Friday, January 23, 2009


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The battle lines are drawn: the pro-life challenge in America today

by Phil Lawler

Jan. 22, 2009 ( - Tens of thousands of pro-lifers marched in Washington today. Their mood was somber-- not only because they were marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that ushered America into the era of abortion-on-demand, but also because the newly inaugurated President Obama has announced his determination to extend that era.

During last year's campaign Obama did his best to downplay the abortion issue in most of his public appearances. He was the most radically pro-abortion presidential candidate ever nominated by a major political party, but he chose not to emphasize the issue in his campaign speeches (except in an obsequious presentation to a Planned Parenthood audience). His commitment to unrestricted abortion was never questioned; it was also never discussed.

Like any successful candidate, Obama won votes by exciting the enthusiasm of those who agreed with him, without unduly rousing the fears of those who disagreed. Now from his new position in the Oval Office, he faces the challenge of meeting voters' expectations. Inevitably some voters (those who disagreed with his policies) will be frightened that he is doing too much, while others (those who agreed with him-- his core supporters) will be frustrated because in their view he is not doing enough.

Even in these first days of the administration, the frustration of some supporters is showing. Candidate Obama appealed to voters who were tired of warfare. But his immediate plans for Iraq are not markedly different from those of the Bush administration and he has promised to expand the American presence in Afghanistan. Candidate Obama protested bitterly about the prison camp at Guantanomo, but now he concedes that the camp will remain open for at least another year. Candidate Obama decried the Republican handling of America's financial crisis, but he has not offered any substantive new plans for recovery. On all these issues, the new President has thwarted the hopes of his most fervent left-leaning supporters.

But on issues involving human life, President Obama has been prompt to fulfill his campaign promises. Shortly after noon on Tuesday-- even before Obama took the oath of office-- a new White House web site was unveiled, pledging support for unrestricted abortion, legal recognition of same-sex unions, embryonic stem-cell research, and federal use of "hate crime" legislation targeted against critics of homosexuality. The President has promised to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule for homosexuals in military service, to end the Mexico City policy, to support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and to sign the Freedom of Choice Act immediately if Congress approves the legislation. In short, on "culture of life" issues, Obama has promised to give his most radical supporters everything they want.

The sweeping Freedom of Choice Act-- which would enshrine taxpayer subsidies for elective abortions, repeal the ban on partial-birth abortion, invalidate state regulations protecting women and unborn children, and strip the "conscience clause" protection for health-care personnel-- was the foremost concern for most participants in this year's March for Life. But veteran pro-lifers on Capitol Hill say that the legislation will not pass this year. For now, at least, that is not the front line of the battle.

Rather, the most important challenge for the pro-life movement today is to awaken the concern of a sleepy majority-- to help Americans realize how dramatically the Obama administration proposes to change our government's approach to issues involving life, marriage, and family.

Catholic defenders of Obama have argued that whereas the right-to-life movement has traditionally concentrated on political efforts to ban abortion, the new President will take a more productive approach, catering to the needs of women facing crisis pregnancies. That argument is an insult to the thousands of pro-lifers who have counseled women on the sidewalks outside abortion clinics and supported the work of crisis-pregnancy centers. In fact, by making that argument, Obama's apologists show how little they know about the real activities of the pro-life movement in America today.

Father Thomas Euteneuer, the president of Human Life International, is certainly not one of Obama's supporters; he has been a fierce critic of the President's policy stands. But in his latest "Spirit and Life" message to his supporters, Father Euteneuer concedes that the challenges facing the pro-life movement today are not primarily political challenges. "Politics has failed," he writes. "Or rather, we have failed at politics."

Under the Obama administration, Father Euteneuer explains, pro-life activists cannot hope to gain ground in terms of federal policy; they can only hope to avoid further losses. Although 7 of the 9 justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court were appointed by avowedly pro-life presidents, the Roe v. Wade decision has not been repealed; it is unrealistic to expect that it will be reconsidered at any time in the foreseeable future. The few legislative victories that pro-lifers have won in recent years have been rear-guard actions, such as the ban on partial-birth abortion: a grisly but relatively unusual procedure. Today pro-life political strategists are focusing on resistance against the Freedom of Choice Act: a purely defensive battle.

Nevertheless, while the political outlook is grim, Father Euteneuer warns pro-lifers that they cannot and must not give up the battle for the culture of life. Instead they must focus their energy in new ways, to meet new challenges:

Even if the anti-lifers hold the reins of political power, we must not sit back and allow moral anarchists to define all the terms of the cultural or social agenda. Whether it is through social activism for life (crisis pregnancy centers, pickets and prayer marches) or through touching hearts and minds one soul at a time (persuasion, formation, teaching, media), we cannot be neutral about the direction our American culture is heading. It is leading us to certain spiritual death, and no one can afford that. We need to fight for it and never give up the battle.

The key battles of the coming years-- like the key battles of the last 36 years-- will be cultural rather than political. If pro-life Americans can persuade their neighbors to look seriously into the issues, and recognize the frightening inroads being made by the "culture of death," they can win the cultural battle. And if the cultural battle is won, the political victories will follow.

by Phil Lawler

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