was recently invited to Dublin to give a talk to about
200 representatives of the new breed of young pro-lifer
that seems to be taking over the whole pro-life world,
even in Europe. If you’ve been to the March for Life in
Washington, you’ve seen them in their glorious
thousands, chanting, clapping, waving flags, grinning
and laughing, impervious to the January-in-DC cold.
Youth Defence, Ireland’s largest, loudest and most
fighty pro-life group invited me over to the mysterious
green land to talk about the joys and wonders of life as
a pro-life journalist stationed in Rome. It was my first
time in the ancestral homeland and I was surprised to
find just how natural and “normal” Ireland felt to me. I
was faced with genetic realities when I saw just how
much the Irish looked and sounded like me, and my
mother, and her mother…there is such a thing as race
after all, it seems.
And the Irish are a fighting race. I have been told so
many times that I have the Irish national temperament,
but I never really understood that until I went there
and was faced with a whole country of people who all
looked and sounded vaguely familiar. And fightiness is
most evident in Youth Defence.
They had asked me to talk about pro-life journalism,
which is a field more or less invented by
LifeSiteNews.com, the non-profit news source I have been
writing for these last six or so years. But instead, I
wanted to talk some straight talk about pro-liferism, if
I dare to coin a term.
It seems that many, not all, but many who are active in
the pro-life movement are often also Trads and this rule
was evident among much of the leadership of Youth
Defence. They will often, as they did that weekend, pack
up their posters and placards and head off to the
nearest traditional Mass after their vigils outside the
Dublin Marie Stopes “referral” clinic. So I had no doubt
of their emotional enthusiasm, their idealism or even
their willingness to sacrifice and suffer for what they
believed, but I wanted to warn them of some pitfalls
that I have observed over the last ten years in the
I spoke to them about the two things that the pro-life
movement around the world as a whole is lacking:
knowledge and fearlessness.
I have been around a bit now; I’ve been to Washington
and Ottawa, organised conferences and pickets and
written briefs for parliamentarians. I have given talks
to kids and clergy and led Pro-Life 101 apologetics
training seminars, and in that time, I have identified
two places where the sincere, warm-hearted and
well-intentioned are often failing.
Pro-life people are often focused on their warm feelings
about children and mothers. But because they have
neglected to learn how to make a reasoned case for their
position, they are often left only with their feelings,
and unable to answer, when confronted by the abortion
movement’s favourite slogans.
I asked the assembled glossy-maned young people in
Dublin to imagine for a moment a pro-lifer who doesn’t
like children. Who is cranky and misanthropic and who
has no personal interest in babies, has no idea what to
do when handed one, does not consider them cute and has
no warm feelings in particular for motherhood. Can such
a creature exist? Isn’t being pro-life all about liking
I’m going to let you in on a personal secret: I didn’t
become a pro-life activist because I like babies. Even
when I was one, I wasn’t that keen on hanging out with
the other kids. I am an only child, raised by my single
mother and grandparents. I have spent my whole life
around adults. I like adult company, adult occupations,
adult conversation, adult pastimes.
My ancestors are Irish, although my branch of the family
left in the 1830s, and being passionate is something of
a genetic predisposition. I do not lack passion for the
pro-life cause. But I wanted to caution the happy young
Irish pro-lifers: we may feel passionately about what we
are doing, but we make a mistake when we lead with those
feelings. We absolutely need to learn to lead with our
heads. With our knowledge.
This, I told them, is the key to the whole movement; we
are not in the pro-life movement because of our
feelings, no matter how warm and friendly they may be.
We are not in the pro-life movement because we like
children. We are not pro-life because babies are “cute”.
We are in the movement for one reason alone: it is wrong
to kill an innocent human being.
American pro-life educator Scott Klusendorf, who spends
his time flying around North America teaching young
activists how to make a reasonable case for the pro-life
position, has put it as a syllogism:
It is wrong to kill innocent human beings.
An innocent human being is killed by abortion.
Therefore abortion is wrong.
I have summed it up in a single sentence: “You can’t
kill people to solve your problems.” But this simple
thing, that we all take for granted, is something that
almost no one out there in the general run of secular
life ever hears.
Pro-life people need to know, to be experts in making
this case reasonably, and defending it based on facts,
not their feelings or their religious beliefs. Unless we
can do this, and do it steadfastly and forthrightly in
the face of often angry, sometimes violent opposition,
we are going to lose. And more children are going to
lose their lives and more women are going to lose their
Many of us think that it is enough to hold the position,
to be on the side of the angels. But I have seen that
with a few exceptions, we really don’t give enough
thought to learning how to convey that position
reasonably to others in a way they can understand and
accept. We don’t know how to make converts.
There are a lot of women out there, particularly those
raised during or after the Sexual Revolution, who don’t
like babies and don’t want to have children. In our
times, appealing to sentiment about the cuteness of
babies is not going to work. Particularly with the
abortion-minded woman who has been taught to see
motherhood as a form of slavery and a child as a mortal
For similar reasons, exclusively relying on religious
arguments and language is also not going to work. When
you tell a modern secularized feminist woman that
abortion is opposed to the law of God, you have already
lost the argument on the opening bid.
It is of the first importance that we learn to put our
feelings, our sentiments and our religious language
aside and make a clear case that can be understood by
the people around us.
My second point was about fearlessness. It is imperative
in whatever work we do that we give up any desire to be
liked. Some may still be familiar with the concept of
“human respect,” a fault that spiritual writers used to
warn people against. It means worrying so much about
whether other people like you, that you would do
anything, including compromise what you believe.
Everyone has a natural desire to be liked, to be
approved and accepted, but when that desire becomes the
leading principle, pro-life work becomes impossible. In
fact, the fear of disapproval can lead a perfectly
emotionally sincere pro-life person to go all the way
over to the other side and start asserting, as I heard
one do to my face, that “a woman does indeed have a
right to choose,” a phenomenon I have nicknamed
“pro-lifer Stockholm Syndrome”.
I have been told by pro-life groups that it is wrong to
try to make abortion illegal. This, they said, is
“confrontational,” and an attempt to impose our ideas on
others. I have been told that the use of horrible
graphic images of aborted babies is wrong, they upset
people: “People who see those pictures every day forget
just how horrible they really are.” But if we never see
the pictures, it is only too easy to forget how horrible
But as one American pro-life activist says, “Which is
worse, to become upset at pictures of abortion, or to be
aborted?” The pictures are horrible because they are
truthful depictions of abortion. Object to the abortion,
not to the pictures, which are, after all, only the
facts presented in full colour.
The desire to be liked will cripple our work. When I am
focused on whether a person will like me or approve of
me, I am thinking not about the matter at hand, not
about the lives or souls I want to save from the
horrible disaster of abortion. If I am thinking about
whether I am liked, if I am motivated, even
unconsciously by that, I am thinking about myself. And
that generates fear.
I have met a lot of pro-life people who hold the
position but fear upsetting people with it. Who are
unwilling out of this fear to confront forthrightly the
abortion ideology, its lies and slogans and emotional
manipulation. No one likes to be shouted at and called
‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi’.
When I was first getting involved in the movement, I
attended the national pro-life conference in Toronto at
which one of the speakers was Greg Cunningham, the man
who founded the Genocide Awareness Project, the GAP.
GAPpers are people who are forced to confront their
fears, and to learn to make the case in the face of
people screaming at them. The GAP is one of the most
unpopular pro-life efforts out there, especially among
the warm-hearted, deeply feeling pro-lifers.
The GAP is the one where you stand in front of huge full
colour photo posters of aborted children, juxtaposed
with pictures of other human rights atrocities like the
Holocaust and the lynching of black men in the American
South. The volunteers, who are extensively trained in
pro-life apologetics, stand in front of these pictures
and talk to passers-by in places like downtown Toronto,
New York and Chicago, about why abortion is wrong. It’s
a tad in-your-face, and not for the faint of heart.
Greg had a job selling his idea to the nice, warm,
friendly, non-confrontational Canadian pro-lifers. If
you have met many Canadians, you will know that we have
a well-deserved reputation for being “nice”. We don’t
argue, we don’t contradict, we don’t insist on our
points. We give way, we compromise, we cultivate a
self-deprecating sense of humour, we like to be liked.
At that lecture Greg said something I will never forget:
“Canadians are too nice. They’re too quick to give way.
Canadians will not argue against abortion with
pro-aborts. They will not tell someone, ‘No, I’m sorry,
you’re wrong about that’.”
“We need more rude Canadians.”
At that moment, I think I discovered my inner Irishman
because I had the overwhelming urge to shoot up my hand
and say, “Ooo! Pick me! I’m rude. Ask anyone!”
Since then I have taken Scott Klusendorf’s pro-life
apologetics training and I have learned that it is
actually quite simple to construct perfectly calm, and
not very rude, answers to the abortion slogans.
In a blog commbox some time ago I was accused, by
someone who claimed to be pro-life, of giving “clever
answers” to the more common pro-abortion arguments. The
person objected, I think, to how easily I dismissed the
deeply felt feelings of the deeply feeling people who
felt that women need abortion because otherwise their
feelings would be hurt. I was supposed to feel guilty
and shut up, as, he said, he had politely done.
The person was objecting to my assertion that abortion
slogans just fall to dust when they are examined with
what I like to call the Laws of Rational Thought. They
nearly all refute themselves right out of existence.
Particularly the ones that are meant to embarrass us and
make us hang our heads in shame at our belief that we
can't kill people to solve our problems.
These slogans work to shut us up because most pro-life
people, including me, got our intellectual training from
Saturday Morning Cartoons. It is quite astonishing how
much anti-intellectualism can be found in the pro-life
movement. But a lot of pro-life activists are converts,
and to get to this stage we have been forced to use our
We have read and thought our way to a position that is
totally at odds with that of the rest of the world. A
great many, I would say a majority, of people my age
have undergone a massive, all-encompassing change in the
way they see the world and life in it. It is possible to
convert, but only if we are presented with the facts and
a reasoned argument.
I told the assembled fighting Irish pro-life young
people that we need the passion, we must love children
and older people, to want passionately to defend them,
and to defend Christian moral standards in society. But
the passion is not going to be any use to us, or to
them, if we don’t have the knowledge and the courage to
present the arguments clearly.
I told them from my own experience that courage grows as
you learn. The more you know, the easier it is to be
brave. If you know your stuff, you can’t be goaded into
an emotional response. You stay calm in every
discussion, often when your opponent is getting
I have seen pro-life people trying to talk to
pro-abortion people who don’t know how to make the case.
Who don’t know the facts and have them at their
fingertips. Who can say only how they feel, not what is
true. This is deadly. It does nothing more than
demonstrate that there isn’t anything of substance to
our position. It’s just one set of personal feelings and
preferences against another.
I gave them my sage, grey-haired advice: know your
material. Take the time to learn it, to become fluent in
And forget about being liked. If you have a stand and
know your stuff, and how to present it, you’ll be
respected, even by our opponents. Which is better than