I was working on my last speech for my senior-year public speaking class, a stack of books beside me, determined to prove that gay marriage should be legalized on a federal level. In sharp contrast to my politically liberal project, the student using the computer adjacent to mine was researching pro-life arguments, a pet theme of political conservatives (especially those here at Cedarville).
The image burned into my brain, the two of us on such opposite sides of the political spectrum, and I wrote angrily in my journal: “conservatives will fight so rabidly for protection when it pertains to unborn children, but once you leave the womb, you’d better not turn out to be gay or they will fight just as hard to keep you from equal protection under the law.”
I have been exposed to a good deal of writing and rhetoric from pro-lifers. In the abstract, without all the political brouhaha usually connected with the term, I would say that I am pro-life. I love life – human life, animal life, plant life, just about every type of life there is. And I’m not just for quantity of life, I’m for quality of life too. I am for the very best life possible for everyone. It’s just too bad that hardcore conservatives have hijacked the term “pro-life” and attached it to their narrowly defined crusade against abortion (and, at times, against family planning in general).
If I were to offer suggestions for the improvement and development of the pro-life stance, I would offer the following:
1) Instruction on safe sex should be part of the pro-life agenda. Many religious pro-lifers would prefer every person on earth to abstain from sexual activity until marriage. That’s a personal commitment tied to spiritual belief, and it cannot be required or imposed on others. It’s a fact that many teenagers (even committed Christian teenagers) are sexually active. Access to safe and uncostly birth control methods, accurate knowledge of proper use, and guaranteed privacy about safe sex choices could greatly decrease the amount of unplanned pregnancy among teenagers and adults alike. Safe-sex education programs include education on abstinence as well as various methods of birth control and STD prevention. Pro-lifers should be able to partner with pro-choicers in the fight for educating teenagers on safe sex. We cannot expect that most teenagers will choose abstinence, but we can expect that most teenagers will choose safety over the risk, expense, and stigma of teenage parenthood or abortion. And safe sex habits begun in teenagerhood lay a foundation for safe choices as an adult.
2) I am glad that so many pro-lifers find that their spiritual beliefs inform their political opinions. However, the connections between spiritual belief and political opinions can be so overdrawn that other people of faith feel that they are being attacked if they do not hold the same political opinions. Also, some of these pro-lifers will turn the conversation into a religious argument rather than a political argument, an approach which is not helpful at all. Don’t misunderstand me – I think it’s okay to say “my belief in the teachings of Jesus lead me to believe that abortion is wrong.” It’s not okay to say, “God has revealed that you are going to hell because you want first-trimester abortion to be legal.” Radicalizing the conversation in this way leads to uncharitable dispute and advances no-one’s political agenda. Also, it makes pro-lifers look a little crazy. So please, stop dragging religion into the discussion. America is not and never will be “founded on the Bible,” thus the Bible is not relevant to a discussion of Roe v. Wade.
3) In general I really, really wish that pro-lifers would approach politics with a more holistic viewpoint. I am especially addressing Christian pro-lifers here. I have heard so many Christians talk as though abortion and gay marriage (opposing both, that is) are the only two issues that matter. What about education? What about labor? What about the environment? What about corporations? What about women’s rights? What about equality in general? There’s so much more to politics than the classically conservative hot-button issues. And each one of these issues allows for voting pro-life. Not pro-quantity-of-life, necessarily, but pro-quality-of-life. Pro-love, pro-justice, pro-peace, pro-any other virtue you can think of.
I am pro-life, I suppose, in that I hope for pregnancies to end in the delivery of a human being into this world instead of premature termination. Making abortion illegal, however, will not stop it from occurring. It will only make it more dangerous and risky when it does occur. And at this point I think making abortion illegal is impossible, anyway. But I hope it becomes more and more rare, that people will choose to have safer sex in the first place and choose adoption or parenthood over abortion. But this is not a single flag that I wave in the air, challenging any and all comers to duel me over every particular. Rather it is just one piece of the puzzle, a part of my overall worldview. It’s right next to my belief in women’s rights, gay rights, the value of multiculturalism, the importance of interacting responsibly with our planet, my skepticism about the values of the corporate machine, my vegetarianism, and a whole pile of other viewpoints, beliefs, and values. I want my political views to affirm the whole spectrum of human life, along with all the other types of life found on our planet. This makes it impossible to pigeon-hole me into any particular political party, but that’s okay.
I know a lot of you will disagree with parts of what I have said here, and that’s okay too – a real democracy values dissent. Feel free to comment. The more voices that join a discourse, the better, especially if they can do so charitably.