Building Alliances for Life
There’s a political adage attributed to Ronald Reagan — “the person who agrees with me 80% is a friend and an ally — not a 20% traitor”. Christians are more familiar with the words spoken by Jesus, “If you’re not against me, you’re with me.”
These basic truths are important to bear in mind, particularly in our current highly polarized political environment. It is all too easy to fall into an “us v. them” mentality, and write off anyone who disagrees with us as if they were unworthy of even being spoken to.
As Catholics, our natural instinct is to build solidarity, not to sow division. Our default position is to advocate for the full spectrum of Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person. This allows us to work on a broader range of issues, which means we have many more potential allies who can be reached.
If you were to listen to the pollsters over the past decades, you would think that our nation is stuck in a perpetual pro-life v. pro-choice deadlock, where nothing can be accomplished. In reality, though, the pro-life movement has been successful in building alliances with many people on specific issues that have wide appeal, even with those who call themselves “pro-choice.” We can recall the consensus behind the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, and that supported the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. Here in New York City, we remember the coalition that came together to publicize the deplorably high abortion rate in our city, particularly among African-Americans.
We should always be looking to build further alliances, to advance the cause of life step by step. A good example of this is the way that the pro-life movement has embraced the pro-woman, pro-child, pro-family strategy that links abortion issues with other concerns that affect women and families. This was successfully used to defeat of the abortion expansion bill here in New York a few years ago.
This effective welcome strategy is on display in Congress right now, as desparate groups come together to press for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, to urge greater protection for babies born alive after an abortion, and to enact a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The late-term ban is a particularly interesting case, there are efforts to link it with other measures, such as an expansion of paid family leave after a woman gives birth, or an increase in assistance to teen parents. This strategy gives real substance to the inherent connection between the pro-life and pro-woman message, and it reaches out to form coalitions across party and ideological lines.
Votes on these bills are taking place this week, just as the Holy Father arrives in America. None of these bills are perfect, and people of good will can have significant reservations about each of them. People can also differ about the wisdom of the political and legislative strategies involved.
But there is one thing that we can all agree on. We cannot be locked into a partisan, divisive model of “us v. them”. We have to build alliances wherever we can find them, in hopes that we can expand our areas of agreement.
We need to be bold in our efforts. We can’t be afraid to reach out to potential friends and allies, to find more people who will stand with us. That’s how we can accomplish concrete things to advance the cause of life, to protect life at its most vulnerable, and to promote the well-being of women and families.