As Americans observe the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, many who grieve the decision wonder what they can do to advance the pro-life cause. Here are my suggestions:

Use your own voice. Don’t leave the work to the lobbyists. For too long, folks have sat at home, entrusting lobbying organizations with the work of achieving laws respecting the sanctity of human life. While this system has certainly enjoyed its successes, it is a system that has, unfortunately, numbed our sense of individual responsibility. Moreover, lobbying organizations tend to take on a partisan leaning that can lead to the division of loyalties between “the cause” and the politicians or party establishments that have helped to achieve particular legislative objectives. The result, in some cases, is a pro-life movement that is “led” by those who might be all too willing to retreat at the behest of battle-weary politicians. This year, don’t just send a check to a lobbying organization; send an email to your legislator. Ask a simple question: What are you doing this year to enact laws that respect the value of every human life?

Shed hypocrisy. If you are truly “pro-life” (as opposed to “anti-abortion”), reflect on the implications of that. How is that position consistent with your stance on war, capital punishment and caring for the hungry or homeless? While the average person simply cannot devote equal time to all of these causes, the glaring inconsistency of those who cherish life only in certain circumstances is understandably despised by a watching world. If human life is sacred, surely it is sacred at all ages, in all cultures, regardless of socio-economic status. If you are pro-life and Christian, consider who is the “neighbor” Jesus meant you to care for in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Let none be overlooked.

Be unapologetically hopeful about the hard cases. Those who favor legal abortion have won a considerable prize in framing two levels of “pro-life”: the out-of-touch traditionalist who believes abortion should be outlawed except in cases of rape or incest, and the certifiably insane radical who believes that intentional abortion should always be unlawful. Rare is the politician who is sufficiently stalwart to openly oppose abortion even in the difficult cases where the pregnant woman’s own choices did not lead to her condition. But the logic of the pro-life position disintegrates when it is left to turn on the circumstances of conception. If human life is inherently sacred, how can it be any less sacred because of situational factors? And if the mother’s circumstances are relevant to whether abortion is morally wrong or not, then who are we to evaluate, judge and compare levels of difficulty of circumstances? There is beauty, however, in the thoroughly pro-life position, the attraction of which the pro-abortion camp would like to obscure: It is the confidence that redemption is possible from any tragic circumstances and that no life is unworthy of opportunity.

Refuse to be flustered by the specious arguments of the abortion lobby. They know that restricting abortion doesn’t have to mean penalizing post-abortive mothers — it can simply mean penalizing the doctors who profit from it. They also know that recognizing the humanity and legal “personhood” of every human being doesn’t magically result in the criminalization of contraception or assisted conception — it takes specific criminal statutes to do that. Seek out the truth behind the fear-mongering assertions, and challenge these attempts to prey upon the public’s fear and ignorance. Find the real answers to the questions that are lobbed at us like weapons, and champion logic and truth.

Put more energy into building than tearing down. For years the pro-life movement has focused largely on incrementally eroding the “right” to abort human life. This has been — and still is — necessary and appropriate. But we must begin to build a foundation for the protection of all humanity by insisting upon laws that admit no disparity between who is a “human being” and who is a “legal person.” The failure to marry the two concepts enabled previous generations to ignore the human rights of slaves; it enables our generation to exterminate pre-born human beings. Expose this for what it is: unenlightened, inhumane, barbaric. Once our laws recognize the inescapable truth that every human being — from conception until natural death — is a person with basic human rights, then we can move on to working toward laws that sort out the specific, practical implications of that truth in various contexts. Just as a toddler hiding her face in a cover does not make her surroundings disappear, so the refusal of our laws to recognize the humanity of some does not make them less human. Rather, it makes “we the people” responsible for changing those laws.

Rita M. Dunaway is a staff attorney at The Rutherford Institute. Contact her at Rita@rutherford.org.

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