Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Pro-Life Movement: Reader Recommendations

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Apr 28, 2009

I’ve received nearly a hundred messages from those who are following our ongoing discussion of how to make the pro-life movement more effective. It is time to survey the preliminary results and set the stage for a deeper exploration of some of these ideas. I should say at the outset that a large number of correspondents see the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church as an important pre-condition for any sort of success.

The assumption in these messages is that the only way we’ll be able to mobilize sufficient forces for anything to work is if the Church stiffens, preaches and organizes at every level to defend life. Some readers pointed this out directly. For example, Anthony Buckley, writing from Brisbane and speaking of the situation in both Australia and the US, wrote point blank:

The question you are asking is: How do we recover [from our current weakness]? The simple answer is that we have to reconvert our Catholic brethren. I would contest that if we could get about half of all Catholics, say, about 12% of our populations, to be firmly Catholic in every respect and especially firmly resolved to follow the Church’s teaching on the pro-life issues then the enemy would flee. Simply, few politicians could get elected if a solid 12% (and there will be more than that as some of our non-Catholic Christian brethren are increasingly standing firm) were to vote against any pro-abort politician no matter what the previous party loyalty may have been.

Others made recommendations that presuppose the renewal of the Church. Sr. Eleanor Colgan of Cincinnati observed the tremendous impact that would be made if each pastor preached on Humanae vitae, instituted regular prayers for the unborn, and organized parish transportation for public witness at abortion clinics. And Fred Schaeffer (Vero Beach, Florida) was among many who called for consolidation of the pro-life movement, a point to which I will return later, but Fred clearly recognized that ecclesiastical discipline would be essential to consolidating, enlarging and sustaining the movement over time.

While each message highlighted different things, all could be grouped under five broad headings: (1) The need for personal witness; (2) The need for a conceptual shift; (3) The need for more effective political action; (4) The need to consolidate the movement; and (5) The need to concentrate on changing hearts. Let’s take a brief look at each category.

(1) Witness: Some writers do not claim to have a programmatic answer, but clearly believe that personal witness—including personal sacrifice—is the key. Fr. Harry Howard (Maryville, TN) put the matter eloquently: “We, as children of the Kingdom of God, are called to commit without reservation, to sacrifice in ways that perhaps we never have, and to invest the fullness of our God-given talents and graces in the gift of life that Our Lord offers us moment by moment, day by day and year by year.” John Estabrook (Natick MA) points out that because we are cowardly, our witness too often falls short even of ruffling feathers. A typical example occurred when a friend’s partial birth abortion was described as “necessary” at a family gathering: “I told her that never when a baby is partially born can the woman be saved by killing the baby. That is when other family members interjected and told me to let it go to prevent a full-blown affair…and I did.” I think we’ve all been there, we’ve all done that.

(2) Conceptual Shift: Some writers hold that abortion can never be seriously curtailed in our society until we overcome other widespread misconceptions. The two misconceptions most often cited related to contraception and feminism. Thus Joseph Burke of Ave Maria University noted that it is impossible “to have a culture that is pro-contraception and anti-abortion,” so progress will be possible only when we are ready to defend Humanae vitae. Donald Pitsch observed that feminism teaches us that “a woman’s body is her property along with anything that grows inside of it…. Women need to be re-instilled with the awe and wonder and responsibility of their creative powers. And we all need to understand that our bodies are temples, not storehouses for our excesses.” It is difficult to argue that these two misconceptions do not play an enormous role in maintaining and advancing the culture of death.

(3) Political Action: Several correspondents placed a premium on more widespread and more effective political action. Frederick Costello (Oak Hill, VA) urged Catholics to become involved in civic associations from the ground up; another writer recommended holding a convention in New York City for the specific purpose of launching a more effective, coordinated and national political strategy; and Fr. Benedict Ashley of St. Louis suggested that the pro-life movement might gain considerable success if it concentrated its limited political energies less on prohibiting abortion and more on enacting into law the sorts of things that can encourage women to make “a right choice”, especially public education on the nature of the fetus and the harm abortion does to women, access to adoption services and public assistance to pregnant women. Fr. Ashley’s proposal is a public implementation of what we will also find under my fifth heading, the need to change hearts.

(4) Consolidating the Movement: I had intended to write about the potential consolidation of the pro-life movement, so I’ll save this topic until later in the week. Suffice it to say that many are discouraged and disoriented by the bewildering variety of pro-life initiatives and pro-life groups.

(5) Changing Hearts: I had not planned to write separately on this topic because I thought it too amorphous. But then I received a remarkably cogent letter from Tom Hardy of Sutton, MA. Are we throwing money away by emphasizing the legal side of abortion? Is there a better way?

I’m sure there are more good ideas still to come in. Meanwhile, stay tuned for intriguing close-ups of these last two categories. Can the consolidation of the movement based on a new emphasis transform defeat into victory?

 Discussion in order:


Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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