In the US election campaign last year, self-identified pro-lifers seemed to spend as much time fighting with each other as they did working to change the course of the nation’s political discussion in a way that truly benefited the unborn.
By Greg Erlandson
If the Catholic pro-life movement is to continue as a vital moral force in American society, I believe it should use the months ahead to rethink and renew its strategies. I would suggest five priorities for reflection and consideration.
Priority No. 1: Retell our story. During this election, numerous Catholics seemed ready to throw in the pro-life towel because the movement “had not accomplished anything” or because its efforts to roll back abortion were judged a legislative “failure.”
This is demonstrably untrue. In the face of judicial fiat allowing unrestricted access to abortion from conception virtually until birth, the US pro-life movement has won a host of legal and judicial decisions.
Such successes have been incremental, but they have both encouraged and sustained a broader grass-roots effort to bear prayerful witness at clinics, aid pregnant women and focus the national discussion on the unseen victim. Against all odds, the pro-life witness has not wavered, and young people are increasingly getting the message.
Part of the problem is that the pro-life movement itself is divided on the value of incremental change, and some pro-lifers – both for ideological and for fundraising reasons – can sound the most negative about what has been accomplished.
Priority No. 2: The pro-life movement must stop putting all its eggs in the Republican basket. Even with control of the White House and Congress, the party did little to restrict abortion until election time rolled around, and some of its most prominent leaders are less than wholehearted in their efforts.
But even acknowledging the many dedicated Republican politicians who are ardently pro-life, it does not serve the pro-life movement well to be the captive interest of a party with many other agendas, some less compatible with Catholic views.
Particularly as new generations are informed about life issues, it is in the best interest of the pro-life movement to have advocates in both parties. Pro-lifers need a much more aggressive strategy for promoting pro-life Democratic candidates and giving voice to the many pro-life Democrats who remain in the party.
Priority No. 3: The leaders of many of the traditional pro-life organisations have done a yeoman’s work for decades, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. But it has been more than three decades since Roe v. Wade, and there is a need for new pro-life leaders who can seek new strategies and new alliances as the movement moves forward.
Priority No. 4: The US bishops must address their own divisions. They have been a mainstay of the pro-life movement, providing it with intellectual, financial and spiritual support for decades. Yet the past two US elections have called more attention to their own divisions than to the pro-life message they seek to promote.
Executive sessions and carefully worded documents cannot paper over these divisions, particularly when one diocese virtually condemns a candidate and anyone who votes for him while another remains silent or stresses that Catholics are not “single issue.” Catholics themselves can become cynical or confused in this environment, and this does not bode well for the future.
Priority No. 5: The abortion battle has not been lost, but it is unlikely to be won anytime soon either.
This is a multigenerational battle more similar to the abolitionist movement or to the civil rights movement than any other social cause.
Education and personal witness are the keys – an ongoing abortion apologetics in word and deed that testify to our belief that abortion is one critical component of a broad spiritual and social struggle on behalf of human dignity and human rights that we will never give up. - cns
This column appeared in the November 16 issue of US Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor after the election of Barak Obama and was written by Greg Erlandson, president and publisher of the paper.