Reporting from the National Right to Life Convention: Part Two

By Dave Andrusko

Fred Barnes

It was like old home week, Fred Barnes, a good friend of NRLC and keen political observer, opening the 41st annual National Right to Life Convention in Jacksonville, Florida. Barnes, the co-founder and executive editor of The Weekly Standard, combined admiration of a “young, vibrant” pro-life Movement with a good-spirited but withering critique of the “out of gas” abortion lobby. To that shrewd overview Barnes offered his own personal story of becoming pro-life.

Barnes described what he called a “breakout year for the pro-life movement, and a breakout year for National Right to Life in particular.”  He told the audience that he was not surprised that “National Right to Life seized the moment,” but was surprised by how much the Movement had accomplished just “by June.”

The Pro-Life Movement is “more dynamic and more organized than it has ever been,” Barnes said. There has been a “great leap” in strength and effectiveness.

Looking back to last November, he said, “The politics of America changed in 2010,” with so many Republicans elected to state legislatures, winning governorships, and making large gains in the House of Representatives. As a political reporter, Barnes talked in depth about the politics surrounding the abortion issue.

He strongly endorsed incrementalism—getting all you can get under the circumstances—adding that under current circumstances “there is so much that can be achieved.” Barnes was alluding to bills passed in the House of Representatives and to the many laws enacted in the state legislatures.

And these pro-life laws are not empty symbolism. He referenced the work of Prof. Michael New whose work has conclusively demonstrated that protective laws and measures to cut off funding do save the lives of unborn children.

He talked particularly about the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. “Like partial-birth abortion, it focuses on the baby,” Barnes said.

Like many veterans observers, Barnes expressed his admiration for how the pro-life Movement was educating young people. (He made the very interesting observation that unlike the older generation, young people are willing to talk about abortion.) Barnes contrasted our Movement, which is larger and more effective and more energetic, with the abortion lobby which he said is in a “defensive crouch.”

In that vein he focused attention on how pro-abortionists are unwilling to even use the word ‘abortion.” And when they do, as in the case of PPFA, the organization misleadingly insists abortion represents “only 3% of its services.” Although still flush with money and powerful allies, the abortion lobby lacks a “moral center,” Barnes said, and grassroots support.

Barnes talked about his own pro-life journey. One key juncture was when his wife had an amniocentesis.

“It was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life,” Barnes said. “It felt wrong.” Afterwards he and his wife agreed, “Let’s never do that again.” And then one day “we realized we had become pro-life.”

Barnes concluded his talk with expressions of optimism about the future, including the assurance that “America has changed,” we are “on the right side,” and that the “tide has turned” in our favor.

During the course of his speech, he made this telling remark.

One day his grandchildren will be old enough to participate in the annual March for Life, Barnes said, adding (to a round of applause) “if they still need a March on Washington.”

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