Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Are the Terms Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Helpful?

            Recently I had the honor of being a guest blogger for Randy Alcorn (my illustrious father-in-law). My post was called, “The Growing Consistency of the Pro-Choice Position.” One reader made a comment that stood out to me. Here is it in its entirety:
“Pro life” people need to do a better job of having a more consistent ethic of being pro life. There are some that do, but the vast majority don’t. The critique that states “pro life people believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth” has some validity. Far too many people that identify with the pro life movement are very outspoken on abortion, but strangely silent on the death penalty, needless wars, the AIDS epidemic, global warming and its effects on natural life, the prison industrial complex, child labor in the third world, and the list goes on. Stop talking about pro choice people being inconsistent and hypocritical and look at yourself.
            At first I felt defensive when I read it, and somewhat justifiably. In my opinion the reader wildly exaggerates the lack of care for people in crisis. And his comments also reveal that he may have only read the title of the post, and not the post itself. Still, lurking behind this, there is a valid point. But I don’t believe that valid point is the one he intends to make.
            I think it is valid that he wants consistency from the pro-life position. If I call myself pro-life, that grid should carry over in all cases. I should be against the death penalty and all war (not just needless ones), as well as anything that could possibly cause death. I should be against killing in self-defense because it takes a life just as much as murder takes a life. I should also be against eating meat and hunting because it ends the lives of animals. If I am pro-life, I should be pro-life the whole way.
            While all of that might sound silly, it simply reflects the fact that pro-life is not a very helpful label. It needs specification in order to be a meaningful label.
            For that matter, pro-choice is also not a helpful label. No one is consistently pro-choice. We don’t believe people should have the protected right to steal, rape, and murder others. This position also needs specification if it is going to be meaningful.
            So, if these terms are not meaningful, how did they come about? Here is an overly simplistic explanation. A person in favor of legalized abortion (person #1) is speaking with a person against legalized abortion (person #2):
            1: You’re anti-abortion.
2: I don’t like that label. It is not so much that I am against something as that I am in favor of something.
1: What is it that you are in favor of?
2: Life. I am pro-life. You on the other hand are pro-abortion, which is basically the same as being pro-death.
1: I’m not pro-death. I’m not even pro-abortion. I just think everything should have the choice to have an abortion. I am pro-choice.
It’s not hard to see how it happened. But it has left us with unhelpful labels.
            The reader may be right that it is not consistently pro-life to be against abortion, but in favor of the death penalty. However, apart from the pro-life label, there is nothing inconsistent about that position. It is not inconsistent to believe that unborn babies should not be killed and at the same time believe that the state should have the power to put murderers to death. It is not inconsistent to believe that unborn babies should not be killed and at the same time believe that war is sometimes justified. And it is not inconsistent to believe that killing someone in self-defense is justifiable.
            Here is the point: the term “pro-life” should not serve as a prison to people who are against abortion. The consistency should manifest itself in consistent concern for those who are being wronged and are unable to protect themselves.
            While I personally would redefine the terms involved in the abortion debate, I think this is unlikely to happen. I accept the terms because I feel that this is necessary in order to have a discussion that is helpful. At the same time, I would have no problem if someone called me “anti-abortion.” That is an accurate label. I am also anti-murder, anti-corruption, anti-domestic-abuse, and anti-genocide. There are certain things that we should be against.


  1. Very well put, Dan, especially the paragraph about how there is nothing inconsistent about the pro-life position.

    Here is a nice resource that I like very much. It is kind of related to this subject.