Labels matter: why we’re pro-life, not just anti-abortion

File photo: March for Life 2013 in Washington D.C.

Did you ever have that frustrating experience in school where a teacher never called you by your preferred name? Maybe she called you “Robert” instead of “Bobby,” or “Jonathan” instead of “John.” No matter what you did, your teacher never seemed to get the message.

That’s exactly how I feel in response to the mainstream media, which consistently fails to label our movement correctly. However, in this case, there’s more at stake than simply a clever nickname. Our movement is in danger of being seriously misunderstood.

Below, I have sampled some headlines from leading news sources related to pro-life issues:

It seems that, time and time again, the media refers to our movement as “anti-abortion” rather than “pro-life.”

The examples above are only a handful of the multiple instances that could be cited. That’s not to say that the media never uses the term “pro-life.” But there does seem to be a strong preference for citing pro-life protests and activism as “anti-abortion.”

I hasten to say that, in one sense, we are most certainly “anti-abortion.” We believe that abortion involves the deliberate killing of innocent human beings. It’s not as if there’s any shame in being against abortion.

However, a media portrayal that consistently depicts what we’re against rather than what we’re for is incredibly misleading. Are Protestants “anti-Catholics”? Are Democrats “anti-Republicans”? Are conservatives “anti-liberals”?

Just as a Protestant’s theology consists of more than his disagreements with Catholic theology and just as a Democrat’s ideology consists of more than his disagreements with Republican ideology, so a pro-lifer’s position consists of more than his disagreements with NARAL Pro-Choice America or Planned Parenthood.

Therefore, I would like to provide some observations as to why we are pro-life, not just anti-abortion:

1. We promote a positive agenda, not just a negative agenda.

It is certainly true that, in order to be for something, you have to be against something else. Even if you’re for love and happiness, you have to be against hate and bitterness.

Naturally, if we’re pro-life, we are against that which causes the destruction of innocent life.

However, it’s a serious misnomer to assume that all we’re looking for is more red tape. We’re not just looking to make abortion illegal (as great as that would be); we’re looking to promote a culture of life and peace.

The pro-abortion crowd will respond, “You just want to ruin women’s lives by making them give birth to children when they’re not ready yet.”

In actuality, we’re not out to ruin anyone’s life. We’re out to save the lives of those who are too weak and vulnerable to save themselves. We’re out to protect women from the shame and guilt of terminating a child’s life.

A police officer doesn’t just arrest criminals; he makes our streets safer. A firefighter doesn’t just eliminate fires; he rescues people from the flames. There’s a negative aspect to any noble line of work, but there’s also a positive reason why those negative actions must be taken.

And though we have much to oppose as pro-life people, we also have many things to support. We support helping women through crisis pregnancies, not hastily rushing them into abortions. We support loving and caring for children, not brutally murdering them because they cause an inconvenience to one’s lifestyle. We support adoption, education, and counseling as healthy alternatives to abortion and deceit.

2. Our message involves more than abortion.

Abortion is not the only means of terminating life. There are other ways that human life is devalued, under-emphasized, and even extinguished in our world.

To say that we’re anti-abortion is to focus on only one part of our message. The truth is that we’re against murder in any form. We’re against the selfish actions of Christopher Dorner, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and other cold-blooded killers who shamelessly terminate innocent human life. We’re also against euthanasia, suicide (assisted or otherwise), terrorism, cloning, extreme poverty, unjust war, human trafficking, and anything else that threatens the sanctity of human life.

3. We use positive means to advance our message, not negative ones.

As I have previously pointed out, there are so-called “pro-life” individuals who advance their message through bombs and guns. These individuals are not really for life at all, but against it.

Contrary to what pro-abortion forces would like you to believe, these folks are in the extreme minority. The average pro-life citizen is a decent, peace-loving American who would never resort to violent tactics to advance his message.

What are the weapons of the pro-lifer’s warfare? They include prayer, candlelight vigils, crisis counseling, ultrasounds, peaceful protest, and adoption. None of these weapons hurt anyone; the only harm they cause is angst and frustration on the part of the pro-abortion crowd.

Conclusion: Turning the Tables

The media refers to us as “anti-abortion.” But you’ve never seen the media refer to NARAL Pro-Choice America or Planned Parenthood as “anti-life.”

These organizations have attempted to gain widespread appeal by describing themselves as “pro-choice.” After all, everyone likes being able to choose.

What we don’t like is death. And, unfortunately, the agenda of so-called “pro-choice” organizations promotes just that.

Whatever else we have the right to choose, the termination of an innocent human life doesn’t fall into that category. As pro-lifers, we’re for healthy, life-giving choices, but we are against unhealthy, life-destroying choices.

I challenge the media to look at what we’re for, not just what we’re against. But I also challenge them to look at what the pro-choice crowd is against, not just what they’re for. They might be for choice, but they’re against life.

And if you insist on calling us “anti-abortion,” at least be consistent and call your pro-choice friends “anti-life.”

  • Rebecca Downs

    I am so glad I am not the only one who feels this way! Even other pro-lifers who completely substitute pro-life for anti-abortion put me at slight unease. I want us to own the title of pro-life because it’s what we give ourselves. The media already calls us anti-abortion or even anti-life, which thus has a negative connotation to it. And this article doesn’t just address this statement, it puts into words why exactly.

    • Timmehh

      As a pro lifer, I confess that as someone who is also adamantly against the death penalty I sometimes have a hard time calling people who are okay with it pro life. Same with people who are against abortion but okay with things like companies dumping their toxic waste in third world countries (which has devastated entire communities and slowly killed them).

      • Rebecca

        Hm, that is an interesting point. I am a luke warm supporter of the death penalty, I’ll admit, and I can of course see why those who oppose the death penalty do so. My answer, and feel free to call it a bad one, is that when I say pro-life, I am referring particularly to the issue of abortion. There are some great and committed people who are against abortion and in favor of the death penalty. I’m not saying you’re saying that, but it’s just how I see it and answer people who say you can’t be pro-life and pro-death penalty.

        • Timmehh

          I definitely see where you’re coming from, but I guess from my perspective being pro life envelopes so much more to me than just being against abortion. It certainly did not always have that meaning for me, but I’ve been through some life experiences that have caused it to expand to include so much more. And as far as the death penalty goes, I just cannot support a system where innocent people have been put to death in the place of another; especially when we live in a place and time that doesn’t really need it. Being wrongly imprisoned is one thing, but I can’t even imagine being condemned and legally killed by a society that believes you committed some horrible atrocity. That’s not the only reason I’m against the death penalty, but as it’s more than a bit off topic I won’t keep rambling on ha ha.

          • Rebecca Downs

            Lol, it’s okay! I totally understand where you’re coming from as well. Though we disagree on some of the issues, I’m glad we do so respectfully and agree where it matters.

          • Basset_Hound

            Everybody here can dive for the “thumbs down” button, but here’s my two cents worth.

            I believe there are some crimes so heinous that death is the only punishment that fits. For example, loading a Ryder truck up with ammonium nitrate fertilizer and racing car fuel, parking it in front of a crowded building at 9 AM on a workday, igniting a fuse, sticking in a pair of earplugs and nonchalantly walking away while 168 people die would fall into that category. Concocting and successfully carrying out a plot where the intended goal is the death of one or more other persons requires far more reasoning capability than an unborn child is capable of. Granted, it’s not a perfect system. That’s why there is usually a long waiting period and numerous appeals. I feel deeply conflicted about the death penalty, but I feel there are a narrow range of cases where it is justified. I can very respectfully appreciate the reasoning of “Timmehh” and others who feel the way he does.

  • What’s worse is getting referred to as “the anti-choice movement.” Interestingly enough, that would only be accurate if “choice” is synonymous with “abortion”, when lots of people who talk about “anti-choicers” love to tell us that being pro-choice isn’t just about abortion.

  • disabled_individual

    Dear Nick:

    Since you consider yourself prolife in all stages, please consider the plight of the profoundly disabled who are already living.

    Are you willing to subsidize, using your tax dollars, the cost of supporting these individuals for the remainder of your lifetime? If not, the woman and her partner should have the choice of determining whether they want to carry the pregnancy to term or not.

    • Basset_Hound

      The short answer is “yes”, Nick….

      That’s the concept called “compassion”. It’s helping those who are TRULY needy who are unable to care for themselves (that would be the profoundly disabled). Ironically it is those who insist they have a right to determine whose life is worth living who are screaming the most about having to subsidize the disabled, NOT those who label themselves pro-life.

      So what would YOU have us do with people whose disabilities occur, or don’t manifest themselves until after birth, if you’re so insistent that “the woman and her partner” have the right to determine if their unborn child lives or dies? Are they equally expendable?

      • ldwendy

        The expense of having to support very profoundly disabled individuals from cradle to grave is quite substantial. I don’t see our society as doing enough to care for people with disabilities. Even in faith-based organizations, I feel they fall short. They either don’t serve enough disabled individuals, or they don’t go far enough in providing enough reasonable accommodations for day to day living. For example, I vehemently disagree that my parish is doing enough to integrate hearing-impaired individuals into the life of the church But I can’t convince anyone else my own needs, and the need of future parishioners who struggle with significant hearing loss, are more important than whatever else they put in the capital budget for the year

        Until I see pro-life organizations doing more to support significantly disabled individuals from cradle to grave, it’s very, very difficult for me to look at the outcome of a disabled fetus as anything other than in a positive light.

        • Basset_Hound


          “My church doesn’t do enough to meet my needs. Therefore I will not only impugn their motives, but the actions of the entire pro-life community. I won’t stop there, but I will denigrate the lives of disabled children by referring to them as ‘fetuses'”

          Wow…just wow…

          • ldwendy

            People with different disabilities will have different experiences. My own experiences as a disabled person will never mirror those of your son, as I came to my viewpoints as someone with a sensory disability.

            A church community, by virtue of proclaiming themselves to be pro-life, cannot offer only crumbs to sensory-disabled congregants. True Christian love (and to be truly pro-life) would require that they provide a totally welcoming environment to integrating disabled church members in all facets of parish life. For me that means not only should the sanctuary offer assistive listening systems, but so should the social hall and the Sunday school classrooms. For a person with a visual impairment it means not only the hymnals and church bulletins should have large print; printed materials for Sunday school and Bible study should be available in Braille or large print as well.

            Disabled individuals who have the emotional and intellectual capacity to understand the above issues have the right to live their lives with dignity and to push for full integration into the life of the church. Instead we who have sensory disabilities are often told to stop whining and accept the crumbs we are given since the needs of the “profoundly developmentally disabled” take higher precedence.

            “Fetus” is the scientifically correct term to describe an organism living inside a pregnant woman. You are free to call them whatever suits you. My own concerns about the vexing cradle to grave costs of raising disabled individuals is a matter of practical concern. No mother wishes misfortune to befall on her child, and yet we as a society hesitate to be really pro-life in terms of funding services for the most vulnerable for their lifetimes, both in the depth/breadth of funding required and the quality of care needed.

          • Basset_Hound

            It’s not about “accepting crumbs”, but realizing that in difficult economic times, difficult choices must be made. However we must not justify death for a disabled child because it would be “too hard” or “too costly” to care for them.

    • Calvin Freiburger

      That’s as ridiculous as saying that unless I’m willing to give you $20, I have no business preventing you from stealing that $20 from someone else.

  • Detroiter327

    “We’re out to protect women from the shame”
    I literally spit out my coffee when I read this. Considering that all the shame is coming from the anti abortion movement I find this statement fascinating.

    • Rebecca Downs

      Hm, Detroiter327, I’ve found you to make pretty calm and collected statements before, so I’m a bit shocked here to see such a post from you. Then again, you’re entitled to state your opinion however you see fit and I’m not chastising you (especially since I have no place to do so), just saying…

      It’s realllly bad to use all encompassing words like “all” and “always” and “never,” especially when we’re talking about such a large and diverse group of people such as the pro-life movement. In every single instance of shaming women, I highly doubt they have “all” been from the anti-abortion movement. Perhaps you call it shame because you don’t understand the intentions? Shame would be calling women murderers but doing nothing to help them. Of course there are people like that who call themselves pro-life, but they are doing nothing to help the movement. And as is proof from the contributors on this very website, not all pro-lifers do that. Now perhaps you or other pro-choice persons consider shame to be telling a woman the truth about what abortion does to her baby and what may do to her. What it really does though is make the option of abortion less attractive and may make the abortion business lose money….

      Further, the pro-abortion side has certainly shamed women before, and men too, particularly those who simply disagree with them.

      • Detroiter327

        Id like to point out that this article is written about the “we”, meaning all pro lifers. Maybe the writer should have clarified he only meant some? There are many in this movement who find shame a useful tool. But you are right, they author and I should have not made blanket generalizations.

        • Rebecca Downs

          Okay, I think that is a fair point to make. The shaming which so-called pro-lifers do does not make them pro-life at all. I have gone on Yahoo! answers and seen really nasty, horrible comments from people shaming girls and women who are abortion-minded. I don’t think that is Nick’s intended audience, nor do I think anyone who has written for this site has made such comments, though I don’t think you’re saying that either. I think such things some people say are despicable and horrible and they should not find themselves in the same movement as us. I don’t really see them as pro-lifers in the sense that we are. And sorry for the mini rant now, lol.

    • Basset_Hound

      REALLY???? Women who are willing to come forward and say how deeply they regret the abortions they’ve had, and how the emotional repercussions have lasted for years are shamed aplenty by the Jezabel readin’ “no regrets, no apologies” crowd. In fact if I had a dime for every time I’ve read the excuse of “oh well, those women were bat-guano crazy before they had the abortion”, I’d have enough to buy an NBA franchise!

      • Detroiter327

        Your confusing the terms shame and ashamed. One is a noun the other is an adjective. Obviously many in the pro choice movement are ashamed by some those articles, including me. You should feel ashamed for the members of your movement who shame women on a regular basis.

        • Basset_Hound

          And you can take your condescending lecture on grammar and parts of speech and stick them where the sun don’t shine. Calling on women to utilize self restraint, and to think of the needs of a smaller, weaker person isn’t “shaming” them unless you believe women are too stupid to exercise impulse control.

          • Detroiter327

            So… all women who had an abortion were too stupid to exercise impulse control?

          • Basset_Hound

            No. But you seem to believe that holding out abstinence as a way of avoiding unintended pregnancy IS shaming women.

          • GrammarNzi

            Dont be ASHAMED someone corrected your grammar. If the SHAMING is coming from a good place there is nothing wrong with it.

    • Detroiter327

      Ill ammend. The vast majority of shame.

    • Heartlander

      No, the shame/guilt/regret is from within themselves. You can try to drown out the voice of your own conscience, but you never can completely. Freedom from the guilt in one’s own conscience only comes from forgiving oneself — and forgiving oneself is only possible once one has really faced up to things. (That’s why 12-step programs such as AA are so successful.)

      • Detroiter327

        Again please look up the difference between shame and ashamed. Stigmatizing abortion to the point that you must “forgive yourself” and repent for having one is indeed shaming someone for the act.

        • Basset_Hound

          The act of taking an innocent life for one’s own convenienceis selfish and evil. Pointing out the path to repentance and forgiveness for evil actions is a valid, constructive effort.

        • Heartlander

          Sorry, Detroiter, you’re still missing my point. My point is that the anguish most women feel after an abortion comes from INSIDE themselves, not from some outside stigma. The voice of conscience is something each and every one of us has innately.

          • Detroiter327

            The vast majority of research disagrees with you on those statements. The overwhelming majority of women who have had an abortion perceived stigma because of it. Also, contrary to anti abortion jargon, most women actually feel relief after their abortion. Labeling every woman who has had an abortion a selfish, evil, godless, baby killer (see below) until they repent would indeed fit the bill of stigmatizing them.

          • Rebecca Downs

            But why is there stigma being perceived then? Perhaps because it is an action that society knows to be wrong and evil, or at least some do. That being said though, society needs to better realize that it is the action who is evil, not the person. Those who claim to be Christian especially need to realize this. Remember “love the sinner, hate the sin?” It’s true… we are all sinners and no sin is better or worse to God. However, sadly we do not always have such capabilities to realize what God already knows… I think society should convey to women that abortion is wrong, that it is even murder. And I do believe that the abortionists themselves are promoting evil. But we do need to go about it in such a way that communicates the truth in a loving manner without turning people away. A simple reminder that abortion is wrong, but that it is the action which is such and that all sin is forgiven, abortion included and especially, I have no problem with.

  • imtrue

    This is what lowlifers do. They fool people into seeing their hideous negatism (abortion) to look like a good thing all the while calling good people of Pro-Life negative names.

  • “We’re also against euthanasia, suicide (assisted or otherwise),
    terrorism, cloning, extreme poverty, unjust war, human trafficking, and
    anything else that threatens the sanctity of human life.”

    Out of curiosity, does this include the death penalty? I’m opposed to the death penalty because I find it to be just as immoral as abortion, torture, etc. While there is an argument to be made about the innocence of an unborn baby vs. a murderer, I don’t find it to be relevant to the morality of the act itself; i.e., abortion versus execution.

    For example, we’re not against abortion because an innocent, unborn baby is being killed; we’re against abortion because we feel that it is not our right to prematurely end a life. Similarly, I’m not against the death penalty because I feel murderers have a right to live; I’m against the death penalty because I find the mechanized ending of a human life, no matter how violent that life may be, disturbing and immoral.


  • Against Both Death Penalties

    I’d rather that people who state an opinion on abortion, actually use the word abortion in their title. It isn’t hard. You are either for abortion or against abortion. Simple as that.

    Pro-choice and pro-life, are terms that people use to sound politically correct about what they are about. At the same time, it disguises the second half of the story, by not even mentioning the issue. No one would openly say “I am pro fetal holocaust”, or “I am pro-uterus police”.

  • I Have Something to Say

    Though I am pro-life, I am not anti-death, and I think that there is a serious misconception that death is the opposite of life. Death as a natural part of life is not something I have a problem with, pro-life as I may be. I am not against death, but against apathy, egotism, and indifference… the true opposites of true life.