A New Game: Shifting the Pro-Life Strategy

Pro-lifers have become used to having an ally in Washington, D.C. But now that we are faced with a pro-choice House, Senate, and presidency, with a nearly filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the facts demand a new path of action.
Many pro-lifers are already engaged in some form of activism beyond voting, whether it’s donating money, writing letters, joining volunteer groups, or staffing crisis pregnancy centers. But the new political reality demands that we all pitch in. The landscape has changed, and unless the pro-life faithful change with it, we can expect continued defeats in the future.
With that in mind, here are five ways we can face the new challenges ahead.
1. Pray. As the Baltimore Catechism tells us, our purpose on earth is “to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.” Nowhere does it say we are called to succeed in our earthly endeavors; the point is to be holy.
In that spirit, any pro-life apostolate must be accompanied by prayer. It helps guard against frustration, pride, rudeness, sloth, and ebbing enthusiasm. More than simply praying for success, or for one’s enemies, praying for oneself is vital. Being faithful in an apostolate is a great way to grow in holiness.
2. Think outside the political realm. Our new approach needs to communicate our pro-life beliefs in ways that don’t involve voting or lobbying. We need to wear more pro-life T-shirts (here’s another vendor) and put more pro-life bumper stickers (yet another vendor) on our cars. We need to be polite, loving, and firm when discussing pro-life issues with pro-choicers (here are some ways to do just that). We need to write letters to our local newspapers and engage others charitably on blogs and in comboxes. We need to volunteer more at our local crisis pregnancy centers and picket more at our local abortuaries. We need to give money to projects that buy pro-life billboards and TV ads.
In short, we need to be so loud in our pro-life convictions that the media’s efforts to marginalize us will fall flat in the face of our omnipresence. And besides, who knows where we might find converts?
3. Communicate. President Obama’s margin of victory in many states came partially from his effective use of the Internet and Web-based technology. From the volunteer-organizing power of his Web site to the personalized feel of text-messaged announcements, his harnessing of technology helped him win.
The good news here is that technology is neutral and can be used just as effectively for our own cause. We should take President Obama up on his invitation to post a message to his transition team. Some possibilities:

Do not sign FOCA.
Promote and sign the Pregnant Women’s Support Act (created by Democrats for Life of America, and promoted by the USCCB).
Do not fund embryonic stem cell research.
Stimulate our biotech industry by funding adult stem cell research and induced pluripotent stem cell research.

Note that not all of these proposals are negative; they should ideally be balanced with positive suggestions. And as always, it’s important to be polite.
These messages would be just as effective sent to our new senators and representatives. It’s worth noting, however, that letters are no longer the best way to contact national officials, as they can be held up more than a month in the system. For specific pieces of legislation requiring quick action, e-mails are best, followed by phone calls.
Communication with our elected officials is vital if they are to realize just how many of us are out there. If all they hear are pro-choice voices, those are the voices they’ll heed.
Also, consider signing up for legislative alerts from pro-life groups. Some of these include National Right to Life, the American Life League, the USCCB, the American Family Association, Lifenews, and Democrats for Life. They provide great information about current issues that require action (and when they ask you to contact your legislator, be sure to do so).
Finally, Facebook and other networking sites can be quite effective at organizing people and disseminating information quickly. It’s a great way to hook up with other pro-lifers, provide ads or links to pro-life resources on your page, join pro-life online groups, and more.
4. Focus on Main Street. Tip O’Neill’s old argument that “all politics is local” may seem clichéd, but it is vital to the future of the pro-life movement.
First, we should treat every election like a presidential election. If pro-life voters were to show up to the polls for every election, as they already do for the presidential races, we could have a huge impact on the number of pro-life delegates, state senators, and U.S. representatives. These positions are often stepping stones to higher offices, like governor and U.S. senator. In this way, we can feed new pro-life junior officers into the system, encouraging them to work their way up. Remember, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was once Mayor O’Malley, who was once City Council Member O’Malley, who was once “Hey, Marty, get me some coffee.”
Although there isn’t a way to vote more than once, there is a way to magnify your vote: Volunteer for pro-life campaigns. It may sound intimidating at first, but mostly what campaigns need are people to stuff envelopes, knock on doors, offer yard signs — and, yes, fetch coffee for the candidate. While running for office isn’t for everyone, volunteering for someone else’s campaign is a great way to test the waters.
Another way to get involved locally is to fight for pro-life, pro-family legislation in the state house. Generally, contacting a delegate or state senator has far more impact than contacting a U.S. representative or senator, since the districts are so much smaller.
Legislation can filter up from the bottom, too. National legislation doesn’t always materialize out of the ether; instead, it’s often modeled on successful state legislation. If a good pro-life bill has been successful in a few states, for example, it has a better shot on the national stage. Similarly, if new pro-choice bills are blocked at the state level, it will be more difficult for them to succeed nationally.
Finally, if your state doesn’t yet have a State Catholic Conference (like this one), contact your archdiocese to try to make it happen.
Here are some important contacts on local politics:

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Pro-life offices for every Catholic diocese and archdiocese
National Right to Life’s offices for every state
Blogs about local politics for every state
Information about county politics for every U.S. county
Official state and local government Web sites
Political party contact information for every state and many counties
Ratings for many locally elected officials
Political resources for those interested in running for office in the future

5. Volunteer.It goes without saying that spending time volunteering at your local crisis pregnancy center may be more important now than ever. Combox frequenter Adriana suggests volunteering at sites that serve the poor as well: “When Hispanics need help,” she writes, “they can find it in places staffed or sponsored by Democrats, while Republicans come to them only when there is an election. Come election time they choose what is recommended by people they have come to know and trust, rather than complete strangers.”
A fair point. Jesus asks us to clothe Him, feed Him, visit Him, and welcome Him (Mt 25:31-46), and we need to do so in a plurality of ways. In the current political climate, it’s not enough to continue business-as-usual. A new game requires a new strategy. Let’s get started.

Eric Pavlat is a board member of Democrats for Life of Maryland, Inc., and a columnist and blogger for InsideCatholic.com.

  • Eric Pavlat

    Eric Pavlat is a convert from Unitarian Universalism who entered the Church in 1996. He lives in Maryland with his wife and six children. He is also a perpetually professed Lay Dominican in St. Pius V Pro-Chapter, located in Catonsville, MD. He founded Democrats for Life of Maryland, Inc., in 2004, served one term as president, and stayed on the board of directors until 2010. He now considers himself more a Distributist than anything else. Eric teaches 10th grade honors and special education students in English literature, composition, and grammar at his alma mater, Parkdale High School.

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