Copyright of Rehumanize International
Herb Geraghty is a passionate prolife activist. I am struck by this a number of times during our phone conversation. His enthusiasm is matched by that of his dog, Domino, who makes several exuberant contributions from the background. I begin by asking Herb about the origins of the organisation he works for, Rehumanize International.
‘Rehumanize International has only existed in its current form since 2017’, he explains. It began in 2011 when Aimee Murphy (now Executive Director of Rehumanize) founded Life Matters Journal to deal with Consistent Life Ethic issues. (The Consistent Life Ethic ‘calls for an opposition to all forms of aggressive violence against human beings, including but not limited to: abortion, abuse (domestic, assault, rape), capital punishment, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, human trafficking, police brutality, suicide (including physician-assisted), torture and unjust war’.) ‘The idea was just sort of to be a magazine primarily academic but also featuring personal stories from people who had experienced this sort of violence’. But as years passed and more people got involved, the LMJ team found themselves doing ‘a whole bunch of other stuff all the time. And eventually we were like, OK, we’re not really a magazine, we’re an organisation… So we rebranded and we became Rehumanize International’. Herb first got involved with Rehumanize as an intern in 2016; he now works full-time with the organisation.
Rehumanize’s brand of prolife activism is evidently not the norm in the US. How does the wider prolife movement regard them? ‘For the most part, when we go into prolife spaces I would say that we’re respected’, says Herb. He mentions the annual March for Life in Washington DC. ‘I feel as though when I go there… It depends. You know, you’re going to get the people who are excited at the diversity of ideology there and you’re also going to get people who are upset and offended because they think that prolife means being a Donald Trump Republican’. He also mentions that within the prolife movement, there are some ‘who don’t like that Rehumanize is very overtly accepting of LGBT people’. When he tells prolifers that he supports human rights so he believes abortion should be illegal and the death penalty should be abolished, some people can think that he’s ‘distracting from the abortion issue’. ‘People often get upset with a lot of stuff that we deal with… we oppose unjust war and I personally oppose all war, and I think that, you know, people with military experience or military family – which is just so much of the United States – they can take that as an attack on themselves. In the same way that when we go to an anti-war conference or march, the idea that we are anti-abortion can be offensive to people’. In a sense this is understandable: ‘so many people are touched by war and the military-industrial complex [and] so many people are touched by abortion’. However, ‘I think for the most part people are interested and they are accepting and I think that, especially when we’re talking about the people who are really in the trenches of these issues and working very hard on them, they’re just looking for more allies’.
What is Rehumanize’s most important activity? Herb suggests that there are two, their magazine and outreach, but that it’s about ‘using the strengths that our team members and supporters have in the best ways possible’. For instance, ‘Aimee is a much better writer’ and so when she is in charge of the magazine that is their most important activity ‘because the best person for the job is doing it’. (Herb explains that LMJ ‘is how we reach people who already agree with us on things and make them better at making these arguments’.) By the same token, what Herb is ‘much better at is sort of going out on the street and talking to people’. Rehumanize do programmes where they will go and speak on college campuses and in schools. For instance, they have a big board which asks ‘Who deserves human rights?’. ‘On it there are different groups of people who have been marginalised or victimised by violence, and so there’s prisoners of war in Guantanamo, inmates on death row, the elderly, disabled people, and of course also embryos and foetuses’. They ask participants to place a sticker on every group of people who they think deserve human rights. People will come by the stand and say ‘obviously people on death row, obviously old people’ and so forth, ‘and then they get to foetuses and they start getting uncomfortable and they say, “Oh, well, that’s not… I support abortion but I think everyone deserves human rights”’. The same is true of more conservative students who come by – they will be ‘100% confident’ that the preborn deserve human rights but they will become uncomfortable when they come to death row inmates. ‘I see minds change… I see, potentially in a day, dozens of young people – and a lot of those people are young, college-age women – realising that there’s an inconsistency in the way that they approach human rights’.
For prolife activists generally, where is the low-hanging fruit and which areas are more slow burners? Where can we make quick gains with relatively little input, and what are the areas that will take a lot of time and effort to change? For Herb, one really obvious but important area is in activating the prolife electorate, ‘making them care’. ‘I think in the United States that’s something that’s vitally important because we have so, so many people who are prolife but they don’t vote, just because so many people don’t vote, period’. Herb’s academic background is in political science and he feels very strongly about this, but it’s ‘not what Rehumanize does at all’. ‘We do what I think is the harder version, which is trying to change people’s minds who don’t agree with us’. Rehumanize is in the minority in this regard – it seems at least that most prolife organisations are involved in activating their bases.
I’m curious to know if there are any persistent misconceptions about abortion (by prolifers or prochoicers) that surprise him – is there anything that he thinks really shouldn’t be controversial or misunderstood but is? ‘Number one, the science of foetal development and what fertilisation objectively is, is not something that’s well understood by the general public’. Herb’s view is that human beings deserve human rights – so that when it’s evident to you that the preborn is human, you should be prolife. He acknowledges that that this is a trap he can fall into – presenting someone with all the evidence and saying ‘welcome to the prolife movement’ and then realising that they’re still not prolife and have come up with another argument in defence of abortion. ‘So I think it’s a little bit of both. I think number one there just needs to be better education about what abortion is. People hate graphic images and they hate incendiary language that goes into describing what an abortion procedure is or perhaps videos of it, but I personally think that in the right context it’s so necessary for people to see what it is we’re talking about. In the abstract I think it’s really, really, really easy to see abortion as making someone not pregnant any more. I think intuitively that’s almost what it is – you give people one and they’re no longer pregnant. And it’s easy to forget and hide – because I do think that it’s something that is purposefully hidden – just how violent the abortion is’. He thinks that this is especially the case with late-term – and particularly post-viability – abortions. ‘I think there’s a lot of rhetoric around, “Well, they’re so rare, it’s less than 2%”, but when we’re just shy of a million abortions a year [in the US] that 1.7% is a huge number of human beings’. He finds it ‘ridiculous that I can be talking to college-educated people who will say that a foetus is not a human being… or is a parasite – it’s sort of like, where along the line were you failed?’ ‘Also I just think people need to – this isn’t really a misconception, they’re just wrong – like I think people should just support human rights!’ he laughs. ‘It’s just so frustrating to be face-to-face with someone who’s saying, ‘Yes, that’s a human being, and that human being doesn’t deserve human rights… Historically, you see that with countless forms of oppression and marginalisation’. He compares it to a US Republican who supports the current US border policy, but who acknowledges that immigrant children are obviously human beings. ‘I just want to yell at people and make them support human rights but I can’t do that because I have to be nice to people and try to change hearts and minds’.
At the Minimise Project we’re all about having constructive conversations. I ask Herb if he has any advice on how to go about this. For him, it’s all about diversity, which he maintains is essential in order to reach people. ‘I think it’s important to reflect the world as it is’, he says. ‘But also… you’re more likely to empathise with someone and warm to someone’s opinion when they’re like you’. He points out that ‘a young, leftist atheist just isn’t going to care what someone in a Make America Great Again hat is saying’. ‘And I think it’s important to showcase the different types of people who agree with you. Especially when – and I know this is true in Ireland, probably more so than in the US, but for both countries – the prolife perspective is seen as a religious issue, and it’s seen here, the prolife movement, as very white and conservative’. Even for Christians, ‘the fact that I’m a prolife atheist makes them more willing to listen to me than they would even to someone who’s also a Christian. And I think that Aimee Murphy… has the feminist bona fides, where she’s able to go into spaces and make people listen to her for that reason’. ‘So I think that my perspective is sort of necessary even if it can make a couple old guys in suits angry at me’.
Rehumanize recently held their annual conference, which Herb describes as ‘one of the coolest things that we get to do every year’. The conference is in a different location each time – this one was in New Orleans. As regards speakers at the conference, Rehumanize ‘like to have experts in different fields. And sometimes “expert” doesn’t necessarily mean a PhD. So we have academics, we have the researchers and the people who really know what they’re talking about, but what I think is exciting about what we do is that we have them sharing the stage with people who’ve really experienced these acts of violence. Instead of just having some academic talking about the plague of sexual assault on campuses, we have survivors talking about it’. Herb emphasises the importance of the ‘passing the mic’ concept, letting those who know what they’re talking about speak. This year’s conference featured two abortion survivors – Claire Culwell and Josiah Presley – and Shareef Cousin, who was on death row and has since been exonerated. They also had Rachel MacNair of the Consistent Life Network, who focused on psychology. ‘She has done a lot of research into perpetration-induced traumatic stress (I think they call it), a form of PTSD, and she’s specifically talking about how people who have been involved in perpetrating violence, especially legal violence, like war and abortion, suffer as much as victims of violence’. With that in mind, they also heard from people who were perpetrators of violence. That panel included Toni Turner, who used to work in an abortion clinic, Thad Crouch of Veterans for Peace and former executioner Jerry Givens – ‘the big three of the Consistent Life Ethic, which is abortion, war and the death penalty’. For Herb, the whole thing was a privilege. ‘I was really lucky to be able to help organise and then attend the talk’. (See here for more: https://www.rehumanizeintl.org/conference.)
What about the future? Well, among other things, in keeping with their name Rehumanize hope to bring their conference overseas, so who knows, there might yet be a Rehumanize-Minimise collaboration – watch this space…
Follow Herb on Twitter @HerbGeraghty