If there’s one thing the pro-life movement is known for, it’s demonstrations. From local people holding signs outside hospitals, to the thousands of activists at our national March for Life in Ottawa this year, pro-lifers are always making an effort to keep life issues in the public eye. However, in the midst of these demonstrations, a concern has reached my ears that I think is worth addressing: Does pro-life activism further harm people who have been exposed to abortion?
As an example, let’s pause for a moment to imagine a scenario that is unfortunately all too common: a woman is walking along contentedly minding her own business when she sees a sign that says, “Choose Life.” Instantly she is reminded of the child she aborted years earlier and is flooded with an overwhelming host of negative emotions. She is filled with debilitating anger, remorse and sadness, and she is unable to think clearly for the rest of her day.
Although some may see the experience of this woman as a good reason to muzzle pro-life activists, I see it another way. The woman in this story is not wounded by the words “Choose Life.” Rather, the deep, festering wound of her abortion is already present, and the words have drawn attention to it.
The pro-life movement’s credibility hinges on what happens next. Is the woman left alone in her pain to try to find a way to once again hide the wound from view? Or is she supported as she attempts to find healing?
Now, it’s no secret that life issues are very uncomfortable topics of conversation, and it’s also no secret that some pro-lifers are exceptionally good at making them even more uncomfortable. But this doesn’t mean that all pro-life conversations are bad. It only means that we need to take responsibility for ensuring that we engage people respectfully in all situations.
When addressing a topic that by its very nature is wounding, our message of hope and love to those who have become victims needs to be front and centre. Once we have shone a light on someone else’s pain, we need to tend to that pain compassionately.
The responsibility to be present to persons who have experienced a deep wound in their lives extends beyond the context of abortion. When we fight against euthanasia, we must always be prepared to hear the pain of a person who has watched a loved one die in agony. When we speak out against in vitro fertilization, we cannot close our ears to those who live with the soul-crushing emptiness of not being able to conceive a child.
In the stories of each of these people is a cry for something more than the world can offer. The man asking for euthanasia may be looking for reassurance that he will not be abandoned to die in pain. The couple trying to justify fertility treatments may be struggling with deeper questions about how we leave our legacy on this earth. The woman who has chosen an abortion may be looking for validation that she is still worthy of love.
Thankfully, many pro-life groups have already devoted themselves to finding positive ways to engage and support people who have been wounded by bad choices. For some, healing is linked to sharing their story through campaigns like Silent No More. Others find healing through support and bereavement groups, such as Rachel’s Vineyard. Still others are healed by giving back to those in need through pregnancy centres and palliative care services.
All political demonstrations are designed to wake people up to injustices in the world. Pro-life demonstrations are particularly jarring because they can alert people to their own pain as well. Although exposing these wounds can hurt, it is a necessary step towards wholeness; healing is impossible if we deny that we have been harmed.
We must continue to respectfully engage people in conversations about pro-life issues to reveal the wounds that have been inflicted on our world. However, it is also our responsibility to remember that the pro-life message is only as good as the actions that back it up.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.