Secular Pro-Life is an advocacy group based in the United States. They represent the more than six million pro-lifers in the United States who aren’t affiliated with a religion – but they also bring together people from many backgrounds and worldviews together to run one of our favourite pro-life blogs out there, the ever-excellent Secular Pro-Life Perspectives. It’s one of the best sources for everything from facts about fetal development to the effects of laws on abortion rates.
Kelsey Hazzard (herself an atheist) is President of Secular Pro-Life. We caught up with her to ask her some questions about the different challenges facing the pro-life movement in Ireland and the US.
1. 87% of young people aged 18-24 in Ireland voted to repeal the 8th amendment. Meanwhile, in the US, this generation is slightly more likely to be pro-life than their parents’ generation. Why do you think this is?
The United States has had legal abortion since 1973. Younger Americans understand the devastating impact abortion has had on their communities. They know—in many cases, are—people whose parents considered abortion, but changed their minds thanks to pro-life advocates. They know—in many cases, are—people who regret their abortions, who believed the “clump of cells” lie until it was too late. Irish people voting to repeal the 8th Amendment made their decision based on the rhetoric of legal abortion; the next generations will live it.
2. Young people tend to be less religious than their parents’ generation. Do you have any tips on how to use messages that appeal to a secular audience? Especially when they are likely to think that you are a religious, conservative dogmatist, whose views are not defensible in a secular format before you have even started speaking to them?
The abortion industry has invested a great deal of time and money into stereotyping the pro-life movement, in the hope of killing productive conversations before they have even begun. Sadly, it often works. But the flip side to this is that when the stereotype is finally broken, pro-choicers are often genuinely intrigued and realise that there is more to explore. Building relationships is key. Debates with strangers have their place, but the best conversations happen between people who already know and respect one another.
Expect that they will bring up religion, even though you have just made a secular argument with no reference to a god. If you’re an atheist or agnostic, feel free to say so! If you are a theist, I recommend a response along the lines of “I was raised in [name of religion], but it would be pretty arrogant of me to think that my religion is the only one that can provide insight on life-and-death issues like abortion” and then move on to your next point.
Relatedly, you can combat the smear that pro-lifers don’t care about women by volunteering with a local pregnancy center or diaper bank and inviting people to join that effort as a matter of common ground. “After all, you’re pro-choice, not pro-abortion… right?”
3. What should religious pro-lifers do to be inclusive of non-religious pro-lifers?
One thing is to avoid stereotypes. Don’t automatically assume that every pro-lifer is a Christian, or that all LGBT people are secular or pro-choice or whatever. Another thing is to actually invite non-religious pro-lifers to contribute things like guest blog posts and articles to your organisation: we are a minority in the pro-life movement and when religious pro-lifers recognise we exist and make an effort to bring us into the tent we appreciate it.
4. Have you come across any situations where well-intentioned religious pro-lifers accidentally alienated, or put off non-religious pro-lifers?
I have. Frequently, this happens when a religious person wrongly assumes they are speaking with a fellow religious person, such as by asking “What church do you go to?” or offering a prayer. Bear in mind that the population is becoming more secular, and the pro-life movement is too.
5. When do you feel that your advocacy makes a difference? Have you ever had interactions that you feel changed someone’s mind about abortion?
Absolutely! There have been many over the years. One favourite is a neighbor who friended me on facebook, saw my pro-life advocacy, and out of the blue began telling me about an unplanned pregnancy she’d experienced. She had strongly considered abortion, and didn’t think it would be a big deal because it was the first trimester; she wound up miscarrying and remained pro-choice. I pulled up the Endowment for Human Development website (ehd.org) and showed her a (non-graphic) image of an unborn baby the same age as the one she’d lost. She clearly had no idea that the baby had been that developed. A week or two later, she confided in me that because of our conversation and seeing that image, she’d decided she could never have an abortion and had even switched to a more reliable contraceptive method as a result. Through it all, our conversation was friendly and respectful. Religion had nothing to do with it.
That said, much of my advocacy is online and the people whose minds I’ve changed don’t usually contact me. In one case, a candidate for the U.S. Senate attributed his pro-life position in part to the work of Secular Pro-Life; I never would have known except that he happened to mention it to a mutual friend on twitter.
Of course, “advocacy” goes beyond debating. I’ve been privileged to open my home to two women facing crisis pregnancies, and plan to continue doing so. That has made a huge difference, not only in their lives, but also in mine.