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My Problem With Expanding Pro-life Definitions

Expanding the definition of “Pro-life” by new pro-life/whole-life movements reminds me of trying to expand the definition of marriage. I’ve heard it said that marriage should mean anything we want it to mean, which of course, makes it mean nothing. Taken to an extreme, if “Pro-life” should refer to almost any issue that relates to a human being alive, as opposed to dead, then it means too many things. If someone feels called by God to help the poor for example, why not join one of the many poverty alleviation organizations that already exist? If someone feels called by God to help end abortion, should they start a “New Poverty Alleviation Movement” that helps alleviate death for poor unborn children?

As possible definitions increase, meaning will decrease. If you say “I want a place to live” many things could fit the bill including your car, if you’re willing living out of it. But if you say “I want a single family home”, more meaningful and efficient action will follow. I can imagine a graph of definition vs. meaning looking something like this:

This website lists the 11 pillars of the New Pro-life Movement (NPLM) which include everything from the environment to healthcare, and there is no question that these things are certainly relevant to those of us who are alive. But since pillars are foundational, many things can fit under the roof supported by said pillars. Think of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; it consists of 4 main pillars. In brief, they are The Creed, The Sacraments, The Commandments and Prayer, but think of how many topics fit under each pillar!

One problem I have with multiple “pillars”, other than using one blanket term to describe them all, is the lack of any kind of prioritization. If you think of pillars supporting a structure, you don’t think of any one pillar standing out; they are all the same and bear the load equally. The very first pillar on the NPLM site is “The Right to Life” and it states the following, “First and foremost, we believe all humans have an absolute, inherent right to life, and we believe this right spans from conception to natural death. This includes both the protection and the sustainment of life at all stages, and creates the foundation for our entire platform.” This seems like the top priority concern, but isn’t the “Right to Life” pillar just restating the name of the movement? Couldn’t we just as well call it the “New Right to Life Movement”?

For greater clarity on what I mean about the lack of prioritization consider the following…No analogy is perfect, but ponder a reverse situation involving only two issues new pro-lifers and/or whole-lifers might deal with; immigration and abortion …Suppose abortion was never made legal in the U.S., but those women who would have had an abortion deported their newborns to orphanages in other countries instead; and this type of deportation was perfectly legal. I’m talking about deporting these babies to poor 3rd world countries that didn’t really want them either, but the babies will be alive and cared for to an extent, but their future well-being would be uncertain.

At the same time suppose immigration to the U.S. was always unlimited (open borders), but around 1973 all immigrants were declared non-persons by SCOTUS with no protection under the law. This meant that if legal immigrants happened to be on or cross over your property, you could kill them as a personal choice; a choice between you and your local law enforcement officials.

Now imagine these legal baby deportations totaled about 250,000/year in recent years and these legal immigrant murders were about 750,000/year. I’m sorry, but the 750k immigrant slaughter would be what cries to heaven for vengeance.

Now suppose that a politician or political party was working hard to keep the babies here in the U.S., so they could have a better life, but also did everything in their power to keep immigrant murder “safe & legal” (lest we return to the days of back-alley immigrant murder), and even wanted to provide government funding for it. In fact, this type of killing is part of his or her platform; a formal set principle which is supported by the party and the politician. Additionally, you are told not to be a “one issue voter” and consider all the deported babies and all the other issues in which you agree with the politician or party in question; don’t use the murder of 750,000 immigrants/year as a political shield that keeps you from voting for people who will work on others matters that are important too.

Any social justice issue needs to assume the right to life. All other rights are useless when life can be taken away by law. Therefore the inherent right to life is a foundational priority; the pillar supporting all other pillars. I can’t help but wonder how many in the new pro-life or whole-life movements would accept the above scenario as a valid way to take political action.

 

Top photo by Notas de prensa – Notas de prensa, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52817663

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Ben Butera

Ben Butera is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology and currently a Solutions Development Manager for a global 500 company. In 2010 he was certified as an instructor and Program Leader for his company’s initiative in analytical problem solving and decision making. In 2016 his book was published entitled "Faith with Good Reason: Finding Truth Through an Analytical Lens". Ben is also co-author of “Two Catholic Men and a Blog”; a blog about Catholic faith and reason. He is a religious education catechist, a husband, a father and lives with his loving wife and three children in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

12 Comments

  1. Ben-Spot on! Never stop.

    Justy do a chart:

    Deaths in USA due to:
    Abortion: 70,000,000
    Lynching: about 5000 [entire US history
    Starvation
    Iliteracy
    Immigration
    Bullying
    You name it:

    Clearly, trying to say “prolife” includes all the other liberal/totalitarian/democrat “issues,” all the “social justice” issues, is: 1. to call a dog’s tail a leg, announce all dogs have five legs, and then begin parish “ministries” to insure no dog owner is offended by someone saying “dogs have four legs, and your dog has four legs.: and 2. to influence people to vote democrat by having them ignore the intrinsic evil of abortion.

    This Fall 2018 and Fall 2020 are going to be so interesting when most of our wolf bishops and hireling cardinals tell us “you are not a single issue voter.” If they had succeeded in these efforts in 2016, those of us not in Gitmo would be curtseying to HRH Hillary and her minions of the Party Of Death.

    Guy McClung, Texas.

  2. As I just posted at my blog– I would read that story. Probably have to be written in a fantasy setting, just to justify how the babies got wherever.

  3. Definitions are very important in my field, nuclear energy. We have a plethora of regulations and industry standards with which to comply. We cannot expand the meaning of definitions but must use those that are in compliance with the regulation. I cannot describe the mind numbing attention to detail scrutiny that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission applies to definitions for reactor plant engineering.

    So why do people in the Church mess with definitions about things affecting eternal salvation? That’s more important than any physical thing. “Thou shalt not kill [murder in the Hebrew],” is NOT suggestion to be morphed with immigration, eco-wacko enviro-nazism or any of the rest of the liberal nonsense. It’s clear as daylight. DO NOT MURDER.

    These people mess with language to create their own Newspeak in order to establish the foundation of Ingsoc. It’s just like George Orwell’s 1984 novel.

  4. Yes, Ben, and indeed that is exactly what we see happening. Sentimentality becomes love. License or permission becomes mercy. Punishment of law-abiding people becomes justice. Forcing the different to be the same becomes diversity. Bread and circuses for the undeserving become charity. Murdering a genetically deformed baby or a terminally ill elderly patient becomes kindness.

    🙁

  5. There are more problems than expanding definitions, rationalizations, fabrications, etc. Some are the people making divisive, politically-motivated amendments. Like amending the Constitution, there ought to be set procedures.

    In America, the motivations of some making those changes are justifying political support for abortion.

  6. Going the “know them by their fruits” route, the fact that the first big actually pro-life challenge that comes up, they’re MIA, suggests that they’re more about hijacking an effective wagon than forming a wagon train.

  7. The tactic used is that of distraction and dilution. You don’t address the issue brought up (abortion) directly; you instead distract by pointing other supposedly pro-life issues. “But you don’t care about them after they are born” or “What about feeding the poor”. You avoid the specific topic, and dilute it by bringing up a number of supposedly related issues. But the initial topic is now forgotten or obscured by a bunch of other issues.
    Sean Michael Winters of Natl Cath Register does this recently in critiquing a letter from a young Catholic presented by Archbishop Charles Chaput. The young fellow critiques bad worship and music, lousy or absent catechesis, etc. So SMW brings up the Scripture re duties of a Christian, “Feed the poor, clothe the naked…” etc. Valid issues, but not the particular topic the young Catholic was talking about. The principle seems to be, “If you don’t mention these, you don’t believe in them.” Or “Since you focus in on one topic, you must be obsessed with the topic exclusively to the exclusion of all others.”

  8. Regardless of how we define life, there are many ways to kill people, both before and after birth. Inside the womb it is done swiftly, to “solve” an immediate need. After birth, we can do it by taking away food from the hungry, denying health care to those who will die without it or otherwise failing to protect those in danger of being murdered. Quick death by one blow, or slow death by a thousand blows, is still death (and arguably the first seems better than the second). Both are murder and hence evil acts and should be equally condemned.

  9. “After birth, we can do it by taking away food from the hungry, denying health care to those who will die ”

    Who in this country is taking away food from the hungry or denying health care to anyone? Comparing such things to abortion strikes me as ludicrous.

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