Sucking the Life Out of Prolife

In a world of texting, tweets and one-upmanship, people are getting very clever at “owning the language” with the use of overgeneralizations. This seems to be happening with the term “prolife”. I’m pretty sure it used to mean opposing legalized abortion and perhaps euthanasia, but that’s about it. Today it might relate to just about any issue that has anything to do with being alive, such as the environment, the death penalty, immigration, minimum wage, healthcare, gun control and more. This doesn’t seem to go both ways however. Do we have a NEW prochoice movement that blends the right to an abortion with the right to bear arms and the right to a secure border? How about “school choice”? Is that now part of being prochoice?

I am perhaps overly sensitive to overgeneralizations because they are problematic for both apologetics and any kind of problem solving. Overgeneralizations are terms that can mean too many different things to too many different people. Think of the word “God”. If you walk up to a stranger and ask “Do you believe in God?”, what you mean by “God” and what the other person means can be as far apart as Heaven is from Hell. Until things are made clear, there will be little progress and much frustration in the discussion. How about terms like love, spirituality, community, conscience, etc.? How many homilies have you sat through that use too many of these kinds of terms, making you think “He said a lot… without saying anything.”

Consider problems in everyday life. Someone says their smartphone is acting funny. “Acting funny” can mean too many different things to too many different people, but deliberate questioning can drill down to the specifics and possibly reveal more than one issue.

What’s wrong with your phone?

  • Camera won’t focus
    • What else?
  • Battery life is too short
    • What else?
  • It drops calls
    • What else?
  • That’s it.

“Acting funny” was separated and clarified in to three specific concerns. The three concerns may or may not be related to an underling root cause; we don’t know, but to go forward we must first we prioritize the issues and then begin to investigate each one. Depending what you use your phone for, the camera and battery issue may just be an annoyance that is manageable, but dropping calls might be totally unacceptable and thus given the highest priority, and dealt with first.

Now suppose you ask someone about being prolife:

What does “prolife” mean to you?

  • Ending abortion
    • What else?
  • Banning guns
    • What else?
  • Abolishing the death penalty
    • What else?
  • That’s it.

Once clear, we should look at the life (or death) impact of all three aforementioned issues. You can search the statistics yourself, but abortion wins in biggest death toll by far. So no matter how many issues you want to intermingle with being prolife, abortion should be dealt with first and most urgently IF preserving human life is your sincere concern.

Without clarity and prioritization—especially with complex issues with a lot of emotional baggage— confusion, division and frustration render problems nigh unsolvable. Overgeneralizations are the enemy of clarity. A recent article by Fr. George Rutler helps explain why ambiguity can be so helpful to those wishing to put agenda over reality.

“Clarity requires effort because it requires honesty, which can be a costly commodity. So George Orwell said: ‘The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.’ Clear expression issues from clear thinking, which in turn requires conforming thought to reality. This was a primary concern of the Master in his holy agony, for he prayed to the Father that his Church never fudge the truth: ‘Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth’ (John 17:17).”


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  1. Thank you Ben. On target…. again.
    Our prayers for the ambiguous and insincere must be increased.
    Conversion. May conversions abound while this storm tosses Our Ship.

  2. I notice a common tactic used against the pro life cause: Distraction and dilution. They distract folks by bringing another “pro life” issue, say, support of poor single mothers, saying, “See, you don’t care about babies after they’re born.” So they distract attention from the anti-abortion message, making its proponents look like squinty-eyed fanatics on one issue. Tied to this is dilution, by which one dilutes the pro-life message by making one of a number of life issues, the poor, the homeless, etc.

  3. In addition to the points you make– this redefining opposing abortion and euthanasia to draft it into the “seamless garment” shtick, and incidentally kick out actually opposing abortion or killing of the weak, already has a name.


    It was silly when it was six year olds on the playground demanding why one doesn’t marry pizza, if you love it, and it’s not improved when deployed with malice to try to silence those one is subverting.

    “Pro-life” has had nothing to do with guns, welfare, crime, poverty or the death penalty for the whole time it was unpopular; now that it’s getting popular, the folks who refused to support it want to draft it to their personal politics? Go bite a snake.

  4. Rob M.-
    They distract folks by bringing another “pro life” issue, say, support of poor single mothers, saying, “See, you don’t care about babies after they’re born.”

    And when it’s shown to be a lie– when they’re forced to admit that yes, pro-lifers actively support “women in trouble” and always have– they never admit to it, and they’ll bring it up again the next time they think they can get away with it.

  5. Amen! The “new pro-life” nonsense needs to be refuted. One easily suspects other motivations behind their claims, largely political, but also heterodoxical. One only needs to read folks like Mark Shea and his fellows at the increasingly uncatholic patheos site.

  6. Good Counsel Homes is just one great resource for unwed mother’s who have chosen Life without support from family or the man who impregnated her. Pregnancy Center’s too are supported by Pro-Life warriors like me. It’s who we are. When I’m confronted with the “don’t care after their born,” baloney I can refer them to these organizations and the gift of Life that is priceless.

    GED’s.. housing…job search… check book / balancing finances…. proper food preparation….these are just a few services that Good Counsel Homes provides for the women and their children when the need arises…not for a week or two, but for a couple of years if needed.

    Federally Qualified Health Centers are outnumbering PP’s 16 to 1. They do not preform abortions. Our $500 million tax payer funds that flow to Worse than Murder Inc., need to be redirected to these centers instead of the popular death camps.

  7. SpiritualWorks of Mercy include: Admonish the sinner. Instruct the ignorant.

    Fish don’t know they’re wet. Pro-life catholics don’t know they’re pro-abortion. I’ve forced myself to be charitable and nonjudgmental.

    Just throwing out this. Take it or leave it. One can’t be anti-abortion and vote Democrat.

  8. “Pro-Choice” is a political euphemism for “pro-legal-abortion.” “Prolife” is also a political euphemism, if by that you really mean “anti-abortion.” The latter is crystal clear. If you choose to call yourself something fuzzy like “prolife” instead of “anti-abortion,” I’m not sure I agree that you have reason to complain if others find the euphemism elastic enough to cover “anti-euthanasia” or “anti-death-penalty” or “anti-war” for that matter. It isn’t like there is no arguable connection between being “for life” and “for life sentences without parole instead of the death penalty which does, after all, kill people on purpose.” That’s why I’m “anti-abortion” and “pro-Second-Amendment-except-for-the-whole-Bear-hunting-thing.” And, I’m also “anti-death-penalty.” You may disagree with me, but no one should be confused about my opinions because of the language I choose to describe them.

  9. I was not terribly impressed with the “pro-lifers” when I was younger and “pro-choice.” After I converted to the Church, discovered NFP, was pregnant with my first child, listened to Rush’s take on “assisted suicide” (he was not for it), I became “pro-life” and opposed contraction, abortion, and assisted suicide (IVF, etc).
    Alas, it did not take long for me to sour on “pro-lifers” again, because while they preached “from conception to birth” and were opposed to abortion, they seemed perfectly content with contraception in general and the Pill specifically.
    I’ve had pro-life people in my homeschool community defend IVF (even those numerous embryos are destroyed in that industry) because people should not have to suffer infertility. The excess embryos are . . . regrettable. No seriously, this was a conversation I had with the wife of a philosophy professor (granted, they are not Catholic, but I am not sure how much it would have mattered).
    I remember emailing this one Catholic pro-life organization about contraception many years ao, and their response was along the lines “We deal with abortion, not contraception. If you want information on contraception, you will need to talk with this other organization.”
    So, no, I am not terribly impressed with what I call the “Professional pro-lifers.” Maybe the rank and file are much opposed to contraception, and maybe even the higher ups as well, but they son’t seem to want to talk about it. I suppose they need to feel “ecumenical” and non-threatening.
    Funny thing is, Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes and the like are all about contraception–spread as far and wide as possible. That should tell the anti-abortion community something. It seems not to.

  10. “I became ‘pro-life’ and opposed to contraception, abortion . . ”
    Contractions in your ninth month are most welcome.

  11. Hey Bear,
    There will always be “marketing language”. Prolife sounds better than anti-abortion; prochoice sounds better than pro-abortion. I think those who are anti-abortion unwittingly help the other side by diluting the original meaning of prolife, and those who are pro-abortion are more than happy to hijack the term and dilute it further.

  12. The late Msgr. William B. Smith, moral theologian, seminary professor at Dunwoodie, and advisor to Cdl. O’Connor had a saying, “All social engineering begins with verbal engineering.”
    The other side has elevated that to a fine art and rings around us when it comes to language. They even have us using their misnomers to describe them. Pro-choice is a prime example.

    Our side needs to get a better understanding of how language manipulation shapes the debate and begin to act accordingly.

  13. @The Bear:
    It is important to realize that when a murderer is executed, he brings himself to Justice through his citizenship and membership in the state as well as the human race. His power of attorney is used to execute him. The murderer has instigated or initiated this action. A contrite murderer expires with grief over his crime. A living murderer is not sorry and is double jeopardy of life for all persons. Removing double jeopardy of life from every person is a gift and favor from God. Killing a murderer has saved the lives of every good person and freed the murderer of his crime.

  14. Foxfier-Did you use spellchecker for “shtick” ? Or is that really the word you wanted? Either spelling-spot on!

    You can read the history of how the American bishops saw the writing on the wall – if the prolife message re aboriton and minority genocide gets out, undiluted, as anti abortion, democrats would lose thousands, hundreds of thousands of votes. So “seamless garment” subterfuge is born, which translates to “We bishops, from the high altitude of the moral high ground we live in, tell you we -that is you and me and all faithful catholics – are not ‘single issue voters.” Nudge nudge wink wink. You can vote for demoncrats and you will go to heaven.”

    Ben-Keep on keepin’ on-and never go silent for the silent babies. You should do a table-daily deaths in the USA

    Dead murdered babies: 3200/day
    people dying from hunger: ____/day
    people dying from crime____/day
    people dying from human trafficing____/day
    people dying from global warming _____/day
    people dying from ____________, _/day

    Thanks, Bem.

    Guy McClung

  15. The rational human soul is immortal. These innocent souls are sent back to their Father in heaven. Our Father in heaven is keeping count.
    The problem with aborting innocent souls is that now we, the people are overgrown with evil souls.
    The innocent souls of the newly begotten are the standard of Justice for the state. These sovereign persons are our constitutional Posterity.
    Roe never bore the burden of proof that the newly begotten sovereign person was not a person.

  16. Guy-
    Always-on spellcheck, but I think I had to add it. Shocking, the stuff they leave out.
    I do not have a lot of tolerance for conflation of binding requirements and prudential judgments, especially when it always turns out that they ignore the obligatory and over-step their original bounds of prudential goals. (Usually in the direction of greatly increasing the deadly danger to myself and my children by insisting on disarming us.)

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