The “Social Justice” of Abortion?

An abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child inside (or partially inside) the womb.

Social justice is . . . what exactly?

Again and again I see young social justice-focused evangelicals abandoning any effective voice for the unborn for the sake of an ephemeral, culturally-fashionable concept that as a practical matter means little more than advocating a utopian ideal through a grab-bag of banal, functionally socialist policies.  Moreover, the embrace of social justice often drives them into the arms of a political party and political movements that are dedicated to protecting and even subsidizing the “right” to kill children on a vast, industrial scale.

Social justice must be virtuous indeed to be worth such a high cost.  So, what is it?

Well, it turns out that to many on the Left, legalized abortion is an indispensable aspect of social justice.  Is that the social justice evangelicals are fighting for?


In his new book, The Tyranny of Cliches, National Review’s Jonah Goldberg discusses the origin of the term and how liberals often simply equate social justice with “goodness,” or the kind of society they’d like to see.  As a practical matter, that’s how most Christians use the term.  “Social justice” is little more than the term they use to describe a nation that is more “fair” in a thriving environment with less poverty, less oppression, and more opportunity than the society we currently have.  But by that definition, isn’t everyone for social justice?  Don’t we all want to live in a thriving environment with less poverty, less oppression, and more opportunity?

But that’s not really what the more serious “social justice” Christians seek.  It’s not merely a set of outcomes — then we’d all be on the same side — but rather a set of policy choices (almost always leftist or socialist in orientation) that are designed to achieve those outcomes.

Let’s take the environment.  Social justice Christians just adore the environment.  (Don’t we all?)  They want us to be good stewards of creation (who can disagree with that?) and as a result decry dependence on fossil fuels and tend to embrace the full agenda of the environmentalist Left — carbon taxes, cap and trade, emissions caps, etc. etc. etc.

But . . .

Social justice Christians hate poverty.  (Don’t we all?)  They want us to care of the “least of these” (who can disagree with that?) and as a result seek greater economic development not just in the poorest parts of our own country but also in the developing world.  During my time in the Third World, I’m always struck by the extreme lack of infrastructure . . . families walk miles and miles to visit a single, tiny hospital that services hundreds of thousands, precious few roads cut through even densely populated land, without water treatment plants, schools, transportation, people are trapped on subsistence farms, living at the mercy of capricious weather and dangerous diseases.  Rectifying this requires development, which means . . . uh oh.  Cars.  Buildings.  Industry.  Trucks.  Emissions!

And . . .

Social justice Christians hate oppression.  (Don’t we all?)  They want to end sex trafficking, the oppression of women, and tyranny of all kinds (who can disagree with that?)  Two of the most tyrannical regimes on Earth as of 2001 were Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan — regimes that were collectively responsible for more than a million deaths and subjected their people to the most grotesque forms of violent repression.  Those regimes no longer exist, and the regimes that replaced them — while hardly perfect — are now among the most socially enlightened in the region.  Much to the delight of social justice Christians, right?

Oh, wait.  They’re not delighted?

I could go on and on and on.  The point here is simple: in exchange for adopting fashionable leftist policies that at worst actually harm the people they’re trying to help and at best represent debatably-effective solutions to complex and intractable problems, the social justice Christian Left has thrown under the bus the most vulnerable citizens of this (or any) culture — unborn children.  Because, you see, if you’re truly effective and outspoken in your opposition to abortion, then you’re just a “culture warrior.”  And God knows, you don’t want to be one of those.

So, please, let’s drop the false moral pretense of “social justice.”  You’re not fooling anyone.  You’re a leftist seeking leftist solutions to known cultural problems, and in so doing you’ve elected to side with those who seek the legal right to intentionally kill children.  Oh, you may claim to be pro life even as you work diligently to maintain and increase the power of those individuals and institutions that advance and protect our abortion regime, but you’ve made your choice in the real world.

Also by David French:

An Open Letter to “Post-Partisan” Evangelicals

Let’s Not Equate Porn and Gaming

The Moral Primacy of the Abortion Debate

NYT: Abortion Should be Safe, Legal, and Romantic?
I Thought Social Issues Only Favored Democrats
Patricia Arquette, It’s Time to Admit: It’s a Great Time to Be a Girl
How Political Correctness Improved My Life
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  • Marcia Bar

    This is by far one of the very best blogs out there :-)

  • Jay Watts

    Hey David,

    I have similar conversations with college students that want what they term a “completely pro-life” approach to policy. They bring up some of the desperate situations in other countries and how we should focus on that instead of an issue that “divides us.” Although I agree with them that there are great injustices that deserve our attention, I point out that I am not sure what I am supposed to about a nation thats worst problems are rooted in the evil actions of military dictatorships or ruling juntas. We can pour money and supplies into a region and all of it finds its way into the hands of a warlord. If you want to circumvent the bad guys you have to send in good guys with guns, and I know that the students in question don’t like that. Abortion happens here in my country where I have the power to impact its legality and accessibility directly by vote and grassroots efforts to convince others. As you point out, other issues have the virtue of being broadly agreed upon as noble goals but are mired in layers of unforeseen and unexpected complexity.

  • David French

    Exactly, Jay. The “completely pro-life” approach so often means abandoning the one area of advocacy where a person can actually save lives.

  • Nancy French

    David, quit posting as “Marcia Bar.”


  • Steve Billingsley

    I still wonder how much of this is less about the actual issues and more about just wanting to be liked, to be seen as “not one of those kinds of Christians”.

  • David French

    Steve, I think that’s a lot of it.

  • Dave Johnson

    One of the most “interesting” takes I’ve encountered with regards to the Christian social justice approach to abortion is the “the child will be better off not existing than be introduced into a potentially traumatic childhood,” couched in Orwellian terms like “it’s the loving thing to do.”

    I’ve never understood this line of thought. It takes away God’s opportunity to change and shape lives, and, ironically, invests these believers with their own, perverse God-like power; that is they see feel like they are doing what’s best for the child, even if it means endorsing that child’s termination!

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  • Josh

    Social justice is recognizing that abortion is wrong, no matter what. However, it’s none of my business to dictate what other women can or cannot do with their bodies. It is my business, if I care about saving the unborn, to educate women on avoiding unplanned pregnancies in the first place and to offer as many alternatives to abortion as I can, and if the woman still wants to have one, it’s my business to make sure she knows she has acted irresponsibly to an unplanned pregnancy.

    Social justice recognizes that abortion needs to be legal when it is to save the life of the mother. It fosters empathy for parents who learn their unborn fetus has a trisomy condition that, if born, will suffer at great expense before dying just after birth. Because there is almost nothing more callous than telling a couple they are forced to have a child that will never be able to look on them, or smile or hear them, or be anything but a vegetable until it dies. Aborting that child doesn’t make it right, but social justice demands parents be given that option.

    One thing is certain – if abortion is to be made illegal, it will be done by convincing the majority that abortion is wrong primarily for secular reasons, and it will most certainly not be made illegal by those who cry murder or equate abortion with killing human beings (You are welcome to believe that, but it’s not a convincing argument).

    /leftist atheist, used to accept abortion until I read George McKenna’s 1995 Atlantic Monthly article.

  • Korou

    Hmmm. Looks to me more like a right-winger trying to demonise progressive policies by calling them socialist.

  • Linda Whitlock

    Excellent post, David! Thank you for articulating my own thoughts much better than I could.

  • lornaduwn

    I once heard about a young woman from the middle east, who found out she was pregnant. She was from a small village and faced stoning as she was not married. A quiet abortion would have solved her problem but abortion was not an option in her society. Her name was Mary and she lived about two thousand years ago.

  • Andy Wade

    This post is really not helpful. I understand your points but the again one could flip your post to rant about conservatives. The real question is whether or not we can, as Kingdom people, move beyond national politics to live out the whole teachings of Christ in our world. This is not left or right, conservative or progressive, but truly a third way, a way that does not make enemies out of those created in the image of God and hollers, “Fool”, at those we disagree with. Can we rather move toward becoming the ambassadors of reconciliation we’re called to be, seeking first the Kingdom of God rather than the politics (left, right, center) of man?

  • Korou

    I once heard a story about a young lady named Klara. She didn’t have an abortion. You can read about her here:

  • Michael

    Well my impression is that David French is a rather bitter, angry, close minded twit. This article is a jeremiad founded only on totally discounting a point of view that would seem to have much foundation in the commentary of Jesus about life in this world.

  • pagansister

    All the arguments sited in the article are well and good. IMO it boils down to giving the woman, and no one else, the choice of what to do with her body. IMO also, for what it is worth, outlawing abortions will just send it back to butchers, and do it yourself abortions.—the extremes that women before it became legal, would try. I’m old enough to remember those times. I think that a woman should make up her mind VERY early—before 3 1/2 months—if she can’t do that—carry to term. Should she be offered help and choices? Most certainly. It is up to her to weigh those, and decide. There are many medical reasons why some can’t carry to term—but that is another area. Life would be great if all children were indeed wanted and loved and cared for. It would also be great if no woman would decide to have a termination—that is preferable. However I’ve lived long enough to know that that is not realistic.

  • Elena Louise Richmond

    How’s this: Again and again I see evangelicals abandoning any effective voice for the already born for the sake of an ephemeral, culturally-fashionable concept that as a practical matter means little more than advocating a utopian ideal through a grab-bag of banal, functionally impossible policies.

    I think it’s worth thinking long, hard, and deeply about how a society with deep philosophical differences is going to function at all. It’s not going to be by arguing, fighting, and by labeling each other, defining the Other with stale tag-lines without saying in our own words what we mean by both the labels and the Other. It’s not going to happen while we demonize each other. Is it?

  • Wisconsin Mom
  • Stephen Spencer

    Mr. Wade, are we not to be Christ-like? He did say “fool” and words even stronger.
    Your post ignores that the culture war is the result of conservatives FINALLY opposing the aggression by the left: which is explicitly anti-Catholic and opposed to Catholic and Christian teachings about sexual morality. The Bishop of Paris thought that the French Revolution was compatible with Catholicism: they explained to him his error by cutting his head off. Conflict is not always a result of misunderstanding: sometimes it is the result of understanding. There is no “third way” with those who seek to make government into God, politics into a religion, and who want to make churches submissive to ideology.

  • Stephen Spencer

    How is it that you missed the two other bodies involved?
    For starters, there is the body of the child: torn apart.
    Secondly, what of the father? Why should he have to pay child support for 18-22 years? I presume that he uses his body in some way to do that. But from where does this responsibility arise? From a choice that he made: the exact same choice that the woman made. I understand you to be claiming that men, but not women, are responsible for their choices.
    BTW, it is NEVER in the best interest of a mother to kill her on child.

  • Stephen Spencer

    Your post would seem to be an admission that you do not have any rational arguments to make, since you have restored to personal attacks.

  • J Swift

    I do not blame Klara for that decision made in ignorance; in the womb it is terribly difficult to distinguish a good child from an evil child. But after five or ten years, surely there was no excuse to allow such a creature to continue developing. In fact, she had more than thirty postnatal years to abort him before he got to the point of writing Mein Kampf. Such negligence!

  • Jeremy Forbing

    I really thought this was going to be a thoughtful plea for Christians dedicated to social justice to see how supporting abortion conflicts with their core beliefs. Instead, it is a bigoted attack on those core beliefs that barely touches on the ethics on abortion. Do you actually have any desire to change anyone’s mind, and help end abortion by doing so, or just the desire to call people who disagree with you stupid?

  • Greg Metzger

    I have weighed the merits of this post and found it wanting…reflective, I believe, of Christian partisanship at its culture wars worst.

    Would love to see David respond to what I have said. Christian partisanship can be a legitimate calling, but if this is what David thinks it looks like he is going to only create more problems.

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