Why Don’t Pro-Life Groups Merge?
Since the mid-1970s, efficiency-minded pro-lifers have asked why all of the major pro-life groups in the United States don’t merge into one colossal organization.
This move would certainly have several major advantages. It would probably be more financially efficient, it would eliminate much duplication of effort, it would be very high-profile, and it would possibly lead to more cooperation and harmony between elements of the pro-life movement.
Unfortunately, reality (in the form of human nature) usually gets in the way of such plans.
First Obstacle: Strategic Conflicts
It would be virtually impossible for this process to even get out of the starting gate because of the basic conflicts regarding strategy among leaders of the pro-life movement. There are at least five major points of contention:
1. Purity vs. Pragmatism
The most important of these points of contention is purity vs. pragmatism. Most pro-life organizations advocate the “purist” or “no exceptions” approach. This viewpoint holds that every unborn baby, regardless of health or circumstances surrounding his or her conception, is equally precious in the eyes of God and is therefore deserving of protection. Laws which classify some unborn babies as not as worthy of protection as others (as with fetal deformity, rape, and incest exceptions) are inherently illicit.
Meanwhile, other pro‑life groups believe that, under a system of abortion on demand, the purist approach is impractical. They advocate trying to save as many babies as possible under prevailing legal conditions.
Every pro-life group believes that every abortion is abhorrent, a killing of the innocent. But “no exceptions” pro‑lifers would oppose a ban on abortion except for rape and incest, and “pragmatic” pro‑lifers would support it. This intractable problem has been plaguing the pro-life movement since its beginnings, and is not likely to be resolved any time soon.
Although the “purist” and “pragmatic” strategies are in practice compatible, there would probably not be room for both of them in a single large pro-life group.
2. The Question of Abortifacients and Contraception
The second fundamental conflict involves abortifacients and contraception.
All pro‑life groups oppose surgical abortion and the RU‑486 abortion pill. However, some do not take a position on abortifacients such as the hormonal oral contraceptives (OCs), the “morning‑after” pill (MAP) or “emergency contraception,” intrauterine devices (IUDs), Norplant and Depo‑Provera. These methods of birth control all sometimes act by preventing implantation, therefore resulting in early “silent” abortions. Still other groups do not mention contraception at all, believing that this would dilute their message and somehow “turn people off.”
3. Single Issue or Multi-Issue?
Another basic disagreement is the question of being single issue vs. multi-issue. Some of the larger existing pro‑life groups direct their efforts towards a number of issues. They may be active against abortion, the death penalty, and war, among other evils. Most pro‑life groups, however, concentrate on one or two closely-related issues, such as the elimination of abortion and/or racist population control programs.
If all of the pro-life groups in the USA combined into one organization, this conflict would persist since some issues would be emphasized too much and some would not receive enough attention, depending upon the point of view of individual members.
4. Approaching the Other Side
Next is a problem that many pro-lifers struggle with on a personal level ― being “nice” vs. being direct.
Most Christians think that the best way to approach people about abortion is by doing so in a gentle and non‑threatening manner. Others believe that this technique withholds the entire truth, and so they speak plainly and might even use gruesome pictures of aborted babies and parallels to the Holocaust to get their points across.
A pro-life “super group” would have to decide which way to go and, once again, many of its members would feel alienated by whatever decision was made.
5. The Issue of Sanctioning Aborting Women
Finally, there is the question of sanctions against aborting women. Some pro‑lifers argue that there is no difference between infanticide and abortion, and that everyone should instinctively know that abortion is wrong, while others point out that God’s law, which is written on our hearts, is obscured by sin.
There are two sides to this question as there are with all of the others. Some pro‑lifers say that, if we really believe that unborn children are equal in status to born children, we must treat abortion as murder under the law. But others recognize that many women feel forced or compelled into having abortions. If a person is driven to commit a murder not of their own free will, then they are not as culpable. Therefore, there will often be extenuating circumstances.
There are other disagreements among pro-life groups, such as the question of voting for political candidates that may believe that some abortions are justified. However, as it stands now, there are more than one hundred major pro-life groups in the United States. They take a variety of stands on all of the conflicts mentioned above, and so there is a place for everyone, regardless of their beliefs.
However, a single large monolithic pro-life group would eventually have to take a stand on all of these conflicts, thus alienating a large percentage of people who are considering joining the pro-life movement.
Second Obstacle: Selecting a Leader
Let us assume for a moment a scenario where intense discussion among pro-lifers has led to agreement on all of the above conflicts, which is unrealistic in itself. We then have to face the unpleasant fact that the pro‑life movement has never been able to exert its strongest effort in defending preborn children because there is often public disagreement among both national and local pro‑life organizations in the United States.
Getting pro‑life groups to cooperate is often very difficult, given the reasons mentioned above.
Third Obstacle: A Target for Pro-Abortion Groups
The idea of pro-life groups combining is quite tempting in some ways. The total budget of all pro-life organizations in the United States almost matches that of Planned Parenthood. But let us think of a parallel situation for a moment.
The United States Navy currently possesses about 270 ocean-going vessels (including submarines) which have a total tonnage of about 5.1 million. Let us imagine for a moment that the Navy embarks on a program that scraps all of these vessels and combines all of their capabilities into a colossal 5,000,000 ton dreadnought half a mile long, which has gigantic guns and two-foot-thick armor. This monster could do it all ― launch aircraft, bombard targets with 20-inch guns, fire missiles, etc.
It would also be disastrously vulnerable. One or two cruise missiles could send it to the bottom of the sea.
A single huge pro-life conglomeration would be just as vulnerable to a barrage of harassment lawsuits. Nothing would please pro-abortion groups more than to have one hundred nimble targets coalesce into just one.
The Navy, the Army and the Air Force are not uniform in their missions ― they have many well-defined units that perform missions supporting the overall objectives of their branches. The Army has “activists” that destroy the effectiveness of the enemy (Infantry, Armor, Field Artillery), support personnel (Medical, Supply, Ordnance) and those that deal in the fundamentals (training schools and courses like Basic, Airborne, Ranger, etc.). The same holds true for the Navy, Air Force and Marines.
There is a place for everyone in the pro-life movement today. It does not matter if you are male or female, there is a place for you. It does not matter if you are Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Buddhist, or atheist — the babies need you. Are you a dentist? Pharmacist? Attorney? Plumber? Unemployed? We have lifesaving work for you to do.
There is no need for a gigantic lumbering super-group; we have decades of experience and have saved the lives of millions of unborn babies. We will continue to fight for their lives regardless of what the culture of death throws at us.
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Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.