Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
May 14, 2001
Pro-lifers told to go graphic
U.S. activist says people in 'mushy middle' have to be made sick to their stomachs
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — The pro-life movement in North America is losing ground on almost every front and must re-invent itself to make a real difference, a U.S. activist told Alberta pro-lifers.
"We are being annihilated and we have to begin to do things very differently to have any hope of turning things around," Gregg Cunningham said.
"We are losing this thing because we are doing almost everything wrong."
The "other side" controls the government, the press, entertainment media, and education establishments. "About the only thing they don't control is the Church but the Church is so weak that it doesn't matter," Cunningham lamented.
To become successful, the pro-life movement must become more aggressive, bolder and professional, he said. "We have to be divisive. We have to create division."
Cunningham, executive director of the Los Angeles-based Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of Alberta-Pro-Life at The King's College May 5. Some 180 delegates from across Alberta attended.
Cunningham is also a former two-term member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, during which time he was a prime sponsor of the bill that ended public funding for abortion.
"Almost everything we do in the pro-life movement is failing," he lamented.
"Crisis pregnancy centres consume most of our manpower and almost none of the women in crisis pregnancy go to crisis pregnancy centres."
Eighty per cent of the women served by the centres have already decided to carry to term and go to the centres simply to get free pampers or a used crib or a used stroller.
Women in crisis pregnancy are going to the abortion clinics because they want help getting out of a crisis pregnancy, Cunningham said.
Political activity is almost a total waste of time on abortion today because "you can't change public policy until you change public opinion," reflected Cunningham.
"And we are not changing public opinion. We go and lobby legislators as though we can convince them to do something that the public doesn't want them to do. Politicians follow public opinion, they don't lead public opinion."
Economic boycotts don't work either "because the overwhelming majority of Canadians and Americans are not pro-life in any sense that you and I would recognize and among those who are pro-life almost none give 10 seconds of thought to the abortion implications of any economic decision they are making," Cunningham said.
The fourth big thing pro-lifers do is education but "it really amounts to little more than pro-lifers sitting around talking to one another," the activist lamented. "It's really not an attempt to engage the culture."
As for television, "We are never going to be able to make our case on television because the people who control that medium hate us," Cunningham said.
Recent New York Times statistics show 61 per cent of the U.S. people believe abortion should be legal in the first trimester. This is problematic because 90 per cent of abortions are performed in the first trimester, Cunningham said.
To turn things around, the pro-life movement must do what other successful social reform movements have done in the past.
"Again and again successful social reform movements have used shocking pictures as the vehicle through which they have dramatized (their cause). It's very difficult to misunderstand a picture or to forget a shocking picture once having seen one."
Cunningham and his group go to university campuses with huge pictures of aborted babies that they display next to big pictures of victims of traditional forms of genocide such as the Holocaust.
"The kids at those campuses get angrier at us for showing them these babies than they are at the doctors for killing babies," he noted.
"But we've got to make people sick to their stomachs because we've made abortion too easy to deal with. We have allowed it to become tolerable."
The pro-life movement has to make the embryo and early fetus as real to people as the late term fetus already is, Cunningham said.
"People sympathize with the plight of a woman in a crisis pregnancy but the baby is unreal. Especially in the first trimester, people think of the baby as a blob of tissue."
Pro-lifers must become more aggressive, Cunningham said. "There is the crippling sense in the pro-life movement that we cannot be effective unless we are liked. It's bad in the U.S. and it's worse in Canada because you are so polite here."
When Cunningham and his group go to university campuses with their gigantic, six-foot tall explicit pictures, they don't ask students for permission and Canadians should do the same.
"We don't ask whether they want to learn this stuff. We are going to force-feed facts into their heads," he said. "That's how social reform works. If you can't force feed facts into people's heads social reform is an illusory goal."
The graphic displays have worked so well, Cunningham and his group have decided to kick it up a notch. Soon they will begin mounting the gigantic pictures on trucks and showing them during rush hour on the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles.
Public opinion surveys indicate that about 20 per cent of the population in the U.S. has a consistent pro-life point of view. About 20 per cent has a coherent pro-abortion point of view and the remaining 60 per cent are in the mushy middle.
"If it is the people in the middle who are preserving the status quo, we've got to force them out of the middle," Cunningham said. "That process is called polarization and that means we've got to be divisive and that's a horrifying concept to a lot of conservatives who want to be unifiers."
One of the most problematic structural challenges the North American pro-life movement faces "is we are a movement of part-time amateur volunteers who have pitted ourselves against full time paid staff professionals on the other side," Cunningham noted.
"And we are being crushed by the other side because for the other side killing babies is an absolute obsession and for us saving babies is a hobby."
The activist challenged young pro-lifers to think of pro-life activism as a vocation "because the people who are killing babies aren't doing it with part-time amateur volunteers."
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