NRL News

How Pro-Lifers and “Pro-Choicers” tell stories

by | Jul 1, 2014


By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. Beginning today I’ll be writing a number of posts—and reproducing others written by different speakers—from last week’s National Right to Life Convention held in Louisville, Kentucky. As one moderator put it—and correctly so, in my opinion—it was the best NRLC convention ever.

Obvious_Child_posterThe following was scheduled to be the concluding part of a workshop entitled, “The Art of Pro-Life Persuasion: One Size does not fit all.” But my three colleagues (Dr. Jean Garton, Lori Kehoe, and Rai Rojas) were so brilliant, we never got to this. I will be writing about that workshop tomorrow; in the meanwhile, I offer this contribution which was not nearly as good as those produced by Jean, Lori, and Rai.

I would like to contrast how “pro-choicers” and pro-lifers tell their stories. That’s how we communicate—in bits and pieces, shards and fragments—which we bring together into narratives: stories.

As the Marxists used to say, it is no accident that the new abortion “comedy” Obvious Child is getting heaps of praise from reviewers who revel in the implicit and explicit message of Donna Stern, the lead character, played by Jenny Stark. Likewise it is no coincidence that Stark was a bit player on Saturday Night Live best remembered for uttering the ultimate four-letter obscenity on her first show.

What in the world, you ask, does an obsession with obscenity (and urine and flatulence and adolescent behavior from a grown woman so gross it makes an audience squirm) possibly have to do with “normalizing” abortion, the be-all and end-all of pro-abortionists?

Ann Hornaday is the lead movie critic for the Washington Post who adored the film. Speaking of the director, Hornaday observes, “Gillian Robes­pierre, like so many of her contemporaries, clearly sees profanity as a legitimate arrow in the quiver of liberation, a mode of bracing, confrontational candor that instantly disarms fusty structures of sexism and other depredations.”

So, the fouler the mouth, the sturdier the challenges to “sexism and other depredations.” Potty mouths of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but those silly bourgeoisie inhibitions.

Some of the deep thinkers in the pro-abortion camp are convinced that while popular culture, particularly movies and television, has played a huge role in “stigmatizing” abortion, they can now redeem themselves. The heads they win, tails everybody else lose scenario they lay out goes like this.

The character is imaginary, so she doesn’t have to worry about condemnation. Or, if there is the slightest hesitation in congratulating her for having an abortion (which is the same for them as condemning her), the focus is neatly shifted from the loss of life to the insufficiently joyous response of others.

Some of these same propagandists believe, as one wrote, that “we often allow fictional characters even more complexity than we allow all but those closest to us in real life. …They have the capacity to exist as a whole person”—layered, multifaceted, often flawed. An abortion becomes just one part of their story, not the whole thing.”

Of course for the dead baby, the abortion is her “whole thing.”

Obvious Child’s Donna Stern is plenty flawed, less so layered or multifaceted. Hers is the moral maturity of a pre-adolescent. Complexity is for adults and the not-subtle subtext of the film is you can’t expect someone who lives a hand-to-mouth existence, whose night job is as foul-mouthed stand-up comic, to act like an adult, let alone bear and raise a child.

But, luckily, while the child him or herself is a cipher, the child’s death can be redemptive. Hornaday tells her readers,

“The whole point of the film is that she’s unformed, using her 20s to experiment and make mistakes and, in the case of deciding whether to terminate her pregnancy, make the decisions that will ultimately create a more experienced — maybe even wiser and more compassionate — adult human being.”

If it takes the death of a defenseless unborn child to help Stern become “wiser and more compassionate,” what a small price to pay for adulthood. You can see Hornaday’s conclusion coming a mile away:

“The result is a movie that feels risky and forgiving and, despite its traditional rom-com contours, refreshingly new. If we can stipulate that existence is an inherently messy affair, ungainly and contradictory and confoundingly unresolved, then ‘Obvious Child’ may be the most pro-life movie of the year.”

So if Stern is sufficiently “sweet” and if we understand that life is complicated and “cofoundingly unresolved,” presto, chango, the destruction of life becomes its affirmation—“pro-life.”

To expect responsibility from the pro-abortionist, to look for mercy for the powerless from people who honestly believe our biggest problem today is that there is not enough “access” to abortion—which is simply shorthand for more and more and more and more abortions—is to the miss the whole point.

The sum and substance of pro-abortion persuasion? In a nutshell, nuts to you, Rick Warren, it is all about me.

There was a day when where the pro-life perspective enjoyed what you might call the home field advantage. That’s no longer the case in popular culture and surely also in most of the dominant media outlets. But I would argue that we are beginning to restore some of the massive erosion that has taken place, in no small part by the behavior you model.

I write for a living, so I’d be the last guy to minimize the power of words and images. But it is also so very true that the wrong messenger—or the right messenger with the wrong heart—can neutralize even the most self-evident truth.

So what about us? Let me quickly make three points.

#1. Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with having said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” It is our obligation to help women facing a crisis pregnancy before and after birth. That also establishes our credentials with someone who has no strong feelings either way. Moreover assisting women and their babies appeals to the idealism of young people who are the most persuasive apostles we have. But most important, it is consistent with who we are and what we believe, and honors the cause many of us have given most of our adult lives to.

#2. Because we are adults, we take responsibility for our behavior. Are we flawless, never make a mistake? Of course not. Moral maturity is becoming the decision maker who less and less frequently fails the test. But when we do, we don’t try to disguise our failures by pretending what we did–and to whom–lacks ethical weight.

There is one ten letter word that is perhaps the only true obscenity to pro-abortionists: repentance. Our humanity shines through when we express regret and ask for forgiveness. That is why women who have experienced abortions and who now regret them are welcomed into our Movement and why they are such persuasive champions.

But we offer them a shoulder to cry on regardless of whether or not they have come to that stage of recognition. They are not notches on our belt but human beings who, like you and me, don’t always meet the challenge in difficult times.

#3. If pro-abortionists are tapping in a culture that is becoming ever coarser and more brutal, how can I nonetheless believe they will eventually lose? This is a little indirect but stay with me for a moment.

Last Sunday I was listening to a program some of you may hear on your local NPR station: Radio Lab. Diana Deutsch is a psychologist who tested 203 students at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music to see how many of them had perfect pitch.

On a test of 36 different notes, incredibly 74% of the kids who spoke an East Asian language had perfect pitch while only 14% of the English speakers did. Genetics? Tiger Moms? Naw.

Unlike English, which is atonal, many East Asian languages, such as Mandarin, Cantonese and Vietnamese, are “tonal,” so that a word’s meaning often depends on the tone in which it is said (not to be confused with intonation such as sarcasm). So we English speakers say (for example) “me” in essentially a monotone whereas the same exact word in Chinese will have four different meanings, depending on the tone.

Dr. Deutsch surmises that learning perfect pitch is, for fluent speakers of a tonal language, akin to learning a second tone language.

By the language we use, the imagery we employ, and the services we perform on behalf of women—pre and post-abortion—pro-lifers are providing an alternative to the me-me-and-always me idiom of the pro-abortionist. In a way it’s like perfect pitch, once thought to be confined to an infinitesimal few.

Pro-lifers are equipping their own children and others who come into contact with us a second language, one with a richer, more vibrant vocabulary. It is a vocabulary built around the understanding that we become more fully human not by sacrificing unborn children but by sacrificing for them.

Categories: Abortion