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Crowds gather to support the pro-life movement. Nic Rowan | Col­legian

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.

  • Jen­nifer Melfi

    sex edu­cation, lit­eracy, and condoms prevent more abor­tions than any­thing that goes on at the so called “March for life”.