And so I went along with groups from our area down to Washington to lobby, and that’s how I got involved with March for Life. Of course, I went to every march since the first March for Life, January 22nd, 1974, and I’ve been to every once of them since. So I have been supportive of March for Life right from the very beginning.
AF: Is this connected with any religious beliefs?
MF: No. March for Life as I said earlier is non-sectarian.
AF: I assume that a lot of women in it are probably those with deep religious convictions that they’ve been brought up since childhood from Catholicism, or Mormons, or something like that?
MF: I wouldn’t even say it’s a religious conviction as much as a moral conviction. They know it’s wrong to kill human beings, so they’re involved in trying to stop it.
AF: Have you counted how many —what the proportion is Catholics, Protestants— you know sociologists are going to want to know this. Do you have any information on this?
MF: I don’t. You’d have to check with sociologists on that because I don’t know what the statistics are. I myself am a Catholic. I’ve been brought up all my life as a Catholic, and I’m a practicing Catholic. It’s something I’ve very proud of. I would say that Catholics probably are suffering persecution right now because they’re being accused of being in a movement that they have been brought up all their lives to know is wrong. I feel it’s bigotry when people accuse Catholics of doing something —
AF: Sort of puts you in a double bind doesn’t it?
MF: What do you mean a double bind?
AF: So that if you fight — if you don’t fight abortion, you’re going against your religion? If you do fight abortion, you get criticized by the people who feel —
MF: As I said, it’s not, it’s something I’ve been brought up with, but it’s not a religious issue. There are people in this movement who probably have no religion at all, but they know that it’s wrong to sit back and do nothing if a child is being killed. Just as I would hope you would sit back and —you wouldn’t sit back and do nothing if you saw a child being battered. You’d want to get involved, and that’s the way people in the pro-life movement look at it. They see a child being battered in the womb. They can’t sit back and do nothing. They have to get involved.
AF: Do you do a lot of public speaking?
MF: No, I haven’t done any public speaking.
AF: Well, I think you should. You’re very eloquent and articulate. I think that’s everything…
(Recording cuts out at 24:04)
End of Interview