Saturday, June 01, 2013

Life Report: Shawn Carney from 40 Days for Life on the State of the Pro-Life Movement

Shawn Carney from 40 Days for Life on the State of the Pro-Life Movement

My thoughts:

Shawn Carney is co-founder of 40 Days for Life, an absolutely amazing campaign that has accomplished things that have astonished even its founders. Sean reviews these accomplishments:
  • 550,000 people have participated.
  • Over 25% of those people had never been active in prolife work before.
  • 75 abortion clinic workers have converted from abortion advocacy to prolife.
  • Nearly 7,000 babies have been saved from abortion.
  • A high school student got Planned Parenthood evicted from a business strip.
  • 261 cities are now participating.
  • There is currently a 40 Days for Life campaign going on in Moscow.
He also gave us background on his own involvement in the pro-life movement with Coalition for Life, an effort of over 60 churches in central Texas with the goal of "ending abortion in the Brazos Valley area peacefully and prayerfully." While they have not yet met that goal, they have been reducing the number of abortions perpetrated locally, including, they note, a 28% drop in 2004. They've also achieved other worthy goals such as removing Planned Parenthood from the Bryan Independent School District.

Shawn pointed out the vital nature of local activism. There is a lot of disappointment and frustration on the Washington front, but on the grassroots, local front, over half of all dedicated abortion facilities have closed in the past 20 years and the number of pregnancy help centers has grown to where it is triple the number of abortion facilities. I find this encouraging because this means that women can have access locally to the resources they need, and abortion businesses need to work harder to try to attract customers.

Shawn asserts that abortion is going to end at the local level, and much of what I've seen in 30 years of activism tells me that he's right on the money. Abortion rates vary dramatically from one area to another, and the resources and culture of the local area profoundly impact women's perceptions of how to cope with the troubles they might face during pregnancy. Nancy Howell Lee's research, published in 1969 as The Search for an Abortionist, found that the single greatest predictor of how a woman would respond to a difficult pregnancy was her perception of how her peers would handle the situation. If her peer group adjusted and made room for a new baby, she was likely to do so as well. If abortion was common among her peer group, she would arrange an abortion. Establishing our communities as places where women embrace surprise children will significantly reduce abortion vulnerability among the women who live there.

Josh and Shawn talked about the vast difference between the peaceful 40 Days for Life participants and the stereotypical ambulatory embodiments of anger and condemnation.The loving attitude, Josh noted, drew Abby Johnson to the 40 Days for Life activists when she experienced her change of heart. Sean stressed that the activists' presence outside an abortion clinic might be the only contact with loving life activists that that woman ever has. He talked about the longing and loneliness that many women feel as they approach the abortion clinic, and the fact that many of them are actually aching for somebody to be there for them to offer a better way. He doesn't articulate it directly, but it truly is about coming across as willing to help, not just wanting to shame and humiliate her.

Shawn stressed as well being there for the workers as well. Shawn stressed how the meekness and humility dissipates the anger of abortion clinic staff toward the people praying outside. That's why workers quit and women leave.

Josh brought up the difficulty in getting people to start doing sidewalk counseling.  Shawn stressed that the conversation between a sidewalk counselor and the woman about to walk into an abortion facility is "the most important conversation in the world." A lot of people, Shawn said, are overwhelmed by the idea and wonder, "What am I gonna say?"  Shawn noted that it doesn't have to be anything profound. Say hello to the woman. Tell her that you understand that she's not having a good day today, that this is a difficult day. That you recognize that she doesn't want to be there. Once workers get started in sidewalk counseling, Shawn noted, they want to do it again. The power of sidewalk counseling is so great that many abortion clinics install blinds in their waiting rooms to keep their customers from seeing that hope and love wait on the other side of that window.

Josh asked what the prolife movement's greatest victory is, and Shawn replied "persistence," and noted that March for Life is the largest gathering in Washington, DC year after year shows that we have the determination to see abortion ended. Shawn credits that to life activism being primarily a religious movement, that it's build of people of faith. As somebody who grasps what a monolith Big Abortion is, my only solace typically is that God's strength is made perfect in our weakness. From a worldly perspective, there's no way the abortion monster can be beaten. It's entrenched in the media, in the medical community, in schools of social work, in public health institutions, and in organizations from the Girl Scouts to the NEA. We can not hope, on our own power, conquer this enemy. It was this entrenchment, and the way this machine of death pulls well-meaning people in to do so much damage, that convinced me that there is a supernatural intelligence behind abortion advocacy. I believed in Satan before I believed in God, because I had seen Satan's hand at work in abortion.

Shawn pointed out as well that we are a movement of sinners. I disagree with his assessment, though, that the prolife movement isn't comprised of the self-righteous. I've seen a lot of evidence that people become active -- or at least vocal -- in the prolife movement because abortion is such a spectacular sin, so readily visible as evil, that for some people live activism stokes their egos the way watching The Jerry Springer Show stokes other people's egos. You can look at abortionists the way people look at Jerry Springer guests and think, "I may do bad things, but I'm nowhere near as bad as THAT!" But God is not fooled by externals, as C.S. Lewis eloquently pointed out. The greatest sin, after all, is the sin of Pride. It was the sin of Pride that caused the fall of Lucifer. It's easier to gloss over ones' own sins by congratulating yourself that at you're not killing babies.

I agree with Shawn, though, that a sizable chunk of the prolife movement is comprised of people who have done abortions, had abortions, paid for abortions, promoted abortions, and thus have the humility to know how easy it is to wind up on the other side of that fence. Shawn also noted, "There is a huge river that goes from the prochoice side to the prolife side." Among his associates are a large proportion of people who were once prochoice, who are post-abortive, and who have even worked in abortion. There is, he noted, no influx of people who realized in their old age that they should have been spending a lifetime promoting abortion. I'll also point out that there is no prochoice equivalent of Abby Johnson or Bernard Nathanson or Carol Everett, speaking out now against the evil that they once did. The conversions based on seeing what the movement actually does to human beings -- babies and mothers -- all move in one direction. I've never heard of a single person who came away from a prolife pregnancy center saying that what they'd done was harming women and that abortion is clearly the way to go. That says a lot about the reality of each side.

Josh asked what the prolife movement's greatest weakness or failing has been.Shawn named division. That's one of my pet peeves as well. People aren't willing to set their hand to the plow that's been set before them, but they feel compelled to throw stones at people plowing other rows. I think that there are multiple needs for people doing very different things, and that there is no one right way to approach life activism.

Shawn spoke about how many converts say that if only people knew about the reality of abortion and the humanity of the unborn baby, they would never be able to support abortion. He spoke of the need for educational outreach that shows how horrific abortion is to encourage more people to become active in opposing it. He is perhaps a bit more optimistic about that than I am. Women -- and abortion workers -- are becoming more and more aware that what abortion does is kill a baby. I'm not sure that the occasional horrified convert can overcome the callousness and hardness of heart that has developed.

Still, even as some of these clinic workers discussed greater and greater acknowledgement that abortion is killing a baby, there is also recognition that many staff are uncomfortable with that reality (though not, it seems, uncomfortable enough to quit). I am also not quite sure what to make of Charlotte Taft's remarks. She told the group at a National Abortion Federation meeting about a local activist that had come to visit the clinic. This activist said, "If I believed that abortion is the deliberate ending of a potential human life, I coudln't be prochoice." Taft told her fellow abortion workers, "I said, 'You'd better not see an ultrasound!"

They laughed.

So there's a great deal of hardness of heart, but in with that hardness of heart is a recognition that the abortion business would lose a lot of support if many of their supporters saw what abortion really is. How does that balance play out? I don't know.

Josh asked, "What single thing should prolifers be doing that they're not doing right now?" Shawn said "Voting for the right people." I think it's less a matter of voting in prolife politicians than it is voting out the ones that clearly belong to the abortion lobby. There is too much of an edge in the polls for a prolife candidate, and I'm cynical enough to believe that they're not about to lose that edge by being too effective against abortion.

Shawn speaks of how history will judge us, and how uncomfortable it makes people to think of abortion. They have to dismiss us because, "If what we're saying is true, then, it's so alarming and so overwhelming that most people don't want admit we live in a culture that has killed 55 million children. Babies. And so to avoid admitting that, we say, 'Well, we'll just discredit the people that are saying that.'" He points out that "science proves our point, and yet people just reject it." He stresses that the abortion mentality dismisses the two most powerful institutions in Western civilization: religion and science.

It's pretty overwhelming. I'm not sure if I feel more encouraged or discouraged. But I'm not giving up.

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