FLORIDA, November 17, 2012 — All too often in our country’s abortion and reproductive rights debate, we hear a lot of opinions, but very little about the people behind them.
Jill Stanek is one of the foremost voices in the antiabortion movement. A veteran nurse, she became an activist after discovering that her hospital offered pregnancy termination procedures. Her outspoken views have earned substantial praise and criticism alike.
Stanek is an extremely popular blogger and public speaker. Whether or not you agree with her ideas, it is all but impossible not to respect her heartfelt sincerity — a rarity for commentators of any political background.
In a detailed discussion, Stanek tells us about why the antiabortion movement has found lasting appeal with millions of Americans, whether or not overturning Roe v. Wade is a practical objective, how religion plays a role in opposition to abortion rights, and much more.
Joseph F. Cotto: The antiabortion movement is subject to a plethora of stereotypes. How would you describe it today?
Jill Stanek: I could not say it any better than Fred Barnes did in a November 7, 2011, Weekly Standard piece:
“That the pro-life movement is bigger is a given. It’s also younger, increasingly entrepreneurial, more strategic in its thinking, better organized, tougher in dealing with allies and enemies alike, almost wildly ambitious, and more relentless than ever.
All that is dwarfed by an even bigger change. Pro-lifers have captured the high moral ground, chiefly thanks to advances in the quality of sonograms. Once fuzzy, sonograms now provide a high-resolution picture of the unborn child in the womb. Fetuses have become babies.”
I would add that post-abortive mothers speaking up that abortion hurts women have also helped reshape the debate.
Cotto: Why, in your opinion, has the antiabortion movement found such strong appeal with millions of Americans?
Stanek: It boils down to answering this simple question: Are we or are we not talking about human beings? If the product of human-sperm-meets-human-egg is not human, then it doesn’t matter whether mothers remove them. Such a removal would be no ethically different, although more dangerous and more expensive, than clipping toenails.
But people instinctively know abortion takes a human life. That belief has only been strengthened with medical advances such as sonography and ex-utero fertilization, wherein conception can be visualized by microscope.
Furthermore, Americans foundationally carry forth Judeo-Christian values, and Catholic and Evangelical churches teach that human beings are created in the image of God.
Cotto: What would you say motivates most activists to play a role in the antiabortion movement?
Stanek: It’s the same motivation that compelled William Wilberforce to stop the slave trade in England; the same motivation that launched the Underground Railroad in the U.S. and compelled our Civil War; the same motivation that compelled Irena Sendler to save Jewish children one-by-one in the Warsaw Ghetto; the same motivation that compelled Corrie and Bessie ten Boom to hide Jews in the wall of their home; the same motivation that compels George Clooney to fight slaughter in the Sudan.
The same blood runs through the veins of abortion abolitionists to stop atrocities from being committed against fellow human beings as has run through the veins of other human rights activists throughout history.
Cotto: Religious belief seems to be a key aspect of many people’s opposition to abortion rights. Is this actually the case, or yet another stereotype?
Stanek: No, I do not think it is a stereotype. Most pro-life activists are religious people, although there are secular groups. That said, we are fully capable of arguing the merits of the sanctity of preborn human life on a secular/biological level.
Cotto: Most members of the antiabortion movement would eventually like to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Is this really a practical objective?
Stanek: It is a first step. Overturning Roe only means the abortion decision goes back to the individual states. Ultimately, this is the Stephen Douglas position. The longterm goal is to protect preborn humans from the moment of conception on the federal level.
And yes, it is a practical objective. Again, if we agree embryos/fetusues are human, then they deserve the same protections as all other innocent humans.
Cotto: In the likely event that Roe v. Wade is not overturned, what then becomes the political mission of the antiabortion movement?
Stanek: What they are doing at present: Chipping at the edges. Enacting laws that limit abortions or make abortions more difficult to get. This means we must elect pro-life politicians, of course, our political mission.
Cotto: The issue of abortion rights is subject to immense controversy. Most Americans do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Nonetheless, they generally do not support late term abortions, either. Can the antiabortion movement find a practical middle ground during the years ahead?
Stanek: The short answer is no. The other side often speaks of finding “common ground,” as Obama implored in his Notre Dame speech. But there can be no “common ground,” i.e., compromise, on the killing of preborn humans. We either sanction it or we ban it. Pro-lifers will never agree to the killing of any of these children.
Meanwhile, pro-lifers work to make abortion unthinkable to the American public. And we have had great success. Americans do not like third trimester abortions. They do not even like second trimester abortions. And they do not like the idea of abortions as primary or secondary birth control. We are to the point of humanizing first trimester babies to the American public, who have been told they are merely “blobs of tissue.”
Cotto: Many radical members of the pro- and anti-abortion rights movements do not approve of compromise. Have you seen any evidence that this might change in the none too distant future?
Stanek: See above. Only the losing side suddenly seeks compromise, as we are seeing these days from many abortion-weary proponents.
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