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By Ken Trainor
Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the "pro-life" movement is, no doubt, assessing the successes and failures of their Ahab-like quest to kill the Great White Whale of legalized abortion.
The results, at best, have been mixed.
Though I am a 40-year member of the pro-choice side of this argument, I have some sympathy — and a certain grudging respect — for "pro-lifers." Figuring that, after four decades of banging their heads against the wall of moral righteousness, they might finally be willing to listen, I offer the following friendly advice:
First, lose the label. "Pro-life" is insulting to anyone who doesn't agree with you. Imagine if I referred to my newspaper column as the "pro-truth" movement. This would imply that anyone who didn't agree with me was a liar. Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people.
It's also inaccurate. If you were truly "pro-life," you'd be picketing in front of NRA headquarters.
That designation undermines your credibility. Until you get out there and start vigorously defending the planet on which all life depends, you're merely "pro-one-small-sliver-of-life."
What you really are is a "Defender of the Unborn." Truth in advertising — and not a bad moniker. Something you can proudly proclaim.
Second, change your objective. For 40 years, the goal, pursued with single-minded, single-issue obsession has been criminalizing abortion. Bad choice. It just isn't realistic. Here's an example: If abortion were a crime, then every miscarriage would necessarily have to be investigated as a possible homicide. How well do you think that would go over? If you thought Prohibition was unpopular, just wait.
You can win the occasional battle, but you simply can't win this war through the legal system. You have to win the hearts and minds of the American people, and that can't be done through legislation. It can only be done in the court of public opinion.
To prevail there, you'll need to turn on the charm. At the risk of being blunt, that isn't exactly your strong suit. Arrogance, born of absolute moral certainty, does not a persuasive argument make. As pollsters like to say, your negatives are high.
Which brings us to your biggest challenge: It's one thing to respect life. It's another to respect your opponent. You have to understand why choice — and reproductive rights — is so important to them. There are reasons — aside from your surliness — that you haven't really made a dent in changing pro-choice minds. Dismissing their arguments as morally inferior to yours will not result in mass conversion. You have to engage in dialogue and recognize there is something here worth listening to.
And finally, you'll have to look in the mirror. This battle isn't really about abortion. Abortion is merely a symptom of something even more disturbing — disrespect for life. But actively resisting abortion does not absolve you of your own participation in a culture that doesn't value life enough. If you supported the war in Iraq and believe we should invade Iran, if you support capital punishment, if you support easy access to guns, if you spend your entertainment dollars on Hollywood shoot-'em-ups and graphic shooting-gallery video games for kids, if your consumer and electoral choices contribute to rain forest destruction, extinction of endangered species, and accelerating climate change, then you, too, are a member in good standing of the "culture of death." Criminalizing abortion won't even begin to change that.
You can't scold people into valuing life. You can't legislate it. You have to lead by example.
If it's any consolation, you're not alone. I for one am not doing nearly enough to help raise respect for life. At least I admit it. And I've never made grandiose claims to being "pro-life."
Forty years is a long time to wage a moral crusade. You must be exhausted. Ten years from now, on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, do you really want to feel the way you do now — or worse?
Both sides have more in common than you think. Many of us are pro-choice and anti-abortion, as hard as that might be to wrap your head around. And every one of us, I suspect, looks around and concludes that our culture does not value life enough.
It's a starting point. The first step is out of the courtroom — and into the court of public opinion. Or I can pull out this column in 10 years and run it again. Maybe you'll be ready to listen by then.
The choice is yours.