5 Reflections for the Pro-Life Movement

40 years ago, the Supreme Court issued its infamous Roe-v-Wade decision, making legal abortion the law of the land. Since then, there has been a pitched battle between those who (like me) consider abortion to be the savage ending of innocent and helpless life and those who consider it a tragic, yet viable option for pregnant women in distress. This issue has shaped our public discourse, influenced local elections, and has galvanized millions into political activism.

Many feel that the the pro-life position has gained in the popular culture. Polls seem to indicate that younger generations may be even more pro-life than their parents. And yet, abortion still remains the law the land and millions of babies are sent to their premature deaths every year. So what is next for the pro-life movement? Here are five reflections for a 21st-century pro-life movement. 

1) The Prolife Movement Should Model Wilberforce’s Endurance and Courage

William Wilberforce is a model for the pro-life movement in that he spent an entire life devoted to ending the slave trade in Britain. There were no overnight successes, but a long, steady, courageous battle to win over the English public and to shepherd legislation through the Parliament. It was a long hard slog filled with many defeats and disappointments. For much of his life, Wilberforce was on the wrong end of public opinion, a minority, an extremist for his views. And yet God gave him the courage and backbone to hang in there. The prolife movement still has much work to do to convince the public that abortion should be wrong. It still requires courage to move legislation forward and get it signed into law. Some question the commitment and feel Christians should abandon the issue. But if abortion is a moral evil, then we should not tire in seeing it abolished permanently.

2) The Prolife Movement Should Primarily Invest In Crisis Pregnancy Centers

It disgusts me when I see the amount of money spent each year by conservative donors on candidates. I only imagine if half that money were donated to crisis pregnancy centers, where real lives are being saved each day. In my next book I devote an entire chapter to the largely unheralded success of these places. They run on shoe-string budgets and are largely staffed by dedicated volunteers who share love and kindness with scared, lonely, often-victimized young girls. These are places of hope and help, not simply for the unborn, but for young mothers. Many offer parenting counseling, give away supplies like diapers and baby formula. Our church supports a local center every year with a baby bottle donation campaign and some of our members volunteer at a thrift shop that supports the center. But sadly, most Christians are only prolife every four years. They are prolife in that they have a good reason to bash Democrats or liberals. But that’s the extent of their work. But a real prolife ethic is devoted not primarly to politics, but to saving one baby at time, whether it’s an unborn baby, a trafficked young girl, or an immigrant. It’s easy to be prolife every four years in November. It takes work to save the life in front of you.

3) The Prolife Movement Should Reframe The Issue as Justice Issue

The siren call of today’s generation of young activists is justice. And this is good, because God is a God of justice and calls His children to be on the side of justice. The prolife movement needs to adopt 21st-century language, to capture the hearts and minds of young evangelicals who are prolife but have a visceral distaste for the bombastic politics of the religious right. I think there are two ways to accomplish this rebranding. First, the prolife movement should break free from the conservative movement and stand on it’s own. In other words, there are young evangelicals who may be prolife, but who don’t subscribe to all the tenets of political conservatism. This would enable the movement to be more nimble, to engage and join common cause with people of all political stripes to save innocent children from death. Secondly, the movement should adopt a more holistic version of prolife. We shouldn’t simply champion the unborn, but we should fight human trafficking and join other causes that defend human life.

4) The Prolife Movement Should Not Make Women the Enemy 

So-called “war on women” is mostly a media creation, a caricature of prolife activists. Most pro-lifers I know are generous, giving, compassionate souls. Still, there are some whose articulation of pro-life views hurts the cause. Abortion is a sensitive issue. In championing the unborn we should not disrespect the very difficult choices faced by young women. We should be winsome in our public words and actions. Too often issues like abortion are used only to create enemies out of those who disagree. And the issue has been often used, by both political parties, to gain power. But perhaps this generation of activists will embrace engagement over demonizing. Perhaps we can find common ground and reduce the number of abortions. Not one baby is saved from death by using the issue as a sledgehammer against those who disagree. And let’s offer forgiveness and hope for those who have made the tragic choice to end a life, pointing them to the grace found in Christ.

5) The Prolife Movement Should Continue to Shape the Culture

According to Gallup, only 41% of Americans consider themselves pro-choice. That’s a  historic low. I think this is the result of many things, including the development and wide use of ultra-sound technology, creative attempts to shape the media culture, and a younger generation keenly focused on justice for the vulnerable. And yet we have more work to do. We need politicians to craft pro-life legislation, but what we need more is a culture willing to accept such legislation. Politicians largely respond to movements in the broader culture. So more creative media, more education, more small victories. 

We also need to address the factors that lead to abortion, particularly the crisis of fatherlessness. Abortion is downstream from the breakdown of the family. So while we fight the wanton destruction of human life, let’s recommit to strengthening the family, building up of our local churches, and preaching the life-saving message of the gospel.

Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He previously served five years as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church. He is a contributor to Leadership Journal, Homelife, Crosswalk.com, Stand Firm,” and a variety of other evangelical publications. He has written several books, including his latest, Activist Faith.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

9 thoughts on “5 Reflections for the Pro-Life Movement

  1. I think your point #1 should actually be #5. The legislative change is always the last to come. The battle is always won in hearts and minds, then grudgingly acknowledged by legislators–slavery as the prime example.

    • Larry,

      Good point. These are not necessarily in order of importance, just reflections. But I do agree with you. Politics, making laws, is necessary but really is downstream from culture.

  2. How about focusing on the fact that 50% of pregnancies are unintended and trying to bring that number down? The pro-life movement thus far has been a joke in pretending that women have complete control over their reproduction. Seriously? Why is it deemed okay that half the time women become pregnant WHEN THEY DON'T WANT TO. And before you start saying nonsense like "just say no" and "why have sex?" Um let us see, John Piper himself teaches sex with your husband is a command from God. A married woman therefore, must habitually do an act where she can get pregnant. She has no option to abstain for too long a period of time without sinning. Its all horrifying.

  3. I would encourage all people who read this article to look into an organization I've donated to: Feminists for Life of America. They are dedicated to rooting out the problems that would drive women to have this terrible procedure done. This is their website :)

  4. Mark Driscoll: A lot of younger evangelicals would say they are prolife, but they will even vote for candidates who are not. They will back political movements, causes, parties that are not. How would you respond to that inconsistency among many younger evangelicals?

    • I think they look at more issues than simply Prolife. And honestly many in the GOP simply use Prolife as a means of gaining power without doing anything.

  5. Thanks for this very helpful commentary. I have long felt that the pro-life movement's connection to the right wing ("the conservative movement" as you call it) was a major obstacle to the movement. Glad to see you tackle that head-on. And I'm glad to see that Students for Life of America, which has really disappointed me in the past by mindlessly repeating the right wing party line, has featured your article on their blog. I can see positive winds of change blowing.

    In my work with Consistent Life &lt ;http://www.consistent-life.org/> I come into contact with many people who are pro-life in their heart but don't want to be associated with the pro-life movement because of its ties to an ideology that takes positions which are objectively anti-life on most other issues. This needs to be changed if we are to move forward. And the youth are leading the way.

  6. I respect the heart you obviously have for this issue. If you don't mind, I'd like to offer some helpful ways of fine-tuning a few of these points.

    First of all, I think you might want to reconsider the sweeping generalization that "most Christians are pro-life only every four years." This thinking can result in some unnecessarily hurtful language towards fellow Christians—elsewhere, I've seen others go so far as to imply that we would be UNhappy if Obama miraculously had a change of heart about abortion, because then it would "take away an issue" for us to attack the left about. Something bizarre like that is absolutely not true for the vast majority of pro-lifers in the trenches right now. I'm not saying that's what you yourself believe, I'm just noting a general pattern.

    On point three, the best I can say is good luck making that stick in practice. Many young people are too shallow to understand the difference between real and imagined injustice, and our public schools and universities are working over-time to grind our youth's moral compasses under heel. I've seen this in the ethics classroom. You would have been shocked and horrified to hear the things glibly coming out of my classmates' mouths. Instead of thinking for themselves, they are merely mouthing what they hear and what they are taught. What they are taught on abortion is that women's freedom is more important than unborn life. Hence, it's what they believe. You can try to convince them otherwise. I hope you succeed.

    On point four, you are quite right that many women are victims of this evil. Minors in particular can face tremendous coercive pressure from boyfriends or even, surprisingly often, parents. Sometimes it's actually the boyfriend who wants to make it right and the parents who want the child killed. In any case, there can be a wide variety of extenuating circumstances that don't make the act right, but take some of that burden of guilt from the woman's shoulders.

    On the other hand, there are women who, with open eyes and no outside pressure, will calmly make that choice. I heard of one horrific case where a woman not only chose to abort one of her twins, but threatened to divorce her husband if he wouldn't give lip assent to it. When he finally broke down and yielded, he forced himself to witness the procedure because he felt that he needed to suffer as much as possible for his choice. A horrible story, and in this case the woman absolutely was the enemy of life. She's not the only one. Ultimately, the evil human heart is the enemy, and it varies on a case-by-case basis as to where that evil can be found.

    As for your concern that we are "creating enemies out of those who disagree," I'm not sure that this is the correct way to think about the situation. As I see it, WE aren't "creating" anything. Those who are working tirelessly to keep the abortion mill grinding simply are our enemies. They created their own ideology, and they freely choose to act on it. We have no moral choice but to work against them. The way reality has shaken out is that we face each other on opposite sides of this battleground. There's nothing for it.

    Finally, as to the accusation that conservatives or the Religious Right are inconsistent with regard to life issues, that's been answered time and again. Our position is perfectly consistent. We are against the destruction of INNOCENT life. As a result of this, we believe it's just for those who take such a life to face lawful execution. We also favor self-defense in protection of innocent life, and we favor just wars where measures are taken to prevent collateral damage to civilians. This does mean that we are critical of tactics like the nuclear bomb which are designed to wipe out life indiscriminately. However, it doesn't make us pacifists.

    Wow, that turned into a little blog post right there. 😉

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