Converts to a Cause

The Making of Pro-life Activists
How Social Movement Mobilization Works
Ziad W. Munson
University of Chicago Press, $22.50, 248 pp.

A doctor best known for performing late-term abortions is gunned down while he and his wife are faithfully ministering in their Lutheran church on a Sunday morning. The University of Notre Dame, America’s best-known Catholic institution, honors the nation’s first black president, who is also a staunch defender of legal abortion. Dozens of prolife activists protesting Barack Obama’s commencement speech at Notre Dame are arrested.

Those are just two of the more traumatic moments in the ongoing clash that has been called America’s new civil war. No other nation experiences such intense public conflict over the fate of unborn life. The “abortion wars” are fought in America’s universities as well as in the nation’s courts, legislatures, and streets. Historically, most of the academic firepower has been directed at the “anti-abortion” movement. For example, political scientist Alesha Doan’s recent study Opposition and Intimidation: The Abortion Wars and Strategies of Political Harassment (2007), depicts the prolife movement as a “morality movement” that specializes in “inflammatory and militaristic rhetoric, veiled physical threats, and successful perpetuation of violence.” According to Doan, prolife tactics of aggressive harassment are analogous to those employed by the KKK.

Despite a relentless stream of negative stereotyping, the prolife movement has proved to be one of the most enduring and significant protest movements in modern times. Ziad Munson’s new...

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About the Author

Daniel Cere is professor of religion, ethics, and law at McGill University, and an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values.