pro-life or Pro-LIFE?

Note from Communicating Across Boundaries: Posts on CAB are rarely political. While they are often passionate and want to bring on different perspectives, I know politics can get ugly – and at CAB We hate ugly dialogue! But this Friday, Robynn brings a challenging post on Life with a capital L. We are pretty sure that wherever you stand you will be challenged; we are also aware that wherever you stand you may have strong feelings about the post. We invite dialogue! We know it’s best done in relationship, and better over tea or coffee, but we urge you to respectfully articulate what Life is to you. Thank you for reading! ~

My husband, Lowell, recently was asked by the Evangelical Environmental Network to write a piece defending their declaration that mercury poisoning of the unborn through the burning of coal is a pro-life issue. It seems an obvious connection to me but one that has come under attack by those who prefer a more tightly defined category of pro-life.

It’s got me thinking.

I worked for a year at our local Life Choice office. This was a distinctly pro-woman place where women in crisis could come. We provided information and counseling so these women could make an informed decision about pregnancy, abortion and adoption. It was a place of healing and hope. I loved seeing the women loved on and prayed with through deeply troubling circumstances.

I am pro-life.

But I’m wondering when the definition of pro- life became so narrow? When did pro-life come to only mean pro-life of the unborn child? It seems to me that if we are really truly pro-life we should be pro-LIFE! We should advocate for all issues surrounding life. Our voice should defend the lives of the immigrant, the migrant worker, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the unemployed, the marginalized. We should valiantly love the woman in crisis.  We should cry out against injustice and exploitation. We should actively picket against toxins and pesticides, against mountain top removal and deforestation, against ruthless relentless drilling for oil. We should labour for clean drinking water, and safe agricultural practices.

But are we really pro-life? Am I?

A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with a friend. This friend and her husband have themselves adopted a child through that same Life Choice ministry. We have lots in common, including our pro-life convictions. She’s a safe friend to engage life with. I found myself wondering out loud about these things.

I wondered why the conservatives chose this issue to pivot on. What prompted them to decide to cast their vote behind this one concern seemingly sacrificing all other convictions? Why wasn’t it care for the elderly or for the poor? Why not concern for the foreigner or for the stranger?  If the Bible was their source of ethics or morality they easily would have had justifiable scriptural evidence to suggest choosing one of those.

But I also wondered why those on the other side of the political aisle, who seemingly defend the poor, the ostracized, the foreigner–why they seem to have turned a blind eye to the unborn. They hear the cries of the young woman in crisis but choose to ignore the cries of the infant not yet born. How did they decide to define life in terms of choice when it’s clear that the others they advocate for rarely have a choice? Like the illegal immigrant, the Unborn have no defense, no voice, nothing to stand on—they are silenced by choice. They are silenced by ease. They are silenced by personal pain and even worse, by politics. They have no advocate.

There seems to be so much inconsistency.

As we dialogued and debated and discussed I think we happened upon a possible reason.

For the conservative –It is far easier to love a faceless, nameless innocent child than it is to love the homeless man you see every morning pushing his cart full of water bottles and pop cans. It’s easier to stand up for someone you don’t know, someone you’ll never meet, someone who really affects very few of us than it is to stand up for the grumpy, nosy elderly neighbor who’s name you know and who you try to avoid and who you’re pretty sure doesn’t have health insurance.

For the liberal—It’s far easier to ignore the voice of someone who is silent. It’s easy to forget they even exist. They have no voice. It’s easier to ignore someone who can’t talk, who’s never been given that right.

I know that the unborn child is personally entwined in many of our stories. These babies, miscarried or aborted, bring grief and sorrow. They are little people we’ve never met, children we never carried. They do have names and they mean so much to us, their mothers, their sisters, their aunts, their grandmothers.

But for many it’s not part of our experience.

We’ve limited our definition of pro-life as a convenient way to keep it at arm’s length.

Not only does this slap the grief of our fellow women in the face who’ve personally dealt with this deeply poignant loss, it also requires a different level of personal response or responsibility from those who haven’t.  We don’t have to deal with it. I don’t have to decide whether to give money for gas to the man who knocked on my back door, or to give money to help cover the rent to the two women who rang my front door bell. I don’t have to figure it out.

I guess I’m imploring us all to look again at the broader landscape of scripture and society. I want to see the faces of those that others ignore. I want life for them. I want to stretch my definition of what life and living is. I really do want to be pro-life. I want life for that woman who yet grieves her loss. I want life for the uninsured, for the poor, for the unemployable, for the elderly. I want to care for those that mercury is silently poisoning, for those whose water is now contaminated, for those who live in environmentally devastated regions.

I want life for the born and the not yet born.

Perhaps the pro-life issue really is about choice. I choose to care. I choose to take responsibility. I choose life. I choose to be pro-Life! I’m pro-that –choice!

23 thoughts on “pro-life or Pro-LIFE?

  1. Gosh, there is some powerful writing flying around here today – both the original post, which I found very moving, and all these respectful and thoughtful comments.

    Do you think you can be both pro-choice and pro-life? I am what is called pro-choice in the abortion debate, as I strongly believe that a women should have the right to choose to have an abortion, and that for some women that is the right choice. For the sake of full disclosure I am one of those people Dawn mentioned who does not believe in God; I also believe, like her, that a feotus becomes a viable being in its own right when it is able to survive outside the uterus.

    And yet I feel a deep affinity with Robynn’s exploration of pro-LIFE (with capitals!) – to try and champion many more people, many more marginalised and voiceless, than the few we as humans, conservative or liberal, focus on. That is an important message that should be broadcast across the world – for people to be brave and step up for those they find it difficult to have compassion for, as well as for those where compassion comes easily. I also love Trexison Chaya’s concept of pro-LIVING and trying to have more knowledge of yourself before having children, and the acknowledgement that some people are not cut out for parenthood – I am certainly one of those people.

    I also found it interesting how the issue of abortion is automatically classed as political in this post – I believe at the beginning of the post we are almost fore-warned that content of a political nature follows. Here in the UK, abortion is not a political issue – or certainly not an issue that features prominently in election campaigns, as it seems to in the US. Do you think this politicising helps or hinders the pro-choice/pro-life debate?

    Thank you for this post, CAB. Thank you for being challenging without aggression, and for provoking discussion without accusation.

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    1. Thank you so much for responding Little Navy Fish! I’ve missed you! So – It’s interesting hearing your perspective on the politics – You’re right, based on our climate here, I did warn that it was political. I too resonated with Robynn’s call to be Pro- Living, Pro-Life with a capital L. Because the reality is that is what all of us need to be challenged on. I’d love to have an in person discussion on viability – I watch 24 week old babies being saved all the time and making it. Not without medical intervention but they make it none the less – at the same time people abort 24 week old babies….so viability is a hard one for me. How can we on one hand do every thing we can to save – and on the other hand abort? It’s a dilemma for me. As far as knowing who we are before children, I appreciated the view point but I don’t think all have that luxury. The best of birth control is not fool proof. And even the concept of “knowing who we are” – what does that mean? So much of who we are is shaped by our circumstances and as our circumstances change, so often do we. So much more to talk about but I’ll close with thanking you again for entering into the discussion with such grace.

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  2. I wish to thank you for such wonderfully written post … I was going to write my views in response, but, after reading Dawn’s comment above there is no need as she said it all so eloquently.
    Regards,
    Daniela

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  3. It’s really a false dichotomy to have pro-life and pro-choice in the first place. On top of which, politics, and to a certain extent the church, has reduced the entire complexity of the human condition to two points. Vote for one. It’s ludicrous. The end to the current thoughtless war going on in this country re the definition of life is about as likely as world peace at this point.

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    1. “…reduced the entire complexity of the human condition to two points…It’s ludicrous!” I completely agree. We’ve been boxed into an impossible situation…. I pray for miracles.

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  4. These exact issues are why I felt morally unable to vote for President in the last two elections. I just can’t handle the guilt of voting for someone and then knowing they made decisions that led to the deaths of many, whether it be unborn babies or civilians in Iraq.

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    1. I’ve often been thankful that because I’m a Canadian living as a guest here in the US I don’t have to make this impossibly difficult decision. May you have the wisdom you need to cast your vote, or not…!

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  5. I hesitate to speak here because I am undeniably what has come to be termed “pro-choice”, but for me this happens to be a very personal issue. Which is exactly why I’m pro-choice. For one reason, you question whether conservatives use the Bible and God as the impetus for their pro-life stance. We must remember that not everyone believes in God, or that the Bible is more than a powerful piece of literature that has withstood time. Thus, out of respect for others’ beliefs, I wish to allow them the opportunity to maintain that belief. From a personal perspective, I don’t believe a child is a viable, living being until it is able to sustain life on its own outside the uterus. After experiencing several miscarriages, I have come to firmly believe this. And, while the grief of experiencing a miscarriage is real, it does not compare at all to the grief of losing a living, moving, independent child. I speak from experience on this, as well.
    I believe that those who wish to see an end to abortion mean well, and certainly there are ways we can reduce its use as birth control. I personally see abortion as a least-desired option in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that many pro-life groups and individuals label a woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy as hapless, sexually loose, and irresponsible. First, as I’m sure you know from your own experience working at a life choice clinic, this is not always the case. Second, if it is, do we really want to force such a person into parenthood? Most certainly there is no family unit present under this circumstance, which then contributes to more social issues (many of which you listed as items that conservatives turn their backs on). Adoption is very much a viable option in this case, but the truth is only about 2% of unwanted pregnancies lead to adoption (at least this is the statistic given the last time I researched the topic in 2008. It may have grown, I’m not sure.) Perhaps this is because many clinics who promote life over abortion do such a good job impressing the value of the life the woman (or girl) is potentially carrying that things unintentionally become overly romanticized and the girl chooses to keep the baby rather than relinquish for adoption. In reality, many of those girls are unprepared for parenthood and unfortunately many of those children end up in foster care (locally the estimated statistic was around 30-40% about 5 years ago when a friend of mine worked for social services).
    Lastly, 14 years ago we travelled to Russia to adopt our oldest son. His birth mother was 38, married, and had 3 children at home. Due to the economic crisis in Russia at the time, both she and her husband were unemployed. There was no money for governmental assistance. Health care was not as good as it needed to be, which meant women had no access to birth control. This mother was faced with the decision to either leave her newborn child at the orphanage in the hopes that he would at least be fed and maybe be adopted by a family, or bring him home and eventually force the other 5 family members out on the street. Am I thankful she chose to leave her baby at the orphanage and we were able to adopt him? Yes. But, I would be inhuman if my heart didn’t break every single time I consider how immense her pain was when she made that decision. And then I think about how painful that same decision was for all the mothers who left their children at that orphanage – and all the others around the world (to the tune of over 10 million orphans world-wide) – and I wonder how my adopting one child will alleviate the enormity of this issue? No, adoption is not the only answer, and neither are social welfare programs. I think these two components can also work in conjunction with safe, effective family planning to ensure that every child born is brought into the safest, most loving and supportive environment possible.
    And that is why I’m pro-choice.
    Thank you for the opportunity to express my convictions here. One last thought, I do want to say that I appreciate and acknowledge the value of your efforts to promote life. I don’t completely disagree with your efforts. I also don’t disagree with a woman’s (or girl’s) decision to ultimately have an abortion. I just think sometimes it is more complex than simply taking a stance, and, as Bruce said above, much thought is required on this. Too often people want to be told what to think or believe, and that is typically where we get into trouble…. :-)

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    1. That’s a lot of words for someone who was hesitant to speak! This is the most reasonably voiced defence of a side of a debate that I disagree with that I have ever heard or read. Thank you for saying it, while I still disagree, I can understand your reasoning.

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      1. LOL, Bruce, you are so right! When I made my decision to post I wanted to make sure I didn’t just regurgitate popular rhetoric. I wanted to succinctly state what I think and the motivation behind it. Thus, what should have been brief became a novel :-) I also have no desire to be antagonistic. I truly appreciate your response because it tells me I accomplished what I set out to do: bring a bit of understanding to my position. My goal was NOT to change your mind, because I honestly believe there is value in what you are doing and your viewpoint. I only wish for others to understand my viewpoint and what I believe is its value, as well. Thank you for your understanding.

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      2. Dawn, Thank you so much for articulating so clearly and with so much passion your experiences and convictions. I was humbled to read your stories. I wish I knew you. I wish we could have a good long conversation. I have a lot to learn from you.

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    2. I have to echo Bruce’s words that your words were compassionate, reasonable, and thoughtful – all things I value immensely. And the story of your son’s birth mom is compelling. That our world is a place where that kind of choice needs to be made hurts my heart, I do though feel a voice for the unborn is a part of the picture as well.

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  6. I have found the way babies are treated versus adults to be true in my own family. For some reason once a baby is an adult they are no longer endearing. The dis-endearment often begins even earlier than young adulthood. Often mothers who have multiple babies put their older children in charge and now those children are losing out on their childhood because they had to care for the baby.

    We have choices in this world. Overpopulation is our enemy. We need to embrace love with science so that we do not have babies we cannot take care of. Too many times uneducated adults use parenthood as a means to be somebody. It is a selfish reason to have a baby.

    The voice of an adult should be counted, especially the young adult. That person needs guidance and love like he/she did as a baby, yet it seems parents are more than ready to say, “Off with you. you’re an adult. I am no longer responsible for your mistakes” and so off they go to make more babies without regard to who they really are. Baby-makng is not a miracle. We all know how it is done. We can create them artificially. And people who lament over never having a baby for whatever reason are not fully living. I can understand they need a grieving process, but still many never get past that stage.

    I am pro-LIVING, as in find out who you are before you have children. You never know you might actually find out you are not good parent material, that your passion lies somewhere else. Not all of us were meant to be parents. Not all of us have the compassion and the instinct to do so. They are not bad people. They just are true to themselves and are LIVING out their own unique paths.

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    1. The breakdown of the ‘family unit’ is certainly a part of this issue. Fathers who are absent or ineffectual, Mothers who are overly domineering, or worse uninvolved. Until we start taking family development more seriously these issues are going to continue, and what might once have been considered a largely western world problem is becoming more of a worldwide problem because of the ‘westernization’ of so many developing countries.

      What befuddles the waters even more is how to effect changes in a world that has moved from agrarian, to indurstrial, to high tech in less than 200 years. Where and how we live, work, and interact with family and peers is constantly strained, and changing. These are heavy things to think about, and I am a lightweight in the thinking department. It will be interesting to see where this discussion goes.

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      1. Good call Bruce. Your statement “Where and how we live, work, and interact with family and peers is constantly strained and changing.” That along with your statement on fathers and mothers is so true. Where I struggle is in the policies around so many of these things. On the one hand the acknowledgement that the research is there to confirm the concern of fatherless families, yet so little being done to change that dynamic. All of this is huge and it’s all connected. Thanks for weighing in – and I’d have to disagree with you on being the lightweight in the thinking department. You’re not giving yourself credit!

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      2. Marilyn – interesting article in the “Ideas” section of the Sunday Globe called “The Art of Crowdshifting” that deals with the change issue.

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    2. If only we all had this luxury—of finding out who we are before we have children—- I do love this concept you identified, “pro-LIVING”. You’ve given me some things to think about. Thank you Trexison Chaya!

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