When we engage in pro-life activism or try to reach people with a pro-life message, who are we talking to?
About 20 to 25 percent of the population is pro-life. About 20 to 25 percent is "pro-choice" or pro-abortion. The rest are in the middle. They don't want to think about the issue. When they are polled, they give inconsistent answers, often depending on how the question is put.
Who should we try to talk to? The people who disagree with us are often simply irrational. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood couldn't answer the question of when human life begins. Oftentimes these people are reduced to shouting, or to repeating ad hominem mantras, insulting us as bigots, women-haters, "fetus-fetishists," and so forth. One might think that people so passionate would be great pro-life advocates, but that's usually not the case. Too often they are wounded people, who have difficulty making an argument, controlling their tempers, or seeing any good in their adversaries. We are living in a time of tribalism, where loyalty to people or general positions trumps any kind of reflection. We wish the folks on the other side well, but there's not much we can do for them except to be as kind as we can to them personally, and pray for them.
So if we want to change minds and influence people, we need to address those who are in the middle, who are reflexively "pro-life" or "pro-choice" perhaps, but couldn't tell you why, beyond a slogan. Last fall, charges were filed against an Anglican priest for offering to pray for women who were entering an abortion clinic. What was interesting to me was that he became active in the pro-life movement because of the videos of Planned Parenthood executives talking about the sale of parts of babies' bodies.
"Last year, Life Legal clients David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress released videos of their undercover investigation of Planned Parenthood. At the time, Father Linton’s wife was pregnant with their third child.
'The combination of seeing abortion victims sorted through for parts and my wife being pregnant destroyed me,' Linton said. 'She organized a protest and I’ve been in front of the clinic every Friday since.'"
This is our audience: people who are inclined to be pro-life, but may not have given abortion much thought. Who are the people inclined to do something , anything, about abortion? Christians, by and large.
If we want to change public opinion in a way that results in action, then, we should address our outreach to Christian churches that may be middle-of-the-road. The Pew organization, with its polls of religion and society, could probably tell us which ones those are. (I haven't looked yet.) If we want to convert people to action, then that's where we should start.
Chris Humphrey has been involved in pro-life activity of one kind or another since the late 1970s, when he first looked at the subject of abortion in seminary in Canada. He has an undergraduate degree in English (University of Toronto), and M.A. and Ph.D. in religious studies (McGill). He has had a varied career as a pastor, chaplain in a psychiatric hospital, editor of academic and instructional publications, semi-professional photographer, and home renovator. He is a husband of over 40 years to Edith (a Professor of New Testament), father to three girls, and grandfather to twelve grandchildren. He lives and works in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh.