One of my followers on Twitter sent me a provocative article by Dr. Jeff Mirus of CatholicCulture.org entitled “The End of Pro-Life Politics” which I think is worth discussing.
His thesis, greatly condensed, is that the pro-life political movement has been largely a failure for these past 40 years and that the resources dedicated to the pro-life political movement would be better spent elsewhere, for instance, on crisis pregnancy centers and education efforts, like his own (he is careful to provide full disclosure and I completely respect that).
I want to say at the outset I largely agree with much of what Mirus says. I agree that the pro-life political movement has reason to be frustrated, that it (and all of us) urgently need to rethink what we are doing (not necessarily to re-start from scratch, but at least to honestly assess where we are at and to learn from our defeats). I agree non-political pro-life grassroots efforts are woefully underfunded, as are our pro-life educational initiatives. And I totally agree that Catholics owe a first service to building up the Church.
But Dr. Mirus is simply wrong about his main thesis. It is simply wrong to claim the political pro-life movement has accomplished “almost nothing.”
Prof. Michael J. New and others, have written article after article demonstrating the success of pro-life laws nationwide in driving down the abortion rate and encouraging women to choose life. The Hyde Amendment alone has saved millions of babies (h/t: Steven Ertelt). It was pro-life political efforts over the last couple years, for instance, that have defunded over $60 million from Planned Parenthood. That’s because we have the most pro-life Congress in history since abortion was legalized as well as the highest number of pro-life politicians in state houses and senates across the country. All of that isn’t nothing, it’s saving babies.
Yes, we have an abortion epidemic, but even that would pale in comparison to what unfettered, tax-subsidized abortion-on-demand would look like. People who are unsatisfied with the pro-life political movement’s win-loss record this year must recognize that as awful as losing is we simply have no choice but to fight, considering what is at stake. And Mirus forgets that pro-life activism, when properly done, is also pro-life evangelization and witness. Politics gives people a platform to have a discussion with their fellow citizens that ordinarily is much more difficult to prompt.
And as someone who works with pro-life political outfits, I can say frankly that there isn’t much of pro-life political movement. Here’s what I mean: compared to the pro-abortion political apparatus, our pro-life structure and reach is totally outmatched. Planned Parenthood alone spent $15.5 million on the 2012 election and I bet that’s more than all the pro-life political groups put up combined.
So it’s not as if there are massive pro-life political expenditures sucking all of the cash out of the system. We are thin everywhere, and the more you get involved in any one of these good works, be they political or otherwise, the more you realize how thin we are, wherever you look.
(As an aside: if Catholics were to develop a better system of philanthropy and did a better job of encouraged responsible giving, we would see a rising tide of financial support that would lift all pro-life boats, political and non-political. That’s a better future to pursue than simply squabbling over the limited resources we have at our disposal now to divide among everyone.)
Meanwhile, I believe the growth of pro-life culture building and pro-life culture shaping have increased apace with pro-life political expansion. The examples are too numerous to provide a complete list, but a start would be to mention pro-life pregnancy centers, 40 Days for Life, pro-life arts, pro-life campus activism, pro-life media, etc.
What does Mirus think is protecting all of these pro-life initiatives, especially the continued existence and survival of pro-life pregnancy centers and the right of the Church and Catholics to engage in pro-life activities? Successful pro-life political efforts to pass and defend pro-life laws and protections!
Here’s my view of why pro-life politics remains important on a cultural level.
Politics should not and is not everything, but it is a benchmark of the culture, and it is a proxy for the struggle between our view of the human person and the alternatives proposed by relativists and aggressive secular liberalism. Pro-life laws, where they exist, reflect a culture that is pro-life, and if we give up the fight to promote pro-life politics, that will be a sign of our own capitulation to the culture of death.
Mirus argues that American culture itself makes pro-life (and pro-marriage) laws unsustainable and impossible right now.
This is also not the case.
Consider Ireland and France — cultures not so different from our own, and even worse than ours when it comes to the vitality of the Catholic Church in each country and when you observe the far more widespread abandonment of religious observance in both countries.
Nevertheless, consider the successful pro-life effort to keep Ireland abortion free, despite huge outside pressure to cave, and the pro-marriage movement in France which last weekend staged country-wide pro-marriage rallies featuring literally hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen and women and is in the process of derailing an effort to legalize gay marriage there for the first time.
What’s the difference between Ireland, France and us? One difference is that the Irish and French have managed to protect the reflection of their pro-life and pro-marriage views in law via politics. And they have refused to give up, even when the odds were severely stacked against them.
They are holding the line barely, but just barely, where as we are in danger of losing the ground we have gained if we give up now. We tend to forget the progress that has been made. Pro-life politics is one of the reasons why we have a Supreme Court that is more pro-life than the one that decided Roe in the first place, and pro-life politics is also one of the reasons why the Supreme Court is far less likely to fabricate a “right” to gay marriage when it takes up the question in the next term, to name two important examples.
These and other reasons I have given are why it would be totally imprudent to throw in the towel now, nor can we ever be willing to give up, because that’s not what we’re called to do. If we decide to step back, sit down and wait for the culture to spontaneously promote pro-life, pro-family, pro-religious freedom laws without ourselves proposing and promoting them, we shouldn’t be shocked if they never, ever, ever happen.
Instead, if we asymmetrically disengage the same forces now fighting us on pro-life will move on to their next target: religious freedom and the civil rights of Christians. Secularist groups are already attempting to promote the meme that the Church does not deserve its non-profit tax status and that it constitues a burden to the public purse. What we must realize is that the pro-life political movement is key part of the pro-freedom movement in general, and that these freedoms stand or fall together. If we were to disengage now we would be amazed how quickly things would turn from bad to simply disastrous, on unexpected multiple fronts.
Mirus’ lesson drawn from the early Church, finally, falsely characterizes the evangelization of the pagan world as a process of gradual osmosis via personal witness, when actually Christians throughout this whole time were constantly, vigorously proposing the truth of their faith and evangelizing through every and all means at their disposal.
In fact, they were so open about their faith that they were forced into the catacombs by the pagan powers, who felt threatened by them.
Do you think the pagan powers that exist in our age feel threatened by us enough to attempt to push us into hiding? They should be, and if they aren’t, it’s our fault.
So why preemptively push ourselves back into the catacombs when the early Christians wanted nothing more than to leave them and share their faith in the daylight again? They earned the right to be Catholic in the light of day, so we owe it to them to keep what they have won for us and that includes, yes, fighting for the unborn, for marriage and family, and for our religious freedoms in the political arena as well as in the culture.
I think this is an important discussion to be having so I’ll leave off my thoughts here to see what my readers and fellow CatholicVote contributors have to say.