By Jonathon Van Maren
Lila Rose’s new memoir and activist manual Fighting for Life: Becoming a Force for Change in a Wounded World will be released in May, and I’ve already reviewed it for The American Conservative and discussed it with Rose on my podcast. I highly recommend it not only for pro-life activists, but for anyone interested in making a difference and searching for where to start. Looking over my interview notes, I thought I’d add a few observations about the book that didn’t make it into my previous review.
Rose writes extensively about how she ended up in the pro-life movement, and I found it interesting to note that most pro-lifers have a similar experience. She saw a photo of what abortion actually is; the brutality of the carnage and the innocence of the victim transformed how she saw the culture around her. She was tormented by abortion and tells her readers to allow their hearts to be broken over injustice. It reminded me of what one older pro-life leader told me years ago: “You’ve been blessed with a burden.” I’d never considered it that way before.
Another aspect of becoming aware about abortion that Rose describes is that sudden realization that there can truly be no such thing as “normal” in a culture that kills children. Dr. Monica Miller wrote powerfully in her memoir Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars of the moment, leaning into her refrigerator, that she realized she had no right to a normal life while babies were being killed down the street. Rose describes her own epiphany driving back from doing outreach outside an abortion clinic with her friend:
We were quiet as we started the drive home. After a few minutes, Dev said: “Want to stop at In-N-Out?” I looked at him, unsure of what to say. How could we go and eat hamburgers after watching dozens of women enter a building where their preborn children were going to die? How could we go about doing anything normal? It wasn’t that my friend didn’t care. Going to get lunch was a perfectly normal thing to do. But after being so close to so much pain, despair, and death, I knew I’d never be the same. I may not have accomplished much that day on the sidewalk, but the experience changed me.
That formative experience is an incredibly common one—most pro-life activists could tell you their own version of that story. It also struck me, as I read her descriptions of praying outside an abortion clinic and other activism, that there is a pro-life ecosystem filled with experiences that seem foreign and even crazy to most people and is totally unfamiliar to many in the conservative movement proper, but are utterly normal to those who have been involved in the pro-life movement in any capacity. Pro-lifers can forget how strange many of our experiences are to most people. Our normal has been transformed by our understanding of abortion.
Rose also notes that the key to doing something about abortion is to…do something. “Just start,” she advises. As the late great Joe Scheidler would say: “Do something pro-life every day.” One of the first disappointments pro-life activists often face is the fact that most people prefer more popular causes; fighting human trafficking or some other injustice will rake in only accolades, while fighting abortion will often make people uncomfortable and the resulting media coverage is almost guaranteed to be negative. The pro-life movement is the first major human rights movement that has to fight the media rather than having the press onside.
Fighting for Life is filled with valuable advice that may seem obvious until you realize how necessary it is. Rose advises people to know their gifts—and more importantly, to know what you are not good at. Your talents are valuable; identify them and use them. “Find your heroes” may also seem simple, but in an era of anti-heroes and garbage pop culture, it is essential that people interact with great men and women. For Rose, it is women like Mother Teresa and Corrie ten Boom; for me, it has always been men like William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Abraham Lincoln (and scores of others as the years go on.)
One bit of advice Rose gives will be particularly helpful for people. Remember, she writes, that your existence at this particular time in human history is no accident. The gifts, talents, and calling that you have are not random. While your role may not seem obvious at first, applying what we’ve been given in lives of service is part of what we have been made for. For Lila Rose, that means fighting for preborn children and saving lives from abortion. Perhaps that’s what it means for you, too.
For those of you interested, my conversation with Lila Rose: