With a wave of bloody skirmishes between social conservatives and the rest of the so-called conservative coalition happening in virtually every political party across Canada, pro-lifers have become increasingly disenchanted and increasingly convinced that there is nothing we can do. Years of fighting in the abortion wars have left many worn out, and many have ceded defeat. Questions crop up again and again: How do we keep going? Where do we find encouragement?

I have some advice that may strike many of you as strange: Don’t focus so much on politics.

Let me follow that up immediately with a long list of provisos. I am notsaying that we should disengage from politics, and have spilled a lot of ink urging social conservatives to do precisely the opposite. The Association for Reformed Political Action, for example, fights to ensure Christian voices are heard in the public square, and organizations like We Need A Law and Right Now exist to facilitate pro-life involvement in politics. This work is essential. We need to fight harder and we need to fight smarter, and there are many victories that we can attain–and if we don’t like the way political parties are going, we should get involved in the process.

But many pro-lifers are feeling a deep malaise because they have forgotten that politics is downstream from culture. Justin Trudeau gets elected, Patrick Brown sticks a knife in the back of the so-cons who gave him his job, Brian Gallant pushes for more abortion access, Rachel Notley starts to shove homeschoolers around—there’s plenty of reasons for social conservatives to politically mobilize. But while we work to ensure our rights are protected in the halls of power, it’s important that we don’t forget our primary responsibility: Reaching out to our neighbors. Shifting the culture, by tiny degrees, one person at a time.

I was asked often in the last few weeks as I did a short speaking tour in the Maritimes why I feel there is so much hope for the pro-life movement. The answer for me is a simple one: I see it all the time. Our staff and volunteers at the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform see people change their mind on abortion every day. We see girls cancel their abortions when we take the truth to the streets. We see people respond to our message wherever we go—public high schools, college campuses, universities, and wherever else we can reach the public. We see real change happening not in slogans on lawn signs, but in the minds of the men and women and boys and girls we talk to.

We have to stop buying into the lie that we need the politicians to reopen the abortion debate. When our leaders tell us the abortion debate is closed, our answer should be simple: “Sorry. We started without you.”

When we’re talking to a college student who is stunned by what abortion looks like and wants to know more, we don’t have to wait for Justin Trudeau to tell us the debate is open before having a conversation with her. When we talk to a pedestrian who walks past our display and says she no longer wants to have an abortion because her eyes have been opened, we don’t need legislation to reach out to her and walk with her. When politicians refuse to tell the truth about abortion in schools across the country, that doesn’t mean we can’t set up displays and reach those same students with that same life-saving truth.

We don’t need politicians to change the culture.

Social conservatives are often trapped in a false dichotomy: Sympathetic politicians coming to power is the goal, or silent resignation and political martyrdom are the answer. That is why when Stephen Harper turned out to be an active opponent of the social conservative movement, many activists were struck with despair. Getting a Conservative™ elected prime minister was the goal, and that turned out to be a dead end, so where do we go next? We too often harness our hopes to men who seek power, and find out that in a culture hostile to many of our beliefs we are abruptly cut loose just as political victory seems in sight. We should be using political parties as vehicles to further our goals rather than seeing them as objects of our loyalty, especially since it is crystal clear that most politicians are happy to use social conservatives as a vehicle towards, for example, gaining leadership of a party, before promptly offloading the onetime loyalists immediately afterwards.

Too often, pro-lifers seem to think that if the politicians won’t listen to them, nobody else will, either. My colleagues and I have found the precise opposite to be true. We are facing the first generation that did not choose abortion or fight for abortion, but arrived with a quarter of their peers missing into a nation that accepted the practice as standard. They are often ready and willing to hear the truth. They are the ones we should be talking to. If we can impact the culture, the reverberations will reach the politicians. In the meantime, boots on the ground save lives where laws do not protect them. Activists reach the young minds the schools refuse to infuse with the truth. And door to door, we discuss issues that the local candidates will not.

That is why I have so much hope for the pro-life movement: Because I see movement. I see change. The simple reality is that we do not have to wait for the politicians to create the country we want to live in. We simply have to walk out our front door, and talk to our neighbors. With each mind that changes, with each life that is saved, we see glimmers of a new culture of life. Each of those lives is infinitely valuable, and each child that arrives safely into the arms of her mother is a child not discarded in bloody shards to cool in a trash can. Each child that is saved is a symbol of hope.

Many of those who walk the halls of power may be determined to ignore the fate of pre-born children. But the good news is that we don’t have to wait for them to do something about it.

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