The Inherent Violence Of “Pro-Life Pacifism”

The Inherent Violence Of “Pro-Life Pacifism” March 24, 2015

[Content Notes: Abortion. Graphic Discussion of Pregnancy/Childbirth Risks. Brief Discussion of Rape] 

Today I want to talk about everyone’s favorite topic: ABORTION! YAY!

Actually, I want want to talk about a very specific subgroup of pro-lifers: Pro-Life Pacifists. 

I should start by explaining who these Pro-Life Pacifists are. Pro-life pacifists are usually liberal/left-leaning Christians who claim to be pro-life “across the board.” They not only oppose abortion, but also war, the death-penalty, poverty, etc.

Pro-Life pacifists often speak from a privileged position: they may be cisgender men who will never have to worry about getting pregnant themselves. They may also be more well-off cisgender women, who can afford to have children, take effective birth-control, or take a trip out of state to have an abortion themselves if they really need it.

This isn’t always the case, of course, but often it is.

In this way, Pro-Life Pacifists often fall into the category of Privileged Pacifists, who I have critiqued many times before.

One example of this kind of pacifist would include Christian author Preston Yancey, who writes,

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Yancey (who does not have the ability to become pregnancy himself as far as I know), and other Pro-Life Pacifists usually spend most of their time arguing against other pro-lifers, urging them to take on a more holistic approach to “life.”

Yet, as the above tweets confirm, the Pro-Life Pacifist position is still, at it’s core, anti-choice. Pro-Life Pacifists may be out doing something more productive than picketing Planned Parenthoods (or they may not…), but their position still equates certain reproductive choices (abortion, certain forms of birth control, IVF, etc) with war, the death penalty, police brutality, and other atrocities. 

Obviously, I resent the idea of people with uteruses being compared to murderous police officers and warmongering law-makers when they make choices based on their bodily autonomy.

Beyond that, though, the Pro-Life Pacifist’s position is pretty ironic, considering the fact that it is neither pro-life, nor is it non-violent. 

Let’s start by looking at what pregnancy is.

Image by Roberta Lott, via
Image by Roberta Lott, via

I don’t want to knock pregnancy, as I believe it can be something liberating and beautiful in the right context.

However, let’s be real here: it’s not painless. It’s not the safest thing in the world.

There’s pain so excruciating that it has become a standard by which we judge all other pain (for example, “I hear passing a kidney stone is more painful than childbirth,” or “When I broke by leg, it was more painful than the birth of my child!”)

There’s blood and bodily damage involved. Most people have to get stitches on their vulva after giving vaginal birth. Take a minute to let that sink in: STITCHES in your VULVA.

In fact, sometimes vaginal tearing is so severe during childbirth that it extends from the vulva to the anus. Many others have to have their bodies cut open and permanently scarred for C-sections.

Pregnancy can literally rip you apart.

Even with the advances of modern medicine, childbirth can be a life-threatening and dangerous ordeal. It’s still not exactly rare people to die giving birth, even in the United States (which, by the way, has a relatively high childbirth mortality rate compared to other “developed” countries).

People who choose to give birth do so at great personal risk. They face discomfort, severe pain, permanent changes to their bodies, and even death.

I greatly admire anyone that makes that choice.

But for those who would force people (either legally, or just through religious or interpersonal coercion), think about what you are doing.

Though Pro-Life Pacifists such as Yancey might argue that opposing abortion is not “forcing,” since they are not holding a gun up to anyone’s head (see this article for one example of this argument), that’s really splitting hairs over semantics. If you hinder someone’s choice to have an abortion–either by denying access, threatening legal action, or shaming them by comparing abortion to police brutality, as Yancey does–you are in a way trying to force them to keep a pregnancy.

By doing this, you make pregnancy not a beautiful yet difficult journey that brave souls choose to embark on.

You make pregnancy a form of violence. 

Why are some potentially dangerous/painful things beautiful and liberating, and others violent? The difference lies in the autonomy of the person carrying out those dangerous things.

Sex can be risky, but when one chooses to have sex, it can also be wonderful.

Rape, on the other hand, is not wonderful. It is horrifically violent.

Though these acts may look similar on the surface one is inherently violent.

The difference is the choice and autonomy of the people involved.

And with rape, you don’t have to hold a gun to someone’s head to force them. You can threaten them with Bible verses about “spousal duty” or coerce them by denying them money or other necessities if they refuse. You can scare them with lies or even legal action if you have enough power.

This is also true when it comes to pregnancy.

No matter what, pregnancy is a risky process.

Yet, if a person chooses to give birth, it can be wonderful. 

If they do not choose, whether you forced them with guns or with God, it can be a form of violence.

Pro-Life Pacifists like Yancey need to consider this before they self-righteously decide who can and cannot claim to be non-violent.

If you think you can make the argument that Christians can’t be pro-abortion and anti-death penalty or anti-war, I wonder how you think you can be anti-violent while you sit there and try to require people to have their bodies literally torn open for your pro-life ideology. 

The form of Pro-Life Pacifism that Yancey claims is not a non-violent position. Far from it.


I think it is possible to have personal ethics that would lead you to choose against having an abortion yourself. I believe it is even possible to have pro-life leanings when it comes to abortion, and use those leanings to work toward holistic reproductive justice. However, when Yancey and others flippantly put abortion in the same category of police brutality, they are not doing this. In the next few weeks, I plan on writing about how people with pro-life leanings can promote “life” without also promoting violence.

Stay tuned…

Until then, please behave in the comments. 

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