Elections and the abortion abolition movement

The pro-life crowd flowed across the Boston Common, heading for the street that passes the Bull & Finch Pub, made famous by the TV sit-com Cheers. As in years past, people waving placards defending abortion rights greeted the participants in the October 2008 Walk for Life. From within the moving stream of fellow pro-life walkers, I raised my right hand and held it high, with my thumb extended sideways and my index finger and little finger stretched upwards, the sign language gesture for “I love you.”

I have done this simple act for many years now during previous walks. In past Octobers, most of those opposing our peaceful witness to the dignity of all human life did not even seem to notice my silent action. Those few that did see me would look away, perhaps because they did not recognize the hand signal’s meaning or were just confused about how to respond.

This year was different. For the first time, I saw a man amidst the protesters raise his own hand, somewhat tentatively, to return the same unspoken message. Brief though the moment was, and of such little mass when scaled against the behemoth that is today’s abortion calamity, the exchange nonetheless infused me with new conviction.

As a long-time backer of the abortion abolition movement, I came away unexpectedly encouraged, and the lift still has not yet, days later, left me. There was no concrete achievement, no major advance, that is true, but somehow because of what happened to me at this year’s Walk for Life, I am ready, again, to keep going.

For any social movement confronted by the gap between core objectives and actual social progress, elections are often anything but lifting. An allergy to principle can cause the political system to sneeze on Election Day when challenged to be true to founding ideals.

This is being written as the quadrennial campaign for U.S. President, our country’s political version of international soccer’s World Cup, enters its final, frenetic days. Yard signs and television ads, the flora and fauna of the partisan contest, sprout from every porch and screen. The candidates leap by jet-aided bounds between roaring crowds that are not only time-zones apart but also worlds apart in terms of outlook and focus.

Now is the time when every thing of social consequence, whether it includes for example the economy, the war, our global climate or certainly and most critically the protection of defenseless human life, assumes a more acute political importance in the rush of heightened electoral engagement. The clamor of competing priorities increases the difficulty of the voter’s prudential task.

For movement advocates of an abortion-free America--the priority that spurs the most intense disgust among the favored nobility of the self-proclaimed thoughtful--this election, more so than any other national election it seems to me, is proving itself to be especially daunting. The stakes are so high, and the fear and possibility of backtracking on previous achievements are so strong.

The fault-line of tension for those who dream of a pro-life society lies between two shifting plates of differing strategies, and this year’s election is perhaps the earthquake that seismic rumblings have long predicted. Do we continue our quest to reform the law or do we abandon that as a quixotic tilting at windmills in favor of less direct, less “divisive” endeavors, such as working to improve the economy?

It is my experience that for most pro-lifers this is not an “either-or” proposition. This is, after all, the movement that is governed by the conviction that abortion hurts both children and women, and that we should “love them both.”

The campaign to nurture a culture of life into being has employed foot soldiers at every social front, working to address the real needs of those forced by circumstances into thinking that abortion is the only “realistic” choice. Legislative debates and elections come and go, but the greatest non-governmental social network in the history of this country, the pro-life care net, continues to operate, grow, and change the world, one loving encounter at a time.

But the pro-life movement cannot focus just on the “demand” side. Here is where a renewed effort to reform the law continues to have great bearing. There are those on the “supply” side who believe that abortion is the solution to every pregnant woman’s problems.

We must continue to propose legal measures based on the premise that killing is never society’s solution to any problem, no matter how “efficient” abortion may seem as a “backup to contraception” or as a gateway to educational, economic or social success. Ultimately, the law may be the only real supply-side obstacle that impedes the misguided designs of abortion purveyors.

We cannot, therefore, abandon our quest for electing public officials who value the legal protection of defenseless human life and who see the importance of legal reform to make our laws more consistent with the culture of life. But again, it is not the law alone or alternatives alone that should define the abortion-free objective.

Will my uplift from the Walk for Life persist beyond Election Day in November? I do not yet know about that, but I do know about this: no matter what happens then, I will continue to pray for the strength to do what is right, no matter how insignificant it may seem.

Daniel Avila is the Associate Director for Public Policy and Research of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.