The language of love and compassion: a labor of imagination and persuasion

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. With the 44th anniversary of the wretched Roe v. Wade decision just around the corner, we are publishing two posts in commemoration. This one appeared some time ago, reflecting on PPFA’s change in nomenclature. The latter is our thoughts 11 days away from the anniversary.

“Every day, in Congress, courts, state legislatures, and informal conversations, people who see the [abortion] issue one way try to engage people who see it a slightly different way. It’s a labor of imagination and persuasion and the stakes are enormous.” — William Saletan, author of “Bearing Right.”

“Seen against the broad canvas of humanitarian thought and practice in Western society from the 17th to the 20th century, the expansion of the definition of life to include the whole career of the fetus rather than only the months after quickening is quite consistent. It as in line with a number of movements [in the 19th century] to reduce cruelty and to expand the concept of the sanctity of life.” — From “At Odds,” by Carl Degler

“I pray every day for the unborn babies. I am 83 yrs. old.” — Letter to NRLC, containing a check for $100 to National Right to Life.

Dave Andrusko, NRL News Today editor

Writers admittedly all too often fall in love with their own rhetorical constructs. Having offered that caveat, I am nonetheless utterly convinced that we have not only turned a page in a debate that goes back more than four decades but have begun a new chapter.

That the abortion issue’s center of gravity has shifted dramatically is not even controversial; it’s a mere acknowledgment of the facts of life. Even desperate attempts by pro-abortionists to stir up old ghosts (“back alley abortions” and similar goblins) have fallen on hard times.

For example, according to Jodie Morse, writing in Time, “The iconography of the abortion-rights movement is fading from memory–coat hangers. “To some of the movement’s newest members, the message seemed almost laughably out of touch,” Morse wrote.

Faced with dramatically falling support among young women (and men), pro-abortionists console themselves with the illusion that it’s because young people have never known a time when abortion was not available on demand that their words no longer resonant.

In other words, “if they only knew!”

The problem with this soothing balm is that it completely misses what young people do know.

For example, they know the grim reality that abortion wipes out over a million children each year who otherwise would have been their contemporaries.

They know firsthand how taking a child’s life can and does have a devastating impact on young women, women whose wounds many times never heal.

They know from personal experience that it turns the quite legitimate and wholly reasonable quest for equality on its head to insist that babies’ lives be sacrificed so that women’s lives are not impeded. And they don’t need to be told that abortion acts like an acid that eats through family ties. …

One of the quotations at the top of these remarks comes from William Saletan’s book, “Bearing Right.” Often the abortion “debate” isn’t a “debate” at all. It’s about how you and your neighbors “engage” one another in a way that helps each understand why the others hold the positions they do on this most extraordinarily difficult issue.

While Saletan takes the insight in a different direction than I do, I like the idea that this engagement is “a labor of imagination and persuasion.”

Ultimately, we woo most people over to the side of the babies by gentle persuasion. Part and parcel of this is engaging their moral imaginations in two ways.

First, relationally, we get them over the hump. Just by being who we are we negate the stereotype that pro-lifers are unpleasant, uncaring, unloving people. Who wants to listen to the point of view of such men and women, let alone be part of what they are about? Once they see that you and I are good people who care about unborn babies and their mothers, their ears are unplugged, their hearts softened.

Second, we provide them with tools to dig themselves out of the deep rut they are in. Those tools include a more gentle language, one brimming over with words such as love and compassion; a kinder vocabulary that humanizes the unborn child; and a grammar of interdependence which reminds people that a mother without her unborn child is like a subject without a predicate.

I would never be so foolish as to suggest that continuing progress is automatic or linear. There will be ups and downs, sidetracks and detours, good days and bad.

But that will never deflect us from our appointed course. Our eyes always look straight ahead for we refuse to stand idly by while the lives of the innocent are taken by the millions.

Literally, as I sat down to write these remarks, I spotted the letter from our 83-year-old friend mentioned at the beginning. Her note thanked us for the NRLC convention Yearbook, explained that she “prays every day for the unborn babies,” and ended with a PS: “May God be with you.”

And because He most assuredly is, we know that ultimately the cause of life will carry the day.

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