Chris Slattery, a stalwart pro-life advocate who established a network of pregnancy help centers in New York and stood up against government officials and abortion industry leaders, died November 22 after a long struggle with cancer. He was 68 and died at Calvary Hospice in Bronx, NY.
In an April 2022 interview with Aleteia, knowing he might have just two or three years to live, he said, “I’m going to die with my boots on.”
Expectant Mother Care, he claimed, saved upwards of 2,000 babies a year. He often pointed out that EMC was situated in the “belly of the beast” — New York — often referred to as “the abortion capital of America,” having one of the highest abortion rates in the nation.
EMC’s website claims it has saved 43,000 lives since its founding almost four decades ago.
Slattery was a recent “revert” to the Catholic faith in the early 1980s when he began to attend pro-life rallies in Manhattan. One morning as he was walking to his office – he worked in advertising – he spotted a woman he knew from a Catholic social group standing in front of a skyscraper, praying and trying to speak to certain women going in. She told Slattery that there was an abortion clinic inside.
He decided to join the young woman one morning in speaking to women who were scheduled for abortions. And he managed to convince a 15-year-old to not go through with the procedure.
“Six months later I was holding that 15-year-old’s baby in my arms in their apartment in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn,” Slattery recalled in the Aleteia interview. “I was new to this. I just looked into this baby’s eyes and thought, ‘Oh my God, I just saved a baby. I saved this baby’s life.’ It was absolutely transformational. I said, ‘My God, you can use me to save babies. How can I do this?’”
Inspired by reading about someone from Arkansas who established pro-life pregnancy centers, Slattery sought to start one in New York that could offer help to young women like the 15-year-old. He ended up leasing space in a building adjacent to Planned Parenthood’s thrift shop in Manhattan.
Subsequent pregnancy help centers Slattery started were very close to Planned Parenthood clinics.
But the work branched out beyond “saving babies.” Slattery also was drawn to protests that sought to change public policy in regard to the protection of unborn life. Operation Rescue, which was founded by Randall Terry, came to New York City to carry out stings against certain abortion clinics. Their modus operandi was to block clinic entrances so effectively – with members locking themselves to doorways – that normal business was interrupted, and perhaps some expectant mothers would decide not to go through with the procedure.
In 1988, Slattery and his wife, Eileen, participated in a “rescue.” Slattery was arrested, and Eileen, at full term with their first child, went into labor, giving birth the next day.
Sacrifices for “the ultimate cause”
Slattery got arrested several more times and became spokesman for Operation Rescue in New York. But he was still working in the advertising industry full time. When abortion advocates began posting “wanted” posters around the city with his photo on it, calling him an “enemy of women,” the notoriety led to his losing his job.
He took a huge salary cut, but he was committed to the cause. He was a savvy fundraiser and networker, and he ended up meeting and collaborating with the likes of the industrialist J. Peter Grace, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, and others. He hobnobbed with Catholic leaders such as New York Archbishop Cardinal John J. O’Connor, the founder of the Sisters of Life; Mother Teresa; and spiritual writer Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel.
“The confluence of all these people reinforced for me that this was the ultimate cause; this was the cause I was to give my life for,” he recalled.
At one point, the apostolate sought to go beyond New York, and in 2013 Slattery started about a dozen clinics in other parts of the country, recruiting volunteer interns from Spain to work in them. But the effort was not sustainable and didn’t last.
In the Big Apple, meanwhile, Slattery opened locations in other boroughs and started mobile clinics and employed ultrasound.
Fighting city hall
Success, though, brought the ire of abortion businesses and those in government who felt the need to protect their interests.
In 2010 and 2011, New York City passed legislation against pregnancy service centers. Slattery went to court and in 2014 won a victory against the City of New York.
Already in 1987, the National Organization of Women and the New York State Attorney General’s office charged EMC with deceptive advertising practices, because they advertised in the Yellow Pages under “Clinics” and “Birth Control Information.”
This led to the introduction of two new headings in the Yellow Pages – “Abortion Alternatives” and “Abortion Providers.”
“As it turns out, Abortion Alternatives was the first page in the Yellow Pages, and from then on, I placed all my advertising under Abortion Alternatives,” Slattery said.
Chris Slattery was “fearless, tireless, and confronted whatever obstacles he had to confront,” said New York Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne, who knew Slattery for some 40 years, “but he never gave up trying to save babies.”
Slattery is survived by his wife, Eileen, and their four children, John Desmond, Mary Frances, Brigid, and Monica.
In his interview with Aleteia, he recognized that his apostolate was not just a job but a vocation.
“You’ve got to excel at it. You’ve got to become professional at it. I’ve always tried to be good at it. St. Josemaria Escrivá taught us we have to be excellent professionals,” said Slattery, a longtime supernumerary of Opus Dei. “We have to keep God in mind every moment, praying before, during, and after our work, always offering it for God’s glory. These are God’s children.”