Eunice Kennedy Shriver: A Real Profile in Courage

Eunice Kennedy Shriver passed away on August 11, 2009 at the age of 88. Her death was noteworthy for many reasons, one of which I was unaware until reading one of the tributes that came her way.

For one thing, she was a Kennedy, a member of the quintessential American political dynasty, the oldest of the three surviving children of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Kennedy.

Her husband, Sargent Shriver, was the Democratic nominee for Vice President in 1972. One of her five children, Maria Shriver, is the first lady of the state of California, the wife of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

She is widely known as an advocate for children’s health and people with special needs, and her most enduring public legacy is the Special Olympics, which she founded in 1962.

Her lifelong devotion to the mentally and physically challenged was inspired in part by her sister Rosemary, born into a intellectually intimidating and highly competitive family. Because she couldn’t keep up with her brothers and sisters and her frustration manifested itself in mood swings and sometimes erratic behavior, what was probably mental illness was mistaken for mental retardation.

With her father’s approval, doctors performed a frontal lobotomy on Rosemary, ostensibly to control her violent behavior but, tragically, the operation left her incapacitated for life. A woman who could read, write heartfelt letters, dance, do arithmetic and partake of the arts had her productive years stolen from her by a father who was apparently embarrassed by her.

When she was permanently institutionalized, her only consistent and reliable connection to her family was her sister Eunice, who visited her regularly until her death in 2005.

Eunice was a devout Catholic in the truest sense of the word. Her commitment to special needs people was simply one manifestation of her faith. The other is one I wouldn’t have suspected given the political bent of her family, and this is the one that surprised me.

Eunice Shriver was unequivocally pro-life despite being a Kennedy and a lifelong Democrat. She criticized a pro-abortion group in a letter to the New York Times for misusing a quote from her brother, the late President John F. Kennedy, to attack Catholic bishops for organizing to defend unborn life. In 1992, she was a prominent signatory to a letter published in the New York Times protesting the pro-abortion plank in the Democratic Party’s platform.

She was a member of several pro-life groups, including Feminists for Life of America (FFLA), Democrats for Life of America and the Susan B. Anthony List, where her husband was also a member. Her membership with FFLA, the nation’s largest and most visible pro-life feminist organization, placed her in the company of celebrities such as Patricia Heaton of Everybody Loves Raymond fame, Kate Mulgrew, who played the first female starship captain in a Star Trek series, Star Trek: Voyager, and Margaret Colin, who played the White House communications director in the movie Independence Day. Another prominent member of FFLA? Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

While other members of her family, even her only daughter Maria, a self-professed “cafeteria Catholic,” and her beloved Democratic Party elevated abortion to the level of a sacrament, she stayed true to her conviction that all human life, regardless of stage or state of development, is valuable and worthy of dignity, respect and protection.

Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of articles written about her death, while they praised her work with special needs people and her signature role with the Special Olympics, made no mention whatsoever of her pro-life convictions, reinforcing my strongly-held opinion that the mainstream media have an agenda and a script they follow when reporting the news. Were it not for alternative news outlets like and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, I would not have known about her staunch pro-life views.

I was more saddened by the fact her official website, while offering effusive praise for her work with the Special Olympics, never once mentioned her commitment to the pro-life cause.

Her biography lists her numerous honors but the "Remarkable Pro-Life Woman” award she received from FFLA  in 1998 went unmentioned. At the time, Sargent Shriver was so excited about the award that, according to FFLA president Serrin Foster, "her husband phoned the office and asked us to send over a stack of copies for his family and friends. He was delighted that we recognized her in this meaningful way."

Regrettably, Sargent Shriver suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease and isn’t able to express his pride for his wife’s pro-life convictions. The family’s official statement about her death made a nebulous reference to “her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life.” It’s almost as if her family was ashamed of her pro-life views which were the foundation of her life’s work:

"How do you equate the life of an unborn infant with the social well-being of a mother, a father or a family? If it is thought that the social well-being of the mother outweighs the rights of fetuses with congenital abnormalities, we do well to remember that more than 99 percent of abortions are done on normal fetuses."

Rest in peace, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Thank you for your courage and commitment to the least of us in society, especially the most voiceless and helpless of all human beings, the unborn person. While society and even your own family failed to acknowledge your devotion to all human life, the greatest reward of all is yours, that of our Lord and Savior declaring, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”