Plato’s Words about Eugenics

Posted on November 14, 2017 By

by John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from the book The Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics, pp. 15-16

Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived from about 427 BC to about 347 BC. His thought had a tremendous impact on all of Western culture. One of his greatest works was the Republic, in which he explored the idea of justice, and how to develop a just society. He favored a system of aristocracy, or rule by the best people.

Plato’s discussion includes military matters, and he talked about a class of people who would be devoted to guarding the society, a kind of warrior class. Soldiers should be fierce when dealing with enemies, but should not be a threat to their own neighbors. Achieving and maintaining this balance is difficult, Plato felt, and so he discussed some ideas for breeding the kind of people he wanted. His ideas about breeding soldiers are shocking, and it is possible that Plato was making fun of someone else’s ideas. But whether Plato took the ideas seriously or not, 19th century eugenicists were fascinated.

Plato noted that dogs are frequently gentle to people they know, but fierce to strangers. Dog owners pay attention to their breeding, selecting only those considered to be the best. If the owner does not pay attention to breeding, the value of the dogs—or birds, horses or other animals—can deteriorate quickly. The question, then, is whether the techniques of animal breeding can be adapted to humans, to raise soldiers. Plato found human breeding plausible, if the rulers of the society were willing and able to be deceptive, manipulating people into accepting the rulers’ plans. Breeding a soldier class requires that the rulers select the best of both sexes, and have them mate as much as possible, while discouraging mating among the inferior.

Plato’s scheme for a perfect society included not only barnyard methods of breeding humans and deception, but also promiscuity and abortion. Men and women considered too old to have healthy children could engage in sexual activity promiscuously, but any child they conceived accidentally was to be aborted.

Not all Greeks favored abortion and infanticide. Hippocrates, the Greek physician who is called the “father of medicine,” lived at about the same time as Plato. His greatest legacy is the charter of conduct he wrote for medical professionals, which was used for ages. It includes unequivocal opposition to euthanasia and abortion: “I will give no deadly drug to anyone, though it be asked of me, nor will I counsel such, and especially I will not aid a woman to procure abortion.”


More excerpts from this book are coming:

The Jukes and Kallikaks “Studies”

Sterilizing the “Unfit”

Post World War II Eugenics

The Eugenics of Roe v. Wade


For more of our blog posts on racism, see:

Historical Black Voices: Racism Kills 

The Poor Cry Out for Justice, and We Respond with Legalized Abortion (Graciela Olivarez)

More than Double the Trouble: Another Way of Connecting (intersectionality)




Converts or Heretics?

Posted on November 7, 2017 By

Rachel MacNair

by Rachel MacNair

We recently got a note asserting that one of our member groups had published a blog post which the note writer understood to be pro-abortion. The note-writer said: “This is the most shameful way to illustrate why CLE [consistent life ethic] can cover for abortion rights supporters.” He wanted to know if we would remove the member group from our list.

The post in question never actually mentions the consistent life ethic. It doesn’t use our reasoning. It’s from someone claiming to be pro-life but making a case against legal bans. It’s based on reasoning common to abortion-defending circles, which is probably part of the reason the note writer understands it as pro-abortion (though I object to the term “abortion rights supporters,” since abortion isn’t a right).

A blog post isn’t a group’s position. Blog posts explore individual opinions and ideas. That’s true of all CLN blog posts as well, including the one you’re reading now; what’s below is my opinion.

We’ve commented on legality before in our blog posts Should Abortions be Illegal? and Who the Law Targets.

Arguments on Legal Bans

Claim 1 in the post: “ I think most in the pro-life movement have failed to accurately identify those who really are the so-called ‘baby-killing politicians.’ Consequently, Christians keep giving their support to the ones who refuse to support policies that actually reduce abortions, even as they claim to be pro-life.”

My response: Some politicians give only lip service against abortion. They aren’t merely bad at supporting programs to prevent poverty or domestic abuse, thereby indirectly preventing abortions. They aren’t even good at policies tackling abortion directly. They give lip service to get votes, then rather than introducing or supporting any kind of abortion legislation, turn their attention to far more trivial matters.

But if the post-writer asks who “really” are baby-killing politicians, we can’t ignore people directly advocating policies pushing abortion. George Will in the Washington Post  and  Ross Douthat in the New York Times  recently made excellent remarks about how extreme Democratic Party politicians are.

Claim 2: “The fact is that banning abortion is not the best way to safeguard the unborn. Three of the five nations with the lowest abortion rates are nations where abortion is legal. Further, the regions of the world where abortion rates are the highest are where abortion tends to be illegal. No doubt many factors account for this fact. Regardless, all in all, there is no correspondence between the legality or illegality of abortion and abortion rates.”

My response: All the evidence this author cites comes from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), the research arm of Planned Parenthood. AGI has a strong interest in abortion being legal. Citing them is like citing the tobacco industry on the safety of cigarettes. The source doesn’t lend credibility to the assertions.

Furthermore, as I detail in Chapter 15 of Peace Psychology Perspective on Abortion, laws that offer various “restrictions” on abortion – no Medicaid funding, informed consent, parental notification – all seem to mainly lower the abortion rate dramatically. Even distance from the clinics has an impact, with lower abortion rates in locations further from a clinic.

The studies showing this abortion-reduction effect come from people who oppose the legislation. They don’t want the laws to have that effect. This adds credibility to the findings.

If the abortion rate is lower in places several hours’ drive away from the abortion clinic, does it really makes no difference in the abortion rate if there’s no available abortion clinic at all?

Claim 3: “The desire to control and punish women seems to be over-riding the desire to reduce abortions. This is deeply misguided.”

My response: This is a stereotype. It has the same function stereotypes normally have: defining the in-group and the out-group. It’s also an ad hominem argument – “against the person” rather than against ideas.

And since it’s a common idea in the pro-life movement that abortion itself is punishing to mothers, as documented by the many post-abortion women active in the pro-life movement, the concept that banning abortion might be punishing women is not merely inaccurate but puzzling.


Claim 4: “But when coupled with sex education, contraceptives will more consistently prevent abortions. . . . This is particularly true of long-acting reversible contraceptives . . .  Conservatives continue advocating for abstinence-only programs, but the success of these efforts is poor.”

My response: There is indeed quite a substantial amount of literature on how poorly abstinence-only education works. There’s also substantial literature on how well it works. And there’s evidence both that other sex education works well and that it doesn’t. In the studies I read, I could predict 100% how the study would come out by noting the predilection of the researchers.

In the studies that say abstinence-only doesn’t work well, there’s also no consideration of how different programs operate. Scolding people, for example, may be less effective than reasoning with them, yet the programs are all lumped together.

In this case, taking the word of one side over the other is taking the word of abortion promoters.

As for contraception, when researching the scholarly literature I anticipated I’d find the same pattern: how effective contraception is found to be would depend on what the researchers wanted to find. Surprisingly, I found no such thing.

For regular contraception, some programs pushing it were associated with increased abortions, even when researchers really wanted to find otherwise. For documentation and reasons, see Chapter 16 in the book I edited, Peace Psychology Perspectives on Abortion.

But there is one exception: long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). Some studies show them to be effective in lowering pregnancies and abortions. I have statistical criticisms of those studies, as I explain in Chapter 16.

But I hope everyone can catch this point: LARCs work by messing up women’s bodies.

If that’s what the woman wants, justice requires only that she be aware of this

But when we have a world of domineering men, statutory rapists, and incest perpetrators, do we really want to push for such men to presume they’re entitled for women to be sexually available? Isn’t that a major reason there are so many abortions? Can we ever lower abortions if we ignore this?

One study found that strict enforcement of child support payments by fathers was associated with a lower abortion rate. Yet the same proportion of pregnant women was having abortions; the assurance of child support was apparently not changing many minds. The rate went down because fewer women were pregnant. Perhaps men were taking more care about impregnating them.

Consistent-lifers have a variety of views on contraception. But if we push contraception without doing anything about equality in sexual relationships, it would be very easy to do more harm than good. Contraception is mere technology. Social relationships are more complicated.

Heretics or Converts?

Getting back to the question: will we drop a member group from our list for publishing such a post?

We’ve certainly had times when we felt the need to remove people from our endorsers list. In one case a woman signed on to our Mission Statement yet turned out to be on Planned Parenthood’s board. We figured she didn’t quite catch the point. Another former endorser was quoted in a newspaper saying he favored aborting children with disabilities, though he opposed other abortions. Another publicly made a case in favor of the latest US war. Here the problem is whether they oppose violence, rather than a question of the best strategy to oppose violence.

Here’s a basic strategic question: if people have misunderstandings, is it better to work on dispelling the misunderstandings, or the people? We don’t “cover for” people when we’re carefully explaining to them some thoughts they may not have considered.

This comes down to a question of whether we’re seeking converts or hunting heretics. Movements that seek converts grow. Movements that hunt heretics shrink.

Burning of a Heretic, Stefano di Giovanni, about 1430 (PD-1923)

Many single issue pro-life voters have made a severe compromise in their own principles with Donald Trump. Trump is someone who’s made pro-abortion and contradictory remarks and doesn’t seem to understand the issue. He has a well-deserved reputation for turning on his friends.

But, many pro-lifers argue, we get anti-Roe v. Wade US Supreme Court judges appointed. But do we? The latest appointment, Neil Gorsuch, wrote an excellent book on euthanasia (which I highly recommend), but he explicitly stated in that book that the principles he was expounding didn’t apply to fetuses. He reiterated this in his Congressional hearings. And he has a strong position for keeping legal precedent. So, setting aside how he might rule on all other issues, there’s no assurance whatsoever that he’ll vote against Roe.

If we were to apply strict pro-life standards to either Trump or Gorsuch, neither one would pass the test. Nor would many of the other politicians or Supreme Court judges pro-lifers have worked so hard for.

Babies need to be saved. There are different ways to save them.  All activists work on methods they understand to be effective. Working together will mean working with people with whom we still need to have discussions to make their thinking clearer, rather than rejecting those people, especially when they agree with us that killing is wrong.


abortionpoliticsstrategyUS Supreme Court

Using Empathy during a New Cold War

Posted on October 31, 2017 By

by John Whitehead

John Whitehead third from left

An American contemplating the hostile state of current U.S.-Russian relations might well be pessimistic. Russia, this American observer might conclude, is an implacably hostile enemy whose actions reflect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambition to act aggressively abroad while suppressing dissent at home. From this perspective, America has no choice but to wage a new Cold War, acting forcefully to check Russian aggression. Such a perspective is not only dangerous—as it risks open warfare—but tragically narrow-minded. A view of U.S.-Russian relations that includes empathy for Russian policymakers and their perspectives allows an alternative interpretation of Russian actions. Putin and other policymakers may well be acting out of fear of the United States and seeking to protect Russia from a perceived U.S. threat. From this alternative perspective, avoiding provocations and working to relax tensions is a better option for the United States.

The political scientist and psychologist Ralph K. White applied empathy to U.S.-Soviet relations during the last Cold War. More recently, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and Brown University Professor James G. Blight applied White’s principles to U.S.-Russia relations as of 2001. This approach continues to be valuable today.

In their book Wilson’s Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century, Blight and McNamara quote White’s explanation of empathy and its relevance in international relations:

Empathy is the great corrective for all forms of war-promoting misperception. It means simply understanding the thoughts and feelings of others. It is distinguished from sympathy, which is defined as feeling with others—as being in agreement with them. Empathy with opponents is therefore psychologically possible even when a conflict is so intense that sympathy is out of the question. We are not talking about warmth and approval, and certainly not about agreeing with, or siding with, but only about realistic understanding . . .

[Empathy] means trying to look at one’s own group’s behavior honestly, as it might appear when seen through the other’s eyes, recognizing that his eyes are almost certainly jaundiced, but recognizing also that he has the advantage of not seeing our own group’s behavior through the rose-colored glasses that we ourselves normally wear. We may have grounds for distrust, fear, and anger that we have not permitted ourselves to see. (Quoted on pp. 65-66)

If we apply this empathetic approach to Russian policymakers, we can see that for almost 20 years the United States has acted in ways that, from the Russians’ standpoint, threaten and humiliate Russia. These provocative American actions fall into roughly three broad categories: 1) NATO expansion; 2) attacking Russia’s allies; and 3) undermining Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

From Russia’s perspective, then, the United States has expanded a hostile military alliance’s reach right up to the Russian border, waged war against Russia’s friends, and tried to undermine Russia’s military power. Viewed this way, anti-American hostility is understandable and seemingly aggressive Russian actions can be seen as defensive. Even the Russian attack on Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, while unjust, makes sense as a Russian attempt to prevent NATO from expanding to include Ukraine as well.

  1. NATO Expansion. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a product of the Cold War, a military alliance created specifically to counter a perceived threat from the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War and the dissolution the Soviet Union did not mean the end of NATO, however. Instead, NATO has grown, bringing in as new members many Eastern European countries that were once parts of the Soviet Union or Soviet satellites. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO in 1999; Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, as well as the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined in 2004; Albania and Croatia in 2009; and Montenegro in 2017. From the perspective of the Soviet Union’s successor state, Russia, this expansion of a historically hostile military alliance into what had once been Russia’s sphere of influence—indeed, right up to Russia’s borders—must appear an extraordinarily hostile policy. To recall a relevant parallel, the presence of pro-Soviet regimes in Cuba and Nicaragua during the Cold War provoked extreme fear and hostility within the United States; how much more extreme would such reactions be if 13 nations in the western hemisphere all joined a pro-Russian military alliance?
  1. Attacking Russia’s Allies. The United States has repeatedly waged war against countries that are friendly with Russia: Serbia in 1999, Iraq in 2003, and Syria since 2014. The Russians would naturally view such war-making as a sign of American hostility or at least contempt.
  1. Undermining Russia’s Nuclear Arsenal. Since the 1990s, the United States has actively pursued a missile defense system: that is, missiles meant to shoot down other missiles launched by hostile countries. Such a system is currently being set up in Europe, under NATO supervision: a key installation was established in 2016 in Romania, with another to follow in Poland in 2018. This missile defense system is ostensibly meant to protect European nations from Iran, but Russian policymakers understandably view it as a threat. Such a system is threatening because from the Russians’ perspective an effective NATO missile defense system could undermine whatever credible threat Russia’s arsenal of nuclear missiles pose to NATO nations. By the paradoxical logic of nuclear deterrence, to lack a credible ability to threaten another nation makes one vulnerable to aggression by the nation possessing the missile defense system. In short, the Russians perceive the missile defense system as making them less able to deter an attack from United States and NATO.

Rather than viewing Russia as merely malevolent and implacably hostile, American policymakers should consider how their own actions have provoked Russia and helped create the current tense situation. Less threatening behavior that respects Russian interests and concerns could ease tensions: stopping further NATO expansion and cancelling the European missile defense system would be good first steps. Such an approach is preferable to another Cold War.



For more writings of John Whitehead on war policy, see:

Rejecting Mass Murder: Looking Back on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Three Reasons for Opposing the US Bombing of Syria

Self-Defeating Violence: The Case of the First World War

See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

war policy

No Resort to Violence

Posted on October 24, 2017 By

by Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly


Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in the series of blog posts based on presentations at our 30th Anniversary conference, held August 4-6, 2017. It’s also the third of three posts that come from Jim Kelly. This post is based on a presentation at the session of the Consistent Life Network’s research arm, The Institute for Integrated Social Analysis.

Already Inclusively Nonviolent

From the very start, after each murder of an abortion-performing doctor, the right-to-life social movement organizations and religious leaders unfailingly characterized their movement as inherently nonviolent.

For example, after the Eric Rudolph bombings in the mid-1990s, the executive director of the Georgia Right to Life said that violence “is never the solution to social problems.” Gary L. Bauer, then president of the Family Research Council, said “Violence is not the answer to violence.” David O’Steen, longtime executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said “The goal of NRLC is to break the cycle of violence, which includes abortion, not perpetuate it.”

Movement spokespersons pointed out that none of those who killed or injured abortion clinic doctors and personnel had any connection with any right-to-life organization. Each was a “lone wolf.”

More than a decade later, after Scott Roeder murdered George Tiller in 2009, the remarks of leading pro-life organizations recycled their earlier avowals of nonviolence. Here are a few of the most immediate (all from editor, June 1, 2). Note that, once again, their disavowals explicitly claim adherence to an inclusive nonviolence:

“Kansans for Life deplores the murder of Dr. George Tiller, and we wish to express our deep and sincere sympathy to his family and friends,” KFL director Mary Kay Culp told immediately after the shooting. “Our organization has a board of directors, and a 35-year history of bringing citizens together to achieve thoughtful education and legislation on the life issues here in Kansas,” she explained. “We value life, completely deplore violence, and are shocked and very upset by what happened in Wichita today.”

Father Frank Pavone, the founder and director of Priests for Life, a prominent pro-life Catholic group, urged the media and those involved in the abortion debate “not to assign blame to the pro-life community that would never employ these kinds of tactics to oppose abortion . . .We at Priests for Life continue to insist on a culture in which violence is never seen as the solution to any problem. Every life has to be protected, without regard to their age or views or actions,” he said.

Thomas Glessner, a pro-life attorney who heads The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a group that provides legal services to hundreds of pregnancy centers, said “The pro-life movement stands against violence and killing and this opposition is in our DNA,” he said. “Those who resort to violence against others act cowardly and should be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

It’s evident that when challenged to respond to questions raised by movement lone-wolves who kill abortionists, pro-life leaders link their opposition to abortion to the nascent nonviolence movement, as embodied by, among others, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and countless others. The core of the movement opposing abortion rests on a principled nonviolence that has separated itself from just war theory.

Just War?

The prestigious neo-conservative monthly First Things, founded by the late Richard John Neuhaus, sponsored a December 1994 symposium entitled “Killing Abortionists.” The symposium, no surprise, morally condemned the use of violence by abortion opponents.

But, surprisingly, the majority of the subsequent letters to the editor (March 1995: pp. 2-4) criticized the symposium participants precisely because these abortion opponents had failed to defend the “justified” use of violence in defense of the innocent, a consideration that is explored in just war theory. The letter writers implied that if one applies that theory to the case of abortion, violence against abortion doctors can be justified.

Rev. Earle Fox wrote that Paul Hill’s stated principle was that “’Whatever force is legitimate in defending a born child is legitimate in defending an unborn child’ . . . It did not appear to me that anyone [in the symposium] successfully disproved his principle.” He offered the analogy, “If that abortionist had been on his way, Uzi in hand, to murder all the children in a given school building, all the parents in town would have surrounded that school armed with whatever weapon they could lay hands on…. [thus] Mr. Hill is not guilty of any crime punishable by law.”

Letter writer Eric A. Voellm challenged the moral consistency of the symposium members: “If we truly believe that the child in the womb is every bit as much a person as a child outside the womb, can there really be any legitimate excuse for not employing deadly force? …. Alas, the pro-life movement is faced with a conundrum. Either we insist upon the unborn child as a person with all the legal rights of an adult, including the right to expect assistance in the defense of its life, or we fold up our tents and concede that the child in the womb cannot expect the same legal and moral considerations as the child already born.”

Similarly, Tom Sheahen concluded that “The reasoning of many of the symposium participants is weak, and inadvertently strengthens Hill’s case … The chilling thing about this entire symposium is that, on the level of logic alone, Hill’s premise wins the argument. Not one of your commentators addressed this question, ‘What should I do to protect this particular child on this particular day?”

In short, some people applied Just War Theory to the situation. Yet these are clearly a very small minority. Most pro-lifer leaders responded instead with an appeal to the principles of nonviolence.

Not Just War, But Peacemaking

When social movement leaders are pushed by the pressing need to justify their position in its core essence, they grasp the moral fact that they must move beyond the more ordinary tactics of winning voting support and financial up-keep for their movement. So abortion opponents dig morally deep and pronounce that they are in effect active pacifists seeking the end of all violence.

The routine framing of abortion in the media is that it’s a conservative counter movement. Few understand the radicalism at the movement’s very core: a resort to violence in any form is a negation of the human good.


The rest of our series of blog posts from presentations at our 30th anniversary conference in August, 2017:

The History of Framing the Arguments (Jim Kelly)

The Vital Need for Diversity (Sarah Terzo)

Making the Case for Peace to Conservatives (John Whitehead)

My Difficulty in Voting: Identifying the Problem (Monica Sohler)

Common Ground (Jim Kelly)

The Mind’s Drive for Consistency (Rachel MacNair)


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.






Finding Alternatives to Planned Parenthood

Posted on October 18, 2017 By

by Rachel MacNair

Back on January 7, 2016, I wrote a post for this blog called “Defunding Planned Parenthood” that went over the consistent-life reasoning to take such action for a nonviolent world. It responds to the objection that PP contraception programs prevent abortions by explaining how this doesn’t fit experience. It also responds to the objection that women in poverty need the non-abortion services – that is, actual medical services – that PP provides with the observation that there are thousands of Community Health Centers (CHCs), while only about 600 PP centers (350+ do abortions, 250+ only refer for surgical abortions). But then, there are pockets where there is in fact a PP center but no CHC; as it turns out, we found 77 of them with no CHCs within 5 miles. If I may quote myself:

Whenever there are such pockets, it’s telling those women in poverty they have no choice but to go to an organization that is startlingly callous about the lives of their prenatal children. Women should have the right to quality care, and quality care is best provided by people who are sensitive to all of human life and don’t make excuses for its destruction.

At that point, one of the strategies offered was to “get definite information on where all those pockets are, and then work with city or state legislatures to make alternatives available.”

Then, on April 17, 2017, I extended this point with “Noncooperation with Planned Parenthood.” I covered some basics about boycotts and the legislative goal of taxpayer defunding, and finally I offered a Noncooperation Campaign for grassroots activists. Find where the PP centers have no CHCs, and see what can be done about that. Find where they have perfectly good and readily available CHCs that can handle more patients if people go there instead, and figure out ways to persuade them to go there instead. Find out where there’s a problem: a specific CHC isn’t really a worthy place to send people. But if it has potential, figure out ways to make it more worthy.

Then I offered the web page for U.S. PP centers, the one PP itself offers, and the web page from the U.S. federal government on the federally-qualified community health centers. And I suggested this would be the homework for activists who wish to do that.

And there it sat.  One mention buried in a blog post somewhere does not a campaign make.

So we at the Consistent Life Network decided to make a US national campaign of it. We did all the start of the homework – getting each U.S. PP center in each state matched with all the U.S. CHCs that are close to it (and we encourage people in other countries to consider using this as a model). Each state has its own page on our website:


We explain in more detail on the web site, and we offer action suggestions:


Action: Ready to Go

When there’s at least one good CHC that we can feel comfortable sending people to.


Action: Needs Improvement

Some CHCs offer frustrations we want to avoid putting people into; are there things we can do to make the CHCs more suitable as PP alternatives?


Action: No CHCs Nearby

We count 77 centers that have nothing nearby; can we find some alternative to PP, or can we make an alternative?


Action: How to Participate

Starting local campaigns.



What we list is different from the average Crisis Pregnancy Center, or Pregnancy Help Center. Those are excellent alternatives to abortion, but they generally provide non-medical services almost entirely for pregnant women. This campaign is extending beyond alternatives to abortion, on to alternatives to all of Planned Parenthood. Around 40% of their business in the U.S. is testing and treatment for Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). So in this campaign, we’re only looking at places that directly offer medical services, and at that, only the services that the PP centers also offer.

I said that we started the homework. But all we offer at the start was what can be found on the web. And not even all of that, since checking the web pages of all the individual CHCs would have extended the homework by several months more. It makes more sense for local people to do their own locales anyway, as a start to any local actions.

But there are all kinds of things that can’t be found on the web. In one case, we got word that although a particular CHC may be a certain number of miles away from the PP center, there was a large body of water in between them. No one local would really think of it as nearby. Distances “as the fish swims” show that web pages are often not very bright.

So any help on the homework by checking your own local listings and seeing what you already know, or check on their web pages, anything that improves the quality of the listings, can be a big help.

Then we look forward to getting stories from people about what local actions they’ve taken. More suggestions, more factual information, more ideas. The web page is a tool for coordinating all the information. From small 5-minute contributions to months or years in campaigns, the very thing that the pro-life movement excels in.

There’s no heirarchy here. One person coordinates, the web page communicates, and from there it’s all large numbers of people sharing.

Planned Parenthood

The Mind’s Drive for Consistency

Posted on October 10, 2017 By

by Rachel MacNair

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in the series of blog posts based on presentations at our 30th Anniversary conference, held August 4-6, 2017. The presentation this post is based on was given at the session of the Consistent Life Network’s research arm, The Institute for Integrated Social Analysis.


Any bit of knowledge a person has about self or environment is a “cognition.” This can be a known fact or a vague concept, or anything in between.

When you have two of these cognitions, the relationship between the two is “consonant” if they agree with each other. Hugging someone is consonant if you are fond of that person.

But if one cognition would imply another, but the opposite is what is actually believed, if there is a contradiction, then the two elements are “dissonant” (the scholarly way of saying they’re out of whack). Slapping someone you are fond of, or voting for someone you don’t really believe is qualified, are examples.

Whenever someone has any cognitions that disagree with each other, she or he experiences cognitive dissonance. This is a tension, and it motivates action. Most people try to seek relief from this instability in their thoughts. They may or may not succeed in reducing it, but most commonly, they will try. There will be some attempt to get rid of the problem by changing one element or the other to either make the two agree or make one irrelevant.

Strategies for dealing with cognitive dissonance vary from person to person. But this dissonance is a strain, and people do try to get relief from it. Research has seemed to confirm theories that it is a type of stress.

The studies have a strong conclusion: human beings apparently have a basic psychological need to have consistency, stability, and order in the way they see the world. When new information threatens their previous views or assumptions, they feel uneasy and resort to defensive maneuvers of one kind or another. They may “screen out” upsetting experiences. They may deny obvious facts. They may try to reinforce beliefs by making aggressive and belligerent declarations.

So now let’s consider, for the case of abortion, what the situation has been in the United States over the last decades.


This chart from the research arm of Planned Parenthood shows that there’s been a dramatic downturn in the numbers of abortions. The same is true of the rate of abortions per woman of child-bearing age (so it’s not just that there are fewer such women). It’s also true of the ratio of abortions to live births (so it’s not just that fewer women are getting pregnant.)

And a greater downturn is on the way. Repeat abortions are becoming a greater proportion of all abortions. More abortions are being conducted on women who’ve already had at least one before. That’s what’s keeping the numbers up as high as they are.

But having a first is a prerequisite to being a repeater. No one has a second abortion until she’s had her first one. The pool of first-timers has gone down more dramatically. That’s the pool from which repeaters draw. And repeaters will at least hit menopause eventually.

Therefore, as repeaters drop by attrition, a deeper plunge may be coming.

Why the decline?

∞  As clinics close, less supply leads to less demand.

∞  Stigma remains.

∞  Services to pregnant women expand.

∞  In the 1990s, the Supreme Court allowed laws like informed consent & parental involvement.

∞  “Little-sister effect” on abortion aftermath – women see what others went through and know they want to steer clear

∞   Pro-life education

∞   Ultrasound technology – lots of young people have photos of themselves as fetuses up on their refrigerator doors.



Applying this also to the Death Penalty, Euthanasia, and Infanticide

These are now shadows of the carnage they used to be. Psychology says, keep pointing that out!

And as hard as it is to believe from the news, deaths from war are declining as well:



Also, nuclear weapons stockpiles, while still absurdly high, are way down from where they used to be:


Much as activists are tempted to get people excited about how terrible the situation is on any of these issues, on the idea that this will motivate people to action, psychology shows the opposite is the case.

People are more motivated if they know that violence they oppose is in fact waning. When that can be said truthfully, it’s important to make the point.

The mind’s drive for consistency means that people will be far more resistant to hearing what’s wrong with violence which is increasing, and far more open to hearing what’s wrong with any form of violence that’s on its way out.



The rest of our series of blog posts from presentations at our 30th anniversary conference in August, 2017:

The History of Framing the Arguments (Jim Kelly)

The Vital Need for Diversity (Sarah Terzo)

Making the Case for Peace to Conservatives (John Whitehead)

My Difficulty in Voting: Identifying the Problem (Monica Sohler)

Common Ground (Jim Kelly)


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

abortiondeath penaltyeuthanasiapsychologywar and peace

Speech for a Peacemaker Award

Posted on October 4, 2017 By

Patrick O’Neill and Mary Rider

NC Peace Action honored Patrick O’Neill and Mary Rider at their annual dinner on September 19, 2017. Below is the text of Mary Rider’s speech. She reports:

“I was pleasantly surprised that they included our consistent life witness, since so many are the more typical leftist peaceniks (read “prochoice”). I wanted to speak the truth in a way that I thought folks could hear me, so it may seem a bit weak on abortion to you, but I had some good dialogue with people after the dinner and think it was a good opening for them to hear me rather than just hear about me. Our friends, Dave and Debbie Biesack presented us with the award and mentioned our consistent life work, and Patrick, in his remarks, spoke about our being prolife “from conception until natural death.”  So, all in all, I’d say the Consistent Life Ethic was well represented at the Peace Action dinner!”



Thank you for honoring us tonight. Patrick, our daughter Bernadette, Sr. Kitty Bethea and I moved to Garner in 1991 to start the first Catholic Worker House in NC. Our dear friend, Father Charlie Mulholland was in Garner at the time and was our Chaplain.

1991 was quite a while ago and a lot has happened in our lives, in our state and in the world since then.  We are honored and humbled to have been working with you all on trying to bring some peace and some justice to our state and our world.

Those who know me well know that I am “prolife.” That doesn’t mean that I am out picketing at clinics.  What it means is that I am pro-everybody’s life.  I want to see the kind of supports in place in our society that will help a woman to choose not to have an abortion whether her child has a disability or the mother’s on her own and needs financial and loving support or help in finishing her education. As a feminist I believe women should receive equal pay for equal work, maternity leave that gives us real time with our newborns and good options for childcare and job sharing.

But that’s not all.  I’m prolife on the death penalty.  I was on the board of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty for a number of years and once spent 15 days in jail for kneeling in front of Central Prison the night the state of North Carolina executed Sammy Flippen in our names.  That was the last time the state of North Carolina executed anyone in more than 10 years.

I’m prolife on immigration.  I believe that people who are in the U.S. without benefit of papers should be given a chance to have legal standing in our country and a path to citizenship.

I’m prolife on healthcare.  I believe it is a RIGHT not a privilege and everyone should have access to good health care.

And I’m prolife on peace which means I am opposed to nuclear war. I’m opposed to “conventional war” (whatever THAT means). I’m opposed to drone warfare. I’m just opposed to us killing each other, be it in the name of God or country or, if we want to be honest about it, in the name of oil and money and power.

So I stand her tonight pledging to you that I will continue to be prolife by opposing violence in all its forms: Racist violence, Sexist Violence, LGBTQ Violence, Economic Violence and Environmental Violence.

I hope that someone will say about me what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted people to say about him: “I’d like for somebody to say that day that (I) tried to love somebody. Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that i was a drum major for peace.”

In closing I’d like to read to you an easy essay written by Peter Maurin, a frenchman who founded the Catholic Worker with Dorothy Day.  He gives some good advice as to what we are to do in times such as this.

Better Off

by Peter Maurin

 The world would be better off if people tried to be better.

And people would become better if they stopped trying to be better off.

For when everybody tries to become better off, nobody is better off.

But when everybody tries to become better, everybody is better off.

Everybody would be rich if nobody tried to become richer.

And nobody would be poor if everybody tried to be poorest.

And everybody would be what we ought to be if everybody tried to be what we want the other one to be!


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Almost No One?

Posted on September 26, 2017 By

by Rachel MacNair

In our neck of the internet, many are abuzz over an article in Christianity Today (CT) entitled “Almost No One in the US Believes in a ‘Consistent Ethic of Life.’” The subheading is: “Pope Francis’ critique of President Trump would apply to 96 percent of Americans, surveys suggest.” Thousands of hits, hundreds of comments.

I have a Ph.D. in psychology and make my living by consulting with dissertation students on their statistics, so my mind runs on how to do studies correctly. I also review for academic journals quite a bit – the “peer review” that’s required before an article can get published. CT is a popular magazine rather than a journal, but this piece would never get past my review.

How Do You Ask The Question?

Here’s the abortion question from the poll CT cites: “Please tell me whether or not you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if: The woman wants it for any reason? (Favor/Oppose)”

First, the wording is biased toward the “pro-choice” way of seeing the situation. Second, there are plenty of people who assume that a woman is only going to “want” an abortion if she’s in dire circumstances, such as a threat to her life. Third, there are people who are dead set against abortion who nevertheless fear back-alley butchers.

Indeed, there are people who assert that they’re pro-life, and who spend major amounts of their time educating against abortion, who still think that making it illegal isn’t the best way to stop it. Gallup asked straight out if people see abortion as immoral regardless of legal status, and found that about half do.

Here’s the question on the death penalty: Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder? (Favor/Oppose).

It’s been known for years among death penalty opponents that the quickest way to lower support for the death penalty is to offer life without parole as an alternative. A lot of people just want to be clear that the crime of murder is being taken seriously.

The Death Penalty Information Center reports: “A 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners found that a clear majority of voters (61%) would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder” when the question was asked that way. Their 61% figure is the sum of the three alternate punishments that respondents chose (13% + 9% + 39%).

From the Death Penalty Information Center

The wording on euthanasia in the CT-cited poll was: “Do you think a person has the right to end his or her own life if this person: Has an incurable disease? (Yes/No).” To test how neutral this wording is, consider: are you going to tell someone in such bad shape that he or she doesn’t have a right? What kind of hard-hearted person are you, to take rights away from people?

When there have been state referenda, where people opposed to assisted suicide are able to make their case, it’s been more persuasive to people than a one-sentence question worded in a pro-suicide direction would allow for.

How many people who say people should have a right to “end life” would change their minds if the question simply used the word “suicide”?

A “right to end his or her own life” could have very different meanings to different people. Some might interpret the question as referring to people killing themselves without any assistance (“suicide” as conventionally understood), people killing themselves with a doctor’s assistance (“assisted suicide”), or people being killed by another person (“euthanasia”). If they’re thinking it through that clearly at all.

Perhaps some aren’t even catching what this wording is a euphemism for. They might assume we’re only talking about refusing more medical care (“pulling the plug”), not actively killing. Refusing care is already a right, and has been for centuries. It actually isn’t euthanasia and shouldn’t be labeled as such.

Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife – Yes or No?

The poll asks for yes/no or favor/oppose responses. People have to put themselves in a straightjacket to answer. Nuances and extra details are out the window.

I’ve had fun when I was being polled by phone by arguing with the wording I was given. Those poor poll-takers were so used to compliant people who would give them a simplistic answer according to the script they had.

Some people haven’t devoted a lot of thought to issues and are easily persuaded by something as simple as wording the question differently. I remember back in the 1980s, there was a poll that asked people two questions, with several questions in between: “Should abortion be a matter between a woman and her doctor?” (which implies a medical need) and “Should the life of the unborn child be protected by law?” The “yes” answers were the majority both times – from the same people in the same poll.

Again, sometimes the same people in the same poll can be easily diverted from support for the death penalty by offering alternatives. People could also quickly change their ideas of a supposed right to end life if they understood alternatives. Many are assuming we’re talking about people  in unbearable pain, and would feel differently if they were aware of pain control. Or they have images of hopeless sterile hospital rooms, but might change their minds if they were more familiar with hospice care.

Almost No One?

Still, we’ve always known that the proportion of clear-cut consistent-lifers, who would oppose killing no matter how the questions are worded, is small.

But consider this as an analogy: in the U.S., 3 to 6% is around the percentage of full vegetarians – people who say they never eat meat. You can get a higher percentage if you simply ask them if they’re vegetarians.

Yet vegetarian foods are readily available in their own section of the menu at most non-fast-food restaurants, and vegetarian/vegan restaurants are proliferating. Vegetarian foods are readily available in most grocery stores. The number of people who eat vegetarian much of the time is much larger. The influence of vegetarianism is far greater than simply the number of people who are 100% committed to eating that way.

The small percentage doesn’t make them “almost no one.”

But the bias of the title fits the bias of the questions. Thinking of us as nobodies suggests we don’t need to be taken seriously. Of course, thinking of any human beings as nobodies is exactly what we’re objecting to.

Making the Appeal

We’ve always known that we have a hard time getting the consistent life ethic across.

Would but that we could get as many as 4% of politicians for higher office in the U.S. to follow the consistent life ethic. We’d be ecstatic if we could find just one politician who knew how to articulate our view well, did so frequently, and could get news coverage.

Would but that we could get as many as 4% of reporters outside the Catholic press to take the consistent life ethic seriously. Even within the Catholic press, there’s a lot of parting of the ways as Respect Life goes to one corner and Peace and Justice goes to another.

I’m a Quaker myself, but Pope Francis was mentioned in the CT article’s sub-title, and is a prominent voice. When he spoke to the US Congress, he had two devout Catholics standing behind him – Vice President Joe Biden, and Speaker of the House John Boehner. Neither one follows the consistent life ethic. They choose different ways to diverge from it.

But the percentage of Americans who think any old kind of socially-approved violence is ok is actually also very small. Most people are bothered by at least one type of legalized killing, and usually several. This was Edith Bogue’s conclusion in Chapter 10 of our book, Consistently Opposing Killing, which analyzed data from the exact same survey the CT article used, the General Social Survey, though that chapter used data from several years ago. She says the seamless garment needs many tailors, but most people do worry about some kind of violence. We can use that discomfort with at least some kinds of violence as a starting point to appeal for people to consistently oppose other kinds of violence as well.

After all, the poll only asked people about issues one by one. What happens when connections are made is another matter.

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Equal Concern for Each Human Being, Not for Each Human Issue

Posted on September 19, 2017 By

by Richard Stith


Editor’s Note: Richard is responding to a recent article in LifeSite News which has a common criticism of the consistent life ethic by pro-lifers, that by addressing several issues we’re treating all of them as equally important, and thereby watering down the crucial importance of the right to life as a foundation. This was offered as a response, and in the spirit of a good exchange of views, we offer below e-mails between him and the editor.  

Richard is a senior research professor at Valparaiso University Law School, and is on the board of the Consistent Life Network.  

Richard Stith at March for Life in Washington, D.C.

The “seamless garment” or “consistent life” ethic should be understood as equal concern for every human being, not equal concern for every human issue.

If one person is threatened with losing her house and another is threatened with losing her life, equal concern for both would make us rush to the assistance of the latter, not the former. Thus those who think housing and abortion to be issues of equal weight are letting a false consistency cover up a deeply inconsistent politics of care. Such people have no right to cover themselves with the “seamless garment.”

Properly understood, true consistency is what we pro-lifers all uphold. Every one of us is absolutely inclusive. Not one of us cares more for unborn babies than for other human beings. Each of us would protest against the mass killing of toddlers or teenagers just as forcefully as we now protest against the mass killing of unborn babies. Our all-inclusive philosophy is often expressed in this way: We are for the equal protection of all human beings from conception to natural death.

Moreover, this inclusive approach is our best strategy to help the unborn. The only way abortion can be tolerated is if unborn babies are excluded from concern. That is why our opponents insist above all on not calling the babies “human beings.” They know that once the unborn are brought within the circle of our concern, there is absolutely no way that their cruel dismemberment can be justified. So our first pro-life step has to be simply to counteract specific exclusion of the unborn with their specific inclusion.

Thus, for example, a wonderful congregational prayer would be “For all people in our community, born and unborn, who are threatened by violence, let us pray to the Lord.” This phrase “born and unborn” is actually a much better reminder of the babies’ plight than just something focusing entirely on pro-life in a narrow sense, like “Let us pray for an end to abortion.”

By being inclusive and also explicitly mentioning the unborn, we do a much better job of focusing on them as fellow human beings just like the rest of us. Talking only about abortion makes killing unborn babies seem to be a side issue that can be easily ignored.

Bottom line: We pro-lifers need to seize upon the “seamless garment” and “consistent life” language, properly understood, and make it our own. We are the ones who want to include everyone. Our pro-abortion opponents are the ones who want to exclude some people from our society’s care and concern.

By contrast, when we attack the “seamless garment” and “consistent life” philosophies, we make ourselves seem to be the excluders and our opponents seem to be the includers, which is just the opposite of the truth.

Infinity symbol


Editor’s second note: Richard requested this be published in Life Site News and was turned down. The editor gave us permission to publish his response:

Hello Richard,
We really do not want to get into an extended debate on the Seamless Garment approach. Past experience has been that it has a strong tendency to go on at length without any resolution and get heated. There are very different views on this.
As for LifeSite, during all of our years of existence we have seen the Seamless Garment do substantial damage to the pro-life movement and take the focus especially off the killings of children in the womb, regardless of all the rhetoric that the unborn are a priority. The seamless garment has almost always been promoted by liberal social justice Catholics who have tended not to agree with the Church’s moral teachings.
I know you do not fit into that category Richard and are as solid as a rock, but there will undoubtedly be those on the liberal left who will see your article as affirming them, even though you have taken an orthodox approach. It will still be lose-lose if we publish your article. We have found the promoters of the false “social justice” of the Seamless Garment approach do not want to engage in sincere debate, they are very aggressive, if not ruthless, and quite a few have a Marxist outlook.

Personally, I don’t think we can co-opt the seamless garment to our advantage, although most of what you say makes sense. The social liberals created this phrase for a definite strategic purpose – to exploit strong pro-life sentiment to turn it towards social issues that are not about moral absolutes and which do not involve the deliberate killing of massive numbers of innocents. We can’t pretend that abortion is not the great evil that is it – as well as those issues related to it such as euthanasia, assisted suicide, infanticide, embryonic stem cell research, etc. – all killings of the most innocent and vulnerable.
Steve Jalsevac
Co-Founder and President



Richard responds: 

Thanks, Steve, for taking the time to respond at length. 
I do think that working within the seamless garment (aka consistent life) approach helps our work against abortion, particularly with Catholic parish committees (because they are pretty much committed to the seamless garment). 
But maybe my view is distorted by the fact that I really am totally against every kind of intentionally lethal violence, including the death penalty and war (though I do see them as less objectively evil than abortion insofar as they lack the element of betrayal of an entrusted dependent). 
And I also appreciate where you’re coming from. I agree with you that the seamless garment has often been misused by people who do not want to campaign hard against killing babies.
How about leaving it this way: Don’t publish my little counter argument, but also please in the future don’t publish direct attacks on the seamless garment or consistent life, especially in your headlines (which may be all that some people read). I really do think that hurts us with many people. Makes us seem obsessed with just one stage in life.
Keep up the great work you’re doing! God bless you folks.




For more of our blog posts from Richard Stith, see:

Open Letter to Fellow Human Rights Activists

When “Choice” Itself Hurts the Quality of Life

For another blog post addressing this criticism, see:

Does the Consistent Life Ethic Water Down Life Issues?


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.



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Common Ground

Posted on September 12, 2017 By

by James Kelly

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in the series of blog posts based on presentations at our 30th Anniversary conference, held August 4-6, 2017. It’s also the second of three posts that come from Jim Kelly. This was at the session of the Consistent Life Network’s research arm, The Institute for Integrated Social Analysis.


We can’t pay attention to everything in this boom-buzzing confusion called life. We necessarily focus on some elements and omit others.  So we “frame,” (The primary text is Irving Goffman’s 1974 Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience)

To frame is to capture something well, but to omit other points – which, as time goes on, prudence might teach us are key. Individuals constantly project onto the world around them the interpretive frames that allow them to make sense of it; we only shift frames (or even realize that we have been framing) when an inescapable incongruity calls for a “frame-realignment.” We only become aware of our habitual frames when something challenges us to replace one frame with another.

Frame alignment happens when we find that we must leave the security of our moral tribes and present our interpretations to skeptics in a way that makes the most sense to us, and then to them, both in terms of first principles and their prudent applications. Within our moral tribes we mostly do tactics and brand the enemy as thoroughly disreputable.  In frame alignment, we persuade by listening in dialog to the “morally other” and then seeking common ground with them. Frame alignment becomes frame deepening, a broadening of perspective by taking seriously the claimed values of the opposition.

“Common ground” doesn’t mean any loss of moral deepening, but after the experience of dialogue, finding creative ways for both sides to better advance their moral core. In the abortion controversy, that means advancing the pro-life goal of non-violence and the pro-choice goal of human equality.

Making Free Choice Real Choice: The Need for Common Ground

Let’s begin with an example from the more brutal real world of hard politics – the New Jersey  “Family Cap.” In January 1992 the New Jersey State Legislative, under Democratic Party control, passed a welfare reform bill with national significance. In its pre-Donald Trump embodiment of a mistrust of government programs, of tax revolts, and of an “individual-moral-failure” explanation of long-term poverty, New Jersey (NJ) included in its welfare reform a novel Family Cap. Its premise was that the single most important cause of poverty was unmarried women having children. Now, any woman on welfare who became pregnant and gave birth would receive no additional state monies to cover her increased costs (although she would continue to receive food stamps and Medicaid for herself and her “additional” child).

The monetary pressure to abort offended both pro-life and pro-choice sensibilities and led to some common ground political cooperation. The NJ Right to Life chapter, NJ Citizens for Life, and the NJ Catholic Conference immediately announced their opposition. And because it seemed self-evident that the cap subverted a poor woman’s “reproductive freedom,” the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund and the NJ Civil Liberties Union announced their opposition. Their joint opposition was endorsed by dozens of other NJ activist groups.

The initial pro-choice/ pro-life collaboration was tentative and resulted only in a joint press release. When NOW and the ACLU filed a civil rights class action suit, it didn’t include any pro-life members.

By 1998, 20 states had followed New Jersey’s example. But that was not the end of common ground.

More Common Ground Efforts

At its heart, common ground signifies the possibility that adversaries can engage in joint ventures without either side compromising their essential principles.Common ground” is not a synonym for “centrist.”  If common ground jeopardizes integrity, it’s no longer common ground, but compromise.

Common ground is difficult to accomplish, and even more difficult to maintain. Since legal abortion is the status-quo, abortion opponents are wont to find the notion of common ground veering ever closer to compromise.

Dr. Wanda Franz

In his Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes (1990), pro-choice Harvard Professor of Law Laurence H. Tribe has a section entitled “Towards Common Ground’’ which designates a future which, while there are no restrictions on abortion, is “a world of only wanted pregnancies” achieved by better sex education  and better and more available contraception. Tribe’s outlook resembles President Clinton’s meme of making abortion safe, legal and rare. Mainstream pro-life organizations viewed such “safe and rare” outlooks more as trench warfare than as dialogue invitations. In her March 16, 1993 National Right to Life News editorial NRLC President Wanda Franz cautioned her 3,000 chapters in 52 states that common ground was a “clever pro-choice” strategy seeking “to gain acceptance of the pro-choice position as morally equivalent (or morally superior!) to the pro-life position.”

Both sides feared the term would mean compromise and at least a tacit endorsement of their adversary as morally legitimate. One of the first pro-choice members of the first common ground venture (in St. Louis Missouri, July 12, 1990), B. J. Isaacson-Jones, recalled “the barrage of resentment from her pro-choice colleagues that left her cuddling up in the fetal position for her days in her Planned Parenthood office.”

Loretta Wagner listens in a legislative hearing

But in her arguments to her pro-life critics another member of the first common ground effort, Loretta Wagner, pointed out that both  sides ought to acknowledge and do something about the high rates of abortion among the poor who felt they had no real choices. “We need to relieve some of the pressures that cause many women to choose abortion and to make it possible for a kinder society for them and their children. There are many things we can agree on: more and better quality pre- and post-natal care, providing more access to treatment of substance abusing mothers and their children, welfare reforms, day-care, affordable housing, adoption, improved recruitment of foster parents, helping women find jobs and educational opportunities. Neither side wants to see poor women economically compelled to have abortions.” Wagner’s analysis and policy suggestions are far more aligned with the typical Democratic platform than with the Republicans.


The concrete achievements of common ground in its St. Louis birthplace were short-lived. B. J. Isaacson-Jones, director of St. Louis Reproductive Health Services, could not find the additional financial resources to support its adoption placement services for her predominantly poor Black clientele. Loretta Wagner acknowledged that “The media thinks common ground is a really dramatic new story but I can’t say we’ve done anything dramatic – just getting the idea out.”

Stories appeared, for example, in USA Today, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, Glamour Magazine, and countless local media.

One of the early efforts was by the Family Institute of Cambridge (FIC) which in September 1992 initiated a “Public Conversations Project” whose aim was to improve the debate about abortion through a dialogue that would enable opponents to come to see each other as “people just like themselves.” The Public Conversations Project eventually comprised 72 people. But in and interview I had with her, the project director, Laura Chasin, acknowledged that although their goal was to move to problem solving action, the conversations remained “one-shot experiences.”

In February 1992 a grass roots group comprised of six pro-life and six pro-choice women published the North Carolina Piedmont Area Directory of Pregnancy Support Services which was distributed in the area’s churches and family planning clinics.  In 1993 Washington DC the Common Ground Coalition for Life and Choice was initiated by a conflict resolution organization founded in 1982 to help international diplomacy. CGCFLC co-coordinators were Mary Jacksteitt, a lawyer with experience in arbitration, and Sister Adrienne Kaufman, OSB, who coordinated the Peace and Conflict Resolution program at Washington University. In 1995 they published a manual entitled Finding Common Ground in the Abortion Conflict, explaining that their work is simply the facilitation of dialogue and not any specific proposals or policies.

With their assistance a Buffalo (NY) Coalition for Common Ground was formed to help mitigate the anticipated community conflict that was expected by a “Spring of Life Campaign” announced by Operation Rescue. One of its founders, Rev. Sanford, the executive director of the Buffalo Council of Churches, reports very slight impacts.


While disheartening for its promoters, the ebb and flow – and it’s mostly ebb – of common ground efforts makes good sociological sense. Leaders of social movements, who are preoccupied with daily concerns, are making tactical gains that encourage their membership that they are winning, albeit slowly, the abortion wars and, not incidentally, justifying their most recent fund raising appeal.

Besides, the man-bites-dog media appeal of common ground – that abortion opponents can actually talk to each other – has lost any front-page reader appeal.

It’s sociologically naïve to expect that any social-movement organization that can still plausibly promise its membership at least some tactical incremental victories will endorse a common-ground approach. Sociologically, common ground is tangential ground.

But tangential does not mean marginal. In the long run, the common ground frame realignment is highly significant. For abortion adversaries their moral culture – non-violence and justice for women – is far, far more important than seeking tactical gains and fearing tactical losses.



The rest of our series of blog posts from presentations at our 30th anniversary conference in August, 2017:

The History of Framing the Arguments (Jim Kelly, the first of three)

The Vital Need for Diversity (Sarah Terzo)

Making the Case for Peace to Conservatives (John Whitehead)

My Difficulty in Voting: Identifying the Problem (Monica Sohler)

The Mind’s Drive for Consistency (Rachel MacNair)


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