As we move forward, the first thing to do is to put some definition to the why the Pro-Life movement has been such a failure to this point, and to examine if success is in the offing in the short or long term. The seeds of the failure I believe lie not in the pursuit of the goal, but fundamentally in the basic building blocks of the Pro-Life movement, and that the recognition of these seeds hold implications for other groups and organizations.
I stated in my previous post that “[i]n theory, the goal of the Pro-Life movement (please notice the caps, they are important) is to bring about the end of abortion in the United States.” The importance of the caps is to distinguish between people who are pro-life (which is essentially everyone) and the Pro-Life movement as an organized group, represented by organizations such as the National Right to Life Committee or Focus on the Family.
If you were told that the goal of the NRLC was to reduce abortions to zero within a certain time frame, you probably wouldn’t find any reason to think that was incorrect. While that isn’t necessarily wrong, it is very different from their stated goal as found in their mission statement.
The ultimate goal of the National Right to Life Committee is to restore legal protection to innocent human life…. The Committee does not have a position on issues such as contraception, sex education, capital punishment, and national defense. (emphasis added) (1)
Some may say that this is splitting hairs, but I think at the very foundation of the NRLC is the seed of their failure. Their goal is not to stop abortions only, but to do so in a legislative fashion. The goal states a singular path to reaching that goal, and eliminates the need or responsibility to explore other options. They have been so myopic in their pursuit of this goal, that I doubt that many even recognize the significance of this statement.
Many people understand at some level that our legal system is based upon an Adversarial System – every case has a winner and a loser. The outcome of each case is determined in part by the ability of trained advocates (lawyers) to present a particular side of a story. As stated at Wikipedia, “[j]ustice is done when the most effective adversary is able to convince the judge or jury that his or her perspective on the case is the correct one.” (2)
I am not knocking our legal system – but we have to understand the implications of this method. Under our legal system, there will always be losers. For every winner there will be a loser, and for every loser there will be a winner. From a legal standpoint, we consider justice to have been met once a decision has been made.
Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. We recognize this, that justice isn’t always done by the decisions handed down by a judge or jury. We have safeguards in place to help us avoid in-justice being done by our justice system – examples include our right to remain silent granted in the fifth amendment and the concept of innocent until proven guilty.
However, safeguards are not a protection against perceived in-justice when the fundamental set of assumptions brought by each side of a debate are significantly different.
Fundamental Assumptions for Pro-Life
- Life begins at conception
- Child’s life is paramount
Fundamental Assumptions for Pro-Choice
- Life begins at birth
- Mother’s life is paramount
Do you begin to see the problem? Without being able to reconcile the differences in the fundamental assumptions brought to the debate about the nature of justice by the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice sides, in any decision handed down by the courts, there is a legitimate case for in-justice having been done to the losing side. We have gone beyond just trying to determine facts. When there is a significant difference in the fundamental set of assumptions brought to the table, court decisions (and legislative actions) move to negating an entire set of morals and sense of justice. Regardless of which side of the debate one falls, we must recognize that in an adversarial system of justice it is only when competing sides share a common set or near-common set of assumptions can a perception of in-justice be avoided.
Here is the question that both sides need to consider when trying to plan their strategy for “winning” – under what circumstances will an individual or group give up a quest for justice? Broadly, I can see only three ways.
- Death – a person or group will give up a quest for justice when they no longer exist.
- Resignation – a person or group will give up a quest for justice when they no longer believe that a quest for justice can succeed.
- Conversion – a person or group will give up a specific quest for justice when they become convinced that an alternative set of fundamental assumptions have greater value than their current set of fundamental assumptions.
Given the relative financial strength of each side in this debate, the relative courage of their convictions, and the relative faith in the righteousness of their cause, it is unlikely that either side can truly and rationally envision “winning” this debate anytime soon. The debate has been reduced to a legalistic and legislative version of “trench warfare”.
The unfortunate thing that seems evident about human nature particularly through this debate is that a strong faith in the righteousness of a cause and a strong courage of convictions would seem to lead to a myopic vision of the path to winning, such as evidenced by the mission statement of the NRLC.
So the NRLC’s failure to achieve their goals lies directly in their chosen method of attain their goals. Their method is the path of most resistance and in the myopia inherent in their assumptions, are unable to consider alternative means of reaching the goal. Here is the question that we need to ask – is the stated method of attaining the goal part of their fundamental set of assumptions about justice in the abortion debate? In other words, if we conclude that “winning” is not a possibility in the short term, and in the long term it is impossible to estimate a time frame, are there ways to break out of an entrenched myopia without at the same time abandoning or violating a fundamental set of assumptions?