Interview of Chris Gast, an employee of Michigan Right to Life, conducted via email during the week of April 6- April 10, 2009. Initial contact made, questions devised, and sent out by Patrick Hoffman.
1. What first motivated you personally to become part of the Right to Life movement? What, in your experience, is the motivation of most of your coworkers and/or supporters?
I'm Chris Gast, Projects Coordinator here at RLM. I primarily work on our many projects dealing with education, research, public relations and advertising.
I first became involved in the Right to Life movement in college at WMU. I have always been prolife, but never active on the issue until that time. I was involved with a campus Republican student group at WMU and we were partnering with Students for Life to bring a speaker on campus. After meeting the members of SFL, we became friends and I became interested in becoming more active on the issue (having a crush on the group president certainly improved my attendance!). My motivation for all my work on the the issue is mostly to correct the gross injustice that abortion is, as well as the other issues I became aware of after my increased commitment. After college, my job search thankfully took me here for a position perfectly suited to my talents, and thus I was able to start a career doing something I am very passionate about. Interestingly, my motivation is also to put me out of a job by significantly changing the culture to recognize the sanctity of all human life.
Most of my coworkers likely had similar experiences; they were always prolife, but after finding a job opening here became more active and committed to becoming a leader in the movement. My colleagues and our supporters share my motivation to correct the injustice, and have some other sources of motivation as well. Some might have been personally touched by the issues of abortion, euthanasia or protecting human life from embryonic stem cell research. Some consider those part of a broader political philosophy, some have very deep religious beliefs about them, and some don't make it their main concern but care enough to do something positive when the opportunity presents itself.
2. What does your organization see as its ultimate goal? What would a final victory be for your organization?
Our ultimate ideal goal is zero abortions, zero euthanasia deaths, and zero human embryos used as research material. There is no "final victory" because to some degree we will always need someone to stand up and protect the lives of those most vulnerable, but our practical goal that we strive for is changing the entire culture to respect life enough that we can pass a Human Life Amendment protecting the unborn, as well as legal protection against euthanasia/assisted suicide.
3. What are some of the methods you and/or your organization use to gather public support?
We gather public support by educating the public on our issues of concern. We do this through many different means; advertising, political action, grassroots organization, social networking, speaking and writing about the issues and volunteering in the community.
4. How does your organization work to persuade lawmakers to pass laws favorable to the Right to Life movement? Do you donate to political campaigns, or do you prefer to utilize grass roots supporters who call and write their representatives?
We have a lobbying office in the state capitol with a staff that works with prolife members of the state government as well as lobbying pro-abortion officials when possible. They provide research, expertise, help in drafting bills and serve as communication between elected officials, our organization and our grassroots supporters. National Right to Life has a similar staff at the federal level.
We donate some money to campaigns but most of our direct support is donating access to our mailing list for our endorsed candidates, as well as advertising about the issues and identifying the prolife candidates for our supporters. We also actively encourage supporters to contact their representatives about important issues, especially when a bill we support is working through the legislative process. We host an annual Legislative Day where our supporters can sit down to have lunch with their legislators and discuss important prolife issues and legislation.
5. What sort of pictures/ other media outlets do you use in advertising for your cause? What keywords do you use in printed materials?
We have advertised through print, billboard, television, and radio. Many of our pictures attempt to show the positive nature of respect for human life; children, babies, fetal development and women are used to reach out and educate people.
Our keywords depend on the issue and the ad, but we encourage language showing support and respect for the sanctity of human life. "Choose life" is one of our most well know slogans.
6. Are there words/ types of pictures that you avoid using? Why is that?
We generally avoid using pictures of the remains of aborted children in public situations, because its effectiveness depends heavily on the audience and some people do not respond well to them. Also, some parents consider them too obscene and disturbing for their children. There is much debate in the prolife movement on how effective they are, and while we have them available on our website for those who wish to see the truly grim reality that abortion is, we don't actively advertise them. We avoid words that cast respect for human life in a negative light, for example referring to people in comas like Terry Schiavo as "vegetables." We also refuse to accept pro-abortion labels and slogans such as "the right to choose" at face value. We instead focus on the truth behind those, in this case that the child, whose heart is beating 5 weeks after conception, has an inalienable right to life that does not depend on someone deciding if they can live.
7. Who are your biggest supporters, both here in Michigan, and across the nation? (social/religious groups, political action committees, etc.) Who do you consider your political spokespeople? (politicians and/or activists)
In America, our supporters come from diverse backgrounds. Some religious groups are strong supporters of he right to life movement, especially Catholic and Evangelical Christian groups/individuals. Some non-Christian people are also tireless defenders of human life, for example longtime syndicated columnist Nat Hentoff. Supporters cut across generational lines, with slightly more prolife support from younger and older people rather than the "baby-boomer generation" that grew up with these issues coming into focus, particularly abortion after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Republicans tend to be more prolife than Democrats, although in Michigan we have good support from local Democrats, who help us maintain a solid prolife majority in the Democrat-led MI House. Most interestingly, despite abortion thought of as falling under "women's rights" there is little difference in opinion between men and women on the issue. Many women serve in leadership roles on both sides of the debate on human life.
We have many spokespeople for our movement, both in MI and across the nation. Our main spokespeople include our organization's leaders, including our President Barbara Listing. Many religious leaders, doctors, elected officials and writers also serve in spreading the word on our issues. Many spokespeople also have been personally touched by these issues, including former abortionists, women who have suffered through abortions and survivors of botched abortions. We typically host dozens of speakers throughout Michigan during the year, including individuals known widely and nationally.
8. Whom do you consider to be your most formidable opponents? What makes them formidable?
Our most formidable opponents typically are groups that lobby against us. During the 1990s, we spent much effort preventing the legalization of assisted suicide, and Jack Kevorkian was at the forefront of that movement. Proposal 2, which was passed last November and will allow lethal research on live human embryos, was created by Cure Michigan, which was mostly made up of the University of Michigan stem cell research staff and several big-name donors. Currently, organizations like Planned Parenthood or Emily's List lobby heavily for abortion. For the last few years, our biggest obstacle to passing prolife legislation in MI has been Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has vetoed several bills passes by our prolife Legislature.
9. On what issues would you be willing to compromise on with your opponents? (abortions in the case of rape, incest or life of the mother for example)
We are clear that we would only allow abortion in the case of the life of the mother. We do not support abortion in cases of rape or incest, because abortion is not the answer to a terrible situation where legal or emotional help is needed. We do recognize the great difficulties mothers who have conceived as a result of rape must go through, but we believe there has to be a better answer to helping that mother than simply aborting her child, which can cause great emotional and physical harm itself. Indeed, my personal views on that issue changed because of personally meeting women and their children who have been in that situation, which can have a positive outcome (I began meeting these individuals after getting more involved with Students for Life). Because we respect the sanctity of life for the unborn, we recognize that we should not allow that life to be ended when the child did not do anything to bring the situation about.
We do favor an incremental strategy in opposing abortion. We recognize that while we can not fully achieve our goals in one election, or even one decade, we can save lives today. To illustrate this, if we were faced with a proposed national law that would not ban abortion in the cases of rape or incest, but ban the other 98% of abortions done for elective reasons, we would gladly support that ban which would save over a million lives a year. We would then continue working to change the hearts of the people to accomplish our full goal of every human life being valued and respected.
10. Have you or Right to Life ever advocated for laws other than those directly concerned with abortion, such as government aid for single mothers?
We usually promote laws that directly impact our issues of concern; abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide and experimentation on live human embryos. We sometimes support laws that fall outside those issues, for example supporting adoption or our work on the MI Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act of 2004 which provided grants for universities to inform students about resources available for prenatal care, childcare and healthcare. While we recognize that other laws have an effect on the issues (for example, laws negatively affecting the economy could increase the abortion rate), we generally avoid getting involved in other political issues and focus on our specific mission to "protect the precious gift of human life from fertilization to natural death."