I have argued previously that your average member of the public has more in common with pro-lifers than with pro-choice theorists, but I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize that our movement is the new counterculture, a reality which I think some pro-lifers haven’t really internalized.
Our common self-perception is that of defenders of tradition, as conservers of the tried and true ways, but I think it is currently more accurate to understand us as the rebels, the resisters, the nonconformists.
Canada is “pro-choice.” Moreover, even those sympathetic to restrictions on abortion aren’t usually fans of the pro-life movement, nor our tactics. The greatest sin in our country seems to be the perceived casting of judgment on someone’s behaviour (except if that someone is a social conservative). Don’t like abortion, homosexual relations, or prostitution? Keep that to yourself; you have no business interfering. Don’t assume someone’s gender. Don’t trigger them with politically incorrect remarks. Politeness (for example, avoiding any possibility of causing offense) is compulsory. The puncturing of this implicit social agreement by pro-lifers makes us the rule-breakers and trouble-makers.
In the mid-20th century, the opposite was true and because of that, the need to formulate a comprehensive pro-life and pro-family defence was less pressing. Forgive me for speaking so generally, but everyone was pro-life simply because everyone was pro-life. Everyone went to church because everyone else went. They were against gay “marriage” because who was for it?
These defaults have changed, obviously, and therefore, it is imperative that no social conservative justify a position of theirs by claiming “that’s how it’s always been in our family,” or “that’s just how things are.” These arguments will fail because you can’t appeal to a consensus that no longer exists and no family can ever be totally insulated from society. “That’s what our church says” is also problematic, because when people leave the faith (and that they do), they also lose their reasons for opposing many social ills, which shouldn’t be the case.
More importantly, social opinion shouldn’t dictate one’s own stance. Each of us is called to do what is right, to uphold the truth, regardless of what anyone else does. There are substantive and powerful arguments against the killing of innocent human beings and the corrosion of the marital institution and they should be used. Had they been more widely circulated half a century ago, we might not be in this situation today.
In fact, not only should we appreciate that “tradition for tradition’s sake” won’t cut it anymore, but we should be actively encouraging the challenging of tradition.
For one reason, even if we were back in the “good ol’ days,” the critical examination of convention shouldn’t scare us, because we should trust the truth to win out.
For another, Canada is currently stoking the fires of the culture of death. The customs and beliefs being passed down from generation to generation reflect that. The custom here is to have premarital sex, to abort when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and to limit your family size. To do otherwise is to break custom. The future that was feared is the present reality and the worst thing that “our” children could be taught is to uncritically go along with tradition, for what I just described is now the dominant tradition in Canada.
It is also not possible to work to change these traditions while adhering to the social rules that reinforce them. If you truly want to transform our society into one which values life, you will inevitably have to violate all sorts of the social codes that I mentioned above — the aversion to conflict, the unquestioned deference to “lived experiences,” the forced affirmation of every liberal lifestyle.
The best thing for my pro-life activism was this: In Grade 7, I decided I wanted no part in what was popular, and if that made me a social pariah, so be it. This decision eventually liberated me to speak openly and boldly about my beliefs, including my opposition to abortion.
I am sure I unsettled my parents. I didn’t just reject the false deity of social status. I wore colourful knee socks, arm warmers, and ties (a waste of fabric whose mandatory inclusion in a businessman’s attire ought to be challenged). Solo and clad in running shoes, I pirouetted my way through slow songs at school dances. I didn’t self-censor nearly as much, including in the classroom.
The extent to which I challenged social convention probably seemed excessive. Fine. But better, I think, than not testing social norms at all, than being afraid to break from my peers.
As every philosopher is wont to quote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”