A Defense Of The New Pro-life Movement By An Old Pro-Lifer

A Defense Of The New Pro-life Movement By An Old Pro-Lifer September 15, 2017



By John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

Some screw-loosy Trumpistas attacked a wonderful friend of mine. 1600 wd response. You’d better not “like” this post, because it’s possible there will be an eruption of noxious fuming here.

I am deeply proud to know Rebecca Bratten Weiss. I enjoy her writing immensely. I never saw her work in class, but I have great respect for the students whom she taught and I know – and they praise and defend her with passion.

I am appalled by the savage attack on her launched by LifeSiteNews. I note with anger that this “pro-life” group displayed (again) that it is shamelessly and totally tone-deaf. Specifically, their extensive research located two founders of the New Pro-life Movement, a man and a woman – and then they attacked the woman. Is it really hard to grasp that the most popular argument for abortion is that it seems to protect women? Where does such stupidity grow?

I am not a founder of the New Pro-life Movement (NPLM), but I’m a part of it. I joined because of Rebecca. So if it’s important to you to rip all traces of the NPLM out of all respectable places, please remember to go after me. And perhaps you should remove all traces of my work from Franciscan University at Steubenville (FUS). In front of the Portiuncula at FUS, there’s a tomb that treasures the remains of three unborn children. One of those three bodies is from Washington. I found bodies in the trash here in August 1986, and for the next seven months a group of us took bodies out of dumpsters in back of four abortion clinics. So one of the bodies at the pro-life heart of FUS was retrieved from the waste stream by a member of the NPLM.

LifeSiteNews does some good. I am grateful to Lianne Laurence for her persistent coverage of Mary Wagner’s work – that you publish. Mary Wagner – and Lianne Laurence, in years past – have spent long stretches of time in prison for protecting children, and it is baffling and painful that their courage and heroism is almost unknown among pro-lifers. So: good for you.

However, having done some good by reporting on Mary Wagner, you undercut that good and obliterate its effects by falling into the cesspool that Wagner invites all of us including you to leave. Falling in – hell, you dive into it, wallow in it, and demand that every self-respecting pro-lifer join you there. Nonviolence offers a way out of the destructive blind alley where the pro-life movement has been thrashing around for 40 years. In his encyclical “On Social Concerns” (38-40) St. Pope John Paul II taught that the route to freedom from grave social sins is solidarity with the victims of that evil. Solidarity may indeed flow toward protective legislation eventually. But the pro-life movement as a whole has tried to skip over the toilsome road to a caricature of the goal. The road is solidarity. The goal is protection. Lobbying is not the road, and an unenforceable law is not the goal.

Let me repeat that more pointedly. In the entire history of the globe, it has never happened that a massive social evil that was deeply entrenched in a society was ended by a strategy of education leading to legislation. Every deeply entrenched social evil in history that has been reversed was ended by a war or a campaign of nonviolence. (E.g., war ended British tyranny in America, and ended slavery here; campaigns of nonviolence ended British tyranny in India, and upended segregation here. There was indeed legislation – AFTER the wars and campaigns.) Obviously, during the persecution of Christians in the early centuries of the Church, no one used the words “campaign of nonviolence.” But Tertullian’s insight that “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church” expresses the same idea. The counter-example proposed most often is the inspiring work of William Wilberforce, the moral giant who challenged slavery in the British empire. But slavery was not deeply entrenched in Britain; it existed there, but just barely. It was entrenched elsewhere in the empire, and the awakened conscience of the British on their small but mighty island was capable of changing laws around the world – because of the previous conquests that had built the empire. Legislation is a fruit, not a route.

Let me repeat that a third time. When you want to end a grave evil deeply entrenched in a society, you must expect some uproar and collision and contest. You can’t end a slaughter with sweet persuasion. If the uproar is violent, we call it a war. But there is an alternative: a campaign of nonviolence, in which activists act in solidarity with the victims, absorbing the violence themselves and not retaliating, ending the cycle of violence, challenging the hearts of the violent.

The pro-life movement in America has opted, with increasing determination, to extirpate the voices of leftists. Pro-life Republicans joined Planned Parenthood in an effort to wipe out the vermin: pro-life Democrats. I do understand why Planned Parenthood wanted us to go away. And I understand why Republicans wanted a monopoly on pro-life muscle. But chasing out or silencing the left half the pro-life movement brought some unintended consequences – including the loss of insight amongst pro-lifers into the history of nonviolence. In the 1980s and 1990s, among pro-lifers – at the March for Life, for example – you would stumble into Democrats with a deep and wide knowledge of the life and teaching of Gandhi, Walesa, Aquino, King, Chavez, and many other heroes. But by 2000, such sightings were getting rare, and as a result pro-lifer’s knowledge of nonviolence generally dwindled to two examples – Gandhi and King – and then Gandhi was dismissed as a pagan pervert, and King was re-interpreted as a master of propaganda coddled by the press. The pro-life movement no longer has a reservoir of knowledge and experience of nonviolence.

Having lost its (tenuous) grip on a real strategy, the pro-life movement slipped deeper and deeper into a frantic effort to revive a corpse, to bull through the dead end of a canyon in the Rockies, to force apples to appear on the branches of a dead elm tree. Education-to-legislation: it’s the only option! So we gotta gotta gotta!

And so, committed to the impossible, the pro-life movement was easy pickings for a fraud.

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