This week, Kentucky pro-lifers are pulling out all the stops to force the state's last abortion clinic to close. On Friday, a federal judge ordered a buffer zone be created around EMW Women's Surgical Center, Louisville's sole clinic that performs abortions. Wednesday, activist groups Operation Save America and Created Equal will display images of aborted fetuses on a jumbotron outside the clinic.
But gruesome jumbotrons won't do much to change the minds of moderates, and pro-lifers should reconsider their tactics if they want to have an impact.
Kentucky, which has both a Republican governor and a Republican majority in the statehouse, only has one abortion clinic left. Now, the clinic might be shut down due to issues with licensing. Earlier this session, legislators passed an ultrasound requirement, as well as restrictions on late-term abortions.
If the clinic does close, it's likely this case will be taken all the way to the Supreme Court. Abortion is a central issue in Kentucky right now, so it's unsurprising that both sides are staking their ground.
But just as the red handmaid robes used by protesters on the Left (inspired by the popular dystopian Hulu show, "The Handmaid's Tale") unfairly equate abortion restrictions to holding women as chattel, these morbid jumbotrons make a mockery out of pro-lifers and don't fairly represent the complexity of the abortion issue.
Mark Harrington, of pro-life group Created Equal, explained his rationale in a press release: "Many Kentucky residents remain blinded from the truth by abortionists' lies and propaganda. They still call abortion a choice ... a right ... a woman's health issue."
He's right. Those on the pro-choice side have branded abortion as a health issue and equated it with far more mundane procedures time and time again. Tactically speaking, pro-lifers will have a difficult time countering these talking points, since pro-choicers have reframed the debate as pro-women's health and anti-women's health, and nobody wants to sound like they're opposed to something as basic as women's health.
But Harrington claims that "Words alone will not dissuade those who are blinded." They might not, but gory images are even less likely to persuade the "blind."
Through optics alone, the Kentucky situation will make it look like pro-choicers are the compassionate ones, and pro-lifers are the ones resorting to cruel intimidation tactics. Pro-choice activists, wearing vests that read "clinic escort," stand resolute between protesters and the doors of the clinic, ready to help women get into the facility safely.
If pro-lifers want to appeal to feminists, for example, these images won't do them any favors. Same for centrists on abortion.
At a time when people feel ill-represented by both parties, it's crucial to speak to moderates, not alienate them.
Back in 2014, Michelle Diggles and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, both of the think tank Third Way, wrote that "Moderates wrestle with, and often reject, what they see as the false either/or ideological choices that define modern politics. ... They recognize that both sides have a piece of the truth and see flaws in the standard liberal and conservative perspectives." In the wake of the divisive 2016 election, the flaws of both major parties are clearly on display.
Social scientists like Jonathan Haidt, author of "The Righteous Mind," have been researching how to change hearts and minds for years, and it has nothing to do with shouting people down or forcing electronic screens in their faces.
Conservatives and liberals, generally speaking, start with different moral foundations: Liberals value care and fighting oppression, while conservatives place more emphasis on faith, order, and the fulfillment that comes with hard work. Instead of recognizing this, and altering messaging to appeal to these different values, we've descended into a chaotic mess where we talk past each other, then scratch our heads and wonder why the other side doesn't think like we do.
When they pull out jumbotrons, pro-lifers make themselves easy to ridicule. They're not elevating the discussion to make it more intellectually honest, or examining their own messaging and how it can appeal to moderates. They should instead focus on how to help women in tough situations –– poverty, domestic abuse, and teen pregnancy, for example.
Until they message their ideology in a compassionate and practical way, it won't be seen as consistent or appealing to those who are currently undecided.
Liz Wolfe (@lizzywol) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is managing editor at Young Voices.
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