Whole-Life is not Pro-Life, and (Sadly) Pro-Life Means Partisan

My continuing series of posts about young evangelicals, post-partisanship, and social justice has drawn some interesting responses — some thoughtful, some not.  One of the best (in my judgment) comes from Gregory Metzger’s blog, called Faith and the Common Good.  He makes three main points: That I say “again and again” young evangelicals are abandoning an effective voice for the unborn for the sake of “social justice” without providing examples; that I’ve presented my side favorably while distorting the opposing side; and that I’ve reduced the other side to a label they reject.  Most importantly, however, his post presents an opportunity to address an issue that plagues the pro-life movement — the “whole-life” distortion.

Any discussion of partisanship has to start with the cold, hard partisan facts.  In the real world voting for all but the tiniest minority of Democrats means strengthening and protecting the abortion-on-demand regime.  In the real world one party has cast its lot firmly on the side of abortion while the other seeks to protect unborn children.  Let’s contrast the parties’ 2008 platforms.


The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.


Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.

Which statement merits Christian support?  Is there a reasonable, scripturally-sound Christian argument that it’s the Democrats’ platform?  Until the Democratic party reverses itself on abortion, any Christian who supports that party with their time, their votes, or their money is as morally responsible for fundamental life-destroying injustice as those Christians who supported the political parties that protected the institution of slavery.

As I’ve argued before, there’s no other issue in American politics of equal moral weight as abortion, and there’s no other issue in American politics where the partisan divide is so stark.  From the environment, to war, to the economy, to entitlements, the differences (while important) are often differences in degree and tactics, not fundamental goals.  Both parties want to protect the environment, both parties prefer peace to war, both parties seek a strong and growing economy, both parties want to accomplish the aims of the Medicare and Social Security programs, and both parties engage in robust intra-party debate on those points.  Yet one party wants to preserve the “right” to pay another person to kill an innocent child for any reason or no reason at all.  The other party wants to preserve that child’s right to life.  The difference is stark.

Now, let’s move on to Mr. Metzger’s points.  First, the desire of many young evangelicals to move beyond the dreaded “single-issue voter” label is well-documented.  They’re pro-life, but they’re also many, many other things — so that the life question becomes just one issue among many.  Metzger’s second point provides a textbook example:

What is interesting about this is that the leading evangelical environmental group espousing the kinds of policies French finds wanting—the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN)—consistently uses pro-life arguments to buttress their policy descriptions. Far from “throwing under the bus” unborn children (what a terrible image to place on another’s perspective), the EEN has made a point of marshalling its energies around environmental issues that damage the unborn. This is not a convenient fact for French, but it is a major one and it has been the subject of intense debate within the evangelical community (Christianity Today even devoted a special feature to the EEN’s actions so it is not an obscure debate). Perhaps French is completely unaware of this debate, but I find that hard to believe.

Oh, I’m aware of the Evangelical Environmental Network. In fact, I’m very aware of the (generally progressive) argument that you’re not “pro-life” unless you’re “whole-life” — by protecting the environment, easing poverty, supporting education, etc. etc.  But I’m not “pro-life” when I use a low-flow toilet or drive a Prius.  Mr. Metzger’s linked example of pro-life environmentalism is particularly egregious.  The EEN’s commercials were in support of restrictions on coal-fired power plants that were not killing children, and those restrictions wouldn’t have any substantial effect on the very mercury levels they hoped to limit.  That’s pro-life?

The sad reality of the whole-life argument is it’s primarily a weapon of, yes, partisan warfare — a way to shame pro-life activists into silence or a method of diverting their attention from the atrocity of abortion.  It eases a troubled conscience.

Mr. Metzger ends his post by invoking Pope John Paul II as a man who was unquestionably pro-life even as he advanced more liberal views on the environment and war.  I agree with Metzger that the cause of life has had few greater champions than Pope John Paul II.  But the Pope was not an American, and he never had to make the choice that the vast majority of Americans make every four years –to cast a vote for President of the United States (or of course for any other American politician).  Catholics in America actually face the choice their Pope never faces, and those Catholic leaders who take the strongest stands on life are often called — you guessed it — “partisan.”

To say that a Christian should vote to end abortion is not the same thing as saying that Christians must all feel the same about the war in Afghanistan, education policy, deficit spending, or many other issues.  In fact, within the Democratic and Republican parties themselves you’ll often find wide divergence of opinions (ever seen a Ron Paul Republican argue with a Rick Santorum Republican about foreign policy?), but that’s no longer the case on life.  And life is the most important issue of them all.

I Thought Social Issues Only Favored Democrats
Question for the New York Times: If Gays Are Offended, Do Christians Have Rights?
NYT: Abortion Should be Safe, Legal, and Romantic?
‘Macho Christianity’ Isn’t the Problem, Gimmick Christianity Is
  • http://www.debatingobama.blogspot.com greg metzger

    I appreciate the reply and spirited engagement, David. I will do this the justice of a reply as well. It may take a couple days as I am in the middle of some other writing but I will give this the thoughtful reply it deserves. Peace.

  • Karen

    No, both parties DO NOT believe in protecting the environment or protecting the safety net for the poorest among us. Republicans encourage drilling in the Article National Wildlife Refuge and mountaintopo removal mining. Republicans want to privatizing Social Security and oppose all efforts to expand Medicare and Medicaid. In fact, the Republican party of Alabama has passed a platform plank and a state law against sustainable development. You lie when you state that Republicans protect the environment and lying is, last time I checked, a very serious sin.

  • Pingback: "Whole Life" Doesn't Necessarily Mean Authentically Pro-Life | LifeNews.com()

  • David French

    Karen, I think you are mistaken on a number of points. First, it’s a fallacy to say that drilling, properly done, destroys the environment. You’re mistaken that Democrats and Republicans have dramatically different views on mountaintop removal mining (there are many KY and WV Dems who support the practice), and you’re mistaken if you think that allowing Social Security and Medicare to continue in their present form (which will shortly bankrupt both programs) actually protects seniors. As for the Alabama platform plank, “sustainability” is often a buzzword justifying a fairly radical environmental vision that harms reals people’s lives in the name of hysteria and junk science.

  • http://www.conservamerica.org Rob Sisson

    A vote for clean air (ending burning of fossil fuels) is a pro-life vote. We are already witnessing the tragedy of human suffering, illness, and death caused by climate change in Africa and Asia. Migration is causing civil wars in several areas of Africa. More suffering.

    600,000 babies are born every year in the US alone with unsafe levels of mercury contamination. Some of those children will suffer severe health problems, many will suffer learning disabilities and other issues that will prevent them from reaching the potential God had in mind for them. And all of this will cost the US economy and taxpayers an incalculable amount of money.

    Certainly, protection of unborn children from murder…abortion…is a high priority. Yet, you should not minimize the pro-life values of clean air and clean water. Yes, my fellow Republicans value those, too. Unfortunately, they too often don’t give a damn about whether others have access to it or not. My party has forgotten Mark12:31, “Love thy neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than this.”

    Rob Sisson, President

  • Sagrav

    I’m sorry David, but most of your statements are simply false. Even if you sincerely believe them, they are simply not true.

    1. It is not a fallacy to say that drilling destroys the environment. No matter how one drills, you always go from something like this: http://www.flyways.us/sites/default/files/uploads/aspen_parkland_region.jpg
    to something like this: http://mype.co.za/new/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Coega_2nd_oil_platform.jpg
    You can try to minimize your environmental impact (something that most oil companies wouldn’t even bother to do if they weren’t legally obligated), but the land will never be the same again. In addition, investing in energy sources like fossil fuels are the main reason for the ever increasing levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. This threatens the future of the very “unborn babies” that you are crusading for (See: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/world-on-track-for-nearly-11-degree-temperature-rise-energy-expert-says/2011/11/28/gIQAi0lM6N_story.html).

    2. Social Security and Medicare have been a godsend for seniors in America. Before Social Security was enacted, nearly half of the US’s elderly lived below the poverty line. Social Security lifted more than 11 million of them out of poverty (http://blogs.reuters.com/reuters-money/2011/09/16/perrys-monstrous-lies-about-social-security/). The GOP’s “solutions” for the long term budget shortfalls for both programs would turn Social Security into a glorified public 401K (and those do so well when the stock market tanks) and would turn Medicare into a tiny check and a thank you note when you get old. These programs need to be preserved and protected from Congress Critters who are so intent on dipping into them whenever they’re faced with a budget shortfall. Remember when everyone made fun of Al Gore for his “lock box” idea? Turns out he had the right idea.

    3. The idea that “sustainability” is a dangerous buzzword of some kind of shady environmentalist movement is just a silly meme invented by the right wing ideologues. We need sustainable agriculture. We need to invest in renewable energy sources. We live in a finite world with ever decreasing resources and an ever increasing population. No amount of faith or wishful thinking will change this. Ignoring sustainability and mocking environmentalism is self destructive. Our children and their children will suffer for this shortsighted view of the world. Jesus (or whichever messianic figure one chooses to believe in) will not save us from our stupidity.

  • http://www.creationcare.org Mitchell Hescox

    I agree that abortion is a national tragedy. The author cites the coal industry claims that mercury does no harm. Mercury does harm and the number one domestic sources for this neurotoxin are coal-fired power plants. The recent Mercury and Air Toxics Standard will go a long way in reducing our children’s brain damage from mercury. Instead of false claims, that protecting our unborn is not a pro-life issue. We as Christians should be actively praying and working for the international mercury treaty talks that begin tomorrow. Prolife is indeed whole life from conception to natural death. To state differently clearly states that Christians have no care for those after birth. Below is an excerpt from my testimony given to the House Energy and Power Subcommittee this year.

    Children are a precious gift from God and are among the most vulnerable members of our society. Christian Scripture demands we protect the vulnerable, and yet we gather here today to choose in effect if protecting our unborn children and newborns from mercury pollution from the largest domestic source, coal-burning power plants, is in our national interest and in keeping with our national character. Are we as a nation willing to protect our children or hinder them? Mercury is a neurotoxin whose impacts on unborn and newborn children pose significant costs to them and society. A recent medical paper from the National Institutes of Health states:
    Mercury is a highly toxic element; there is no known safe level of exposure.
    Ideally, neither children nor adults should have any mercury in their bodies
    because it provides no physiological benefit.

    Even slight increases in environmental exposure to mercury may lead to adverse effects on nervous system development. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated:
    We agree with the strong evidence the EPA provides to support their decision that
    the proposed rule is both appropriate and necessary to protect public health …

    According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States are born with threatening levels of mercury. Another medical research study places the number on children affected at roughly fifteen (15) percent. Mercury impairs neurological development, lowers IQ, and is linked to cardiovascular disease and a host of other potential adverse health impacts. Over 1000 published medical journal articles verify mercury’s heath impacts. These adverse conditions result from eating foods containing methylmercury, primarily contaminated fish. Mercury deposition and entrance into the food chain is also well documented, as is the fact that 50% of our domestic mercury sources remain coal-fired utilities.

    The most at risk and vulnerable are unborn children and infants, mainly because the body’s natural defense, the blood brain barrier, is not yet fully developed. Pregnant women who consume fish and shellfish contaminated with mercury transmit such mercury to their developing unborn child, and infants can ingest mercury in breast milk. Unlike adults, unborn children have no way to excrete mercury. The toxin just keeps circulating inside their mother’s womb increasing their exposure. Medical research indicates that mercury cord blood is twice that of their mothers’ blood. Therefore, even if a mother’s blood remains below “risk level” doses, the unborn child’s may not. Mercury poisoning of our children is just not a statistic; it’s our children.

  • David French

    Greg, I did appreciate your reply. It was quite thoughtful and made some good points. I think at the end of the day we’re probably going to focus our disagreement around the relative importance of abortion compared to other issues. That’s what cemented my partisanship, and that’s what will end it if the Republicans wobble.

  • David French

    This is an interesting debate and one worth having. It doesn’t, however, deal with my core point — that abortion is a far more important legal and political issue.

  • http://homeschool-chronicles.com Tara

    This is a great piece, David. Thanks for writing it. You could almost convince an old hippie like me to vote with the Republicans. Not quite – but that would take a longer reply.

    One of the things that struck me most was the comment that on most other matters we are not that far apart. I could not agree more, and I make the same argument to my liberal friends whenever I hear them saying ridiculous things about Republicans not giving a crap about poor people, etc. I hope that this piece will inspire some of those on your side of the aisle to stop saying that the President is a commie who wants to kill religion, etc. That kind of talk and fear-mongering, from both sides, is unproductive and makes me wonder about the intelligence and motives of the speaker.

  • David French

    Thanks Tara. When you really parse many of our vehement political arguments they often end up turning on three to five percentage points of marginal income tax rates or one or two years of retirement age or two or three percentage points of government growth. These things are important, but again matters of degree. As for our President, I have long resisted claims that he’s as radical as many on my side believe he is, but I’ve been very deeply disturbed by his stand on religious liberty, both in the Hosanna-Tabor case and in the HHS contraception guidelines — he’s pushing the church out of its traditional role of ministry to the community unless it abandons key tenets of its faith.

  • http://www.murrayvasser.blogspot.com Murray Vasser

    This is spot-on, David. Thanks for posting.

  • Michael

    David French, Karen is spot on. You are such a Jacobian in your views that you literally are incapable of recognizing any truth but your own. Here is a proposition for you, give women respect and trust their judgement and authority as to their choice to have sex, have children or not, including the choice of using abortion. Understand that between a third and forty percent of women will likely get an abortion at some time. Understand that choice is theirs and that they need to be able to make that decision themselves with the consultation of their partners, families and doctors as they see fit without the government impairing them or providing criminal sanction. And yes, the current Republican Party is destructive to life on this earth.

    in their

  • Ed

    Karen; Capital letters always gives away a person with unsupportable beliefs. What would be the logical (utilitarian) extension of your thinking? Even the Amish plow a field.

  • TronadoBlue

    I’ll admit that I’m not the smartest person, but for the life of me, I can’t imagine being a christian and voting to end the life of the innocent unborn.
    Not trying to be a troll, but hopefully someone will explain it to me.

    Thoughtful post and responses, will check back for more and hopefully I will gain much needed wisdom.

  • idea1013

    This “whole-life” idea is interesting to me, one that I have not come across often. In connection to the issue of abortion, I too tend to look at it from a whole-life perspective- by that I mean the whole life of the unborn and the family into which it may be brought. This is an area that does seem to separate the two parties in distinct and important ways. While the Republican party fights to bring these lives into being by fighting against abortion, it seems that the same party stops caring after birth. I say this because I look at the party’s stance on other social policies, such as food stamps, child care and other like benefits that these lives will likely need once a woman who cannot afford a child is forced to give birth. I see certain Christian groups gather around clinics and try to shame women into changing their minds about having an abortion, but I don’t see these same people offering to adopt and raise the unwanted children they fight so hard to save. These groups want to force their beliefs upon others, but do not appear to want to take on the responsibilities that come with that forced choice, either personally or through public policy.

  • Jay Saldana

    David, I agree with your views on Abortion. I do not agree with your views on the Republicans. The simple truth is that the Republicans have done very little to help the cause. They have failed over and over again. They will continue to fail becasue it is not politically expedient for them to succeed. In fact, I think there is a strong argument that by supporting one party we have made it more likely that abortion will continue. We have failed miserably to make any real progress against this evil. By being in one party we have localized ourselves in one spot and allowed the Republicans to play us. We have allowed the Ryans of the world to get us supporting cutbacks that are morally wrong so that we can claim we are in a party that is against Abortions. The Republicans promise, “oh just send us $100 and we will stop those nasty baby killers”. We send it. We mobilize. We give them the power of the house and senate and they introduce bills that they know are going nowhere becasue it is all show; there is no working to build a real coalition. But it makes us feel like we have done something, when in fact we have done nothing. Abortion goes on. Now if we were in both parties, we could influence planks in the parties. We could like the old blue dogs demos used to do bring the Democratic party closer to what we want and slowly build a coalition to end this thing. We did not learn from the lessons that President Reagan gave us. You win by engagement not disengagement. You don’t demonize, you surround and take them to lunch. Eventually they come around and we get environmental science and taking care of the poor and an end to Abortion and, maybe, saving a few souls in the balance. What we have being doing has not worked. Look around. Time to seek another avenue and new partners.
    As a voting block we are strong. But the way we are now, we are only one block in a pile of dozens. A strong block in a pile of other strong blocks is ignored! You can put it on top of the pile. Tell it how wonderful it is. Paint it bright colors and promise to make it a cornerstone one day. And if they don’t you say, “Hey what happened?” And they say next time. Where are we gonna go David? We have no other allies. So you smile and say lets work harder and next time they will make us the cornerstone. And the next time never comes because they know you have no other choices.
    Just a thought. Have a God filled day,

  • TronadoBlue

    I am pro-life and my wife and I are trying to adopt. The process has already taken over 16 months, and could take another year.

  • http://www.svbchr.org Tommy

    I guess I would have to consider myself a pro/whole-life Christian. I also have many pro-choice friends and relatives and I would never call any of them “baby-killers”. It simply comes down to when they think “potential life” becomes “real life”; and they say, “we just don’t know”. So – though I am pro-life, I do have some nagging questions: If we overturn Roe v Wade, who will we be sending to jail for abortions, the mother or the doctor? How do we stop the women who feel so trapped (whether they really are or not) from doing something drastic to end her pregnancy? I have identical twin sisters – which of those two person was created at conception? And, Why didn’t Moses treat miscarriage as murder or manslaughter (Ex. 21)? Again, I AM pro-life, and these are honest questions.

  • Samuel

    You seem to me to be a deeply dishonest and possibly self-deluded person. You and your wife have jointly blogged about all things gay 6 times in June, and only once on the singularly important issue of abortion. Something on the order of 85,000 Americans babies were killed in June 2012, but “The French Revolution” blogged twice about a single picture posted on Facebook of a rainbow Oreo cookie.

    No, no obsession here. I read your deceptive piece some months back denying that there is a conservative Christian obsession with homosexuality. Your “proof” was to reference a single Christian organization and highlight its budget, omitting that that budget excludes its public policy work and making no effort to analyze the frequency with which gays appear in the group’s media messaging. In sum, you did a con job.

    Your own actions betray you. If you honestly believed that abortion was the taking of human life, it would dominate your writing, both here and elsewhere. It doesn’t. If you honestly thought this issue outweighed the others, you would be questioning why this issue has been downgraded to a secondary or tertiary priority by every major conservative Christian organization. You care little about aborted babies. You care a lot about homosexuals and what needs to be “done” about them. You have a right to be as twisted as you want to be, but don’t imagine that you are fooling anyone.

  • http://www.christianerapublishing.com Marty

    It’s unfortunate that this article doesn’t take into account Greg Boyd’s (heard of him?) argument that when we reduce the number of people in poverty, we simultaneously reduce the number of abortions that are performed. Since the Republican Party only wants the rich to get rich (and the poor poorer), it bears much guilt for having indirectly caused millions of abortions. Besides, when the wealth gap becomes too great (as it is now and as it was before the 1930s Depression), the economy falls apart. None of us wants that, do we?

  • David French

    Do you honestly think Republicans want the poor to get poorer? What’s your evidence for that assertion? I’ve been conservative my whole life, and our core contention is that modern welfare policies create a permanent underclass and actually inhibit upward mobility, while conservative policies will lead to fewer and fewer poor and greater prosperity for all, not merely those at the top. Anyway, regarding poverty and abortion, the greatest enabler of abortion isn’t poverty but law . . . we had far fewer abortions in the past even with much higher poverty rates. All that changed when abortion was legalized. It’s not just the poor that get abortions.

  • David French

    There are far more families willing and wanting to adopt than there are babies available for adoption. As the previous poster notes, adoption has become an incredibly long, difficult, and expensive process — thanks to an incredibly onerous state regulatory scheme, yet many many Christian families fight through the red tape and adopt even at crippling expense.

  • David French

    Speaking of honesty, Samuel, do you think you accurately described my discussion of the budgets of various Christian organizations? Go back and re-read or perhaps paste that portion in a comment so that others can read.

  • http://www.rickmcopy.com Rick

    I’ve seen this trend play out in every church I’ve attended, and I find it pretty sad. The belief that “no other issue compares to abortion” leads the faithful to vote Republican, and to identify as Republican, and thus there is a desire to defend everything else that the Republican Party stands for. My pro-life Senator is pro-war? No problem. Pro-death penalty? Yeppers. Anti-immigrant? Me too. Blind support of Israel? Yep. Doesn’t believe in global warming? Same here. Anti-union? Yes. Anti-food stamps, unemployment extension, WIC? Yes. Indistinguishable from a libertarian? Pretty much.

    Finally, having twisted themselves into a complete pretzel, Christians basically espouse Ayn Randian political philosophy. Even though Randism and Christianity are diametrically opposed, U.S. evangelicals seem unable to understand that. Thankfully, the Catholic Bishops aren’t so dense. They offer a measured criticism both of Democrats’ tendency to be pro-choice and Republicans’ tendency to embrace things like the Ryan budget.

  • http://www.christianerapublishing.com Marty

    I put “and the poor poorer” in parens because that’s what happens when there is an increasing wealth gap. I would agree that no Republican in his or her right mind would say they want that. Most of them are even reluctant to admit that they support the “trickle down” theory of economics since few voters support that, and it’s been widely discredited. Still, that’s what Republicans continue to support with their tax cuts for the rich policies.
    There is indeed a present-day correlation between poverty and abortion rates. Bearing children is no longer a solution to long-term poverty, so let’s not make outdated comparisons.
    In addition, we can’t turn the clock back to the pre-sexual revolution era simply by enacting a law and throwing millions of women into our already overcrowded prisons. People look to Christians for meaningful help, not simply to be enforcers of “justice,” i.e., our self-righteous ideas about what is just.
    In the end, the main thing we disagree on may be economic theory. I was a hard-core political and economic conservative until I saw the hypocrisy of it all, and where all the funding was coming from. I pray that you will reexamine some of the issues, and realize that mercy has to come together with “justice” (see above) at some point.

  • http://www.christianerapublishing.com Marty

    Wow, I couldn’t have said it better myself. You included so many issues in there about which the Bible has so much to say. You and I (and many other Christians) can easily understand what the Bible teaches us about these issues. The problem is that so many “conservative” Christians are pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-Zionist, pro-nationalist, pro-corporations, anti-social safety net, etc. Maybe since they know the Bible may not fully support them in these areas, this is the reason why they focus on abortion and tell the rest of us we’re un-Christian if we don’t vote Republican!

  • http://www.christianerapublishing.com Marty

    By the way, I’m neither Republican nor Democrat. As much as people hate having to think, voting decisions aren’t so easy that we can simply choose a party. I’d like to see all the bums in Congress voted out every election until we get people who represent us. The best political candidate will often be the one with the least amount of campaign financing from corporate America.

  • Andrew

    By the way, I’m neither Republican nor Democrat. As much as people hate having to think, voting decisions aren’t so easy that we can simply choose a party. I’d like to see all the bums in Congress voted out every election until we get people who represent us. The best political candidate will often be the one with the least amount of campaign financing from corporate America.What do you mean? http://top-essays.net

  • JesseC