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In the back alley
Not to be confused with consistent life ethic, which actually makes a little more sense.
...[they] believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth...
Barney Frank, speaking of anti-abortion legislators[1]
We're conservatives, and the one way we don't Iike to kiII things is that way!
—Stan Smith, American Dad![2]

Pro-life is a political neologism and emotionally loaded term used to define people who are in favor of protecting the life of every human fetus regardless of the consequences, and are thus opposed to abortion and seek to discourage, restrict, and/or outlaw its practice. Some countries get so strict that giving stillbirth is considered murder.[3] The more common and neutral term anti-abortion and the political/feminist term anti-choice are also in general use. The pro-life platform often extends to opposing embryonic stem cell research, assisted suicide or euthanasia, and in some cases artificial birth control. Its adherents' tactics range from the benign (e.g., prayers in church or fliers) to the aggressive (e.g., heckling patients walking into clinics, showing unwanted graphic pictures of inaccurately labeled or doctored photos, using the legislature to push their agendas, setting up crisis pregnancy centers) to outright terrorism (e.g., bombingsWikipedia's W.svg and killing doctorsWikipedia's W.svg).

Pro-life propaganda by the French political party "Nouvelle Action Française". In English its translation is Abortionists Murderers! The Republic kills.

Origin of the term[edit]

Because being "pro-life" is now largely considered a politically conservative stance, it tends to have a high correlation with support for war and capital punishment (i.e., killing may be, at times, approved of as a method of defending the lives of innocent persons) and with opposition to euthanasia, welfare programs (such as food stamps) and potentially life-saving stem cell research. Hence the trenchant pro-choice assertion that pro-lifers' defense of life begins at conception, ends at birth and starts again at brain death. However, even this may be an exaggeration of their concern for life, as "Pro-lifers" also generally oppose universal access to quality, affordable healthcare, including universal pre-natal and maternity care, most often with the reasoning that such government programs are unnecessarily costly and inefficient, whereas private sector efforts are able to help more people with significantly less cost. In other words, they have a firm belief in the free market.[note 1]

This was originally not the case. The origin of the "pro-life" movement was in the Roman Catholic left during the Vietnam War among Catholic social justice activists, who were opposed to the war, capital punishment, and abortion alike. Those who hold this particular combination today now use the term consistent life ethic. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “pro-life” was first introduced to modern language in 1960 by A. S. Neill in his book Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Childrearing, “no pro-life citizen would tolerate our penal code, our hangings, our punishments of homosexuals, our attitude towards bastardy.” [4] [5]

Post Roe v. Wade[edit]

In the United States, after the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court in 1973, the largely Protestant religious right latched onto abortion as a holy crusade and made it a core part of conservative politics, conveniently forgetting the other issues. Mostly their opposition to abortion seems to stem from them seeing it as part of a feminist plot to empower women with control over their own reproductive rights, and with the sexual revolution more generally. Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority played a big role in making abortion a moral panic among conservatives and evangelical Christians starting in the 1970s and 80s. Today, being "pro-life" is almost a given among members of evangelical megachurches, with dissenting views on abortion met with accusations of near-heresy. It is used as a wedge issue (or a single-issue litmus test) to convince many who otherwise hold liberal, moderate, or libertarian politics, to vote Republican. Pro-life politicians have spent the last two decades trying to find ways to "fight the holy war" with a variety of new tactics from bills attached to health care reform to revised (read: impossible to do) building codes.

The pro-life movement and U.S. racial dynamics[edit]

In recent years, pro-life activist groups in the United States have turned their attention to African-American women. In 2011, one such group chose February – Black History Month – for a billboard campaign announcing that “Black children are an endangered species."[6] A spokesperson for a Texas-based pro-life group which ran a billboard campaign featuring a young black boy and the caption "The most dangerous place for some children is in the womb" said that "the overwhelming majority of abortion facilities are in minority neighborhoods," and that the people living in those neighbourhoods needed to be informed of the alleged effects of abortion.[7] Also in 2011, pro-lifers covered the south side of Chicago with billboards featuring the likeness of Barack Obama, with the slogan "Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted."[8]

Pro-lifers often bolster this "abortion=racism" stance by citing Margaret Sanger's support for eugenics and her admittedly problematic (though hardly unusual for her time) views on race. Critics counter that pro-life conservatives are cynically employing a genocide conspiracy theory to drive a wedge between two groups of traditionally liberal Democratic voters (blacks and feminists).

These efforts are reflected by some more radical factions of the African-American activist community. Some black supremacist and black nationalist groups, including the Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam, have long denounced abortion and contraception as alleged tools of black genocide.

All of this becomes more than a little bit ironic when you consider that there are others who oppose abortion at least in part because they see it as contributing to the "demographic winter" of white people.[9][10]

Direct action[edit]

One lunatic fringe of the pro-life movement turns the idea of "pro-life" so far on its head that they take what they call direct action which can involve acts of terrorism including bombing abortion clinics and to murdering physicians who perform abortions.

Abortion in religion[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Religion and abortion

The Unitarian Universalist religion strongly supports abortion rights.

Buddhist views differ, but the Dalai Lama said that abortion should be viewed according to each situation. Wiccans similarly have varying views on the issue, with no set precedent.

It seems to be possible to quote mine the Bible to support either side of the argument.[11] (No surprise there perhaps.) But all of the verses referred to seem to require substantial interpretation in order to get the required meaning, and are only of interest to one particular religious group. Evangelicals of the '50s and '60s (in contrast to 21st-century ones) often quoted the Bible to argue that life does not begin at conception - mostly as a criticism of the Catholic dogma that ensoulment happened at conception. This view persisted in fairly mainstream evangelical thought until the late 1970s.[12]

Some pro-choice campaigners claim that abortion is mentioned in the Bible, in Numbers 5:11-31. Called "the Adultery Test", the passage is an instruction to priests on how to deal with a woman accused of adultery by feeding her "bitter water", which afflicts her with "the curse". Specifics aren't given in Numbers, but the curse of the "bitter water" is described very clearly as affecting her child-bearing ability. Like most Bible passages, however, there is a catch: translations differ exactly on what this magic potion is supposed to do. In the King James Version (KJV) the relevant passages read:

27And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled, and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot: and the woman shall be a curse among her people. 28But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children.[13]

Some translations specifically suggest "miscarriage" in Numbers 5:22. The New International Version, as opposed to the poetic and subtle KJV, suggests it directly:

27If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse. 28 If, however, the woman has not made herself impure, but is clean, she will be cleared of guilt and will be able to have children.[14]

This sort of translation issue is common throughout holy texts, and is most likely to be due to the use of a euphemism in the original Hebrew that never really caught on in English.[15] Less literal translations agree that the "thigh" in the literal version is plainly a euphemism for "womb" (so it's not just modern Bible-thumpers who are squeamish about female anatomy) but whether The Curse is an induced miscarriage or just rendering the woman sterile isn't clear from most attempts to get the passage into English. Any crude substance capable of causing sterility, or by the more literal translations causing "genitals to shrink" is likely to induce a miscarriage anyway. Either way, it's Biblical evidence for priests playing very fast and loose with the reproductive cycle, which is hardly "pro-life" as many self-described pro-life proponents claim it to be!

Another verse that somewhat touches on the issue is Exodus 21:22:

27If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows.[16]

This suggests that inducing abortion was viewed as only a misdemeanor, though it does not touch upon cases when this was done by the mother or someone else at their instruction, but traditional Jewish interpretation has been that killing is murder only after birth.[17] However, abortion was usually prohibited by reference to Genesis 9:6 ("Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man"), though not as murder, while allowed to save the life of the mother.

Pro-lifers, to the contrary, are usually likely to quote Jeremiah 1:5 ("Before I formed you in the womb I knew you"), which has overtones of Calvinist predestination[note 2], and Deuteronomy 30:19 ("Therefore choose life, that you and your children may live"), which in context is about faith in God and has little to do with abortion.

Abortion and Nazism[edit]

Linking abortion and Nazism is a common pro-life slogan to compare the relation of ideas on what constitutes a human life found in abortion supporters' beliefs and those of the Nazis. One reason the Nazis had no problem murdering millions in cold blood was because they had lowered their expectations on what was considered a human life, therefore removing any moral objection to their killings. In summary, pro-lifers consider third party individuals who define living in order to signify that abortion is not murder as followers of this Nazi montage.

Rush Limbaugh[edit]

The conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh coined the term "feminazi," defining it this way:

[A feminazi is] a feminist to whom the most important thing in life is ensuring that as many abortions as possible occur ... There are fewer than twenty-five known feminazis in the United States.[18]

That Mr. Limbaugh is missing the entire point of radical feminism can probably be agreed upon even by anti-feminists. Whether the comparison of abortion with the actions of the Nazis holds water is a separate question.


Before accepting the parallel between abortion and the Holocaust, one should keep these points in mind:

  1. The Nazis were opposed to abortion. Weimar-era Germany was, for its time, fairly liberal on the abortion question.[19] In 1939, the Nazis brought in laws that did away with this permissiveness, flatly forbidding abortion except for eugenic purposes and by Jews.[20][21]
  2. The Holocaust was a genocide. In these days, the Holocaust is less objected to for its large body count than for the fact that it was a genocide, or, as the United Nations says, an explicit attempt to destroy a nation, ethnicity, or race, or practitioners of a religion. Not only do fetuses not form any such group, but they are not even being targeted on the basis of being fetuses.

Pro-life individuals and organizations[edit]

Pro-life media[edit]

Examples of pro-life media include (formerly Pro-Life Infonet) and LifeSiteNewsWikipedia's W.svg – although both claim to be independent, the latter has a historic connection with the Campaign Life CoalitionWikipedia's W.svg, a Canadian lobby group that opposes euthanasia and same-sex marriage as well.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. But not apparently, in the fetus.
  2. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would suggest that life begins before conception, which pro-lifers prefer not to think too hard about.


  2. American Dad Episode Transcripts: Deacon Stan, Jesus Man
  3. El Salvador teen rape victim sentenced to 30 years in prison after stillbirth, The Guardian
  4. Neill, A.S. (1960). Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Childrearing. p. 138. 
  5. Annalisa Merelli, A brief history of a marketing masterpiece: branding the anti-abortion movement “pro-life”, Quartz, January 28 2017
  6. Miriam Zoila Pérez, "Past and Present Collide as the Black Anti-Abortion Movement Grows," Colorlines, 3 March 2011
  7. Erin Cargile, "Anti-abortion ads target black women" KXAN, 22 December 2010
  8. Laura Basset, "Anti-Abortion Movement Targets Black Women In Latest Efforts," Huffington Post, 22 April, 2011
  9. Kathryn Joyce, "Missing: The 'Right' Babies", The Nation, 14 February 2008
  10. David Edwards, "FL anti-abortion hearing turns racist: 'White culture' dies if women are 'outside the home not having babies'", RawStory, 26 January 2016
  11. Biblical abortion references
  12. The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal
  13. Numbers 5:11-31 (King James Version)
  14. Numbers 5:11-31 (New International Version)
  15. Women’s thighs falling away – new Bible diet?
  18. Limbaugh, Rush. The Way Things Ought to Be, pp.193,296.
  21. See the Wikipedia article on Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.
  22. "About". Retrieved 25 September 2016. 
Abortion articles on RationalWiki
Abortion - Fetus/Fœtus - Gonzales v. Carhart - Nuremberg Files - Planned Parenthood - Pro-life - Pro-choice - Roe v. Wade - Schlafly, breast cancer and abortion - The Silent Scream - Barnett Slepian