Charmaine Yoest shares pro-life, pro-woman motivation

Lisa Johnston |

More than 20 years ago, pro-life activist Charmaine Yoest was preparing for a debate on life issues. As she waited in the green room, Yoest met a prominent self-professed feminist.

Yoest, who was nine months pregnant with her first daughter, remembers the woman asking her: Why, as a woman, are you pro-life?

Her answer was pretty simple: "That's what being pro-woman looks like."

"You can't be pro-life and pro-woman," the woman responded.

That comment has for decades motivated Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, a pro-life public interest law firm and advocacy group. It was part of the message she shared with nearly 800 people who attended the 39th annual archdiocesan Respect Life Convention Oct. 25 at the St. Charles Convention Center. This year's theme was "Souls on Fire for Life."

Fighting abortion is the greatest civil rights issue of our day, Yoest said. Those who support the right to abortion use it as the foundation of women's rights and empowerment. Being a feminist today means endorsing abortion as a "sacred right" that must not be denied.

"The soul of womanhood is at stake," she said.

Referring to the Center for Medical Progress' undercover videos depicting Planned Parenthood officials describing the transfer of body parts from aborted babies, Yoest said she's encouraged by the surge of people who are outraged by what they're seeing in the videos. Likewise, it's also discouraging to see people who continue to turn a blind eye to the reality of abortion.

Yoest, who has given political advice to CMP's founder David Daleiden, said she was amazed how Daleiden was able to maintain his persona as an employee with a fake biomedical research company for two-and-a-half years as he worked on the video project. She was moved by a comment Daleiden made in one of the videos, in which a Planned Parenthood doctor described the remains of aborted babies as "war torn."

"War torn? Oh dear," Daleiden said under his breath.

Without a deep reverence for humanity, abortion becomes nothing more than a political subject. Even within the pro-life movement, we can fall prey to the temptation of turning abortion into a political issue. Sometimes we can forget that this is about human beings, she said.

"The culture of death is a dragon that must be defeated," she said. "Souls on fire for life can do that."

2015 awardees

Rose Hensley never drove a car — so she'd walk to her parish, St. David in Arnold, to attend pro-life committee meetings and other events.

Hensley was the recipient of the Cardinal John J. Carberry award for more than 40 years of dedication to the pro-life movement. The award is presented annually at the Respect Life Convention to an individual(s) who has made a significant contribution to the pro-life cause.

Hensley began her work in 1972 with Missouri Citizens for Life (now Missouri Right to Life) and has served as pro-life coordinator at St. David. She also has attended the March for Life for more than three decades.

The Respect Life Club at Incarnate Word Academy received the annual Bishop Joseph A. McNicholas Award. The award is presented to a Catholic high school or parish youth group that exemplifies a consistent ethic of respect for all life.

Members of the club attend the March for Life every other year and participate in other activities, including Operation Christmas Child, making cards for hospice patients and hosting a baby shower for Birthright.

Two groups also were recognized as winners of the Respect Life Apostolate's first Pro-Life Video Challenge. St. Francis Borgia Regional High School in Washington won a $500 first-place prize for its video. The Pros, a pro-life club with students from St. Dominic Savio, Seven Holy Founders and St. George, earned an honorable mention. 

Hold My Hand

Hold My Hand, a new website dedicated to getting more people active in the pro-life movement, debuted at the Respect Life Convention.

The site,, includes a pledge to participate in the movement to bring an end to Planned Parenthood. It also includes specific ideas for getting involved through education, service, prayer, advocacy and on social media.

"Planned Parenthood has shown their hand, now it's time for us to show our hand," said Respect Life Apostolate executive director Karen Nolkemper. 

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