What the Pro-Life Position Ignores

What the Pro-Life Position Ignores September 27, 2013

Who’s not pro-life? In the abortion debate, one side focuses on the life of the fetus, while the other focuses on the life of the woman and the quality of the life of her potential child.

One Christian view of life on earth portrays it as “the cramped and narrow foyer opening up into 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 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, then 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.

Long-time commenter Y. A. Warren speaks from personal experience:

We are arguing for the wrong rights. Every child has the right to be wanted and loved. As one of nine children of neglect and abuse, I stand for the right of a child to be given back to the energy of universal life rather than suffer the abuse and neglect that leads to fear and anger, which in turn lead to violence against oneself and others.

A similar view:

I love my mother, and having an abortion would have given her a better life.


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 and 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.

A request for plain talk

Imagine hearing this from a pro-lifer to a pregnant 15-year-old girl: “Okay, an abortion would be a smart thing from the standpoint of your education, career, life, family, finances, happiness, and so on. I’ll grant you that. But it’s still morally wrong.” Oddly, they never do.

I don’t know if they don’t understand it or if they don’t want to admit it.

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.

Read more:The Spectrum Argument

Only in American can you be pro-death penalty, pro-war,
pro-unmanned drone bombs, pro-nuclear weapons,
pro-guns, pro-torture, pro-land mines,
and still call yourself “pro-life.”
— John Fugelsang

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 1/11/12.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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