On May 2, a friend texted me a news alert claiming that a leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court showed that a majority of justices were prepared to overturn the infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that created a national entitlement to abortion. I’ll admit that my first reaction was to roll my eyes in disbelief. Leaks of draft opinions? That never happens. Except this time, it did.
The unprecedented leak and the ensuing uproar serve as harbingers of things to come. We are sailing into uncharted waters. We’re likely to witness a lot of strange things in the weeks and months ahead. Pro-abortion activists have become unhinged at the thought that the court-manufactured “right” to abortion could disappear. That explains why they’ve disrupted church services, vandalized the offices of pro-life organizations, and staged angry demonstrations outside the private homes of Supreme Court justices. There’s every reason to believe this noxious behavior will continue and perhaps get worse.
How should pro-life advocates respond to these developments? Obviously, we must call out bad behavior when we see it, especially when it’s criminal in nature. But it’s also important that we police our own behavior and not stoop to the tactics of the opposition. When pro-abortion activists use venomous rhetoric and vexatious tactics like disrupting church services, we must never respond with similar conduct. The pro-life movement is based on love for the “least among us,” and we must show both our opponents and the broader society that we practice what we preach.
We can train our hearts to avoid pursuing an “eye for an eye” strategy by reflecting on the nature of our opponents and realizing that they are victims too. Admittedly, this is not always intuitive. Those of us in the pro-life movement are quite naturally focused on explaining the humanity of preborn girls and boys and showing how abortion is a violent offense against their human rights and dignity. Preborn children are clearly the victims, and those who seek to defend abortion are perpetrators of violence, whether they realize it or not.
Nevertheless, it’s also true that most pro-abortion activists are victims themselves. Many of them are women who were sold the “big lie” and had abortions themselves. Now they feel trapped in a vicious (and false) dichotomy where they must either zealously defend the choice they made or live in a state of self-condemnation. Still other abortion defenders are victims because they’ve been raised in the toxic culture brought about by the Sexual Revolution. They’ve never once glimpsed authentic, self-sacrificing love in any of their relationships with other human beings. They’re blind to the human dignity of a preborn child because they can’t even grasp their own dignity. They don’t know they’re created by a God who wants to love them into all eternity. It is difficult to imagine the soul-crushing effects of being raised in a culture that cancels transcendental realities, despises virtues, worships instant gratification, and reduces human beings to what Catholic author George Weigel once described as “twitching bundles of desires.”
As the temperature rises and the arguments get louder over abortion, this is a time when pro-life advocates need to engage in the battle on our terms, not those of the other side. We must train ourselves in the art of speaking the truth in love, and not condemn our opponents. We must recall that some of the most powerful and eloquent pro-life witnesses over the last few decades were people who used to be on the other side. I’m thinking especially of people who used to work in the abortion industry itself, such as Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Dr. Anthony Levatino, and Abby Johnson.
Also, while we need to engage thoughtfully with the arguments of our opponents, there is a danger that we can lose sight of more important, long-term goals in the pro-life movement if we get distracted by every outrageous thing that someone blasts out on Twitter. The veteran political consultant Morton Blackwell has a colorful saying: “Keep your eye on the main chance and don’t stop to kick every barking dog.” This is good advice.
Leaders in the pro-life movement have crucial work to accomplish, whether it’s in the realm of education, political campaigns, public policy work, pregnancy resource centers, counseling women outside abortion clinics, post-abortion counseling, and other fields. We need to be building up and strengthening our institutions to prepare for long-term combat, and sometimes that work is compromised when we’re caught up responding to every daily outrage in the 24-hour news cycle.
This is a season where pro-life advocates need to be praying hard and working hard. We need to get better at what we do, stay focused, and always remain on the high road as we work for a future where preborn children are cherished by society and protected by law.