Sunday, August 31, 2008

On a New Grassroots Pro-Life Movement

At the recent Democratic National Convention, Bob Casey made up for the slight against his father in 1992 by speaking at the invitation of Barack Obama. He made their disagreement clear:
“Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion,” he said. “But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.”
They do not agree on abortion. Yet there is something else that Casey sees in Obama, beginning of course with his very openness to allow Casey to speak. He further elaborated on this at his speech to the Democrats for Life at the convention, another meeting which got a fair amount of press. His main point:
Many pregnant women who face pregnancy, regardless of income and circumstances, for whatever reason are “in crisis,” Casey said. He argued that government and society should show solidarity with such women through government assistance. "We’re not doing that now,” he said. “In my judgment, neither party is doing enough on this issue.”
The question is one regarding offering as complete a package of help to pregnant women and young mothers as they may need in order to raise their child. In other words, to cultivate a child friendly culture, which it certainly is not now.

He continued:
Since current law grants the right of women to have abortions, Casey argued, “We ought to make sure that she also has the option to carry that child to term. We’ve got to help her, okay? This isn’t her problem, it’s our problem.”
My point here is that Casey, at the invitation of Obama, historically made up for what was denied to his father. We live in a different political environment. Recently I debated with a friend as to whether one could in good conscience vote for Obama over McCain. His main concern, as is mine, is, despite all the arguments that link abortion to poverty, despite the claims that abortions were lower during Clinton's administration than during the Bushs', and despite arguments that when balanced out, more innocent lives would probably be lost during a McCain administration than during an Obama one, that still, to simply vote pro-life in this country remains important, if only to preserve abortion as a relevant issue. I see this argument. Abortion is hardly a relevant issue in Europe anymore. The grassroots pro-life movement in the United States has been tremendously successful at keeping it at the forefront of the American mind.

However, this has been in many ways despite, not because of, the alliance of the pro-life movement with the Republican party. I remember back to the early years of the movement, when my dad and Father Thomas and other members of our community were getting arrested for sitting in front of abortion clinics. The days when I was carried to police cars, and dragged through parking lots. When Bishops sat next to university presidents who sat next to homeless people. The movement at that time had vitality. Joan Andrews was a hero like to Martin Luther King Jr. Protestants sat with Catholics, with atheists, with people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. There was ingenuity and vision. There was a richness and vitality to the movement. Much of that is lost. The movement has focused my myopically on federal politics, and the wind went out of much of the early grassroots groundswell, the part of the movement that actually gave it life.

It may be that time again for the movement to re-energize at the grassroots level, and to do so by dropping all political allegiances. The pro-life movement has become too partisan, and has thereby lost its strength. I remember it being more energized under Clinton, if only because it was persecuted. But that is a negative reason. The positive reason is that there are many young people who want to enter the movement. They want to be a part of it, and make a change. But that big picture change will never, I repeat never, take place with one party. It must include both. Obama has shown himself open to allow Casey to speak, to allow Democrats for Life to appear on the national stage. I see far more hope for continued relevance and growth and effectiveness in the pro-life movement if it pushes to work across party lines and builds again at the grassroots level, where the Civil Rights movement was so effective, than if it remains with the Republican right alone. Such a strategy will not work.

Is there a danger of losing relevance if Obama is elected? Will his "progressive" appeal cause the young to lose sight of abortion as an issue? Possibly, but I don't think so. He, even, cannot lose sight of it, and he is opening a new space in his party for a new debate. This is something to take advantage of, not lament. Sticking to the old playing rules by thinking one has to vote for McCain is myopic. As pro-lifers, we do have at least two options, if not many more, and definitely not only one.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

4 comments:

Jesuit John said...

“At the recent Democratic National Convention, Bob Casey made up for the slight against his father in 1992 by speaking at the invitation of Barack Obama.”

Really? Allowing Casey to speak makes up for his father (and essentially every pro-life Dem) being blackballed? Forgive me if I remain unimpressed with Obama/Dems in this regard.

“The question is one regarding offering as complete a package of help to pregnant women and young mothers as they may need in order to raise their child. In other words, to cultivate a child friendly culture, which it certainly is not now.”

I think the question, when we talk about the government, is a much deeper one. It’s about who counts as a person. It’s about where rights come from and it’s about a right that constitutes the foundation of all other positive and negative rights. Just like slavery was incompatible with a government founded on the notion that all men are created equal, a “right” to terminate a human life in the womb is incompatible and undermines every other right we seek to ensure by law. Equal protection under the law is barbarous to oppose and I have no hope that a pro-choice government will ever shape a child friendly culture...

“despite the claims that abortions were lower during Clinton's administration than during the Bushs'”

Look into this: http://www.factcheck.org/society/the_biography_of_a_bad_statistic.html
These claims simply are not true.

As for the loss of wind in the pro-life movement’s sails, I hear you loud and clear. And I agree that being satisfied with Roe being overturned is a pretty shallow approach to building a government that supports a culture of life. Let’s keep fighting for comprehensive measures and doing what we can outside of government policies as well.

But I actually blame the Democrats for driving the pro-life voters into the arms of the GOP. Obama will have to do MUCH better then letting someone mention that they disagree on this issue of abortion rights for me to consider giving him my vote.

Jesuit John.

PS: Im glad to see you lose the pen name, Nathan.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

I am speaking of politics as the art of the possible. I see many pro-lifers pursuing the impossible, and I am speculating as to other routes. I agree with you completely that Obama's meager outreach is not enough. I'm wondering if it is a new space though to pursue. I hardly see McCain providing any new space.

As far as lower abortions during Clinton's years, I'll have to read your link, but probably disagree, since I've seen quite a bit of study as well.

I would agree with you as to blaming the Democrats historically. The question however is what works now. I think we need an adequate flexibility as a movement in order to remain viable and relevant.

I'm perfectly open to the possibility that we have no vote this election. We do have pray and meaningful action on the local level.

Nathan, SJ

shera10 said...

"Abortion is hardly a relevant issue in Europe anymore."

True, but in Vatican too.

After the last elections, in Italy, Pope Benedict received Prime Minister Berlusconi in Vatican. The pope stated " the Holy See is deeply pleased by having Berlusconi as new Prime Minister"

Berlusconi is a pro-choice, and his opinions about abortion are the same that Pelosi views.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

Benedict is also a head of state and as a diplomat has his reasons for how he greets people. If you read again his comments at different World Youth Day events, I think it's safe to say that he has life at heart.