One commenter to this blog made the excellent point that the label “pro-life” for the anti-abortion movement is a bit odd. In this contentious debate, I wanted to label those in each group as they prefer, but who’s not pro-life?
In the Christian view, life on earth is “the cramped and narrow foyer leading to the great hall of God’s eternity” (William Lane Craig). What a dismal view of life—something simply to be endured as we wait for the real Life to begin. By contrast, the atheist, certain of only the one life we all know exists, is the one who lives life to the fullest. It can be argued that the atheist is the one who’s truly pro-life.
But let’s leave the conventional labels alone and consider the pro-life position. If there were no downsides of carrying a fetus to term, if carrying the fetus to term were nothing more than a minor inconvenience for the mother, the abortion question wouldn’t be an interesting issue. But of course there are downsides—big ones. To bring a child into the world, poorly cared for in the womb, unwanted and unloved by its mother, abandoned by its father, neglected or abused, or growing up in squalor or in an abysmal home—for me, that potential harm eclipses the harm of denying a cell the chance to grow into a person. Demanding that the state step in and declare that it knows the consequences better than the mother seems an odd position to take for typically conservative Christians.
The pro-life advocate has a quick answer: carry the child to term and give it up for adoption. But this does nothing to address the problem of the woman unable to or uninterested in caring for herself and the baby properly during the pregnancy. Or of the baby with identified birth defects. Unhealthy babies are far more likely to live out their childhood in foster care.
“Just put it up for adoption” is hopeless naïve when only two percent of all births to unmarried women ended in an adoption. For teen mothers, the rate is even less. Let’s not pretend that if the mother’s life and home situation aren’t conducive to raising a baby until adulthood that she’ll always put the baby up for adoption.Even if a teen mother chose to have her baby adopted, the consequences of the pregnancy are dramatic. She’ll miss school, she’ll be ostracized, and she’ll go through an emotional meat grinder when it comes time to give up her baby. And since the statistics say she won’t, that she will almost surely keep the baby, she’ll have no chance to get back on track for the life she had planned.
I have a mental image of an anti-abortion activist looking with satisfaction on the girl he just talked out of having an abortion, with no understanding of the shackles he may have placed on her life or the hellish environment to which he has may have consigned that child-to-be. Infuriating.
The alternative to abortion rights is compulsory pregnancy. My claims are simple: that (1) some lives are truly abysmal and (2) creating such a life (for the mother or the child) is a bad thing. I doubt that my argument has convinced any pro-lifers to budge in their position, but I do demand that they acknowledge the terrible burden that making abortion illegal would place on a million women each year.
Photo credit: Wikimedia
- Find the first post in this series about abortion here: A Defense of Abortion Rights: The Spectrum Argument