It is a perennial oddity of abortion apologetics that a movement whose own reasoning is shallow and ethically bankrupt, to the point of vapidity, so unabashedly lectures its opponents on their alleged immorality and insensitivity.
That was surely xoJane’s goal in publishing Jennie Kuckertz’s claims that her past as a “former pro-life activist” in college gave her critical insight into how the broader pro-life movement made her “feel disempowered and voiceless,” though Kuckertz herself appears more nuanced than that:
My freshman year was one of growth and challenge regarding the dignity and value of human life. I learned about the biology of the developing human in utero, the unfathomable cost of capital punishment, the injustices of inaccessible healthcare, and the massive human costs of a broken immigration system. I was brought into the pro-life consciousness with a broad understanding of what it meant to be pro-life. Like so many freshman, I felt as though my window to understanding the world had been opened. It did not take me long to realize that this was my most naïve moment.
Interestingly, Kuckertz recounts a number of instances of pro-abortion leftists stereotyping her based on her opposition to abortion, including someone who actually said, “I’m surprised you hang out with the pro-life group, you seem like you care about human rights,” and even a talk with an adviser on the possibility of grad schools and employers blacklisting people for being pro-life.
Alas, despite these being far more real and blatant displays of close-mindedness than anything said of pro-lifers in the piece, pro-abortion intolerance isn’t the headline. Go figure.
In 2008, I got on a bus to Washington D.C. for the March for Life with 50 other college anti-abortion activists. I was fired up and ready to raise awareness. To my surprise, there were no talks on advocating for healthcare or childcare access. Instead, we heard a series of lectures on how chastity was important in promoting a “culture of life.” They urged that if we had committed this grave mortal sin that we should repent. I had a hard time understanding how me personally not having sex was directly tied to saving lives.
Throughout college I worked in leadership roles with six major pro-life organizations. Consistently and to my extreme frustration, the other leaders seemed far more interested in promoting chastity than in doing anything that would actually result in fewer abortions.
And the disconnect comes into focus. It seems the March for Life’s sin was not actual intolerance for Kuckertz’s views, but that speakers dared to have differing views of their own.
She assumes as a given not only that she has the other issues figured out better than more conservative pro-lifers—to the point where not echoing her is tantamount to not caring about the issue at all—but that her favored policies’ alleged impact on abortion rates is a proven fact. But time and time and time and time and time again, pro-lifers have shown that the relationship between government spending and abortion rates is far more complicated than that.
Are we to believe that throughout the course of “leadership roles with six major pro-life organizations,” none of this came up? That Kuckertz never had conversations with friends and colleagues that opened her eyes to their perspective? And really, how can a pro-lifer have “a hard time understanding” how not creating potential abortion victims in the first place is tied to reducing abortions?
In the wake of the Planned Parenthood undercover videos, I’ve felt an overwhelming flood of emotions. I am outraged at those who have hijacked the abortion issue as a means to deny women reproductive health services. I am appalled that my tax dollars support an organization that advocates for the grisly abortion practices so callously described in those videos […] To demonize an entire organization is to miss the nuances of Planned Parenthood’s role in reproductive health. However, I’ve found little appreciation for nuance on either side of this issue. As such, I would like to direct a “shame on you” to the “pro-life” movement as well as to Planned Parenthood. Shame on you “pro-life” leaders, because you have put your religious beliefs above the well-being of unborn children and their mothers. You have alienated activists such as myself by insisting that we adhere to your narrow version of what it means to be “pro-life.”
Sorry, but red flags go up when somebody claiming to share your basic cause and be independent of the opposition repeats several of the opposition’s most easily-disprovable attacks on you.
- Given how much pro-lifers have been talking about supporting legitimate women’s health centers in place of Planned Parenthood, or how nobody is trying to deny anyone “access” to non-abortive contraception (which isn’t a silver bullet for abortion rates, either), how can a self-proclaimed fellow pro-lifer really believe we’re trying to “deny women reproductive health services”?
- How is it “demonizing” to condemn an organization for committing crimes and mistreating women when what we’re saying is true… and you yourself admit what they’re doing is “grisly” and “appalling”?
- What is our “narrow vision” and who tried to force you to adhere to it? Are you not aware of mainstream pro-life organizations like Live Action working alongside Secular Pro-Life or the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians? If some pro-life leader really was horribly intolerant to you, then why didn’t you call out him or her anywhere in your article?
To be fair, Kuckertz has some tough words for pro-abortion zealots, too:
Shame on you to those who advocate for Planned Parenthood while refusing to consider that the issues of reproductive heath care and abortion may not be one and the same. In the wake of calls to de-fund Planned Parenthood, this jeopardizes our access to contraception and health screenings because you cannot consider options for re-routing these services untied to abortion providers. Shame on you for labeling me as a million things I am not because you do not want to hear my voice.
All true, and she deserves credit for saying what must be heresy to most of xoJane’s readers. However, there’s still a disconnect between this paragraph and the previous one—by noting “options for re-routing these services untied to abortion providers,” she’s inadvertently conceding that we’re not “hijack[ing] the abortion issue as a means to deny women reproductive health services” after all.
I know that I am not alone in my beliefs or my silence. I know many young, former pro-life activists who have found that taking this stance is unsustainable and incompatible with their professional careers and relationships. I would like to advocate for both women and for humans in-utero, and I don’t particularly care whether I do that on the pro-life or pro-reproductive health side. In the meantime, I’m ashamed to confess that I’ll be waiting embittered on the sidelines until I’m invited by either team to play.
Jennie Kuckertz, consider this your invitation. I’m sure I speak for my colleagues at Live Action and the broader pro-life movement when I say that I would be more than happy to work with you to save babies, whatever our other differences may be.
But the fact that we consider chastity an important piece of the puzzle doesn’t mean we’re trying to impose our religion on you. That we come to opposing conclusions on the value and effectiveness of various federal programs doesn’t mean our concern for life is any less pure or thorough than yours—in fact, we just might be more skeptical because we’ve considered aspects of the question you haven’t. Yes, it may be that we can learn from you—but it may be that you can learn from us, too.
In short, if we’re going to work together for life, respect for these differences has to be mutual.