By BRIAN CLOWES
(Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995.)
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“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
The most important strategy of the pro-abortion movement involves taking over the power structures through gradual infiltration and subversion. Its most important complementary strategy is the sidelining or neutralization of groups that actively oppose the pro-abortion agenda. Some of the tactics pro-abortionists use to advance this end include relentless ad hominem attacks, media stereotyping and harassment lawsuits, as well as attempts to shut down anyone who cuts into the profitability of the abortion business, with a particular focus on crisis pregnancy centers.
The most powerful and persistent enemy of the Culture of Death is the Catholic Church and its religious allies. Pro-abortionists have founded several ersatz “spiritual” groups specifically to deceive people about the teachings of the Church. These groups include Catholics for [a Free] Choice and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. This type of attack could be called direct subversion because its targets are the most important facets of the institution itself, those qualities necessary for its very survival — its values, vision, and belief system.
A less common form of infiltration and subversion is focused upon the members of an institution or organization. This indirect assault focuses on the institution’s people, and is designed to convince them to be the agents of change within the group.
One of the cleverest tactics the Culture of Death uses in its attempts to disable some of the activist elements of the pro-life movement is the common ground discussion.
These first popped up after the Supreme Court’s 1989 Webster v. Reproductive Health decision upheld restrictions on state funding of abortion. The most prominent early example of these “talking sessions” was the program sponsored by Boston’s Public Conversations Project (PCP), where a team of family therapists ran a series of talking sessions between pro-life and pro-abortion activists.
The leaders of these discussions said that the temperature surrounding the abortion debate had been incandescent for years. Many people were stressed out over the issue, so rational dialogue between the warring factions seemed like the caring and logical thing to do. The objective of the workshops, after all, was not to find a solution to the abortion conflict, but instead to allow activists to eliminate stereotypes about each other. If this could be done, reasoned the family therapists, both sides could begin working toward “real solutions.”
The stated desire of the pro-abortion groups extending the hand of comradeship was to “find some middle ground.” Their slogan was “Good people can disagree on abortion.”
The idea of having both sides sit down and dialogue seems to be a good idea — at first. However, an examination of workshop results reveals that the pro-abortionists use the workshops as a kind of “Trojan horse” tactic.
Vladimir Lenin, Alexander Cockburn, Saul Alinsky, and many other leading leftist strategists have said that the only people who want to talk are those who are in a position of great strength or those who are on the verge of surrender.
The pro-abortionists are certainly not about to surrender. We must remember that they currently have everything they want — abortion on demand for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy, with only the most trivial of limitations.
These “common ground” conferences are a classic distraction — a tactical diversion. If pro-life activists pay close attention to these conferences and invest an undue degree of effort and hope in them, they will be less likely to notice that the slaughter of the innocent preborn is continuing unabated. If pro-lifers are lulled into thinking that some kind of progress is being made as a result of these workshops, they are less likely to exert their best efforts in other areas.
The rules of these workshops specifically prohibit discussion of the central issues surrounding the abortion battle: Are the preborn alive and/or human and do they have rights? Additionally, participants are generally not allowed to try to convince those on the other side of the correctness of their beliefs. Instead, the dialogue is directed toward purely tangential topics such as “increasing understanding” and “dispelling stereotypes.”
If the basic questions of the debate are off-limits, how can true progress be made?
Anyone who believes that pro-lifers will make any concrete gains at these conferences is a hopeless dreamer. The sole virtue of the pro-abortion movement is that it does not compromise for any reason whatever. A pro-lifer who thinks that any babies will be saved as a result of these talks is simply out of touch with reality.
Pro-abortionists are utilitarian by their very nature. Therefore, they would not be holding these workshops unless they had something to gain. For example, Sarita Hudson, a writer for Catholics for [a Free] Choice, said of Common Ground conferences that “I believe pro-choice Catholics have more to gain;…the affirmation that different views coexist within the church was both empowering to pro-choice Catholics and challenging to the hierarchy’s claim that there is only one right Catholic position on abortion.”
An obvious question we must ask ourselves is this: If abortion were currently illegal in the United States, would leading pro-abortionists be willing to sit down at a table and talk to pro-lifers? Of course not! They would instead be in the streets agitating for legalization, just as they were before Roe v. Wade. We might also try asking pro-abortionists if they would like to have a “common ground” discussion on preserving women’s health by, say, getting all abortion clinics licensed and setting up a national registry of abortionists who have been found guilty of malpractice, negligence, and sexually molesting their patients.
Most obviously, the common conclusions reached by the two “sides” are never pro-life in character. For example, some “common ground” workshops have resulted in both sides agreeing that “more sex education is required in the schools” and, as U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe said, that “contraceptives should be made more easily available,” both of which have been proven to significantly increase the incidence of teen pregnancy rather than decrease it.
During these dialogue sessions, the parties are not trying to convince anyone of the morality or truth of their beliefs, but are instead trying to reach an agreement by which all of the parties can coexist peacefully while evil is being committed. There is no question, of course, that evil will continue to be committed. That is a given.
“Dialogue” under such conditions can only lead to agreement on the “lowest common denominator,” that position allowing the most personal freedom. For instance, in the common ground conferences promoted by pro-abortionists and some misguided pro-life activists, the fundamental issues — the humanity of the preborn child, its soul, the issue of killing — are off-limits, so the woman’s “right to choose” wins by default.
The Relativist Creed
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger highlighted this critical shortcoming when he explained that “the notion of dialogue becomes both the quintessence of the relativist creed and the antithesis of conversion and the mission….Only if I suppose in principle that the other can be as right, or more right than I, can an authentic dialogue take place.”
But just because a movement abuses and exploits a method of communication doesn’t mean it should be entirely discarded. Authentic dialogue between parties with different beliefs is possible if everyone understands that the purpose of the exercise is to seek truth, not accommodation, and progress, not compromise. All of those involved in dialogue must acknowledge that there are basic truths that are beyond debate and must be accepted by all parties.
As Bernard Cardinal Law has said, “The Church already has ‘common ground.’ It is found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, and it is mediated to us through the authoritative and binding teaching of the Magisterium.”
It must also be understood that the objective of authentic dialogue is to make the Word of God and His truth more widely known. True dialogue cannot be based upon one’s personal opinions or experiences, or it degenerates into a contest of anecdotes and therefore produces nothing.
This, of course, does not mean that pro-lifers should not talk to pro-abortionists on an individual basis. When several people on both sides of any social issue sit down and talk, there is endless posturing and posing. When only two people sit down and talk in private, however, they can address the truly substantial aspects of the issues and can genuinely dialogue about them without having to worry about losing face in front of their friends and allies.
One-on-one conversation is the essence of educating and evangelizing anti-lifers. It is also the most effective means for us to educate and evangelize them.