Which adjective came to mind when you read the title of this post?
During my high school teaching days I also served as moderator of the pro-life club, and my students and I would pray outside abortion clinics from time to time. I miss my time with them very much, but based this experience–and hearing lots of criticisms from many different quarters–I can guess what some of those adjectives might be:
Tonight, I got a very moving note from another high school teacher who told me about a recent experience bringing his students to pray at an abortion clinic. It is well worth reading, not least because it blows these stereotypes completely out of the water…
I wanted to pass this along before other tasks consumed me this evening.
So, earlier this afternoon as twenty-five of my students and I were praying outside of the abortion clinic here, something happened that hasn’t happened in all of my years praying outside of this or any other abortion clinic: a clinic worker actually felt compelled to address us and walked outside to do so.
Now, again in all of my years of praying outside of abortion clinics, this has never happened. General indifference from abortion clinic staff: Yup. Occasional tsk-tsking and tut-tutting as they walked by: You betcha. But never an actual address.
No doubt, it probably had something to do with the fact all twenty-five students with me were young women (as is usually the case.) And the fact that our ethnic and racial diversity looks like something out of a college catalog, only better and more authentic. But I am guessing that it likely had something to do with the fact that our presence is starting to look a lot more powerful and persuasive, and this is becoming ever more worrying to those who work inside the abortion clinic here.
So back to the action: When the clinic worker walked up to us, she was polite, but firm in asking us if we were ever in a vulnerable situation. We nodded. Moreover, she asked if we ever felt like we needed support. We nodded again.
But then the agreement came to a screeching halt. She told us that those like her inside the clinic were “supporting women” and “helping women” (her exact words),” and those like us outside, were “hurting them” (her exact words again.) Next, there was a slight glimmer of hope that her address might tack back to her more promising start as she remarked that she “appreciated” why we were out there. But then she insisted that it was best to pray to our God inside the privacy of our homes, but not on the sidewalk because, again, we were “hurting women.” She repeated this phrase about two or three more times, but then walked away before we could respond.
Now, normally I don’t like to interrupt our witness in front of abortion clinics. We somewhat regularly endure our not-so fair share of obnoxious car horns and four-letter words. So, I generally don’t like to acknowledge those who seek to disrupt us from our primary task of praying and bearing witness.
But this time was different. And so I asked my students to gather around me for a few brief comments.
First, I noted that we had just been told that our presence here is “hurting women.” I told them that I had no doubt that we were making the clinic workers inside uncomfortable and that we were probably provoking some tough and disconcerting questions for any and all mothers inside. But “hurting women.” No way. No how.
Second, I noted that we had just been told that those inside the clinic were supporting women, and those outside the clinic like us were not. I then reminded students that less than two years ago, our very presence on this very same sidewalk inspired an abortion-minded woman to come outside of the clinic and pray with us for quite some time. She didn’t give us her name, but she motioned that she not going to go in again, and later pulled away in a taxi that came to greet her. I told my students that our presence that day, and not theirs inside the clinic, supported a vulnerable woman and vulnerable child in a time of need. I told them that today a child likely got to celebrate a first birthday, got to eat ice cream, and got to enjoy countless hugs and kisses because of our presence. In other words, a mother and child got to experience love because we were present. And that our thirty minutes of praying that day two years ago provided more authentic support and occasioned more beauty than the clinic here ever had. Or ever would. Period.
Third, I noted that we were told in so many words that the abortion clinic workers here resented our presence and wanted it to end. I told my students that absence was only assent to the violence of abortion. But presence was the power to identify it, resist it, and so overcome it through the grace of God. And so long as this violence continued, we would remain present. And we would remain present because our presence has already had the power to dispel anxiety and affirm life. In short, because our presence has allowed a child to most assuredly live and a mother to hope. To hope what she never thought possible two years ago.
Fourth, I noted that we were told in so many words that our love hurts. I told my students that this may be so for those who have not experienced the fullness of the gift that we have received. Or who have felt its lack. Or who have even refused it. But, in truth, our love does not hurt. It hungers. It hungers for justice. It hungers to end discrimination. It hungers to end violence against whomever and wherever. It hungers that all human beings may be welcomed in life and protected in law. And it was this hungering love that so provoked anxiety in the woman from the abortion clinic who addressed us on the sidewalk. It was this hungering love that challenged her. And it was this hungering love that could indeed inspire the beginning of her conversion. Moreover, I told them that no doubt those in clinic know that we will not walk with women inside there. But those in clinic know too, and fear to acknowledge, that, even though we will not walk inside, we will indeed walk with these very same women in all other places and in all other moments, come what may. In other words, they know and fear to acknowledge this: that if the women inside the abortion clinic need holistic prenatal care, we’ll find it. And if they need help with education, we’ll fund it. And if they need help with post-natal aid, we’ll get it. And if they need help with childcare, we’ll provide it, because we have the will and we have the love. Our love hungers, but it never wearies and never rests, because it bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things.
Finally, I noted that we were told to go pray in our homes. And I told my students that we would and that we would indeed do so tonight. But so too would we pray in our churches. And in our schools. And on our playing fields. And in the streets. And most definitely on this very sidewalk in front of the abortion clinic. And we would do so again and again and again, rain, shine, sleet or snow. And we wouldn’t be just twenty-five strong next week because we’d all be showing up with a classmate or two or ten. Twenty-five of us had caused the clinic staff anxiety. Seventy-five of us next week was going to send them reeling. And it was going to send them reeling because of the fire of Christ’s love burning in us and burning for every man, woman, and child.
And with that we returned to prayer. But judging from the focus in my students’ eyes, it certainly seemed like we did so with a firmer commitment and greater fire than ever before.
Sincere anti-abortion protestors would be wise to try to understand why over 40 years of such activism has not persuaded a majority of the public to their view. Success in anything demands an understanding of why one has not already succeeded.
1) Catholic anti-abortion activists have not been able to persuade even most of their fellow American Catholics. This fact argues for a review of tactics at the least.
2) Catholicism can not credibly lead a campaign against abortion while at the same time arguing against contraception, the most effective method of preventing abortion. Success will require facing the fact that this is an unsellable message, even within the Church.
3) Conducting public blame and shame campaigns on the sidewalk outside of abortion clinics ensures the Catholic perspective will never be welcomed inside the clinic, where the decision is actually being made. Thus, such campaigns don’t display seriousness, but lack thereof.
4) Demonization of Planned Parenthood undermines the credibility of the anti-abortion message given that it’s Planned Parenthood, and not the Catholic Church, that is the leading preventer of abortions. Such demonization of Planned Parenthood also denies the Church the most powerful partner it might work with.
5) If abortions were made illegal, many more children would then be brought in to a world where they are unwelcome, another form of human suffering which would radiate out in all directions. The problem of unjust suffering would be moved from one box to another, but not solved, so little is accomplished. The public can not be won over as allies if they understand this fact, but the activists do not.
6) Catholic clergy will be widely perceived to be unqualified to speak to abortion given that they typically have no family experience beyond their own childhood. This rich pool of talent should be aimed at other social issues where their unique experiences do make them more qualified to speak than the average person.
Catholic anti-abortion protestors are losing because, while they are sincerely serious about fighting this battle, they aren’t serious about winning it.
Those on all sides of the abortion issue are united both in 1) wanting to reduce abortions, and in 2) having other competing priorities which rank higher than that goal.
Phil, I strongly disagree with each and every one of your points made above…but let’s start with your global point which motivates the others. What makes you think that the compassionate and sincere folks you deride in this post are doing something other than winning? Before you answer, please consider that the overwhelming majority of laws (hundreds and hundreds of them) being passed on abortion in recent years are pro-life, while even pro-choice ones are being defeated in deep blue states like New York. Also, please read this: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/03/23/abortion-generation-demographics-choice-life-column/24900705/
Consider also that these systemic pro-life victories are taking place in the context of media gatekeepers who are somewhere between skeptical and hostile with regard to our positions.
“If abortions were made illegal, many more children would then be brought in to a world where they are unwelcome, another form of human suffering which would radiate out in all directions.”
So these children are better off dead?
Charles, thanks so much for your strong disagreement, seriously. I’m here looking for engagement, not agreement. If you agreed, what would I write next?? A catastrophe! 🙂
For the record, it’s not my goal to deride anybody, but I can understand why it may read that way to some. Rather, it’s my intent to help shine some bit of light on some of what needs to be addressed to make the anti-abortion message credible to those who must be persuaded.
I’m trying to deal with the tactical reality that most of those having abortions are not Catholic, and never will be. This is also true of most of those who believe abortion should be legal. Like it or not, it’s largely a non-Catholic even secular audience that must be won over, and so I am addressing myself to that challenge as best I can.
It seems reasonable to propose that the most productive path forward can be to focus on what almost everybody agrees on instead of what they disagree on. And the good news is that almost everybody would like to see fewer abortions.
If the focus is put clearly on reducing abortions, the powerful forces involved can be working together on the same team instead of wasting tons of energy fighting each other.
What I see happening instead is that the focus is not clearly on reducing abortions, but on other competing agendas. For some, the ideology of choice trumps reducing abortions. For others, Catholic doctrine on contraception trumps reducing abortions. For others on every side, the joy of conflict trumps working together towards a common goal.
I would like to see the Catholic Church inside of Planned Parenthood clinics as a welcome partner, offering to raise any child a family does not want.
Such a constructive partnership does not require anyone to surrender their deeply held beliefs, only that those on all sides stop shouting their beliefs in each other’s faces, and focus instead on the practical business of reducing abortions.
Ok, enough from here. Your turn. Go for it! And thanks again.
I could respond to this, Phil, but I think I’ll wait for you to respond to the sets of questions I asked you. It seems obvious to be that the strategy you deride is winning for the reasons I wrote in the comment and in the USA Today Op-Ed.
Andrew, thanks for your engagement too!
You asked, “So these children are better off dead?”
Of course they are better off with a family that WANTS them. Catholic activism could be focused on helping find such a family.
I sincerely believe that trying to blame and shame pregnant families in to raising children they don’t want is not a good plan for those kids or the larger society. How about we serve the kid and the family, instead of our own ideology?
Your question might also be engaged on a deeper theological level.
The situation for babies, who face no risk of hell, is rather different that it is for we adults. As I understand Catholic doctrine, babies go straight back to God.
The adult who has an abortion may be in deep theological trouble, but the baby gets a free ride right back to where they would have spent their entire life trying to get, skipping over all the messy business in the middle. Maybe we should mourn the mother’s situation, but not the baby’s?
No, Phil we don’t believe in exploiting God’s mercy to sustain injustice. And no, nothing that Camosy is doing can be accurately described as participating in a “blame and shame campaign.” And no, working to bolster social support for women is not mutually exclusive with working toward more restrictive abortion laws. And no, Catholic adoption services are not at odds with Catholics who protest against abortion. And no, Planned Parenthood is not an anti-abortion advocate (unless, perhaps, in the way that McDonald’s is anti-obesity and Philip Morris wants everyone to quit smoking). And yes, Camosy is right to not reply to your arguments until you *engage* with the positions he actually holds and answer his questions. In fact, I would take this a step further. I would like your next reply to draw from Camosy’s Op-Ed (or one of his numerous other works) in order to accurately describe what his views are. Then, I would like you to draw from Beth Haile’s relatively recent posts regarding Catholic teachings on contraception, again, with the goal of merely describing her argument in an accurate way. After you have done this, then you will be in a position to *engage* with their views. Engaging does not mean caricaturing the views of someone else in order to jump off into a bunch of of pre-packaged, ready-made, assertion-tastic talking points.
Charles, my apologies. I really didn’t mean to ignore your points. I was attempting to give you space to make your points without me diving right in to arguing. Now that I know you welcome a debate, I’ll proceed in that direction. In reply…
Who Is Winning?
As you read above, my reasoning is that if Catholic activists with full backing of the Church can not persuade even most of their fellow American Catholics, then it doesn’t seem logical to assume that current tactics can succeed in winning over the larger public which is predominantly non-Catholic.
Pew Research states….
“When asked directly about the legality of abortion, 55% of U.S. adults say it should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 40% who say it should be illegal all or most of the time. In both cases, these figures have remained relatively stable for at least two decades.”
Pew sees no evidence of either side moving the public opinion polls in a meaningful sustained way. This seems important because if activists on any side can not succeed in winning over the hearts and minds of a majority of voters, any laws they succeed in passing are quite likely to be a temporary victory.
What Is Winning?
Let’s imagine abortion is again made illegal across the entire country, which would understandably be experienced as a victory by anti-abortion activists. Ok, so what happens next?
Abortion moves out of safe clinics in to the back alley black market underground. Abortion moves to Canada, where it is fully legal. It’s unknown how many abortions would be prevented by making abortion illegal, thus it’s as yet unclear what would be won. Is this winning?
Overturning Roe v. Wade would energize the creativity and passion of the pro-choice side like nothing we’ve seen before. Stories of women suffering and dying in back alley abortion clinics would regularly flood the media, the public opinion pendulum would begin it’s swing back towards legal abortion, and the unproductive polarizing conflict would continue without pause. Is this winning?
Finally, we could for the sake of argument assume the highly unrealistic best case scenario for activists, that making abortion illegal did actually end all abortions. The result here would be millions of people having babies they don’t want, a new source of suffering which would radiate out in all directions, and down through succeeding generations. Is this winning?
Charles, I’m not addressing this as an advocate for either side. I’m not making a moral case, or thinking like a theologian. I’m taking a tactical view, like a salesman. I’m asking…
What kind of presentation would be the most effective in unifying a majority of the population around an agenda of reducing abortions?
My argument is that if Catholic anti-abortion activists had found such an effective presentation of their message, such a success would already be reflected in the Pew opinion poll data.
Phil, I’ll give you one more chance to address my points. If you do not, I’ll just assume that you aren’t interested in genuine engagement, and I’ll simply ignore your comments.
I cite polls in the USA Today Op-Ed (which, spoiler alert, shows that the next generation is far more pro-life than the previous two generations), but here’s the most recently one for your consideration. CNN poll shows 6 in 10 Americans want abortion illegal in “all or most” circumstances: http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/14/politics/abortion-poll-cnn-orc/index.html