I’m a pro-life activist, and have been since 1972. Some years ago, I faced a major dilemma. I was convinced that tiny children before birth were members of the human family; but also, I became convinced that democratic government – that is, government based on the will of the people, expressed in votes – would not protect unborn children in my lifetime. So what then? Was an honest pro-life movement possible in a democratic nation? Did I have to choose between the values I held dearest, and the American way of government? Could I hold to both?
The answer doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker.
I am convinced of the following.
First: life begins at the beginning, not in the middle. The beginning is real and objective, not a social construct. It is significant, non-arbitrary, and discernible. And when an individual’s life begins, that individual is precious in the eyes of God, and is a member of the human family, worthy of all the respect and protection offered to older and larger people. If the Fourteenth Amendment means anything, it includes equal protection for tiny and dependent children.
Second: effective protection requires the cooperation of the child’s mother. An effort to protect the child that is dismissive of the mother’s concerns is certain to fail.
Third: effective legal protection requires the agreement and joint determination of the society around this child and this mother. This is not a minor point, because …
Fourth: a dictatorship can indeed create laws much faster than a democracy, but cannot enforce them.
I do not have to choose between struggling to protect unborn children, and choosing to live within a democratic system. Democracy is slow, but it works, while the alternatives go faster until they smash. I assert that an unborn child has rights, and also I am convinced that the painfully (lethally) slow democratic process is the only way to move toward effective social and legal protection.
I understand clearly that unborn children will not have social and legal protection in my lifetime. I will do what I can do help mothers and children in ways that are not affected by a broken legal system. But also, I want to see a realistic plan for moving toward social and legal protection. So …
Fifth: I am convinced that the only way to move toward protection is by a sustained campaign of nonviolence.
There was once the beginning of such a campaign. That campaign was smashed by people who refused to study the power and the discipline of nonviolence. They were distracted by the more obvious power of the press. The best-known campaign of nonviolence in America was led by Rev. Martin Luther King, who was committed to nonviolence but was also adept at harnessing the power of the press. This American experience may have obscured the differences between these two powers. But the two are different, and pro-lifers need to study nonviolence as practiced by Gandhi, King, Walesa, and Aquino – and build a disciplined campaign, with or without the added power of the press.
There is, at this time, not a single pro-life leader with recognized national status who is serious about building a campaign of nonviolence. Some admirable people are engaged in efforts that are good and aren’t violent. I pray that their work prospers.
The pro-life movement in America today is prepared to scuttle democracy in order to protect children. I understand the temptation, but I reject it. There is another way forward. It is not cheap, and it will not be quick. But it exists.
In the shadow of death, I choose life. In the face of violence, I choose nonviolence. So help me, dear God.