After the election, we have seen much discussion about why the Republican Party lost the Presidential election and failed to pick up some initially-promising Senate seats. One of the proposals that we hear often is that the GOP should jettison “social conservatives”, or at least declare a “truce” on “social issues” like abortion and the re-definition of marriage.
Far be it from me to give advice to the sage experts who have piloted the GOP to such electoral triumphs. Nor is it my business to get involved in political strategy for a party that I am not even a member of.
The reason I am interested in this question is that we are starting to hear a similar idea from pro-lifers — a sense that the political mission of our movement has either failed, or reached a final impasse, and that we need to re-direct our energies away from the political and public policy arenas, and focus instead on a more cultural approach to defending and promoting life.
I think this is a fundamental mis-diagnosis of the current state of things in our nation, and it falsely sets up an unnecessary either/or, zero-sum choice.
The current state of the pro-life movement’s political and public policy status depends on where you are standing. Obviously, things may seem quite bleak in a place like New York City, which is essentially a one-party state dominated by a Democratic party that is almost completely dedicated to hard-line pro-abortion policies. But that view can be deceptive. In other areas of New York State, there is a functioning GOP that is at least theoretically supportive of pro-life policies, and there are still some staunch pro-life Democrats around. The picture here in New York is quite daunting, there’s no doubt about it — but it’s certainly not time to throw in the towel.
Of course, New York is not all of America (it’s not even part of the real world, but that’s another issue). If you were standing in Oklahoma, Texas, North Dakota, Florida, South Carolina, or many other states, the picture would be much more encouraging. Many public officials and candidates in those states proudly proclaim their pro-life views, and they have passed common-sense pro-life laws, like parental notification, informed consent, and abortion clinic regulations. In fact, the public policy and political successes of our movement on the state level have proven to be a consternation to the pro-abortion forces, who continually complain about how many laws we have been able to pass.
At a time when our movement is making progress on the state and local level, it’s no time to declare defeat — or a “truce”.
But it’s more than a mere question of how many bills are passed, or how many candidates are willing to say they’re “pro-life”. We’re engaged in a battle over our culture, which means that we’re striving to convert the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters. Our goal is not just to make abortion illegal, but to make it unthinkable.
In this kind of struggle, it would be folly to abandon an entire field of the contest. The real question isn’t “politics or culture”, as if we can only work on one thing at a time. Our challenge is to get better at transforming both.
We absolutely need to ramp up our efforts to provide assistance to expectant mothers and fathers in crisis — that’s ground zero in the struggle to eliminate abortion. We definitely need to offer more resources for those who are suffering the aftermath of abortion. We have to reverse the anti-life, anti-chastity messages of our media, which create a climate of sexual adventurism and a contraceptive mentality. All these are legitimate areas for the pro-life movement to improve and enhance our work.
But law and politics are part of culture too. They affect public opinion and shape private actions. There is a growing body of opinion, especially among young people, that our nation has gone too far on abortion — that it’s a disgrace that 41% of New York City pregnancies end in abortion (the numbers are even worse in the African-American community), that horrifically unsafe abortion clinics are allowed to maim and kill women with impunity, that parents are excluded from their children’s key decisions about abortion and contraception, that handicapped children are routinely aborted, and that women are not being presented with all the choices available to them.
Fewer and fewer people are satisfied with our country having the most liberal abortion laws in the world, and with a political, media and cultural “elite” who are so degraded that they think this is a good thing.
There is a quiet cultural and political revolution on the way. Our young brethren will lead it. This is no time to end the struggle over abortion in the public square.
It’s time to stand firm.