A recent lawsuit filed by a Catholic priest in Quebec threatens to shut down a pro-life website, challenging the role of watchdog sites and how they determine who is pro-life.

Raymond Gravel has filed a defamation lawsuit against LifeSiteNews, a website based in Canada that has labeled Gravel "pro-abortion" and "pro-homosexual." Gravel says he is against abortion and blames the site for his leaving parliament under pressure from the Vatican.

Gravel once voted against a bill that would have made an assault on a pregnant woman also an assault on the unborn child, saying he is against "recriminalizing" abortion. He also represented a party that is pro-choice and favors gay marriage.

American pro-life Democrats saw a similar situation when they were targeted by pro-life groups after voting for the 2010 health-care bill. The legislation became a litmus test for pro-life groups such as the National Right to Life Commission. (Pro-choice groups, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, do not consider health-care reform to be an abortion-related issue for identifying pro-choice leaders.)

The pro-life movement has often tried to humanize the abortion debate by promoting ultrasounds or retelling the pregnancy stories of women, but singling out individuals can create challenges. Watchdog sites can highlight internal divisions in the pro-life movement, says Michael New, political science professor at the University of Alabama.

"With any social movement, it helps to have an enemy. Individuals make decisions, and sometimes they suffer political consequences for doing so," New said. "Personalizing the debate can be effective."

Activists with Lila Rose's Live Action have singled out Planned Parenthood employees in undercover videos that suggest they might be racist or cover up statutory rape. Josh Brahm, host of the Life Report podcast, says it's easier to focus on individuals than on the organization.

"Some [Planned Parenthood] employees might have negative attitudes related to race, but how can you prove that an entire organization is racist? It's easier to talk about [founder] Margaret Sanger," says Brahm. "It's certainly less controversial to go after a group than a person. It can come across as less harsh."

In this case, the future of the site could be at stake. The editor of LifeSiteNews says the $500,000 lawsuit could shut the site down.

New said the lawsuit is unusual because a website usually doesn't have many assets to begin with, and Granger could be considered a public figure and thus have a harder case to argue. "It's unusual that an ideological website would be sued.Most opponents realize that most people who read the website won't be sympathetic to them anyway," he said."It may send a message to higher-traffic websites that do have an income and a staff."

Related Elsewhere:

More coverage of the lawsuit includes stories from the National Post, the National Catholic Register, and the Catholic Register.

Christianity Today has special sections on abortion and life ethics on our site, including:

Single Mothers, Second Chances | Robust support makes all the difference during an unplanned pregnancy. (December 17, 2009)
 Friend or Foe? | Recent technological advances may hurt the pro-life movement. (July 23, 2009)
Abortion Violence and American Democracy | The ironic relationship between the pro-life movement and its radical fringe. (June 3, 2009)

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