Johnston: Continuing to fight

“Holding, as they do, that slavery is morally right, and socially elevating, they cannot cease to demand a full national recognition of it, as a legal right, and a social blessing. Nor can we justifiably withhold this, on any ground save our conviction that slavery is wrong. If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away.” There were nearly 4 million slaves in America when Abraham Lincoln addressed these words to the Cooper Union in 1860.

When Choose Life At Yale was founded in 2003, there had been more than 40 million abortions in America since Roe v. Wade. Today, there have been more than 50 million. In that time, CLAY has written a few dozen articles, hosted a handful of speakers, kept an annual candlelight vigil to remember the victims of abortion, held a few fundraisers for crisis pregnancy centers, been twice rejected as a residence group of the Women’s Center and never induced RALY to engage in a public debate on the merits of abortion.

In judging the impact of its activities, it is a fair interpretation to say that CLAY has been a failure. What do the members of CLAY see in such an ineffective organization?

From the beginning, CLAY has been a secular organization, advancing a pro-life position based in science. Because the life of the human organism begins at conception (a fact of biology), each fetus is a human being entitled to protection by law. But while CLAY has always been secular, it has also attracted a majority of its membership from religious circles. Perhaps, this is because religious Yalies are irrational and like to oppress women. But it seems more plausible that those who are attracted both to religion and to CLAY, are attracted because they have a zen for lost causes.

The primary virtue of the lost cause is that its advocates need not worry themselves with winning. They deal in principles instead of politics; morals instead of majorities; ideals instead of influence. The lost cause has no power with which to enact its aims. The primary vice of the lost cause is that its advocates are prone to rest content in the knowledge that they have done their duty and can do nothing more. But they ought not cut short their efforts, for if the lost cause lacks power, it is not without hope.

Then contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Lincoln concluded his address to the Cooper Union with these words (his capitalization): “LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.” To the world-weary mind, Lincoln was wrong. He was only able to free the slaves because he had the support of an army of Yankees with cannon.

But if right does not make might, right does sometimes make beauty, and it is the unique character of beauty that the world may heed its transformational call without the threat of a single sword. It is for the sake of beauty, then, that CLAY applies to the Women’s Center. CLAY acknowledges that the fate of every pregnancy will be determined by the choice of the mother, but it brings that mother a message of good news: Though her baby may feel like a burden, she will know him to be blessing.

The application is not a crass political stunt. Historically, abortion rights have been defended as a necessary condition of the emancipation of women into the workplace. But women want more than mere work — they want to mother too. CLAY’s application is an invitation to the Women’s Center to reclaim the mantle of a feminism that fights for both desires, against a world in which women must give up mothering in order to pursue a career.

CLAY will continue to submit more applications. There is still hope for an awakening at the Women’s Center and organizations like it across the country. In the meantime, the President of CLAY will continue to conclude each weekly meeting by saying, “If you or anyone you know is pregnant, talk to us; we’d like to help.” No one has responded yet.

But perhaps someday, some 50 years, or 50 million more abortions down the line, a woman of Yale will find that she is pregnant, and realize, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, contrary to the shame heaped upon her by her friends and family, contrary to the ideology of choice enshrined at the Women’s Center, that every life is worthy to be loved, even the one she carries inside.

When she asks, CLAY will be there to help.

Peter Johnston is a 2009 graduate of Saybrook College, the former president of CLAY and a former staff columnist for the News.

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