The Vital Need for Diversity
by Sarah Terzo
Editor’s Note: This is the second in the series of blog posts based on presentations at our 30th Anniversary conference, held August 4-6, 2017.
Diversity is very important in the pro-life movement, as the following story illustrates. In the 2009 book Stopping Abortions at Death’s Door by Roderick P. Murphy, the author recalls what happened when a woman named Carol walked into a crisis pregnancy center:
Carol was a young professional woman and she was sure she wanted an abortion. She came in for a pregnancy test over lunch hour. She had questions about abortion procedures and their safety.
The counselor was able to connect with Carol closely enough to discuss risks, emotional scarring and the development of life inside her. Then she handed Carol a brochure full of great information that would further answer her questions. As Carol thumbed through the booklet, she seemed grateful for such accurate information… And then she turned to the last page. Across it was the name of the organization that printed the brochure. Among believers it was a reputable name. But because the word “Christian” stood out so clearly to Carol, she tossed the brochure into the garbage, and walked out. In that instant, our opportunity to reach her was gone. (pages 57-58)
The story illustrates that some people pro-lifers want to reach are turned off by a religious approach. All too many people have had bad experiences with religion, or simply find it irrelevant to their lives. When a pro-lifer uses Christian materials and arguments, it turns these people away.
It’s easy for people to see abortion as a “religious issue.” This leads to the oft-heard claim that pro-lifers are pushing their religion on others. If the pro-life view is considered to be religious dogma, nonreligious people can dismiss it easily. Often, when a Christian speaks out against abortion, pro-choicers will respond with, “You only think that way because of your religion.”
An atheist who uses secular arguments is harder for people to dismiss. When I discuss the abortion issue online and reveal that I’m an atheist, it always surprises people. They have to think of a new argument because the “forcing your religion” argument doesn’t cut it anymore. I usually follow up by linking to or quoting an article called “40 quotes from medical textbooks and scientists that say life begins at conception” on Live Action News. After that, they often fall silent. I know they have not embraced the pro-life view in that moment, but I have made them think. I can hope they remember the conversation and that it plants a seed.
Certainly there may be times when a religious approach would be appropriate – if you are speaking in a church, for example. But when non-Christians argue the pro-life case, people are compelled to look at the issue more seriously.
Sadly, in the pro-life movement, I have been turned away from doing pro-life work due to my atheism. A crisis pregnancy center refused to let me volunteer because I was an atheist. I have experience talking to abortion-minded women, but they dismissed me as soon as they learned I was not a Christian.
Later, I learned about the Personhood movement, which works against exceptions in pro-life legislation and lobbies the government to recognize preborn children as persons. There is no Personhood chapter in New Jersey, where I live, and I thought of starting one. But the organization does not allow nonchristians to start chapters. New Jersey is still without a personhood chapter.
I don’t see how this helps the pro-life movement.
There are things pro-lifers can do to make nonreligious people more comfortable. Once I was listening to a webcast which had an audience of thousands. The person running the webcast said something like, “As Christians, we pro-lifers know that God is the most important thing in this battle, so we’d like to pray.” The prayer went on and on. I felt alienated and uncomfortable, so I turned off the webcast.
It would have been better if the organizer had said something like, “We know there are pro-lifers of many different religions here, but for a moment we want to speak to the Christians,” then made the prayer shorter. This would have made me feel less excluded. I am not suggesting that pro-lifers eliminate prayer and religious language entirely, just that they frame things in a more inclusive way.
Many gays and lesbians assume that only conservative Evangelicals and Catholics are pro-life. These demographics have often been unkind to LGBT people. When an LGBT person argues the pro-life case and uses arguments that appeal specifically to LGBT people, they are more likely to make headway.
For example, Secular Pro-Life ran an interview with a pro-life gay man. He wrote about how gays are executed in 12 countries. In these countries, gays have no right to life. Unborn children also have no right to life in some nations. Both gays and unborn children can be legally killed in parts of the world. Seeing the commonality, he became pro-life.
Also, most gay people believe we were born gay; i.e., we were gay from conception. There is a theory that a gay gene (or genes) exist. If it’s discovered, a test may be developed to detect it. Preborn LGBT babies could be targeted for abortion the way Down syndrome babies are today. In the United States, around 400,000 LGBT teens are homeless, many because they were thrown out of their homes by their parents. If given the chance, parents who reject their gay children might abort them instead.
I believe the pro-life movement is becoming more inclusive. Groups like Secular Pro-Life and PLAGAL (the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians) are more accepted among pro-lifers. They are being included in pro-life conferences and campaigns. Live Action is willing to publish my work despite my atheism and sexual orientation. I doubt these things would have happened 20 years ago.
For pro-lifers who are against gay rights, these two issues should be kept separate. Not only does combining abortion and opposition to gay rights alienate LGBTs, it turns off many members of the younger generation. Millennials support LGBT people more than any generation before them. These millennials are the future of the pro-life movement. Abortion, as a life and death issue, must take priority.
Importance of Nontraditional Pro-lifers
Nontraditional pro-lifers are going to be very important to the American pro-life movement in the future (and therefore whatever impact US progress has on progress in other countries world-wide).
This is why:
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will not make abortion illegal across the United States. Overturning Roe only means that individual states can ban abortion, not that they must. Everything would revert to the way it was before Roe. In states with anti-abortion laws still on the books, abortion will be illegal. States that legalized abortion before Roe will still have legal abortion. Abortion will still be legal in New York, California, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Florida, Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina, Washington, and other states.
After Roe falls, it will be a state by state fight for American pro-lifers. The battle would take place in the legislatures. We will need to pass pro-life laws in states that don’t have them and defend pro-life laws in states that do. This requires public support.
Let’s look at what happens if the only pro-lifers are Evangelicals and Catholics: 25.4% of the US population is Evangelical Protestant, and 20.8% of the population is Catholic. Even if we could convince every single Evangelical Protestant and Catholic to vote pro-life (including the millions who identify as belonging to those religions, but never go to church) we would STILL not have a majority. One way or another, eventually, we are going to have to do things to attract nontraditional pro-lifers. We simply can’t win without them.
The pro-life movement should be open to anyone who wants to protect the preborn, regardless of religion, race, or sexual orientation. Abortion is not just another political issue. Our goal is to save lives. Babies are dying at the rate of roughly 3,000 a day in the United States. Why wouldn’t we include everyone in the fight to stop it?
If you were in a burning building, would you care if the firefighter who saved you was gay or straight? Would you care if the firefighter who pulled you out of the flames believed in God or didn’t? I would say the vast majority of people wouldn’t care – they would just want to be rescued. We need to rescue the preborn. That is the whole purpose of the pro-life movement. When you look at it this way, it seems very clear that we all should come together to stop abortion.
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.