Young women with 'Defend Life' signs

The following appeared in slightly different form in Human Life Review, Winter 2003. Copyright © 2003 by Mary Meehan.

Winning Friends and Saving Lives

Mary Meehan

I grew up in a home where we debated great issues of the day around the dinner table, often fiercely. Excelling in stubbornness and sheer fighting spirit, we were another version of the Fighting Irish.

The lively arguments taught us that the issues of the day were important and that we should have some passion about them. Yet there were disadvantages in our free-for-alls. Each of us was so eager to win arguments that we did not listen carefully to others' points of view. We did not discuss issues in such a way that we all learned more about them. Nor were we adept at persuading, as opposed to bludgeoning, others to our position.

As we matured, we learned that a quiet discussion may be more helpful than a rousing argument. Perhaps, though, we lost some of the youthful passion and energy that help produce needed change in society.

Our experience, similar to that of many other families, has bearing on the question of how to persuade people to defend the lives of unborn children. How can we talk about abortion in a way that wins hearts and minds? Should we moderate our language and the images we use? Can we do that without softening our convictions, losing our edge, and postponing action while unborn children die by the millions?

I hope to show that we can win friends for the pro-life cause--and save many lives--by thoughtful choice of words and tactics, by listening more carefully to our opposition, and by telling better and more hopeful stories than they do. While we intensify political and economic pressures against abortion, we can also ask thought-provoking questions and encourage those who are moving in our direction. We can, I believe, win over many people who are ambivalent, and even some bitter adversaries.

The Iceberg Problem

Whether to defend the unborn is for Americans a crucial personal issue as well as a political one. "Shall I defend my own unborn child? Shall I protect my unborn niece or nephew? My grandchild? How can I do that while also protecting the interests of the child's mother, whom I deeply love?" This is the way, consciously or subconsciously, that many people first faced abortion. Various pressures and fears, though, may have prompted them to phrase the questions in a more self-interested way: "How can I pay the bills? What will this do to my career? She's unmarried--What will the neighbors think? How will I explain this to my friends and the folks at church?"

Those who failed to defend the child to whom they were related are unlikely to defend other unborn children now. And those who actually had or encouraged abortions may feel guilty, or believe their decision was the only one they could make at the time, or simply not want to think about it at all. We are speaking here of tens of millions of people. Many others, while not directly involved, know someone who has had an abortion. According to a Los Angeles Times poll, 52 percent of the U.S. adult population have had abortions themselves or know someone who has.(1)

Abortion complicity is the great iceberg just below the surface of the abortion debate. Some abortion foes sense this when they criticize abortion in private conversation and meet silence or evasion from friends or acquaintances. Or they bump right into the iceberg when friends respond with stories about abortions they had or facilitated. This is embarrassing, to say the least, and often leads to decisions to keep quiet about the issue.

Those who are publicly active against abortion face the same iceberg. Many post-abortion people are defensive about their decisions, resent such activists, and find it difficult to listen to them with an open mind.

Yet there are ways to reach such people. Canadian pro-life writer Denyse Handler once suggested allowing them to "bury the past." One might say, she proposed, "No doubt, we all did what we thought was right, but with what we know now, we simply can't go on doing this. We have to move away from abortion and re-examine our thinking towards the unborn child."(2)

Not everyone, of course, did what they thought was right; but some did. Others acted under great psychological or economic pressure, so that their decisions were not entirely free. If they now feel that they are under personal attack, they will keep defending what they have done. This is one reason why occasional suggestions of a "Nuremberg Trial" for abortion promoters are misguided. They simply encourage people to harden their positions, to dig in and resist the pro-life case at all costs. Nuremberg proposals also ignore our constitutional ban on any ex post facto law--that is, a law which makes a crime of an act that was not a crime when committed.(3)

This is not to say that the past can ever be deleted, or the terrible results of an evil like abortion simply wiped out. Many people who have been involved in abortion suffer great remorse and guilt. Clergy, mental-health professionals, Project Rachel, and the Centurions can help such people.(4) But those who have been involved in abortion must be able at some point to move beyond their history. They cannot delete the past; but as Denyse Handler suggested, they can be helped to bury it.

When I speak in defense of unborn children before a college group, I say early in the talk that some in the audience have probably had abortions or helped others have them; that I am not trying to make them feel badly or send them on a guilt trip; but that I ask them to reconsider the issue because there are still many lives at stake every day. I believe this gives them the relief of knowing that they are not under personal attack and enables them to listen to my case.

Also important is more emphasis on specific alternatives to abortion. This is a great good in itself. It can also be a way to acknowledge that many people who have chosen abortion have acted under great pressure and that no one close to them even suggested an alternative.

The Messenger as Part of the Message

"Don't say things," advised Ralph Waldo Emerson. "What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary."(5) This is excellent advice for those whose private lives conflict with their public positions.

When pornographer Larry Flynt sought to embarrass members of Congress who were trying to remove President Clinton from office in 1999, he produced an affidavit from an ex-wife of then-Representative Robert Barr, Republican of Georgia. Barr had been outspoken against abortion. But his ex-wife said that, when they were still married and had two other children, he had once driven her to an abortion clinic and paid for her abortion. "Bob never told me not to have the abortion, or that he was in any way against my having the abortion," she declared. Barr did not deny the specifics of her account, but said he had "never suggested, urged, forced or encouraged anyone to have an abortion."(6) That was a feeble response. Perhaps he deeply regretted his complicity; but if so, he should have said so.

Those who speak for unborn children should love all children--indeed, all persons-- and this love should be reflected in the way they treat them. Former Representative Jack Kemp, a New York Republican, and his wife Joanne, who brought up four children of their own, provided a small but telling example of this in 1996. Kemp, who had a strong pro-life record, was then running for vice president on a ticket with former Senator Robert Dole, the Kansas Republican. A San Diego woman attended a Dole-Kemp rally with her husband and their five young children, finding a place in the front row. "When the rally was over," the woman said, "the crowd began to push its way to the front, and my children began to cry with fear." Some political people are so self-absorbed that they would not even notice children endangered by sudden crowd movement. But Joanne Kemp

passed by, immediately noticed our children and asked what was wrong. She stood by us until her husband came by shaking hands. He, too, immediately noticed our little children down below and yelled to the crowd to stop pushing. He then picked each child up and carried each one to the safe arms of his wife. She whisked them up to the stage, where they remained safe until the crowd cleared. Mrs. Kemp stayed with my children, and Mr. Kemp returned to make sure all was well....(7)

A small story, perhaps; yet it is always heartening to see people so gracefully practice what they preach.

On the more heroic level, we might think of Dr. Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa and of the many pro-lifers who have adopted special-needs children. While we cannot all be heroes and saints, we can do our best to help children and others in need.

When Quaker founder George Fox said, "Let your life speak,"(8) he knew that this is the most powerful speech one can make. To Fox's advice we might add, "Let your love of life speak, too." When the person who presents the case for life is a warm human being, with a zest for life and a love for humanity, those qualities do much to get the message across. Helen Alvaré, the attorney who was for years the Catholic bishops' pro-life spokeswoman, once said that people are attracted to your message "in direct proportion to whether" they are attracted to yourself. "Do they like people like you?" she asked. "....Do they like the world view you're selling? Do they want to live there?"(9)

Woman with 'Pro Vida' sign

Respect for the person is a bedrock of the right-to-life position. It should lead to courtesy and respect for one's adversaries as well as one's friends. Courtesy is not selling out, and showing respect for one's opponents does not concede anything on issues; indeed, it make the pro-life position more attractive by showing it in practice. John Naughton, former chairman of Right to Life of Montgomery County, Md., and a tireless writer of letters to editors, has demonstrated this on many occasions. Responding to a longtime adversary in one letter, Naughton declared: "Even if the Supreme Court should declare Mr. Doerr and all pro-abortionists to be non-persons, that would not lessen their right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness; and right-to-life groups would defend their lives."(10)

The late Dr. Joseph R. Stanton of Brighton, Mass., a veteran pro-life leader, once wrote an open letter to cooking superstar Julia Child in response to her support of abortion and Planned Parenthood. After a serious discussion of the issues, he expressed his good will toward Child by saying, "May your souffles not collapse and Bon Appetit!"(11)

The Language of Life

Words can open doors, or slam them shut. They can feel like salve for one's wounds, or a kick in the stomach. They can appeal to "the better angels of our nature,"(12) or make us angry and bitter.

There are no magic answers to the question of which words are best in discussing abortion. There is, after all, a built-in tension between being honest about the reality of abortion and holding an audience long enough to win them over. Tact is important here; but if overemphasized, it can lead to euphemisms such as "pro-choice" that obscure reality and deaden conscience.

There is much to be said for choosing neutral words for dialogue and debate. We should find words that do not make everyone pause and fight over semantics for half an hour before resuming discussion. It is better to describe abortion as "homicide," "killing" or the "taking of human life" than to use the term "murder." Technically, by the way, murder means unlawful killing; most abortions in the U.S. today are, unfortunately, lawful.

Some people worry that they will make a philosophical concession if they use the term "abortion clinic." The word "clinic," they believe, means a facility that provides benevolent health care. Yet the word often is used in non-medical contexts--a "reading clinic," a "golf clinic" or an "auto clinic," for example. It is better to use the relatively neutral "abortion clinic" or the negative "abortion mill" than the weird-sounding "abortuary."

The term "pro-choice" should be resisted, though. Doris Gordon, national coordinator of Libertarians for Life, uses "abortion choice" instead, believing that it is "important to name the choice." She does not use the term "abortion rights" because, she says, abortion is a wrong--not a right.(13)

In what may be the most important word controversy of all, we should stand firm in saying "unborn child" instead of "fetus." Fetus is a Latin word for "fruit," "produce" or "offspring." But as someone once said, for most people the word suggests "a specimen in a laboratory."(14) There is no reason to accept an effort by political thought-police to dehumanize the unborn.

Woman with sign: 'Pre-born babies are extremely cute.'

Hit 'Em Over the Head with a 2 x 4?

For years there has been controversy over using color photographs of aborted children in public protests. This is like hitting a mule over the head with a 2 x 4 in order to get his attention.

No one should be surprised that abortion supporters hate pictures that show the ugly and violent reality of abortion. But many opponents of abortion also cringe when they see them. They have long since internalized the pictures; they are haunted by them. Little wonder that they hate to see them again. Pro-life activists may also assume, mistakenly, that nearly everyone else has seen the pictures. Or they may believe, based on their own experience, that the pictures alienate more people than they convert. And many, having been taught good manners by their parents, may think it rude and unfair to thrust such ugliness on another person without prior warning.

Their strongest objection, though, is that the pictures may traumatize young children, making them even more fearful of the real world than they may already be. Julianne Loesch Wiley, for example, has written and spoken widely against abortion. She has taken part in sit-ins and sidewalk counseling at abortion clinics. She used to go to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. But after she married and had her first child, she stopped going to the march because she feared that the child would be traumatized by seeing large photos of aborted children. She wants to be sure that her children have "a lot of experiences with things that are good, true and beautiful and normal and lovely and holy...before they get exposed to anything that's ugly and perverted."

Wiley stressed that she does not object to the pictures themselves; in fact, she believes that they are quite valuable. But she thinks that "they have to be presented in the correct context, or else they are literally obscene." She approves the practice of pro-lifers who treat them as pornography--that is, keeping them in brown paper wrappers and showing them only after warning people that they are shocking. "It takes a certain amount of balance and discernment," she remarked. "But I think that's a step in the right direction."

How about showing them to politicians who vote to keep abortion legal and even to fund it with government money? Should they see what they are funding? Wiley is all for it; she believes that "you should make it a mission to go to them frequently and show them personally."(15)

Gregg Cunningham, executive director of the California-based Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, makes a strong case for using the pictures in public as well. He sends huge trucks bearing photos of aborted children (and the word "Choice") out to cruise freeways during rush-hour. Recently he has hired planes to pull banners with similar pictures over public beaches and sports stadiums.

Cunningham, like Wiley, is a veteran pro-lifer. A lawyer, he worked against abortion as a state legislator in Pennsylvania and helped end public funding of abortion in Colorado. He has studied the history of social reform in America and believes that shocking pictures are a key to winning reform.

He is convinced that Americans, because of their own complicity in abortion, pretend "that first-trimester abortion is the lesser of two evils" and "a necessary evil if it's evil at all." The pictures, he said, "settle the facts" by demonstrating "the humanity of the unborn child" and also show that "abortion is an evil of such immensity that it should be outlawed." He reported that his group constantly hears from women who had intended to abort their children, but were so shocked by the pictures that they decided against abortion.

He acknowledged that many people "feel very threatened by this information" because they are "in massive denial." He believes that "you've got to break through all of that denial if you're going to educate those people. And pictures are by far the most effective way of doing that." Given the lack of sympathetic news and entertainment media, he said, his group must "force-feed these facts into the heads of people who don't want the information." He added that such people "are going to get very angry at us for forcing this information on them." He insisted that it "has to be forced. This information has to be thrust on people, which is exactly the way social reform always advances."

But what about the effects on small children? Cunningham noted that "we won't take these pictures to elementary schools; we won't take them to daycare centers, playgrounds, places where obviously every passerby is going to be a young child. But the idea that we can only show these pictures publicly if we can guarantee that no young child will ever see them holds us to an impossible standard." He commented that young children are "traumatized every time they're taken to the supermarket and pushed in shopping carts past magazine racks displaying cover photos of airliners' exploding into skyscrapers or Israelis' and Palestinians' killing each other."

Cunningham also suggested that abortion foes who oppose display of the shocking photos in public "really need to sit down and ask themselves, 'Am I pro-life, or am I pro-feelings?'"(16) This seems unfair to me. The concern is not about mere feelings, but about psychological trauma.

On the other hand, one could argue that small children may be more aware of abortion, and feel more threatened by it, than many people realize. One psychiatrist said that "I have had children who suffer from night terrors and who fear to fall asleep because they overheard their parents discussing an abortion they had or planned to have. These children fear they may be gotten rid of the next time they make their parents angry." Two doctors who have studied the effects of abortion on surviving siblings wrote that abortions often are "pseudo-secrets" in families and that children often know or sense that a sibling has been aborted.(17)

Are there ways of imparting the basic reality of abortion without running into censorship in the media? Line drawings of D & X or "partial-birth" abortions seem to have great impact in the debates over that gruesome practice. Such drawings have been carried in publications that rarely, if ever, show photographs that include the blood and gore.(18) A verbal description of D & X abortion by nurse Brenda Pratt Shafer, who witnessed three of them, has also been very effective.(19) The same methods can and should be used to describe other types of abortion.(20)

Banner at the March for Life: '<em>Every</em> Life Counts'

One of Gregg Cunningham's programs, the Genocide Awareness Project, does warn people of what lies ahead and gives them a chance to turn away. Designed especially for university campuses, the project involves large panels with blown-up photos of genocide: the 1890 massacre of the Sioux at Wounded Knee by U.S. soldiers; lynchings of African Americans; the death camps of Nazi Germany; massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda and former Yugoslavia; and abortion. Cunningham said that "morbid curiosity draws people" to these displays. He remarked that "the most effective way to draw people to our display site on the university campus is to warn them to not come...If you put up signs all around the display, as we do from blocks away, warning people that there are graphic genocide images ahead, that draws people like a magnet." But he believes that "we can have a much greater effect on many more people" by using the trucks and airplanes.(21)

It seems to me that those who show the shocking photos in public should also show photos of newborn babies to remind people that there is a beautiful alternative to the death-dealing of abortion. Without that reminder, the photos of aborted children may sink too many of us into depression and despair.

Tactics of Intimidation

Julianne Wiley commented on another controversial practice, one that led to a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal last year. The story described abortion foes who photograph women going into abortion mills and then send the photos to be posted on Internet web sites. A recent check of the main site featured in the Journal article showed that the activists are photographing not just women, but also male escorts, male security guards and male abortionists.(22)

This technique of intimidation may deter some people from having abortions or working for abortion clinics. It probably also hardens the attitudes of abortion supporters, reinforcing their view of abortion foes as mean-spirited religious fanatics. The Journal article quoted an activist/photographer who screamed at one woman and her escort, "Your sin won't be hidden or forgotten."

Wiley remarked that the photography/Internet combination "just blows apart the sense of safety in the sidewalk environment" so that "you're never gonna be able to do sidewalk counseling there." Those who have done such counseling, she said, "know what a long, sensitive, patient process it takes to get people to allow you to approach them on the street at all. You have to have a very welcoming aspect." She also thinks that people "are rightly indignant and rightly feel intimidated or even threatened" when they are photographed and their image is posted on a web site without their permission.(23)

The problem of people who yell or scream when protesting at clinics is an old one. Their total numbers may be relatively small, but they make life difficult for the larger group of activists who try to counsel women and to establish a dialogue with clinic staff in order to persuade them to quit their jobs.

Why do people scream? Some may do it simply to relieve their own frustration and anger, acting in self-indulgence and not really caring about the results. Some may do it partly from guilt. The screamer described in the Journal article was a man who many years earlier had paid for the abortion of his own child. Perhaps he was, at a deep level, screaming at himself.

Other activists cannot control this sort of thing; but they can at least try to persuade the screamers that they are doing more harm than good.

Listening to the Opposition

One sign of respect for one's opponents is simply to listen to what they say. This habit also helps to refine and make more effective one's own statements. Doris Gordon not only listens, but also invites criticism from her opponents within the libertarian movement. "I pick their brains," she once said. She understands that "you need to explain things in different ways very often until people get something. You need to try to say it this way and then try to say it another way, come at it from a different angle."(24)

It is important to listen not just to their arguments, but to their personal stories as well. When someone volunteers information about an abortion they had or encouraged, it is appropriate to ask whether they considered alternatives. This is particularly the case with public figures who mention their personal experience. I will deal with several of their stories here, both because there may be a chance of converting them--and any chance of doing that should not be missed--and because dealing effectively with their stories can win others over to the pro-life side.

Columnist James J. Kilpatrick once wrote a rather angry article supporting legal abortion. He recalled that many years earlier, as a young reporter covering a medical examiner's office, he had seen "the body of a beautiful girl, maybe 16 or 17, lying on the stainless-steel table of the morgue. She had tried abortion by knitting needle, and had died in the agonies of peritonitis."(25) U.S. Representative Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat, remembered a similar horror. When she was only five years old, she attended the funeral of a cousin who had been pregnant and "couldn't face the possibility of being a single mother with another child." Her cousin had committed suicide by eating potash. "What I remember most vividly about her funeral," Rep. Brown said, "is that she had swelled up so much her body had to be stuffed in the casket. It was the most horrific thing I've ever seen."(26)

While we certainly should express sympathy for the women who died and for those who were deeply affected by seeing them, we should also ask whether the women had any positive support from family or friends or doctors. Didn't anyone suggest ways of helping both mothers and unborn children? If not, isn't that the place where work is needed?

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has written countless pieces supporting abortion. Perhaps the most important, though, was one in which he described how he once helped a woman obtain an illegal abortion. Cohen was about 22 at the time, and apparently living in New York City. The woman "was the former girlfriend of a friend who had left town." She "turned to me and I turned, as you did then, to the underground. For $400 and the carfare to Union City, N.J., the deed was done. It was dirty work....We did what we had to do and went on with our lives."(27) Feminist leader Betty Friedan arranged illegal abortions for a number of friends in New York in the 1940s. "I myself never had an abortion," she wrote many years later, "though I personally accompanied several of these friends to scary, butchery back rooms, and shared their fear and distrust of the shifty, oily, illegal operators, and sat outside the room and heard the screams and wondered what I'd do if they died, and got them into the taxis afterward."(28)

Cohen and Friedan were right in wanting to help their friends; but they should have helped their friends' unborn children as well. It is ironic that some people who are fairly sophisticated, and certainly do not view themselves as "scarlet letter" enforcers, are nearly as panicked by unwed pregnancy as are the women involved. A friend in this situation should instead be calm and steady and should encourage nonviolent alternatives.

Some important stories do not involve abortion directly, yet have bearing upon it. Former U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, had two difficult pregnancies, one of which led to the loss of twins. A third pregnancy ended successfully in the birth of a daughter, but Schroeder suddenly had such severe hemorrhage that she came close to dying. When she recovered after many weeks in the hospital, doctors told her, "We don't want to see you here again. Another baby could kill you." But when Schroeder told congressional colleagues about these experiences during an abortion debate, "hoping to enlighten certain colleagues who seemed to think pregnancy was simple, I was stunned when some responded that if I was 'malformed,' I should have had a hysterectomy."(29) Schroeder had a strong ideological commitment to legal abortion, and I doubt that greater sensitivity from pro-lifers would have changed her position. But it might have made her somewhat less vehement.

Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, was married and had three small daughters when her husband left her for another woman in 1970. "He also walked out of my daughters' lives," she said. Shortly after he left, Michelman discovered that she was pregnant again. In desperate financial condition, and feeling that "the very survival of my family was at stake," she had an abortion.(30) She tells her story in public, and I suspect that it has a paralyzing effect on many politicians.

But when I asked some pro-life women how they would have advised Michelman, had they had the chance, they gave many good answers. Julianne Wiley was sympathetic, recalling her own times of feeling like "a single-engine, single-pilot airplane being buffeted around in an electrical storm, losing my radio and my radar, you know, and realizing that I was not in a position to make good decisions." She also remarked that Michelman's ex-husband "aborted the family" and "probably has about 95 percent of the moral responsibility for that abortion."

Sign at March for Life: '<em>Abortion</em>/neat,quick easy way out......<em>for Men</em>'

Wiley and others said they would have helped Michelman obtain support from her family, friends, church and especially from other women. Wiley suggested that Michelman could have organized a sort of posse to pursue her ex-husband--"to go after him legally and to go after him socially" so that he would pay child support "and so that his role as the destroyer of the marriage and the abandoner of the children would be acknowledged."(31)

Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America, said that Michelman's story "actually inspired me personally to work for" stronger child-support-enforcement as part of welfare reform.(32)

Helen Alvaré would have surrounded Michelman with other women who had been through the same situation and who could help her throughout her pregnancy. What Michelman needed most of all, Alvaré suggested, was "unconditional emotional support."(33) And Sister Paula Vandegaer, executive director of International Life Services, asked whether Michelman had family or friends who would have helped her raise her children and added that "I would have tried to help her draw on the sources of her strength." Vandegaer said she should have "fought for her rights as a mother and as a woman and had her child and received all of the support that she deserved."(34)

Worried Fathers and Playboy Politicians

The abortion experiences of the late Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican of Arizona, and former Senator George McGovern, Democrat of South Dakota, were not generally known while they were in office. Had they been known, the senators probably could not have run for President, as both did.

In the mid-1950s, when abortion was illegal except for life-of-the-mother cases, one of Goldwater's daughters became pregnant while in college. Although she had already planned to marry the child's father, the young couple did not want to have a child at the beginning of their marriage. Goldwater tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade his daughter not to have an abortion. When she persisted, he arranged for her to have an illegal one. The experience undoubtedly had major impact on his later, extremely ambivalent, and ultimately pro-abortion political stance.(35)

Former Senator McGovern, long after he left the Senate, wrote a moving account of his daughter Teresa (Terry) and her long struggle with alcoholism. It ended in the 1990s, on a December night in Madison, Wisconsin, when she "left a Madison bar that night, stumbled into the snow, and froze to death." McGovern revealed that in the 1960s, when Terry was only 15, she became pregnant by an emotionally-unstable boyfriend. Earlier the boy had attempted suicide, and severely wounded himself, when she had "refused his advances." The McGoverns' family doctor, with her parents' acquiescence and despite Terry's ambivalence, arranged an abortion for her. McGovern said that his daughter had feared her pregnancy "and yet did not want to terminate" and that an "important part of Terry was devastated by the abortion." It would be wrong to attribute her alcoholism to abortion alone--she had started drinking when she was 13--but the abortion certainly did not help. Yet Senator McGovern voted to protect legal abortion after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.(36)

There is also the category of playboy politicians whose extramarital affairs sometimes result in abortion.(37) They have special reason to keep abortion legal and to promote this as a benefit for women rather than for themselves. Some, though, may have guilty consciences, as indeed they should.

Banner at Supreme Court during March for Life: 'Madonna University...Wants Life Respected!'

Telling Better Stories

In lobbying politicians, pro-life constituents can be more effective if they remember that the politicians may have confronted abortion in their own lives. Here, again, an emphasis on non-violent alternatives can be helpful. Instead of simply arguing, the constituents might tell stories of their own about hard-case pregnancies that turned out well for all concerned: a teenage mother who is coping skillfully and completing her education; a Down Syndrome child who is much loved by all and is making progress in school or work; and the way a crisis pregnancy center helped someone like the young Kate Michelman or the young Terry McGovern.

Some of the best stories are by no means the exclusive property of pro-lifers, but belong to everyone. They show that people who have disabilities or difficult childhoods can have good and fulfilling lives. These stories are a great antidote to the gloomy belief that difficulties in childhood predestine one to unhappiness and failure later on.

A. J. Cronin, the late Scottish novelist, once said that "I had a miserable boyhood. I was an unwanted child and we were very poor." Yet he was able to become a doctor and to practice medicine in a mining town. That led to Cronin novels such as The Stars Look Down and The Citadel, protesting the miserable working and health conditions of the miners, and to a successful writing career for Dr. Cronin. His other novels included The Keys of the Kingdom, The Green Years and Shannon's Way.(38)

Elizabeth Lipscomb certainly did not have a promising start in life. Born in 1922 to an unmarried teenager in rural Virginia, she was left on the doorstep of poor tenant farmers who had no other children. After a lonely childhood, Lipscomb married another tenant farmer and brought up four children of her own. She never had an easy life. But a reporter who visited Lipscomb after her retirement found that she enjoyed reading, watching television, visiting with her children and grandchildren, and going to church. She liked to look out her window at the changing colors of autumn to see, she said, "what God has done with an almighty paintbrush." Lipscomb remarked that "I'm glad I lived, and I've loved life."(39)

Dr. Benjamin Carson, an outstanding pediatric neurosurgeon, was a child of poverty and divorce. His mother suffered from depression, but she was determined that her two sons would succeed in school and in life. She insisted that they do their regular homework and also made them read library books each week and write reports on them for her. "And she couldn't read!" Dr. Carson recalled years later. "But I didn't know that!" He became a fine student, and later a great surgeon. He and his wife started the Carson Scholars Fund, which provides encouragement and scholarships to outstanding students.(40)

Karin Muraszko was born with a relatively mild case of spina bifida, but one that required surgery and a leg brace. Like Carson, she grew up to become a neurosurgeon. She once told the New York Times, "Because of my handicap, patients open up to me. I can understand their pain and encourage them to get beyond it..." One of her former patients told the Times, "I never noticed she was handicapped. All I know is that she was the best doctor and the kindest person I ever met."(41)

There are also stories from the front lines of the abortion war, where women and children are often saved from abortion at the last minute by sidewalk counselors. A Shield of Roses group in California supplies much material aid as well as counseling. In one of its cases, a woman ran into an abortion clinic while her husband or boyfriend stopped to talk with a counselor about the couple's problems. They had two other small children, and the pregnancy was unexpected. "Besides," said the father, "where am I going to put another car seat? My car, which is falling apart, can only hold two car seats on the rear seat."

"You're going to abort because you don't have room for another car seat?" the counselor asked. Then she added, "If this is what you need, we'll get you another car." The father found a bargain car, and Shield of Roses bought it for the family. The couple named their new baby Christopher.(42)

One Minnesota woman is especially grateful for Pro-Life Action Ministries counseling she received many years ago. It persuaded her not to abort her child, who is now a teenager. Each July she visits the group's office to deliver a rose and a thank-you card in celebration of her child's birthday.(43)

Maryland's Gabriel Project once heard from a young pregnant women who had been thrown out of her home by her parents and was calling from a pay phone. The project quickly found a "shepherding family" to take her in and a church to help her in other ways before and after her child's birth. The woman later said that she had "found hope when I thought all hope was lost."

Often a woman's parents change their views after others step in to help. A Gabriel Project staff member said that "we've seen a lot of reconciliation take place between kids and their parents," when the grandchild who had been rejected "becomes that little bouncing baby on the grandparent's lap" and "a real source of healing for a lot of people."(44)

Stressing the Positive in their Principles

While it is always tempting to attack the weaknesses of one's opponents, it is often better to stress their positive principles and show how they should lead to protection of unborn children.

Defense of the little guy against the powerful is the historic position of the political left. It should always lead to defense of the unborn. For who is smaller, less powerful, poorer or more vulnerable than the unborn child?

Feminists celebrate the strength and ingenuity of women, their ability to overcome all sorts of obstacles in life. Women really can handle crisis pregnancies; they can deal with children and careers at the same time. (To the extent that society still makes this difficult, it is society that needs to be changed, not women.) The sisterhood that feminists celebrate should always extend to their unborn sisters, too. It certainly did in the minds of early American feminists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. And it does today in the work and writing of feminists such as Sidney Callahan, Mary Krane Derr, Serrin Foster and Rachel MacNair.(45)

Peace activists know they must offer alternatives to the violence of war. They stress conflict resolution, better diplomacy, nonviolent resistance and civilian-based defense. This experience should make them receptive to nonviolent alternatives to abortion. They should be invited to help the work of crisis pregnancy centers and to do educational work with high school and college students.

Finally, all Americans should find persuasive writer George Weigel's point that our history is one of expanding "the community of the commonly protected" to include religious dissenters, African Americans, women, poor people, and people with disabilities. Legalized abortion, he emphasizes, goes against our history. He adds that the "defenders of the rights of the unborn are the true inheritors of the American liberal tradition in its quest to draw more widely the boundaries of the American commons."(46)

Socrates Had a Splendid Idea

One historian of philosophy wrote that Socrates was a "perpetual student because there was always something more for him to learn, at least one more question to ask."(47) His "Socratic method" of questioning also helped others to learn. But in the commotion of intellectual battle, we sometimes forget that a question may be more effective than a declaration or a long speech. Placing one or two good questions in someone's mind may do more good than an hour's debate.

A thought-provoking question for a politician might be: "But why are you personally opposed to it? What is it about abortion that bothers you?" For someone who discusses the issue in an a totally abstract, unreal way: "Have you actually seen the results of abortion? If not, would you be willing to look at a couple of pictures?" For a lawyer: "Given both abortion and euthanasia, I wonder if we're headed for a time when the only people with legal protection of their right to life will be the powerful--those who need it least?" For a psychologist or teacher: "Have you considered the effects of abortion on small children? Don't you think that knowledge of it might terrify them?" For a liberal: "Hey, whatever happened to standing up for the little guy? And why not consider a nonviolent approach to this issue?"

The 21-Gun Salute

Dialogue alone will not win the day for unborn children. Constant political pressure is needed. So is economic pressure in the form of boycotting businesses that support abortion and medical "charities" that support embryonic and fetal research. Also needed are marches and rallies-- and a constant presence at the places where unborn children die.

Dialogue, though, must be a key part of all these efforts. To the extent that it is calm and steadfast, kind but truthful, it will win hearts and minds and it will save lives.

When a friend indicates a change of heart in favor of the unborn, or when a politician starts voting right, the occasion should be noted and celebrated. Here pro-lifers can learn from the practice of the late Lyndon B. Johnson when he was the Democratic majority leader of the U.S. Senate and Dwight Eisenhower was the very popular Republican president. Johnson explained that the Democrats prodded Eisenhower "into doing everything we can get him to do, and when he does something good we give him a 21-gun salute."(48)

After the salute, they prodded him again.


1. Elizabeth Armet, "Poll Analysis: Americans Lean More Conservative on Social Issues,", 18 June 2000 (accessed 27 Jan. 2003).

2. Denyse Handler, letter to the editor, P.S., Oct.-Nov. 1981, 6.

3. U.S. Constitution, article 1, sections 9 and 10.

4. For Project Rachel, see or call (800) 5WE-CARE; for the Centurions (helping ex-abortion clinic staff and those who want to leave the clinics), call Pro-Life Action Ministries at (651) 771-1500.

5. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Social Aims" in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, vol. 8, 1917), 96.

6. Howard Kurtz, "Airing on the Side of Caution," Washington Post, 13 Jan. 1999, C-1 & C-7.

7. Anne E. Redlinger, letter to the editor, Washington Times, 27 Oct. 1996, B-2.

8. George Fox, quoted in Robert Lawrence Smith, A Quaker Book of Wisdom (New York: Morrow, 1998), xi.

9. Helen Alvaré, "Communicating a Culture of Life in a Secular Society," conference speech, Washington, D.C., 24 March 2000, tape recording.

10. John Naughton, letter to the editor, Montgomery Journal, 12 June 1989, A-6.

11. Joseph R. Stanton, "A Pro-Life Spokesman Responds to Julia Child," Worcester (Mass.) Evening Gazette, 11 Aug. 1982, 15.

12. Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, 4 March 1861, in Abraham Lincoln, Great Speeches (New York: Dover Publications, 1991), 61.

13. Doris Gordon, interview by author, tape recording, 19 Dec. 1996.

14. "Right to Life Words -- Semantics," International Life Times, 14 Dec. 1979, citing Denyse Handler.

15. Julianne Loesch Wiley, interview by author, tape recording, 15 Jan. 2003.

16. Gregg Cunningham, interview by author, tape recording, 15 Jan. 2003. See, also, the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform web site at

17. Edward J. Sheridan, "The Psychological Effects of Abortion: An Interview with Dr. Edward J. Sheridan," interview by John G. Gatewood, Georgetown University Right to Life Journal 2 (Fall 1981), 1; Philip G. Ney and Marie A. Peeters-Ney, Abortion Survivors (Victoria, B.C.: Pioneer Publishing Ltd., 1998), 10, 24 & 37-38.

18. For examples of D & X line drawings, see American Medical News, 5 July 1993, 3; and Washington Post, 17 Oct. 1999, B-4.

19. U.S. Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Hearing on The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1995, 104th Cong., lst Sess., 17 Nov. 1995, 17-21.

20. Gregg Cunningham (n. 16) acknowledged that line drawings are enough to turn some people against abortion, but said such drawings "certainly don't reach the percentage that can be reached with the detailed photographs."

21. Ibid.

22. Yochi J. Dreazen, "Photos of Women Who Get Abortions Go Up on Internet," Wall Street Journal, 28 May 2002, A-1 & A-8. Most abortionists seem to be male, which should give both psychiatrists and feminists pause for thought.

23. Wiley interview (n. 15).

24. Doris Gordon (n. 13).

25. James Jackson Kilpatrick, "A Comment," National Review, 25 May 1979, 680.

26. Corrine Brown, "The 24th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade," Washington Times, 22 Jan. 1997, Roe v. Wade Special Advertising Supplement, 4.

27. Richard Cohen, "Element of Hypocrisy Is Part of Abortion Debate," Washington Post, 22 March 1981, B-1.

28. Betty Friedan, It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women's Movement (New York: Random House, 1976), 12-13.

29. Pat Schroeder, with Andrea Camp and Robin Lipner, Champion of the Great American Family (New York: Random House, 1989), 28-33; and Pat Schroeder, 24 Years of House Work...and the Place Is Still a Mess: My Life in Politics (Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 1998), 111-112.

30. Kate Michelman, interview by Karen A. Schneider, in Karen A. Schneider, ed., Choices: Women Speak Out About Abortion ([Washington, D.C.]: NARAL Foundation, 1997), 48-51. Michelman retired from NARAL in 2004.

31. Julianne Loesch Wiley, interview by author, tape recording, 31 Jan. 1998.

32. Serrin Foster, interview by author, tape recording, 22 Jan. 1998.

33. Helen Alvaré, interview by author, tape recording, 16 Jan. 1998.

34. Sister Paula Vandegaer, interview by author, tape recording, 22 Sept. 1998.

35. Robert Alan Goldberg, Barry Goldwater (New Haven: Yale, 1995), 116, 284-285, 308, 315, 331; Lee Edwards, Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution (Washington: Regnery, 1995), 420-423, 445-446, 459, 460, 462-463. According to Edwards, the Goldwater daughter who had the long-ago abortion "admits that all three of her daughters have had abortions" (421).

36. George McGovern, Terry: My Daughter's Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism (New York: Villard/Random House, 1996), x, 64-68, 111, 118, 129. For Sen. McGovern's voting record, see "Abortion Voting Records, U.S. Senate: 1973-80," National Right to Life News, 13 Oct. 1980, supplement, A & C.

37. Judith Campbell Exner said she aborted a child by President John F. Kennedy when he was in the White House. See Liz Smith, "The Exner Files," Vanity Fair, Jan. 1997, 42-43. Gennifer Flowers said she aborted a child by William J. Clinton when he was attorney general of Arkansas. See Gennifer Flowers with Jacquelyn Draper, Gennifer Flowers: Passion and Betrayal (Del Mar, Calif.: Emery Dalton Books, 1995), 37-39.

38. J. Y. Smith, "A. J. Cronin, Writer of Best-Selling Novels, Is Dead at 84," Washington Post, 10 Jan. 1981, B-10.

39. Cathy Dyson, "Abandoned, But Adopting Hope," Washington Times, 25 Dec. 1999, B-1 & B-2.

40. Current Biography Yearbook 1997, 88-91; John McCaslin, "Inside the Beltway," Washington Times, 7 Feb. 1997, A-8; and "Carson Scholars Fund" brochure, Towson, Md., n.d.

41. Sharon Johnson, "Disabled in Professions Grow," New York Times, 18 July 1983, A-1 & A-10.

42. Shield of Roses newsletter, Glendale, Calif., Summer 2000, 2.

43. "106 Babies Saved Already This Year," Pro-Life Action News (St. Paul, Minn.), Aug. 2002, 1.

44. Paul Mulligan, interview by author, tape recording, 4 March 2002.

45. Mary Krane Derr and others, ed., Prolife Feminism: Yesterday & Today (New York: Sulzburger & Graham, 1995); Sidney Callahan, "Abortion & the Sexual Agenda," Commonweal 113, no. 8 (25 April 1986), 232-238; Tim O'Neil, "Society Must Offer More Help to Mothers, Feminists for Life President Says in Speech," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4 Nov. 1999, B-1 & B-4;

46. George Weigel, Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 131-132.

47. Albert E. Avey, Handbook in the History of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1961), 22.

48. Quoted in Ralph K. Huitt and Robert L. Peabody, Congress: Two Decades of Analysis (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), 144.