In last week’s Collegian, Ben Dietderich gave the pro-life movement some advice that was neither asked for nor apt. He suggested several tactical means that might have been good ones except that since they are already broadly and obviously in practice, they unfairly paint the movement as hard-hearted and clueless more than they move the conversation forward. Worse, re-directing toward the goals he suggests would soul-suck the movement.
His central suggestion for tactics seem to be this: “Don’t march to change the law. March to change hearts.” This is ill-judged on both accounts. First: I don’t know why laws exist, or why we should even have a government, if it refuses to protect every human being’s right to life. There is no law more worth changing than one that ensures the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people each year.
And as far as changing hearts: Why does Dietderich suppose, as he himself notes early on, that abortion has declined in recent history? It’s not because of any change in the law. As someone who’s attended the past two marches, I have to wonder how familiar Dietderich is with the movement.
The energy at the March for Life is aggressively uplifting. The theme of last year was “Love Saves Lives” and featured, among other things, people cheering and chanting “We love babies, yes we do; we love babies, how about you?” Those cheers were reprised at this year’s event along with hymn-singing, posters of cartoon pandas protesting “Save the baby humans,” and Ben-“facts-don’t-care-about-your-feelings”-Shapiro sharing infant pictures of his children and inviting shared adoration.
Dietderich’s ideas, in other words, are directed at a failing movement that does not exist, or at least is not the pro-life one. The closest he can come to worthwhile advice is the cliche of telling Christians, “Don’t judge those who make choices you disagree with,” and even that remark has two glaring issues.
The first is the perception, so important to Dietderich, of the pro-life movement as “against women,” “ignorant,” and “judgmental.” It is true that when delivering a message it is necessary to tailor your medium, demeanor, and angle to the audience and the specific goal you hope to accomplish. This does not mean you must assume responsibility for how that message is perceived.
And yet the entire audience for Dietderich’s lecture seems to be this caricature of a failed and judgy movement sketched by a slanted media. “It’s time to acknowledge the movement’s failures,” he said. The failures of negative perception, or of a lack of legislative victories?
Negative perception is not a failure of the pro-life movement; it is an obstruction that they are already dealing with exactly as Dietderich suggests they should. Neither is the legal stasis an issue for which he offers any new ideas. His suggestion is that pro-lifers should aim for smaller, manageable victories before moving on to blanket protection.
But it’s insulting to suggest that the pro-life movement’s dearth of legislative victories stems from failing to fight for the “inches” to be won. Texas passed legislation requiring abortionists to have “admitting privileges” to a nearby hospital in case of emergencies — a measure struck down in 2016 by the Supreme Court, 5 – 3. The Ohio legislature passed a heartbeat bill protecting all unborn babies whose heartbeats could be detected — a measure vetoed by former Republican Gov. John Kasich. Iowa passed laws requiring a 72-hour waiting period before any abortion was conducted — courts struck that down last year — and heartbeat legislation much like Ohio’s bill, which was struck down by courts just a week ago. As for self-proclaimed conservative Supreme Court justices Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor upholding Roe v. Wade by a 5 – 4 Supreme Court vote in 1992 — what can be done?
The second issue with that “Judge not”-chastisement is its jaw-dropping euphemism, “Choices you disagree with,” to mean infanticide. Indeed, Dietderich’s language about abortion and his discussion of the pro-life movement’s goals is where the waters really muddy.
On the one hand, Dietderich says that the pro-life movement is correct and right: He says that “Conservatives’ principles do not need to change,” that it is “right to call” the disappearance of Down syndrome in some European countries “systematic genocide,” and that the American pro-life movement, “a beacon of hope,” has “refused to budge, and commendably so.”
But interwoven with these protestations are the following: “Pro-choice advocates are correct: As the pro-life movement stands today, its stated goals would restrict a woman’s reproductive rights,” and “Abandon changes to the law that would infuriate half the country — a tyrannical majority can come from both sides.” This is doublespeak worthy of Stephen Douglas.
No verbal shell game can justify calling the innocent killing of a human being a “right.” And if there is any imperative strategy it should be not to allow leftists to use such backward language. Neither is there any sense in calling the outlawing of murder “tyrannical;” had a 51 percent majority of Congress outlawed slavery at the height of its popularity, would that have qualified it as “tyrannical”? This is not the least true given that the Roe v. Wade opinion is not only evil but a parody of judicial reasoning that has no place in our jurisprudence.
Pro-lifers believe human beings have the right to life and that babies — biological humans at the most defenseless stage of growth — deserve protection just as much as other humans. If a majority of people disagree with that core truth, the solution is not to shy away from an argument that “alienates half the country.” This is a movement, not an election. The solution to losing an argument you know to be true is to never give up.
The pro-life movement should continue trying to change both the law and the culture. Perhaps a controversial judicial ruling without popular backing is doomed to fail, as in the case of decisions that struck down early New Deal legislation before falling in line behind President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But nothing could enervate the attempt to change hearts more than giving up attempts to change the unjust, unconstitutional law — surrendering the legal fight would telegraph to the world a lack of all conviction on our part that our cause was right and just. It is.