Why the pro-life movement is about ending abortion. Period.
URGENT PETITION: Tell the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade! Sign the petition here.
The movement that says they fight to end slavery and human trafficking worldwide is virtually silent on abortion, poverty, homophobia, police brutality, and unjust immigration laws. You can’t be pro-freedom while also picking and choosing whose freedom is worth fighting for. What about the poor, the unborn, people of color, and refugees seeking safety in America? Do their lives not matter to the End-It Movement? Apparently not. Being pro-freedom is about more than just being anti-slavery. It’s about supporting the freedom and worth of all lives, not just the ones being enslaved.
I hope you didn’t take this silly accusation seriously and I certainly hope you weren’t persuaded by it. However, replace the phrase “End-It” with “Pro-Life” and this accusation would magically transform into a “persuasive” piece of rhetoric parroted by human rights activists, religious leaders, and politicians.
My satirical critiques of the End-It Movement are incredibly disingenuous. In reality, I am very glad this movement has a singular mission. While members of the End-It Movement almost assuredly stand against racism and police brutality, they have chosen to devote their lives and careers to ending slavery. How will burdening them with solving countless other injustices enable them to end the one they have chosen to focus on? As Frederick the Great allegedly said, “He who attacks everywhere attacks nowhere.” One might also remind my satirical self that the phrase “End-It” is not referring to ending all forms of injustice. Who could reasonably accomplish such a task? Rather, it specifically refers to ending slavery and human trafficking.
The same holds true for the pro-life movement.
Over the last decade, it has become popular to say, “You’re not really pro-life unless…” and then fill in the blank with some responsibility or requirement the critic demands the pro-life movement or individual must meet in order to be worthy of the “pro-life” title. This accusation has been levied against the pro-life movement by our enemies for a long time, but it is now being repeated by those who claim to be our allies. In each case, their selective application of this rule – that individuals and movements must advocate for all life and fight all injustice – gives away the game. By only levying such accusations against the pro-life movement, they prove that they either don’t see the pro-life movement as all that great or they don’t see abortion as all that bad, or both.
Consider these analogous examples. Could the “you’re not pro-life unless” critics honestly answer yes to these questions?
- Was Oskar Schindler not really anti-holocaust for only focusing his energy and wealth on saving Jews?
- Were Abolitionists not truly anti-slavery because they only sought to abolish one type of evil?
- Is the International Justice Mission lacking in justice for only working to establish justice for slaves?
Obviously, it would be fundamentally unserious to answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions. Likewise, I would propose that it is an equally unserious position to suggest that the pro-life movement and the people in it are not really pro-life unless they’re advocating for and defending all lives.
Our critics argue that the word “life” in the term “pro-life” is intentionally broad in order to include all life. This is incredibly cynical because everyone knows that when asked whether they’re pro-life or pro-choice, they are being asked whether they are for or against abortion. They are not being asked whether they’re for ALL choices or against ALL lives.
These “whole-life” proponents criticize the pro-life movement for our narrow-minded commitment to making abortion illegal and unthinkable, insisting that being pro-life means not getting to choose which “life” you will stand for and protect. Yet, missing from all of their critiques is what they would have us do in the real world in order to deserve wearing this new “pro-life” label. Should pro-life advocates fight sex-trafficking on Monday, work for police reform on Tuesday, volunteer at the soup kitchen on Wednesday, lobby for a living wage on Thursday, and then fight abortion on Friday?
Still other “whole-life” advocates openly “wonder” about the “silence” of the pro-life movement when a national debate erupts over either a real or contrived injustice. Anything from a suspected racially-motivated shooting, to children being separated from their parents at the southern border, even to the debate over universal healthcare. If it’s an issue that the “whole-life” progressive can tangentially relate to the word “life,” then the pro-life movement will be attacked and accused as frauds with a fetus-obsession, whose compassion, the self-important John Pavlovitz writes, “has a nine-month expiration date.” (1)
It goes without saying that no other organization or movement is slandered in this way. The International Justice Mission, End-It, Invisible Children, The American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, and hundreds more, all with a very narrowly defined mission somehow escape criticism.
Despite the unfair accusations hurled by our critics, the pro-life movement is incredibly generous and committed to the life of children and families, even after birth, boasting nearly 2,800 pregnancy resource center locations, almost entirely funded through private donations. These clinics outnumber the 1,800 abortion clinics, many of whom rely on federal funding. (2) These non-profit pregnancy centers provide free ultrasounds, free STD testing, abortion-alternatives, parenting classes, skills-building courses, baby clothes, diapers, and in many instances, even free housing. According to Philanthropy Roundtable, the most generous Americans are conservative, religious individuals (the majority of the pro-life movement) with a moderate income. (3)
A movement comprised largely of Protestants and Catholics, the individuals in the pro-life movement both believe and practice what Scott Klusendorf calls a broad and inclusive ethic. “But it does not follow that the operational objectives of the pro-life movement must be broad and inclusive as well.” (4)
Unfortunately, this painfully obvious point is lost on woke pastors like Eugene Cho, who personally opposes abortion but supports keeping it legal, and insists that being pro-life means:
“Not just American lives, but Syrian lives. Not just Christian lives, but Muslim lives; To be pro-all-life is to acknowledge the systemic injustice that operates against indigenous and black/brown folks in our culture. To be pro-all-life is to be broken by LGBTQ youth that are 3 to 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. And the list goes on… Pro-life should not just be an anti-abortion conviction. It is so much more. We have to reduce the demand for abortion… we must come alongside the poor and low-income women… we must come alongside single mothers… we must engage and support those called to foster care and adoption. (5)
Eugene Cho is living in fantasy land if he honestly believes the pro-life movement can successfully shoulder his job description for us.
Imagine telling abolitionists in 1850’s America that they aren’t really opposed to the legal enslavement and brutalization of African-Americans, even while they spend all day seeking its abolition, because being an abolitionist means more than just a singular focus on freeing slaves. Not just African-American lives, but slaveholders’ lives too. Not just African-Americans, but indigenous Africans too. Abolitionism should not just be an anti-slavery conviction. It is so much more. Abolitionists have to address the underlying causes that lead plantation owners to purchase black men and women in the first place. They must come alongside poorer plantation owners whose income will be devastated if they free their slaves.
If the abolitionist movement had taken the advice and demands of today’s “whole-life” progressives seriously, the abolitionist movement would have collapsed in on itself and perhaps extended the horrific practice many decades. Abolishing an evil that had been practiced around the world in nearly every society for many thousands of years was a large enough challenge without demanding that abolitionists assume responsibility for a cornucopia of other societal ills.
Why should it be any different for today’s abolitionists in the pro-life movement?
In fact, from a pure body-count calculation, abortion in America has taken far more lives than slavery ever did. Abortion is arguably the greatest human rights violation in human history, with 63 million murdered pre-born children in America since 1973, and well over 1.5 billion children killed worldwide since 1980. (6) If state-sanctioned killing of these numbers doesn’t justify a movement devoting all its time and resources towards bringing about its end, it’s hard to imagine what injustice “whole-life” advocates would find evil enough to justify a single-mission movement.
If “consistent-life ethic” proponents had their way, the pro-life movement’s goal – to end the legally sanctioned slaughter of little humans in their mother’s wombs – would become nearly unachievable. Many more babies would be killed while their only defenders willingly abandoned their post to pursue justice for ALL people, none of whom it is currently legal to kill.
Along with Hadley Arkes, I can’t help but wonder in regards to the supposed allies of the pro-life movement, “whether the issue did not come down to this: that in their heart of hearts, some of our ‘friends’ really were not possessed by a lively sense that there were real human beings getting killed in these surgeries.” (7) Why else would they seek to fragment the only movement committed to the pre-born’s protection?
Some “whole-life” advocates such as Russell Moore admit that the selective application of this rule to the pro-life movement is unreasonable and even says that we “don’t have to share a comprehensive program on everything in order to be a pro-life movement,” (8) but then he immediately flips and asks, “why isn’t the pro-life movement committed to the whole person?” (9) This is tantamount to asking Oskar Schindler why, after saving 1200 Jews from the holocaust and exhausting his net worth to do so, he didn’t help provide housing, schools, mental health sessions, daycares for single parents and universal healthcare for those who survived.
Today, there is only one class of human beings in this country that have been denied the right to life, and re-enshrining that right is both a worthy and gargantuan goal, whose success will be determined by the commitment of its advocates. Demanding that the pro-life movement commit themselves to the “whole person” will only dilute organizational resources away from saving babies whose lives are being targeted, particularly when, as John Ensor points out, “many of those other issues already have personnel and resources that dwarf those of dedicated pro-life organizations.” (10)
Pretending that quality of life outside the womb is morally equivalent to protection of life in the womb is outrageous. And as Scott Klusendorf points out, “attacking pro-lifers as hypocrites for not exhausting their scarce resources fighting every injustice imaginable” (11) is more outrageous still. Working to increase quality of life outside the womb is an honorable calling. But far more important is securing that first and most important of all rights for those who don’t have it and can’t work to secure it: Life for the unborn.
Abraham Lincoln understood the importance of a singular focus. He knew that while there were many worthy causes to pursue, slavery took the dominant position in American life. There were two reasons for this.
First, slavery was an order of evil unlike any other at the time. It represented the grossest inversion of the natural order that “all men are created equal,” meaning that “no man is by nature the ruler of other men in the way that men are by nature the ruler of dogs and horses, and God was by nature the ruler of men.” (12) In a Judeo-Christian society that understood people to be image-bearers of God, slavery was both an affront to the victims who bore intrinsic dignity and to God who created them.
Second, slavery could not be tolerated because of the threat it represented to natural rights, which provides the foundation for self-government. Lincoln understood that in accepting the institution of slavery and the premises that made it plausible in the first place, namely that not all men are created equal, our Republic would be “putting in place the premises that justified (our) own enslavement.” (13) In allowing some people the right to decide who are truly people or not, America was rejecting the idea of natural rights, therefore converting all rights into rights of positive law.
Lincoln understood that in eradicating slavery and ensuring that the promises of the Declaration were granted to the slaves, he was further enshrining freedom for all people. Lincoln grasped what all the founders took as self-evident, that as long as a pure majority could create or deny rights to their citizens, there could be no natural rights that apply to all people. By grounding natural rights in our shared human nature, not only was Lincoln eradicating the premises of slavery, but he was also establishing the idea of human equality. Lincoln communicated all of this in one sentence speaking before Congress on December 1, 1862: “In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free.” (14)
As slavery was a litmus test of our republic in the 19th century, so is abortion today. Abortion is evil for the same reasons that slavery is evil: It denies the personhood of its victims to justify their mistreatment.
If the abolitionists of slavery were justified in their narrow-minded focus of ending slavery for its affront to human dignity and its threat to natural rights and self-government, the abolitionists of abortion are more than justified in doing the same for the same reasons. Any critiques to the contrary prove that such critics either don’t believe the unborn to be fully human, or if they do, they don’t believe abortion to be a morally equivalent evil to slavery, simply proving that they were never with us in the first place.
Just as being an abolitionist only required that you oppose slavery and seek its abolition, being pro-life only requires that you oppose abortion and seek its abolition. That’s it! As my friend and fellow pro-life advocate Marc Newman has said, “Individuals and organizations that make it their exclusive mission to save these human beings from a culture hell-bent on butchering them have nothing to apologize for. They don’t need additional causes; they need additional support.” (15)
7 Arkes, Hadley. Natural Rights & the Right to Choose (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002) 158.
12 Arkes, Hadley. Natural Rights & the Right to Choose (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002) 158. 16
13 Ibid, 165