Sebastian's Point

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Definitions Matter and are Worth Fighting For

 Jordan Moorman   |   14  October  2020

Words matter, and they have a deep-seated meaning – at least they do when first developed to fit a specific purpose.  Consider the evolution of the word “gentleman,” which C.S. Lewis defined as, “one who had a coat of arms and landed some property.” Lewis continues, writing: “A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word.” In Mere Christianity, Lewis points out that “gentleman” is a word whose meaning has devolved. A word that once had objective meaning is now a simple compliment and can refer to anyone, or anything, which renders the term useless.

 

This is exactly what we see with the term “pro-life,” as the term's definition is being expanded to mean anything. It is a catch-all for a plethora of political issues and is being redefined before our eyes. The result is a moral and political equivocation of all issues, and it cheapens the pro-life message.

 

Imagine if you are told you cannot be pro-life, a.k.a. anti-abortion, unless you are also for a very specific set of healthcare laws or mask mandates. This inevitably leads to pro-life politicians being told they are not truly pro-life because they do not match their criticizers' views on all issues.

 

Opponents of the pro-life movement propose that abortion, capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, and economic injustice must be wrapped up into one issue. Not only does this turn-away many people who align with one political ideology, but no one person or group can thoroughly dedicate time or adequate efforts to all issues without abandoning many of the others.

 

For example, David French, an attorney and political commentator uses the response to Coronavirus as a gauge for how pro-life the Trump administration is, saying: "Nothing about this is pro-life. Nothing."[1] It should be noted that just because an administration does not respond to specific issues, the way its constituents might like does not negate whether a candidate is pro-life (anti-abortion) or pro-choice (pro-abortion).

 

The candidate is pro-life or pro-choice based on how he or she views abortion. French is a recent, but hardly the only, example of attempts to redefine the term "pro-life.”

 

These attempts have been happening for a while now. In an article published by National Catholic Reporter before the 2018 midterms, Michael Wright states, "As Catholic Christians, we are called to value life 'in all states.'"

 

This means we are also called to value that which sustains life, including things like healthcare, food, and the environment, that is, creation. In fact, if we profess to be pro-life, we must necessarily be pro-creation.” [2] These issues are all important, of course, but they are not pro-life issues, and to make them pro-life issues hijacks the phrase for political gain and shrewd maneuvering. Like French, this author attempts to demonstrate why being anti-abortion alone does not really make you pro-life. It changes the definition of pro-life rather than addressing abortion.

 

In another recent article published in the Christian Post on October 2, pro-life evangelicals for Biden explain, "The statement points out that many problems that better politics could correct the sanctity of human life. Poverty, lack of health care, racism, and climate change all kill persons created in the image of God. They are all pro-life issues."[3] One can concede that all these issues are important and even urgent, but they do not relate to the pro-life issue, nor do they result in the ending of 2,300 lives a day under the guise of “choice.” Additionally, it is perfectly acceptable to be an advocate for one issue at a time. You are not “not pro-life” just because you are dedicating your life to one very serious issue, any more than an oncologist is “not really a doctor” because he or she is not treating Covid patients.

 

This attempt to rebrand has real ramifications at the micro-level, for which there is much anecdotal evidence. On multiple occasions during GOTV initiatives, myself and other volunteers experienced young voters who said yes, they would vote pro-life, and then backtracked when they are told who the candidate is that supports pro-life policy. They thought maybe we were referring to healthcare, or capital punishment, which demonstrates the hijacking the pro-life term to open the door to any social issue.  

 

Labeling all issues as pro-life implies that all social policy issues are perceived with the same urgency as abortion. This diminishes the fact that abortion is the preeminent issue of our time.[4] Calling oneself pro-life means one believes every human being has the right to life, and everyone has the right to not have their life cut short by abortion.

 

Words matter. To continue to push policies that protect the preborn, the distinction of words and definitions must be made clear. The pro-life movement must unapologetically embrace the idea that pro-life is anti-abortion.

 

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[1] Read his full analysis here: https://time.com/5896949/donald-trump-not-pro-life/

[2] https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/eco-catholic/voting-booth-weigh-climate-change-pro-life-issue

[3] Evangelicals for Biden https://www.christianpost.com/voices/fri-2nd-embargo-for-noon-we-are-pro-life-evangelicals-for-biden.html

[4] Pope Francis, among other bishops, talk about abortion as the preeminent issue here https://www.breitbart.com/faith/2020/01/18/pope-francis-right-to-life-is-preeminent-social-and-political-issue/

Jordan Moorman

Students for Life Appalachian Regional Coordinator