What is “Pro-Life”?

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Abortion raced to the center stage of people’s attention in the U.S. this week. What had been defined as settled case law (i.e., Roe v. Wade) is not. Justices who told the Senate they accepted legal precedence have changed their minds. Now, people are talking about a post-Roe U.S. and the implications for other groups.

When this topic comes up, my mind always goes to the way people define their terms. One of my occasional interlocutors likes to frame the discussion as pro-life versus pro-abortion. See what he did there? By refusing to use the term “pro-choice,” he set an intellectual guardrail around the conversation.

Years ago, when I was young and naïve, I assumed that “pro-life” meant being in favor of protecting everyone. To me, “pro-life” equated to an end to capital punishment, food inequality, income disparity, gender/race/sexuality discrimination, and so on. Once, as a teen, I said something along those lines, and one of the older, pillars of the church rejected my understanding as a false equivalency. Note: the person speaking was an old, white, male, and his tone was condescending and dismissive. Why would he be dismissive? Doesn’t “pro-life” imply concern for all lives?

On Facebook, a friend shared a post about advocating for the “unborn.” They are convenient, the post said, because they make no demands and have no moral complications. I appreciated my old friend sharing this insightful post. Prisoners are hard. A court convicted them of a crime, and preserving their lives means spending public resources to help someone who, by all accounts, does not deserve it. However, God loves the prisoners too. Jesus was pretty explicit about this in Matthew 25.31-46.

Questions about abortion are complicated and emotional issues. Having a rational conversation can be challenging. Usually, conversations get complicated around the question of the beginning of life. Is it at conception? Is it at birth? Or, is it somewhere in between? This reminds of the two notions of nothingness in Greek. Oukonic nothingness is absolute non-being. Meonic nothingness is relative nonbeing, as that which something is not. This is like a sapling is not yet a tree.

With the leaked opinion from earlier this week, everyone is talking about abortion again. The saddest part of this attention shift is the additional divisiveness the topic will bring. Our nation was already struggling with a disproportionate number of people who could not accept the result of the 2020 Presidential election. The Russian invasion of Ukraine continues. Climate change is moving ever closer to an irreparable tipping point. And, humanity is divided on so many subjects. Did we really need this?


May God have mercy on us as we seek to figure out how to love one another.

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