“You are not pro-life; you are pro-birth!” It is a common objection that the pro-life movement faces. In this article I will argue that this argument is not only fallacious and illogical, but also condescending, pathological, and destructive. It is the worst political argument ever made, and this fact should be common knowledge. I will not attempt to state the argument in my own words, because my extreme bias against it will likely butcher the point one way or another. Joan Chittister, a Catholic nun, provides the most well-known statement of this argument; thus I will represent it with a quote from her:
“I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”
Those who make this argument claim that it is inconsistent to oppose legal abortion while also opposing the allocation of tax money to programs for the needy. They say that if one is to be “pro-life” concerning the life of a fetus, one must also be “pro-life” concerning the life of a child who is already born. One must hence support big government programs relating to healthcare, education, and other accessories, especially for children and for the poor. It is also common to argue that in order to be truly “pro-life” one must oppose the death penalty. These points are frequently made in a hostile or condescending way in an attempt to point out hypocrisy.
To be clear, I will not argue for the death penalty or against big government policies. I oppose the death penalty myself, and it is perfectly consistent for pro-life individuals to also believe in a bigger government with more services. What I do contend is that it is equally consistent to believe otherwise. Furthermore, the “you are pro-birth” argument not only holds no weight but is also insulting and harmful.
Let us start with a simple logical refutation. The argument holds that opposition to legal abortion on the grounds of being “pro-life” must imply support for policies that encourage “life” such as public healthcare. Yet in realtiy, the equivalent of legal abortion with regard to a child who is already born is legal murder. The pro-life movement does not believe in legalizing murder for children who are already born. Similarly, the pro-life movement does not advocate for government-paid healthcare for unborn children. Everything is consistent. The opposition’s argument equates the lack of government healthcare to legal murder. It also equates legal murder with lack of taxpayer money in programs that allegedly preserve life. The pro-life movement does not advocate for these kinds of programs with respect to unborn babies. The opposition’s argument regarding the death penalty further equates the life of a guilty criminal with the life of an innocent child.
The trouble of this pro-abortion argument extends beyond its lack of coherence. Many priests in the Orthodox and Catholic communities fall for this point eagerly in an attempt to distinguish themselves from Evangelicals. In America’s upper and upper middle class societies it is a taboo to make fun of any group, especially if the group is perceived to be disadvantaged. Yet there are two groups that are socially acceptable to mock: uneducated whites and Evangelical Christians. It is therefore embarrassing at times in college-educated circles to have too much in common with the Evangelicals. In my experience, it is common for many priests to try to prove themselves and to show that they are not like the Evangelicals, that they are not merely “pro-birth” but truly “pro-life.” In this way, the argument baits many well-meaning individuals to unintentionally participatate in disdain towards Evangelical Chirstians.
To condemn the “pro-birth” red herring in detail would require a pamphlet of writing. The bottom line of this summary is that it is a non-argument that is parroted in condescention towards the pro-life movement. This point must therefore be recognized when encountered and called out for what it is whenever possible.