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How Pro is Pro

January 23, 2017

(Note:  This post is about the subject of abortion so it requires me to declare where I stand right up front so you can be ready to be outraged if need be.  Here goes…I am pro-life.  Yet, more often than not, I find I have the ability to anger my fellow-pro-lifers more easily than those who are pro-choice.  I am not sure why that is but I suspect I am about to do it again.)

Yesterday in the world of pro-lifers was Sanctity of Life Sunday, the day set aside to mark, and lament, the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision in 1973.  The church I attended, like thousands of others, focused the sermon on the subject and urged us all to (a) be pro-life, (b) understand why pro-choice people are wrong, (c) be assured the Bible is pro-life, (d) be active in the effort to eliminate all abortions through political methods, (e) pray for those elusive pro-life judges to be found, and (f) last, but I hope not least, be nice as we seek to make sure everyone who disagrees with us has to do what we say anyway.

That last point is the big pro-life hurdle.  Pro-choice people have no obligation to insist that pro-life people have abortions.  (Please spare me from the horror story exceptions you’ve heard about forcing abortions on those that don’t want them.  They are the pro-choice equivalent of pro-lifers who want to kill abortion providers.)   Pro-lifers can’t be content with just being right though.  The stance more or less requires the imposition of pro-life views on others.

Standard pro-life rhetoric is some variation of “stop abortion now” and works through political means to reinstate that as the law of the land.  This is a huge, tricky and difficult goal.  Whipping ourselves into some sort of anti-holocaust frenzy has proven to be good theater those who are already pro-life but done little to win others to our side.  It seems to me that this battle, and a battle it is, can only be won by getting people to want to avoid abortion.

The good news here is that abortions in America continue to go down and have done so steadily for several decades.  I was told yesterday that over 1.2 million abortions have been performed annually since Roe v Wade.  That is indeed the average.  But in 2014, the last year we have inclusive data, the number is almost 400,000 less than that average and, per capita, less than half the peak number of annual abortions back in 1983.  It appears we are slowly but surely winning this war.  (At this point I will pause and let you think, but please not write to tell me, “even one is too many.”)

The sad fact in this however is that the decline seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with the efforts of pro-lifers.  Rallies, sermons, picketing, lobbying and the like seem to be ineffective and in some ways counterproductive as too many of us skip point (f) above, be nice.

There are two factors that play into this decline.  One is science.  The advent of ultra-sound images of the baby in the womb with a beating heart has done wonders.  Who hasn’t seen the pictures proudly shown by some delighted mother or father of the tiny infant in the womb?

The second cause makes many pro-lifers uneasy though.  It is the much freer access to contraceptives, particularly long-term contraceptives available to the poor, often government subsidized.  We want to have our cake and eat it too; no contraception and no abortions.

For me pro-lifers, more often than not, leave themselves open to a stinging charge I heard a few years ago and many times since.  I am told that the vast majority of us are not pro-life, we are only pro-birth.  The pro-birther begins to be concerned only after the woman is pregnant and ceases to be concerned soon after she has delivered.  We are reluctant to address social and economic issues that lead to more pregnancies and similar issues that poor or single mothers face that cause them to be dismayed about rearing the child.

Do I want more pro-life judges?  That would be great.  Am I happy that more and more people, particularly younger people, identify as pro-life?  Yes.  But I don’t think we will see a real sweeping reduction in abortions until we are willing to be more holistic about being pro-life; until we are willing to do the hard, dirty, time-consuming one-on-one work of befriending those who consider abortions and staying with them long past the delivery day.  But listening to sermons we already agree with, congratulating ourselves for right beliefs, and writing an occasional check or going to a rally is so much easier, isn’t it?

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