A common objection that is heard both among street-level pro-choice advocates, and even among the intellectual elites within academia is that the average pro-life advocate isn’t really “pro-life” in their defense of human life, from conception until natural death. The accusation has become incredibly popular in recent years, taking on new life in the realm of political discourse. In criticisms of President of the United States, Donald Trump, many left of center commentators are quick to point out what they see as flaws in the modern pro-life conservative. They will say, “If you were really pro-life, you would work to end poverty, end police brutality, stop pollution, help refugees of foreign wars, and work to end military involvement in foreign countries…etc.”
While this may make for a snarky meme or Tweet or post on Facebook, it is a statement with little substance, or intellectual support.
In a recent column at TownHall, LTI President Scott Klusendorf responds to an article written during the presidential election by an American Pastor who leveled these accusations at pro-life Christians who were voting for Donald Trump.
Political issues aside, as Scott points out, many of these criticisms miss the main point that pro-lifers are making in regards to abortion. We aren’t arguing that society should be radically reworked to alleviate every social ill imaginable. Such a goal, while worthy, is impractical and impossible to achieve. To show this, let’s review the pro-life argument:
Premise 1: It is a moral wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
Premise 2: Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Therefore, elective abortion is a moral wrong.
If both premises are true, then the conclusion necessarily follows from the two premises(For a more academic articulation of this argument, see Francis Beckwith’s Defending Life, 2007). Any rebuttal of the argument that pro-life advocates are making needs to address one or both of these premises. If it doesn’t, then the objection has failed, and the pro-life position still stands.
Aside from this, the objection that in order to be “consistently pro-life”, one has to embrace other forms of social justice has a deep flaw in another way: It assumes the validity of it’s own position, without actually making the case that these positions are true to begin with.
Take the objection, “If you were really pro-life, you wouldn’t want any child to be born into poverty.” While no one, whether politically conservative or liberal, should be accepting of poverty, these objections tend to ignore the different ways in which conservatives or liberals approach poverty to begin with. Most conservatives do, in fact, care about poverty, but fail to support government action to alleviate the problem. As economist Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute points out in a video for the think tank Prager University, poverty has been on the decline, primarily because capitalism is increasing. Simply asserting that pro-life conservatives are inconsistent in their stance on poverty because they support free-enterprise capitalism is lazy thinking.
Or consider the issue of police use of force. Many pro-life conservatives aren’t skeptical of the Black Lives Matter movement because they value the lives of racial minorities less(That needs to be established as being the case, and not merely asserted). Rather, many are skeptical of the claims that police racism is a significant problem today. As thinkers like Heather MacDonald and columnist Larry Elder(Among many others) have highlighted, this argument fails to take certain data on violent crime within society into account, let alone the notion of policing and enforcement of law. Again, this is to simply assume one’s case to be true, without even bothering to argue it in the first place.
Even so, assuming that pro-life advocates are in fact, inconsistent, what does this prove? Not much, actually. The argument that is being made is that abortion is a moral wrong, because it intentionally ends the life of an innocent human being. Pro-lifers appeal to science and philosophy to establish this, not appeals to one’s character or behavior. The argument being made does not, in any way, rest on the moral character of the people making it. If pro-lifers were truly inconsistent in how they lived their ethic, that is a character flaw, not a flaw in reasoning.
One other point on this, the assertion makes one more major mistake: It assumes the unborn are not human. Let me explain:
Imagine someone said that unless you cared for the homeless, the impoverished, and others who are suffering, you could not oppose the killing of infants up to two years of age. Is that an outrageous standard? Of course it is. Would we say that this is not even remotely relevant as to whether we should be working to end this form of killing? Of course we would. So, if the unborn are human, just like those infants, why do we say this about them? Isn’t it because we are simply assuming that they aren’t fully human, like the rest of us? That is the question that must first be resolved: What are the unborn? We only apply this double standard to the unborn, because it is merely assumed that the unborn are not human.
In conclusion, the idea that pro-lifers must be politically and socially left of center in order to be consistent with their opposition to abortion in order to claim the title “pro-life” is just laziness; it isn’t based on the sort of rigorous argumentation that is needed to establish that viewpoint in the first place.
Until this is realized, the statement will continue to rear it’s ugly head, and will continue to be answered, honestly and truthfully.