Civil movement

Bob Bird: Morphing the pro-life movement

By Bob Bird

“We are in a real war, with real bloodshed, real lives lost, real genocide among us.”

“This is a war, a bloody war, for the soul of our country.”

“We fight not only in the temporal world, but also in the powers, thrones, dominions and principalities of an evil and supernatural kingdom. We must arm ourselves with prayer, penance and sacrifice.

“Any nation that kills its children in such numbers, that country will not last long.”

So was the rhetoric in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I joined the pro-life movement. I’ve even heard it from politicians, but they mostly spoke this way in front of select audiences. I’ve heard it from evangelical preachers and pro-life leaders at banquets and coffeehouses.

But as a Catholic, I wondered why I had never heard it during mass. When my pastor said, “Our church’s position on this issue is well known,” I thought it was unnecessary.

I noted, however, that there was underlying dissent within the church as a whole and within my own parish as well. I decided the pastor was just being careful and it was better for me to catch up.

In Alaska, the pro-life movement was led by evangelicals. They were eagerly trying to get Ronald Reagan elected president. For this reason and many others, I was too. I also wanted to get rid of Senator Mike Gravel, a liberal Democrat, and supported the effort to oust him in Alaska’s 1980 open primary by voting for his Democratic challenger, Clark Gruening.

It worked, and pro-life Republican Frank Murkowski made his way into the US Senate. With a landslide victory for Reagan, we were on the right track.

Or so we thought.

Somehow, the severity of this problem was impossible to communicate. The media would simply not give him any respect. It was confusing, because civil rights had been all the rage for decades, and what more obvious cause could they ask for? There were pro-life liberals, but they dwindled in number, or became Reagan Democrats or outright Republicans.

The media treated pro-life activists as somehow “emotional,” which was another way of saying “irrational.” They wrote sympathetically about elected conservatives, like Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, being forced to endure long, boring lectures on fetal development and abortion techniques — or worse, shocked and offended by viewing gory slideshows.

Loud chanting at picket lines and approaches by sidewalk counselors have been characterized as “intimidating women seeking a constitutionally protected right”, dangerous to the efficiency of medical staff, etc. Crisis pregnancy centers have been demonized and called “fake clinics”. They always are.

This willful ignoring and ridicule of the issue was so frustrating that many of our lectures and discussions centered on “How to Keep the Issue Alive” or “How to Counter Media Lies” and even “How to Get Media Attention” , one thing that is now impossible to imagine. Although Reagan even wrote a brief book while President, Abortion and the conscience of the nation, it has been intentionally ignored or neglected, except in pro-life circles.

Ah, yes, “pro-life circles” – as if we had our own little universe to operate in, at least for now. Many scientifically accurate, exceptional, low-budget/high-quality films and documentaries have been made, such as Affectation Life, Eclipse of Reason, The Silent Scream, A Better Way, Walk America for Life, and much more. Celebrities such as Pat Boone, Charlton Heston, Jack Nicholson and Patty Duke lent their reputation.

The titanic and unparalleled in history, the “March for Life” every January 22, organized by ex-Marine Nellie Gray, was generally ignored by the media, with attendance numbers reported as low, steadily dwindling, or overwhelmingly Catholic. Pro-abortion counter-demonstrators, ever fewer in number and in symbolic numbers, have generally received greater media coverage.

This frustration led, almost inevitably, to a pro-life response in nonviolent civil disobedience, commonly referred to as “The Rescue Movement.” Using the examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and many others, pro-lifers were convinced, in large numbers and from coast to coast, to block abortion clinics, and been arrested and punished. This dovetailed well with the regular pickets, sidewalk counseling and burgeoning crisis pregnancy centers that existed across the United States and Canada.

Civil disobedience would not be easy. The participants had to be trusted to follow a discipline that would remain peaceful, prayerful and submissive. They had to accept the fundamental differences that existed between Evangelicals and Catholics, only to be set aside for a common cause. They had to accept the reality of a criminal record and the real possibility of police brutality and short and long prison sentences.

But it would deliver the goods, it was hoped, by demonstrating the resolve and nerve of pro-lifers and, above all, the seriousness of the abortion issue.

The frustrations with the disdain of the mainstream media, which tried its best to label us “extremists”, “anti-choice”, “illegal” and “violent”, were certainly disappointing but not unexpected. But the institutional pro-life movement ignored us as if we were radioactive, something evangelist Franky Schaeffer warned about in a speech before a general session of the National Right to Life Committee. It was the most difficult for us to accept.

Imagine if the NAACP in the 1960s had joined the chorus of “white moderates” criticizing Dr King in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. That’s what was happening. Schaeffer galvanized the genuine zeal that underpinned the movement, upset the moderates and smoked out the lukewarm NRLC. Before too long, many of us considered the NRLC and its state affiliates too timid to accept the next phase of the struggle, or worse, part of the “controlled opposition”.

What are the phases of this struggle?

First, be ignored. Second, ridiculed. Third, hostility. Fourth, the persecution. And fifth, respect, and with it…victory.

The Dobbs decision was a victory in battle, not the surrender of evil. Evil is now cornered and ticked off. We have gone through stages one, two and three, and are now entering stage four.

And as sure as day follows night, we’ll last through step five.

Bob Bird is President of the Alaska Independence Party and host of a talk show on KSRM Radio, Kenai.