By Josh MacMillan, NCLN Campus Coordinator
On October 20th I was present at a Flag Display organized by Laurier LifeLink. Despite the cold, rainy weather, by early morning 10,000 blue and pink flags, each representing 10 abortions, were planted in the Quad, a grassy square in the centre of campus. The question was posed: “What do you think about 100,000 abortions occurring every year in Canada?”
By mid-afternoon, we had an answer. A mob of students converged on the display, uprooting it, many claiming the display was shaming women, spreading hate speech, using ‘shock’ tactics, not welcome on university campuses, and/or just plain wrong to do. Regardless of their specific justification for their actions, the common sentiment was this: they wanted to protect the women on campus from experiencing trauma due to seeing this display.
This makes sense. No one in their right mind – pro-life or pro-choice – wants to see another human being suffer. When we see harm being done to another, we take action.
In the case of abortion, then, what action must we as pro-lifers take?
Paul Swope, author of Abortion: A Failure to Communicate, recognizes that pro-lifers care deeply about the lives of the pre-born. However, this does not mean that those in favour of access to abortion do not. An unplanned pregnancy inherently changes the identities of the people involved. She becomes a mother. He becomes a father. And that change can be difficult to handle as it alters the current identity a person has of themselves.
He continues to explain that abortion supporters look at an unplanned pregnancy as having one of three undesirable outcomes for the woman: motherhood, adoption, and abortion. Motherhood is undesirable because she might have other plans, such as education and a career. Adoption is dangerous because abandoning her child labels her as a ‘bad’ mother in society; it is also uncertain because the child may one day come looking for her, which may be difficult to face. The last outcome, abortion, by its very nature is an undesirable decision. But due to the gravity of the other options, it becomes a necessary “one of self-preservation … to the woman deciding to abort and to those supporting her decision.”
The pro-choice students who tore up the Flag Display were likely acting in the defence of the women on campus who made the choice to have an abortion. Consistent with Swope’s points, they likely see some students – or themselves – as having to make a hard, undesirable, but justified, decision.
With this understanding of the actions of those against us, Swope suggests that the pro-life movement should, when doing outreach, focus on pro-motherhood campaigns, as “[t]he pro-life movement’s own self-chosen slogans and educational presentations have tended to… focus almost exclusively on the unborn child, not the mother. This tends to build resentment, not sympathy, particularly among women of child-bearing age.” While he is right to criticize the pro-life movement when it does not address the issues surrounding an unplanned pregnancy, it cannot only be pro-motherhood, especially on campus. Focusing solely on pro-motherhood campaigns does nothing to challenge the notion of a ‘choice’ for the demographic most vulnerable to abortion – university- and college-aged women. We can and must offer women better choices, but failing to reveal the harm that one choice will cause to another human being does not challenge the consciences of our peers.
So how do we strike the right balance in showing we are pro-woman and pro-child?
Every outreach event the Pro-Life Student Movement does must have pro-motherhood and post-abortive healing resources available. We must also be better prepared to look into the eyes of our peers with their hurts and heart-breaking experiences and say, “I’m so sorry you are going through this… Can I put you in touch with someone who can help?” This means integrating into all our discussions about the reality of abortion, the message of hope and healing, and making it as clear as possible that we want to help heal the brokenness on our campuses. We should always evaluate the ways we may have not communicated the pro-life message with love, and determine how we can do better. In doing this, we will be more able to affirm women in their identity, an identity that can include themselves as mothers, and challenge them to make the tough decision to defend the life of a human being – possibly their own child.
But even the hardest of truths said with love still hurts. We will be resented for standing up for the preborn, and we will experience backlash, just like we experienced at the flag display. We mustn’t fear sharing the truth and concern ourselves with preserving the pro-life image in order, as Swope states, to “regain the moral high ground in the mind of the… public…” It is the truth that will challenge consciences and, spoken with love, will open the door to dispelling the myths of abortion being a justified decision.