This may be a better topic in the afterglow of the election, but it is on my heart today. Many people like to analogize the civil rights movement with the struggle against abortion. An alternate history of the civil rights movement has been created to help make the analogy more compelling in relation to the political goals of the anti-abortion movement. There is the myth that the civil rights establishment would accept nothing less than full justice. While ultimately that was true, in the day to day space, the reality was markedly different. Much like the case chosen to fight the Washington, D.C., gun ban, great care was taken before advocating on behalf of a specific cause and many atrocities were met by silence.
I have been critical of what I call the Miss America mindset of the pro-life (anti-abortion) movement. This mindset has been embraced by a number of bishops. The short version is that if we think the right things and hope the right things, everything will turn around. Like the much maligned Miss America speeches calling for world peace, the substance of the issues are not merely matters of desire. The Palestinian and Israeli conflict is not a tale of two wicked people that just don’t want peace enough. The grievances are real. One party’s gain is another party’s loss. In the abortion debate in this country, the political debate is not between those who desire the death of babies and, to use pro-choice rhetoric, those who desire to reduce women’s bodies to the property of men. Philosophically it is indeed the case that radical individualism is competing against a communal obligation to the person. (This point in particular is frustrating, because many pro-life activists fail to recognize that your typical abortion rights supporter recognizes the death they are bringing.) Substantially however, the debate is over such things as FOCA, PBA, etc.
Going forward in this, it is not simply enough to say that a person is against abortion or even for it. It certainly isn’t enough to claim that the act of having children is a political act as some have done. In raising people to elective office and making express advocacy to them, we must have a political agenda. There is no good reason to completely abandon the political agenda in choosing candidates. As has been made manifest in the past few weeks, there are competencies and political goals that are ignored at our own peril in seeking a philosophically pure candidate. Come November as is the case in almost every election, solidly pro-life people will be voted out of office almost entirely on the basis of things having nothing to do with their pro-life advocacy. Given the limits of the pro-life political agenda, they will have achieved little on behalf of the unborn during their time in office. With pro-life advocates having wedded themselves to the Republican Party, the person elected will be adverse to the pro-life agenda. So, not only do pro-lifers lose, they lose even when they weren’t really competing.
I have long thought the pro-life movement in this country should learn some things from the NRA. Whatever you think of the NRA, everyone agrees that they are one of the best advocacy groups for their cause in the country. The ideal situation for any advocacy group is to have two candidates seeking office that endorse their views. The NRA has this happen quite often. The pro-life movement rarely has this. In large parts of the country like the northeast and California, pro-lifers are fortunate to have one candidate that advocates their beliefs. If pro-lifers were winning in the political arena – getting legislation they want passed and legislation they don’t want blocked, not just electing candidates – this wouldn’t be such a big problem. They aren’t. Instead we are getting situations like in Connecticut where advocates didn’t have a seat at the table and a bill mandating Catholic hospitals offer emergency contraception without first determining whether the woman was pregnant was pushed through. On a slightly different topic, we have places like New York mandating contraceptive coverage in health plans even for Catholic organizations. Now maybe not all of these things could have been prevented, but the odds sure increase if your vote is in play. And each of these things might have been a tolerable loss if say we were allowed to ban 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions, but little to nothing is getting done in many of these states on behalf of the unborn.
In the end, advocates must be the bearers of purity. They must demand more than nice pull quotes for their fund raising letters. They also must stop needlessly making enemies. For us on the ground, we need to find a seat at or near the table. In many cases, this means tolerating contemptible men who can otherwise help us. It means being measured in our enthusiasm for any one candidate, so that it actually matches what we hope to achieve, hope as in the here and now. Yes, hope that abortion will be ended by the Supreme Court in 2050, but recognize that hardly any person in office today will be there when it happens. Remember that things can and sometimes do get worse, sometimes a lot worse.