NRL News

Communicating the Pro-Life Story to a 21st-Century Audience

by | Dec 9, 2013


nrlnewstoday0813By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. This appeared in the January 2003 edition of National Right to Life News and is part of our year-long “Roe at 40” series in which we are reposting some of the best and most representative stories from NRL News going back all the way to 1973. I believe this particular article is just as on-point today as it was nearly 11 years ago.

“The bottom line is no woman is going to want an abortion after seeing a sonogram.”  —  Francesco Angelo, medical director of the Family Planning Center in Mineola, as quoted in the New York Times, February 24, 2002.

A few years ago Prof. George McKenna wrote one of the most illuminating essays on abortion I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Titled, “On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position,” McKenna’s piece ran in The Atlantic Magazine, September 1995.

With respect to the abomination of slavery, “People’s moral intuitions could not be repressed,” McKenna wrote. “[T]hey would surface in all kinds of unexpected ways: in winces and unguarded expressions, in labored euphemisms, in slips of the tongue. Lincoln was on the lookout for these, and he forced his opponents to acknowledge their significance.”

Such “moral intuitions” are alive and well, tapping on the windows of souls today with regard to abortion just as loudly and persistently as they did in the mid-19th century when slavery was legal. In our heart of hearts almost all of us know that both are moral cancers and that neither is “rooted in the soil of American Democracy.”

Much of our job can be encapsulated this way: successfully bringing the uneasiness to the surface, that moral discomfort that abortion elicits in people of good will. It’s not a question of instilling this in people; it’s already there, as the quotation from the abortion clinic operator that begins this article demonstrates. Our task is to help people to recognize that this tacit understanding is not something to be ignored or repressed but acknowledged for what it is: the better angels of their nature at work.

We’re talking about everyday interactions, the kind of casual conversations that most often are unplanned but offer rich possibilities. But before going any further, it’s very important that we’re clear about both what we don’t mean, and the target audience we are speaking about.

We don’t mean placing your principles in mothballs or minimizing your pro-life education to a quick course in Sound Bites 101. Principles power this movement, and information is the fuel.

Nor is it to suggest that what has worked can’t continue to touch the hearts and the minds of Americans. We’ve changed the contours of the debate in this nation with a multifaceted approach that is the model of effectiveness and simplicity.

Nor are we ignoring the vital role of political and legislative action. No organization knows better than National Right to Life what crucially important benefits flow from publicly fighting for what we believe in in these arenas.

Please understand also that when we are speaking to those who already share our perspective, much of what follows applies to them but in a different way. They are already in the fold and/or merely need the tools to make them more effective. Our colleagues need information they can quickly assimilate, a local organization they can immediately join, a primer on fetal development that they can absorb in an hour or less.

They have invited us into their homes, so to speak. Since we’ve already passed this most important threshold, the primary barrier to overcome is the vast range of everyday activities that makes it difficult for people to carve out time to serve the cause of unborn babies and the medically dependent elderly.

What we are talking about is how we win over people who are not currently in our Movement, often times very informally. Put another way, this is about how to soften the soil that may otherwise be too hard for the “seed” – – the truth about the unborn – – to take root.


If you see yourself as a salesman or saleswoman, the most important thing that I’ve learned in 25+ years in this Movement is that you can’t close the deal, so to speak, if you can’t get in the door.

By that I mean it’s not necessarily what you or I say (especially initially), but who we are and how we present ourselves that almost always will decide whether someone will give any consideration to what comes out of our mouths. If we come across as judgmental know-it-alls, why would anyone want to be in our presence one nanosecond longer than he or she has to be?

And what is so surprising is how often abortion or a related issue comes up. We were at the doctor’s office recently where my wife was receiving medical treatment. I was reading the Washington Post when the nurse peeked over my shoulder and saw that I was working my way through an article on stem cell research and cloning.

“Tough issue,” she said. She then explained how she surely would want to find cures for diseases but wouldn’t want to clone a “baby.”

We explained that she didn’t have to choose. All the breakthroughs to date involved the use of stem cells derived from sources other than embryos (cloned or otherwise) and that, indeed, she was in the vast, vast majority who found the idea of cloning a baby abhorrent.

If Lesson One is be the kind of human being you’d like to be around, Lesson Number Two is to know your stuff because opportunities will occur. Indeed, something not dissimilar happened in an adult Sunday school class I teach and in a discussion with friends of my children just recently.

Lesson Three is that with the exception of hard-core pro-abortion types, you will be utterly amazed how “permeable” many people are – – that is, how few people are locked into a thought-out, well-reasoned position. They have a smidgeon of information and a “well, I think…” way of looking at the issue.

I’m not saying they will run over to our corner at the drop of a hat. What I am saying is that, approached respectfully, they will not run away.

What is really intriguing here, by the way, is that it is not uncommon to talk to people you’ve known for years – – people who have never agreed with you or anything – – and suddenly find common ground. Literally, as I was writing this article I exchanged e-mails with a gentleman whose ambivalence on abortion has always been transparent but who is well-known as a self-identified “pro-choicer.”

He took the occasion to inform me that he is firmly against all stem cell research that involves human embryos.

Lesson Four is that our culture is awash in possibilities to gently, matter-of-factly, persuasively make the case for the unborn. As I have said to many people, I doubt if there are many pro-lifers at TIME magazine.

But they don’t have to be to write cover story articles such as “Inside the Womb: An amazing look at how we all begin,” complete with an awe-invoking cover photo. What the reader sees here would remind him or her of the utterly amazing 4-Dimensional, full-color ultrasounds that they have seen in advertisements on television.

There is nothing to suggest they were the result of a cabal of pro-life engineers. It’s just that the ultrasounds carry a powerful pro-life message: that there’s a creature in there who looks amazingly like a baby post-birth.

We can and we should steep ourselves in the basics of fetal development – – the ABCs of our common developmental journey – – so that we can converse intelligently. But no words coming out of our mouths could ever match the impact of that commercial where the mom joyfully, almost reverently “watches” her unborn child. Whew!

A final thought, one that has been brought to my attention much of late.

Surely the unborn child and the elderly woman in a nursing home are deserving of care and protection irrespective of whether you and I make their case in a winsome way. But human nature doesn’t work that way. If our audience finds us or our approach unappealing, most often the real loser will be the defenseless human beings for whom we are trying to recruit new defenders.

While young people have heard the pro-abortion mantra their entire lives, they simply aren’t buying. (While many adults will salute the Politically Correct Flag when it is run up the flag pole, it’s my experience that most kids scorn PC thinking.)

They know the pain, the hurt, the disillusionment that so often accompanies an abortion. They can’t be snowed: abortion kills babies and hurts women.

And it is the innate idealism of youth that compels them to challenge a self-centered, inverted mentality, the kind that says women and men first, children last.

Appeal to that idealism. It will win them over and they will carry the day.

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