This morning I took a call on our office phone from a woman looking for an abortion. But it took a moment to figure out that was what she was calling about. At first she was mumbling. I had to ask her to repeat her question.
So she did: “Do you do abortions?”
It was a strange question, especially considering that I always answer the phone by stating our organization’s name: “Eric Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League.”
We get calls like this from time to time, and they’re always surprising—and revealing. How does a person manage to call a pro-life organization, of all things, when looking for an abortion? And how do you not realize your mistake when the person who answers says “pro-life” to identify himself?
A call like this shows just how far out of touch your average person is with the pro-life movement. For those of us in the thick of the abortion controversy (on either side), it’s hard to appreciate that most people rarely, if ever, think about abortion. The term “pro-life” doesn’t mean much to them, at least not at first.
I find this to be true all the time when stating the name of my employer—on a credit application, for example. Almost never does anyone seem to have a moment of recognition what the “Pro-Life Action League” might be, let alone ask me about it.
This is a reality that we who are actively fighting to save babies and end legal abortion must reckon with. Our first challenge is simply to make people aware that there is such a thing as a pro-life movement.
Sure, most people are aware that abortion is controversial, but they’re only vaguely aware that the controversy is playing out on a battleground of pitched armies in intractable opposition.
These kinds of reactions—or rather, non-reactions—also utterly debunk the myth that Americans have all already made up their minds about abortion, which I hear all the time. “You’re not going to change anyone’s opinion,” I’m told—as if your average person has done the research, weighed the positions, and come to a definite conclusion.
But a call like this shows how untrue that is. This woman was clearly uncomfortable making that phone call. Whatever political views she might have about abortion, she sounded to me very embarrassed to be asking about it—so much so that her words were at first incomprehensible.
There was desperation in that call, too. So desperate was this woman to get abortion information that she effectively did not hear my words when I announced that she’d called the Pro-Life Action League.
A call like this also offers insight into the psychology of the typical abortion-minded woman. Seeking abortion clearly wasn’t for her an exercise in personal freedom, a bold act of “choice.” It was a scary, desperate solution to a horrible, crushing problem.
Pro-lifers sometimes make the mistake of thinking the women going into abortion clinics are staunch proponents of legal abortion, who are essentially “taking sides” on this moral and political issue by walking through those doors. But few see themselves that way. They’re pregnant and want to be un-pregnant. They turn to abortion hoping it will solve their problem.
We have to realize this. We cannot treat abortion-bound women as if each of them is a champion for “choice.” In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we’re wrong to look at the pro-choice masses—at least half our fellow citizens—as our opponents in this battle.
Our real opponents are the practitioners, defenders, promoters and apologists of legal abortion: the 10-20% of Americans who are truly, deeply committed to the cause of keeping abortion legal under all circumstances.
When we treat everyone who tries to back out of confronting this painful issue by calling themselves “pro-choice” as if they are no different from the pro-abortion zealots, we cannot effectively reach out to them. When it comes down to it, most people are effectively “neutrals” when it comes to abortion. We’ll have more success bringing them to our side if we treat them that way.
Now, I’m not trying to let people off the hook for being complacent about abortion—let alone for seeking out an abortion, as the woman who called my office was doing. But questions about others’ personal culpability for the ongoing injustice of abortion don’t really help us much. Our job is to meet people where they are and invite them to think again, and more deeply, about an issue they want to ignore, because it’s confusing and painful.
If we start off by attacking their indifference, we lose them. It’s hard enough to get people to think about abortion clearly without forcing them to feel defensive from the start.
This may sound like a lot to glean from such a brief phone call, but those few moments on the phone were a powerful reminder to me of what the abortion issue means to most people: almost nothing, until they’re forced to confront it.
In this case, it was an unwanted pregnancy that pushing the caller to deal with abortion—with such reluctance and confusion that she actually phoned up an national pro-life organization looking to get one.
Rather than try to engage this woman in a moral debate about abortion, I told her that I could give her a number for help. I didn’t say what kind of help, and she may well have thought I meant help getting an abortion. But the number I gave her was for a pregnancy resource center, where they’re experts at fielding calls like these, and doing all they can to draw a woman towards the real help she needs not to feel she has no choice but to abort.
I hope she made that call, and I hope she got the help she needed.
I also hope that we pro-lifers will learn that most of those who call themselves pro-choice aren’t really our enemies, or the enemies of unborn children. They’re the confused, mushy middle, and we have to meet them where they are.