If We Are Pro-life
If you are an evangelical, and even if you are not, you have probably heard about or seen the video about Planned Parenthood, abortions and the “selling” of fetal body parts. I’ve hesitated to comment on this because I know that abortion is a deeply personal issue, regardless of which side you are on. But I have seen the video filmed by the pro-life advocacy group and feel that I want to say something.
OK, let me start by saying I consider myself to be pro-life, even strongly pro-life. Perhaps it is for that reason that I was disturbed by what I saw. There was no question that the video was highly edited; no question that the group making it is dedicated to portraying abortion providers as horrible people. But listening to Dr. Nucatola talk about her process for extracting late-term fetuses was profoundly disturbing. The calm, even matter-of-fact, way she talked about being careful not to “crush” the “hearts” or “livers” or “lungs” she was extracting so they could be used in research was painful.
In the aftermath of the video people have, of course, leaped to their respective corners on this issue. Pro-lifers are outraged about the callousness of the abortion providers and pro-choice advocates are outraged about the deceptive tactics and slanted editing by the attacking group. This proves to me that no secret video, no matter how shocking, is capable of changing minds and, in fact, will probably only harden people’s hatred of “the other side.”
So if we are truly pro-life and if we feel that shocking videos are, as this one has proven to be, ineffective in swaying others to our cause, what can we do? It seems to me that “more of the same” is not an option. Trying harder to do something that isn’t working seems to be a waste of time. Therefore I recommend not doing the following:
- Don’t rely on political tactics. It is embarrassing that, after 40+ years of marches on Washington and rallies some people are still holding out hope that if we just elect the right people and appoint the right judges we can make abortions go away. We have spent untold hours and millions of dollars trying to force through a political solution and have accomplished…nothing.
- Don’t demonize those who differ. Nucatola is not an evil person. She doesn’t snicker with glee at the chance to terminate pregnancies. I tend to think that dehumanizing the procedures she does make her see them only in medical terms; sort of like yet another surgery. When we vilify her and others who are pro-choice we not only antagonize them but also millions of Americans who strongly believe in freedom of choice.
- Don’t get hung up on the extremes. Many evangelicals believe that life begins at the moment the egg is fertilized. I actually don’t know when it begins, although I am pretty sure it is before the performing doctor starts talking about livers, hearts and lungs. But don’t get painted into a corner defending eggs that nobody knows are there or abortions for rape victims or when the mother’s life is at serious risk. It is fine to believe that but when you let these rare issues be the focus of the discussion you have lost people who are otherwise uneasy about widespread abortions even before you speak.
On the plus side, there are some things we should do.
- Recognize the facts are on our side. Not long ago my wife’s cousin e-mailed us an ultrasound picture of her granddaughter. It was an ultrasound as her daughter-in-law was only about four months pregnant. The e-mail clearly stated the joy she was feeling in becoming a grandmother. This is becoming more and more common. People recognize babies when they see them. While the battle may need to shift down to the one-on-one, friend-to-friend level (which is much more tedious) it should have been there all along.
- Recognize that most abortions happen for a reason. The choice to have an abortion is not casual and not without logic. It is important to understand who are getting the majority of abortions, why they are getting them, and what we can do to address the issues that drive the decisions. I can’t help but wonder where we would be now if the millions of dollars and hours we’ve spent on political agendas that have accomplished nothing for the past 40 years had been invested here. This is slow, messy work but it portrays us so much more like Christ.
- Recognize that being pro-life is more than being pro-birth. The pro-life movement can’t be just about births. Our support for people choosing to carry babies to term needs to extend beyond the birth. It may also lead us into taking up problems like infant care, poverty, hunger, job opportunities and a host of other issues. But we have to be more than a group that says “I insist that you have that baby!”
Above all, we need to articulate our pro-life views with compassion and humility. We need to listen to and care about the stories of women who make abortion choices. Frankly, as pro-life as I am, I don’t trust most organized anti-abortion groups, including the one that did this video sting. It wasn’t ever really about “selling organs”—that was just a headline they used to get people to hear how heartless Nucatola came across as she described her methods. The pro-choice outrage was not without cause.
Being pro-life requires more than being obnoxious and mean-spirted. It means being ready to do the long, hard, one-on-one work that can actually reduce the number of abortions in this country. It may be a work that is slow, that has setbacks, that has very few grand victories you can shout about. But it is a work that treats every person and their view on abortions with respect and every woman who feels the need to choose one with compassion.