“New” & “Old” Pro-Lifers: Roundtable Discussion About Divisions

“New” & “Old” Pro-Lifers: Roundtable Discussion About Divisions February 15, 2018

This took place on a public thread on my friend Scott Eric Alt’s Facebook page (later continued on a second one). Scott’s words will be in blue; words of Mark Shea [aka “Chuck Militant”] will be in green, and words of Rebecca Bratten Weiss [aka “Danaerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons”] in purple. I was looking for a discussion on this topic and I got it.

[nicknames were self-chosen: in case anyone was wondering]


A question occurs to me, and that is why Catholic Answers [CA] is publishing an article critiquing the New Pro Life Movement at all. Trent Horn is free to have his own opinion, of course, but publishing this at Catholic Answers could give the false impression that he is speaking on behalf of some official Church teaching, instead of on behalf of his own personal opinion. The Church tells us nothing about how to address pro-life issues; it only tells us what we need to advocate for. As to the “how,” Catholics are free to differ.

I suggest that Catholic Answers, if it wants to publish this kind of thing, clarify that Horn is giving only his personal opinion, and that it give Rebecca Bratten Weiss the opportunity to publish her own defense of the NPLM.

I should note, also, that while our founders, writers, and organizers are all catholic, NPLM is itself a secular organization with supporters of diverse backgrounds. . . . 

I consistently steer people towards ACTUAL CHURCH DOCUMENTS and not media agencies, when they are interested in what the church teaches. My blog tells what I think. CA consists of a lot of people saying what they think. Neither of these carry magisterial weight.

Speaking of “solid organizations that have not budged” (I say this for screenshot spies) there is one. It’s the Catholic Church. Anything else is a filter, and anything else is fallible, but only the Church is the pillar and ground of truth. EWTN is not, CA is not, the [National Catholic] Register is not, Scott Hahn is not. The Church is.

And we now have a theologically illiterate public bingeing on EWTN.

I imagine [Trent Horn wrote the article] because people like Mark Shea are critiquing the so-called “Old” Pro-Life Movement almost on a daily basis (putting “pro-life” derisively in quotation marks when referring to us), and others in the NPLM do the same fairly often. Thus, it’s only fair for us to respond. I don’t have enough exposure to make any impact just by myself [as one who has written many such articles on my blog].

I do wholeheartedly agree that they should note that equally good and orthodox Catholics may have legitimate, honest disagreements on this matter.

Yes, of course, CA is not magisterium. It does, however, have oversight and the support of many many bishops. That gives it a sort of “semi” status, in the way that an Imprimatur gives to a book. They are not “just” any old group online. They happen to be the largest and most influential Catholic apologetics organization, with backing from many high-level members of the Church.

I know about this because in the past I have defended CA against the accusation that it carries no more weight than any other blogger. I don’t work for them (I’ve worked with them several times). Recently I’ve disagreed with founder Karl Keating on Pope Francis. So I’m just calling it as I see it, as always.

The same is true of, e.g., EWTN or Coming Home Network (for whom I used to work for three years), and also several large Catholic publishers. And this is how I defend my own apostolate when I am accused of having no oversight or accountability. I note how many large organizations I work with, and that they in turn have oversight from bishops. And I have several imprimaturs for my books also. That is how the Church oversees books and lay organizations.

I guess this is the closest I’ll get to an open, honest opportunity for both approaches in the pro-life movement to sit down and dialogue with each other (as I was suggesting a few days ago), rather than merely taking post-shots and getting in all of our echo chambers (on both “sides”).

Make no mistake; it’s an echo chamber here (and yes, probably my page also is so for the “OPLM”). If anyone doubts this, just look at how the “likes” stack up, and how few folks (like me!) get if they disagree.

It’s precisely because of the weight it carries that CA needs to be careful about running opinion pieces like this. Accepting for the sake of argument that Mark is unfair to the OPLM; it still remains a position he is free to hold as a Catholic. It may very well be worth rebutting, but in a different venue that people don’t associate with “semi imprimatur” status. The Church takes no position on OPLM v NPLM.

I agreed that the article should note that “equally good and orthodox Catholics may have legitimate, honest disagreements on this matter.”

I do not agree that it was improper for the magazine to write about the issue at all. It always has dealt with social issues exactly because it’s not trying to separate doctrine from life. The Protestants played the game a hundred years ago of separating the gospel from the “social gospel.” Catholics have been far less prone to that error of the false dichotomy, though there are strong tendencies in several different circles.

I only put “prolife” in quote when referring to people who claim to be prolife but are, in fact, only interested in human life from conception to birth or when it is in the womb of a white person. If a person claims to be prolife but want to commit evils that destroy and degrade human life, then they are not serious about being prolife. Much of the “prolife” movement is composed of people passionately in favor of destroying and degrading human life.

You routinely make many uncharitable assumptions about whether someone in the OPLM is of that mindset or not and you broadbrush. About half a million people have pointed this out to you for many years now. You make many of the same bum raps that the pro-choicers do.

I know what folks in the OPLM are like, because I’ve been in the movement these past 36 years (including the rescue movement). I’ve yet to meet one that doesn’t give a damn about children once they are born or about women in problem pregnancies. Yet that is the caricature that we hear about all the time, from the NPLM and also pro-aborts who want to smear all pro-lifers as much as possible.

I was there when my good friend Al Kresta and his wife Sally started crisis pregnancy centers in metro Detroit in the early 80s. I haven’t seen this attitude you think you see behind every tree and I’ve been a conservative and Republican, lo all these years. The “don’t care about women” canard is just as slanderous and stupid as the “all Republicans are racist” one. It’s simply Democrat talking points. If a non-Democrat (third party or whatever) repeats them, then that is acting functionally as a “useful idiot” for the pro-aborts.

And because of stuff like that, now we are fighting amongst ourselves in the pro-life movement and condemning and lying about each other (on both sides: no one’s hands are clean in this). I’m trying my hardest to get both sides to stop doing that, and to not let the devil get a victory: trying to open lines of communication and dialogue (mostly to no avail so far).

We can all work together in this thing and simply have different emphases and the division of labor, as in any other movement. No one person can do everything. But they can do quite a bit if they concentrate on specific things. It doesn’t follow that they deny the validity / importance of everything that they are not personally involved in.

I make no assumptions at all about people. I describe actions, philosophical mindsets, and behaviors. What then happens is that people apply my words to themselves and imagine I am attacking them.

I see. So that is what you are doing when you referred to (today), for example, “the moral freak show that is Christianist Trumpian white supremacist Republicanism”?

How many Trump voters are “Christianist” in your estimation?
How many Republicans are “Christianist”: would you estimate?
How many Trump voters are white supremacists?
How many Republicans are white supremacists?

How do we know when one is a “Christianist” or not? On your page, it seems to simply be anyone who disagrees with you about Anything Political or Ethical.

Every time a Christian defends an evil act or lie by Trump, be it an act of cruelty such as holding DACA kids hostage, or deporting a veteran, or re-victimizing the victims of his sexual assaults, or destroying health care for poor people or capping benefits for families that are “too big” (while simultaneously telling the poor that it is a mortal sin to use contraception) or doing anything else that is obviously contrary to mercy we owe the poor (such as, in the case of the quote you cite) passionately defending white supremacy just as Trump defended the Nazis at Charlottesville as “very fine people” then yes, he is acting like a Christianist, not a Christian.

Thanks very much for the definition. I also asked about perceived percentages, in your estimation.

[sound of crickets, as far as that is concerned . . .]

President Trump did not ever defend Nazis as “very fine people.” In context, he was clearly talking about other (non-Nazi) demonstrators who came out: some, for example, were expressing views about public confederate statues. Most large protests are an amalgamation of radical extremists and relatively normal people. But this is standard media talking points. They don’t give a damn about what the actual facts of the matter were. The fact that you parrot the initial lie about that is simply humorous to watch, and demonstrates the extreme biases in play here.

Here are Trump’s actual remarks about “very fine people” in context (what a novelty!):

TRUMP: [Y]ou have some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me — I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.

QUESTION: George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same …

TRUMP: George Washington was a slave-owner. Was George Washington a slave-owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him?

OK. Good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave-owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture. And you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.

OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You’ve got — you had a lot of bad — you had a lot of bad people in the other group …

QUESTION: You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly?

TRUMP: No, no. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people — neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them.

But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know — I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.

So, I only tell you this, there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment.

Trump is on record now, offering a path of citizenship for the DACA dreamers. That goes beyond even Obama’s position. Yet here you are still blasting him over DACA, because the sky would fall down if you ever didn’t. I came out for letting the dreamers stay many months ago. Recent polls suggest that some 70-80% of Republicans want to find a way for them to stay.

It’s the Democrats who have been hemming and hawing and obstructing constructive debate about the matter at every turn. And it’s the Democrats who have always had more racist elements than the Republicans. They were the party of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation, and proportionately more Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act than Democrats. Sen. Robert Byrd was former KKK; Al Gore’s father was a segregationist Senator, etc. Bull Connor was a Democrat. I could go on and on.

This article takes out another chestnut in Mark’s arsenal of anti-Trump polemics. Excerpt:

While pro-life Republicans have repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood they have been thwarted in the Senate by pro-abortion democrats and a handful of proportion Republicans who have been able to stop pro-life Republican leaders from ending debate on a defunding measure and sending it to president Donald Trump’s desk to sign. Trump has promised to sign the legislation if Congress can get enough votes to send it to him.

[Utterly undaunted by facts or reason, Mark continues right on, in a post dated 2-17-18 on his blog, writing: “He can destroy families by deporting vets and DACA kids. . . . He can refund Planned Parenthood.”]

Not every bad thing said about Trump is true; not every good thing said about Trump is false. When you credit him for the good things and credit back the purported bad things that are false, there’s still a balance, and it is well in the red.

It’s wrong to lie about and misrepresent anyone else. That is our sin, irregardless of how terrible the target person may arguably (or actually) be. I refuted with hard facts three Mark Shea lies about Trump: things he has been saying loudly for many months:

1. Trump praised Neo-Nazis as “very fine people.”

2. Trump hates the DACA dreamers, as part of his general supposed prejudice (when in fact he is offering them more than Obama did).

3. Trump and the GOP don’t desire to defund Planned Parenthood. There’s a little obstruction there called “Democrats” (aka liberals). This is particularly rich, seeing that Mark said he would vote for Hillary Clinton (Planned Parenthood’s “Champion of the Century”) if he lived in a swing state, and urged others to do so. You also expressed the same sentiment, as I distinctly recall.

I’m still waiting to get some idea from Mark as to how many “Christianists” are out there. He won’t answer me.

There are 13,607,329.26566 Christianists. There would be 13,607,331 even, were it not that you constitute 1.73434 of the total number of Christian Trump voters, whose numbers are unknown.

“A tremendous family to provide for,” as Scrooge said . . . Obviously, you totally miss my point in asking. It wasn’t about actual numbers, but percentages and proportion. Mark must have some idea in his mind about that, or else his constant hyper-rhetoric would have to simply be interpreted as substanceless ranting.

He constantly harps on about Trump voters, the GOP, white supremacists and “Christianists” so it’s not implausible to interpret that as perhaps the four terms being virtually synonymous in his mind. As good an explanation as any . . . If not, then I was curious as to Mark’s clarifications. But as soon as I probed his mind, playing Socrates a bit, all of a sudden the discussion was over.

How I somehow became 1.7 Trump voters, I won’t probe . . . LOL Sounds like the American average of children per couple.


CA started as a strict apologetics organization defending the truth of Catholic teachings. In this article, it wanders to a private opinion with which Catholics are perfectly free to disagree. It is outside CA’s purpose.

This is untrue as well. CA has written about social issues for a long time. I know this, too, because I have defended them from the charge of traditionalist Kevin Tierney: that they supposedly “never” do it.

They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t, I guess. If they don’t write about social issues, then they are subject to the standard criticism that they don’t care about the Church’s social teaching, and as such, are typical “conservatives” stuck in one box, with their hands over their eyes. If they do, they get this criticism that they are supposedly doing what they shouldn’t do.

I’m primarily an apologist, and that has always been the case if anyone looks at my writings. But I write about social issues as a Catholic. A few of you have said it was good that I do that. So I don’t see the problem with CA doing it, as long as they make it clear that it comes down to personal opinion.

But all sides of these debates believe they are most in line with the Church’s teaching, or they wouldn’t hold the opinions they do. Writing about such things is indirectly part of apologetics insofar as one is defending either Church teaching, or what one believes is one valid manifestation of it (where others disagree in part).

So, for example, I have written against nuclear bombing. I felt that I was explaining the rationale behind the Church’s teaching, as an apologist, who explains not only what Catholics believe (or may believe), but also why.

It’s the same with immigration issues (that I’ve also written about) or anything else.

CA can write on social issues to the extent the Church has some teaching about it. 

The Church has taken no side on the NPLM.

Whether CA has done that sort of thing before or not is irrelevant. 

CA also needs to get its facts right. It’s possible for example that that voter guide never meant to suggest there are only 5 non negotiables, but that’s the impression many carried away. In fact, there are 9 non-negotiables.

They still have the same right as any other venue to write about something that is occurring in Catholic circles: just as much as I can write about anything I want. I’m a Catholic, generally speaking, as well as an apologist by vocation.

They simply need to make the disclaimer you suggest, and/or allow equal time.

The Church and the Bible have definitely taken a side on fellow pro-lifers lying about each other and being divisive and contentious. It’s wrong. Both sides are doing it and they are both in serious sin.

Trent Horn did not make the claim that pro-lifers are lying about each other. His article was a critique of the NPLM as such.

I didn’t say he did. I made the claim myself. But the article did quote the NPLM Facebook page in its second paragraph, stating: “We believe the methods of the mainstream pro-life movement have largely failed to address the issue properly . . .”

This is most unhelpful and divisive rhetoric (whether Horn thinks so or not). Horn writes about halfway down: “NPLM advocates often claim that because pro-lifers have failed to make abortion generally illegal, the “old strategy” hasn’t worked, and their new strategy should be used instead.”

Again, we should work together: not run each other down.

Nothing will ever be accomplished in terms of unity and a meeting of the minds until all factions of the pro-life movement can sit together, approach each other as equals, with respect and charity, and figure out all that we have in common (which is very considerable), and get past the stereotypes and mutual suspicions. I will keep seeking to achieve that goal, but it takes more than one side to be willing, for it to work.

If we can’t do that, we’re being more “partisan political” than orthodox Catholic.


I agree with the axiom “Pro-lifers should work together.” But if OPLM really thought this, then, when NPLM came along, it could have said, “But wait. I agree all these things you speak of are good. I am still over here working on a, but I am glad someone else is in the fight working on b and c and d. There are many fronts in this battle for a culture of life. I’m glad to see you have some other ones in mind. We need as many people as we can get.”But instead of that, OPLM decided to say: “All these other things are a distraction from the fight against abortion. All these things are intended to distract. You can only fight on one front at a time.” (Which is why we lost World War II–too many fronts.) “If everything is pro-life, nothing is pro life. You are all just a bunch of social justice lefties, pushing socialism.” And they engaged in turf war over “pro-life.” And they grew outraged that NPLM would include secularists, because that is definitely not the way for us all to work together.

Which kind of underscores everything NPLM said about OPLM in the first place.

Now maybe these are exceptions. If so, maybe good OPLM folks should speak to them and say, “No, these are actually good things that can be welcomed into the pro-life cause” instead of actually joining the chorus of anti-NPLM voices all while saying, “Let us work together.”

I agree again. These are the faults and sins of the “OPLM” that foster division and suspicion. You have accurately described them. I wholeheartedly denounce them as one of the number of “OPLM.”

Now we need members of the “NPLM” to denounce the sins of divisiveness and calumny that also infest their ranks. It’s only through self-reflection and self-policing that unity is ever achieved. That requires folks to be critical of their own immediate circles, and not just of “the other guy”: those wicked people who frequent other Facebook pages besides the ones that we hang out in.

We do know that St. Paul in Scripture repeatedly condemns contentiousness, factionalism, sectarianism, and divisiveness. Jesus prayed for the disciples to be one, as He and His Father were one. It’s a very serious sin, and it is all the more so when we realize that the only winner is Satan: employing his time-honored “divide and conquer” strategy.

There are legitimate discussions to be had about priorities, emphases, and strategies. I think the CA article by Trent Horn did that. I’ve done it many times in my writing. But these can take place without condemning the good faith and Catholic orthodoxy of those in the “other camp.” Those are discussions that occur in all large social movements, because there is not just one way to go about things.

As for secularists, Nat Hentoff and Bernard Nathanson (both atheists, though Nathanson later became a Catholic, I think) have long been celebrated as key figures in the “OPLM.”

We did, indeed, attack quite a few people who claim the prolife label.

Real pro-lifers or those whom you think are engaged in false self-descriptions?*

The latter.


Have some in the NPLM unfairly attacked real pro-lifers as well, and if so, do you condemn that, just as I condemn unfair and unjust OPLM attacks on NPLM folks? I’d really like to get an answer to this question, so we can be allies in the fight against internal divisions.

To respond in brief: I’m unaware of any of our associates going after prolifers whose work is credible. We’ve had differences and disagreements, even within our ranks, but that’s just normal and healthy.

But if anyone has been attacking allies, I would certainly issue a strong preference that they not do so.

Thanks for answering. Very glad to see that.


Two more things about “fighting on many fronts”:

1. It was Nazi Germany that lost because of trying to fight Russia and Britain / America at the same time. That violates fundamental war strategy: especially if the directions of the enemy are both east and west. All we had to do was make our way from Normandy to Berlin, with the Russians coming from the east (not to minimize all the lives lost!). And it took less than a year.

2. I’ve written several times about the charge that pro-lifers are “single-issue” voters / activists: noting that this is not unusual at all in the history of causes: the abolitionists, women’s suffrage, anti-child labor, the labor movement in general, civil rights, the anti-war movement, black power, feminism, “gay” rights, immigrant issues, Black Lives Matter, the current sexual abuse emphasis . . .

All of these are characterized by the proponents being overwhelmingly concerned with their one cause, and not (to any appreciable degree) any others at the same time. So I don’t see it as some huge scandal for a pro-lifer to concentrate exclusively on anti-abortion: whether CPCs or sidewalk counseling, Rosaries in front of clinics, rescues, political lobbying, helping get pro-lifers elected, writing and teaching (my own involvement), etc. That’s plenty for one person to do, and it is concerning the most troubling social issue of our time: the continuing massacre of 3000 human beings every day (i.e., 9-11 each and every day).

America fought Germany and Japan at the same time.
Yeah, in that sense, but we had no choice, as we were attacked. Hitler voluntarily decided to break the pact he had just made with Moscow.
So it can be done.
The principle of not fighting on too many fronts or “choose your battles wisely” or “putting all your eggs in one basket” or “don’t have too many plates spinning at once” is a valid one and practical wisdom. One can wrangle about where the principle is applicable or present, but it itself is perfectly reasonable and sensible.
The culture of death, like Hitler, gives us no choice.

I’m not opposing the notion of “lots of ‘fronts'” or aspects of the pro-life movement / room enough for everyone. That’s fine. I agree with it. I agree with you.

I’m saying that if someone chooses to concentrate on one important thing at a time (directly anti-abortion activities), that this ought not to be disparaged and looked down upon as the “single-issue voter” or “not sufficiently pro-life” etc.

Let them do that, without being despised, and go do your thing, too, in the pro-life movement. Live and let live. No sub-group of the pro-life effort should condemn any other.

I don’t have a problem with people who choose a particular front. I do have a problem with people who say, “Those other fronts detract from my front.”
Exactly. I agree, and that is what we can all condemn at every turn.


Photo credit: Image by Csquest99 (2-19-10) [Wikimedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]


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