STOKING FIRE: Sing Out for Abortion Rights

Eleanor J. Bader

Simplistic Christian pop helps recruit tweens and teens to the anti-choice movement. But with maturity people see shades of gray, a developmental reality anti-choice youth-recruitment efforts can't ameliorate.

Back in 1974, when Nellie Gray organized the first March for Life to protest the one-year old Roe V. Wade decision, the prochoice community was quick to point out that the crowd was largely white, male, and over the age of 50. To their credit, the antis heard the criticism and began working to recruit women, youth, and people of color.

While their success has been uneven, this year’s rally scheduled for January 24th will be followed by the first ever Pro-Life Youth March through the streets of DC. Organized by a coalition of groups, participants will wear purple plastic “abolish abortion” bracelets, as they attempt to rev up opposition to reproductive freedom.

The demonstrators will have some anti-choice superstars to goad them on, including Ryan Bomberger–the mastermind behind the Endangered Species billboards that charge abortion providers with orchestrating a genocidal campaign against Black babies–model/actor Eduardo Verastegui, Dr. Alveda King, and the wildly-popular Christian band Barlow Girl, whose crossover hit Never Alone was included on the soundtrack of the 2010 movie, New Moon.

Indeed, Christian pop has played a pivotal role in recruiting tweens and teens to the anti-abortion cause. Barlow Girl, a three-women band known for their exquisite harmonies, straddles the line between the secular and the spiritual. Their songs, like those of rock bands Silverline and the two-time Grammy nominated Skillet, bring youth face-to-face with a Christian worldview—invariably anti-choice–they might otherwise miss. Indeed, the $7 billion industry—with hundreds of performers in every musical genre—work hard to mold the opinions of those who listen to their music. In the same way that Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Phil Ochs influenced people to oppose the Vietnam War four decades ago, Christian rockers are role models for kids struggling to find authenticity and connection in the world outside their family home.

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Take John Cooper, the revered lead singer of Skillet, who holds fans captive by appealing to the insecurities and fury that define adolescence.  “Every single day we wake up there is a war going on,” he told an interviewer.

“Not in Iraq or Afghanistan, but a war for your soul. The world is trying to take you down; tell you that you are nothing; tell you how you should dress; what to say; what to believe; what you have to accomplish to be cool. I say, in spite of this war, now is the time to stand up for what we believe in. We are not ashamed. We are not afraid. We are awake and alive. You matter to God. He loves you just as you are.”

You can almost hear kids sighing with relief, happy to be understood and assured that they’re worth something. In fact, they’re likely so hyped-up by Cooper’s passionate exhortation that they don’t notice that his monologue is virtually content-free. What “we” believe in?  Listeners perusing the band’s homepage to determine what Cooper’s words actually mean will have to do some digging but will eventually find the lyrics to the band’s anti-abortion anthem, Lucy, as well as links to Students for Life, Rock for Life, the World Youth Alliance, and organizations promoting abstinence before marriage.

And Cooper is not alone in his posturing. Other respected Christian rockers, including Josh Wilson of Silverline, also offer prescriptive messages to their followers. The band’s hit single, Get it Right, urges them to move off the sidelines:

“This world needs God/But it’s easier to stand and watch/I can say a prayer and just move on like nothing’s wrong…/I refuse to sit around and wait for someone else to do what God has called me to do myself/I know we are the hands and feet of you, O God.”

Thanks to rousing vocals and tunes to get even the most determined couch potatoes up and moving, Silverline, Barlow Girl, and Skillet have scored some remarkable accomplishments. In fact, they’re just three of the many bands that offer conservative religious and social messages with a driving beat. It’s not surprising that their music is popular.

On the other hand, psychologists remind us that there’s another reason the music gets rave reviews from teenagers: Adolescents are typically drawn to simplified, black-and-white ideas. Gestalt psychotherapist Shelley Orren-King explains that it is only when people reach their twenties that “they can begin to see shades of gray.”

“The nuances come with life experience.  With time and emotional development human reasoning usually shifts,” she wrote in an email.

This developmental reality pinpoints a thorn nettling the anti’s youth-recruitment efforts, and it is a reality that neither music nor culture can ameliorate. Kristan Hawkins, head of Students for Life, said as much in a letter to supporters on December 10, 2010:

“Women are 47 percent pro-life when they enter college, but 73 percent pro-choice when they graduate,” she wrote.

This finding puts the onus on the prochoice community, for just as college students are changed by meeting real women who terminate unwanted pregnancies, other communities, both Christian and not, can also be changed. Thirty-eight years after Roe, the need to shout from the rooftops why choice is a right and a positive aspect of women’s lives is obvious. Furthermore, an outspoken campaign of truth-telling about what abortion actually is, who has them and why, will diminish fears about post-operative risks including depression and post-traumatic stress.

These facts move to the beat of real life. Does anyone feel like singing?

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