“I’m pro-life, but…”

008-Pro-Birth-not-Pro-LifeDon’t you love when people self-identify with a certain label, only to follow that up with a “but…” that basically contradicts everything we think that label represents?

“I’m a Christian, but I don’t hate gay people.”

“I’m Jewish, but I eat pork.”

“I’m a vegetarian, but sometimes I eat fish.”

I’m one of those people: “I’m pro-life, but I actually give a damn about both the fetus and the mother, and support every available option to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place.”

It’s an uphill battle trying to dignify my stance, and I completely understand why: there are some shitty pro-lifers out there that are better described as pro birthers. They don’t (for some inexplicable reason) support government programs to help families in poverty. They don’t approve of contraceptives that decrease the chance of pregnancy. They don’t want life-saving education that can help people make responsible choices about sex. They don’t want any of that.

What they do want: to punish poor people for being poor. To punish women who have sex they don’t approve of. To punish women, period.

I listen to such politicians speak, I see the angry, shaming signs held up by protestors, and I want to stand on my own soapbox and scream I AM NOT ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE.

I’ve been told I just need to find a different label. “Pro life” is just too tarnished. Fine. But inevitably, the new label (pro women and babies? Pro actual life?) will suffer the same negative branding, because that’s what happens when humans gather in the name of controversial causes. They want the same things but disagree on how to make them happen. They advocate in ways that help some and hurt others.

We know Christians who do hate gay people and Christians who welcome them with open arms. We know feminists with rhetoric that does not include non-white, non-cisgendered women. Do we need distinguishing labels for them, too? Can you see how confusing this gets?

You don’t have to agree with me, but I do wish you’d ask me what I mean when I call myself pro-life. I’ll be more than happy to tell you that it means I think the fetus is a viable being, but I don’t value the fetus over the mother. It means I support affordable contraceptives – which, ultimately, means supporting Planned Parenthood – because that is the method proven to be most effective at preventing pregnancy.

It means supporting comprehensive education that is not just about reproduction and bodily functions, but also addresses consent.

It means offering to watch a single mom’s kid for a few hours so she can sleep and catch up on homework, rather than hold up signs of butchered fetuses intended to shame people into thinking my way.

It means I’d rather adopt a child than have one the biological way.

Let me know if there’s anything I’ve left unclear. But for the love of all that is holy, do not lump me in with the extremist wackadoodles who happen to share the same label.


14 thoughts on ““I’m pro-life, but…”

  1. Dear Beth,

    I am a far stricter prolifer than most (which means that we might disagree on some aspects on this issue) and I try to care about both myself, which is why I approve of policies that prevent abortions in the first place and help women struggling with solo motherhood. It bothers me that many in the PL movement do not consider these things to be important. Like, for instance, they hate on social safety nets for solo mothers. Yet that could be very helpful for solo mothers, to prevent abortions on the supply side.

    I’m also bothered by at least some of the conservative PL attitudes towards women. I get this patting-on-the-head vibe from them when you express concern over objectification of women in the PL movement, especially from some of the males. Frankly, I find it disturbing.

    Thanks for inviting me here to comment. I will be happy to discuss my views (both where we agree and disagree) at length, at a later date.

    Thanks very much,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating and truly nuanced. Every time I manage to read you I’m left with the thiught, “I’m not religious, but…” I love reading your thoughts on religion, Christianity, etc. It makes me especially happy to have my schedule opening up so I can get to your books.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Top ten most popular posts in 2015 | Sarahbeth Caplin

    • No, I am not, because the pro-choice side doesn’t believe that a fetus is viable until a certain point in the pregnancy. I believe life begins at conception.

      Let me put it this way: the abortion debate is a lot like the ethical conundrum of only being able to save one group of people from an oncoming train: a child or a group of elderly adults. Either choice will bring consequences, so neither one is ideal. For the pro-life person, abortion causes the deaths of babies when it’s legal, but if made illegal, it will cause the deaths of babies AND their mothers if they go to the back alleys once again. So keeping abortion legal, while not ideal, ultimately means less dead people. I may not agree with the decision to abort, but that doesn’t mean I want to see women die from making that choice. That would not be pro-life at all.


      • No, I am not, because the pro-choice side doesn’t believe that a fetus is viable until a certain point in the pregnancy.

        That’s not required. Whether an individual pro-choice person considers an abortion a sometimes-necessary tragedy or the moral equivalent of a tonsilectomy, all that makes someone pro-choice, is the belief that abortion should remain legal.


  4. I’m not sure this is an accurate analogy. Being Jewish is a matter of religious and ethnic identity and not keeping kosher is just one part of that. Being homophobic is just one part of Christianity and it is possible to not abide by all the rules of Christianity and still be a Christian. As for a vegetarian who sometimes eats meat, well, it’s possible to be a vegetarian and sometimes make an exception.

    But being pro life or pro choice are not as complex. Do you think abortion should be legal or not? If you think it should be legal, you are pro choice. If you think it should not be legal, you are pro life. Is being pro choice anything else other than a legal opinion on the issue of abortion?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those analogies were just examples of stereotypes associated with belonging to those groups. They are only examples. Clearly you understood the larger point I was getting at.

      It’s not just a question of legalities, because abortion will happen regardlessof what the law says. It’s a complex issue with plenty of people who fall somewhere in the middle. But if it’s not as complex an issue for you, then good for you – I’m jealous.


      • The morality can be complex. The practicalities can be complex. But the legality cannot.
        Also, yes, abortion will happen regardless of what the law says. But being pro life or pro choice is clearly a legal stance. What else is there to it?
        You did not answer my question: Should abortion be legal or not?

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m pro life because I believe in the value of the fetus, but intent matters as far as prosecution is concerned, and the motives for choosing abortion are not like shooting someone in cold blood. So my answer is: I don’t know. Hence why I’m more motivated to help prevent abortion from being a necessity in the first place.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, I was thinking something close to that.

      There is something you’ve left unclear, Beth: Whether you think abortion should be legal or not. I understand that you’ve left it unclear because you’re uncertain of it yourself, but from my (pro-choice) perspective, that’s not like the position “I’m a Christian but I don’t hate gay people”–it’s like the position “I’m a Christian, though I’m not certain whether Jesus was the Messiah.” If you say “I’m pro-life,” you can’t reasonably expect people to ask “Do you think abortion should remain legal?” rather than thinking you’ve just given them the answer and it’s no; it’s not a matter of the term being tarnished, it’s a matter of what the term means.


      • I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to respond to your question about legality, but it took me a while to form an opinion, and here is what I think:

        Statistics show that abortion rates have actually been lower since Roe v Wade. Many pro-lifers don’t want to admit this, but that’s the fact of the matter. Making it illegal would ultimately send women back into alleyways for incompetent butchery, or they’ll attempt to do it themselves, resulting in more dead mothers as well as dead fetuses. There’s nothing “pro-life” about that.

        So all that to say, I think it’s better to keep abortion legal and rare than illegal and more frequent. Also key to the debate is that abortion wasn’t invented with the passing of Roe v Wade, as many politicians seem to think. It will continue to happen regardless of what the law says, so the pro-lifer has no choice (heh, ‘choice’!) but to choose the “lesser of the two evils” by keeping it legal. That, and making sure contraceptives are accessible and comprehensive sex education mandatory.

        I guess in the eyes of many people that makes me pro-choice. I still disagree, because I believe in the humanity of the fetus; I’m only choosing the option that I believe will better prevent more fetuses from being aborted. The best solution is not always the least complicated.


  5. Thank you, Sarahbeth. I appreciate your clarification. I am pro-life, but I believe in using birth control if you don’t want children. I believe in helping that single mom in any way possible. I believe in teaching responsible sex education. Guess we agree on most of it. And I don’t hate anyone who has had an abortion.


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