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|In the back alley|
“”…[they] believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth…
|—Barney Frank, speaking of anti-abortion legislators|
|—Stan Smith, American Dad!|
“”We command all satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now!
|—Paula White, pro-life spiritual adviser to President Trump|
“”These people aren't pro-life, they're killing doctors! What kind of pro-life is that? What, they'll do anything they can to save a fetus but if it grows up to be a doctor they just might have to kill it? They're not pro-life. You know what they are? They're anti-woman. Simple as it gets, anti-woman. They don't like them. They don't like women. They believe a woman's primary role is to function as a brood mare for the state.
|—George Carlin, in his opening bit from his 1996 HBO special Back in Town|
Pro-life is a political neologism and emotionally loaded term used to define people who are allegedly 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, obstruct and/or outlaw its practice. Some 'pro-life' supporters are also pro-death penalty, the term can also be an oxymoron. Some jurisdictions get so strict about this that giving stillbirth or miscarriage is considered murder. The more common and neutral term anti-abortion and the political/feminist terms anti-choice and forced birth 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, using the legislature to push their agendas, vandalizing clinics) to the deceptive (e.g., setting up crisis pregnancy centers, showing unwanted graphic pictures of inaccurately labeled or doctored photos, sneaking into Planned Parenthood as "undercover" and then fabricating/distorting evidence of wrongdoing) to outright terrorism (e.g., Eric Rudolph bombings, the assassination of George Tiller, and killing doctors).
Origin of the term
Because being "pro-life" is now largely considered a politically conservative stance, it tends to have a high correlation with support for war, gun nuttery 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] defending a state the smaller the better.
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."
Post Roe v. Wade
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 1980s. 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
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." 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. 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."
Pro-lifers often bolster this "abortion=racism" stance by citing Margaret Sanger's admittedly problematic (though hardly unusual for her time) support for eugenics. 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 (African Americans 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. Pro-life arguments also tend to overlook or to distract from historical discrimination against African Americans, who more likely to be in poverty and thus in need of access to abortions (as many cannot afford to raise a child).
Abortion in philosophy
“”You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, "Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you — we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.
The thought experiment is meant to show that personal autonomy should be more important than saving a life when the two are interconnected. Although this particular thought experiment would seem to only support abortion in the case of rape, Thomson was able to construct other similar thought experiments that broadened the permissibility of abortion in a wide range of scenarios.:60-61 Nonetheless, right-to-life proponents are not very likely to find this line of reasoning convincing.:61
Abortion in religion
The Unitarian Universalist religion strongly supports abortion rights.
It seems to be possible to quote mine the Bible to support either side of the argument. (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 1950s and 1960s (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.
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.
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.
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. 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 men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
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. 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 thee in the belly I knew thee…"), which has overtones of Calvinist predestination,[note 2] and Deuteronomy 30:19 ("…therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live"), which in context is about faith in God and has little to do with abortion.
Abortion and Nazism
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.
Some pro-lifers also bring up China's controversial one-child policy as a straw man argument, accusing their opponents of secretly supporting forced abortions, because wanting women to have a choice in their reproductive health is totally the same as a government enforcing strict control of child births, right?
“”[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.
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:
- The Nazis were opposed to abortion. Weimar-era Germany was, for its time, fairly liberal on the abortion question. In 1939, the Nazis ushered in laws that did away with this permissiveness, flatly forbidding abortion except for eugenic purposes and by Jews.
- 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 and science
The theme of the 2019 pro-life March for Life in Washington, DC was "Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science". Despite this proclamation, the pro-life movement has been rather anti-science, for example opposing stem-cell research, promoting many falsehoods on abortion such as the debunked abortion and breast cancer link, abortion and mental health problems link, having doctors abuse their credentials and patient trust to promote the falsehood of "saving" ecotopic pregnancies, and deceiving women to go to religious crisis pregnancy centers. The March promoted two "scientific" non-peer reviewed papers. One paper was published by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute:
“”Because the zygote arises from the fusion of two different cells, it contains all the components of both sperm and egg, and therefore this new cell has a unique molecular composition that is distinct from either gamete. Thus the zygote that comes into existence at the moment of sperm-egg fusion meets the first scientific criterion for being a new cell type: its molecular make-up is clearly different from that of the cells that gave rise to it.
At best, this is a gross oversimplification, and the origin of a human life is more of a political question than a scientific one. The egg and the sperm are also each alive; why not criminalize masturbation or other forms of non-procreative sex for all the sperm cells deliberately killed?
The second paper was an opinion signed by a few hundred members of the American College of Pediatricians stating that life begins at conception. The American College of Pediatricians is regarded as a fringe anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Pro-life individuals and organizations
Examples of pro-life media include LifeNews.com (formerly Pro-Life Infonet) and LifeSiteNews – although both claim to be independent, the latter has a historic connection with the Campaign Life Coalition, a Canadian lobby group that opposes euthanasia and same-sex marriage as well.
- Susan B. Anthony List
- Consistent life ethic
- Every Sperm is Sacred
- Fun:Pro-life argument bingo - to make debating anti-abortion Internet dwellers a little easier.
- But not apparently, in the fetus or letting the free market deal with abortion.
- Taken to its logical conclusion, this would suggest that life begins before conception, which pro-lifers prefer not to think too hard about.
- American Dad Episode Transcripts: Deacon Stan, Jesus Man
- Trump's spiritual adviser called for 'all satanic pregnancies to miscarry.' It was a metaphor, she says. by Derek Hawkins & Angela Fritz (Jan. 26, 2020 at 10:24 a.m. PST) The Washington Post.
- Paula White, Trump "spiritual advisor": “We command all Satanic pregnancies to miscarry right now! (Jan 25, 2020) YouTube.
- Paula White Ministries (archived from January 26, 2020).
- Can you be pro-life and pro-death penalty? by Carol Costello (May 28, 2014) CNN.
- Why It’s Completely Consistent To Be Pro-Life And Pro-Death Penalty by Benjamin R. Dierker (November 26, 2018) The Federalist.
- El Salvador teen rape victim sentenced to 30 years in prison after stillbirth, The Guardian
- When Prosecutors Jail a Mother for a Miscarriage: Women grieving after a lost pregnancy or a newborn’s accidental death are being charged with crimes. (Dec. 28 2018) The New York Times.
- Is miscarriage murder? States that put fetal rights ahead of a mother's say so by Sadhbh Walshe (25 Jan 2013 08.15 EST) The Guardian.
- Neill, A.S. (1960). Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Childrearing. p. 138.
- Annalisa Merelli, A brief history of a marketing masterpiece: branding the anti-abortion movement "pro-life", Quartz, January 28 2017
- Ladd, D. (March 11, 2019). The white women who flipped: the price of changing your conservative views. The Guardian. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
- Miriam Zoila Pérez, "Past and Present Collide as the Black Anti-Abortion Movement Grows," Colorlines, 3 March 2011
- Erin Cargile, "Anti-abortion ads target black women" KXAN, 22 December 2010
- Laura Basset, "Anti-Abortion Movement Targets Black Women In Latest Efforts," Huffington Post, 22 April, 2011
- Kathryn Joyce, "Missing: The 'Right' Babies", The Nation, 14 February 2008
- Ari M. Brostoff, "How white nationalists aligned themselves with the antiabortion movement", The Washington Post, 27 August 2019
- Alex DiBranco, "The Long History of the Anti-Abortion Movement's Links to White Supremacists", The Nation, 3 February 2020
- "A Defense of Abortion" by Judith Jarvis Thomson (1971) Philosophy & Public Affairs 1(1):47-66.
- "Why Is an Argument Clinic Less Silly than an Abuse Clinic or Contradiction Clinic?" by Harry Brighouse (2006) In: Monty Python and Philosophy: Nudge Nudge, Think Think!, edited by Gary L. Hardcastle & George A. Reisch. Open Court. ISBN 0812695933. Pages 53-63.
- Biblical abortion references
- The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal
- Numbers 5:27 (KJV)
- Numbers 5:11-31 (New International Version)
- Women’s thighs falling away – new Bible diet?
- Limbaugh, Rush. The Way Things Ought to Be, pp.193, 296.
- See the Wikipedia article on Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.
- Trump and Pence give surprise addresses at antiabortion March for Life by Michelle Boorstein, Julie Zauzmer & Marisa Iati (January 18, 2019) The Washington Post.
- Osberg, M. (October 1, 2019). The Anti-Abortion Doctor Who Believes Ectopic Pregnancies Can Be 'Reimplanted'. Jezebel. Retrieved October 2, 2019.
- A Scientific View of When Life Begins by Maureen Condic (June 11, 2014) Charlotte Lozier Institute.
- American College of Pediatricians Southern Poverty Law Center
- "About". Retrieved 25 September 2016.