The Pro-Life Movement as the Politics of the 1960s
Neuhaus, Richard John, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life
Whatever else it is, the pro-life movement of the last thirty-plus years is one of the most massive and sustained expressions of citizen participation in the history of the United States. Since the 1960s, citizen participation and the remoralizing of politics have been central goals of the left. Is it not odd, then, that the pro-life movement is viewed as a right-wing cause? Reinhold Niebuhr wrote about "the irony of American history" and, were he around to update his book of that title, I expect he might recognize this as one of the major ironies within the irony.
These are the issues addressed in a remarkable new book out this month from Princeton University Press, The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, by Jon Shields, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College. The book is by no means a pro-life tract. It is an excruciatingly careful study, studded with the expected graphs and statistical data--but not to the point of spoiling its readability--in the service of probing the curious permutations in contemporary political alignments.
The Port Huron Statement issued by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1962 called for a participatory democracy in which, through protest and agitation, the "power structure" of the society would be transformed by bringing moral rather than merely procedural questions to the center of political life. Almost fifty years later, Shields notes, "some 45 percent of respondents in the Citizens Participation Survey who reported participating in a national protest did so because of abortion. What is more, nearly three quarters of all abortion-issue protesters are pro-life, an unsurprising fact given that the pro-life movement is challenging rather than defending the current policy regime. Meanwhile, all other social issues, including pornography, gay rights, school prayer, and sex education, account for only 3 percent of all national protest activity."
Shields says there are three categories of pro-life politics: deliberative, disjointed, and radical. Representative of the "deliberative" are Justice for All (JFA) and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR), which have trained thousands of young people to engage in nonconfrontational pro-life persuasion on college campuses. The "disjointed" politics includes innumerable and loosely organized activities such as sidewalk counseling, prayer vigils, marches, demonstrations, and …
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Publication information: Article title: The Pro-Life Movement as the Politics of the 1960s. Contributors: Neuhaus, Richard John - Author. Magazine title: First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life. Issue: 189 Publication date: January 2009. Page number: 67+. © 2009 Institute on Religion and Public Life. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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