Managing Anger as a Pro-life Advocate

Boiling tea kettle with steam

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

I don’t think it’s controversial to say each person is more inclined to certain errors based on his or her personality and temperament. For example, an anxious person would likely be more inclined to passivity or inaction, while a more gregarious person might be less likely to choose to sacrifice interpersonal relationships even if confrontation is warranted. Personally, I struggle with the host of potential errors associated with anger.

Do you know why it’s a struggle, why I can’t just “be less angry”? It’s because, as a pro-life person living in contemporary America, anger makes sense! Anger is a logical, appropriate, and even necessary response, to some degree. Just because anger is also dangerous, because it requires walking a knife’s edge to avoid causing further harm, doesn’t make it inherently wrong. And therein lies the temptation.

I’m frequently angry, and with good reason. First and absolutely foremost: individuals and systems in my country of birth kill children, violently, for profit, in numbers which would stagger the soul if we hadn’t become numb to them. Have you ever held a newborn, just a day or two old, resting (more or less) comfortably in your arms? That’s who Giubilini and Minerva suggested it would be acceptable to kill after birth if he or she was unwanted (and Ralph Northam may have suggested something similar). That newborn baby stands in fundamental continuity with the persons snuffed out in earlier weeks of pregnancy by the thousands every week. That has to make you angry. People are killing the smallest, most vulnerable, most innocent members of humanity and devising new ways to perpetuate the practice. I’m not saying you have to be constantly angry, but if you’re never angry about abortion, there’s a good chance you haven’t faced up to what it truly is. (There are some pro-life advocates who aren’t angry because they’re desensitized as a result of fighting abortion for so long, which might also be unhealthy but is understandable and totally different from what I’m talking about.)

So yes, I’m also angry with pro-choice advocates and pro-abortion lobbyists who help abortion continue. They support something which is odious, and the fact that many pro-choice people haven’t thought their position through doesn’t make me less angry. People are being killed, and you haven’t thought carefully about why you support legalized killing? That’s indefensible. The level to which my bile rises at the thought of abortion practitioners is perhaps best left unstated.

I’m frequently angry with other pro-life people, too. There are people who actively hurt the pro-life cause through their foolish actions and poor messaging. There are people who are made or taken to represent the pro-life movement whose public vitriol undermines everything we say about loving others. There are groups who would rather perpetuate infighting over ineffective methods than work together to end abortion literally as soon as possible. And when pro-lifers celebrate as a “victory” something which doesn’t actually result in fewer babies killed…I don’t want hollow gestures, I want to protect children.

The Problem with Anger as a Pro-Life Advocate

I’m inclined to anger as my response to evils, beyond just abortion, by my personality. Some anger is proper, but the nature of anger is to increase and consume. This danger is exacerbated by the current manner of social discourse on, well, just about anything. Everything on the internet seems calculated to make us angry, usually at people who are supposed to be other than or not like us. It becomes increasingly difficult to control your anger when people are making money off of provoking you further.

Having no anger about abortion is unhealthy; so, too, is being consumed by it. There are real dangers to allowing anger to direct your thoughts and actions, especially when fixated on other people. It is hard to remain perpetually angry at someone, especially if you’re accusing them of moral evil, and not begin to hate them. Hatred leads to “othering,” the formation of in-groups and out-groups which are used to determine who is and isn’t valuable; who is and isn’t, fundamentally, a person like you and me. But othering is exactly what’s happening in abortion—the unborn are made into an out-group so their interests do not need to be considered—so we cannot do the same thing. I’ve seen far too many of “us” dehumanize pro-choice people with sweeping statements about how they all just hate babies; they’re selfish, irresponsible idiots; or they have no souls or brains themselves. “Othering” pro-choice people makes you oblivious to the real reasons they hold that view, and —surprise—you aren’t going to change anyone’s mind if you missed the entire point of why they’re actually pro-choice.

Jedi code

Anger also colors the range of strategies people consider appropriate. Anger demands immediate action, even when the call to “just do something” is counterproductive. A cool head recognizes that illegally entering and blocking abortion facilities will plausibly lead to laws which prevent sidewalk counseling, which remains among our best tools for closing abortion facilities and convincing parents to choose not to abort their children; anger makes it hard to accurately assess risks and benefits of potential actions. Anger also leads people to contemplate violence against the “other,” and this is sadly native to both sides; pro-life people have attempted or dreamed of a violent solution to abortion, and pro-choice people assault and threaten pro-lifers (such as “bro-choicers” threatening rape to pro-life women).

How Should Pro-Life Advocates Manage Their Anger?

So anger is a temptation which leads to many evils, but at the same time it’s not something we can (or should) just avoid experiencing. The Bible’s testimony, perhaps unsurprisingly, agrees: “Be angry, and do not sin,” says Paul. My guess is that you don’t need my help obeying the first half of that command; but what can we do not to run afoul of the second?

Here are a few practical steps I take (and should take more often) to manage my anger as a pro-life advocate:

  1. Let yourself be angry sometimes. You can’t just bottle it up or defer being angry forever. Allow yourself time to be angry. As I said earlier, you should be angry about abortion sometimes. And it’s not just the fact of abortion itself that can be an honest source of anger: doing pro-life advocacy can be a frustrating experience. Maybe you talked with a really frustrating person who said cruel or untrue things to taunt you for being pro-life or for how you’re being pro-life; it’s okay to be angry about that kind of thing, but give yourself boundaries, too. Which leads to…
  2. Don’t constantly stoke your own anger. This is one I struggle with. Not only is it hard to let anger go once it’s reached a proper endpoint or is no longer beneficial, it’s easy to just find new things to be angry about so you can keep repeating the cycle. It’s not that there aren’t sufficient things to be angry about to justify this, but now you’re doing our social media overlords’ job for them. If you think it’s a problem that you’re algorithmically targeted for constant emotional stimulus (invariably negative), why would you do it to yourself? Don’t respond to the commenter who’s obviously trolling; go do something productive or restful, instead, which can actually equip you to do more and better pro-life advocacy later. For ERI, we get hundreds of comments per day across our social media channels (seriously, take a  look at the quantity and quality of our TikTok comments alone), and it wouldn’t be healthy or a good use of our time to constantly read them or respond to even half of them. If anyone is going to do this work of ending abortion long-term, they have to keep themselves healthy and their frustration in check. Similarly, there are people—you probably know some—who would be happy to indulge in being mad at everyone and everything with you. Moderate your time engaging with them in that way.
  3. Limit your “news” intake, even about abortion. Most “news” currently circulating is either someone’s attempt to sway you with a narrative or just opinion essays (often about other people’s opinion essays). With abortion, the actual news is that the same bad things are continuing to happen. Guess what? You don’t need to read or watch news media to know that there will be about half a million abortions in the US in the first half of 2022, just like in 2021. Dobbs is newsworthy, certainly, but we’re in hurry-up-and-wait mode until June. Reading news—real, fake, or otherwise—is a good way to stay angry (see point 2, above), but very little of it is actually necessary to stay sufficiently informed.
  4. Let go of legitimate anger. At the end of the day, if you’re angry about abortion, it’s probably legitimate (or at least started out that way). For example, when I read a piece about a female minister proclaiming her abortion “sacred,” it’s perfectly legitimate to be angry. She is profaning the church and leading people to think abortion is holy instead of evil. But…what, exactly, does my being angry at her accomplish? I’m a guy, sitting, looking at a screen, being mad at a woman I’ll likely never interact with. I’m not going to personally call her to repentance for abortion and false teaching (perhaps a better version of me would); I’m not even going to write a rebuttal in a paper somewhere, let alone try to change her mind. So my legitimate anger is fruitless. Be angry, sure, but then send it on its way before it gets in yours.
  5. Experience other emotions about abortion, too. There’s an extent to which anger is an emotional crutch for me, because I would rather be angry than sad. Yet, sadness is just as appropriate a response to abortion as anger. I would be emotionally imbalanced if I were never sad about abortion, even if (or especially if) it was because I was being legitimately angry about it all the time! I’m not sure if empathy is properly classified as an emotional response, but that, too, is something we ought to experience at least sometimes, though probably more on a personal scale than the macro level.
  6. Know when showing your anger is helpful. Assume that it’s generally unhelpful to come across as angry. However, sometimes you should lay your cards on the table, and that includes your legitimate emotional response to abortion. Some people might find it weird if you’re only ever upbeat and gracious while trying to convince them abortion is an evil that needs to be destroyed. Others might trivialize the abortion debate entirely, and they could use a wake-up call as to what’s at stake for both the pro-life and pro-choice sides. Note: don’t just “let them have it”; you still want to be respectful and relatively polite, but you don’t always have to present as perfectly calm, particularly if you perceive that it will be beneficial to others to change up your demeanor for a moment.

This might seem irrelevant to fighting abortion to you, but I believe that it is actually really important. If you’ve interacted with a pro-life person whose entire approach is characterized by anger, you probably know how off-putting that can be. And if a pro-life person finds it unproductive, how compelling do you think that angry person will be to pro-choice people?

As American political discourse continues to rot—as people go from calling others’ opinions “literal violence” to responding to their opinions with literal violence—it’s even more important to have your anger in check. Emotionally balanced people don’t roundhouse kick people they disagree with about abortion. Roundhouse kicks, as it turns out, are also relatively ineffective at changing people’s minds. (Openly hostile keyboard warriors might be even less effective than roundhouse kicks.) On the other hand, keeping your anger in check is a necessary step in getting people to lower their walls and seriously consider what you have to say.

It’s also important for the success of the pro-life movement that, not only show ourselves to be gracious rather than angry (even if we feel both anger and empathy), we don’t burn ourselves out with anger. Even if Roe falls, the fight against abortion is still a long-term struggle. We don’t have the luxury of operating at maximum anger for a year, burning out, and losing the will to continue. In order to be an effective movement, we need to work on being a healthy movement.

What are we left with? “Be angry, and do not sin.” Thanks, Paul. Easier said than done.

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The post Managing Anger as a Pro-life Advocate originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”

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Director of Content & Research

Andrew Kaake (pronounced like “cake”) is the Director of Content & Research at Equal Rights Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree in classics and political science, cum laude, from Amherst College, where he wrote a thesis on the topic of C.S. Lewis and natural law philosophy. He completed his master’s degree in bioethics at Trinity International University, studying the philosophical underpinnings of controversies about life, death, and technology and trying to create ways to communicate that information to others. During his studies at Trinity, he worked as a research assistant for The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity.

Andrew wants the pro-life movement to help foster a culture that seeks truth and embraces logical consistency. “What I believe about humanity and personhood clearly impacts what I think about abortion, but it also holds implications for how I should (and, more importantly, shouldn’t) dialogue with other people who disagree with me.”

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