Let’s start the conversation here. Everybody is pro-life. OK, everybody who is not Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Honestly, do you know a single person who would describe themselves as pro-death? All of us are pro-life, and none of us is infinitely pro-life. All of us value some lives more than others. Is there a person living who feels the same way about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. as they do about the assassination of Osama bin Laden? Have we had the kind of public mourning for children killed in drone strikes in Afghanistan as for the children gunned down in Newtown? If you had to make a choice (and you do) between feeding your own kids and feeding kids in Libya, is there any question who gets fed? We all are pro-life, and we all put more weight on some lives than on others.
Yes, a fetus is a human life, and if you have been trying for that pregnancy, then nothing could be more precious. And yes, the human body routinely self-aborts fertilized eggs, and unless we are trying to get pregnant no one really thinks of that as even sad, let alone tragic. When we say we treasure life, we mean that we treasure the lives that we choose to cherish.
We make religious assertions: “Life is sacred.” “We affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” And those assertions matter. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that those affirmations have easy and obvious applications in the real world. Some people are pro-life, but in favor of the death penalty. Some people are pro-life, but support sending troops into combat. Some people are pro-life, but believe that people need access to guns so that they can defend themselves with lethal force. Some people are pro-life, but favor the right of terminally ill people to choose the means and timing of their death. Some people are pro-life, but favor access to safe and legal abortions. In the real world absolutes fall apart pretty quickly.
For one woman choosing life might mean choosing to carry a pregnancy to term even though she knows that she can’t raise that child, choosing instead to place the baby for adoption. For another woman choosing life might mean having an abortion so that she can finish her education and build a decent life for herself—and potentially for children she might choose to have in the future. Both are choices. Both are life-affirming.
The job of religion is not to set out false absolutes, declaring that the church has the capacity to decide which lives matter the most. The job of religion is to call us to continually examine what it means to choose abundant life, and to make life-affirming choices. And then the job of religion is to remind us that we must continually expand our vision of which lives matter, of who deserves to have life abundant.