Opponents of the pro-life movement seek to discredit it by describing its leadership as all-male, all Catholic, and all white. Kay Coles (Mrs. Charles E.) James, one of the leading anti-abortion campaigners as the nation observes the 13th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 “Roe vs. Wide” ruling this January, is none of the above. And she’s not about to buy the opposition’s caricature of the movement.
She’s an enthusiastic member of the Presbyterian Church in America who believes that the PCA has a lot to offer to fellow blacks. Mrs. James is director of public affairs for the Washington-based National Right to Life Committee (NRL). As such, she will be helping to mobilize thousands of demonstrators across the United States this month to focus attention on the court decision allowing abortion on demand.
She has deep convictions on the issue, and she articulates them convincingly. Testifying last summer on a bill before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, she said, “So long as the most defenseless members of the human family can be killed in legally sanctioned abortion chambers — for any reason or for no reason — our society’s purported commitments to equal protection and to protecting those who are most vulnerable, remain hollow indeed.” Concerning an appropriation question, she stated, “For the government to actually subsidize the violent destruction of unborn children compounds the injustice.”
She reinforced that testimony by quoting fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson, “The care of human life and happiness, not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”
Kay James took on her NRL job last May after a series of events that led her to “put your money where your mouth is.” Since graduating from college in 1971 she had held increasingly responsible corporate positions, and she left the position of personnel director for a thriving electronics retailing chain to join the NRL staff.
Parallel to her professional development has been her commitment and growth in churches teaching the Reformed faith. When she was in college at Hampton Institute she first met some of the people who are now PCA friends. She was active in the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship on campus, and one of the IVCF committee members supporting work in Virginia was an elder in the Stony Point Reformed Presbyterian Church in Richmond. That was where her family lived in those days, and she was encouraged to worship at Stony Point when she went home. It was the “mother church” of the Reformed Presbyterian Church — Evangelical Synod (and subsequently the PCA) in Virginias capital city, and it became her home church. She worked for the telephone company in Richmond for a year after graduation. When she was transferred to Roanoke and promoted to a supervisory post, she looked for a church with similar theological stance. She found an independent Reformed congregation whose pastor later joined RPCES.
In Roanoke, she met her husband, a telephone company executive. His next transfer took them back to Richmond, where they quickly became active at Stony Point. He was a ruling elder there and served on the Board of Home Ministries of RPCES.
While he was working on the denominational board that helped provide alternatives to abortion (especially through its relationships with Bethany Christian Services), she helped to establish a crisis pregnancy center in Richmond in 1978. In her work as a pro-life volunteer she accumulated various materials, including photographs of fetuses. She didn’t display them at home, but one day her older son, Chuck, found them. He was 10 at the time and wanted an explanation. Her attempt at a simple description of abortion brought from the youngster a response that the perpetrators “ought to be put in jail.” He was even more incredulous when she explained that such people could not be imprisoned since abortion was legal.
His next question set the stage for future action on her part. It was, “Why don’t you change the law?” Her reply was, “Sweetie, if the Lord provides an opportunity, I will.”
Only a few months later that opportunity began to develop. The Black Entertainment Network, a television service viewed by an estimated 5.5 million via cable in more than 300 cities, scheduled an abortion debate as a public affairs program. Planned Parenthood was sending a black woman to defend abortion. NRL had heard of Kay James’ volunteer work on the pro-life side, and she was asked to join the panel.
Mrs. James was reluctant to participate in the televised debate, but her husband encouraged her to do it. The invitation came shortly after his company had moved them to the Washington area, and their membership was still at Stony Point. (They have since joined the PCA’s McLean Church in suburban Washington.) He called back to Richmond and asked the congregation to pray for her television appearance and to activate others in the Christian community there. He rehearsed her as he had executives of his company when they were about to face tough questioning. They prayed together. When they got to the studio he walked her around it a couple of times before they went in. Even though the appearance had been committed to the Lord, she still wondered if she would be a good representative of the cause.
Once the show started, it moved quickly. The preparation paid off, and she more than held her own. After she had fielded a variety of questions the opposition hit her with the old charge that pro-life advocates lack compassion, especially in the case of the poor who cannot afford abortions.
Speaking not only from her experience in the Richmond crisis pregnancy center but also from a deeper personal conviction, she countered that the representation was unfair. She used an illustration that she knew well.
“I think especially of one woman who had four children and who became pregnant in difficult circumstances,” Mrs. James told the television audience (and subsequently other audiences, including that at the Senate committee hearing). “Her husband was an alcoholic — which contributed to a whole host of other problems.
“Because her husband did not provide financial support for this woman or her children, she could not find adequate medical care during her pregnancy. She gave birth to her baby on her kitchen table in a humble home in Portsmouth, Virginia.
“That woman was my mother, and that baby was me.”
“My mother could have used many types of assistance at that time, and at some later times. But she would not have considered it an act of generosity if the government had offered to pay to get rid of me. There are some so-called solutions to difficult situations which cannot really be considered options in a just and humane society, and abortion is one of these.”
She trounced the opposition with that unanswerable but simple statement of her case. When the program was over NRL representatives asked her to consider working full time fighting abortion. It meant leaving a secure job with good income, but her husband convinced her that she was needed and uniquely qualified to present the pro-life cause across the nation. The crucial element in the decision, however, was recalling the conversation with her son. She had promised that day that she would work to “change the law” if the Lord provided the opportunity.
Had it not been for what she considered a vow to Chuck and to God, she might not have gone to work for NRL. But she remembered the promise, and she accepted the position. She has found it to be a “tremendous opportunity to give the glory to God.” Her portfolio includes three main duties: Being the national spokesperson for NRL and overseeing its media relations, supervising the organizations’ outreach programs (to such target groups as teens, women who have had abortions, blacks, Hispanics, and Jews), and assisting in legislative efforts.
Kay James believes in what she is doing. Her fight to “change the law” is based on what she — and her church — believe. She’s comfortable working from within a denomination that stands for the Bible, a theology based on the “whole counsel of God” and thus for the “morals, values, and pro-family interests so important to us.”