Speaker and author Matthew Kelly has made the following insight that is relevant to a reflection on the pro-life movement and its challenges:
Most people don’t want to think about their weaknesses. We don’t want to talk about them, and we certainly don’t want anyone else to point them out. This is a classic sign of mediocrity. Great men and women want to know their weaknesses. (Matthew Kelly, Rediscovering Catholicism (Ohio: Beacon Publishing, 2002), 159–160.)
Great movements that desire to transform societies want to know their weaknesses as well. If pro-lifers care about saving lives, we need to critically examine the success of our movement. Precisely because we care about pre-born children and the ability of the movement to help those children, we need constructive criticism.
Pro-lifers have to be more afraid of being ineffective than they are of receiving criticism; we have to be more afraid of being mediocre than being criticized. Ultimately, we have to be more afraid of living in a society that allows the killing of children, than we are afraid of needing to change how our movement works.
So what are challenges to the success of our movement?
Public opinion polls continually show that a majority of Canadians support abortion in the first 3 months of pregnancy—when the majority of abortions occur.
With little public opinion supporting a public policy change on abortion, politicians rarely voice pro-life views—and the few that do are ostracized.
When pro-life presentations are held they are mostly attended by other pro-life people—not the general public that needs the message most.
Pro-abortion activists are very active in Canada, working to maintain abortion on demand and some go so far in this as to censor pro-life groups, particularly university clubs.
Furthermore, that movement has professionals—doctors and lawyers—working full-time to kill babies while the pro-life movement has very few professional, full-time activists.
And, of course, abortion advocates can rely on Canadians’ tax dollars to continue to pay for abortion.
But it’s not just “outside” forces that challenge the pro-life movement. There are also challenges from “inside” sources. Weaknesses within the different arms of the pro-life movement contribute to the whole movement’s ineffectiveness.
For example, a lot of the educational initiatives in the movement’s prophetic or educational arm require people to go out of their way to receive the message (e.g., an evening presentation), resulting in low audience-turnout. At other times where the movement does take its message to the public, such as with LifeChain or marches, it communicates text-based messages which state conclusions (e.g., “Defend Life” or “Abortion Kills Children”) but do not provide evidence to convince society to change its perspective.
The pastoral or service arm of the movement has grown over the years, improving its ways of helping women facing unplanned pregnancies. But the problem is often not the quality of help centres, but instead it is that each year 100,000 abortion-minded women don’t choose these professional, warm, and caring centres—they choose abortion.
The political arm of the movement passionately opposes abortion in the political arena. Unfortunately, it is also increasingly defending stances on a variety of different issues with little or no impact on the abortion debate. This drains limited resources, both financial and volunteer, from focusing on the killing of pre-born children.
If the prophetic arm does a better job of educating society, public opinion will shift so that public policy will shift. Likewise, through good education, the attitudes of women in crisis will shift so that women become more horrified of an abortion than they’re terrified of an unplanned pregnancy, and they’ll go to pro-life help centres instead of abortion clinics.
One final note: CCBR’s comments are not made to be gratuitously critical of its fellow pro-life workers. CCBR’s views are not made to deprive people of hope, to drive them into despair. They are made so that the pro-life movement will become as effective as possible in reaching its goal of ending abortion.
After all, our willingness to look for big solutions depends on whether we acknowledge the existence of big problems.