Pro-life propaganda -- in the best sense of the word

November 21, 1996|By Mona Charen

DAYTON, Ohio -- The pro-life movement seems to be changing.

Republican activists sliced each other up last summer over whether the Republican Party should abandon its support for a pro-life constitutional amendment. The pro-change group said the constitutional amendment was unrealistic. The anti-change group said any departure from the existing language would signal a retreat.

Down at the grass roots, the matter seems to have been decided. No one talks about the constitutional amendment anymore. Instead, the pro-life movement is becoming a propaganda (in the best sense of the word) machine.

Local chapters around the country are raising money to help fund crisis-pregnancy centers and, more and more, television advertising to reach young women.

In Missouri, abortions have declined more than in any other state, thanks in part to a polished television advertising campaign aimed at touching women's consciences and supporting their best instincts. (The feminist line about the need to ''trust women'' to make good decisions is pure politically correct bunk. Don't women -- just like men -- make terrible decisions every day? Don't they fall for financial scams, cheat their employers, lie to special prosecutors?)

The Vitae Society of Kansas City, along with other pro-life organizations, has produced sophisticated television spots. One, called ''Detour,'' features a beautiful young woman behind the wheel of a sports car. She is driving fast, the wind in her hair. Suddenly, she is confronted with a huge roadblock. She backs up angrily and turns away. But the voice-over points out that a detour is not the end of the road.

Another spot features a high school student walking up a crowded school staircase while everyone else is walking down. The voice-over stresses the internal voice of conscience.

Feminists for Life is distributing pamphlets on college campuses. One features Susan B. Anthony on the cover with the tag line ''Another anti-choice fanatic.''

Another handout is written by a young woman: ''They told me, 'It was just a blob of tissue,' not really a baby yet. But deep down inside, I knew better. If it wasn't a baby, then I wasn't pregnant, right?'' Right.

The pro-life movement, despite the devout wishes of liberal Democrats and Christine Todd Whitman Republicans, is not going away. But to know its grass-roots members is to laugh at the stereotype of humorless, fierce, angry avengers.

Rainbow of photos

While the Dayton chapter is overwhelmingly white, Christian and conservative, it is anything but humorless or coarse. The photographs gracing the stage at a recent fund-raiser featured three babies, two black and one white. All had been saved through the efforts of Dayton Right to Life.

Yet the chapter's president, Peggy Lehner, spoke with sincere regret of the lack of black faces in the audience. Quoting statistics showing that 40 percent of abortions are obtained by blacks, she stressed her organization's commitment to improve its ties to the black community.

One isn't supposed to notice this in polite company, but how many Republicans of the country club set truly regret the large number of abortions sought by black women?

Across the country, pro-life organizations are honing messages to pregnant young women. They offer support and nurture -- not fury or judgment. The movement still has a way to go in incorporating adoption more seamlessly into its message. It seems to assume (like the pro-choice crowd) that a woman who chooses life necessarily chooses single motherhood.

But the battle for hearts and minds is under way, and the movement that began in thousands of living rooms in 1973 is coming of age.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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