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Working Together: Cooperation in the Pro-Life Movement

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 08, 2009

Jeff Mirus has argued persuasively, in the last two posts of this string, that some consolidation would be beneficial to the American pro-life movement. Nearly every political activist in the American pro-life movement would agree, I suspect-- with one very important caveat. Most activists would insist that the consolidation should be done under the direction of their favorite group. In other words, they would invoke that old familiar refrain: "If you'd just agree with me, we could stop arguing!"

Different activists have different opinions regarding which tactics will be most effective. That's understandable; it's even healthy. There is no such thing as infallibility in the political world, and anyone who claims to speak with magisterial authority should be viewed with suspicion, even-- no, especially-- if he is a Catholic prelate. 

So we should always welcome new ideas, new opinions, new tactics, new approaches to the pro-life cause. But the wild proliferation of pro-life organizations and initiatives has indeed drained energy from the movement over the past 35 years. Far too much effort has been spent in re-inventing the wheel; far too many resources have been poured into projects that never got off the ground, and probably never had a chance to succeed in the first place. 

A winning army doesn't fight as a disconnected group of isolated small units. The different platoons may pursue different tactical objectives, but they communicate with each other, and carry out a strategic plan developed by an united command. The pro-life movement should operate the same way. 

What does this mean in practice?

  • Talk to each other. First and foremost, pro-life groups should coordinate their plans. Each group should know what the other group is doing, and how their efforts can fit together.
  • Listen to friendly criticism. Every pro-life activist should submit his bright ideas to others-- this is the political equivalent of scientific peer review-- and have the humility to realize that he might not have considered every possible angle. 
  • Assume good will. There will, inevitably, be disagreements about tactics. They should be recognized as disagreements among friends. If Pro-Lifer X is supporting legislation that Pro-Lifer Y considers inopportune, it's not because one or the other is secretly working to subvert the pro-life cause; it's because they have an honest difference of opinions. They may have heated arguments behind closed doors, but in public they should treat each other with respect and not question each other's commitment to the cause of life.
  • Work together. Some groups are particularly good at arranging mass demonstrations, while others are better at placing articles in newspapers and still others specialize in lobbying legislators. If they can coordinate their activities around a few chosen initiatives each year, they'll enjoy much greater success. Meeting together occasionally, their leaders can parcel out tasks, agree on main "talking points," and schedule public events to fit everyone's schedule. If some groups or individuals feel that they cannot be involved in a particular initiative, they should be politely asked to keep quiet about it-- not to interfere with the work of others.
  • Expand the circle. Some groups are more confrontational than others. Some pro-lifers look for incremental improvements in legislation while other "true believers" press for a complete victory, the abolition of Roe v. Wade. Their tactics will be different, but they can still work together-- like the "good cop" and the "bad cop" interrogating a suspect. Incrementalists need to keep reassuring the true believers that they won't compromise on essentials. True believers need to give incrementalists the freedom to form new coalitions, and bring new allies into the movement. Political success comes when you have 51% of the votes. You reach that goal by finding ways to draw more people to your side-- not by making it difficult for people to join you.

The political activists of the American pro-life movement have not put enough effort into coordinated plans. There has been far too much infighting over the past 35 years-- far too much bickering, far too many battles over turf. It hasn't been pretty, hasn't been edifying-- in fact, frankly, hasn't been good Christian witness.

On the other hand, at least in my experience, the leadership of the pregnancy-help movement-- the non-political wing of the pro-life effort-- has done a remarkably good job of coordinating efforts: praying together, sharing resources, coordinating plans, dividing up tasks, and even agreeing to disagree politely when a meeting of the minds proves impossible. It's not a coincidence that while the political prospects of the pro-life movement in America have never been worse, the pregnancy-help movement continues to make inroads, changing hearts and minds, saving mothers and babies from abortion. 


Discussion in order:

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