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Pro-Lifers Can Stop Losing By Refusing To Argue On Pro-Abortion Turf


New York’s new law allowing abortion up to the moment of birth has shocked many people. It is barbaric, plain and simple. A baby born one minute could have been killed a minute before, for no other reason than a mother has a supposed right to choose.

Meanwhile, states with pro-life majorities cannot pass bills that restrict abortion past 20 weeks, regulate abortion clinics, or require an ultrasound. The simple fact is that the pro-life movement is losing the argument.

The two main reasons pro-life voices are losing are, first, they accepted legal half-measures for expediency, but in doing so, undermined the foundational argument for life. Second, they largely accept the moral logic of the pro-abortion world in how they speak. In both cases, pro-life people are fighting on pro-choice turf. They need to stop.

The Legal Claims

Most legal attempts today to curb abortion merely restrict when a woman can get an abortion, and this is where the pro-life movement has erred. Any argument that abortion should not be legal in only one part of a pregnancy, even with a detectable heartbeat, is an argument that abortion can be legal in another. This means abortion might be made less possible, but it accepts that it will always be allowed.

This half measure is predicated on an incoherent claim that somewhere after conception, a baby (said to be a mere clump of cells) becomes a person. Given that there is no clear line, “viability” becomes the only possible distinguishing characteristic.

As Ana Maria Dumitru points out in an excellent article, this is the least aggressive pro-choice thinking, but it is still pro-choice thinking. Dumitru argues that pro-abortion advocates take either of three positions: a mother’s will is all that matters, viability matters and must be balanced with the women’s will, or babies in the womb are live human beings but without rights.

Dumitru does not say, but it seems obvious that all three arguments are based on the idea that abortion should be legal at least in part because of a woman’s will. It isn’t hard to see how the three routes all collapse into a view that women have a right to choose. As both Hillary Clinton and Ralph Northam have made clear, this is where the pro-abortion position leads under pressure.

But many pro-life people argue on this ground today. What is a heartbeat law except a tacit admission that before a heartbeat is detected the baby might not be a baby? Other arguments based on medical advancements, no matter how much they push the viability earlier in the pregnancy, cede that babies who are not viable can be aborted. The incremental approach to save some now is understandable, but it entirely undermines the argument to end abortion.

Pro-life people have largely accepted the left’s terms and argue on the grounds their opponents prefer. We talk about “women’s rights,” an invention of the left, and scientific explanations that a baby is a human being, as if we could ever twist the left’s upside-down version of rights and science enough to convince them that killing babies for women’s liberation is wrong. As if pro-choice people don’t know they are advocating for killing babies. We know; all of us know. Fighting in enemy territory is always a disadvantage.

Fighting for the Innocent Is Kind

Worse, compassion is the central focus of pro-life rhetoric—compassion for women before and after they kill their babies—as if we must show pro-choice people we are not heartless. I am not saying that we should not be compassionate when we talk to women considering abortion or who have had one and regret it.

Yes, a “drop of honey” makes an argument sweeter, but it undermines the argument. Putting compassion as the centerpiece, or trying to make pro-life arguments sound compassionate to people who won’t consider the person on the other side of this equation, matches pro-choice rhetoric and is largely self-defeating.

Abortion is not an issue of compassion, it is an issue of rights and what is right. Rights imply duties, and doing one’s duty is rarely easy. Doing what is right is not always compassionate. In fact, it is often hard. But it is still right.

The problem with so-called compassion is that it focuses attention on the women and away from the true victim of our barbarism: the babies. Mothers who consider abortion and their circumstances are not what is most important. Lacking an overruling concern for their feelings is not morally equivalent to killing babies.

Stopping Abortion Is Compassionate

In fact, so-called compassion for the mothers is the convenient veil needed to ignore the babies’ humanity, as if being pregnant is just a “situation” so “complex” that we need to consider what the mother is going through. No. The babies’ humanity, and their rights as people, should be the central focus of the debate. No pro-life argument can succeed without the humanity of unborn children being front and center, whatever the circumstances.

Worse still, the focus on compassion saps the life out of the movement. Matt Chandler’s “whole-life argument” makes it seem as if service to women is required to speak against abortion. If you are not actually helping women, the suggestion is, then you are not entitled to defend the unborn—as if stopping abortion isn’t compassionate.

It also shames people into awkward silence. We stay silent to avoid offending people or hurting feelings because so-called compassion is paramount. But many people, particularly men, will be motivated more by saving innocent lives than by feeling sorry for the people killing those lives. Thinking of the babies fills people with indignation and drives them to action.

This includes people who are otherwise agnostic about abortion. Don’t believe me? Look around right now at the reaction to the new law in New York. Its barbaric nature is right out in the open, and people are enraged, as they should be. That rage, that spiritedness, is the natural foundation of human action and public spiritedness.

However ugly it is for women to feel that they have done something socially unacceptable, killing babies is much uglier.

This false compassion also kills two essential elements that can help stop abortion. First, an overemphasis on compassion destroys the notion of public shame. Shaming is an ugly thing to our modern sensibilities, but it can be a powerful force for good. It drives people to do what is right for honor’s sake. The law of fashion, John Locke said, is the most powerful law in human life. However ugly it is for women to feel that they have done something socially unacceptable, killing babies is much uglier.

Second, framing things in terms of compassion for the mothers tends to convert the issue of abortion into a broad moral question of how we treat people generally. Because it is unfocused, it brings moral relativism into the movement, resulting in the incoherent but feel-good argument that “I am pro-life and wouldn’t get an abortion, but who am I to say another can’t?” This argument saps the vitality of the pro-life movement with incoherence and nihilism. As C.S. Lewis explains in “The Abolition of Man,” nihilism like this leads to men without chests: cowards.

As strange or new as these arguments might sound, why not consider them? The current approach isn’t good enough. How long will we wait to make a change? How many more babies must die before we honestly assess our failing strategy and try something different?

A New Path to March

So I propose a new course for the pro-life movement. Abandon any attempts to placate pro-choice advocates with talk about science, women’s rights, or compassion. By large, they are not going to concede, and there is no middle ground. Reaching those in the middle who are neither pro-abortion nor pro-life will be easier if we make the terms of the debate clear. Perhaps they will remain agnostic, but most people are already against murder and making what we are against clear might help us win them over.

The fact is, the truth is clear enough for everyone to see: we know those babies in those tummies are human beings. Acting otherwise undermines our argument. Require women to see ultrasounds of their little ones if that helps, but ditch the “we are more scientific” talk. Instead, make the babies who are being slaughtered the central focus of your words. Remind people what you are fighting for.

Reaching those in the middle who are neither pro-abortion nor pro-life will be easier if we make the terms of the debate clear.

Call abortion murder. That is what it is: an unjust killing of an innocent human being. Abortion is a medical term, a clinical term. In some just instances, such as to protect a woman’s life, an abortion might be understandable. But we are not talking about that. We are talking about killing babies for convenience. That’s murder.

Don’t let the pro-murder crowd hide from their barbarism by dictating the terms of the debate. It might hurt some women’s feelings, but that is a small price to pay for saving the lives of innocent children. Consistency and integrity must be at the foundation of the pro-life argument. We must be consistent in our words.

And we must be bold. Enough holding hands and marching. There is time for that when we win. Stop with the half-measures that are attempted under the belief that a woman has a right to choose to kill the father’s and her child. We need to take back our governments and remind them who they work for. If we are pro-life, they must be too. Courts don’t make laws. Our elected representatives in our legislatures do. There is more to be said about this in other articles.

Will this be costly? Yes. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it work? Maybe. But what do we have to lose? We need to change the way we think and correct the way we speak. We are not just pro-life; we are against murder. It’s time we act like it.