Anti-Abortion “Priests for Life” Has A Dangerous History
Priests for Life is a national anti-abortion organization that is helping to shape the racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti-gay, and anti-immigration narrative of the anti-abortion movement. They have close ties to many ‘pro-life’ leaders from extremist anti-abortion groups to conservative politicians, including former President Donald Trump. The president of Priests for Life is revealing his far-right radicalization more and more every day, but to understand where they are headed we need to dissect where they have been.
Founded by Lee Kaylor, Priests for Life was officially recognized by the Archbishop of San Francisco in 1991.  The organization is registered as a 501(c)(3) and is tax exempt, meaning they legally, “May not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.” [2,3] Despite this well-established and well-known rule, Priests for Life does not seem to care about following it.
In fact, their very origin was the founder’s letter-writing campaign in 1990 urging priests throughout California to influence their parishioners to vote against a pro-choice ballot measure.  In 1993, Priests for Life was handed over to Frank Pavone, who still serves as president. Despite Pavone’s claims that he, “Built it from scratch,” the organization already had supporters and some money in the bank, along with their history of skirting the law on how tax-exempt organizations can participate in politics. 
Priests for Life has grown over the years, notably for their suit against the Obama administration. They argued that the Affordable Care Act mandate that birth control be covered by employer insurance plans went against their religious freedom, which opposes contraception along with abortion. Eventually, the case made it to the Supreme Court where it was consolidated with six other cases making similar arguments. The Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s decision and allowed for a retrial.  Then, Priests for Life settled with the federal government and now does not have to provide coverage for birth control to their employees. 
Despite being a 501(c)(3), the organization has been cavalier about openly stating where it stands politically: deeply in favor of Donald Trump and everything he stands for. Frank Pavone is an avid supporter of the Republican Party, and is especially loud about his admiration of Trump. During the End Abortion Podcast, described as a “Priests for Life production” hosted by Pavone, he has openly stated, “I help the Republican Party” and told listeners that they need to, “Keep the Republican Party in power in both houses of Congress.” [8,9] It should go without saying that using resources from a tax-exempt organization to broadcast partisan messages is deeply unethical.
Even though Pavone has claimed to be a friend to Kristen Day, the president of the anti-abortion group Democrats for Life, Pavone hates the Democratic Party:  He literally called for the abolishment of the party. He referred to the 2020 election as a civil war, vilifying Democrats.  Pavone has also tweeted that while he was never a supporter of reparations (presumably for slavery), he would be support “reparations” that harmed Democratic voters, which is wildly racist and a confusing misinterpretation of reparations at the same time.
Pavone’s statements may seem like the outlandish Facebook ramblings of someone’s unhinged uncle who is no longer invited to the cookout, he and his organization are too well connected to political powers to be a punchline. He has bragged about speaking with Supreme Court Justice Thomas at a dinner last year, touting his influence and clout in high circles of power.  Pavone also interviewed former Vice President Mike Pence’s daughter Charlotte Pence on his podcast, and pushed his viewers to buy her book.  He has also met with President Trump, and was an advisor for Trump’s reelection campaign. I’ll write more on that in a future blog post. 
This is all while Pavone, a priest who runs a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, said of President Joe Biden’s Catholic faith that, “You can’t be throwing around your religion just as a political tool.”  Meanwhile, that seems to be a large part of what he does: They outright boast about it. Priests for Life operates as an instrument for accelerating Trumpism among Catholics and advancing the Republican Party. Their organization rakes in millions of dollars each year – their most recent tax filing available lists revenues of $10,649,499 – which Pavone, who has no credentials in tax law, claimed there is, “No threat whatsoever to the tax status of the Church.” [16, 17] However, Pavone has run into issues with the IRS in the past: In May 2010, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of Gospels for Life Ministry, a nonprofit also lead by Frank Pavone.  Gospels for Life Ministry continued to falsely claim that donations made during that time would be tax-exempt. The state of Pennsylvania later fined them for raising funds,  yet it appears that organization’s tax status was reinstated in the early 2010s.
Money issues for Pavone don’t end there. In 2010, Priests for Life had a deficit of $1.4 million dollars despite collecting tens of millions of dollars in donations.  To this day, there are reviews from previous donors complaining about the organization’s aggressive and manipulative fundraising tactics.  His bad financial decisions even gotten him into trouble with the Catholic church, but I’ll dig more into that in a future post. 
Priests for Life is an egregious, immoral, dangerous organization that has no claim to the righteousness they espouse. And it only gets darker and more egregious: Stay tuned for the next installment of this blog series, where we’ll go in depth on the backlash Pavone has faced from the Catholic Church itself.
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- Marana, Janet, host. “Interview with Fr. Frank Pavone about His Personal Life (05/11/20).” End Abortion Podcast, iTunes app, 11 May 2020.
- Pavone, Frank, host. “Counteracting Myths About President Trump.” End Abortion Podcast, iTunes app, 3 September 2020.
- Pavone, Frank, host. “Fr. Frank Pavone on America First With Sebastian Gorka (6/10/2019).” End Abortion Podcast, iTunes app, 12 September 2020.
- Pavone, Frank, host. “Sunday Morning Greeting! Neutrality is not an option – 02/02-2020.” End Abortion Podcast, iTunes app, 3 February 2020.
- Pavone, Frank, host. “Fr. Frank Pavone on Sunday Night Pro- Life Prime Time.” End Abortion Podcast, iTunes app, 3 July 2019.
- Pavone, Frank, host. “Fr. Frank Pavone talks with the Vice President’s Daughter, Charlotte Pence.” End Abortion Podcast, iTunes app, 5 June 2020.
- Pavone, Frank, host. “Continued Prayers and Reflections About the Election.” End Abortion Podcast, iTunes app, 9 November 2020.
- Pavone, Frank, host. “Priests for Life: Great News on the Courts! (04/08/2019).” End Abortion Podcast, iTunes, 9 April 2019.