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The FOCA Phantom: What will pro-lifers do without it?

The focus of much of the Catholic right's doomsday prophesying about Barack Obama, a.k.a. the anti-Christ (see Stafford, Cardinal Francis, et al) has been about the inevitability of Obama signing the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would enshrine Roe into federal law and make abortion-on-demand part of a mandatedkindergarten curriculum and push the Catholic Church back into the catacombs and lead to violence against bishops, who have said they will happily be martyrs for this cause, and gosh, all sorts ofthings unheard of since the days before Constantine. (George Weigel had the latest from Babylon here.)Lost in all this prophesying is any recognition that the people who would need to pass FOCA think it's a bad idea and that it'd never pass, much less get to President Obama's desk. NCR's new publisher, Joe Feuerhard, has a solid take on the politics involved here, including the apt observation that Obama's 2007 pledge to Planned Parenthood to sign FOCA was political "pandering." Joe's bottom line: "FOCA has as much chance of passage as the 0-10 Detroit Lions have of winning the next Super Bowl." (Ouch.)So why the focus on FOCA by Catholic conservatives? I'd say a couple of things: One, the election was a resounding defeat for their camp, and exposed division in the church and within the pro-life movement. While they retrench, they need to keep the focus on an enemy, and FOCA serves that purpose. The pro-life movement has largely been an opposition movement, and that dynamic is hard to change, and it could hurt fundraising at a bad time for all fundraisers. Two, the conservatives can also claim "credit" for defeating FOCA when it does not become law.The problem of course is that this straw men and red herrings divert us all from the hard work to be done on this issue, both within the church and in the public square. Opposition to FOCA should be part of that, to keep the pressure on and pols honest. But using a phantom FOCA as a single-issue means of demonizing one's political opponents does no good to one's cause, or the wider society.

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Indeed, in July 2007 candidate Obama pandered to the pro-choice lobby. In response to a question from the Planned Parenthood audience he declared that to protect abortion rights the first thing Id do as president is sign FOCA.David Tenney explained in another thread that Obama was not making FOCA his top priority as president. Obama was asked a long, detailed question about how he would protect abortion rights, and he said, "The first thing I would do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act." People have been using the quote to "prove" that FOCA is his top priority, which is preposterous, given the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all the other messes he is inheriting. It does seem to me that even if FOCA was passed and signed, it would not make the United States any more "pro-abortion" than Canada or European countries that provide free abortions under their national health care services. Clearly it would be a major setback for the pro-life movement in the United States, but it would not put the United States in a class by itself when it came to abortion.

I would love to see one post from David Gibson or Catherine Kaveny that unambiguously advocates on behalf of the unborn and does not take potshots and pro-lifers. Just one.What would it take? Apparently something like FOCA is not enough for Mr. Gibson to turn his sights on the pro-choice movement instead of those awful pro-lifers ginning up outrage.We already have 1,000,000+ abortions. I agree that the Catholic response must entail more than voting Republican and hoping for the right Supreme Court justices. But the President Elect has promised to make passing this terrible law a priority. Can't we at least come together to oppose this?Isn't this the "common ground" people like Gibson and Kaveny are always clamoring for?

So John McG, what are your reasons that would support the idea that FOCA will become law?

The president elect said he would make it his first act to sign it.Or is he a liar?

Wouldn't it be better, from a Culture of Life perspective, for something like FOCA to be explicitly rejected rather than seem like it was buried under other priorities?

He is a politician, who often tells different things to different groups, as they all do. John McCain said all manner of things (as did Sarah Palin) about abortion, saying different things to different groups, and clearly not about to pass a Human Life Amendment anymore than Obama was going to sign FOCA. This thread is about political realities rather than political or doctrinal posturing, so let's try to keep it grounded.

So if McCain has won the election, and pro-choice groups were mounting opposition against the HLA, would you have been written a post about how they should chill out because it's a phantom that will never pass?

John McG,Every indication I have seen is that there will be no action of FOCA at all. Someone who writes on Vox Nova and works on Capitol Hill says he can't find anyone there who is at all interested in FOCA. He doesn't even expect it to go to a committee. He is trying to get someone to bet him $100 that it will make it to Obama's desk by the end of 2009, and there are no takers. I personally think it is a terribly law (probably for somewhat different reasons than you do) and I am ready to oppose it. I have already signed the open letter to Obama on Vox Nova urging him to postpone any action on FOCA and engage in dialogue over the issue. But here's the question: How much time, energy, and rhetoric do you invest in opposing FOCA when there are no visible signs it is going to become law? It seems to me those who want to focus on FOCA are out of touch with reality and want to continue the election campaign against Obama, ignoring the fact that he won and the election is over. The clear task, it seems to me, is to first attempt to find common ground and see if it's possible to work with the Obama administration.

John McG: Umm, yes, I would write that post. I think it is better to work on behalf of the unborn than on behalf of a political movement, or making one feel good about oneself.Again, let's try to address the topic at hand: What is the strategy beyond anti-FOCA? What now? If you can't focus on that, please save it for someone else's thread, thanks.

A few things:I suspect the "lack of love" anti-abortion Catholics feel is due in part from a notion that less radical Catholics might feel they can make headway with people who sometimes seem hell-bent on damaging the pro-life effort in the name of martyrdom, and all the other junk.That said, I note a curious similarity to addiction-behavior in this. Both sides of the abortion divide trend to extreme positions, citing illogical or irrational fears like coathanger abortions or bishops heading to prison.For some pro-lifers, the frustration of little significant movement on this issue in decades, an inability to convince significant numbers of women to refrain from aborting pregnancies has led to a dysfunctional domino effect: let's go after abortion doctors, then it was let's go after legislators, this year it's let's go after voters. Do anti-abortion Catholics live in this country? Do they pay taxes? Do they get health care at clinics and hospitals in systems that provide abortion? Do they support pro-choice car mechanics, athletes, restaurants, florists, tv shows, and the like? Of course they do.What's the solution? What about Twelve Steps? Recognize powerlessness, admit the situation has become unmanageable, focus on one's own shortcomings, confession, renewal, ongoing support, healthy living, and honesty.Why don't I say the same thing to pro-choicers, John? I have. But in this forum, I'm addressing pro-life Catholics. Some of you are hurting the cause. While I appreciate your passion, past efforts, and prayers, perhaps it's time to step aside and let new leadership take this in a better, more fruitful direction. This is a perfect time for fervent pro-life Catholics to take a step back, listen to new ideas, and chart a new course. What some Catholics seem intent on doing from the bishops on down is to realize that banging their heads against the wall hasn't worked, so let's just bang harder and faster. Keep up that course and you'll all have mush for brains.

A condition of me approaching Common Ground is that things like FOCA be explicitly removed from the table. I think that has to be part of the common ground. Why is it our fault that the pro-choice side won't explicitly reject a bill you claim is too terrible to pass?

I think there is much to criticize about the strategy of the political side of the pro-life movement, and I don't think it's going to be solved by excommunicating politicians or denying people communion.I don't think that calling for the rejection of a terrible law like FOCA is among those problems.

David G.--I have to agree with John McG on this one. You seem to have lumped all pro-lifers into the "Catholic conservatives" camp. The terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are imperfect labels, to be sure, but we're stuck with them. Certainly "pro-life" has a much broader appeal than just Catholics, Republicans, conservatives, etc., and I'd hazard a guess that you consider yourself pro-life in some context. The caption to your contribution, however, seems to indicate that there is a bright line test for who is pro-life and who isn't. I'd like nothing more than for FOCA to be a "phantom." And though I didn't vote for Obama (or McCain), I have nothing but good wishes for the new administration's efforts in addressing the many problems we have. That doesn't mean, however, that those opposed to FOCA shouldn't keep an eye on the legislative progress, if any, of the statute, especially in light of John Podesta's remark that an executive order authorizing federal funding for embryonic stem cell research is high on the president-elect's agenda. FOCA and ESCR aren't identical issues, but they have enough overlap to keep pro-lifers like me wary of the intentions of the new administration on some pro-life issues.

A condition of me approaching Common Ground is that things like FOCA be explicitly removed from the table.John McG,It is not dialogue, and it is not seeking common ground, to make nonnegotiable demands before you talk. I am not referring to the Common Ground Initiative. I am referring to Obama's remarks made several times during the campaign that there is common ground to be found between people who identify with the pro-choice and the pro-life movements.

Apologies, Todd, but your "lack of love," "similarity to addiction-behavior," and "Twelve Steps" comments are patronizing and unnecessary.

The president elect said he would make it his first act to sign it.Or is he a liar?John McG,You must have overlooked the first message in this thread (mine), where I point out that Obama did not say it would be his first act to sign FOCA. It would have been a stupid thing to tell Planned Parenthood that his first act as president would be to sign FOCA, because they of all people would have known it hadn't been passed and therefore couldn't be signed.

"The president elect said he would make it his first act to sign it.Or is he a liar?"The clearest evidence to me that the "FOCA scare" is indeed a red herring is the fact that there is no way that Obama could make his "first act" the signing of the FOCA bill, for the simple reason that the bill could not possibly be ready for his signature on January 20. Joe Feuerherd correctly lays out the process that would have to occur between January 6, when the 111th Congress convenes, and January 20, in order to have a bill ready for signing. I'm afraid, John McG, that it is not Mr. Obama is the one who is lying in this case; rather, it is those who are making unfair and untruthful accusations against a decent man who has, whether they like it or not, been elected the next president of the United States.

William Collier: I didn't mean to lump all pro-lifers together, but as you say, the categories are fungible. I guess what I am referring to are the politicaly-oriented conservative Catholics and the church hierarchy and the political lobbies of the pro-life movement--the ones who have been making hay off FOCA, with extreme language that also (it seems to me) masks a lack of a coherent political strategy. I think your wary approach is fine and understandable. But your apporach is not reflected in the rhetoric of much of the pro-life, conservatrive movement. Perhaps I could inject another element into this thread, as a way to help those who are grappling with the crisis of the "pro-life" movement: Namely, let's focus on what the Catholic Church is doing in conrete terms. During the debates there has been an insistence on the fact that no other group has done as much to help single mothers. What are the facts in that regard? What are the principal church (and para-church) programs? What percentage of diocesan expenses go to these programs? The USCCB? Parishes? And how effective and comprehensive are they? Do they just pay for an ultrasound? How far do they go with assistance? I'm not being critical as much as wanting to know what is out there and how much we are really doing. I've been intrigued by the Gabriel Projects, but our parish is barely surviving, so I'm not sure we can sponsor one, and they seem to be very ad hoc, parish-based initiatives. (The Rachel Project is I believe purely post-abortion counseling.)Any information appreciatd.

I'm sorry but it is not an untruthful accusation to bring up the president elect's own words. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0__ctD48nfQ) That practical considerations would prevent him from passing such a law does not make it a lie to bring it up. How "politically possible" did we think it was four years ago for a black man named Barack Hussein Obama to be elected president?What I want is for President Elect Obama to reject FOCA. I have no interest in the personal destruction of our next president. But he holds some policy positions that are objectively awful that I think we should have an interest in seeing him abandon.And if it was just a pander to Planned Parenthood, shouldn't that have consequences? John McCain probably couldn't have invaded Iran on his first day in office, either. But if he had said he wanted to, and won the election, I'd want to pressure him to recant that promise.

"I think there is much to criticize about the strategy of the political side of the pro-life movement, and I dont think its going to be solved by excommunicating politicians or denying people communion.I dont think that calling for the rejection of a terrible law like FOCA is among those problems."Fair enough, I don't think you have any disagreement with that last statement by any poster here. The point being made is that many special interest groups seize upon some "bogeyman" proposed law to rally the troops and (cynically) raise fund$, when the threat of that bogeyman is very remote. FOCA is the bogeyman for pro life extremists (Not all pro-life advocates are extemists). Reversal of "Roe" is the pro-choice version. Hnadgun registration is the NRA bogeyman....you get the point.The point of the post is that "bogeyman" politics are particuarly ineffective and demostrate irrational paranoia on the part of a particular interest group, causing most undecided people to reject the entire constituency of theiinterest group as psychologically disturbed. The pro-life movement is perilously close to this situation now as the extremists go berserk over FOCA.Have you signed the following two petitions/letters ?http://vox-nova.com/2008/11/17/an-open-letter-to-president-elect-barack-... you think these are a good start for common ground?Do you think calling Obama the antichrist is a good way to begin discussions?http://cosmos-liturgy-sex.com/2008/11/05/our-duly-elected-prototype-of-t...

Im sorry but it is not an untruthful accusation to bring up the president elects own words. John McG,Nobody is denying what Obama said, but to interpret it to mean that his first act as president will be to sign FOCA, or that his highest priority as president is abortion, is mistaken. John McCain said it was okay with him if we had troops in Iraq for 100 years, but that was distorted and misused as well.I think it is politically foolish to demand that Obama renounce FOCA. He is still strongly pro-choice, and the pro-choicers are still a constituency. It would be insane of him to repudiate what he said during the campaign, and besides, it appears to be a genuine personal conviction. The reasonable approach is to watch what he does, not demand that he recant. There has been no sign so far that abortion is one of his priorities or that it is a legislative priority either. On the other hand, it has been stated explicitly that stem-cell research is a top priority. One wonders why the pro-life movement is so agitated about FOCA, with no sign that it will ever be passed, and so relatively quiet about stem-cell research, which is clearly a top priority of the Obama administration. It seems to me that ceaseless anti-FOCA rhetoric, at a time when there seems to be no interesting in the administration in doing anything about it, is more likely to have just the opposite effect that pro-lifers want. The Obama administration is not making FOCA an issue. The pro-life side is. All this anti-FOCA rhetoric can only keep both sides thinking of it.As I said, I think FOCA is a terrible bill, and I will actively oppose it. But the time to oppose it is when somebody makes a move to pass it, and right now, it looks like that is not even going to happen.

Thanks, David, for the clear assessment of FOCA's non-chances of passage. The link to the NCR piece was helpful, too. I'm not all that surprised by the pro-life rhetoric here since, as you noted, funds must be raised. But what baffles me is the fact that some of our bishops seem to be thinking the same way. Surely they know that FOCA is a red herring; so why give it so much attention?If it is, as you said, an easy way to take credit when the bill fails in committee, that suggests either deep cynicism or an almost sinful laziness on their part. Better to set up a straw man and rejoice in its destruction than to do the hard work of changing the hearts and minds of their flock.Or is it because they are outsourcing all their pro-life work and simply accepting as gospel truth whatever RTL people tell them? That, too, seems like a rather tepid strategy for dealing with such a hot-button issue.Perhaps it's because some of these men aren't all that interested in genuine life issues after all. Sounds counterintuitive, but I'm beginning to wonder if it isn't the case. What with lawsuit payouts, a priest shortage, Catholic school budget crunches, career concerns, and so many other issues that weigh on a bishop's mind, they're probably not giving this issue too much thought.Whatever the case, such an approach is not doing them a lot of good. It seems that whatever credibility the bishops had after the sex-abuse scandal has diminished significantly because of their breathless, apocalyptic warnings. How will people ever listen to them when they have something genuinely prophetic to say?

The thread as usual has presented thoughts that have been previously posted.I see the problem in John McG's first sentence in his first post here - attack if there is any critique of the pro-life movement.There's a lot of intelligent discussion here on the pro-life side -again I praise Bill Collier for his measured and non belligerent or defensive presentations, even if I'm not always in sync with him on tactics.There are others here who I think are as much pro-life as John or Bill but who approach things from another perspective.I continue to beleive that the pro-life movement needs to reassess its tactics and approaches of presentation and making sure that its argumentation (say about FOCA) is on firm ground.

Joe,That is, and I have been negligent in failing to add my name -- I will do so by the end of the day.Mark,FOCA wasn't the pro-life movement's idea. Nobody twisted PP's or Barack Obama's arm to force them to support it. Do you not think there is value in establishing that there is a cultural consensus against something like FOCA, rather than it just being buried by other priorities? Wouldn't that drive home that Obama's election was not a referendum on abortion?FOCA gets a lot of attention because it is a terrible bill that has the support of our president-elect. The power to change that resides with the president-elect, not the bishops or the RTL movement.---Is there a pro-life cause that would thread the needle between being too strong to be overly divisive and too broad that it's not a phantom menace?

"I guess what I am referring to are the politicaly-oriented conservative Catholics and the church hierarchy and the political lobbies of the pro-life movementthe ones who have been making hay off FOCA, with extreme language that also (it seems to me) masks a lack of a coherent political strategy. I think your wary approach is fine and understandable. But your apporach is not reflected in the rhetoric of much of the pro-life, conservatrive movement. "Tells it like it is, David.And so does Mark Jameson."Whatever the case, such an approach is not doing them a lot of good. It seems that whatever credibility the bishops had after the sex-abuse scandal has diminished significantly because of their breathless, apocalyptic warnings. How will people ever listen to them when they have something genuinely prophetic to say?"

What might be called a FOCA-like law (a Focoid?) was proposed in New York (State) iearly in 2008. Governor Spitzer was strongly behind it. It has not been talked about much lately.

FYI, here is a ZENIT interview with Clarke Forsythe, Senior Counsel with Americans United for Life (AUL), about the election and strategies going forward. He is good on some aspects but seems rather vague on what to do next. http://www.zenit.org/article-24310?l=english

Is there a pro-life cause that would thread the needle between being too strong to be overly divisive and too broad that its not a phantom menace?In another forum, someone called attention to an Amy Welborn column that I found interesting and enlightening. She was arguing that the anti-abortion movement wasn't entirely, or even mainly, about trying to overturn Roe v Wade. I have reproduced a couple of paragraphs below and boldfaced the kinds of things I think millions of people who don't call themselves either pro-life or anti-abortion would be more than willing to support. If you demand that in order to be pro-life, you must be committed to criminalizing all abortions (including in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother), then count me out. On the other hand, if you will allow people who want to support things like the 95/10 Initiative and work to minimize the incidence of abortion without committing to a legal ban, then you can count me in. However, it seems to be the position of the American bishops that you can't be pro-life without working to overturn Roe v Wade. What this does, in my opinion, is signal the vast majority of Americans who are in between the two extremes on abortion that they might just as well join NARAL and commit themselves to funding Planned Parenthood, since the pro-life movement doesn't want to have anything to do with them.From the Amy Welborn column mentioned above:

3) The anti-abortion movement is composed of people involved in education. Others are working on the legal aspects of the issue. Others are involved in media. Others in supporting medical professionals. Others in lobbying. Others in direct support of women. Others in trying to build institutions that help women choose to carry their babies to term. Others in adoption work or work with the disabled. Others in post-abortion support. Others in prayer. And more.4) Most of the energies of the anti-abortion movement in this country are absorbed in educational efforts (in schools, churches and the broader culture) and direct work with women in unexpected pregnancies. That is just a fact. For every individual whose energies go to working the political end of the issue, you have 10 volunteering at your local crisis pregnancy center.

That is interesting, David N, thanks for the link to Amy Welborn. What I'd like to know is where are the numbers to back up claims like this? "For every individual whose energies go to working the political end of the issue, you have 10 volunteering at your local crisis pregnancy center." That may well be true, and I hope it is. But I have no idea how the dollars in the anti-abortion pie are divvied up. Moreover, convincing women to carry babies to term is all well and good, but where are the programs after that? An interesting TIME article earlier this year (I believe) on crisis pregnancy centers noted that "Two companiesCare Net and Heartbeat Internationalserve three-fourths of the crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. Unknown and unaffiliated a few decades ago, such centers now outnumber abortion providers in the U.S."http://www.time.com/time/2007/abortions/Is the Catholic Church affiliated with them?

David N: If Amy Welborn's observations are even close to correct, wouldn't it follow that the elaborate and grotesque stereotype of the prolifers might require revision? "What if" the prolife movement really did include a goodly number of people that don't live up to progressive's worst nightmare? Are you saying that opposition to Roe v. Wade, even if embedded within a seamless garment context, qualifies one as 'extreme'?

What this does, in my opinion, is signal the vast majority of Americans who are in between the two extremes on abortion that they might just as well join NARAL and commit themselves to funding Planned Parenthood, since the pro-life movement doesnt want to have anything to do with them.Only if you're more concerned with your own hurt feelings than you are about justice for the unborn.I'm sorry, but such a childish response ought to disqualify you from discourse.

David G,.It is apparent you will keep moving the goalposts until even Jesus Himself would not clear the bar in sufficiently demonstrating his commitment to caring for women in crisis pregnancies, the children that come from them, etc.We are sinners, and the pro-life movement is not immune from the ravages of original sin and the fallen world. None of us are living out the lesson of last Sunday's Gospel as well as we should be.That does not mean we cannot speak against injustice. You say we are wasting our energy opposing FOCA? Fine, then work to pressure your party to take it off the table, and it won't be an issue.

Thanks, John McG for your thoughtful response. I think you make some good observations."Do you not think there is value in establishing that there is a cultural consensus against something like FOCA, rather than it just being buried by other priorities?"Let me be blunt. There is no cultural consensus against FOCA. In fact, the consensus is very strongly in favor of it. This is not Barack Obama's fault. Witness the last two South Dakota initiatives on abortion. Abortion is so unpoplular in SD that there's only one abortion clinic and no doctors. The doctors are flown in from out of state. The clinic is open only one day a week. South Dakota has imposed the strictest series of regulations on abortion in the nation. It voted for McCain 53% to 44%.Nevertheless South Dakota voters have voted down two anti abortion laws in the past two years.http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/South_Dakota_Abortion_Ban_Initiative_(2008)Those voters weren't stopped by the courts. They wern't assisted by FOCA. Citizens of the state simply refused to ban the procedure when given, not one, but two, opportunities to do so.Those who exactly follow the Church's teachings on abortion are in the very tiny minority and are nowhere near a cultural consensus. (South Dakota's near total anti abortion measure did not comply with church teaching but was closer than anything else on the horizon) Pro-life advocates exactly aligned with the Church's teachings have very little political power and have resorted to FOCA frenzy as a desperate "sky is falling" tactic. One reason FOCA won't be enacted is that the equal and opposite pro-choice "sky is falling" tactic--Roe's reversal dooms freedom of choice-- also is just as desperate and won't happen either. If South Dakota won't ban abortions, which state will? Answer: None. FOCA is no longer needed (if it ever was) from a pro-choice perspective. It's a merely a rallying cry of the pro-choice and pro-life extremists, mostly irrelevant to the vast majority of Americans who have other very genuine concerns."Wouldnt that drive home that Obamas election was not a referendum on abortion?"Of course it wasn't. Tell that to the bishops. That's exactly why any suggestion that it was morally wrong to vote for Obama, despite his abortion position, was foolish. Nobody except the extremists thinks this election was about abortion. Those other very genuine concerns motiviated the voters who decided the election.

If Amy Welborns observations are even close to correct, wouldnt it follow that the elaborate and grotesque stereotype of the prolifers might require revision? Mike McG,I found the Amy Welborn piece interesting because what I see of the pro-life movement is either political campaigning or blog posting. If Amy Welborn is correct in her description of the movement as a whole, then what is visible to me (and to most people) is giving the movement a bad name. Are you saying that opposition to Roe v. Wade, even if embedded within a seamless garment context, qualifies one as extreme?I am saying that the insistence that everyone must have as their goal the overturning of Roe v Wade is extreme. And more extreme than that is maintaining that it is more important to overturn Roe than it is to lower the number of abortions. Some of the most vocal pro-lifers I have had discussions with say if they had to choose between (a) criminalizing abortion and having the abortion rate go up and (b) arriving at some compromise that left abortion legal but significantly lowered the abortion rate, they would choose a. They argue that it is a matter of justice that the unborn as a class be "protected" by law, and it is of secondary importance what actually happens to them. I wouldn't even call that pro-life.

OK -FOCA - first thing I'll sign - now not a top priorityThe Bush Tax Cuts - must be repealed - top 1% and all that (up to the last day of the campaign) - now, not so muchCampaign finance reform - great for thee but not for meExactly how many positions can he abandon before any of his supporters will find fault?I love the hypocrisy of this - pro-lifers are frauds and cynics because the know FOCA can't pass and are using it. So what exactly does that make Obama who according to you pledges his support knowing it can't pass?

Joe McFaul--You commented that "'bogeyman' politics are particuarly ineffective and demonstrate irrational paranoia on the part of a particular interest group, causing most undecided people to reject the entire constituency of the interest group as psychologically disturbed. The pro-life movement is perilously close to this situation now as the extremists go berserk over FOCA."While I agree that there are some extremists whose efforts harm the pro-life cause, I don't see the pro-life movement (assuming there is one movement, which I tend to doubt) as being "perilously close" to rejection by the public as being "psychologically disturbed." In my little corner of the world, there seems to be a new energy among the pro-life advocates I know, all people who realize that multiple strategies--social, political, and legal--are necessary, and that finding common ground where it can be found is worthwhile. The story goes that Thurgood Marshall, when he ran the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, convinced his associates that though they should always keep their eyes firmly fixed on the prize, they should nevertheless go after each and every intermediate victory in the fight for civil rights. I think the pro-life movement has to do the same thing.I think the Vox Nova open letter is excellent, and Ive asked that my name be added as a signatory. The sample letter at the DFLA website you linked is a good go-by for crafting letters to our elected federal officials, and I plan to get letters off to my senators and congressman.Id also urge those interested to accept the Obama-Biden transition teams invitation to tell us what youd like the Obama-Biden administration to do and where youd like the country to go.http://change.gov/page/s/yourstoryJust a guess, but I think comments expressing opposition to FOCA, ESCR, etc. that are presented in a respectful manner will get more notice than comments that label the president-elect as the Anti-Christ.

Moving the goalposts? John McG, I don't know what you are talking about. But I do like this statement: "Put down the FOCA and we'll talk!"Or I think that's what you said. I was too busy assuming the position to read clearly. William Collier, your experience with the pro-life movement sounds like a sane and sensible one. That is not the position or practice of the anti-abortion leadership, as I think the recent election and aftermath has demonstrated. Also, as is often said here, the plural of anecdote is not data. Where are the numbers? What's the plan? I keep asking but find no response or answers. That is unfortunate, for everyone.

David N:I believe that we can agree that the public face of the prolife movement is a textbook case of unintended consequences. The reaction of the broad middle of America to this public persona is "not me," making it increasingly difficult to gain a hearing for the protection of fetal life.I believe that we can agree that the public face of the prolife movement is a huge public relations gift to reproductive rights advocates. As long as they can put forth the bizarre positions of those you regularly reference as representative, they deflect attention away from what really goes on with abortion.I hope that we can agree that the bizarre statements of extremists should not be used to discredit an entire movements and that we need to get beneath stereotypes to understand real people.

Joe McFaulYou commented thusly: Let me be blunt. There is no cultural consensus against FOCA. In fact, the consensus is very strongly in favor of it.Respectfully, I dont think there is a cultural consensus in favor of FOCA. A few months ago the Pew Forum published a study on abortion in the U.S.:http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=350The study found that a slight but steady majority of Americans favor keeping abortion legal, but that a majority of Americans favor keeping restrictions on abortion. FOCA, if enacted as presently drafted, would wipe away essentially all restrictions on abortion at both the federal and state levels.David G.--The book "Back to the Drawing Board" by Teresa Wagner (I'm almost sure that's the author's name) contains some good advice about how the pro-life movement should re-group. For me, I support the DFLA's efforts, i.e., passage of the PWSA (which covers most of the same ground as the DFLA's 95/10 initiative), election of more pro-life Democrats to Congress, lobbying efforts, etc. I also think Roe was wrongly decided as a matter of constitutional analysis. I'm not alone in that; there are many pro-choice legal scholars who also believe the decision has a very shaky constitutional underpinning. Like the Dred Scott decision, I think Roe will eventually fall, though it may take a long time, and it may be implicitly rather than explicitly reversed. As many have said, including me, abortion is at bottom a hearts and minds issue. There's plenty of work to do in changing hearts and minds one at a time.

Only if youre more concerned with your own hurt feelings than you are about justice for the unborn.Im sorry, but such a childish response ought to disqualify you from discourse.John McG,My point is that the pro-life movement people I come in contact with on dotCommonweal and Vox Nova, as well as the ones whose writing I read, seem to me to believe that if you have areas of disagreement with them, you are against them. And, of course, some of them feel you are disqualified from discourse if you say something they don't like. That is the most fruitful way to have a meaningful discussion. Disqualify the people you disagree with.How do you expect to build a consensus?

I believe that we can agree that the public face of the prolife movement is a textbook case of unintended consequences. The reaction of the broad middle of America to this public persona is not me, making it increasingly difficult to gain a hearing for the protection of fetal life.Mike McG,We are in absolute agreement on this.

BTW, Ross Douthat at The Atlantic (and one of my personal picks to replace William Kristol at The Times) takes on Weigel's blast (referenced above in the post) at "stupid" and "mindless" Catholic voters:"No, social conservatives aren't the problem for the GOP. But they haven't been the solution, either: Too often, on matters ranging from the Iraq War to domestic policy, they've served as enablers of Republican folly, rather than as constructive critics. And calling Catholics who voted for Obama "mindless" and "stupid" is a poor substitute for building the sort of Republican Party that can attract the votes of those millions of Americans, Catholic and otherwise, who voted for the Democrats because they thought, not without reason, that George W. Bush was a disastrous president whose party should not be rewarded with a third term in the White House." http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/11/the_obligations_of_p... to the Dish

David N:Thank you. And to the more difficult issue of characterizing a movement...Is if fair to say that both sides of the abortion controversy have plenty of unhinged commentators? Does my recognition of the looniness of advocating abortion restriction even if it *increases* the incidence of abortion merit some quid pro quo? Can I get you on the record as acknowledging that not all of the vicious rhetoric comes from the prolife side? And, furthermore, denouncing the tactic of characterizing a movement by its most extreme elements? Or at least denounce on an 'equal opportunity' fashion? Catholics for Choice anyone?

"Apologies, Todd, but your lack of love, similarity to addiction-behavior, and Twelve Steps comments are patronizing and unnecessary."I'm sorry you were offended, William, but as a lurker on sites trumpeting both extremes of the abortion position, I make no apology for the remarks. I see a lot of illogic and what 12-steppers would frankly call crazy behavior. I don't know you, and while you seem to be sensible in presenting your view, I can only offer the maxim for extreme pro-lifers and pro-choice people, "If the shoe fits ..."In the blogosphere alone, my pro-life cred stands not on my advocacy in practice and persuasion on adoption, my family's support of Birthright and other efforts, or my support of friends considering not-aborting, but simply that I wasn't Republican enough this election cycle. The more one tries to gently suggest other ways to get the message across, it seems the more vehement the opposition grows. Amy Welborn thinks it's a field of hay, but honestly, some of the more vocal anti-abortion folks are the worst enemy of the pro-life effort. Mike's right. The overall PR effort is Stone Age. Is it any wonder that some Catholic pro-lifers find themselves isolated in their own Church? I think not. The barriers are often of their own making.

I believe that many of the commentators [progressives?] on this blog have determined that they don't "like" the pro-life movement and its supporters. Thus an effort to find an argument, or arguments, to offset the issue, to confuse the issue. There is something very much like legalism in the discussion: "what about this? what about that? and then those nasty bishops! you know what they're like". It seems to me that Mr. Obama is definitely a pro-abortion person [despite the still very-much-with-us] Sanger argument that it will "solve" the Negro problem. [13 million black babies killed is quite a number]. His appointments of pro-abortion supporters [Daschle, Moran, and the rest] seem to suggest this. I am surprised to read that his promise to sign the FOCA first thing was but political rhetoric. [Well I am not really surprised. After all he does come out of the Chicago political machine]. Not much by way of "change" here. It would perhaps clear the air if one used the term "pro-abortion" rather than "pro-choice". Those going into an abortuary are not given a choice between two possibilities. "Planned Parenthood" does not offer the possibility of motherhood, with diapers, baby formulas, and the like. I am surprised at the suggestion that a reduction in abortions is something to be aimed at. Did not Our Lord say that "as long as you do this for one of them, you do it for Me". And vice versa, "as long as you do it TO one of them, you do it to Me". As Chesterton remarked "Let's have all the babies; then we can decide which to kill". As it is, it is happening haphazardly. The underlying position of the Church is not the saving of babies. Like drunks and Americans, God will see to them; as He does for those killed in earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, and the like. The underlying position of the Church is the avoidance of mortal sin, the avoidance of the work Satan. And in the long run, the avoidance of hell. It does exist, you know.

I love the hypocrisy of this - pro-lifers are frauds and cynics because the know FOCA cant pass and are using it. So what exactly does that make Obama who according to you pledges his support knowing it cant pass? It makes him a politician, Sean. I don't think anyone on dotComm has ever denied that; in fact, David G. has already given this same answer to this same question, above.John McG: Watch whom you're calling childish. Your criticisms of this post, and of your fellow commenters, haven't exactly been mature and measured.Gabriel: I have seldom seen anyone confuse the issue -- or at least confuse me -- as adeptly as you just have.

"I believe that many of the commentators [progressives?] on this blog have determined that they dont like the pro-life movement and its supporters."No.Speaking for myself, I disagree with the methods of some pro-life Catholics. I'm well able to ferret out the difference between people and their methods. On the net this past year, I've been personally insulted, gossipped about, and called any number of names--and most of that has come from self-professed pro-lifers. Those folks don't have a prayer of persuading anybody--no wonder they're focused on criminalization.The pro-life movement, by its own harping on seven-figure abortion statistics, is making no significant dent in a holocaust--their term. If pro-life leaders were held accountable to the movement like legislators and executives, there would be a whole lot of political hemorrhage voting them out of power. And then maybe we'd finally get some work done.

David N,My "disqualified from public discourse" comment was out of line, and I apologize for it.Mollie,The attitude of "People say I'm not pro-life enough so I may as well join NARAL" is childish from someone who claims to be concerned about the unborn. And other than the comment I apologize for above, I stand by everything I've written.Daivd G,By "moving the goalposts" I mean, this type of sequence:DG: What has the pro-life movement ever done for women in crisis pregnancies? I bet it's not much other than ultrasounds.PL: This, that, and this other thing.DG: Well and good, but what about once they're born? Not much, I suspect.PL: This , that, and something elseDG: Fine, but what about.....This can go on forever, and playing this game does neither side any good.I agree that the notion that voting Republican discharges one's responsibilities to the unborn is absurd and must be confronted. But I find these constant demands to prove how much we really hate the Romans to be an escape from the truth.

But I find these constant demands to prove how much we really hate the Romans to be an escape from the truth.I was going to say exactly this. Except I don't think it's usually the prolife movement that's under pressure to prove its integrity, at least not here on dotComm. John McG, you seem to assume that neither David Gibson nor anyone else commenting here loves the unborn as much as you do. Why would you assume that? And why should David Gibson or Cathleen Kaveny or anyone else be obliged to "unambiguously advocate on behalf of the unborn"? I can't speak for them, but I know I never feel inclined to write a dotCommonweal post whose only purpose is to establish my belief in the right to life. I would assume I was preaching to the choir. Arguments over who hates abortion the most help no one, least of all abortion's victims. This discussion is meant to be about strategy.

I draw that conclusion based on the ratio of their blogging energy spent criticising bishops they don't like and pro-lifers they don't like to the amount spent advocating on behalf of the unborn.As last week's Gospel demonstrated, we are what we do. I am not saying that the bishops and pro-lifers should be immune from criticism, but it seems that the current injustice against the unborn ought to occasionally take precedence over how mean and nasty Abp. Chaput or the pro-lifers are.

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David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.