Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch has been confirmed and sworn in to the U.S. Supreme Court. This judicial development is rightly viewed by pro-life Americans as an occasion for great rejoicing.
While this is, indeed, a moment of opportunity, it is also a moment of peril.
The Trump administration’s willingness to support pro-lifers openly has understandably stirred excitement among religious conservatives. We all hope that the next chapter in U.S. history will yield some significant gains, most especially in the fight against abortion.
Beyond Gorsuch, there are other reasons for optimism. The Mexico City Policy was reinstated in the very first days of Trump’s presidency. Vice President Mike Pence and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway both took the stage at this year’s March for Life, which was a welcome change, given that the annual event is normally relegated to a perfunctory blip on page 14F of mainstream newspapers, while Republican politicians often find that they can’t spare a single hour to address hundreds of thousands of marchers assembled virtually on their doorsteps.
It feels like a bright new day. Hopefully, it will be.
At the same time, there are also reasons for caution. The relationships pro-lifers develop in these next months and years could prove costly, if they allow enthusiasm to overshadow prudence in working with the new administration.
Most especially, we need to be careful about how we comport ourselves as pro-lifers, recognizing the next few years could be especially critical in the fight for the unborn.
We should start by appreciating that the Trump administration’s unprecedented willingness to court pro-lifers is of a piece with its broader, disruptive approach to governance. The unfortunate reality is that the pro-life movement has been countercultural for a long time.
Traditional Republicans kept religious conservatives in the wings because they needed their support but didn’t want to lose credibility with more centrist voters. For a politician like Trump, who is overtly and pugnaciously countercultural, it makes much more sense to embrace pro-lifers.
We should seize the opportunities as they come, but we shouldn’t neglect to ask the hard questions.
What role does Donald Trump envision for pro-lifers in his broader political agenda? Presumably he wants something in return for the extra attention.
Does he expect pro-life leaders to become apologists for other potentially-problematic measures that this administration may take? Will they? How much might the movement be compromised by this association?
Even in the best of circumstances, it pays to be wary when our political-religious causes become closely intertwined with partisan politics. Considering Trump’s questionable character, and the fractious nature of American politics today, it seems fair to say that these are not the best of circumstances.
Trump’s patronage could be especially costly if (as seems likely) women’s issues become a major cultural focus over the next few years. Many pro-life Catholics have explained to me that while they don’t approve of Trump’s behavior toward women, they regard his personal immorality as a secondary concern in comparison to the evil of abortion. This is certainly an understandable position.
But a movement focused on what pregnant women do — in addition to, of course, the focus on unborn children — still runs a serious risk by entangling itself too closely with the concerns of a man who has been a philanderer and who has made many degrading remarks about women over the years. We can certainly understand how an excess of enthusiasm for Trump, especially as a man, might lead some to question whether pro-lifers are truly concerned about the dignity of women.
For politicians, pro-life leaders or visible public intellectuals, it is important to be circumspect in our words and actions. For the rest of us, the best thing that we can do to protect ourselves from possible dangers may just be to redouble our efforts to approach the topic of abortion in a way that is sympathetic, compassionate and humane. Women and men may have slightly different roles to play here.
As a mother, I find it painful even to think about women who have had abortions. Talking to women who are contemplating this, or reading their stories afterwards, I feel a rush of pity. This even applies to women who insist that they “aren’t sorry.”
As a mother, I shudder to contemplate what it must mean for a woman’s mental and spiritual state if she can destroy her own child and voluntarily broadcast her lack of remorse. Sadness is the overwhelming emotion that accompanies these reflections.
I know many people who do not feel such pity. Most (though not all) are men. For them, thinking about women who abort their children inspires a rush of anger and possibly contempt. Some admit as much, and even those who don’t may reveal it in their words or tone.
I don’t hold this against anyone. I think it’s genuinely difficult for many men to feel sympathy for women who demonstrate that kind of anti-maternal feeling, and especially for those who unilaterally deny fathers the opportunity to protect and care for their offspring.
We should try not to hate people, of course, but I understand why that choice in particular is hard for some men to view with sympathy or pity. It is a terrible thing, and I don’t wish to undercut the protective paternal feelings that can make men particularly unforgiving in this respect.
In considering what might actually help the movement, though, it may be wise to modify our approach, at least to the point of considering what thoughts are most helpful to share in public settings (potentially including, for instance, social media).
For women, the best thing we can do may be to help other women appreciate what is good, beautiful and fulfilling about embracing their body’s natural potentiality. There is much to be done in this regard, because modern women have in so many ways been taught to regard their bodies (and especially their reproductive potential) as burdensome first and foremost.
Many women assume almost reflexively that it is unfair to expect them to live with their bodies as they were made; they deserve medical interventions and even legal “rights” designed to lift the burdens of femininity. Catholic women at their best can sometimes persuade others to see the body differently: as a gift and a blessing.
Men generally find it more difficult to approach those topics directly. Discussing the intricacies of the female reproductive system is generally uncomfortable for men.
In my experience, however, men tend to underestimate how much good they may be doing simply by being the sort of men who make women feel that it is all right to rely on men for support. Women are conscious on a deep psychological level of their vulnerability before men. That can feed into feminism in a profoundly unhealthy way as women try to erase those elements of nature that make them especially vulnerable (most especially, the basic fact that women can become pregnant and men cannot).
By manifesting masculine virtues, men can reduce that defensiveness. But even small gestures demonstrating solicitude for the well-being of women may help diffuse the feminist impulse to reject nature’s gifts in an effort to stand up to men.
Good men often have no idea how salutary they are for women in their orbit. Sociology shows us again and again that girls who are raised by and around honorable men have confidence and are far less prone to self-destructive behavior.
By contrast, petty, vindictive and bullying men are a gift to liberal feminists and the ideological left.
The culture of death may have experienced a recent setback, but it would be foolish indeed to assume that there are sunny skies ahead.
Every single one of us has a role to play in rebuilding a culture of life. Each one of us should consider what that role might be and pray that we do it well.
Rachel Lu, Ph.D., writes on politics and culture
from St. Paul, Minnesota.
Follow her on Twitter at @rclu.