WSJ Op-Ed: The Pro-Life Movement Isn’t Cracking. It’s Becoming Anti-Fragile.


The following is an op-ed from the Wall Street Journal written by Jason Jones of Movie to Movement. He wrote it in response to a rumor that the pro-life movement is fading. This op-ed was published on July 24th. It is reposted to this blog for the purpose of sharing.


The Wall Street Journal defends capitalism as the best economic system in the world. It’s right. One of the main reasons for that top performance? The freedom and diversity proper to markets. It isn’t “wasteful” to have 20 different brands of insurance company. It’s healthy.

In the natural world, competition and diversity make life forms stronger. That explains why U.S. cars got better once they were challenged by Japanese imports. So why should the pro-market Journal want to foist something as futile and sterile as a centralized five-year plan on the pro-life movement?

The Pro-Life “Crack Up”?

That was the message of a recent Journal story. Warning that the movement is about to “crack,” it reported:

Antiabortion activists are split on whether to directly challenge Roe v. Wade with heartbeat bills, or whether to continue the strategy of working to add incremental limitations on abortion. At the same time, a few states have eased abortion restrictions, which has motivated the opposition.

The story went on to cite the varied strategies and conflicting tactics of pro-life groups and leaders. From the writer’s tone, we were meant to see all this as disastrous for the pro-life cause. Nothing but chaos and defeat could come of it.

But would the Journal say the same about competing businesses or candidates?

No. And there’s no reason to conclude it about pro-life groups either. It’s a living movement, composed of millions of free, concerned citizens. We ought to worry, instead, if all those people were numbly reciting a pre-fab script with the exact same talking points.

That was your grandma’s pro-life movement, run centrally and ineffectively by a bunch of mediocre white lawyers from Indiana. All its force seemed at the command of the Republican National Committee, whom its leaders would never dare cross. The movement is much more decentralized, diverse, and powerful today. That’s precisely because its “central planners” failed to silence dissenting voices and bold, competing visions.

No longer can one guy on K Street transmit orders from the Republican National Committee to “the pro-lifers,” and expect them to fall in line. Instead, politicians must court different factions of a diverse pro-life movement. The new movement seems wild, woolly, messy and many-faceted — like the life it intends to protect.

Winners Thrive on Diversity and Dissent

Let’s look at history. Movements that win act like entrepreneurs, not socialist planners. The Abolitionists shared a broad goal in ending slavery. But that’s where “unity” ended. The freed slaves, women’s rights groups, prohibitionists, clergymen, politicians, and free-soil activists who made up the movement backed many different plans. Some thought to win freedom via slave uprisings and violence. Others believed in slow and steady legislative wins against the slave states. Still others who believed in paying slave-owners “reparations” for their slaves (as the British Empire had). The Abolitionists’ competing strategies made the movement stronger, not weaker.

The same is true for pro-lifers. Yes, some groups seek to grant preborn children full legal protection under the U.S. Constitution in one fell swoop. The means? Either Human Life amendments or “personhood” initiatives. Others support laws to push back abortion incrementally with heart beat bills, pain capable child protection bills or bills that would stop dismemberment abortions. Some groups are faith-based and oppose even hormonal contraception as often abortifacient. Others take no stance on birth control. Some focus on abstinence and prevention, while others offer post-abortion healing. Other groups focus on offering alternative employment to clinic workers. Some pro-lifers believe change will happen with legislation. Others think hearts must be changed via the culture first. Some people believe images of aborted fetuses are offensive and graphic while others believe they are eye-opening and necessary.

But the differences do not end there. They are many more. Yet these don’t amount to “cracks” in the pro-life movement. They are its strengths. I have written about the beautiful yet functional disunity before. But this message is worth repeating because some still don’t get it. We need diverse, entrepreneurial guerrilla operations, not a single Armada that an unpredictable storm might sink. What the WSJ refers to as “cracks” are simply differences in approaches and strategies.

Fragile, Robust, and Antifragile

Economic contrarian and philosophical genius Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines the best system for success as becoming “antifragile.” He writes:

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

A fragile system is one that only works under a narrow set of conditions. Ones that random and unpredictable events can easily shatter. Any centrally planned economy or monolithic political movement is fragile. So we learned in 1990, when the Soviet Union collapsed. The opposite of fragility, says Taleb, is not simple robustness, a system that can survive the shocks brought on by new data or unexpected events.

No, fragility’s real opposite is antifragility. That’s the power to actually benefit, learn from, and grow even stronger as a result of setbacks and reversals. (If you want to view this not economically but theologically, think of how Christ uses our past sins to keep us humble and remind us of our utter dependence on Him.)

The Pro-Life Movement Comes of Age

What we are witnessing in the pro-life movement is proof time and again that it is not a robust system but an antifragile one.

Now no longer can one guy on K Street transmit orders from the Republican National Committee to “the pro-lifers,” and expect them to fall in line. Instead, politicians must court different factions of a diverse pro-life movement. The new movement seems wild, woolly, messy and many-faceted — like the life it intends to protect. It is tribal and antifragile.

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The birth of social media has allowed the countless tribes to find each other and unite. Faith-based groups, religious groups, atheist and agnostic groups, feminist groups, minority groups, political groups, legal groups, grassroots groups, and so many more. That’s the new, mosaic face of the pro-life movement. And you see it in all its beauty come together each year at the March for Life.

Leaders of any of these tribes may wholeheartedly disagree with each other. And yes, get angry with each other. That’s what people do. But it is precisely this disunity or, rather, this diversity that will win the war to protect women and the child in the womb from the violence of abortion. In its complex and layered way, it is stronger than ever. Pro-lifers are now a force that doesn’t simply resist stress. It actually grows stronger with each new challenge.

A Mosaic Not a Mural

We see that different ideas and strategies bring about creativity and new approaches to a problem. One single way cannot be best. The false idea that we need unity in strategy, tactics and institutions leads to most of the ill-will and infighting in pro-life circles. Accepting our need for freedom, diversity, and anti-fragility would go a long way toward healing the bitterness that sometimes divides our ranks.

You never know if someone else’s idea, which seems ridiculous to some, might, in fact, have a powerful impact on hearts and minds. The pro-life initiatives that have had the greatest impact in recent years were not the fruit of committee meetings at long-standing, well-funded pro-life organizations, but entrepreneurial initiatives that seemed to come out of nowhere.

We don’t want to squelch the next idea, because it might be the next best pro-life answer. More likely, of course, it will turn out to be a dud. Most “great” ideas are clunkers. But innovation goes on, because human life itself is anti-fragile. The pro-life movement must be too.

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