Should we talk with Abortionists?

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director of Priests for Life
July 21, 1997

One of my favorite pro-life activities is to actually sit down and talk with abortion providers.

Though this is hard for some to understand, the whole context of God's dealings with sinful humanity is known as the "dialogue of salvation" (See Vatican II, Constitution on The Church in the Modern World #3, #23; Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam). Dialogue acknowledges the human dignity of both parties, a dignity which is not lost even by a murderer (See The Gospel of Life, #9).

Two extreme positions need to be avoided.

The first is the idea that dialogue is useless or is a betrayal of the pro-life cause. It is not useless. Dialogue helps clear up misunderstandings and prejudices, even if it does not result in agreement. I have seen abortion supporters became aware, for the first time, of pro-life efforts to help women in crisis pregnancies, and of the difference between rejecting someone's actions and rejecting the person.

Nor is dialogue a betrayal of the pro-life cause. Discussing one's position does not require softening the position. Dialogue is not meant to look for some "compromise" between "pro-life" and "pro-choice." There is none. It does not seek a society that can encompass both a pro-life and abortion-rights philosophy. Such a society cannot survive.

Instead, dialogue seeks to communicate the truth, to help people understand each other, and to create the climate in which truth can best be accepted and flourish.

Dialogue has value.

The other extreme is to overestimate or oversimplify that value, thinking that dialogue will solve everything or that it is the only legitimate response to the abortion crisis. Dialogue will not solve everything. In some cases, promoters of abortion will show no interest whatsoever in talking with pro-lifers.

Dialogue, even under the best circumstances, is by no means the only legitimate pro-life activity. "Let us love in deed and truth", St. John says, "and not merely talk about it" (1 John 3:18). Abortion is not merely an "issue" or a "controversy", it is a tragedy, and it has victims. The victims need a defense, and they need it today. They cannot wait until everyone agrees to defend them.

Dialogue does, however, need to be practiced more frequently. Pro-life groups and individuals should invite abortionists and abortion rights supporters to talk. Pro-life training seminars should include training on how to talk with them effectively. Numerous conversions from the pro-abortion ranks to pro-life ranks have occurred as a result of the communications, respect, and love that pro-lifers have offered. The reason is that the best way to convince someone of the dignity of human life is to treat him/her with dignity. Many think the preborn have no value because they think that their own lives have no value. Many trample on the preborn only after having been trampled upon themselves. The only way our message will get through to some of these people is if we treat them with such respect that they think, "My life has some value." In discovering that value, they might then find it easier to discover it again in the babies.

Priests for Life
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