Why the social justice movement is silent on abortion

In 2005, as a college freshman attending an evangelical university, I stumbled across reports of a brutal genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Shocked by the accounts, I decided to raise awareness on my campus. I distributed flyers, showed videos, set up displays, collected letters to Congress, and took groups to national rallies in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Through it all, I was deeply encouraged by the enthusiastic support of the students and faculty.

Some time later, when I was a junior, I was invited to lead a chapter of Students for Life on my campus. I hesitantly accepted.

I quickly found that the response to my pro-life activism was markedly different than the response to my Darfur activism. Few students wanted to be involved, and several vocally opposed my efforts.

I spent most of the next decade studying and teaching in evangelical universities. Everywhere I went I observed the same phenomenon. My peers were energized by a host of social justice concerns, but abortion was not one of them.


Our Mythology

I suspect that we are blinded to the seriousness of abortion by a deep-seated national and ethnocentric bias. We have been taught since childhood that America is the land “with liberty and justice for all.” The bloody, state-sponsored or state-permitted atrocities presented as such on the news are without exception committed in other countries.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that every year in America the procedure depicted below is performed around 12,720 times in the sixth month of pregnancy or later with the full sanction of the law and often the support of government funding. (See Live Action’s recently released video for a detailed medical description of this procedure.)


It is far easier to decry the atrocities committed in Africa than to address the atrocities committed in our own neighborhoods. When we insist that the procedure detailed above is morally indistinguishable from dismembering, disemboweling, and decapitating a newborn infant, we are calling into question the cherished myth of American superiority. We are forced to acknowledge that our nation is neither as compassionate nor as enlightened as we have allowed ourselves to believe.

Our Motivation

Even more significant than our mythology, however, is our motivation. On every issue except abortion, those who stand up for social justice are considered by our society to be progressive. If you speak against abortion, however, you are no progressive; you are viewed as a ‘right-wing religious extremist’ engaged in a ‘war on women’s rights.’

The question of abortion, therefore, forces us to consider our motivations. When we advocate for social justice, are we truly fighting for justice, or are we simply seeking the affirmation of our peers?

The Good News

I was able to raise awareness about Darfur on my campus, but in the end, there was little else I could do. I had no one to persuade; everyone I knew already agreed that genocide was horrific. I petitioned my representatives, but they were already concerned. I collected money for relief organizations, but our dollars could not stop the violence.

Abortion is an entirely different matter. We have people around us to persuade. We have pro-abortion lawmakers to vote out of office. We can actually make abortion illegal, just as outnumbered and unpopular activists once made slavery and segregation illegal.

But not if we stay silent.

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