HOW THE PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT IS REBRANDING ITSELF

by Tara Gulwell

Article mentions pro-life rhetoric, and abortion

The American Catholic college I attend, Loyola University New Orleans, has been experiencing a fierce debate on campus recently. After fierce backlash against the controversial moves of the pro-life group Loyola Students For Life (LSFL), which you can read about here, the group had to concede in a public statement that The Vagina Monologues was “an empowering work of feminist art meant to bring awareness to discrimination, sexual abuse, and other important issues affecting women.”

Not quite the opinion you’d expect from a bunch of religious pro-life students, right?

Indeed, LSFL seem heavily invested in cultivating a public image based on tolerance, acceptance and being pro-women. They even have a very active instagram account (which I would highly recommend if you need encouragement finishing off a bottle of wine). But don’t get fooled — they have all the quintessential hallmarks of pro-life activity; they protest outside of Planned Parenthood (despite the ones in New Orleans not even having an abortion license), attend ‘funerals’ for ‘the unborn’, and wear t-shirts saying ‘unborn lives matter’, all complete with smiling selfies.

LSFL seem heavily invested in cultivating a public image based on tolerance, acceptance and being pro-women

But while their actions in their essence may not be that different to the generations of pro-life activists before them, LSFL and other groups like them mark a distinct shift in ideology and the marketing of the pro-life movement in the U.S. Like what the ‘alt-right’ (read: white supremacists) did for the right, and what the Bernie Bros and the Corbynistas did for the left, mobilised millennials are trying to redefine what it means to be pro-life.

(Loyola College, New Orleans, via collegechoice)

(Loyola University, New Orleans, via collegechoice)

One of the most popular recent pro-life groups to spring up in recent years is Secular Pro-Life. They’re trying to rid the movement of its traditional Christian rhetoric and stereotypical images of its activists. This group is mostly made up of young women who seek to present abortion in a moral, yet non-religious, context. LSFL operates in a similar way, while they associate with religious organisations and use religious leverage in a Catholic institution when strategically valuable, they ultimately frame their argument as a human rights issue. This message is proving to be popular, the Students for Life’s staple is the sign ‘WE ARE THE PRO-LIFE GENERATION’, and they’re sort-of right.

According to a 2015 study, only 26% of millennials would identify as exclusively pro-choice, 22% would identify as neither, and 52% would identify as exclusively pro-life or somewhat pro-life. While this reflects the rest of the American population, younger people tend to be much less socially conservative than their parents, so the adherence to anti-abortion values is significant. And this successive transition of values is in part due to the scrapping of overtly religious doctrine, but more so because of another hugely successful strategy this new pro-life movement is adopting.

only 26% of millennials would identify as exclusively pro-choice, 22% would identify as neither, and 52% would identify as exclusively pro-life or somewhat pro-life

Huge swathes of young anti-abortion activists are broadening out the definition of what ‘pro-life’ means. More issues are coming into focus for these groups, such as the death penalty, gun violence, universal healthcare and war. They’re publicly adopting political stances popular amongst young Americans, and drawing in those who’ve only ever seen the old white dude caricature from the days of Roe v. Wade. This strategy is also carving out a new space in the movement for pro-life ‘feminists’ (oxymoronic to some), such as Feminists For Life and New Wave Feminists. Many of the young groups aforementioned also suggest that their stance is informed by advocating for women’s rights and health.

(Vagina Monologues, via kathmandupost)

(Vagina Monologues, via kathmandupost)

Young pro-lifers are also attempting to de-politicise the debate as best they can. Seeking to appeal to those on the left, some are ditching the designer Republican label altogether. A recent video entitled ‘Pro-life millennials speak out’ opens up with some stats, then each interviewee explaining their political inclination, ranging from conservative Republican to democratic socialist. The impression is one of not only bipartisanship, but nonpartisan agreement and inclusivity.

Young pro-lifers are also attempting to de-politicise the debate as best they can. 

For all their posturing however, it’s impossible to deny that the pro-life/pro-choice debate does fall along partisan lines, particularly after the 2016 presidential campaigns, and subsequent administration. Planned Parenthood and pro-choice activism is currently in an acutely vulnerable position if the Republican Party continues pushing anti-abortion agendas. Following the 2014 midterm wave and the 2016 elections, Democrats only have total control of 6 states, compared to the 25 Republicans have. And in 2018 there are 23 Democrat senate seats up for grabs, and only 9 Republican — pro-lifers have already began mobilising to make sure some of those 23 seats get replaced in favour of anti-abortion senators. However, most concerning will be the new state of the Supreme Court after Trump gets his (stolen) court nominee and possible future ones approved.

This new and significant tenet of the pro-life movement is beginning to hit its stride and incorporate members into its fold that the previous generations have failed to do. And it’s in a unique political opportunity to further its successes and agendas. The three-fold strategy of marketing is working: get rid of religious reputation, scrap the appearance of partisanship, and tackle popular issues that help frame abortion as a human rights issue. If you’re young and pro-choice in America today be prepared to debate amongst your peers a little more strongly than perhaps you expected.

Featured image © Sarah Frostenson/Vox

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