Changing our approach to pro-life debate

The pro-life movement often talks about “building a culture of life,” a phrase we see our own Right-to-Life club use a great deal. A culture of life is a truly noble goal that will be the only way for us to achieve what we hope to accomplish: an end to abortion. We hear a lot about “making abortion unthinkable,” a vision for a future in which the laws banning abortion will have little practical application because our culture will have such a strong antipathy towards the very notion of abortion. But are we doing enough to achieve this?

In certain sectors of pro-life discourse, there are a lot of military analogies. We speak of mobilizing the pro-life movement, fighting the culture war, etc. I don’t suggest changing our language per se because we are indeed at war, and we cannot treat it as anything less than that. However, changing our focus is absolutely essential. We are not at war with those in the pro-abortion movement. Instead, we are at war with their positions. I believe that is an essential difference; it may perhaps be the difference. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (and to us): “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness…” (Eph. 6:12A) The war that we speak of is not against our fellow human beings, but against the one who committed the first evil: Satan. We find the positive application of this same thought in Jesus’ words: “Love those who hate you.” If we treat the pro-life movement as a war against those who oppose us, we live in opposition to the very idea of a “culture of life.”

When we treat someone as an enemy, we are no longer thinking of them as human, but merely as an object blocking our path to some end. When the pro-life movement adopts this attitude, pro-abortion supporters are no longer human beings of intrinsic worth. The entire goal of the “culture of life” is promoting an environment in which every life is treasured. Children in the womb are no longer clumps of cells to be tossed out when inconvenience strikes, but humans who have dignity by their very existence. When we treat those on the other side of the debate disparagingly, speak or write cruel things about them, or regard them as the enemy, we lose sight of their humanity, and they become for us what children in the womb are for them: clumps of cells interfering with our plans.

Aside from prayer, I believe this change in attitude towards our interaction with pro-abortion advocates is the most essential action we can take to advance the pro-life cause. We must continue to fight the battle for good laws, but we must fight the battle for hearts more fiercely; a battle we will win, ironically, when we refuse to treat those who oppose us as the enemy. If everyone seeking an end to abortion treated those on the other side as beloved children of God made in His image, can we possibly imagine what an impact that would have? When those who say that everyone deserves dignity begin to treat their opponents in the debate with dignity, the debate suddenly shifts. It stops being a war of words, and pro-abortion advocates experience what the pro-life movement means.

It often takes no more than a smile. Not the smug smile of a self-satisfied interlocutor, but the smile that radiates the love of Christ to everyone. We often speak of those who constantly smile as “radiant.” That’s what we want: radiance. We want a smile that says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). If we allow Christ to shine through us, then, and only then, will we overcome the darkness of abortion.

William McDonald is a junior majoring in Classics and Program of Liberal Studies. He dreams of smoking a pipe in an Alaskan mountain lodge. If you would like to join and/or fund this project (funding preferred), you can contact him at