Washington D.C., Jan 30, 2017 / 06:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Despite recent legislative successes, the pro-life movement must reach hearts and minds to build a lasting culture of life, a panel of pro-life leaders maintained following Friday’s March for Life.
“We may win some important legislative and judicial battles” but “we’re going to have to work hard not to lose the war,” Kim Daniels, a member of the Vatican Secretariat for Communications, told an audience of pro-life college students and advocates at Georgetown University on Saturday.
Daniels was part of a Jan. 28 panel discussion at the 18th annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Moderator John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, praised the late Cardinal O’Connor, who was Archbishop of New York for 16 years until his death in 2000, as someone who put “defending the life of the unborn child” at the “center of his life.”
While he was Archbishop of New York, Cardinal O’Connor formed the Sisters for Life, counseled expectant mothers, and regularly participated in the March for Life.
Saturday’s panel focused on “working toward a truly pro-life politics,” and Daniels acknowledged that pro-lifers are joyful over recent legislative and executive successes.
Last week, President Trump reinstated the Mexico City policy, which forbids U.S. funding of international non-government organizations that promote or perform abortions overseas. The House also passed the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, which would make current policy – the Hyde Amendment, banning taxpayer funding of most abortions – law.
Vice President Mike Pence became the first sitting vice president to address the March for Life on Friday, and President Trump has promised to nominate a pro-life judge to the Supreme Court.
However, the ultimate goal of the pro-life movement must be more than passing laws that limit or outlaw abortions and nominating pro-life judges, panel members insisted.
Advocates must work “to build a culture of life and love where mothers and babies are welcomed and supported,” Daniels said, and “in order to consolidate the pro-life gains that we hope to get, we have to build this kind of culture.”
“For instance, if you don’t tie legislative efforts that support life to legislative efforts that also help women and children, there’s certain to be a backlash, and that backlash won’t just be federal, but will be in states as well.”
And pro-lifers still face significant hurdles to building this culture of life.
“We are in the most polarized political environment that I can remember,” including polarization within the pro-life movement after the recent presidential election, Daniels said.
Pro-lifers must also be vigilant during the Trump presidency, she warned, because although Trump has pledged to sign pro-life bills, his rhetoric on other issues – such as statements supporting torture and the indiscriminate killing of family members of terrorists – has been troubling.
“The fact is right now President Trump is the de facto leader of the pro-life movement” and is “linked with it, as is his legislative agenda,” she said.
“The pro-life movement is now tied to someone who is very unpredictable regarding these issues, and lacks credibility on them,” she continued.
“It’s unlikely that he’ll treat these issues with the care and nuance that they require.”
“His policies don’t often witness,” she added, “that we’re called to respect the human dignity of everybody, from conception until natural death.”
Other panel members agreed. Ross Douthat, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, noted that the pro-life movement “has achieved sustained success,” but must not “let it become a ceiling, then, on the movement going forward.”
“To get to an actual pro-life society, you need both parties, or at least elements in both political parties, to agree,” he said.
Pro-lifers must be willing to go beyond talking about abortion and discuss “what happens then with mothers in unplanned pregnancies” and form policies on adoption and healthcare and provision of prenatal care.
Charles Camosy, an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, said that a new era in the pro-life movement is taking shape.
“I might argue that it had its coming-out party last week in response to the coverage of the pro-life feminists who attended the Women’s March,” he said, referring to the Women’s March on Washington that drew hundreds of thousands of protesters supporting “women’s rights” and the protection of “marginalized” minorities. One of the march’s principles, however, was promoting abortion access.
While the event officials would not let pro-life groups partner with or sponsor the march, pro-life feminists showed up to provide a pro-life message.
The women “explicitly resisted … any sense that they were represented by the Trump administration,” Camosy noted. They promoted a message of “resisting violence and lifting up the vulnerable on multiple fronts, from multiple angles” including victims of drone strikes, torture, and “discrimination against the disabled,” he said.
“Indeed, the more Trump talks about torture, building walls, deporting children, intentionally killing the parents and children of terrorists, the more I think this fuels pro-life 3.0,” he said, referring to his term for the new era of the pro-life movement.
However, one primary challenge facing this movement is the lack of an “underlying metaphysical vision,” he said.
A deformed vision of the human person is still prevalent in society and will outlast short-term legislative gains, Roberta Bayer, an associate professor of political philosophy at Patrick Henry College, warned.
Even if the Roe decision that legalized abortion is overturned, “we’re still in a culture where basically people are thought of as matter in motion,” she said, and this is “taught in our universities, that’s the whole ethos of our culture.”
“And then the next generation comes along, and that [pro-life] law is reversed,” she added.
“It’s got to be an argument which is based on a rational comprehension of what human nature is, and we don’t have that at present,” she said.
Pro-lifers should thus focus on “incremental gains” in law and in the culture, emphasizing that abortion is the ultimate injustice today, yet not the only one, Daniels said. If they successfully protest abortion along with other injustices, while making clear that abortion is the ultimate injustice, they might find others willing to join their coalition.
We must “demonstrate to people that this is a young movement, and a grassroots movement,” she said. “And it’s one that’s very diverse, it’s one that cares about human dignity across the board but recognizes the particular evil of this one great injustice that’s at the center.”
“So we talk about family policy at the same time we’re talking about pro-life changes to the law,” she insisted.
John Carr noted that, for example, Henry Hyde, hailed as a champion by the pro-life movement for sponsoring the amendment that banned taxpayer dollars from funding most abortions, also worked with Republicans and “helped pass family and medical leave.”
The Church also has a role to play in helping mothers in unplanned pregnancies get the support they need to have their child.
“The worst, most unfair charge against the Catholic Church, and Catholics, is we only care about people until they are born. No one does more for pregnant women and children,” he said, “for the hungry and the homeless.”