It Wasn't Life that Lost, It Was Prudence

Ken Thomas points to a Gray Lady piece on the tactics that won the defense of marriage in CA and two other states.
It is not our goal in this campaign to attack the homosexual lifestyle or to convince gays and lesbians that their behavior is wrong. The less we refer to homosexuality, the better, one of the ward training documents said. We are pro-marriage, not anti-gay.
If only pro-lifers would learn this lesson! On the blogs and in my inbox I am seeing Catholics and other pro-lifers in despair that obviously the country isn't pro-life --or at least, is so immoral that it puts economic issues first. What a load of old tosh! Let's look at the two biggest pro-life ballot initiatives and see what happened.

South Dakota Initiative Measure 11, an effort to ban abortion as a method of birth control. This was perhaps the most distressing pro-life defeat. SD is well-known for being the most pro-life state in the nation, so if you can't ban abortion there, where can you? In 2006, a similar initiative failed in the face of criticism that the bill allowed no exceptions for rape and incest. So this year, the law included rape & incest exceptions --and very narrow ones, too. The pro-life side was outspent 3-1 with money raised mostly outside the state. But as usual and predictable, it was pro-life infighting that brought the initiative down. Scroll down at the Initiative 11 website to the post entitled
The Five Leaders of South Dakota Right To Life Are Wrong To Side With Planned Parenthood....
Argh! I wrote to someone when I saw this measure had been defeated that I sniffed the presence of Judie Brown, and I was right. To be fair, she personally had anything to do with this actual case, but she has been the most public and vociferous proponent of the argument that it is immoral to vote for a law that permits any form of abortion --even when the law will limit and lessen the number of abortions.
Despite the fact that the rank and file members of SDRTL support IM 11 and say they will vote Yes, a few people in positions of leadership of SDRTL say they oppose Initiative 11. These few leaders of SDRTL want an abortion bill that bans all abortions without exceptions. They want the bill that was rejected by the voters of South Dakota in 2006, precisely because that law did not have exceptions for rape, incest and where there was substantial risk of serious injury to the mother.

In fact, because these few leaders of SDRTL did not get exactly what they wanted in 2006, they prefer to let all the children die, and all their mothers suffer the risks of abortion. If they can’t get their way, in effect, they prefer that all the children die.

I don't question these people's commitment to the cause of life, but part of fighting the good fight is fighting smart. There may come a time when you are Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and out of ammunition and all you can do is affix bayonets, charge down the hill and come what may. But ordinarily that's not what's called for. You have to scope behind enemy lines, strive to outflank him: strategize. This go straight at 'em position is the opposite of prudence and the opposite of John Paul II's counsel in Evangelium Vitae that it is permissable to vote for pro-abortion candidates and imperfect laws when they are the lesser of two evils or will limit harm. It's a matter of which way the law is heading.

It was five prominent pro-lifers who brought down the SD initiative. Meanwhile, this effort garnered 20,000 additional votes since 2006 --which, considering pro-lifers were as usual a house divided, is incredible. It could have been a stunning victory.

The Colorado Human Personhood Amendment, while well-intentioned, was likewise a case of pro-life imprudence and overreach. In trying to trounce abortion quickly, pro-lifers actually endangered the pro-life cause. Here is what the bishops of Colorado, including Chaput the Great, had to say about it back in June.
Unfortunately, even if this year's personhood amendment is passed in Colorado, lower federal courts interpreting this amendment will be required to apply the permissive 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. It is also likely that the Supreme Court, given its current composition, will either decline to review such a case, effectively killing the state amendment, or worse, actively reaffirm the mistaken jurisprudence of Roe. While the Church respects those promoting this personhood amendment, the Catholic Bishops of Colorado decline to support its passage because it does not provide a realistic opportunity for ending or even reducing abortions in Colorado.
There were other problems, too. Personhood was defined as from the moment of fertilization, which is problematic because it excludes twins and triplets from legal personhood, at least technically. So one could argue the defeat of this vaguely worded amendment was actually a pro-life victory.

The CO initiative is a case study in overreach. You have to go for a victory you have a prayer of winning, lest you demoralize your own side. Now we have the NARAL side crowing and half our own people depressed because they were "rejected" at the ballot box, when no such thing is true.

The MI ESCR defeat is a true defeat, I suppose, although as happens typically in bioethics debates, the public impression of what the measure would do differed from the fact. It's very hard, when you're massively outspent, to overcome the "you hate science and sick people" argument. CA's rejection of parental notification is bad...but the vote gets closer each time the question comes up. More people voted for it this time around than last. So even those defeats, under analysis, don't add up to the conclusion that support for the defense of life is losing in this country; it's gaining.

In spite of ourselves.

AUL's staff counsel agrees with my conclusion not only about the need for a strategic approach, but also about my general argument that these battles are better fought in legislatures than in referenda.