The March for Life in Washington, D.C. embodied the pro-life movement’s annual commitment to renew the fight against public policy and cultural attitudes that undermine and violate the sanctity of human life. This, for some, is not always the most pleasant experience.
A friend of mine who traveled to Washington, D.C. attended a pro-life student conference where the primary focus of the discussion was the future of the conservative movement in the wake of the current Democratic administration and Congress. My friend, Joseph, who is very lost in the world of politics did not care, nor could he fathom why at a pro-life conference the discussion could not drift away from advocating for lower taxes, tighter national security, and “less government in our lives.” He emphatically claimed that he “did not care about those things.” He would rather discuss, staying on topic, what can be done to promote a culture of life and to end the horror of abortion.
This altogether reminded me of the Texas Right to Life Gala back in October 2009. It was literally a Republican banquet, with the politicians present scoring points and boasting their rhetoric. The keynote speaker talked about supporting small businesses, lower taxes, opposing big government, the problems of “the welfare state,” national security, and a host of other traditionally-conservative concerns. Abortion was most certainly mentioned and only discussed within the greater picture of why less government is good, but it (abortion) and other life issues were not the focus at all. In fact, the keynote speech was about the evils of liberalism and why we should fight it by supporting the Republican Party. Suffice to say, I did not enjoy the event at all. It was designed for conservatives and this, in my view, is not good for the pro-life movement.
In the minds of many Americans, it is a certain kind of individual who opposes abortion. Surely such a person is a political conservative, possibly a misogynist who abhors the term “feminist,” probably a proponent of the death penalty, and almost certainly a single-issue voter who is totally unconcerned about other social issues and only focuses on making abortion illegal.
This false perception has made an impact on the public debate about abortion. To be sure, the electoral dynamics of abortion are more complicated than the numbers suggest. Most voters do not consider abortion one of their top issues, but a candidate’s position may still have a great influence on their view of him. They may, for example, associate the pro-life position with intolerance. On the other hand, they may associate it with family values. Given the one-dimensional shape of American politics (politicians who are pro-life, for example, are more likely to be anti-tax and pro-defense spending) they may associate it with all kinds of things they like or dislike without any further substantial, in-depth analysis of that candidate.
This misconception, a barrier to progress, in my view, can and must be eradicated. The pro-life movement is not as monolithic as people assume or even as much as its visible leaders state that it is. Feminists for Life is a non-sectarian, non-partisan organization of Americans who believe that abortion is a symptom of a social failure to meet the needs of women (“Refuse to Choose: Women Deserve Better Than Abortion” and “Peace Begins In The Womb” are their principal slogans). The pro-life feminist perspective is contrary to that of the stereotypical assumption that the pro-life position is pit against women’s rights.
The anti-euthanasia activists Not Dead Yet don’t even employ the pro-life label, but rather see themselves promoting a positive view of disability, that it is still a live very much worth living, contrary to the popular sentiment to view a life with disability as a fate worse than death. Such advocacy groups often teach us that it is often societal attitudes and failures, rather than disabling conditions themselves, which causes the problems for disabled people, which prompt those with misplaced compassion to advocate euthanasia.
Mostly surely the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (“Human rights start when human life begins”) perplex those fighting in the trenches of America’s culture wars just by their existence. The same is true of the Pro-Life League of Atheists and Agnostics. Libertarians for Life contradict the Libertarian Party’s platform that argues that a woman’s choice to have an abortion is not the concern of the State; indeed, pro-life libertarians argue quite the contrary.
A recently emerged group Secular Pro-Life (“Pro-life for a reason”) seeks to take the pro-life movement “beyond the cathedral walls” and present the pro-life case, while respecting and including religious people, in non-sectarian terms. The group is for those who believe abortion violates a constitutional right to life, science shows human life begins at conception, abortion hurts women, and are eager to save lives and fight the false media portrayal that all pro-life Americans are “religious extremists.” Beyond the ardent fundamentalist evangelical Christians, this would strike so-called secularists as unfathomable. How can someone oppose “choice” for secular reasons?
The group most important to contradicting mainstream presumption, in my view, are pro-life Democrats. The progressive liberalism dominating the Democratic Party, which includes a rigid litmus test for being “pro-choice,” is a formidable challenge for the pro-life movement, not to mention, an extreme political calculation on the part of Democrats. The conventional political assumption that people who have pro-life views on abortion are “conservative” is nonsense. If the Democratic Party wants to be successful, it will have to accommodate those with diverse views on this issue.
If the pro-life movement wants to be successful, non-Democratic pro-life Americans will have to be, somewhat, reasonably less suspicious and hostile with their pro-life allies that are not committed conservatives nor Republicans. In fact, more support from the broader pro-life movement would be a great start.
Pro-life Democrats, on the other hand, can help by doing two things. The first is undoubtedly being more bold and courageous on behalf of the voiceless. The second is an intellectual point. Pro-life Democrats do not always acknowledge that there are, perhaps, legitimate reasons besides avarice and insensitivity to prefer private-sector solutions to social problems. In other words, every budget cut to a social program is not in and of itself “anti-life,” just as though it were a vote to make murder legal. If this were not true, we would be obligated to increase public health and welfare budgets ad infinitum. The disagreement is over the most effective means for accomplishing a task, therefore, the debate should be about policy not the intentions of the other side; though, this should not be taken as a suggestion that the “other side” is much better in this regard.
The greater purpose of pro-life Democrats beyond fighting for the sanctity of human life, can and must be a saving grace for the Democratic Party. For decades the Democratic Party dominated the federal government and beginning in the 1970s, it began to lose many of its members and pro-life Democrats, in their unique experience of the party, know why. The Democratic Party for decades was defined by its economic and foreign policy agenda with members of the party having diverse opinion on various social issues of the day. Now the Democratic Party is the opposite: a social liberal party with diverse economic views. It is with this new trend that the Democrats are politically doomed precisely because the party has chosen to define itself by its social liberalism. The opposite strategy, I find, is better for the party and for the country.
To the greater point: such pro-life groups, no matter how small or different, serve the great purpose of bringing the pro-life perspective to people who, for a number of reasons, might otherwise be predisposed against it. If the pro-life movement is to succeed then there will have to be room for disagreement about other political matters so that it a broad consensus may be forged.