As someone who identifies himself as pro-life, I have, over the years, attended numerous pro-life demonstrations/rallies. Almost without exception these events have been peaceful and orderly. I have to admit, though, that there have been a few times when I have felt uncomfortable with the emotionally charged atmosphere which, on rare occasions, occurs at these events. I am not someone who thinks loud chanting and waving placards with sometimes graphic pictures and questionable slogans is the best way to get across our message that all life is sacred. I also believe that we cannot call ourselves pro-life when we do not respect others—most especially those with whom we disagree.
While I am concerned about how the pro-life message is communicated, I also am very concerned with the words and tone used recently by representatives of Planned Parenthood. In many public statements they have sought to portray pro-lifers as extremists whose beliefs are radical, ill-informed, and dangerous. I found this to be especially true the past few weeks with the publicity surrounding the release of several videos regarding Planned Parenthood’s participation in tissue donation programs—the tissue being procured from abortions. In response to a demonstration in St. Paul against this practice Planned Parenthood posted an online statement. In part it read: “The more we learn about this, the clearer it is that it’s part of a much bigger pattern of harassment by extremists whose real goal is to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood. The people behind this attack will stop at nothing in their quest—including breaking the law themselves and willfully misrepresenting the facts to the public. The protesters here today are simply an extension of that effort.”
I am concerned about the use of the words: “harassment,” “extremists,” “attack,” “stop at nothing,” and “breaking the law.” Now certainly there are some in the pro-life movement who could be described as extreme in their views. In this instance, though, Planned Parenthood painted all pro-lifers with the same brush. This is not fair. It is not just. It is not right. Almost all of the pro-life advocates I know are reasonable people who hold firm to their beliefs, but at the same time are not mean-spirited or malicious. They are simply people who believe in the sanctity of life and who want to share that belief—not just with their words, but with their actions. In this regard, I think it is important to mention that today there are about 2,500 Crisis Pregnancy Centers in the United States, compared to 1,800 abortion clinics. For the most part these clinics are privately funded. Their mission is simply to help those who are experiencing a pregnancy in difficult circumstances. These 2,500 centers give concrete witness to the fact that pro-life people do care about individuals facing a difficult and unplanned pregnancy. The aim of these centers is life—for women, for children, for fathers—both now and in the years to come.
For many years now the month of October has been designated by the Bishops of the United States as “Respect Life Month.” Our observance of this month reminds us that, as Catholics, we believe and proclaim that human life is a precious gift from a loving God. Consequently every individual has an obligation to respect and protect life from the time of conception to the moment of death. Further, our respect for life must be evident in the way we treat each other, perhaps most especially those with whom we disagree. Those of who identify ourselves as pro-life need to give concrete witness to this belief in our words and actions. Where we have failed to do this we need to apologize, and we need focus our efforts more clearly, not on demonizing those with whom we disagree, but on finding better and more effective ways of communicating our message regarding the sacredness of life.
It seems to me that most concretely and specifically we, who identify as pro-life, can do the above by taking the lead in toning down the rhetoric that surrounds the issue of abortion. We need to be open to respectful dialogue with those with whom we disagree and invite them to do the same. Using language that is simple, direct, and non-inflammatory is a step in this direction. If we can do this, perhaps those with whom we disagree will reciprocate, and civil discourse will prevail. I believe that ultimately it is only in this way that we can help each other come to understand the value, dignity, and worth of every human life.