Boston’s O’Connell uses TV for pro-life advocacy

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BOSTON – In a region with a pronounced progressive tilt, some television watchers  may be surprised to stumble upon a local television show that exists expressly to air discussion about unborn children.

But that is exactly what Brendan O’Connell, 61, has produced for nearly 13 years in Boston. As the show’s host, he has interviewed guests ranging from Jennifer Lahl, the president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network in California, to former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, a Democrat, and then-Speaker Tom Finneran, a Boston Democrat who led the Massachusetts House of Representatives, according to the show’s website.

“One of my themes is the broad mosaic of the right-to-life movement,” O’Connell said in a recent interview. “We look at it from a biological, medical, legal, legislative, political, economic, emotional and psychological and spiritual nine levels.”

With topics varying from personal observations and commentary to expert views on euthanasia, fertility and contraception, the show has featured lawyers, doctors, medical specialists, religious leaders and authors.

O’Connell has interviewed women who as babies survived attempted abortions, women who have themselves had abortions and women who have held and abandoned career jobs with Planned Parenthood, the women’s health network and abortion provider.

Although O’Connell’s background is in finance, he said he joined the pro-life movement just after the turn of the century, when he was recruited to lead the West Roxbury chapter of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a statewide advocacy group. He began the TV show in 2003 to increase awareness of the issues surrounding abortion.

Education, O’Connell said, is key to the movement. What better way to spread the word than through a television show? Life Matters TV was born, aiming to erase the public ignorance that O’Connell felt was prevalent. Now, the show is broadcast on community-access television channels in about 124 Massachusetts cities and towns, including on Boston cable systems Comcast (channel 9) and RCN (channel 15).

“One great fear I had when I started this,” O’Connell said, was: “I’m going to be attacked by the other side.” But he said he learned later that “they want to ignore you.”

Although abortion is often cast as a partisan topic, O’Connell educates and helps viewers understand the risks of abortion and the value of motherhood, among other topics.

“I’d like more and more people to have knowledge about it, and decide for themselves,” he said.

As a Roman Catholic and veteran advocate, O’Connell said that in his view, local church leaders fall short in supporting pro-life advocacy, even though Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston heads the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. Leaders of pro-life groups are often Roman Catholics.

Last January, O’Malley gave a mass during the March for Life in Washington, in which he urged the marchers not to be discouraged by the media’s handling of the issue.

“Despite the impression that a solid majority of Americans back legal abortions, the Gallup polls indicate that about the same number of Americans identify as pro-choice as do pro-life, but in fact 58 percent of Americans oppose all or most abortions. If abortion depended on the ballot box rather than an activist court, it would be greatly reduced,” O’Malley said, according to his prepared text.

“The pro-life movement in the Catholic church is about overcoming that indifference, indifference to the suffering of a woman in a difficult pregnancy, indifference to the voiceless child who is destined to be part of the statistic of a million killed in the womb each year, indifferent to the poverty and suffering of so many,” O’Malley said.

To O’Connell, the Catholic Church hasn’t done enough.

“I just feel that they lack courage,” O’Connell said of church leaders in the Boston Archdiocese. “Is it politics, or is it the right thing to do?”