A Healing Strategy
for a Divided Nation
by David C. Reardon, Ph.D.
During the last ten years, post-abortion issues have become increasingly important to the pro-life movement. But within the overall pro-life strategy, post-abortion issues are still just an add-on–an extra argument, an extra service. They have yet to become as central to the pro-life strategy as they must be if we are ever to become a pro-life society.
I believe post-abortion issues remain somewhat marginalized primarily because of inertia. The traditional goal of the pro-life movement was to restore protection for the unborn through judicial appeal, legislative victories, or constitutional amendment. The strategy for pursuing this goal has also been straightforward.
Money is raised from people concerned about justice for the unborn. It is spent in educational and lobbying efforts to increase public awareness of the biological humanness of the unborn and the moral imperative of protecting human life. This public relations campaign is directed at 1) directly deterring abortion by making women more aware of their unborn child’s humanity, and 2) electing pro-life candidates to pass pro-life legislation.
Though this traditional strategy has fallen far short of its ultimate goal, it has met with considerable successes. It has been successful at motivating like-minded people to volunteer, to vote pro-life, and to donate to the cause. It has blocked nearly every major pro-abortion initiative, such as public funding of abortion. It has also kept alive moral awareness of abortion’s evil. The vast majority of people understand that abortion involves the killing of a human life, and most are at least troubled by this fact.
In short the traditional strategy has been successful at containing the battle, but has failed at winning the war. This failure is the result of pro-lifer’s inability to win over the middle majority of Americans — those who are simultaneously anti-abortion and pro-choice.
The Middle Majority
It is known that approximately 70 percent of Americans admit believing that abortion is immoral. But 40 to 50 percent of these same people would allow it under special circumstances or simply because they do not want to “impose their morality” on others, especially loved ones. This is the middle majority with whom we must be most concerned. We must understand that they have conflicted hearts, divided between compassion for the unborn and compassion for women. For most, this conflict of compassion is paralyzing. They don’t know where to stand, so they stand no where, which by default is on the side of the status quo.
Within this middle majority are tens of millions of people who fear that if they condemn abortion they are implicitly condemning their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends. Add to this the millions more who carry about the guilt of having actually participated in an abortion. Of this latter group, a few actively support legalized abortion as a means of defending their own actions. But most are silenced by shame, grieving their mistakes. They not only feel shame, they feel like they would be hypocrites if they were to actively oppose abortion for others. Thus, the shame of abortion works to the benefit of the pro-abortionists.
Victory, then, requires a radical restructuring of our strategy. It is not enough to just identify, motivate, and coordinate the activity of people who share our values. Instead, we must understand the minds of those who are only partially with us. We must find ways, without compromising our own values, to show the middle majority that our goals are compatible with theirs.
To begin, we must recognize that the two chief concerns of the middle majority are: 1) the desire not to interfere with the autonomy of women; and 2) the desire not to condemn those women who have had abortions.
The middle majorities’ concerns for the unborn, which are real, are being constrained by their concerns for women. If we can align their concerns for women with their concerns for the unborn, serving both at the same time, they will join us. An example of proper aligning of the middle majorities’ concerns is found in the success of informed consent initiatives. This is one area in which the middle majority and traditional pro-lifers have found common ground. Informed consent laws first help ensure that women have a free choice. Only secondarily, and indirectly, do they help the unborn by helping women to freely choose against abortion.
The Pro-woman Sandwich
Members of the middle majority will not seriously entertain our pro-life arguments unless we first and always appeal to their concern for women. Only after this link has been established will we be successful at addressing, and enhancing, their lesser concern for the unborn.
For example, Dr. Jack Willke, president of Life Issues and former NRLC president, reports that over the years he and his wife Barbara have faced increasing levels of hostility during their fetal development presentations at college campuses. Their pro-life message was simply not penetrating the walls of defensive anger which they faced. But in the last two years they have begun preceding their talks with a five minute introduction expressing their concern, understanding, and compassion for women who have been through abortions, many of whom felt they had no other choice. Following the fetal development information, they conclude with additional information about post-abortion syndrome and post-abortion healing.
In essence, the Willkes have sandwiched fetal development between two layers of pro-woman compassion. According to Dr. Willke: “The result has been almost dramatic… The anger and combativeness are gone. The questions are civil. We are listened to once again… Now they must take a new and serious look at this issue.”
We know that pro-lifers have always shown compassion for women. This is most evident at our crisis pregnancy centers. But in the course of the public debate, especially as screened by the hostile media, this compassion has often been hidden behind the scenes. Instead the conflict has been summarized as a battle between women’s rights and the rights of the unborn. The solution to this bad publicity is to always–ALWAYS–place our arguments for the unborn in the middle of a pro-woman sandwich.
As mentioned previously in these pages, our best way of defending the unborn is to defend their mothers. The abortion industry can only survive by taking advantage of women in crises. By making this exploitation of women, and the injuries they suffer, the focus of our educational and political activities, we will be tapping into the concerns for women held by the middle majority. Rather than fighting against cultural trends, we can and must turn these trends to our own advantage, redirecting them to a positive end.
Redirectional Not Countercultural
Students of judo learn to use the weight and momentum of an opponent to one’s own advantage. Similarly, we must learn the art of political judo. What are some of the trends in our society which we can redirect to our advantage?
First, we must tap into our society’s hypersensitivity for women’s rights. This is combined with the liberal sensitivity toward new classes of victims. By establishing that there are at least some women being victimized by abortion, we can drive a wedge between feminists and population controllers. Politically, the victims of abortion are unassailable. The pro-abortionists would be pilloried for any direct attack against the integrity of women who are simply bearing witness to their own personal experiences. (Secularists’ are bound by their faith in subjective realities which bind them to respect the claims of every victim.) The abortionists’ only defense is to claim that the sufferings of these women are rare occurrences. Our task is to demonstrate the opposite.
Second, we can also tap into the trend toward increased individual autonomy, especially in the field of patients’ rights. What right do abortionists have to paternalistically withhold information which might affect a woman’s abortion decision? None.
Third, we live in a highly litigious society. People are already conditioned to believe that if they have been injured by someone, especially a doctor, they may have a legal claim. Whether this trend is motivated by a desire for justice or for greed, it is a trend which can be used against the corrupt abortion industry.
Fourth, we live in a society where “saving face” is more important than proclaiming the truth. Pro-abortion politicians and judges feel bound by their past positions on behalf of “a woman’s right to abortion.” The only face-saving way in which they can support laws regulating and restricting abortion is on the basis of “newly discovered information” about the health risks of abortion.
If we can harness these dynamics to more post-abortion healing, we will have an unbeatable force for destroying the sacred idol of abortion.
A Dynamic, Self-propelling Strategy
The pro-woman/pro-life strategy has a much greater interplay of reactions than the traditional pro-life strategy. In this interplay there is the dynamic force of positive feedback. Success in one area increases success in other areas, which leads to still more success in the first, and on and on. Whereas the traditional strategy of increasing public concern for the unborn has been like pushing a boulder up a hill, I believe the pro-woman/pro-life strategy is like pushing a boulder down a hill. Once the initial resistance is overcome, the inertia of existing trends in our society, as outlined above, will provide all the energy necessary to propel us to our goal.
Those who are familiar with the arguments I have made in previous issues will immediately grasp the interconnections which are indicated. But for those who are new to The Post-Abortion Review, I’ll point out a few of the aspects of this strategy in which we must put the most effort.
A Forgiving Attitude
First, through our public relations efforts the pro-woman/pro-life movement must create a more healing environment for post-abortion women and men. We must counteract the image that pro-lifers are judgmental and replace it with an image of compassion and understanding. We desire post-aborted women and men to feel forgiveness, not shame.
The first place we must do this is in our churches. Clergy should be encouraged to give entire sermons on the need for understanding and compassion for those who have had abortions. This can be done without in any way condoning abortion. Instead, it can be done simply by recognizing that in times of great stress, people do even those things which they most abhor.
As a church community we need to acknowledge the tremendous pressures which lead women to choose abortion, especially those which make them feel that abortion is their only choice. We need not judge why they had abortions–they will do that for themselves. Instead, we must recognize their present state of mind, their pains of doubt, their ambivalence, and their grief. We must recognize their desire for healing, even when they do not recognize it. Therefore, our primary service to them is to act as witnesses to the healing grace of God’s mercy. We must assure them that our faith does not condemn any of us to lives of shame. Through God’s mercy, anyone can reclaim hope.
The humanity of the child and the sinfulness of abortion do not need to be at the center of sermons because these truths are implicitly known by those who have been involved in abortions, though it may also be a truth which they dare not look upon. Thus, attempts to force them to confront it only aggravate anxiety, fear, resentment, and anger. In short, walls go up. On the other hand, the truth of what abortion does to women, and men, makes walls come down because this is what they know, this is what they feel and have experienced. The knowledge that one’s church community understands what one has experienced is itself healing.
Using this avenue, post-aborted women and men can be led to the truth they most desperately need, the truth about forgiveness. They need to hear that in repentance and reform there is freedom and new life, even after suffering the greatest of shames. They need to be reassured of our non-condemning acceptance of them as our brothers and sisters. In short, the message of forgiveness must always precede the message of life’s sanctity, for it is only after they feel forgiven, or at least taste its hope, that post-aborted women and men can bear to look directly at the truth about their unborn children.
By creating a more healing environment, a welcoming, non-condemning, forgiving environment, we will be encouraging more people to seek post-abortion healing. We will be acknowledging that it is normal and good to grieve over past abortions. By minimizing shame, we welcome repentance.
This is a good end, in and of itself. But it is also good for the Church and the pro-life movement. Those who experience post-abortion healing strengthen the Church. In finding forgiveness, they find humility and a restoration of their faith. Many become deeply spiritual. Having been to the depths they now cling to the heights. They also strengthen the pro-life cause. They are witnesses to others of the dangers of abortion. As readers of these pages know, there is no more powerful testimony on behalf of the need for social and political reform than the testimony of post-aborted women.
Toward Critical Mass
Perhaps the most important aspect of post-abortion healing is that it is self-perpetuating. The witness of post-aborted men and women encourages still others to seek and accept post-abortion healing.
I am firmly convinced the day will come when the post-abortion healing movement reaches “critical mass.” At that point there will be an explosion of interest in, and demand for, post-abortion healing services. On that day, public empathy for post-aborted women and men will have overcome the pro-abortion bias against “traitors” who speak out against abortion. On that day, movie stars, athletes, politicians, and other public figures will be able to publicly confess their guilt over past abortions and proclaim their healing to others, without fear of destroying their careers.
Post-abortion healing will also propel post-abortion litigation. As more and more women and men find healing in post-abortion forgiveness, more and more will be freed from the slavery of shame. It is shame which now prevents so many women from suing the abortionists who have maimed them. As more cases are litigated and won, malpractice liability will skyrocket. Public concern over the safety of abortion will increase, and media attention will increasingly focus on the debate over abortion’s health risk. By merely establishing public suspicion about abortion’s risks, we will have punched a fatal hole in the pro-abortionists’ most potent myth: the claim that abortion is safe.
Still another aspect of post-abortion healing which should not be missed is its impact on family members. Many people remain silent about abortion in general because they do not want to hurt loved ones whom they know have had abortions. But when these loved ones begin to witness to the grief abortion has caused in their lives, when these loved ones begin to speak of the forgiveness they have received and their desire to protect others, this same loyalty between family members which previously fostered silence will encourage these other family members to speak up and support reform.
This effect should not be underestimated. For every woman who has had an abortion, there are numerous people who remain neutral on abortion, or hide their pro-life sympathies, out of deference to her feelings. Every post-aborted woman who is healed brings with her new allies in our battle. This is our key to a broad segment of the middle majority who are presently avoiding involvement in the abortion debate.
Better Documentation of The Truth
It is no secret that post-abortion research has benefitted immensely from the success of the post-abortion healing movement. Research findings, in turn, have helped post-abortion counselors to better understand their clients’ needs and to thereby serve them better.
Furthermore, as the dangers of abortion are better documented and publicized, post-abortion research will: 1) increase the political pressure for laws regulating pre-abortion disclosure, screening, and the protection of high risk abortion patients; 2) increase the number of women qualified and willing to sue for abortion related injuries; 3) increase the total liability, and win-ability, of malpractice suits against abortionists; 4) increase insurance premiums for abortionists.
New research is also an effective tool for expanding our public relations efforts with the least use of advertising dollars. New research is news. This news will be reported in both the religious and secular press. This news, in turn, increases public awareness of the need for post-abortion healing. Not only does this increases the number of women seeking help, it also increases the level of understanding of the general public. By increasing understanding, we increase empathy for the victims of abortion, which in turn creates a more healing environment, which again makes it easier for even more women to seek healing.
Increased public awareness of abortion’s risks will also increase public receptivity to claims that pro-lifers are seeking to protect women. We are not just “fetus lovers.” We love both the born and the unborn, and want what is best for both of them. This reinforces our image as both pro-life and pro-woman, and it places the opposition in the light of being dogmatically pro-abortion at the expense of women.
Furthermore, better documentation of abortion related injuries not only increases the liability of abortionists, it also decreases their resolve. More than one abortion provider has reported quitting the abortion industry because they became concerned that they were hurting women more than helping them. Anti-abortion propaganda to the contrary, not everyone in the abortion industry is motivated solely by greed. Many abortionists and support personnel are susceptible to the truth of how abortion destroys the lives of women and their families. They live with the stress of assisting in abortions because they cling to the hope that they are helping women. Take away this illusion and they will see that they are only participating in the perpetuation of a pure evil.
(Post-publication note: Since publication of this article, post-abortion research and education efforts have resulted in a mass awakening of our culture with the vast majority of adult voters acknowledging that abortion is more likely to hurt than help women. The impact of this awareness is discussed by Dr. Rachel MacNair in “Focusing on Hope.”)
The traditional pro-life strategy has been especially good at moving latent pro-lifers into action–to volunteer, to vote, to donate. But we need to move beyond preaching to the choir. We need to preach to the middle majority in a voice they will hear: concern for women. By appealing to this concern we can draw them into becoming supporters of our pro-woman/pro-life initiatives. At that point they will begin to become latent pro-lifers, and finally we may hope, they will become active pro-lifers. It is a step by step process. But once the initial steps are taken, it is also a downhill process with the dynamics of human nature and cultural trends working to our advantage.
The destruction of the unborn has only been tolerated because the middle majority believe the claim that abortion generally benefits women’s lives. But when they begin to see that abortion causes far more pain than benefit, the sacrifice of children to abortion will be seen for what it is — an abomination.
Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review 3(1) Winter 1995. Copyright 1995 Elliot Institute