Friday, November 6, 2009

PRO-LIFE/ Change comes from a long and patient cultural work

An article I wrote for Il

A recent Gallup poll (May 2009) indicates that significant numbers of people in the United States have changed their minds about abortion, and that now, for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995, more Americans identify themselves as pro-life (51%) than as pro-choice (42%). These results are even more dramatic when compared to those obtained in 2008, when 44% said they were pro-life, while 50% reported that they were pro-choice.

In the United States, the terms pro-life and pro-choice carry emotional, as well as political or philosophical weight. Whether one is pro-life or pro-choice is influenced by multiple factors, including past and present social milieu, the family of origin's attitudes and beliefs, norms among fellow professionals in the workplace, ideas expressed in the media, or religious belief; and it implies membership in a loose group of like-minded people. All these factors exert pressure on the individual to remain either pro-life or pro-choice; therefore any change in the way Americans identify themselves in this regard is significant.

What could account for the change in attitude reflected in the Gallup poll's data? Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, has said, "The days of legal abortion in this country are numbered" because of the number of women who have had abortions and have come forward to describe the devastating effect of abortion on their lives: "The other side wants us to think they are on the side of the women, and we are on the side of the baby.... You can't love one without loving the other. You can't hurt one without hurting the other." Fr. Pavone also credits those who have been working in the abortion industry who have witnessed the devastation first hand and who are now closing their clinics. "They are coming out of the industry by the hundreds," Fr. Pavone said. In addition, Pavone noted that the use of ultrasound technology has helped the pro-life cause by providing the evidence that the fetus is indeed a human life.

Recent dramatic events in Texas support and illustrate Fr. Pavone's assessment. Abby Johnson was the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas for two years until she resigned last month, after using ultrasound to view an abortion. Johnson is now volunteering with the Coalition For Life, a pro-life group whose volunteers pray regularly outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic where Johnson once worked. Shawn Carney, director of the coalition, issued a statement that concluded, “Abby believes in the power of prayer and she thanks all of you for your peaceful presence outside of her former workplace all of these years.”

Abby Johnson with Coalition for Life Director Shawn Carney

This episode calls to mind another similar incident documented in Letters section of Traces magazine (April 2003):

Dearest Fr Giussani: For 37 years, I was in charge of the instruments in an operating room in the Obstetrics and Gynecology ward. In my region, Molise, the rate of recourse to voluntary interruption of pregnancy has always been very high compared to the total population. Because of my affection for Jesus, I applied to be an objector, but I did not wash my hands of things just because of this. Quite the contrary. I tried to make Jesus present in those circumstances in every way my creativity could invent. I would talk with the women to open them up to welcoming the little seed that was already inside them; many times I would sterilize the instruments that others should have checked so that the operation would not result in more pain; I would debate with my non-objector coworkers to show them the lack of sense in their choice, and above all I would talk with the doctors who performed abortions. In so many years, the Lord has given me the grace of seeing many babies saved through me. But the greatest gift the Lord gave me came the day the abortion doctor on my ward phoned to tell me that after so many years of my witness, his heart had been touched, and he had decided to apply to be an objector. He had understood that my admonishing him, urging him, was born of a real affection for him, of a real desire for his good. The Lord has used me so that the creature He loved could discover the love of his Creator. Now I have retired, and in the hospital where I worked, as a consequence of this doctor’s objection, abortions are no longer performed. I have learned from this experience that what counts in man is the task each one has in life, but no one is ever alone in this task, because God’s Mercy always makes itself our Companion. Thank you, Fr Giussani, because the Yes that you said one day has made the Lord’s embrace possible for me in a way that responded so fully to my heart. Enza, Termoli

From the above examples, we can make the following conclusion: to change from identifying oneself as pro-choice to seeing oneself as pro-life requires that something new happen to the person. This newness must be unusual and unexpected, and most of all, it must be patient. Despite the sudden change from the 2008 to the 2009 results in the Gallup poll, the cultural work of bringing others to see the value of human life in its earliest stages is slow and hidden. The poll results simply reflect the final step of conversion. May many others have the courage to take the same step!

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."