Screenshot from "To Be Born"

What “pro-life” does – and doesn’t – mean

“If you’re so pro-life, where are you for people after they’re born?”

It’s a challenge pro-aborts routinely pose to pro-lifers, the implication being that our concern for the unborn must be insincere because we don’t support this or that government program allegedly meant to help the poor, sick, or otherwise disadvantaged.

That theory is currently on display in Nebraska, as Republican senators are sharply divided on a bill “that would fund prenatal care for babies whose mothers may be in the country illegally.” Pro-life Republican Gov. Dave Heineman has pledged to veto the legislation, while pro-life Republican Sen. Mike Flood supports it “because it’s pro-life.”

And that raises the question of what pro-life means.

Is it just pro-birth?

Does it extend to life after birth?

If you’re pro-life, can other issues rise to the level of a higher concern?

Needless to say, what our country should do about illegal immigration is far beyond the scope of a pro-life website, but clearing up whether there’s a pro-life component to this particular bill is simple enough.

“Pro-life” simply means “supporting legal protection for every human being’s right to life, regardless of one’s stage of development.” Whether we should allow people who’ve entered this country illegally to stay and whether we should tax some people to pay for the health care of others are important questions, but they rest upon separate principles and circumstances, such as the rule of law and cost to taxpayers. Answering “no” to either question may be correct or incorrect, but in no way does it violate the right to life of anyone who stood to gain from a “yes” decision. There is no pro-life conflict or inconsistency to be resolved.

Further, pro-lifers not agreeing with pro-choicers on this or that unrelated issue, or not engaging this or that unrelated cause, is awfully weak grounds for questioning our motives. For one thing, plenty of pro-lifers do lend their time and money to various charitable causes; in fact, conservatives actually tend to be more charitable than liberals.

For another, you may have noticed that we live in a world of finite time and resources. Every hour you spend helping one person is an hour spent not helping someone else, and unless they’ve secretly figured out how to be in two places at once, the same holds true for pro-choicers. This is another issue in which our opponents hold us to a standard they don’t apply to anyone else, and for good reason:  if, say, somebody started yelling that soup kitchen volunteers were heartlessly neglecting the fight against breast cancer or that activists against animal cruelty don’t care about abused children, we’d all peg him as a nut right away.

We all naturally gravitate to certain causes over others, for various reasons. In pro-lifers’ case, we gravitate toward abortion because it’s the most egregious example we see of harming the defenseless, and unlike homelessness or cancer, abortion is actively supported by powerful people, demanding a persistent counter-force. Besides, it’s not as if we’re taking the easy route – how many other causes’ volunteers have to deal with being blamed for violence, subjected to violence, and routinely getting called every name in the book, including sexist and racist?

Apparently in the left’s eyes, the only way to truly be the “good kind” of pro-lifer is to stand for anything but the right to life.

  • Guest

    Even if one could make a credible case that pro-lifers are hypocrites, that wouldn’t justify legal abortion.  It just means that we’re hypocrites.  Our arguments must be really good if they have to spend so much ink resorting to ad hominems (at politicians, no less).

  • Oedipa

    Your Nebraska example is interesting, Calvin, but I think I have a different one that may better illustrate the contradictions pro-choice folks are eager to point out. In Texas, Rick Perry’s policies have embodied both vehemently anti-abortion positions, and vehemently pro-capital punishment positions. And if it’s strictly about guilt (if that baby who’s saved grows up to be a murderer, for instance, and no longer deserves “saving”), I’d remind Mr. Perry that the penalty has been applied inequitably in this country, depending largely on the defendant’s skin color, the station of the victim, and the competence of counsel. In some cases, sometimes guilt is even ephemeral.

    And his constituency seems to eat this up. We all remember the GOP debate where the audience cheered the governor’s record of killing 234 inmates since taking office. The same constituency that would boo the temerity of a moderator asking something about The Pill.

    • In the case of lots of pro-lifers, there isn’t even the appearance of inconsistency, since they oppose capital punishment, too. It’s something I myself struggle with, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it abolished in America.

      But is it really inconsistent for somebody to oppose abortion and support the death penalty? Not at all. Abortion kills an innocent child who has committed no crime whatsoever. That baby has no legal representation, no appeal, nothing but the desire of his or her mother to stand in the way of death. It can be done for virtually any reason, no matter how casual.

      Capital punishment, however, is reserved for those who commit heinous crimes against others, crimes they knew beforehand carried the penalty of death. Capital offenders are not killed until after a lengthy process of investigation, trial, and appeal. Further, supporters believe the death penalty preserves life in the final analysis by deterring violent crime. They may or may not be correct about that, but the intention and rationale is clearly consistent with pro-life principles. Just as someone can consistently believe in liberty yet support revoking it through imprisonment, someone can consistently believe in the right to life yet believe certain crimes justify revoking it.

      The rest of your objection is just badly-informed left-wing propaganda. For instance:

      • George

        Calvin, Buddy, I know you hate being challenged on issues and I know it’s hard to process information that goes against your deeply-held worldview. But either stick to abortion and what you know or do some research next time before you post your fairy-tale illusions of the criminal justice system in this country. You think Oedipa’s objection is badly-informed propaganda and then cite Dennis Prager at, because you think he is some kind of objective source on capital punishment? You think we have a fair criminal justice system in this country? It’s nice to be young and innocent, but it’s time to grow up.

        • Is that you, Relock/Ducat? Condescension is no substitute for argument, hypocrite.

          • George

            Nope, don’t know who that person is. Just saying you should do some research into the realities of our criminal justice system, because you’re way off base. I think the truth would shock you. And no, sorry, reading townhall columns doesn’t count as research! :)

          • Your comment fit the MO. Unprovoked personal insults tinged with personal animosity from someone I’ve never seen before raised my suspicions. Relock has a habit of pestering people around here under different screen names.

            It’s false to suggest I’m positing a single column as a substitute for in-depth research. Do the words “for instance” mean anything? Did you bother to make any effort to discern why I picked that particular column?

          • George

            No, the fact that out of everything available you choose to cite to a townhall article is all i need to know. Next time, cite to something that real people read.

          • Well, I guess you showed me! Better luck next time, “real person.”

        • yes George it’s time to grow up

      • Jdjdjeeeeerrrryyy

        You are correct to say that capital punishment is reserved for the worst of crimes. However, as you know, the system doesn’t always work and innocent people are put to death. In addition, many of the real murderers on deathrow are never actually put to death, and lots and lots of money goes into a legal process that goes nowhere. I find it sad that many people choose to conveniently ignore the people wrongly accused (that wasn’t meant to be directed at you in case you thougght it was).

        • True. But all I’m saying is that it’s not intellectually or philosophically inconsistent to oppose abortion while supporting capital punishment. Whether or not the pro-CP position is correct is a separate issue.

          • MoonChild02

            It may not be inconsistent to oppose abortion and be pro-capital punishment. However what I think they’re saying is that it is inconsistent to call oneself pro-life and not care about the innocent lives lost on death row. Sorry, but I am vehemently against capital punishment, and no it is not a separate issue if you want to be a consistent pro-lifer.

            See Evangelium Vitae, section 56 in particular.

          • 12angry_men

            I could not agree more. 

          •  Something I agree with you MoonChild.

        • “and lots and lots of money goes into a legal process that goes nowhere.”

          Yet we ignore the money that goes towards giving criminals 3 square meals a day and a better housing situation than so many who live on the street…
          Just something to think about.

          Also, I agree that it is terrible that innocent lives are occasionally put to death through our legal system. It isn’t done one purpose. The number of innocent lives put to death through abortion far trumps the number of those innocent lives ended through CP. And, as Calvin said above, those children never recieved due process. They were simply ended.

          • Jdjdjeeeeerrrryyy

            I’m sure the innocent person being put to death didn’t take comfort in the fact that they at least received trials, and it wasn’t done on purpose. If anything, they probably feel horrible knowing they went through our system, which was supp9osed to work, and were still found guilty. Does it make it less terrible to kill an innocent person if we first legally condemn them? How safe do we make this country when we put an innocent to death and the real killer walks free?

          • Did you miss the part where I said that it is terrible when innocent lives are put to death in the legal system?

            I’m not trying to argue that the death penalty is fantastic or that we should even use it. I am just making a comparisson to the innocent lives that are put to death and their killers walk free and are lauded under the banner of “choice” and the titles of “empowered woman” or “doctor.”

          • MoonChild02

            It costs much, much less to give them 3 square meals a day and housing, than to put up with the costs of the appeals. If they are a human being, they deserve the dignity and respect of every human being out there. If God wanted them to die, they would, and not by the state’s hands. Our justice system is not perfect, and it never can be. Putting an innocent to death is always wrong! Just as those unborn children never committed a crime, neither did the wrongfully convicted. It’s sad, and there’s no reason for it, so long as we have the resources to keep hardened criminals in prison for life without parole. Besides, if God lets them live, don’t you think that they should have a chance to redeem themselves? A chance to convert, like St. Paul, who killed hundreds of Christians before converting?

          • MoonChild, I think that your case is perhaps the strongest to be made in favor of abolishing the death penalty, as the reverent attitude towards human life that we ought to have and the very real possibility of executing innocent people make it all the more important to give serious thought to the nature of the issue as it stands today. However, Avery Cardinal Dulles was a proponent of the concept that the death penalty, with its imminent finality, provided the imperative motivation so often needed in order for the convict to come to peace with Christ. Also keep in mind that, even if abortion is made illegal and the personhood and rights of the unborn children are recognized and legally protected, these same problems in our culture which brought us to the point of killing our own children will still be present. My point is that, regardless of the law, the care that society actually has for criminals and the wrongly accused may not change much, as we can truly never legislate morality. Therefore, I will go with the more imperative fight — the fight to protect the unborn child in the womb — although I pray for and extend my goodwill to all those fighting in other words because.

        • Stephanie

          I def agree with you on this!

      • Oedipa

        While I’m not going usually going to rely on a rabidly conservative website to refute or confirm statistics about who receives the death penalty, if you actually pay attention to the numbers they use, they confirm that it’s applied dis-proportionately.

        And they have nothing to say about how counsel affects the process. Nor the most important factor, if you’re familiar with the sociology behind capital punishment application — who the victim is. If your victim is white, or well-to-do, or from a good family, you’re more likely face capital punishment, no matter your own skin color.

  • Savethetinyhumans

    I have taken part in walks for ALS, given money to the Muscular Distrophy Association, bought things to support Komen (before I knew they gave money to PP) and I do everything I can possibly think of to get my friends and even people I don’t know involved in the prolife movement. I struggle with the fact that my friends don’t seem to care all that much. It’s not that they aren’t pro-life, they just don’t see it the same way I do. I don’t judge. I just keep waving things in their faces and hope that one day they get it.

  • Stephanie

    I do understand where you are coming from and I agree that many honest pro-lifers may not support laws like the one your mentioned. However, they do need to understand that by doing something like taking away government assistance for mothers in poverty or by not giving pre-natal care to illegal immigrants, more abortions will be committed- so it is related. Many poor mothers have abortions due to a lack of help available, and would have kept those babies if they had more help (like if my state of NJ gave TANF to more than just ONE child per poor family on assistance). I do think that they can be sincere in their fight for the pro-life cause, but I do personally believe that being pro-life does extend to other areas and they often effect each other.

  • Cheri

    Two words: Entitlement Mentality. As much as I struggle with the fact that there are women and children who are residing in America illegally, I do not think they are ENTITLED to our public welfare by virtue of their destitution. I do not think they should be killed, either, and that is consistent with my stance against abortion. Neither we nor anyone else are entitled to take the life or property of others just because we may be having personal struggles.

    • Stephanie

      I think that everyone IS entitled to basic needs being met, esp. since the vast majority of the world is very very poor simply because of where they have been born, which is why many come to America- hoping for a better way. I have illegal immigrants who risked their lives to come here, and I wish they were given a better welcome. Also, I dont feel like “oh, its my money. Why should I have to help you?” I want everyone to have a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, safety, and medical care- and I do believe that everyone is entitled to that decency. 

      • Under our Constitution and its underlying conception of natural law, people are entitled to their life, liberty, and property. All those rights require us to do is not infringe on them. But when you say someone is “entitled” to a good or service, you’re really saying somebody else should be forced to provide it to them, which opens up an entirely different moral & ethical can of worms that you have to contend with. True compassion and charity is helping the needy yourself; it’s not forcing someone else to do it.

        Besides, the actual record of such government welfare programs is that they do more harm than good. They’re fraught with abuse, they don’t help people as effectively as the private sector can, and they tend to make people dependent on government rather than prepare them to free themselves from poverty.

  • Another voice

    To say the two aren’t related is bunk, when most women who abort their children do so because they cannot adequately provide for that child’s basic needs. It IS hypocritical for “pro-lifers” to get on their high horse about the unborn, and care nothing of supporting them once they are born. It Is hypocritical for “pro-lifers” to value the life of an unborn child over that of its mother in cases of abortion for medical necessity (true medical necessity and not the “my unborn baby has a genetic defect” type). It Is hypocritical to say you are “pro life” but in favor of the death penalty, war, robbing the poor of health care and other necessities, denying the value of birth control.
    It is hypocritical to say your are “pro life” and throw around the option of carrying to term and offering the baby for adoption but then vote against prenatal care, drug rehabilitation programs for expectant mothers, etc. And as many people as I have met who push this adoption message, I haven’t actually met one who has adopted a child (let alone an addicted one or one with a health condition that could have been solved by adequate prenatal care) rather than continuing to pump out their own.
    I speak as someone who would not choose abortion for myself, so don’t think this is about my being “pro-abortion.”. But if you fail to see that the solution to reducing the number of abortions is providing for lives that are continued, the “pro-life movement” is doomed.

    • Most of your comment indicates you didn’t bother to actually read or consider my article. If you did, you’d find several of your smears have already been refuted. And while I could take the time to explain why the failed government programs you’re talking about actually aren’t compassionate, but in my experience those who shout the loudest about this sort of thing are the least interested in understanding why others believe as they do.

      Oh, and those policies you put forth as a litmus test for compassion and reducing abortions? They don’t actually reduce the “need” for or rate of abortion:

  • mattdgold

    Well, I’m glad homelessness has been eradicated, according to this article! Oh, wait…

  • Ashley

    I will help people once their born. I help feed children in need. I’ve volunteered and helped the homeless before and I love everyone