“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” ― William Wilberforce
Before Obergefell, gay-marriage activists labeled those against their cause as hateful, bigoted, and obstructing not just their way of life but their ability to express their identity in a legally protected manner. In a way, Obergefell’s decision confirmed these complaints.
Yet in light of the wholly abhorrent, increasingly ghoulish series of videos Center for Medical Progress is slowly releasing from its undercover work on Planned Parenthood, the cultural debate on the standard controversial issues, especially among conservatives, has reached an historic low. The mainstream media’s response has been so dismissive, so apathetic, pro-lifers are taking up the cause, renewing their arguments in defense of those who cannot yet defend themselves. They’ve become a modern abolition movement that echoes that of William Wilberforce’s campaign to end slavery.
Knowledge Is Power
In his over 40-year fight to abolish the slave trade, Wilberforce became known for his personality, patience, and political gravitas. In 1787, Thomas Clarkson met with Wilberforce for the first time and gave Wilberforce his essay on the slave trade. Together, the two men formed a partnership that lasted for 50 years, and which ultimately resulted in abolishing slavery in the British empire.
Gathering and then spreading as much knowledge—including as many horrifying details about the slave trade as he could, especially to his political rivals and allies—became Wilberforce’s mission. As Wilberforce said in an 1789 speech to the House of Commons: “How then, can the House refuse its belief to the multiplied testimonies…of the savage treatment of the Negroes in the middle passage. There indeed, what need is there for any evidence? The number of deaths speaks for itself and makes all such inquiry superfluous.”
The Planned Parenthood videos released so far have been disturbing, but the most recent is particularly atrocious. Although one of their many purposes is undoubtedly to show that Planned Parenthood has been intentionally procuring and profiting from aborted body parts, one of the subsidiary “benefits” is that it sheds a different kind of spotlight on the reality that abortion is the murder of tiny human beings. You can’t change a cultural norm (which is most certainly what abortion has become) if no one knows what it looks like, if no one understands the realities of what occurs. As Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Implement New Strategies
From 1789 forward, Wilberforce faithfully introduced bills in Parliament that would effectively ban the slave trade. The first time his bill was introduced, he lost the debate 163 to 88. Still, he pressed on. Finally, in 1792 the House of Commons passed a bill that ceased the trade, but amended it to implement the ban over time.
That wasn’t good enough for Wilberforce. He and like-minded comrades, including politicians and lawyers, estimated that 80 percent of all slave ships sailing to the British New Indies were flying the American flag, thus being protected from privateers. In 1806, the Foreign Slave Trade Bill removed that protection, stopping much of the slave trade by default. (The Slave Trade Act passed one year later.) These were shrewd strategies when political subtleties were necessary.
Ever since Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers have ardently protected life, or tried to, in all its stages. During the ’80s and ’90s, picketing abortion clinics was a popular—though I’d argue relatively ineffective—technique to stop abortion. Organizations dedicated to informing and debating these issues, in unique ways, sprouted.
In 1990, folks like The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform began spreading the truth about abortion by traveling to college campuses and hosting forums featuring enlarged photos of aborted babies. Through this and other efforts, they hope to encourage students to engage in debate and ultimately, change their stance on abortion. Over the last 15 years, other issues like the economy and terrorism have trumped abortion as a political issue. Although the rate of abortions has been slowly falling since it became legal, it’s as if the issue has become tired and impossible.
This is where the Center for Medical Progress’ videos echo Wilberforce’s shrewd tactics. By revealing a previously hidden aspect of Planned Parenthood’s activities, one that sounds almost more egregious than aborting fetuses, they have thrust the abortion issue very much into the limelight again. These dramatic videos demand not to be ignored, but to be vigorously debated, radically reversing social perceptions yet again.
Not unlike past sins, including slavery, columnist Ross Douthat writes, the grotesque, bloody footage of the videos, their precise, detached language of buying and selling a baby’s parts for profit, remains difficult to accept: “This reluctance is a human universal. It’s why white Southerners long preferred Lost Cause mythology to slaveholding realities. It’s why patriotic Americans rarely want to dwell too long on My Lai or Manzanar or Nagasaki.”
Recognize Setbacks But Press Forward
Finally in 1807, the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act abolished the slave trade in the British colonies. But it just abolished the slave trade. It didn’t actually free slaves in the entire British Empire. So Wilberforce continued his work: He joined various anti-slavery organizations, campaigned again, and fought serious illnesses and declining health.
In 1833, after a three-month debate in Parliament, “the Abolition of Slavery Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons,” this time abolishing slavery and emancipating existing slaves. From the introduction of the first bill to the passage of the final bill, the process took 42 years. Three days later, Wilberforce died.
Abortion itself is not the only setback. Even in the wake of these videos, mainstream media has been reluctant to report on the videos’ existence, let alone their repugnant content. When Planned Parenthood finally felt forced to respond, they brushed it aside, arguing the videos have been edited, the language about selling body parts taken out of context. Despite their revealing nature and the multitude of questions they raise about Planned Parenthood as an industry and abortion as a cultural norm, pro-lifers must continue to debunk Planned Parenthood’s entire public-relations campaign, spread the videos as widely as possible, and continue to press forward toward the goal of preserving life in all its forms.
As my colleague D.C. McAllister points out, “Slavery was institutionalized racism. Abortion today is institutionalized murder. I find it ironic that we continue to hear about the guilt of America being its racist past, yet there is little said about the guilt of America for its murderous present. The supremacy of death and the dehumanization of our children are inherent in these laws. Similar to the supremacy of whites and the dehumanization of blacks in slavery.”
Indeed. Pro-lifers are the new abolitionists.