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Stand4Life: Lessons from Austin

I left at 9 p.m. on July 6th, and returned home by 8 a.m. on July 15th. I gave up more than a week of what was supposed to be the most relaxing part of summer break to stand out in the hot Texan sun doing some pretty thankless - if not generally despised - work. That’s not to say we weren’t the beneficiaries of some very generous and gracious hosts and donors, but the young people with the Students for Life of America “Stand4Life” Bus Tour who descended upon Austin, Texas, were the much-coveted reinforcements for the blue-clad pro-lifers, and simultaneously and contrariwise the source of much consternation for the orange-shirted pro-choicers.

It was a very eye-opening week for me. Both pro-choicers and pro-lifers surprised me with their words and actions. I learned a lot about the political process and confirmed some of my misgivings and reaffirmed my faith in individuals dedicated to human flourishing. And finally, I learned that our movement still has a long way to go to educate, engage, and convert hearts and minds to the cause of life – but we won this little battle in Texas. I only hope that my true life experience can be a learning experience for us all.

The Brief History of the Rainbow Baby Sign

I was there as a sort of representative for all of the secular and LGBT pro-lifers who couldn’t be with us - and while at times I got less-than-positive responses from pro-lifers, more often than not I think people were glad to see that our cause was not singular in background, and more diverse than the media would portray. I have two little stories to tell about my special “gay baby” sign that give me hope for the future of the pro-life movement.

I suppose I was shocked by the response of some pro-lifers in the Texas capitol who looked at me with disgust when I wore both “Life” tape and “LGBT” on my shirt. But then just days before I had been walking around with my sign that reads “If the fetus you abort is gay, does that mean you’re homophobic?” and got the remark from a trio of pro-choice women that I had “the best sign” there from either side. The ladies then proceeded to engage me in a nearly 2-hour completely civil conversation about understanding the plight of LGBT youth, what it was like for me to be an LGBT pro-lifer, the quest for personalism in this fight (rehumanizing the other side, instead of referring to them as “enemies”), collaboration on ways to reduce abortion, and finally the ethics and science involved in the abortion debate. All of this because I was toting a sign that made them seriously think about who I am as a person, the personhood of the preborn, and human rights in general. I don’t think I changed hearts and minds in that very instant, but I am fully confident that I planted seeds. I hope, someday, they’ll look back on that conversation and remember it as a turning point in their hearts.

A few days later we were in San Antonio, for a pro-life witness outside of a Planned Parenthood rally. I stood near the entry gates with my “gay baby” sign yet again, and a fellow SFLA Bus Tour student overheard one pro-abort inside the gates say to another:

“I bet if there was a test for [gayness], pro-lifers would murder [gay fetuses] in a heartbeat.”

Did you grasp what was said there? Did you let it sink in?

Pro-choicers used the word “murder” to mean abortion. In attributing some sort of sexuality (whether future or genetically determined) to the preborn human being, my sign rehumanized the preborn and tripped up even the most dedicated pro-choicer at the Planned Parenthood rally. Because to the typical feminist liberal, discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity is anathema. Violence towards gays is often typified as “homophobia”, and it only makes sense to qualify the violence against the LGBT preborn human being as the same. It touched a nerve, it made them think – they dropped their guard and they spoke truth about abortion. Again, I don’t know if I changed hearts or minds that day, but I do know that I cultivated the truth in their hearts.

“Politics Kills” in the Texas Capitol

I have a very well-loved shirt that gets worn at least once every other week (considering how many clothes I hoard this is an accomplishment I assure you). It’s printed and created by Life Matters Journal and I wear it with much pride. It reads: “Politics Kills. Choose a different side. Choose life.” The Republican Elephant and the Democrat Donkey are on the left and right side as you read it, respectively, with many of the ongoing and legally perpetuated aggressive violences of our time written within their frames. I wore this shirt twice to the Texas capitol, wondering what sort of response I might get from either side, or the politicians who we met throughout our trip. But what I witnessed in the halls and chambers of the Texas legislature was an interesting contradiction.

The pro-life legislators were by and far Republican, standing behind Rick Perry, their governor, as he signed the bill they worked so hard to pass through. The plain irony inherent in this situation of course is that this pro-life bill was the bookend of the month for Rick Perry, whose other main “achievement” was the 500th execution of a death-row inmate. I passed many a pro-abort who had signs observing and condemning this inconsistent attitude towards the value of human life – I of course questioned why, instead, they were not on our side being consistently pro-life and asking Rick Perry the same question. There was, however, a more subversive set of contradictions that I was simultaneously pleased and dismayed to encounter: Democrats would propose “pork” legislation that I suppose was just meant to make the bill harder to pass, but in suggesting amendments that would improve maternal healthcare, childcare, and even abolish the death penalty, they pointed out clear inconsistencies in the overall approach to ending abortion and respecting life on the part of so many Republicans. I was, of course, glad to see such life-affirming amendments being offered, dismayed to see them tabled so quickly, approving of Democratic ideas to end the need for abortion, and yet disgusted to see so many Democrats seemingly concerned with life vote “nay” on the bill in the end.

But while in Texas, I also found one of my new heroes: Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. A pro-life Democrat from District 27 in the very southernmost tip of Texas, I found a man who is willing to stand for the “little guy”, and respects life in all its stages. I found a man who is keen to cross party lines for the sake of life, and who is eager to push for consistency in the political sphere for human dignity. I learned that, though elusive, the Pro-Life Democrat does exist and Senator Lucio is one of the most honorable and well-loved men in the Texas pro-life movement. It gave me hope for the future of the pro-life movement, for all of my peers to see his closing comments on HB2, and cheer and applaud his fervor and his intellectual honesty – that even though this human rights champion may be ending his political career sooner than we’d like, we have the ability to step up and take the reins for which he has so graciously fought.

A Long Way to Go

The major downside to HB2 is that it once again limits abortion by an arbitrary means. Perhaps the clinic and medication regulations will stand, but likely the 20-week ban will be overturned based on some sort of court-pronounced “precedent” from Planned Parenthood v. Casey. It’s hard, knowing the stakes at hand, to fight for a law which will just as easily (if not more so) be flipped by some far-off court ruling in favor of so-called “privacy” in the face of “medical uncertainty.” But I was there and I handed out water bottles and engaged in discussion and just tried to be a loving and real witness for life. In the process, I was privy to more than a few events and occurrences that made me flinch and pray for a different future. Yes, in small part I am speaking about the vitriol and hate that came from many of the pro-aborts: it absolutely terrified me and I feared for my life at one point (which is one point too many, might I add). But more than that, I am actually speaking to the pro-life movement: if you want to change hearts and minds for the cause of life, we really do have a long way to go.

At the pro-life rally on Monday evening (our first night in town), I heard a plethora of prayers, a religious lexicon, and discussion about issues that were at best related by a single thread, and at worst, exclusionary. Now, most courteous atheists and agnostics will respect the typical convocation and/or closing prayer, but littering discussion of a human rights abuse with religious speak can be a turn-off to the audience we are most trying to convince. People will ascribe religion to the “personal preference” category of ideas and will write off the pro-life side as such: mere individual belief. Instead, I propose, we have the responsibility to frame the anti-abortion argument in terms of a human rights violation based in sound ethics and factual science. We must develop a lexicon based on this framework that is inviting and opens doors to those on all sides of the religious and political spectrum.

I heard it screamed from the fourth floor of the capitol rotunda: “F*** the church! Not the state! Women must decide their fate.” I saw “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” plastered on many a pro-abort sign. Religion is hampering the argument where there should be engaging discussion about the depravity of humanity to kill members of our own species. There’s still a long way to go if we want to reach the audience at hand instead of preaching to the choir.

In addition, I would advance that consistency in our arguments is vital to the movement – and our own intellectual honesty. Compromise in the face of death rarely means true victory; instead, compromise here means sacrificing lives and our own integrity. While there was no rape or incest exception in HB2, there was an exception for “gross fetal abnormalities.” Still, those human beings with such abnormalities remain human! And in compromising I think we suggest that there is some sort of relative value of the human person. This isn’t even touching on the possibilities to end the death penalty that arose in the creation of this particular law, but the consistency needed in the anti-abortion fight alone. Consistency on the question of human rights and integrity in the face of compromise will indicate to our opponents that we are sincere in our fight for life, and that this cause is unquestionably the most vital of our time (if not of all time).

I learned a lot in Texas. I’m glad I went to lend my hands and my feet and my voice (or, sometimes, just my presence). It was without a doubt absolutely exhausting: physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m a bleeding heart and it made me weep to think that there were those so uneducated, willfully blind, or openly selfish that they would kill another member of our human family. I cried a lot that week, but it helped to renew my passion for life, encourage me where I needed it most, and strengthen my resolve to devote my life to saving life.


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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