Morally I'm Pro-Life, Legally I'm not, and why Pro-Lifers need to calm down

Morally I'm Pro-Life
For some of our beliefs and opinions, we should recognize a distinction between the moral belief itself and its legal implications, or its potential legal implications. For example, I believe everyone should love others, including their enemies, but I do not believe that should be a law. I don't think, for example, that disliking your neighbor should come with a $200 fine. I believe in radical forgiveness, but I would not support getting rid of all prisons and jails (in the name of forgiveness). I believe in God, but I also think government should be secular. These are moral and religious issues that may or may not become legal issues, depending on whether we want to extend them. The more I thought about the abortion debate and how complex it is, the more I realized that abortion is the same kind of issue--it's moral and legal.

  • Moral Pro-Life: When you believe that abortion is wrong.
  • Moral Pro-Choice: When you believe that abortion is permissible.
  • Legal Pro-Life: When you think abortion should be illegal
  • Legal Pro-Choice: When you think abortion should be legal.
Pick two. Before you think I'm splitting hairs or creating distinctions ex nihilo, check out this Pew survey which suggests we all look at it this way. I believe terminating a pregnancy is wrong, except in the case of rape and the mother's safety. That's my moral view. I wouldn't get an abortion, and if I extend my morals to other people, I don't think they should get an abortion either (the same way I don't think they should dislike their neighbor, or lie, or punch people in the face). I would never judge someone that got an abortion, based on the Christian prohibition against judging (Jesus: "judge not"). I would not hate them for it. I would simply think it's not right. That's all. Negative emotion is not required. The proper response is compassion, understanding, and sadness (both for the baby and the parents). I believe in contraception, which includes Plan B (in my understanding, it's preventative, not a termination). More on that later.

Why am I morally pro-life? Five main reasons. First, everyone is pro-life to a certain extent. When having these arguments, we forget that almost all Pro-Choicers are pro-life when it comes to the third trimester (i.e. babies that pretty much look like a real baby). Even liberals do not want to see mothers kill these kinds of babies. So the real question is: where exactly do we draw the line? From sex, to fertilization, to "viability," this is where the science gets very murky and the place we pick seems a bit arbitrary. Therefore, I don't blame people for picking "fertilization." Intuitively, it makes sense, but people don't even understand the science behind fertilization (I don't).

Second, actions have consequences. Sex is a big, powerful action with big consequences. One of those possible consequences, even with birth control, is a baby. Generally speaking, we should live with our decisions. This is a case where we use medicine to terminate one of our decisions, almost like asking a Genie to go back in time. But wait a minute, you say...don't we do this all the time? When we "decide" to go skateboarding and break a leg, should we not go to the doctor and fix it? Well, of course we should, be the key word here is fix. Terminating a pregnancy is not fixing anything. That's stretching the word fix, heal, or mend a little too much. It's morally different. In fact, because we are dealing with a living thing (even a bundle of cells), it's impossible to think of an exact analogy that matches other sorts of medical scenarios.

Third, we are talking about a future person here; or, at the very least, a potential human, barring any complications with the pregnancy or birth. That matters. Existence is a prerequisite for a good life. You can speculate all you want about whether they would have a good life, whether adoption is a viable option, etc--you don't know. There will never be another person quite like this one. Of course, the bundle of cells could really give a shit, they have no feelings, memory, nothing. They will pop out of existence without a peep. Yet, even under the worst of conditions, you will always wonder what would have happened.

Fourth, there is virtue in the pro-life position. If you get rid of the sexism, the Pro-Life movement could be based on compassion. And, to a certain extent, I think it is. If you take away the men who simply want to control women's bodies, pro-life, at its core, is nothing more than people who care about life (fetuses), who stick up for those who cannot defend themselves. In this way, it shares the same impulse of the animal rights movement and the environmental movement. These are people giving voice to the voiceless. There is merit and virtue in that.

Fifth, it seems odd for us to want doctors, who took a Hippocratic oath never to harm, to terminate pregnancies. The whole point of medicine is to promote life and health. I realize this argument isn't that good.

Legally I'm not
When I start to think about actually making a law, then it gets complicated, uncomfortable, and more of a womens' rights issue. According to Pew, the American public feels the same: although 49% of American adults think abortion is morally wrong, only 40% think abortion should be illegal. Considering all the circumstances and consequences, I cannot support a law banning abortion. First of all, education about birth control and sex needs to improve. A law would disproportionately affect those less educated. Second, poor people would be most affected. Third, religious zealots have convinced too many people that birth control is evil and abstinence the only way, which is very unrealistic. Fourth, quality health care is not accessible to many Americans. And fifth, a lot of the people behind this (not all) are sexist males that simply want to control women. All of these practical considerations must be taken into account when thinking legally, as opposed to morally. Thinking legally considers sociological realities, while moral thinking exists in a vacuum of sorts. Right and wrong are right and wrong no matter what, no matter where, no matter how. Given the political climate, I could never force all women to either get an unsafe illegal abortion or to go through with a pregnancy they did not want. Pro-Choice is the default position, especially when in doubt.

Why Pro-Lifers need to calm down
What really amazes me about the abortion debate is that it has become such a big debate. In the grand scheme of things, abortion should be a fringe issue, a minor moral point that some people squabble over. We are talking about bundles of cells here, about zygotes and one-month-old fetuses. As actual people starve all over the world, as war is still raging in the Middle East, as most people do not have access to quality health care, as we fundamentally change the climate, this is what we argue about? Defending fetuses should be the least of our worries; it should be near the bottom of our priority list, not a major part of political platforms. In other words, what I'm saying is this: pro-lifers should stop trying to pass laws that ban abortion. Keep it a fringe moral issue, that's it; don't make it a legal issue. The more emotion people get about it, the more ridiculous it is. The fact that the argument has become so big tells me one thing: sexism is indeed a major part of it.


  1. I never understood the argument about men trying to control women's bodies. I just don't see it. Could you elaborate? This is Jen by the way.

    1. Hi Jen. The argument goes something like this. First, congress is overwhelmingly male, federal and state, and these are the men that are actually passing these laws. We all agree on that. So, in a way, men have all the legal power over abortion and, in a way, control the debate. Second, like racism, the long history of the oppression of women even today is still not over. Somehow it spills over into this debate, but it's hard to pin down exactly how (just like racism; it permeates everything). Third, men do not have a right to have an opinion over this issue because it does not affect their bodies. That's where I think it goes too far; clearly men, especially fathers, are affected by this issue and should have a say. At the end of the day, it's men telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. I sympathize with the argument, but the major flaw that I see with it is that the views of women and men seems to be pretty much the same on abortion (about 50% for, 50% against).

  2. I think that in order to say that men are trying to control women's bodies, the men making the decisions would have to be consciously or at least subconsciously wanting to control women's bodies. If you asked any man that opposes abortion, assuming that they are being honest, most would not say because I want to control women's bodies. It seems absurd. I understand that women are more affected by this, but as you already said father's have a say too.
    Also, I don't see it as a choice that affects women's bodies. Its about a separate life that happens to be inside a woman. Unless the woman's body is being harmed by the fetus the issue is about another life.
    I agree with you on the issue. I am personally pro life, but legally am pro choice. My legal opinion is mostly based on pessimism. There are too many people having babies that shouldn't be having babies. I think the better solution is sex education.
    If anything, I would say that men are trying to control women's life choices. A man does not know what its like to have a baby. Of course neither do I, but I do know the fear of even thinking about having a baby. I've contemplated the change my life would take. What if I was on birth control, took it properly and still got pregnant? If I was poor and struggling to make ends meet? I don't think I would be to keen on anyone telling me what to do, man or woman.