Author, professor advocates for change in pro-life dialogue


“The way we speak about something matters,” insisted Samuel D. Rocha, author and professor, at his talk on Oct. 2 in the Gentile Gallery at Franciscan University. Rocha’s talk entitled “Abortion without Politics” stressed the importance of dialogue in the abortion controversy.

“The U.S.,” said Rocha, “has acquired a political tinge to it that is problematic for a number of reasons, one in particular being the loss of the ‘thing’– the stuff that is actually happening.” People on both sides of the abortion debate, Rocha argued, have fallen into this trap. The way they talk about the issue either turns people off or presupposes untrue things about the other side.

Rocha paraphrased what Pope Francis said on the matter: “We should start talking about abortion – in a different way.”

Rocha raised the question of how to talk about abortion to those who do not know who to listen to or what to think about the issue. In order to effectively dialogue with such people, Rocha said, we must first not talk about abortion. Establishing a relationship based on trust and good will comes first.

People are more comfortable discussing abortion with someone they feel is reasonable, kind and trustworthy, Rocha said. Rocha strives for this sort of relationship with his students at the University of North Dakota. He said, “Once I build this minimal level of credibility, then comes the test.”

Rocha testified that his method works. He remembered the first time a student asked him to talk openly about abortion in class. That student and others like her, he said, reflect today’s culture: People truly want to know the “thing.” They want an open and reasonable conversation about abortion. “It was a radical moment of trust,” he said.

The problem with the pro-life movement today, Rocha said, is that we don’t know how to talk about the issue. The problem is that the pro-life movement has split life and death into sharply different “issues,” he said. By painting life as so good and death as so bad, he continued, we do not just lose a proper way of speaking, we “kill the cross” and lose the person.

“I’m a pro-lifer who hates the pro-life movement because I love it,” Rocha said, emphasizing that he wants to see it improve.

Rocha said that people should show more compassion and love to pregnant women instead of glamorizing birth, because it is anything but easy to be pregnant. “This isn’t “Angels in the Outfield,” this is real life,” he said. Rocha said that we need to show women “the kind of love that can get through the book of Job,” because women dealing with pregnancy and the abortion decision are experiencing a difficult challenge.

Near the end of his speech, Rocha discussed the ultimate goal of the pro-life movement. “What’s the win?” he asked. “Don’t you have that memorized? Roe v. Wade gets overturned. Isn’t this what it’s all about? Changing the law?”

He said that overturning Roe v. Wade should not be the goal of the pro-life movement. “If you think our goal is changing the law, you’re already forgetting about the person,” he said. “Laws don’t have life. We need to say OK, keep the laws. We’ll change them anyway. We’ll make them irrelevant. What if we build a culture in which abortion is irrelevant?”

The true pro-life goal, Rocha said, is to change the culture, not the law. “Roe v. Wade doesn’t have to end for abortion to end,” he said.

“I thought it was good,” said Franciscan student Ileana Cruz about Rocha’s talk. “I liked his approach to the subject versus the typical Catholic approach.”

Senior Rebecca Steichen said, “It’s refreshing and thought-provoking to be able to look at abortion from different points of view. I’m glad Students for a Fair Society can bring people in who can give us something to think about. It’s good to always look at things in a new way and seek to improve our arguments about abortion.

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