While talking with a fellow fundamentalist, pro-lifer, and friend, something was said that clarified today's Pro-Life dilemma. My friend was bemoaning Obama's "nanny" state and his "cradle to grave" care. Such comments are intended to shame anybody who has even the smallest sense of self-reliance and independence so as to make any welfare state, even Obama's, repulsive. In response I asked if one places an unconditional value on human life, wouldn't one want to welcome a "cradle to grave" provision. Then my friend shared his deepest fear. That fear was that he would have to pay for loafers, for those who refused to work.
Never once did he express a concern for the working poor, the elderly, the disabled, or those who have limited to no opportunities to support themselves. Rather, his primary worry was that welfare cheats would become parasites and attach themselves to his paycheck.
This is when it hit me about the current Pro-Life movement and the liberal portrayal of it. Their narrative claims that Pro-Lifers are only concerned with the unborn. This is wrong. Rather, conservative Pro-Lifers, at least the ones I am familiar with, are more concerned with who's footing the bill and who is paying for whom than who needs what to live.
The term Pro-Life indicates being for life, for the right to live. And like the statement in the Declaration of Independence about all men, should be all people, having the right to life, the implications are underestimated. For it is a cruel joke to tell people that they have the right to life but make what is necessary for life, such as housing, food, a healthy environment, affordable healthcare, and education, inaccessible. A broader view of Pro-Life was put forth by Ron Sider during the 1970s. But while conservative Pro-Lifers rightfully oppose elective abortions, they are too concerned with their own prosperity to embrace his definition. In addition, many conservative Pro-Life advocates are far too eager to support our military interventions in the name of patriotism even though what could be more pro-death than unnecessary wars. At the same time, we have Pro-Choice advocates who have enthusiastically adopted some of Ron Sider's definition of Pro-Life.
Conservative Pro-Lifers cry foul here. They say that there are no
guarantees, life is tough and so everybody has to make of it what they
can. But, if life is tough and we have placed an unconditional value on human
life as Pro-Lifers do on human life in the womb, shouldn't we be more willing to share than be resentful for having given?
Anyway, we have Pro-Lifers who proudly beat their chest and claim to be the defenders of the defenseless who also feel robbed and violated when their money is used to support life preserving social and environmental programs and are oblivious to the death and destruction caused by the wars their taxes fund. The result here is that the Pro-Life attempts to shelter the unborn are too easily discredited by hypocrisy and self-centeredness.
We who care about the rights of the unborn must make a decision here, we must decide on a new name for ourselves. This is because we have others who are defending life in other ways, including some of the ways Ron Sider specified, who also deserve the Pro-Life monicker despite their views on abortion. We must therefore expand the Pro-Life tent to include them. And then we must be able to distinguish Pro-Lifers who oppose elective abortion from those who do not.
At the same time, we must recognize the one obstacle that stands in everybody's way from becoming more consistently Pro-Life. That hurdle is individualism. For conservative Pro-Lifers, their denial of life's interdependencies in order to justify the maximizing of personal profits stands in the way of welcoming the necessary sharing a consistent Pro-Life ethic calls us to. For those Pro-Lifers who defend abortion rights, reproductive and individual freedoms keep some from recognizing the humanity of the unborn. Perhaps, this is why such Pro-Lifers currently frame the question of what is in the womb as whether it is a human person than a human life. The implication here is that an unborn child could not become a person until those outside the womb interact with him or her. Regardless of when we assign "personhood" to the unborn, each unborn child is a living human.
In Jesus' parable of the prayers of the pharisee and the tax collector, one person bragged about his own righteousness and condemned the other while the other could only see his sin and need for mercy. If we were to rewrite that parable to reflect today's Pro-Life debate, we would more often than not describe two groups of pharisees praying rather than tell of a groveling tax collector who found forgiveness. This is tragic because, in the end, none of us are in the mood to listen to our own shortcomings that are inconsistent with the Pro-Life name.
Fundamentalists bear the brunt of the responsibility here, and thus guilt, because of the Pro-Life name with which we have cloaked ourselves. We are the ones who have exclusively bound the term with the abortion issue. And in so doing, we have both excused ourselves from other Pro-Life responsibilities and covered up our own sins. If we are to prove our critics wrong, we are the ones who need to expand our definition of Pro-Life according to what its name implies and then find a way to distinguish the two groups of Pro-Life advocates.