Time To Change Pro-Life Tactics?

Over the last 40 years, the pro-life movement has had its ups and downs. On the one hand, the Supreme Court made abortion a so-called “right” in 1973, and the number of legal abortions skyrocketed from around 700,000 at that time to 1.6 million in 1990. On the other hand, recent numbers show young people are more pro-life than ever, and across the country states (in addition to Members of Congress) are pushing strong pro-life legislation.

One such state is Mississippi. On April 16, the state’s new governor signed legislation that, in the words of Politico, “requires all physicians at abortion clinics in Mississippi to be board-certified OB-GYN and to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.”This is both a victory and a “teachable moment” for the pro-life movement.

What is this teachable moment? Most importantly, that pro-life legislation should emulate the principles around that which passed in Mississippi, and a similar law in Virginia before it, that is as foolproof as possible from the demonizing tactics of the left. In other words, ultrasound 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.

There are four other things I believe pro-lifers should keep in mind that are tangentially related to the lesson Mississippi has provided, and which are directly related to convincing a culture that is largely indifferent about abortion to become pro-life:

  • First, stop 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.
  • 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. I believe the best way to prevent an abortion is to take away the alleged “need” for it, which is why I wanted Indiana governor Mitch Daniels to run for President – reforming and shrinking the federal welfare state is critical to taking away incentives to act in certain irresponsible ways, and if people act more responsibly when it comes to sex, the number of abortions will drop.
  • 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. Again, the majority of Americans are pro-choice, pro-abortion, or indifferent to the debate and just want it to go away. Used correctly, the shock and awe strategy can be effective… but often less so than engaging in a strong, purposeful, respectful discussion.
  • 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. The unfortunate fact is that we live in a nation where abortion is legal, and much of the public either favors it or is neutral on the debate. Focusing solely on the women involved makes it even easier for supporters of abortion to successfully claim a false “war on women,” which makes creating a culture of life that much harder.

The pro-life movement is gaining ground, and the desperation of the pro-abortion left after the temporary decision by Komen to defund Planned Parenthood is indicative of this. However, if we continue to make the kinds of tactical errors I describe above, millions of babies will die before America becomes a culture of life instead of a culture of death. The pro-life movement must adapt its strategies appropriately, and soon, in order to protect as many mothers and unborn children as possible.

[This post was published in its original form by Crisis Magazine.]


Dustin Siggins is an associate producer with The Laura Ingraham Show and co-author with William Beach of The Heritage Foundation on a forthcoming book about the national debt. The opinions expressed are his own.