By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Howard Walton is a foot soldier.He’s been one most of his life and that’s all he wants to be. The funny thing is, at 75, he’s one of the few men of his generation never to get that “Greetings from the President” letter telling him he was in the army now.
Walton is a foot soldier in the seemingly endless war against legal abortion. He won’t be at the annual Mass for Life at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Oct. 3, but that’s only because he will be participating in a “life chain” on Northeast Philadelphia’s Roosevelt Boulevard at the same time.
Raised in the former St. Stephen Parish and a 1953 graduate of Northeast Catholic High School, at 22 he married Anna Mae Paxson at St. Bonaventure Church, and they raised their four sons and three daughters mostly in St. Jerome Parish where they still live.
Quite a few members of his family are involved in pro-life activities, according to Walton, and at this point there are 28 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, which shows the family is pro-life in every sense of the word.
Walton, whose working life was spent mostly with Borden and the Jack Frost Sugar House, didn’t think about abortion one way or until Roe v. Wade came along. “It hit me like a sledgehammer,” he said.
Somewhere around 1983, while recovering from a bout of illness and casting about for a worthwhile cause for his spare time, he filled out a flyer at church calling for volunteers for the pro-life movement. Nothing happened, but after filling it out again he was contacted.
For Walton, who chairs the Pro- life Committee of St. Leo Council, Knights of Columbus, becoming active didn’t just mean attending meetings and sending a few dollars, it meant practically devoting his life to the cause.
Maybe it’s that stubbornness and sense of social justice inherited through his father’s Quaker ancestors. Remember, William Penn may have been a pacifist and champion for the oppressed, but he also did time in the Tower of London for his in-your-face defense of his beliefs.
So it was with Walton in past decades when sit-ins and clinic invasions were very much part of the pro-life movement.
Operation Rescue and similar groups copied the non-violent tactics of Martin Luther King, Walton explained, and the idea was to galvanize others. As for the abortion clinics, “We were probably obnoxious to them,” he added in obvious understatement.
Walton estimates he was arrested approximately 80 times, not only locally but in places like Binghamton, N.Y., and Atlanta, Ga. This led to stays at the Philadelphia House of Correction, Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility and the Chester County Prison.
Today’s witness is almost exclusively through prayer at the clinics, and three to five days a week Walton is at the abortion facility on Comly Road in Northeast Philadelphia, formerly the Northeast Women’s Center now operated by Planned Parenthood.
“Prayer is better,” said Walton, who added the greatest thrill for the witnesses is when women coming to the clinic change their mind after pro-life advocates speak to them. There was even one incident where the young woman not only decided not to abort her child, she invited all of the pro-life witnesses to the Christening after the baby was born.
“In the last 40 days nine babies were saved at Comly Road,” Walton said.
Over the years the faces of those witnessing at the clinics tend to change. Some get burned out.
“Most people who stay are low-key,” Walton said. “People who are too intense can’t handle it and you can’t let it get to you.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.