A leading pro-life educator has rejected a new right-to-life strategy that calls for a radical shift in the way abortion is presented to a mass audience.

Scott Klusendorf, director of bioethics for the San Pedro, California-based Stand to Reason organization, says any move to deviate from the moral truth of the right-to-life position in order to make it more attractive to a mass audience would be disastrous for the pro-life cause.

The debate centres on a new pro-life strategy advocated by Paul Swope of The Caring Foundation. As outlined in a recent issue of First Thingsmagazine (and reprinted in the July 1998 Interim), Swope’s approach suggests that abortion-minded women are not as likely to respond to pro-life arguments based on reason or objective moral truths.

Swope’s research indicates that the pro-life movement should “reframe” the debate in a way that appeals to women in crisis pregnancies. “Using language and imagery that will attract rather than alienate, the pro-life movement must show that abortion is actually not in a woman’s own self-interest, and that the choice of life offers hope and a positive, expanded sense of self,” Swope writes. “In the use of mass media to reach the general public, it is vitally important that the pro-life movement reframe the issue in terms that will be better received by women.”

Several North American pro-life educators have been called on to respond to Swope’s central argument that an over-emphasis on the humanity of the unborn child is counter-productive for the pro-life movement. Klusendorf spoke to The Interim during a break in his presentation at the National Campus Life Network symposium Jan. 8-10 in Toronto.

Humanity of preborn is key

While praising Swope’s enthusiasm and commitment to right-to-life objectives, Klusendorf said the woman’s self-interest approach is hopelessly misguided. “The status of the fetus is our foundation,” Klusendorf said. “Without that, everything else crumbles.”

Klusendorf said the approach advocated by Swope and his supporters indicates a growing “ideas problem” for North American pro-life supporters. He believes any effort to adapt the traditional pro-life message to make it more palatable to a contraception-minded culture would undermine essential truths.

“What we really need are more pro-life apologists who can articulate our position with confidence and effectiveness,” Klusendorf told The Interim. “What we don’t need are efforts to repackage our truths for the mainstream culture. The mainstream culture is simply not pro-life and they don’t agree with us.”

In a November 1998 debate at the Ohio Right to Life convention, Klusendorf further outlined his opposition to the Swope argument. He said the notion that the pro-life movement has succeeded in convincing the public of the humanity of the unborn child is still open to conjecture.

“People hold contradictory and incoherent views on abortion precisely because they don’t really believe the unborn are fully human,” he said. Swope has argued that the pro-life movement’s success in emphasizing the humanity of the unborn leaves it free to concentrate on what might be described as marketing techniques.

Klusendorf also said Swope’s strategy of emphasizing the self-interest of abortion-minded women sets a dangerous precedent for pro-lifers. “Say for example that Planned Parenthood releases a study demonstrating that abortion benefits women … What principled argument can Swope make against abortion in such a case?”

Klusendorf says pro-lifers should be encouraged to change their behaviour rather than their essential message. “We can win if we force abortion advocates to defend abortion,” he said. “The debate over partial-birth abortion proves this … We don’t have to compromise the truth.”

Klusendorf’s approach is part of his nine-year campaign to train more young pro-life supporters to become leaders of the movement. He said right-to-life objectives have been hindered by a failure to prepare and educate leaders to argue for the cause in the public square.

“Too often we come across as a movement of marches, conferences, rallies and fund-raising,” he said. “We are not seen as an intellectual movement and we are losing in the world of ideas largely because Christians and other pro-life people have withdrawn from the world.”