The perfect is the enemy of the good: tribalism within the prolife movement

Me against my brother

Me and my brother against my cousin

Me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger.

Like many ancient sayings, the Arab Bedouin proverb above shows great insight into the human condition. Members of a tribe, whatever their differences, have a remarkable tendency to unite when facing someone from another tribe. What happens, though, when it is in our interests to instead unite with someone from another tribe? Can we put aside our tribal instincts?

Game of Thrones fans will remember the dramatic scene when Daenerys Targaryon attempts to convince her enemy, Cersei Lannister, to unite with her against the Night King and his Army of the Dead. The instinct to stick with her own tribe and continue to oppose her enemy is so strong that it is by no means certain that Cersei will take what seems to be the obvious course of action of working with Daenerys to avoid certain death. These kinds of conflicts grip us in a way that few others can because they appeal to our base instincts.

For someone who is pro-life, all human life must be protected and cherished equally, no matter who the human is, how they were conceived, how long they will live or how sick they are. It can be very tempting to consider anyone who doesn’t agree on this basic principle, who may argue for exceptions or “hard cases”, to belong to the other tribe – the tribe of everyone who is not 100% completely pro-life. When it comes to rights, and when it comes to principles, you can’t be half-in, half-out. You either have a right to life, or you don’t. There are no shades of grey, and anyone who is not in complete agreement is no different from someone who is in complete disagreement.

The problem with this stand is that it reduces the pro-life movement to no more than a philosophical viewpoint or an ideology, rather than a movement that seeks to bring about practical changes in society. Pro-life activism reduces to the maintenance of the purity of our movement and our core beliefs rather than saving as many babies and supporting as many mothers as possible. When we focus solely on the principle, we lose sight of the very people our movement is supposed to protect. Ironically, we risk doing exactly what our opponents do: dehumanising the unborn baby. The unborn becomes a piece of philosophical scaffolding that we use to build our ideological position, rather than being a living, kicking human being that we must work might and main to protect.

The reality is that the pro-life movement worldwide has had to make space for people with wide-ranging views on many things in order to make progress. This has meant that people who consider themselves to be 100% completely pro-life have had to work with people who may be of a different persuasion. While these diverse groups may disagree on the end goal – no abortion at all versus limited abortion in certain circumstances – they agree that the current abortion rates are far too high and are committed enough to this belief to do something about it.

If our end goal is to save as many babies lives as possible, we can and should put aside any differences we have on the few hundred “hard cases” that arise per year in order to make even some incremental progress. This doesn’t mean we must change our view on those cases, nor does it mean we should stop advocating for the rights of the babies and families involved. It merely allows us to work with a larger number of people to reduce and eliminate the many thousands of abortions that occur outside of those heartbreaking situations, as an initial and interim goal. This is not unacceptable compromise; it is refusing to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Every life truly matters, which means if we can do anything to save even one baby from abortion, we should do so without hesitation.

Muireann

One thought on “The perfect is the enemy of the good: tribalism within the prolife movement

  1. So the “hard cases” are to be the price of gaining numbers in our campaign to save babies. Have the writers of the article above ever read or attended a performance of the Max Frisch play The Fire Raisers? Government and PROPposition legislation in response to the YES vote can hardy be seen as a valid implementation of the”SAFE (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/abortion-and-mental-health-quantitative-synthesis-and-analysis-of-research-published-19952009/E8D556AAE1C1D2F0F8B060B28BEE6C3D) LEGAL, RARE) promiseed regime. I cannot imagine how a pro life philosophy can possibly accommodate the killing of babies with conditions that would most acutely need our compassion and support.

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