Rethinking the Pro-Life Approach: A New Strategy
The Pro-Life movement in America is in a crisis. With the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) looming in the air and the perceived prospect that it may be enacted, the abortion debate has once again reached a feverish pitch. Faith-based groups have mobilized, websites such as FightFOCA.com have sprung up, and eighty-four Facebook groups dedicated to the topic have been created. But despite all efforts, the Pro-Life cause seems to be falling short. At this time, the movement needs to take a deep breath, and reconsider its tactics. The fact of the matter is that Pro-Life groups have lost their ability to persuade. We need to regroup and consider alternative arguments not based on theology, begin to send a more positive message, and be willing to think and deliberate before we talk.
The abortion debate has become polarized along faith lines, and the Pro-Life argument tends to take two general forms. Some argue that abortion is wrong because the child has a soul and is thus human; others argue that it is wrong because it encourages a warped view of the purpose of sex. If we examine the basis of these two arguments, we should not be surprised that Pro-Choice advocates spurn them. Both of these assertions imply that God exists and He condemns abortion. By allowing these implications into the debate, the Pro-Life movement narrows its audience. As a matter of fact, it narrows the audience to the point that we start to talk only to ourselves. If the majority of Americans and politicians truly agreed that God exists and that He condemns abortion, we would not have a debate. But, considering the circumstances, we need to rethink our argumentation style.
Practical arguments would do well in convincing people to not support specific legislation to propagate abortion. For example, in the case of the Freedom of Choice Act, we often emphasize that the act ought to be opposed purely on the grounds that women should not have the right to choose abortion. Instead, we should explain how the legislation infringes upon the rights of doctors and medical workers to refuse to participate in an action that they deem morally dubious. By appealing to this right of freedom of expression that most Americans cherish regardless of their political views, we can be more inclusive in who heeds our arguments.
We also ought to employ scientific arguments, as well. In 2002, George Mason University published a study that found a positive correlation between the legalization of abortion and the number of patients with gonorrhea and syphilis, presumably because partners became more sexually active after abortion was legalized. While here is not the place to argue the validity of this study’s conclusions or their relevancy, this particular example illustrates the types of research that the Pro-Life movement can complete in order to press its points. In our scientifically minded world, statistics and practical arguments carry more weight than theological arguments, and the Pro-Life cause ought to make more use of them.
The Pro-Life movement also needs to refine its message from a negative to a positive one. In this respect, we ought to remember that we disagree with abortion itself, and not those who seek abortions. Unfortunately, many in the Pro-Life movement have resorted to ad hominem attacks against abortion supporters. Evidence of this fact can be found on nearly any blog or news discussion forum that examines this issue and on chain emails and personal conversations. This tactic is harmful to the cause as a whole, since there is no surer way to deafen the ears of those we most need to convince than to attack their character.
But even those Pro-Life advocates who avoid ad hominem attacks need to focus less on the negative aspects of abortion and more on the positive aspects of bearing the child. Before the Super Bowl, one faith-based group, CatholicVote.org, produced a commercial that is an exemplary illustration of this approach. Though both CNN and NBC both refused to put this commercial on the air, it is available on the CatholicVote.org website. The commercial attempts to refute several popular Pro-Choice arguments while playing uplifting music and telling a story of triumph. It shows an ultrasound picture of a fetus while telling the story of someone the public knows well. “This child’s future is a broken home…despite the hardships he will endure, this child will become the 1st African American president.” This is an excellent template of a positive, uplifting campaign against abortion for the Pro-Life movement to follow moving forward.
Finally, to be taken truly seriously, the Pro-Life movement needs to be slow to speak. Too often, the entire cause loses credibility when a Pro-Life advocate misquotes a fact or statistic. A prime example of this occurred in January, when, according to the Catholic-based Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), a popular chain email claimed that President Obama would enact FOCA as an executive order on his first day in office. This never happened, and would indeed not have been legal. This scare tactic deprives the Pro-Life movement of its credibility. As a matter of fact, Pro-Life advocates who have been so focused on FOCA these last couple months ought to realize that the act has not yet even been proposed in the current Congress. If the Pro-Life movement improves its fact-checking performance, we will gain some much-needed credibility.
In this time of great uncertainty about the future prospects for the sanctity of life, the Pro-Life movement needs to gain a level head. By appealing to our opponents using arguments that are not theologically based, by sending a more positive message, and by thinking before we act, our advocacy of the Pro-Life cause will cease to fall on deaf ears.