That didn’t take long.
As soon as the tragic events in Nashville week made headlines last week, abortion activists took to social media to protest the alleged inconsistency of pro-life advocates in opposing abortion yet allegedly failing to be concerned with opposing acts of violence taking place in schools. Taking to Twitter, horror genre author Stephen King had this barb to throw at Pro-life conservatives:
“Republicans want to tell women what they can do with their bodies but don’t want to enact laws that would keep crazy people from killing children.”
Even on other issues, abortion advocates regularly attack pro-lifers for our alleged inconsistency. California Governor Gavin Newsom, who may well be the most fanatically pro-abortion politician in America today, routinely pounds the supposed hypocrisy of pro-life politicians on social media. Just a few weeks ago, commenting on a new Idaho law that allows for capital punishment via firing squad, Newsom responded on Twitter with “The GOP is so ‘Pro-life’ they believe death by firing squad is humane’.”
Attacks on the supposed inconsistency of pro-life advocates have, without a doubt, become the most common objection pro-lifers hear. Unfortunately, some pro-lifers have been confused by the trend, with authors such as Herbie Newell, Russell Moore, and others accusing pro-lifers of not promoting a consistent pro-life ethic due to their support for conservative policies. It’s vital that pro-life advocates set the record straight.
First, let’s suppose it’s true, pro-life advocates as a whole are inconsistent in applying their ethical views at best, and downright hypocritical at worst.
What logically follows from an acknowledgment that pro-life advocates might be inconsistent in how they approach cultural hot button issues?
Nothing that refutes the pro-life position. Let’s review the essential pro-life argument:
It’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being
Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being
Therefore, elective abortion is wrong
Defenders of abortion can defeat the pro-life position by showing that our basic argument rests either on faulty premises, or that our conclusion doesn’t logically follow from both premises. However, even if pro-life advocates are inconsistent in how we approach other issues(racial justice, gun violence, etc) would this in any way show the pro-life argument fails? No. A logical argument isn’t invalidated by character flaws(such as inconsistent application) in the person making it. If the pro-life position rests on a sound and valid argument, any inconsistency objection is simply irrelevant.
Pro-lifers should become well versed in asking a direct question here: How does our alleged inconsistency mean the unborn are not human, or that we may intentionally kill them? Critics bear the burden of proof to establish why pro-life arguments fail, instead of resorting to rhetorical cheap shots.
Second, objections about inconsistency typically aren’t honest to begin with. This is easy to see.
Suppose pro-life advocates agreed with our critics: We spoke out against gun violence. We marched in racial justice rallies, for climate change, and adopted every other issue our critics demand consistency on.
Would they then join us in opposing abortion? Never in a million years. They’ll just come up with another list of excuses for why pro-lifers should be dismissed. I’ve seen this happen firsthand. While speaking with a pro-choice student at a local university, she demanded to know what I was doing about gun violence, LGBT rights, war, poverty, and a whole host of other hot-button issues of the day.
I responded with a question: “Suppose I said I agreed with you on all those other issues. Would you agree to join me in opposing abortion?”
Her response was immediate: “No! Abortion is a fundamental women’s right!”
I replied: “So why even bring it up? If your position is that abortion is a fundamental right that cannot be restricted, why don’t you explain to me why, instead of attacking me personally?”
Some of our more intelligent critics may bite the bullet. During one conversation, a young woman responded “Well I might respect you more if you supported these other things.”
I responded “Maybe you would, but you shouldn’t listen to my position just because you happen to think I’m a nice guy. If there’s no good reason to be pro-life, then you should reject my entire argument, regardless of whether or not I agree with you on other matters. However, if there are good reasons to believe abortion is wrong, then you should be willing to accept my position, regardless of how nice you think I am. So why don’t we talk about the reasons abortion is wrong?”
There is a temptation for pro-life advocates to explain how we also focus on other issues. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with doing so, it tends to be a waste of time when it comes to critics who are simply looking for excuses to dismiss pro-life advocates as horrible people. During an outreach opportunity I was participating in, a woman challenged a pro-life advocate I was working alongside with the following question: “Well if you’re so ‘pro-life’, what are you doing for children who have been born?”
The pro-life advocate responded, “Well we connect people to resources like housing, financial support, and parenting support.”
The woman interjected at this point, smugly responding “Ah, but what about for all 18 years until they are an adult? What are you doing in that case? Nothing? Just as I thought.”
It should be pretty obvious that she wasn’t looking for an honest answer, she was looking for an excuse to dismiss whatever the pro-life advocate had to say.
Suppose we responded this way: “Hold on a moment. Are you saying it’s perfectly fine to kill innocent human beings, in this case, children before birth, unless we are willing to provide for their every need until they become adults?”
The answer is of course, no, they do not believe this. Not if they have a functioning moral compass. Instead, they are just assuming, without argument, that abortion is not the intentional killing of an innocent human being, which brings us to our next point.
Inconsistency objections beg the question in at least two ways. First, they assume that the unborn are not human, and that abortion does not kill a member of the human family. Second, they assume that the proposed stance on the given topic(racism, gun violence, climate change, poverty, etc.) is the real “pro-life” stance to take.
Let’s look at the first way the objection begs the question. Think of it this way: Would anyone make the same criticism of people engaged in protecting born human beings?
Suppose you’re running a ministry dedicated to saving women from sex trafficking. Would anyone find fault with your apparent lack of engagement on separate issues like poverty or gun violence? Never in a million years.
Or consider this: If a person says that killing toddlers is wrong, do we immediately demand to know what they are doing about poverty, bigotry, or gun violence? Would anyone seriously call into question the morality of toddler killing because the people who oppose it may not be entirely consistent? The answer is clearly no.
So why do so with the unborn? The only reason pro-lifers are subjected to this sort of scrutiny is because defenders of abortion are ignoring the question of whether abortion kills a member of the human family. No one says “Sure, you think it’s wrong to kill people, but you don’t do anything about other issues, so your entire case falls apart.”
We only raise this sort of objection when we want to justify doing whatever we want without criticism. It’s lazy and a dishonest way of approaching important moral issues.
On the flip side, it could be argued that a “Consistent Pro-life Position” is overrated and often mistaken, because many “Consistent Pro-Life” appeals often commit the fallacy of equivocation; they treat two very different issues as essentially the same while ignoring critical differences.
Take poverty for instance. It is often asserted that to be “Consistently Pro-life” one must support big government anti-poverty initiatives.
But why believe that? Suppose we have two political candidates, Joe and Bob. Joe is the author of the anti-poverty bill, and has been pushing for it’s passage ever since bringing it forward.
Bob, on the other hand, opposes the bill, on grounds that it makes little economic sense, requires an unnecessary increase in taxes, and could end up hurting the poor rather than helping them in the long run. However, while Joe repeatedly castigates Bob for allegedly not caring for people in poverty, Bob actually spends his weekends volunteering for the community outreach ministry at his church, where the needs of local homeless people are met.
Does this mean Bob is somehow hypocritical?
No. As Arthur Brooks points out in his book Who Really Cares, simply supporting a bill aimed at reducing poverty doesn’t establish how much someone actually cares for the poor. In fact, as Brooks points out, it can lead to a bizarre scenario in which while Bob actually spends his free time and resources caring for the poor, Joe gets credit for merely supporting the idea of helping others. Perhaps Joe’s bill is one that will help people. Fair enough, but he needs to argue for it, and be willing to answer concerns regarding it. On the other hand, maybe Bob is right, and the bill will actually make matters worse for the poor in particular and society as a whole. If so, the good intentions behind Joe’s bill might be important, but they do not alone justify supporting such a bill. Good intentions don’t always guarantee good laws. Even then, as Brooks points out, merely supporting political initiatives aimed at reducing a social ill can also end up just being an excuse for one’s own inaction on the issue.
Take another issue such as gun violence. Nearly every time a horrific act of violence takes place, some defenders of abortion decide to smugly castigate their conservative opponents for being “pro-life” on abortion but not on school shootings. A trope commonly heard says that maybe if schools were renamed “wombs”, Conservatives would do something about protecting children from violence.
It should be mentioned up front that this sort of behavior in the face of a horrendous tragedy such as mass murder is pretty out of line for members decent society, and may suggest a flawed moral compass, as a person sees fit to use another person’s suffering so they can beat their political opponents into silence.
Even if pro-life advocates were inconsistent on this issue, the hypocrisy allegation cuts both ways. Why believe pro-life advocates are the only hypocrites on the matter? If the pro-life position is true, and abortion is the direct, unjust killing of an innocent human being, then abortion advocates who throw issues like gun violence in the faces of pro-life advocates are in the awkward position of engaging in moral hand-wringing over the deaths of children while simultaneously demanding that legalized child killing be recognized as a sacred moral right. And we’re supposed to believe pro-life advocates are the moral monsters here? Really?
One last thought on the matter, it’s worth noting how Pro-life conservatives who do show concerns with gun violence and offer their own suggested solutions are often treated by critics who demand they “do something”. In a recent interview, Republican Congressman and former Navy Seal Dan Crenshaw suggested hiring armed security to be posted at schools to help protect children from violence, to which the interviewer became angry and responded “So your solution is more guns?”
It’s worth noting what’s occurring here. Conservatives routinely offer suggestions for how to solve ongoing problems like gun violence, suggestions that are angrily rejected by critics in the most caustic of terms, who then turn around and accuse conservatives of “not caring” about the issue. This is old-fashioned closed-minded behavior and small-minded thinking. Maybe conservatives don’t have good ideas to offer. Fair enough. However, to smugly suggest they simply don’t care because they don’t endorse your ideas(which might not be good either) is blatantly dishonest and suggests one is less interested in solving problems than beating up their political opponents.
Objections about the supposed inconsistency of pro-life advocates don’t kill the pro-life position. If anything, it shows critics of the pro-life position aren’t thinking very deeply about the issue they are defending. Pro-life advocates do well to respectfully but firmly call out the bad thinking of our critics, in order to help replace it with good thinking.