The discussions surrounding what the term “pro-life” means seem to have ramped up as of late. Is it merely opposition to abortion? Is it opposition to abortion and a host of other violations of human life and dignity? Is it a fundamentally negative or positive definition?
Positive or Negative
That is, does it posit only those things to which people ought to be opposed as a matter of justice in the sense of “giving on his due” (Aquinas)? Or should the meaning of pro-life encompass a more positive definition, stating the things which people ought to be for – as a matter of justice which is “being in right relationship”? Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive, yet so many act as though they are. How can anyone give someone what they are due without being in right relationship with them? How can society be in right relationship with all people without giving them their due? These definitions of justice are two sides of the same coin.
Organizations and collectives like the New Pro-Life Movement seek to expand the definition beyond merely opposing abortion to incorporate other actions, policies and structures which obstruct human life and its flourishing. I like to think of this broader understanding of what it means to be “pro-life” to be a whole life, human flourishing ethic.
A source of tension between the old guard pro-life movement, which does NOT subscribe to this more holistic view, and the New Pro-life Movement is that old-guard pro-lifers tend to believe that abortion is an isolated social issue that is not impacted by other factors worthy of action (such as racism, poverty, etc.) and that one need not support social programs or other programs of social uplift to be pro-life. This view has been articulated multiple times in various mediums (including social media, blogs, and face to face).
Yet, this view is, to be frank, absolute nonsense that denies the reality of incarnational being. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Take your Plato hat off for a moment and stop thinking about everything in terms of duality. There are zero choices that human beings make that aren’t directly impacted by multiple aspects of their embodied human experience.
This is precisely why things like racism and poverty are evil. They are evil because they disrespect and degrade the embodied human experience of someone wearing God’s face. To act as though choices made by those impacted by these things can never be evaluated through the lenses of race, class, and socioeconomic status is to deliberately put ones (privileged) head in the sand.
Earned or Taken
Something else that is troubling is the tension over who gets to call themselves “pro-life”. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of titles here, in my mind. Also, a clear distinction that must be made:
Pro-life and anti-abortion are not the same thing.
If someone is opposed to abortion, they are anti-abortion. They can freely take that descriptor on to themselves and proclaim it all day long. However, the title “pro-life” is not a descriptor we give ourselves. It is not taken – it is earned. We earn the label of pro-life through our action on behalf of life and the dignity of all humanity. Simply being anti-abortion does not make someone pro-life. That must be earned.
This is analogous to the title of “ally” in anti-racism work. White people do not get to call themselves allies. The term ally is earned by white people through consistent action on behalf of people of color. Being an “ally” is a sign of working in solidarity with people of color and leveraging one’s own privilege as a white person to amplify and uplift the voices of people of color.
Similarly, being “pro-life” is to act on behalf of all human beings to amplify and uplift the voices of those who are invisible and marginalized. Certainly, being anti-abortion can be part of this, but it is not the alpha and omega of a pro-life ethos.
You are only as “pro-life” as the last thing you have done to uphold and promote human life and flourishing.
Your “precious feet” pin is only as relevant as your work to make this planet a safe place for those precious feet to land.
No more “What about them!”
Talking about how terrible, misguided and evil pro-choice folks and Planned Parenthood are without turning a critical eye to the terrible influences alive and well in the pro-life movement is no longer an acceptable strategy or argument for anything.
Don’t talk to me about Margaret Sanger’s eugenics. You think people in the pro-life movement today who see no need to call out or work against systemic racism or protest the injustice of police brutality against people of color aren’t eugenicists too?
Don’t tell me how bad “the other side” is, tell me what you are doing to be less terrible? What seeds of racism, sexism, and violence are you willing to do the brutal work of rooting from your soul.
Call that pro-life work and dedicate your own precious life to doing it.