Pro-life friends, I need some help. The “you’re not really pro-life unless _____” (pick any social issue to fill in the blank) is a very popular position currently amongst pro-lifers. I’m having a hard time getting my head around this stance. What is driving it? What is its aim? What is the end goal?
Historically, the pro-life movement has been understood to refer to those working to end abortion. Great strides have been made through this movement even though abortion is still, obviously, legal. For years our critics have accused us of being hypocritical, saying things like, “You’re not pro-life; you’re just pro-birth. You don’t care about women or the babies once they are born.” This charge is of course absurdly wrong, but I can understand a critic using this ad-hominem attack as a tactic to change the subject when they can’t refute pro-life arguments. But why is this attack coming from those sympathetic to our goal of ending abortion? Why the friendly fire?
Recently, my friend Scott Klusendorf wrote an article for the The Gospel Coalition that stressed the importance of keeping a laser-like operational focus in the pro-life movement. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me. My own experience and that of other pro-life apologists proves that when you deliver a persuasive case for the lives of the unborn, people respond, especially students. There is no need to buy the premises of our leftist critics. Indeed, now, more than ever, we need to focus our resources and press in, not spread ourselves thin and bicker. We need to be united. For this sound advice, Scott was aggressively attacked by some pro-lifers. I can’t figure this out.
Why does anyone sympathetic to the pro-life position feel the need to say you’re not really pro-life unless you oppose human trafficking, poverty, racism, income in-equality, spousal abuse, etc., and so on? Why change the subject and divert resources and attention away from the movement to end abortion? Does anyone really think that we approve of or are indifferent to these evils? Have they so bought the slander of our critics that they truly think we are the cold, heartless elite. What but compassion drives us, and what but sympathy and support do we have for the movements to end other great social evils?
Are they compelled to say it because they think that working to end abortion isn’t enough? I could understand this if they didn’t really think abortion was that bad, but they're pro-life. They do think that abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being don’t they? They have seen the images of the dismembered unborn, right? So why even make the point that there are other important issues to work on? Would they have reminded Bonhoeffer that there are other social issues other than just the extermination of Jews? Do they presently tell researchers seeking to cure cancer that there are other diseases that need attention? We all know the world is full of pain. I don’t understand their agenda here.
Maybe their rationale is purely definitional. And in that regard, they are right. There are clearly other issues that pertain to life other than abortion. But most issues pertain to life and human flourishing. Speed limits, seat belt laws, flossing, screen time, gym memberships, global warming, environmental regulations, recreation, food packaging labeling– what subject isn’t about life? So, I suppose I can understand one saying, “Technically, the term pro-life should be about more than just abortion because there are other issues that pertain to life, you know.” Of course there are, but how many things are we now going to include in the definition? The more issues that are added to “pro-life” the less helpful the term becomes. Soon it will describe so many things that it ends up describing nothing at all. It will become a term that simply means “for good things and against bad things.” And this is one of the great problems with the “you’re not pro-life unless” movement.
You see, calling the movement to end abortion “pro-life” doesn’t undermine the importance of any other important movement. It takes nothing away from them. However, the “you’re not pro-life unless” movement diverts attention and resources away from the work of ending abortion. Namely, it becomes a salve for the conscience of those that would rather not speak against abortion while it shames those currently working to end it. It unfairly reinforces and spreads the oppressive, unloving stereotype that our critics love to place on us. This misguided moral pressure will silence many and keep others from engaging the issue. It will allow fearful pastors to remain silent on abortion because, hey, they’re still pro-life; they mentioned the wage gap. This comes at no small cost to the movement to end abortion.
We need more people engaging the issue of abortion, not less. As we draw nearer and nearer to ending abortion we need to be unified, moving forward with strategy and grace. There are far more people working to kill the unborn than there are to save them. So do not disparage the good work pro-lifers are doing because there is other good work that needs to be done. Indeed, encourage them, support them, and help them to keep fighting the good fight. Those with a clear mind understand that all people should be committed to loving their neighbor and ending oppression, injustice, and inequity wherever it exists. Abortion isn’t the only atrocity in society to be sure. But what a healthier society it will be when we cease to slaughter 1,000,000 unborn children every year.
Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, a writer, and a speaker. Booking info and such can be found at michaelcsherrard.com.