The Canard that the Pro-Life Movement “Isn’t Really Pro-Life”

The charge that the pro-life movement isn’t really pro-life, frequently leveled by proponents of unlimited government, can be frustrating. Ryan Anderson and company call it a lazy slander. I prefer canard, but both terms apply equally well. The facts about the pro-life movement’s support for life at all stages – from conception to natural death – speak for themselves. Mr. Anderson and friends recount a few of these facts HERE at The Public Discourse. After detailing some of the great work pro-life advocates regularly do, they ask the obvious question: why are pro-life advocates accused of being indifferent to life after birth? As they say, it’s probably the overwhelming conviction

“that “caring for the born” translates first and always into advocacy for government programs and funds. In other words, abortion advocates appear to conflate charitable works and civil society with government action. The pro-life movement does not. Rather, it takes up the work of assisting women and children and families, one fundraiser and hotline and billboard at a time. Still, the pro-life movement is not unsophisticated about the relationship between abortion rates and government policies in areas such as education, marriage, employment, housing, and taxation. The Catholic Church, for example, works with particular vigor to ensure that its social justice agenda integrates advocacy for various born, vulnerable groups, with incentives to choose life over abortion.

Yes – and there’s a simple reason the pro-life movement is not a movement for more government. If the pro-life movement would incorporate into its platform a decidedly pro-government stance, it would narrow itself. It would have mixed motives and would end up excluding more people. These are people who would support laws illegalizing abortion, but would not necessarily support the other policies of the movement. In other words, the pro-life movement leaves other political issues out of its explicit purpose to maintain focus and to be maximally inclusive. And as Ryan Anderson et al note, it couples this with real charity work done without any legislation or taxpayer dollars. AND IN FAIRNESS all of this is not to say that one cannot be a part of the movement and support policies that make the government omnipotent. But those policies cannot become a part of the larger pro-life movement itself.

11 Responses to The Canard that the Pro-Life Movement “Isn’t Really Pro-Life”

  • “Yes – and there’s a simple reason the pro-life movement is not a movement for more government. If the pro-life movement would incorporate into its platform a decidedly pro-government stance, it would narrow itself. It would have mixed motives and would end up excluding more people.”

    This is a really, really good point, and one that I’m going to keep in mind when discussing this issue. There are, I am sure, lots of pro-lifers who believe part of the solution will be vigorous, well-funded social programs to directly pay for the needs of children, pregnant women, and families; and there are also lots of pro-lifers who believe that reducing government programs will help us build more voluntary social connections and leave room for charitable works. There’s probably a huge middle that thinks the solution is somewhere in between. But we have more important work to do than debate the eventual policy. The main thing is to sway hearts and minds now so that people of ALL views on government — big, little, medium — become convinced that abortion is a problem, not a solution.

  • The push for legalized abortion of course came about at the same time as the explosion of the welfare state. Most of the advocates of ever increasing spending on the welfare state are also ardent advocates of abortion. Those who seek to tie opposition to abortion with support for the welfare state normally are devout partisans of the welfare state and fairly tepid, to put it mildly, in their opposition to abortion. This argument is usually trotted out simply to belabor the pro-life movement and to justify the electoral behavior of individuals, for some reason the term Vox Nova just popped into into my mind, who claim to be opponents of abortion while voting for people who view abortion as a sacred constitutional right.

  • Thanks for this article, and for linking to the original article. I’ll definitely use this argument to counter that accusation in the future.

  • Michael Sean Winters at the Distorter apparently considers the premise as a lame excuse. Which isn’t surprising, because the Distorter is a lame excuse as a Catholic publication.

  • The American Catholic averts his eyes when it suits him [sic].

    Considering the number of times he has linked to this site, you would think that Mikey Sean would have figured out by now that there are multiple contributors to TAC.

  • I responded to Winters over there, but am re-posting here since I don’t know how good they are about letting contrary viewpoints through moderation there:
    Your counter-argument basically consists of assuming one approach to the issue over another.

    First off, it’s patently obvious that the “pro-life” movement in the US is primarily an anti-abortion movement. Unless one thinks that being anti-abortion is particularly unworthy of advocacy, I can’t see how there’s anything particularly wrong with that.

    In this context, the question, “Why doesn’t the pro-life movement get behind social spending that would reduce abortion,” the answer is as given: Because only a subset of those in favor of banning abortion are going to be in favor of any particular social spending priority, while all those in favor of banning abortion are in favor of banning abortion. If one exiles from one’s movement all the people who agree with you on banning abortion, but disagree with you on some other particular issue (say SCHIP funding of pregnancy) then you necessarily make your anti-abortion movement smaller and less likely to succeed in its aims.

    Now, the other approach to all this (suspiciously, one that normally comes from people whose political affinities cause them to want to support pro-abortion politicians) is for people to assert that everything conducive to human thriving should be classed under the title “pro-life” and thus if the pro-life movement doesn’t advocate for everything one believes is conducive to human thriving, then the pro-life movement is being untrue to itself and one needn’t support it. This is a very handy way of rationalizing not supporting any given movement, but it’s not actually a good way of determining what a movement that wants to exist and succeed should support. (For instance, one could use this method of argumentation to claim that gun control groups should focus on legalizing drugs, since this would reduce organized crime and thus the market for guns and gun crime — but of course, this main result of the gun control movement doing this would be to reduce its strength.)

  • DarwinCatholic – who knows? Despite making sense, it might still get posted.

    I agree with your assessment though – the result of MSW’s view would be “subtraction by addition”.

  • Given NCR’s support for homosexuality, perhaps they consider that pro-life. That because homosexuals do not biologically reproduce thus reducing population growth. This in turn reduces greenhouse gases and the use of natural resources. Thus the planet is better. See, pro-life!

  • Darwin thank you for the intelligent defense of my argument.

  • There is the question of a double standard here. It is true that “Pro-life” in the Catholic sense goes beyond abortion. Immigration, disease in other countries, the poor, the issue of State execution all are pro-life concerns.

    However I see few call for the mainstream immigration reform movements ( that have many Catholics) , the anti war movements( that have Catholics in their ranks), and the anti State execution movements( that have Catholics in their ranks) to give equal time to lets say abortion. The whole idea would be unworkable. Are the Catholics that work in the immigration reform movement not fully “prolife” if they don’t take out official postions on Abortion legislation? I think not. I am not sure why the anti abortion movement is being called to this purity standard why the rest are not

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