Is it Time to Remove the Pro-Life Movement from Politics?

I am guessing I am not alone in being tired of politics and, especially, politicians this election cycle. Often, perhaps more often than not, I am tired of politics. It is just so gritty and manipulative, so low and utilitarian. Give me just one Socrates for every thousand politicians. Though I am not proud of it, I must admit there have been days this fall that I have feared I might just put my fist through the computer screen as stupid politicians treat me as equally stupid. Like the prairie dogs that surround Longmont, they seem to emerge from every hole. The difference is that the rodents are much more attractive than the politicians. Neither, however, can be effectively domesticated.

Despite sounding like a jaded romantic and a bitter old man, I did moderate a debate this past week on the Colorado University campus between two congressional candidates, Jared Polis and George Leing. Whatever prejudices I brought into the room, I found myself very much admiring each of the candidates, and I found the entire moment exhilarating. Frankly, it was a good and civil debate, and it was hard not to think historically, to realize I was playing a role—albeit a tiny one—in the continuation of a tradition that began in 1789 and has never faltered or been forsaken.

Neither candidate touched—in any real or tangible way—social issues. When the issue of abortion came up, each of the candidates professed rather grandly the right of each woman to choose. The matter closed as quickly as it had emerged. That was it. No debate in the least as there was nothing to debate. No one in the audience reacted one way or another. The moment came, and it went.

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I went through a very strange but intense period of quasi-atheism and agnosticism during my teenage years. From age thirteen to twenty, I rejected the orthodox notions of God. Most of this was due to family matters and my reaction to them. Watching my step father take communion and present himself as a faithful servant of the Church while living much of his life in a Mr. Hyde fashion sickened me, and I assumed most Catholics were mere hypocrites. As to God, I did not doubt His existence as much as I hated Him. It was easier to believe in a universe without Him. Should He exist, He did so as a manipulative tyrant.

Because of my admiration for my many Catholic relatives throughout my rather large extended Kansas family as well as my appreciation of Mary (I know, I know—I was not very consistent), I maintained (and have never lost) a love of Catholic tradition and ethics. I was a complete nerd in my teens—reading everything I could get my hands on—and I decided I would one day write a book arguing for Catholic history and ethics without faith. My great models were Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson and, especially, Robert J. Ringer’s Restoring the American Dream. I read each of these books countless times, and I was convinced I could do the equivalent for a faithless Catholicism! Bizarre, I know.

For only a brief moment in those strange teenage years did I consider abortion to be moral … possibly, maybe, but probably not. When I tried to explain this to my mother, she sat me down and explained the Catholic position on the issue. She did so intelligently and firmly, and this conversation remains one of the highlights in my life. My mom is quite brilliant and well read, and anyone would be a fool not to listen to her on such issues. Well, she persuaded me so strongly at that point in my life that I wrote my debate/forensics oration for that academic year on the evils of abortion. Being without faith, I wanted to convince the world (and probably myself) that one could be an atheist and pro-life. I came back to Catholicism in the deserts of Morocco in February 1988, but this is not the place to tell that story. Regardless, I have never wavered in my own anti-abortion stance since that conversation with my mother.

Since the loss of our own child, Cecilia Rose, in 2007, my convictions have become even stronger. That someone would voluntarily end the life of another just boggles my mind and soul, and since the loss of our daughter, even the thought of abortion brings back painful memories of our loss.

Having, I hope, established my sincerity about the evils of abortion, let me make this claim. Whatever successes the pro-life movement has made in the political realm (and amen), they are nothing compared to the successes of the movement in areas other than politics. We need to learn from this. Forty years of arguing about abortion in the realm of politics has gotten the pro-life movement almost nowhere. I am sure in some areas, it has hindered the movement.

Christopher Dawson argued rather convincingly that at the root of every culture lies the “cult,” the common religious sentiments and beliefs of a people. Politics, law, economics, art, etc., emerge from the cult. They do not direct it. To pretend that a law can change the culture is a dangerous notion, as it turns upside the way things actually work. This is not to suggest that laws and politics do not shape culture, but rather that the most successful and permanent changes come when a cult and a culture is convinced of a truth.

Politicians, for the most part, are the worst spokespersons for any single issue. And, we all know why—most politicians seek votes and popularity, not truth.

As with almost every thing in life, real change is difficult, demanding, and time-consuming. Our best hope of ending abortion is not by placing our trust in politicians or the realm of politics, but in aiding those who are pregnant and comforting those who have had abortions. It is in re-convincing the American people that family matters and that life is sacred.

For those of us who love life and the sacredness of every single person, there is no race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. There is only life. What amazes me is that every group—social, cultural, ethnic, sexual—that has faced discrimination is not adamantly pro-life. Eugenics, alive and well under various guises, more often than not attacks those very groups most vulnerable. When the gene is discovered for what makes a person homo or heterosexual, one can bet that that gene will be targeted by many either to change or destroy.

Life will become sacred again only when we live out our beliefs and live them in love. Handing the problem to politicians is not only a recipe for disaster, it is moral cowardice.

Editor’s note: This column first appeared November 4, 2014 on The Imaginative Conservative website and is reprinted with permission.

Bradley Birzer


Bradley Birzer is the Russell Amos Kirk Chair in History and Director of the American Studies Program at Hillsdale College, Michigan. He is the author of many books including Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson, J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth and Russell Kirk: American Conservative. Birzer is Chairman of the Board of Academic Advisors for the Center for the American Idea in Houston and co-founder of The Imaginative Conservative website.

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