What does “pro-life” mean?
Jesus cared about all marginalized people, not just a few. As a Christian, then, my ethic should be broad and inclusive. I should do something to resist human trafficking, alleviate poverty, promote fatherhood, and welcome genuine refugees. But it doesn’t follow that the operational objectives of the pro-life movement must be broad and inclusive as well.
And yet critics like pastor John Pavlovitz confuse the two all the time. He insists that if pro-lifers were truly pro-life, they’d do more than prevent abortion. They’d take on hunger, poverty, illiteracy, child mortality, forced prostitution, racism, and homophobia—to name just a few. You see similar confusion in headlines like, “You Can’t Be Pro-Life and Not Be __________.” (Fill in the blank with some other issue pro-lifers are charged with resolving.)
Pro-life advocates should stop buying the premise that because we oppose the intentional killing of innocent human beings, we must take on other tragic societal ills under the banner of being “pro-life.” The criticisms are not only unfair; they are narrowly targeted. Is the American Cancer Society neglectful because it fights one type of disease rather than many?
Limited Scope of the ‘Pro-Life’ Movement
“Pro-life” means you oppose the intentional killing of innocent human beings in the womb. Our essential case looks like this:
Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Abortion is wrong.
That’s enough for me, and it should be enough for anyone. Nevertheless, the hits on pro-lifers just keep on coming. One large evangelical conference featured a speaker who bashed pro-lifers for “withholding mercy from the living so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn” and for “only doing activism that is comfortable.” Closer to home, a well-intentioned pro-life organization insists the pro-life movement must not only save children, but “programmatically” help others “build strong families, have healthy marriages, be better parents, and have thriving faith lives”—that, and promote responsible fatherhood.
How is all that even possible? Pro-lifers just got saddled with a backbreaking job description not even Superman can pull off. We do not establish “pro-life” credentials by diverting scarce resources from the unborn to take on issues that Christians with larger platforms and better funding are more than willing to address. That will kill the pro-life movement.
Instead, we should pursue four operational objectives related to our essential case:
- Advocate for the unborn legally, limiting the evil of abortion insofar as possible given current political realities.
- Engage the culture with a persuasive case for life focused on the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion.
- Present alternatives to abortion through the important work of pregnancy resource centers.
- Minister to millions of our fellow citizens wounded by abortion, presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only hope for human evil.
Notice that each of those four operational objectives directly addresses one problem—abortion.
Christians Are More Than Merely ‘Pro-Life’
That said, to be Christian is to care for the poor. As the apostle James makes clear, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). Christians are supposed to reach out their hands to those in need. But that is distinct from making the argument, as some do, that if you aren’t taking on other issues, you aren’t truly pro-life.
Christians are supposed to reach out their hands to those in need. But that is distinct from making the argument, as some do, that if you aren’t taking on other issues, you aren’t truly pro-life.
When critics tell the pro-life movement to broaden its operational objectives, I ask what that means in the real world.
Should pro-life groups spend Monday fighting abortion, Tuesday fighting poverty, Wednesday fighting sex trafficking, Thursday fighting economic injustice, and Friday fighting unjust immigration laws? When I speak in schools, can I spend 50 minutes on abortion, or must I divide my time by five and cover other issues?
While the operational objectives of the pro-life movement do not compel my involvement in those broader issues, being a Christian does. As a Christ follower, I will engage many problems related to human suffering.
Effective pro-life presentations are clear and to the point. Last week at Servite High School near Los Angeles, I delivered a pro-life apologetics presentation to nearly 900 young men. They got an essential pro-life case. They saw abortion images. They heard the gospel. The audience was racially mixed, with many non-religious and non-pro-life students present. I stuck to the single topic of abortion. The assembly coordinator wrote, “Your talk was a gift. The students loved your simplicity, your logic, and your conviction.” Several students replied (paraphrase), “We’ve never heard anyone make rational arguments like that.”
Indeed they haven’t.
Message the World Needs
My informal surveys at Christian worldview conferences indicate few students hear pro-life talks at church. Out of 1,800 students present at our 2017 conferences, only 45 had prior exposure to a pro-life apologetics presentation.
Let that sink in: 45 out of 1,800!
Our problem isn’t narrow messaging; it’s silence. We’ve failed to take an essential pro-life case into every corner of culture, starting with our own youth.
My friend John Ensor puts it well. To be “pro-life” means
to speak up on behalf of children being led to the slaughter, and to engage in rescue of those children, and their parents, who are often victims of the big abortion lie. It doesn’t mean that, as Christians, we don’t care about other issues. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to help our neighbors when they are in trouble. But it does mean we will not dilute our organizational resources chasing after every conceivable extension of life, particularly when many of those other issues already have personnel and resources that dwarf those of dedicated pro-life organizations.
We stand alone in our calling to save children. We need to fulfill it.