Expanding the Definition of “Pro-Life”

Elizabeth Neumann, former DHS official.
Image courtesy of npr.org

I noticed it first when I watched Elizabeth Neumann speak about her reasons for resigning from her position as the Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary of Threat Prevention and Security Policy.

She was tasked with following right-wing threats inside the United States, and she emphatically stated that President Trump had made her job harder. 

She called him a racist and a danger to America, excoriated him for blocking plans that could have reduced the impact of the coronavirus “because he didn’t want the economy to tank and he didn’t want a distraction from his campaign,” and said: “We are less safe today because of his leadership. We will continue to be less safe as long as he is in control.”

And she announced that she is supporting Joe Biden for President.

I was grateful for her courage and forthrightness. She offered, however, another reason that made it clear how much soul-searching she had done. She said she’s a lifelong Republican and voted for Trump in 2016 because of “the pro-life issue.”

But Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the lives of so many Americans, and his treatment of immigrants, convinced her that Trump does not have a “pro-life ethic”–that he had “absolutely failed” and was, in fact, endangering human lives. 

It was good to hear someone who declares a reverence for life moving beyond the pro-life versus pro-choice position.

Then I learned about the formation of a new group, “Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden.”

Here is their official statement.

“As pro-life evangelicals, we disagree with vice president Biden and the Democratic platform on the issue of abortion. But we believe a biblically shaped commitment to the sanctity of human life compels us to a consistent ethic of life that affirms the sanctity of human life from beginning to end.

“Knowing that the most common reason women give for abortion is the financial difficulty of another child, we appreciate a number of Democratic proposals that would significantly alleviate that financial burden: accessible health services for all citizens, affordable childcare, a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty.

“For these reasons, we believe that on balance, Joe Biden’s policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump. Therefore, even as we continue to urge different policies on abortion, we urge evangelicals to elect Joe Biden as president.”

In an Op-Ed in The Christian Post, two of the signers expanded on their position. First, they pointed out that the signatories included a 2016 Trump voter, a lifelong Republican who wouldn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton in 2016, and people who were publicly endorsing a political candidate for the first time. 

Among them are former presidents of evangelical universities, the board chair emeritus of Christianity Today, and Billy Graham’s granddaughter, Jerushah Duford.

Duford wrote an Op-Ed in August that bore the title “I’m Billy Graham’s granddaughter. Evangelical support for Donald Trump insults his legacy.” The subtitle reads: “By supporting Donald Trump, evangelical leaders are failing us and failing the Gospel. Christian women must step up where our church leaders won’t.” It’s a powerful essay.

Jerushah Duford, Billy Graham’s granddaughter.
Image courtesy of huffingtonpost.com.au

The Pro-life Evangelicals for Trump write:

“Poverty and diseases we know how to prevent kill millions every year….Poverty is a pro-life issue…Lack of health care kills people. Health care for all is a pro-life issue….Racism kills. Racism is a pro-life issue—and it is on the ballot in 2020 in an unusually significant way. Climate change already kills untold thousands and will soon kill tens of millions unless we change…Climate change is a pro-life issue.”

In each instance, the Op-Ed faults Trump’s policies, actions, and statements.

That brings us to Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic who has spoken openly about how his faith has sustained him at the most difficult points in his life. Biden states that although he personally is opposed to abortion, he believes in a woman’s right to make that decision. 

His position has evolved from opposition years ago to his present belief that the public option he proposes for the Affordable Care Act will cover abortions and contraception.

He wants to restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He now also opposes the Hyde Amendment, which has—to my mind—mercilessly punished poor women for years by denying them abortions through restricting federal funding.

Some say that a Catholic politician who takes such positions is hypocritical because it is necessary to do so to win support from Democrats, who are largely pro-choice. An interesting discussion takes place in The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly publication based in the UK that endorsed Biden for President.

The paper says Biden’s position that he will not impose his views on abortion on others who may disagree is “a very common position for Catholic legislators to take, but it sits very awkwardly with church teaching” and is “problematical.”

It claims that there “was not a binary choice between the pro-choice and pro-life positions” and suggests that Catholic legislators could argue that abortions could be reduced by tackling poverty and providing maternal healthcare. (That is a partial answer, but a good start.)

But its editor, Brendan Walsh, concludes:

“Mr Biden has been justifiably praised for his decency and his strength of faith…it is a sound Catholic principle never to let the best be the enemy of the good. And in the present circumstances in the United States, the election of Joe Biden would indeed be good.”

Also of interest is The Tablet’s assertion that “the Church needs to give more thought to the dilemma faced by politicians like Mr Biden, given the conflict between the Church’s absolutist moral teaching and the demands of a democratic system. Otherwise it could become impossible for Catholic politicians to seek public office.”

That statement seems to me an acknowledgment of the very basis of the argument for the continuation of Roe v Wade, which is now in serious danger of being struck down by the addition to the court of Amy Coney Barrett, an ardent—even extremist—opponent of abortion.

One bedrock of our democracy has been the separation of church and state, though we have witnessed attacks on this concept in various arenas for years.

To me, that means that in a democracy in which a strong majority favors the preservation of Roe v Wade, a Supreme Court that overturns settled law because of individual justice’s religious convictions is not demonstrating judicial behavior that serves the public interest. 

Poll after poll have indicated strong support for retaining Roe. The same is true, not incidentally, of gay marriage, voting rights, and Obamacare—all important matters that substantial majorities of Americans support and  now appear vulnerable in the Supreme Court.

Abortion is a very difficult issue. In my hope to find common ground where it seems impossible, I’ve long felt that we should focus greater energy on contraception. If we spent as much time and effort encouraging contraception and making it readily available as we do on the abortion battle, we could greatly lower the abortion rate. (Unfortunately, some of those who oppose abortion also oppose contraception—and certainly oppose government funding for it.) 

Yet for so many vital reasons—physical, emotional, economic, and deeply personal—I think it is essential that all women continue to retain control over their reproductive rights, which includes access to abortion in safe environments.

Women have always felt the urgent need to end unwanted pregnancies, and that need would not disappear if Roe were struck down. Wealthy and middle class women would find ways to get safe medical abortions regardless. 

Once again, our society would be further endangering the health and lives of poor women, forcing them to take desperate measures to do what an enlightened society would never, ever, find acceptable.

The Catholics and Evangelicals who have expressed their support for Joe Biden seem to be indirectly acknowledging this grievous imbalance in so many areas of American life.

I am most encouraged by their publicly stated redefinition of “pro-life,” which opens up new potential for coalitions that would promote equity in our society on issues extending well beyond the subject of abortion. This year alone has laid bare so many areas that cry out for remediation.

And I believe they are right that Joe Biden, a compassionate man with a strong moral core, could begin the work of moving us toward the promise of America that a majority of Americans long for.

Or am I being naive? Is this support for Biden merely a temporary effort to reconcile the vote against Trump—and the coalition that I see as so promising more likely to be situational and ephemeral? Or is it enough that these individuals and groups have joined so visibly to defeat this president, thereby helping us save our democracy?

What do you think?

Annie

28 thoughts on “Expanding the Definition of “Pro-Life”

  1. Hear, hear, Annie..Right on the spot and exactly how so many of us have been feeling about the hypocrisy of being “pro-life” but unsupportive of the rights of those already alive. You have hit the nail squarely on the head. I’m looking for your reblog button!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A few thoughts. Roe v Wade has become largely irrelevant to the abortion issue. Many of the GOP/conservative dominated states have already passed many laws making a woman’s right to choose a non-issue. For the most part these ant-abortion laws masquerading as laws “protecting a woman’s health” have been accepted by the courts as legal. As it was before Roe, the ability to obtain a safe abortion has become a state issue. NY , after electing a Dem Assembly and Senate, finally made a woman’s right to choose protected.

    https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/state-policies-later-abortions

    A second point. The right to not have a baby is not just a woman’s issue. Fathers also have a stake. A married couple may decide they do not want a child at this point. Or they cannot afford a child. This decision, of a man and woman, mean nothing in those states that seek to eliminate the right to choose. Not only do they impose their worldview on the woman, they impose it on the entire family.

    A third point. The power of the state. In the end, forcing a woman to have a baby is the ultimate abuse of state power. It is the state saying to a person: You no longer control your body. WE control your body. Under Chairman Mao the communist party in China told women (and men) they could have only one child. Having more than one child led to financial punishments. That principle of the Communist Party and the Republican Party are essentially the same. The state can decide how many children you can have. If the state can tell you that you MUST have a baby, that same state can tell you that you may NOT have a baby. The state has claimed power over your reproductive life.

    Pro-life, of course, is not pro-life. It is pro big government. The same political philosophy that cries about losing their “freedom” if the government asks them to wear a mask has no problem taking away the most fundamental freedom any person could have. The right to decide whether or not to have a child.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Joseph: I agree with you on your various points. The activity has been moving and will continue to move to the states. That will mean gross inequities, obviously, but
      with Democratic control of the presidency and both House and Senate, I expect some national effort will be made. Biden responded to a young woman’s concerns about reproductive rights in a recent Town Hall meeting by saying something reassuring about Roe. I don’t know how anything would get past the Court we expect to see, but I think once the finality of Roe hits women—and their families—there will not be a quiet acceptance. We’ll just have to see.

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    1. I’m glad, Susie. It would be interesting if trump’s horribleness sets such a scurrilous example that it frees up a lot of people to re-examine their values on a host of issues—making climate change and environmental concerns and racial justice and immigration areas where a Biden coalition will gain more support for progress than might otherwise have been possible.

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  3. I agree with you!! Most people who claim to be pro life are really pro birth. I worked for years in the foster care and adoption space and despaired of all the people who would picket an abortion clinic but disappeared when it was time to help a family raise the child. It’s difficult to reconcile those two behaviors. Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful post. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is encouraging news, but I’m still concerned, despite these small steps forward, that a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court if Trump and McConnell manage to get their way and add Amy Coney Barrett to the Court, before the election or before the inauguration in January, Roe v Wade will be toast.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have almost no hope for Roe unless something really weird happens to prevent trump-McConnell from achieving their anti-democratic aim. But I think the majority who believe in reproductive rights will come up with something—somehow. Unfortunately, women have been suffering in various states, and that injustice will continue without some ingenious thinking. I’m sure wise heads are working now. And it’s not just Roe, of course; there are other huge issues that could negatively affect millions of Americans. Alito and Thomas are already discussing upending gay marriage. That won’t go down without a fight.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post Annie. Finally, some common sense from evangelicals and catholics. One of the more common refrains about Republicans and pro-lifers: They care about the baby inside the womb, but once born….they’re on their own. I totally agree with that statement. I’ve always thought that Dem policies, which are meant to give people a fighting chance to succeed in our society, and provide for those who sometimes cannot provide for themselves, are much more in line with what Jesus believed and are very pro-life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jeff. I was very pleased to come across these examples. BTW, I read your courts article and didn’t have a chance to respond. You may want to look at my post on the topic: “This Man Has a Plan to Unpack the Courts.”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m sure the people who started this group are sincere, but I question how many new people they’ll bring into the Democratic fold among fellow forced-birth fetishists (I refuse to use the term “pro-life” for abortion-banners, since the idea that a fetus is a person in a moral sense is self-evidently absurd, and the real issue here has always been controlling and punishing female sexuality). In pretty much every religion, adherents exist along a spectrum from casual to fanatical. The majority of American Christians and even Catholics are fairly casual adherents and are not particularly anti-abortion, anti-gay, or male-supremacist, despite the clear wording of Church dogma (and of the Bible, in the latter two cases). That’s how we manage to have a secular society and a majority-Democratic electorate even in a society where two-thirds of the population still identifies as Christian in some sense.

    The more extreme the religious belief, the more dissonant it is from the surrounding secular society, and strongly-religious people have several ways of resolving the conflict. Some decide the world is evil and cling to their extreme beliefs more fervently. Others re-interpret their beliefs to be more in line with the mainstream. The re-interpretation of the dishonest label “pro-life” to cover other issues beyond abortion is an example of the latter, and is of course vehemently denounced by practitioners of the former. That Christian Post post already has 313 comments and, from the ones I looked at, most are hostile, denouncing the authors as dupes of the Devil and so forth.

    Don’t get me wrong, I welcome every vote for our side, regardless of the reason for it. But I doubt this movement represents anything new or major. It’s part of the general drift toward more secular values among most of the population which has been going on for centuries and will continue to do so.

    Joseph Urban’s comment is a reminder of the importance of winning the Senate and presidency. Even with Roe still in force, several theocrat-dominated states have developed ways to evade it and restrict the rights of their inhabitants. Forceful federal legislation could squelch that nonsense, but we’ll need unified control of government (and a margin of error of sideline the Manchin types) to pass it.

    And if the Republicans manage to shove Coathanger Coney onto the Court despite the spread of covid-19 among their caucus, well, with unified government we can expand the Court as well. No reason to allow that one branch of government to force right-wingnut policies on the whole country after a clear majority had voted to go in the opposite direction.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t see the people and organizations I’ve described as the vanguard of a mass movement, but I do think their public statements give permission to others who may have been cowed by the leadership to be more vocal about their views. Billy Graham’s granddaughter wrote about her impact in those terms.

      The comments you read are pretty much what I’d expect; it takes some courage to go against the establishment, and I’m sure these folks knew what they’d face.

      And I’m pleased when I hear their references to climate change, racial justice, healthcare, etc. We need more people beyond our customary allies to express strong support for these critical issues. And they’re voting for Joe! So good for them.

      I understand your unwillingness to use the term “pro-life,” but I kinda like it. I find it akin to gay men claiming the mantle of “proud boys.” The positions we support have always been pro-life, so I find it a matter of justice to claim it.

      I do agree with you about the court(s). And the idea of forceful federal legislation to “squelch that nonsense” sounds terrific—assuming it wouldn’t subsequently be struck down by a court that’s still 9 members.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Late to this discussion, but let me just say, you nailed it. I so admire the courage of those who risk it all to speak out. And I especially appreciated the observation that any true pro-lifer (I have no trouble with the term) would not abide by the tragedy of Covid deaths. 22 days and counting.

    Liked by 1 person

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