It is always healthy for the pro-life effort when new ideas spring up and generate discussion about better ways to save babies, educate Americans and otherwise move forward. This is particularly true in the hostile climate that seems to have engulfed much of visible pro-life political activity these days. So what are the new ideas?
Well, of course, the centerpiece is personhood, which means the Federal Personhood Amendment , but the way we get there is where the sea changes come in. As one of our most astute pro-life activists, Cliff Zarsky, recently wrote in an e-mail to me, "I believe our focus now has to be where it should have been from the beginning, on ending the practice of abortion at the local level. The pro-life people of Corpus Christi did this under the leadership of Rex Moses and his dedicated followers of the ‘Rescue Operations’ in the late 80s and early 90s, and we are blessed today with no commercial abortion clinics and only Dr. Aquino who advertises for abortions."
That's an incredible testimony to the effective leadership of Rex Moses who, at that time, was a heroic figure to many pro-life Americans, including yours truly. Rex knew exactly how to get people motivated, and he did it with great faith that in God, all things are possible. This is why Rex was so successful. The New York Times called him a "crusader" and told its readers in a lengthy 1990 report,
Until recently, Corpus Christi was like most other cities when it came to the subject of abortion. There were strong feelings on both sides, but other questions, like whether to increase property taxes, seemed more urgent.
Then an anti-abortion crusader named Rex Moses came to town, saying he was called here by God because Corpus Christi means ''the Body of Christ'' in Latin.
It has been nine months since Mr. Moses arrived. The Roman Catholic Bishop has excommunicated at least two employees of local abortion clinics. The sheriff has hung posters of aborted fetuses in county offices. The City Council has been forced by petition to consider an amendment to the city charter saying that life begins at conception. A local doctor testified in court that his children fear protesters will burn their house down because their father performs abortions. And the local newspaper's opinion pages have been filled with heated reaction.
Rex caused a stir and because of his courage, things began to happen in Corpus Christi – good things that continue even to this day. Not only that, but today the pro-life movement is blessed with many who have the same effect on people and the same dedication. The street activism inspired by David Bereit of 40 Days for Life, Erik Whittington of Rock for Life, and Jim Sedlak of Stop Planned Parenthood International, is successful for the same reason. When people finally realize that abortion is killing people and Planned Parenthood foments that activity, they are willing to stand up and be counted every time.
Zarsky’s e-mail to me continues,
"Rome wasn't converted from the top down, and Constantine didn't impose Christianity on the Roman Empire, but he acknowledged the spread of Christianity, which had already begun to transform the empire from within, not only without the support of the government, but often its active opposition throughout the Age of the Martyrs.
At that time exposure and other forms of infanticide and of abortion were by both chemical and mechanical means, Christians did not petition the Roman Senate to outlaw such practices. Instead they converted souls, and preached that the "way of life" that the converts had embraced meant that they could not kill a child by abortion or kill a newborn child."
Today we could say much the same thing. We live in a nation that has just elected a leader dedicated to aborting children, even though he says otherwise. But he is not the problem, not really. The people who voted for him, perhaps – because they did not realize that abortion is deadly to babies or did not care – are the ones we have to reach. That is going to be accomplished without the fanfare of political frenzy and media hype, and with the steady, dedicated effort that introduces people, one by one, to the actual horror of what abortion is.
In the process of promoting all forms of activism, we need to be ever aware that there is much more to it than holding a sign. Pro-life activism comes in all shapes and sizes, from the prayer group and the individual who prays the Rosary daily for the conversion of our nation, to the group in front of an abortion mill with signs and leaflets, to the college campus, to the dining room table, where honest education can take place. In addition, there are the activities that we pursue every day at work, at home and with members of our Church family. In each of these meaningful moments, we can and should teach the pro-life way of life, not only by what we say, but by how we live.
Being part of the pro-life community produces a special joy that acts like a magnet … Others who don't understand want to know so they can be as joyful as we are.
As part of the sea change in the pro-life movement, we have to acknowledge what people do not want to accept: Abortion is an act of murder. We have to be willing to tell that story and show those images with taste and with respect, but we must never deny that the graphic pictures have a place.
Moving America toward a time when abortion is defined by the people of this nation as an unspeakable crime requires all sorts of efforts, and as long as the common goal is personalizing that baby and affirming his mother as someone blessed with a gift, then any approach proposed should be considered. Clearly, the strategies of old have not worked or I would not be writing this 36 years after abortion was decriminalized. It's time for a change in tactics, a sea change in the way we do our pro-life work.
Writing about the "martyrdom of witness," the desire to imitate Christ in every aspect of our lives, Father John Hardon, S.J., tells us,
If we would know the power of this martyrdom of witness we have only to read the annals of the early Church. The handful of believers whom Peter baptized on Pentecost Sunday [was] as a drop in the immense culture surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Yet see what happened. This small group of convinced faithful [was] able, in less than three hundred years, to turn the tide of paganism in the Roman Empire. For a long time they were deprived even of the basic civil rights accorded other citizens. They were often hunted like animals, and the catacombs tell us that they had to hide when celebrating the Liturgy and hide the tombs of their revered dead.
But their patience and meekness finally prevailed. Yes, but only because it was supported by unbounded courage, born not of their own strength, but of the power that Christ promised to give all His followers that shall witness to His name everywhere. This promise is just as true today. All that we need is to trust in the Spirit Whom we possess, and never grow weary in giving testimony to the grace we received.
The victory is waiting for us; all we have to do is make sure the pro-life sea change begins with and ends with Christ. Then victory is assured.