Sweet Smell of Roses

At urbandictionary.com, the definitions of “pro-life” include the following: “An idealistic position acknowledging that from a scientific point of view, human life begins at conception and thus, human rights should extend to the unborn. Because this (conviction) also assumes personal responsibility, it is widely despised.” We aren’t told who is allegedly shirking responsibility; the poster is probably referring to prospective parents.

Equally, though, every pro-lifer has personal responsibility for unborn children and their parents. Here’s one online definition of “pro-choice”: “The position you inevitably support when you realize that, no matter how strongly you are against abortion, it is a necessary evil.”

Reluctance to get involved prevents some people, who might not choose abortion personally, from actually being pro-life. Reluctance to get involved also prevents some people, who consider themselves pro-life, from actually being effective.

When the “Women Deserve Better than Abortion” ads first went up in the Washington, D.C. Metrobuses, Sonya Renee Taylor was less than impressed. She countered with a powerful performance in the finals at the 2006 Individual World Poetry Slam, called “What We Deserve.” According to a line from her poem, “Women deserve better/ than public transportation rhetoric/ from the same people who won’t give that teenage mother/ a ride to the next transit.”

Taylor learned early on that people can’t be trusted. She is herself post-abortive and has been active in the fight for “choice” for many years. But not everyone with low expectations of pro-lifers is on the other side.

Jean Vanier, founder of l’Arche, told the National Post: “I say to those who are pro-life, ‘You say you don’t want people to have abortion.’ Okay, I’m in agreement. But then we must give help to those mothers. To remain just on a legal principle of right or wrong without commitment … that is something wrong. I’m a little frightened of anyone who is pro-life who doesn’t get committed.”

It is important to clarify that many, many pro-lifers are absolutely committed. For instance, the people making Aid to Women’s social outreach possible are simultaneously active in a broad range of pro-life endeavours: abortion aftermath recovery, care of the disabled, education, foster-adoptive parenting, healthcare, immigration advocacy, international relief, media and research, political campaigning, prayer ministry and so on. Crisis pregnancy centre volunteers are there to help clients with precisely the struggles that concern Taylor and, presumably, Vanier. And five years on, the “Women Deserve Better” campaign is still going strong, this year with the “Rally for Resources” on college campuses.

Still, our movement needs more people who are committed, for several reasons. First, to those unaware of the reality and the aftermath of abortion, it truly seems easier, cheaper and faster to help procure an abortion than to stand by over the years ahead. As individuals, families and congregations, we must be prepared to accompany parents in crisis for as long as we are needed to lighten their loads.

Second, there is a false dichotomy in the public’s eye between pro-life activists and people who care. While there is intrinsic value to proclaiming the truth, doing so must be our start and not our end point. Our movement is perceived by the public as comprised of a small number of people willing to hold signs for an hour or three, willing to write letters to the editor, willing to vote a certain way, but unwilling to get our hands dirty in the service of others, unwilling to include the marginalized in our everyday lives, to touch them and to stay in touch.

Third, hearts have been hardened during the decades in which we have tolerated decriminalized abortion. Before the practice became widespread, an abortion patient was more likely downcast, aware that what seemed “necessary” was indeed evil. In the subsequent swirl of child neglect, family breakdown and more abortion, there has been less formation of consciences. To moral relativists, our words about unborn life simply represent our small-t truth; if we don’t like abortions, we don’t need to get them. Yet our loving actions in vulnerable parents’ lives represent a large-T Truth, which cannot be so readily dismissed; for in alleviating their hurts, we help to heal the culture.

What the public wants and needs of pro-lifers is that we will actively walk with expectant parents in crisis and assist them with the practical support they will need for parenting. May this be more and more the case.