The Pushmi-pullyu at the March for Life
In Tuesday's post, "Eight Reasons Not to Use Graphic Abortion Images at the March for Life," I argued that gory, graphic photos of aborted babies can be an effective pro-life tool in some situations, but that, for many reasons, they should not be displayed in public places. There was a huge amount of variety in the responses to the post. Many people agreed with me, but many did not. The interesting thing was, there was variety even among the people who agreed with me, and among the people who disagreed with me: Even the people who agreed with each other didn't agree with each other about why.
I tried to find out whether the organizers for the March for Life had an official policy on whether or not to bring graphic images for public display. It turns out that the March is not especially organized. There are no official rules. Participants don't have to register. You don't have to do anything to qualify. If you consider yourself pro-life, you turn up (and afterwards, you clean up!). In other words, the March for Life -- and the pro-life movement in general -- are classic grassroots movements. Aside from Christ Himself, there is no single, central leader with a clear plan of action.
Many pro-lifers lament this disorganization, this lack of unity in our movement. We sometimes behave like the pushmi-pullyu trying to go in two many different directions at once. Some pro-lifers throw themselves into electing conservative politicians, who (in theory) will sponsor pro-life legislation and appoint conservative judges. Others have been betrayed too many times, and disgustedly brush the dust of politics from their sandals. Some people try to talk directly to women who are on their way through the door of the clinic; others think it makes more sense to try to change the hearts of the abortionists inside. Some people offer their bodies as human barriers to keep a clinic from doing its horrible work for one day; some stay home and offer penance as reparation for what they know is happening every day. Some pro-lifers are focused like a laser on overturning Roe v. Wade; others realize that many states, free of a federal mandate, would continue to permit abortion "on demand and without apology." Some lobby for personhood amendments, others think that fetal pain legislation or ultrasound legislation is the way to strike at the heart of the abortion industry.
What's bad about fighting on so many fronts at once? Well, a spray of buckshot is a lot less effective than, say, a guided missile. A little here, a little there, and before you know it, you have . . . a little. If we could only get together, pool our resources, put all our muscle behind one specific tactic, then surely we could bring about real change! Right?
I doubt it. Why? Because there is no one single cause of abortion. There is no one single reason women go through that door. There is no one single type of woman who gets an abortion. The only thing they have in common is that they are mothers of a live children when the go in, mothers of dead children when the come out.
Some women and girls are there because they've been physically dragged into the clinic. Some have been blackmailed, bullied, or terrified into it. But some couldn't wait. Some feel dead inside. Some feel tremendous relief to be there. Some think it's no big deal. Some kill themselves afterward. Some already have children at home; some will be sterilized when the abortionist's hand slips. Some will feel grateful to the abortionist, and will volunteer at the clinic for the next several decades; some will feel horror and regret, and will throw themselves into the pro-life cause. And for some, it doesn't matter why they came in to the clinic, because they will hemorrhage to death on their way out.
And the reasons why people support abortion? Also incredibly varied. People don't value children. People don't value motherhood. People don't value sacrifice. People don't understand sex. People don't think fetuses are babies; people don't care that fetuses are babies. People are trapped by poverty. People are trapped by their own wealth. People think they are doing something compassionate. People think they are doing something edgy and cool. People don't know the truth. People know the truth very well, are are willing to live with it. And of course, there is money at stake -- lots and lots of money.
So, what to do? How to fight a hydra with so many heads?
I say, keep on doing what we're doing -- all of it. Keep on doing what we're good at, whatever that happens to be. As long as there are so many different causes for abortion, it's vital for the pro-life movement to respond in so many different ways. In other words, disorganization is good. Lack of unity is, in some ways, necessary.
Is there room for disagreement? Obviously. Any of of us is entitled to say, "I think such-and-such a tactic is unproductive." But if we find ourselves saying, "My favored approach is the only way we will ever make progress, and if you don't do exactly what I do, then it's your fault that we're failing," -- well, let's reiterate: there is no leader to the pro-life movement except Christ Himself. We're all just soldiers, using whatever weapons we've been issued.
We just heard at Mass last Sunday:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 COR 12: 4-11)
This was the last Sunday reading we will hear before the March for Life. So let's hear it! Let's do whatever we do best. I've written extensively on the topic of "ways to be pro-life." Here are a few of the posts:
and, in a much lighter vein a few years ago: Here in Topeka
Abortion is a hellishly complicated knot, and we aren't strong enough to wield the sword that would cut through it. Only God can (and will, eventually) do that. So that's the one thing that all pro-lifers can and must do: Pray to the God of mercies to rescue us all -- unborn babies, pregnant women, fathers, doctors, lobbyists, politicians, children, activists, and all. I don't think we need to pray for unity. We need to pray for strength, courage, and peace.
Go, Pushmi-pullu, go! We are praying for you, and for the people who witness your awkward, disorganized, gorgeously varied progress down the streets of D.C.