WASHINGTON — In a town rife with protests, I shouldn’t have been surprised. The other day, as I was walking along the National Mall, a bright yellow school bus pulled up with billboards of butchered babies adorning both sides. I happened to glance up at the driver, who decided I was looking for a confrontation.
“That’s right, keep walking sodomite!” he shouted at me over a loudspeaker. “Ignore the truth. Ignore the babies’ cries. Your flesh will rot away with the Godless judges, just before you all burn in hell. How do you like that, sodomite?”
Well, in truth, I didn’t like it much at all. I’m not sure which part I liked less: that, out of a crowd of 200, I was pegged as the “sodomite” or that my eternal vacation was booked in a place much too tropical for my taste. Yet I, too, am a foe of abortion, and a serious one at that.
This sort of wild-eyed-preacher-on-PCP routine is atypical, but it is precisely the kind of image that the pro-life movement has been trying to shrug off for the last 30 years. Fire and brimstone appeals to a much too narrow segment of the population, and is all too easily dismissed as a supernatural rather than a reasoned argument. As William Saletan points out in his fine book, Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War, the pro-abortion movement made similar strategic mistakes early on, advocating stances unpopular with the public, such as state funding of abortions, before realizing only a coalition would bring victory at the ballot box.
To this end, they pushed controversial groups such as NOW and the ACLU to the sidelines and began courting anti-government voters (a broad and ever-growing constituency) by recasting the abortion debate into a question of government intrusion in people’s lives. Meanwhile, some in the pro-life movement have proved all too willing to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Witness the condemnations of President Bush for his stance on stem cell research, which, while allowing some research on existing cell lines, insured that no more government funds would go to create embryos for research purposes.
That said, this weekend’s pro-life conference hosted by The American Cause was definitely a step in the right direction. Aside from a few wild card panelists, (including one who said that Planned Parenthood centers are churches for pro-abortionists where babies are “sacrificed to Satan”), the conference was quite the forward looking affair. New ideas strategies were discussed with an admirable and undogmatic frankness that might have shocked outsiders.
Chief among these was the inclusion of women recounting the terrible fallout of their own abortions. The emotionally charged atmosphere sent many attendees into tears. Try maintaining your composure while a young woman describes Planned Parenthood staff advising her as a 16-year-old seeking an abortion (sans her parents’ consent) to keep her crying down as she received the injection that would still the beating heart of her child.
“Is it a baby?” she asked the Planned Parenthood counselor, who, notably, refused to allow her to see the sonogram confirming her pregnancy. “No, it’s just a clump of cells,” she was told. “They tell you that, but they don’t tell you what it’s like to have to abort your baby at home, alone,” she said.
Most abortion is not murder; it’s negligent homicide. Murder requires premeditation and an understanding that one is terminating a life. The trend in our society has clearly been toward getting over our “love affair with the fetus,” as former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders so eloquently put it.
It is only much later, when the gravity and horror of the operation hits home, that the grief and penance come into play. Yet, the condemnation wing of the pro-life movement continues to frighten these women — arguably its most valuable asset — away. Combine their testimony with the technology that can pick up the first smiles in the womb, ever closer to the point of conception, and the entire debate shifts.
Allan Parker of the Texas Justice Foundation, another panelist, understands this. The TJF has embraced these women, an action which may sow the seeds of future pro-life victories. Parker is representing both Norma McCorvey (Roe of Roe v. Wade) and Sandra Cano (Doe of Doe v. Bolton), who both now seek to overturn the court decisions that ushered in abortion on demand.
Parker argues that abortion has done more harm to women than good, whatever the proclamations of the unborn’s ultimate fair-weather friend Justice Sandra Day O’Connor may be. To this end he has collected over 5,000 pages of depositions from women whose lives have been damaged by abortions.
Which is good, because the pro-abortion movement floundered until it embraced a vocabulary of individual rights. Indeed, Judge Robert Bork described the ripple effects of abortion as “the end result of radical individualism.”
However, individualism can cut both ways. In fact, a radical notion of individualism today might recognize the worth of the person growing inside of a woman as at least as important as what that woman wants to do to it. “The death of a single man is a tragedy,” Stalin once said. “The death of a million a statistic.” By focusing on that tragedy, pro-lifers may be able to move the debate beyond the number crunching.