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