Barbara Lyons of Milwaukee recently received a 2022 People of Life Award from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“I was truly humbled to hear that I was going to receive this award,” Lyons said.
The People of Life award recognizes Catholics who have a dedicated themselves to pro-life activities. Also receiving this year’s People of Life Awards were Mary Huber, Greg Schleppenbach and the late Laura Jean Ebert.
Lyons, 82, began her lifesaving work in 1974 as the volunteer president of the Milwaukee County chapter of Wisconsin Right to Life. In 1977, she joined the staff of Wisconsin Right to Life, where she served as legislative director for 10 years, becoming executive director in 1987. Lyons “retired” from WRTL in 2014 after 40 years, yet in her 70s, she was asked to serve as coalitions director for the Patient’s Rights Action Fund, where she continues to work to prevent vulnerable persons from being targeted by physician-assisted suicide.
Lyons was a young mother with four young children when the Supreme Court decision came out on the Roe v. Wade case in 1973. She became involved in the issue after reading articles about how a mother of a child with disabilities would benefit from having an abortion.
“We had a son with epilepsy, and it just hit very dramatically that they were talking about my son, whose life was not worthy simply because he had a disability. I saw that it was just so wrong,” Lyons said.
She was overjoyed this past year when Roe v. Wade was finally overturned.
“We waited and worked and prayed for that day for almost 50 years. I knew that one day it would happen, and I hoped it would be in my lifetime, and I’m absolutely thrilled that it was,” Lyons said.
It was challenging to work on the issue for so many decades.
“The most depressed I got was 10 years after Roe v. Wade because I thought it was such a dumb decision and that we would be able to turn it around in no time. Then 10 years went by, and the situation was getting worse instead of better,” Lyons said.
However, she knew she must keep fighting for what was right.
“I felt that it was important to keep my spirits up. I try to lead a very balanced life with my family and my children. Prayer, exercise, hope and the knowledge that we were on the right path, that we had the right position — that is what kept me going,” Lyons said.
The work has finally paid off. Lyons also believes that all the years of advocacy and education, as well as having the right people on the Supreme Court, helped overturn Roe v. Wade. Still, there is a lot of work to be done.
“There are still mothers who need help. It’s so important to minister to them and do the best we can to help them resolve all of the things that are obstacles for them, be it financial, relational, just feelings and inadequacy, whatever it is,” Lyons said.
There are other pro-life issues that need attention as well.
“We have nine states and the District of Columbia that have legalized assisted suicide. There is a huge push every year in a number of states, so really we’re at the very beginning of that whole battle,” Lyons said.
In her work for the Patient’s Rights Action Fund, Lyons assists states that are facing legalization of assisted suicide or euthanasia. She helps them to build coalitions, devise strategies and provides them with resources to keep the states free of lethal drugs. She said that in many ways it is even more difficult than addressing the abortion issue.
“With the abortion issue, you could advocate for a voice of a person who had no say in a life-and-death decision that was being made for them. Within the assisted suicide and euthanasia issues, there are arguments (from) proponents that people are supposedly making this choice for themselves and so we shouldn’t be interfering with their own decision-making process. I think it’s harder in many ways to make the argument that this is something that ultimately does not benefit people or society and leads us down a terrible road,” Lyons said.
“There is just immense pressure to force medical people to go along with abortions, euthanasia and assisted suicides. We see a lot of that going on in Canada right now, and we see a lot of it going on here in the United States. The current U.S. administration is, sadly, working to force medical facilities, including Catholic ones, to comply with orders to provide abortion services,” Lyons added.