Re-evaluating pro-life strategies

Every now and then, pro-lifers need to step back and reassess the effectiveness of their tactics. Laura Ingraham Show associate producer Dustin Siggins offers just such a critique at leading conservative blog Hot Air. His advice is well worth considering, though not every point hits home.

First, he suggests eschewing mandatory ultrasound laws in favor of restrictive medical standards like Mississippi recently passed:

[U]ltrasound legislation can be deemed as guilting mothers into not aborting their children or invading personal privacy. However, it is more difficult to argue against raising the standards of medical clinics so that women have a more sterile, more professional environment in which to be treated. Yes, the left will still attack these standards, as the owner of the abortion clinic in Mississippi has, but the inherent controversy will be far less.

Clinic standards may very well have more strategic potential than ultrasound laws, but we should be careful not to fall into the habit of letting our foes define the terms of the debate. Conceding by silence that mandatory ultrasounds are demeaning to women or any more invasive of privacy than the abortion itself will only embolden the pro-aborts. If you give ’em an inch…

[S]top using Biblical arguments to debate abortion. As I noted after attending the 2010 March for Life, I do not think using religious arguments will persuade either self-described Christians who agree with abortion or non-Christians who agree with abortion. The science of life is in our favor, and we should emphasize this. This is not meant as a denigration or repudiation of religious work or prayer done to protect life – I am a strong Catholic who has participated in prayer protests at two abortion clinics – but a practical recognition of living in a society with both a guaranteed freedom of religion and many people who do not possess a Christian-based belief in the sanctity of unborn life.

I don’t think Christian pro-lifers should entirely excise the right to life’s key religious component from our arguments or activism, but Dustin has a good point: being pro-life is too often dismissed as just a “Catholic thing” by pro-aborts and undecideds alike, as if it’s a mere matter of doctrine that non-Catholics and non-Christians are free to ignore. We generally do a good job of stressing that the unborn are empirically every bit as human as you and I, but I have to admit seeing the occasional pro-lifer fall into this trap.

Do a better job of educating people about responsible sexual activity prior to becoming pregnant and having an abortion. Related, explain better to both the public and individuals the help and care that can be provided so women will not feel as though abortion is their best – or only – way out of an irresponsible pregnancy.

Here’s where I start to wonder if we’re watching the same movement. Both in my personal experience with Pro-Life Wisconsin and in my observations of the broader movement, everything I’ve seen suggests that abstinence, adoption, and crisis pregnancy centers are already prominent, persistent elements of pro-life messaging.

Get people like Randall Terry out of the movement. Shock and awe have their place, as does presenting difficult truths, but indiscriminately throwing up images of dead babies will cause most people to simply turn and look in the other direction.

I also question whether this failing is as prominent as Dustin suggests, but I have no major quarrel with the suggestion. Terry’s unbalanced reaction to George Tiller’s murder and his plan to show bloody fetuses to Super Bowl viewers (not to mention the enemies he’s made on our own side) aren’t examples to emulate.

Stop making abortion about women vs. children. Both are victims when it comes to abortion. First, every time a pro-life activist blames a woman for having an abortion, that activist should in the same breath blame the men who get women pregnant and then either abandon them or encourage them to abort the child. Second, we should make the battle about protecting women and unborn children from the abortion centers whose livelihood depends on the murder of their fellow man.

Again, who’s falling into this trap? By and large, pro-lifers do understand that abortion victimizes two people, and we accordingly open our hearts to women considering or suffering from it.

Nevertheless, pro-lifers should appreciate Dustin Siggins’ insight and desire to make our movement the best it can be. Ending abortion will require persistence tempered and honed by constant self-awareness.

UPDATE: Dustin follows-up and responds to some of his Hot Air critics here. Check it out!

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