Yesterday in America, there was a March for Life, which thousands attended. In an ideal world, a March for Life would be on issues such as fighting against poverty, war and general social injustice. However, this March for Life was solely based on the issue of abortion, as it has been for the past 40 odd years. It left me thinking. When people say they are ‘pro-life’ they only talk about it when mentioning opposing legal abortions. You never hear the term when it is about issues such as helping the poor, campaigning against wars or fighting social injustice, without mentioning abortion too.
It left me wanting to find out where the term ‘pro-life’ originated. It turns out the first mention of the term wasn’t even on the issue of abortion. Erich Fromm and A.S. Neill’s Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Childrearing said:
‘No pro-life parent or teacher would ever strike a child. No pro-life citizen would tolerate our penal code, our hangings, our punishment of homosexuals, our attitude toward bastardy.’
One of the first uses of the term ‘pro-life’ in relation to abortion was in a Chicago Tribune article, about a student group called SOUL, which opposed the Vietnam War and abortion:
‘Young people are being duped on the issue of abortion. They want to be considered ‘liberal’ and they think that the thing to do is to be against war and for abortion. But the most liberal cause is protecting other people’s lives. To be pro-life you have to be for all life.’
More conservative Christian opponents of legal abortion caught onto this term, with the Right to Life league founded in 1967 and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life founded in 1968. After abortion became legal in 1973, ‘pro-life’ became the term used to define those who opposed Roe vs Wade, because of the belief that abortion would take away a human life.
However, there are a couple of issues I have with this. One of the main reasons Christian conservatives also used the term ‘pro-life’ was because they knew it would catch on easily, and would be an effective way to attract more people. It creates the notion that if you are against them on the issue of legal abortion, then you are not pro-life, and against life (or pro-death). No one wants to be called pro-death. In a way, it is a Fascist ideology – you’re either with us or against us. Furthermore, it creates the falsehood that in order to be pro-life you only need to oppose the legal and safe access to abortions, which completely disregards all the other life issues. And because you are pro-life here, this means you’re the genuine person with the moral high ground.
The impact of these two things combined is pretty significant, especially when you look at the recent U.S. Presidential election. Despite Donald Trump saying he would ban Muslims entering the U.S., build a wall to stop Mexicans entering, support torture, scrap the Affordable Care Act, deny the existence of climate change, as well as saying black protestors should be ‘roughened up’, and that he would nuke a whole country, killing thousands, none of this mattered because he opposed legal abortion, meaning he was ‘pro-life’.
For many Christians and Catholics, the election became a one issue vote. Many Catholic and Christian leaders became so consumed exclusively on abortion, that they ignored all the other issues (may I also add, issues Jesus EXPLICITLY mention in the Gospels, unlike abortion) encouraging their faithful to vote for Trump. I saw someone say they supported Trump simply because they ‘were against the killing of unborn children’. I must admit a part of me thought ‘Well, ain’t that adorable…’ Many others felt this way, which was why Trump won the Catholic vote, and got a huge majority of the Evangelical vote too. Cardinal Raymond Burke even said he was happy Donald Trump won, as were many other Catholic and Christian leaders.
However, if you are a Christian, and have read what Jesus taught in the Gospels, I am sure you would feel nothing but outrage over Trump’s first week in office. At yesterday’s March for Life, Mike Pence told the crowd that ‘Life is winning again’. Groups such as SPUC are hailing Trump as a ‘pro-life President’. But is Life REALLY winning again? Already in the first week, the Republicans are planning to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would kill 43,000 annually. Trump has announced a ban on refugees and citizens from 7 different countries, whilst bombing 4 of them, plans to build a wall to stop Mexicans entering, suggested he would bring back torture, vowed to cut funding to violence against women programmes, and overturned the blocking of the Dakota Access Pipeline (just to name a few).
Frankly, calling Trump and his team ‘pro-life’ is simply an insult to the refugees he is denying, the people who will be affected by the scrapping of the ACA, the thousands who are dying due to famine and starvation as a result of climate change, and those who work so hard to fight for their justice. For pro-lifers who focus exclusively on abortion and forget other issues, it undermines those who genuinely do speak out on every life issue as well. However, when there are ‘Marches for Life’, rather than ‘Marches for the Unborn’, then what it means to be pro-life becomes pretty hollow.
What Trump has done in his first week goes completely against the Corporal Works of Mercy, and completely rejects the teachings of Christ. I’m sure if many of his supporters were to see Christ nailed to that cross, they would be the first ones to burn it (excuse the KKK reference…).
The reality is that people would not feel the need to call themselves ‘pro-life’, because they would simply be genuine people who will stand up to all forms of social injustice. A legal opinion, over whether women should have access to safer abortions, or risk their life to have one should not and must not be the sole definition of what it means to be pro-life. This will just cause so many to ignore all the other social issues, such as poverty, climate change, war and the death penalty, some of these issues which in turn also reduce the abortion rate.