On Being Truly Pro-Life

Why the Gospel never parses neatly along partisan lines.

I am pro-life.

I am pro-life because my faith calls me to it: God is pro-life; in fact, it is the most central thing about God, who is the source of all life, and who perfectly loves all the life God has created. As beings created in God’s image, God demands that we love life as well–and not just our own, but especially the life of our neighbor.

I reject the notion that a fetus is not a life, and is not worth protecting. I am disturbed by arguments on the radical left that try to cast abortion as “just another medical procedure,” as if it were the equivalent of removing an ingrown toenail. It is not. It has significant moral implications. Those who try to minimize these implications do so at a steep moral cost. (It is worth noting that those who take this extreme position on the left are a small minority, but it is a perspective that should be challenged nonetheless.)

But though I am pro-life, I acknowledge that we live in a reality that is characterized–even ruled–by death. I will die. You will die. My children, and if I have them, my grandchildren, will die. There is no escaping it. It is a fundamental fact of our existence. And sometimes, in a reality ruled by death, it is not always possible to choose the greater good. Sometimes we are forced to choose the lesser evil.

Therefore, there is a profound difference between being pro-life and being anti-choice. I acknowledge the broken world in which we live and the existence of impossible choices, so in addition to being pro-life, I am pro-choice; particularly, I am pro-making-the-choice-for-life as much as possible–acknowledging that such a choice isn’t always available (for example, in instances when the mother’s or baby’s life is in danger, putting the two lives in conflict and forcing a gut-wrenching decision).

This means…

  • The life of the refugee, the immigrant, and the stranger are as sacred as my own.
  • The lives of prisoners, who are overwhelmingly black and brown because of deep systems of racial injustice, are as sacred as my own.
  • The life of my political adversary is as sacred as my own.
  • The lives of LGBTQIA+ individuals, who suffer disproportionate violence in our culture, are as sacred as my own.
  • The lives of those who are sick, economically disadvantaged, or differently abled, are as sacred as my own.

And it has concrete implications.

  • Being pro-life means advocating for policies that protect these lives as much as we want to protect children in the womb, including a strong social safety net, affordable healthcare, and accessibility for all persons regardless of ability.
  • Being pro-life means working for environmental conservation, or else we put all life at risk.
  • Being pro-life means caring deeply about racism, income inequality, and systemic violence, because these systems are literally anti-life and pro-death.
  • Being pro-life means welcoming the stranger and tearing down walls that keep the vulnerable away.
  • Being pro-life means radically restructuring our penal system to practice restorative justice as opposed to retribution.
  • Being pro-life means putting measures in place that prevent unwanted pregnancies: comprehensive sex education and easily accessible birth control.
  • Being pro-life means engaging in difficult conversations with political adversaries instead of treating them as subhuman.

If your sole focus is on abortion, you are not pro-life. You are pro-birth, perhaps pro-newborn, but to be truly pro-life requires something much more comprehensive and challenging. It’s not easy and it doesn’t parse cleanly along partisan lines, but then again, the gospel never does.

EDITED TO ADD: This post has generated significant conversation on Facebook (most of it remarkably respectful!), so I want to clarify my policy position. For pragmatic reasons, I’m of the perspective that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Because there are situations in which abortion is morally justified, and because abortion is connected to poverty and desperation, eliminating access to abortion ironically leads to more death. Therefore, we should enact policies that prevent abortion from being chosen in the first place and focus our efforts on economic justice and care for women and children before and after birth.

Note that this a different line of reasoning from the one that the radical left uses, in which a woman’s individual bodily autonomy is perceived as the highest good. This position is not an affirmation of bodily autonomy over life (though both are positive moral values, and abortion is complex moral issue precisely because they are in conflict). Instead, it is an accommodation for human brokenness. That is to say, in society and politics there will always be collateral damage to any system or process we establish. The collateral damage to making abortion illegal is, in my estimation, unacceptably high; therefore I don’t want the state to enforce a ban on abortion but rather focus on mitigating the circumstances that lead to it.

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