“Pro-Life” or “Anti-Abortion”?
These terms may seem synonymous, but there are subtle differences.
Though "pro-life" is an imperfect and often criticized label, it is more accurate than the alternative ("anti-abortion") and more honest than its counterpart ("pro-choice").
Since we've criticized the use of "pro-choice" as being dishonest and misleading, we must also examine the validity of the phrase "pro-life". There's certainly as much disagreement over this term as there is over the other. If you've ever been at an abortion-rights rally, you may well have heard the following chant:
"Pro-Life, your name's a lie. You don't care if women die!"
The implication is that if abortion is outlawed, pregnant women will be killed en masse through botched, illegal abortions. Such dire predictions are easily refuted, but that still leaves us with the question of whether or not "pro-life" is an accurate label.
After all, many "pro-lifers" support capital punishment. Many of them support the use of military force, and many eat meat. Does this make their use of the term "pro-life" hypocritical? Lots of abortion supporters think so. For the record, there are abortion-opponents on both sides of the issues mentioned above. Those who are not vegetarian, pacifists that oppose the death penalty would likely justify their use of the term "pro-life" by pointing to the overarching reason for opposing abortion in the first place: it kills an innocent human being.
Abortion opponents who support capital punishment could point out that the death penalty is reserved for those who have been convicted of horrific crimes – crimes that ended the lives of innocent people. It is not intentionally applied to the innocent, nor even to those convicted of lesser crimes. When the state executes a convicted murderer, they don't belittle the value of human life. They uphold it. The more serious the penalty; the more serious the crime.
Abortion opponents who support the use of military force could point out that the object of a just war is never to kill civilians. The aim is to protect innocent lives by combatting an imminent danger. The fact that innocent citizens often do die is the sad and unintended result. In the case of abortion, though, its express purpose is to kill an innocent human being. It is by no means accidental.
Finally, abortion opponents who eat meat could point out that they do not eat human meat. Their commitment to protecting "life" need not extend to all plant and animal life to be consistent. Abortion ends the life of an innocent human being. Eating a hamburger does not.
You may disagree with some or all of these explanations, but they should at least help demonstrate how someone could wear the "pro-life" label without being universally committed to the preservation of all life at all times.
Nevertheless, perhaps "anti-abortion" would be a more fitting and accurate description than "pro-life". Actually, it wouldn't, at least not in most cases. First off, most groups and individuals that oppose abortion maintain a "life of the mother" exception. They believe that abortion is morally acceptable if continued pregnancy will kill the mother, and there is no way to save the child. When faced with the prospect of either losing the mother and the child or just losing the child, the "pro-life" ethic recognizes the appropriateness of saving the mother's life. In this extremely narrow sphere, abortion serves the cause of life.
The second reason that "anti-abortion" may be a less appropriate description than "pro-life" is the fact that many pro-life groups are actively opposed to infanticide and the euthanization of the elderly, the infirmed and the weak – opposition that fits under the banner of "pro-life", but not under the banner of "anti-abortion". These groups don't only care about the lives threatened by abortion; they care about the lives of those being threatened by all manner of injustices. In many countries, abortion just happens to be the greatest threat.
Add to all this the general wisdom of being identified by what you support, rather than by what you oppose, and it should become more apparent why the "pro-life" label can be a fitting one. It is by no means perfect, but it is more appropriate than the alternative.
This page was last updated on September 02, 2009. To cite this page in a research paper, visit: "Citing Abort73 as a Source."