I plan to come back to my normal blogging schedule next week, beginning a new set in the “Drawing from the Well” series on the Nicene Creed. Today, I wanted to share some thoughts I have had recently about a pitfall I see in the pro-life movement.
What is the pro-life movement about? What are its specific cultural and political goals? How does it measure success? I believe the movement is primarily about one thing, and thus the success of the movement depends on the achievement of one measurable objective: the elimination of legal forms of murder in the United States and other (mostly Western) nations that currently allow it. The farther we drift from defining the term “pro-life” from that specific objective, the more fractured and weakened the movement will become.
Practically, that means the pro-life movement is primarily focused on outlawing and culturally marginalizing the practices of abortion and euthanasia, which are, by the reasoning that undergirds the movement, normally regarded as murderous practices. (Yes, the movement does not have complete agreement on possible exceptions in the case of abortion, but there is broad enough agreement to oppose the vast majority of abortions.) To be sure, opposition to the practices of abortion and euthanasia grows out of our broader understanding of the nature and dignity of human beings, and there are no doubt many issues that are touched by our commitment to human dignity. Several that come to mind would be treatment of refugees, healthcare, poverty, war, and virtually any other issue that substantially affects human lives. In other words, the entire spectrum of political issues is materially related to the question of human dignity.
So does that mean the pro-life movement must develop a unified approach to every conceivable political issue? For example, do you have to favor a particular refugee policy in order to be sufficiently pro-life? Or do you have to favor a particular approach to addressing poverty, healthcare, etc.? If the pro-life movement required unity on all of these complicated questions, it would fracture itself into a thousand pieces and lose much of its political effectiveness at combating the primary issue at stake: the elimination of legal murder.
Furthermore, the oft repeated mantra that says, “If you don’t favor ______ [fill in the blank with a policy not directly related to abortion or euthanasia], you are not pro-life,” ends up giving cover to a certain kind of leftist moral equivalence nonsense that undermines our efforts to address the one issue that matters above all for the pro-life cause. It’s the kind of thinking that enabled a number of left-leaning Christians who claim the pro-life identity to cast their votes for Barack Obama, the most radically pro-abortion president in history. “After all,” the reasoning goes, “the so-called ‘pro-life’ President Bush took us to war against Iraq, and in that war thousands of innocent bystanders lost their lives and/or livelihoods. That doesn’t sound pro-life to me. But President Obama favors healthcare for all, which is definitely a policy that respects human dignity and is therefore worthy of the label ‘pro-life.'” In all of this convoluted reasoning, what ends up happening is that the definition of the term “pro-life” is so stretched that it fails to mean anything, so it quickly becomes a place filler for leftist social policy. Meanwhile, what is being completely ignored is the fact that one President sought to defend the unborn from being legally murdered, while another actively promoted such a practice. If we play the games of moral equivalence between these two forms of political leadership, we are morally lost as a movement.
The pro-life movement, in order to remain an effective political movement with any hope of achieving its main objective, must keep itself focused on that objective and allow for genuine plurality on everything else.