So don't bother.
“To know thyself is the beginning of all wisdom,” according to Socrates.
General Sun Tzu went a step further: “Know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated.”
Over the past few weeks, as the days have passed since the Supreme Court’s opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press, pro-life pregnancy crisis centers and other locations associated with the pro-life movement have been vandalized with threatening messages, firebombed and otherwise targeted for criminal harassment.
While some already sympathetic to the cause may murmur half-hearted recriminations about people understandably carried away by a passionate commitment to reproductive justice and violence being the language of the unheard, or something, that isn’t the point.
The fundamental problem with this strategy- aside from breaking the law- is that it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about both the pro-choice movement and the pro-life movement. It understands neither the self nor the enemy and so has little chance of winning a 10 battles, let alone 100.
Know thyself: You, a presumably young, angry progressive lured by the siren song of anonymous online groups, are willing to risk arrest, injury, perhaps even to the point of endangering your life, for the cause.
After all, things rarely go according to plan in the commission of a crime, as in any other complex endeavor dependent on myriad variables impossible to anticipate. Namely, other people will be involved.
What if someone in your group goes too far and seriously injures or kills someone? What if the facility you expect to vandalize is patrolled by armed security guards? What if you are involved in a car accident while fleeing the scene? What if the building you firebomb doesn’t turn out to be empty?
That someone considering doing something so drastic to, well, not preserve Roe v. Wade, but, “bring their rage out into the world,” and would assume all these risks demonstrates, if nothing else, a very deep level of commitment.
All pro-choice activists need to do to understand the pro-life movement and those committed to it is take that level of commitment and turn it around.
Pro-lifers are equally committed to their own cause. Check this out:
At first glance, you might think the above is a pro-choice event, but look a little closer. This is a photo from the March for Life in Washington D.C., taken March 6, 2019.
For committed pro-lifers, it isn’t something idle they decided to do on a whim after binge-watching FOX News. People working at a pregnancy crisis centers counseling women considering abortion have often dedicated their entire vocational lives to the work.
In this way, they have a great deal in common with workers at abortion clinics, who do they work they do knowing it’s far more dangerous than working at the phone company. They do it anyway, assuming the risks, because they believe in the work.
Pro-lifers working at pregnancy crisis centers believe- truly, in their hearts- that an unborn baby is a fully-fledged, extremely vulnerable human being deserving of all the protections any other living person would be afforded. Most would grimly paint a target on their backs if it meant saving the lives of unborn babies.
In fact, most already have.
No matter what the Supreme Court does with Roe V. Wade. Whatever restrictions states choose or don’t choose to impose, pro-life advocates will still be counseling pregnant women to reject abortion, handing out leaflets, raising money, and distributing voting guides featuring their endorsements for pro-life political candidates.
Violence and threats of violence won’t stop them.
After all, it didn’t work in the other direction.
Militant pro-choice groups threatening and contemplating acts of violence to express their displeasure at certain laws they feel are morally wrong aren’t exactly inventing something new.
Likeminded pro-lifers tried to end abortion in America using violence and threats of violence for years, decades- long before the Supreme Court’s recent controversial Roe V. Wade decision was leaked, long before the names Kavanaugh and Coney-Barrett were part of the national conversation about abortion rights and access in America.
In Wichita, Kansas, 2009, the community was stunned when well-known local physician and abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed as he attended services at his longtime church. Though Tiller’s assailant called himself a pro-lifer, he was in reality a cold-blooded murderer.
“However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion,” said President Barack Obama after the murder of Dr. Tiller, “they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.”
The Tiller case was far from the only time pro-life activists tried violence for the cause. But whatever pro-lifers acting outside the law did- from graffiti, to arson, to murder- it didn’t work.
None of those tactics ended abortion in America; none of those tactics will preserve it, either.
On this issue, if no other, both sides are too deeply dug in. Violence only makes them dig in further.
What did work for the pro-life movement, to bring down the number of abortions performed in America, was grassroots, boots-on-the-ground activism. It was voting guides, walking in parades, answering pregnancy crisis center hotlines, political activism, driving voters to the polls on Election Day.
And the success of the pro-life movement in America is attributable to one other thing. It’s a major one and it isn’t something pro-choice advocates like talking about. Since there is no way whatsoever around it, sooner or later, the pro-choice movement is going to have to reconcile.
Know thy enemy.
The greatest threat to the pro-choice movement in America may not be pro-life pregnancy centers, the religious right, Supreme Court Justices or The Patriarchy.
The biggest threat to abortion access in America may be…the ultrasound.
Possibly nothing has done more to reduce the number of abortions in America than the ultrasound. While there has been a recent, prolific attempt to “debunk” this idea, those efforts mostly rely on a single study. We can be sure ultrasounds are effective at reducing abortions judging by, A.) the fierceness with which pro-lifers fight for pre-abortion sonogram requirements and, B.) that pro-abortion advocates fight tooth and nail against them.
In fact, ultrasounds are mostly what pregnancy crisis counselors trying to steer pregnant women away from abortion rely on to dissuade them. The center worker whips out an ultrasound photograph that looks, it must be admitted, very much like a baby and it’s done.
Pregnancy photographs are so good now, so detailed and advanced, more detail can be seen by potential mothers than ever before; faces, hands, and that beating heart.
Science may seem an odd bedfellow for the pro-life movement, but there it is. Henry Ford didn’t mean to save workhorses when he invented the automobile, either, but that’s what happened. Ford did more for horses than the Humane Society ever dreamed.
If pro-choice advocates are angry- Jane’s Revenge-level angry- about the potential end of Roe V. Wade- they should copy a page from the playbook of the other side and gauge more carefully the commitment of their opponents in this sociocultural disagreement.
Threats and violence don’t work; grass-roots activism and education does.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)