I have to give credit to Peter Wolfgang over at Crisis Magazine. His recent assessment of The New Pro-Life Movement is easily the most civil, empathetic criticism we’ve received.
Under the title “The New Pro-Life Movement: Been There, Done That”, Wolfgang takes aim at our strategy—not with malice, hyperbole, or insults—but with (what seems to be) genuine skepticism. Which is completely fair, as he openly points to his past as a pro-life leftist as the source of his pessimistic outlook towards our movement.
He describes the work he did with Feminists for Life, The Seamless Garment Network, and Catholic Workers, in which he advocated strongly for the “whole life” ideology—only to see it blow up in his face.
(Warning. Long quote ahead)
Contrary to what you may have read from those sources, no one deliberately made the choice to turn the pro-life issue from a bipartisan cause to a partisan one, with all the attendant dangers of partisanship. Many pro-life Catholics started as Democrats and became Republicans not because we love the GOP but because the Democrats hated our guts and pushed us out.
Democrat anti-Catholicism recently went way above the radar when Sen. Dianne Feinstein questioned the fitness of a judicial nominee because of her Catholicity. But that was the sort of bigotry I regularly witnessed when I moved in leftwing circles. Their hatred for the Church was off the charts precisely because of the Church’s pro-life position and they were never going to listen to anything we had to say on the issue, as pro-life Democrat Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey learned when he was barred from speaking at his party’s convention in 1992.
Not that I didn’t try. At Feminists for Life I authored and hand-delivered a letter to pro-life Democrat congressmen and senators, trying to build a closer alliance with them. The same letter went to Vatican Ambassador Ray Flynn, the only pro-lifer in the Clinton Administration. I lobbied Congress against welfare reform, on behalf of Feminists for Life, because we thought it would be bad for the unborn. When Congressman Tony Hall, a pro-life Democrat from Ohio, made a speech defending the conscience rights of pro-life Democrats from the stage of the 1996 Democratic National Convention, we thought things were moving in our direction.
But we were wrong. The Democrats are actually more pro-abortion today than they were in the days when President Clinton was supporting partial-birth abortion. They dropped even the rhetoric of moderation, that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare,” replacing “rare” with “accessible,” they inserted into Obamacare an administrative mandate requiring even the Little Sisters of the Poor to fund abortifacient drugs, and they repeatedly try to repeal the Hyde Amendment, so that abortion can be directly funded by your tax dollars.
And then there is, yes, Feinstein. This is the party the NPLM wants pro-lifers to cozy up to?
TL/DR – we tried the pro-life leftist approach already, but it didn’t work because the Democrats are more pro-abortion now than they ever were.
But this is where Wolfgang misses the mark.
Rebecca and I have both been very open about our leftist leanings. And we’ve never made much of an attempt to hide it. But NPLM is not, itself, a leftist organization or movement. We have, among our supporters, people on every side of the spectrum—including Conservative Republicans.
We do not exist to create a special pro-life movement for the left. We exist because over the last few decades, the mainstream, traditional pro-life movement has been reduced to little more than a campaign strategy for the American right-wing with a vision so narrow and exclusive that it’s amazing any of its followers can see anything at all. It is, as best, a pro-birth movement more concerned with putting Republicans in office than actually addressing the reasons a woman might feel compelled to seek an abortion in the first place.
The New Pro-Life Movement is our attempt to reclaim the pro-life title (loaded as it may be) not for the left, but for everyone. It’s our attempt to create a society that protects and supports the right to life from conception to natural death and everything in between. It’s not so much about saying “you can’t be pro-life unless you’re also fighting x, y, & z issue”, but about recognizing that abortion, poverty, war, the death penalty, gun violence, crime, healthcare, etc are all related issues that affect one another to some degree.
Moreover, it’s a human-centric community that sees a vast amount of middle ground where—despite all our differences—we can come together and work towards common goals. That’s why we do not shy away from working with anyone who might share our vision–be it whole or fragmented. Whether you’re Republican or Democrat, gay or straight, Christian or Atheist, Protestant or Catholic, Jew or Muslim, man or woman, and yes, even pro-choice or traditionally pro-life, we want to work with you.
So while I do appreciate Wolfgang’s civility and empathetic critique of our movement, he (like most of detractors) still makes the unfortunate mistake of putting NPLM in a small, specific box when the reality is that we are so, so much bigger.