The Exclusivity of the Catholic Pro-Life Movement

Found this photo on an old phone of mine. I believe this is from the 2008 March for Life, which was extremely well attended because Obama had just been elected for his first term.

Found this photo on an old phone of mine. I believe this is from the 2008 March for Life, which was extremely well attended because Obama had just been elected for his first term.

I used to make it no secret that I was, as I used to say, “vehemently pro-life.” In the past year, since my deconversion, my opinion on abortion has evolved significantly. I’m definitely in the pro-choice camp now.  With that being said, I used to be a proud member of the Catholic pro-life movement. I’ve attended the Washington D.C. March for Life twice (I took the above picture at one of them several years ago), and prior to my deconversion I had every intention of going again. In high school, I was president of a teen pro-life club in my area, and sometimes joined prayer groups outside of abortion clinics. There’s something about the pro-life movement today that I discovered during my time as president of that pro-life club in high school, and it’s something that still bothers me about the movement, at least in the areas of the east coast where I participated in protests:  it’s predominantly Catholic, to the point of near-exclusivity.

Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of non-Catholic pro-life organizations. But in my experience, the Catholic ones seem to have the loudest voice, the most prominent posters and protests, and the biggest groups.

Some of that may be thanks to the fact that being pro-life is part of Catholicism. It has literally been written into the religion at this point, so much so that throughout my Catholic upbringing, I often heard my parents and their church friends declare that they vote primarily based on whether or not a candidate is pro-life. “That’s the biggest issue,” they would say. “Everything else comes second to that.”

Naturally, a religion like that would easily band together to protest what they believe is a terrible injustice. But they aren’t the only ones who think abortion is wrong, and sometimes pro-life organizations run by Catholics, even ones that aren’t affiliated with a particular church and exclusively seeking out Catholic members, can end up being fairly exclusive. Take the club I ran, for example.

It was fairly small. About 10-20 members. Because of this, we were always looking for ways to get new members. Some advertised to their parishes (we came from several different ones). Others proposed inviting Catholic homeschoolers they knew. I, however, suggested something that shouldn’t have been terribly radical:  why not just invite pro-life friends, regardless of whether they’re Catholic or not?

I was met with blank stares, and some mumbling about how we weren’t a secular organization.

“I don’t know if non-Catholics would fully agree with our message,” one person said.

“We pray at the beginning and end of meetings. How would we do that with non-Catholics?”

“We could branch out to just Christians at least,” I suggested. “Come on, we could read Bible verses and say the Lord’s prayer. Most Christians wouldn’t object to that.”

“We pray the rosary in front of abortion clinics. We’d have to change that too.”

“So? We could still pray, and we’d have more people doing it. They worship the same God we do.”

“I don’t even think I know anyone who isn’t Catholic who’s pro-life,” one member said.

“I do,” I offered. “She’s a really  nice person, and I’m going to invite her.”

But I never did. I was too stunned by the negative response I’d received. Too surprised that a club I had thought was focused on a political, not a religious agenda, would rather be exclusive than increase its membership.

A popular pro-life poster from studentsforlife.org

The club didn’t last long after that. Dwindling membership as some went off to college, and dwindling interest wore us out. But I did talk to my pro-life protestant friend a bit once, just to see what she thought about protesting with Catholics. Her response shocked me. I had been taught that I was part of a pro-life generation, and that most young people were pro-life. It wasn’t mainly Catholics, I was sure of it. She said,

“I’ve been to the March for Life before. It was mostly Catholic people. I felt really out of place.”

“Would you consider going again?” I asked.

“Not really. There are other ways to protest. I agree with the people protesting there but it felt so weird that everyone was Catholic. They were all praying the rosary and stuff.”

And suddenly I understood. At the time, I didn’t realize that not as many people in my generation are pro-life as I had been taught to think. But I did realize what was happening. My movement, my glorious movement to save the babies, was being run by too many people who couldn’t let go of their religious superiority complex long enough to partner with people who agreed with them, but didn’t necessarily share the exact same faith. I’m not saying this validates the pro-choice argument, or invalidates the pro-life one, but this is not the way to run a movement. Seriously people, if you want something to happen, you need to partner with all kinds of people. You need to secularize your argument so you can appeal to non-religious people, but more importantly so that your argument doesn’t involve anything that conflicts with the first amendment.

The word “secular” was thrown around my club like a negative thing, but it’s the type of government we have for a reason.

Have any of you been involved in the pro-life movement, or another political movement that gets bogged down by faith?

Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

-Nancy

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6 thoughts on “The Exclusivity of the Catholic Pro-Life Movement

  1. My mother is very pro-life, and in the South the pro-life movement is very Protestant. That said, some of these same Protestants don’t think Catholics are Christians. Your points above illustrate that despite 400 years since the major religious wars in Europe, people still haven’t managed to jump over that hurdle.

    I think there are reasons people can have to be pro-life without having to rely on religion. But because the movements across the country have co-opted religion, the message will stay isolated between groups.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting to know that at least in some regions the movement isn’t dominated by Catholics; I think you’re right about it staying isolated. I wonder what the abortion issue will look like in fifty years though, considering the recent drop in religiosity in this country. If that trend continues, the pro-life movement’s ties to religion may start to hurt it significantly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It would be nice to see the pro-life movement switch to something that actually reduces the amounts of unwanted pregnancies in this country. That’s something they could get a lot of peoples’ support on.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Absolutely. The problem is how to dispel the myths about contraception when too many in the pro-life movement refuse to trust medical sources. I’ve given up on convincing my parents that the morning after pill doesn’t cause abortions, for example, even though there’s plenty of medical evidence to prove it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t know if it’s really specific to abortion. I’ve always had the impression that the Catholic Church and its more devoted followers have a very exaggerated perception of Catholicism’s importance and “specialness” overall.

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  3. Catholics and the other Christian groups don’t really get along,I find that a lot of the time they accuse each other of not being ‘true Christians’. Likewise many Christians are against abortion AND gays, which is kind of stupid considering gays are the one group of people who are guaranteed to never have an abortion! As George Carlin said, you would have thought that Christians and gays would have made a natural alliance.

    Liked by 1 person

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