24 June 2007

When pro-life is not, in fact, pro-life

Disclaimer: At this juncture, I do not wish to reveal my stance on the abortion debate. I would like to offer this critique in a way that does not predispose individuals to be biased for or against my argument simply due to whether or not I hold the same position as they do. By the way, if anyone does care to respond, please ensure you have read the final paragraph.

The anti-abortion movement has often caused me a great deal of bother. I feel they have irreversibly stained and stigmatised the term "pro-life" and caused many who believe in the protection and maintenance of life at a "livable" standard, e.g. pacifists, to shy away from the one term that, at face value, would most adequately sum up their stance. I have had occasions to discuss the hypocrisy of many "pro-lifers" at length, and I have been flabbergasted by the responses I have received.

One that sticks in my memory came from a seemingly bright undergraduate university student on a Christian forum. When asked how she could possibly reconcile her "pro-life" stance on abortion with an over-enthusiastic support for the Iraq War and capital punishment that bordered on bloodlust, her response was simply to stifle the debate. She contended that "pro-life" should be considered solely a term related to the abortion debate, and that not only is there no inconsistency with defending the lives of innocent foetuses while apathetically greeting the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians, Christians are in fact morally obliged to hold this view. The gist of her response was essentially that life inside the womb was worthy of protection, but as soon as an individual is born, they're a dirty sinner and they're on their own. Once born, an individual is a target of evangelism rather than an equal, dignified person worthy of respect and protection.

The rhetoric of some "pro-lifers" is best described as morally reprehensible. These individuals who wave placards and chant slogans about the "sanctity of life" are often the very same individuals who espouse opinions about those actually alive that reveal a considerable degree of indifference both towards the preservation of life and its maintenance at an acceptable standard. Innocent civilian casualties of the US and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan are dehumanised as inevitable "collateral damage" that we need to just accept and move on. To concern ourselves with trifling matters such as the civilian death rate and to scrutinise the moves of the US president and military may be enough to warrant allegations of being unpatriotic. And with regards to capital punishment, anyone actually concerned with the rehabilitation of criminals and understanding (and rectifying) the context within which crime develops rather than employing death as a punishment is seen as "soft" on crime, while the execution of criminals - people with families, people with the capacity to be rehabilitated - is celebrated as "just". These "pro-life" individuals who employ the Bible as a means of justifying their opinions would do well to actually read it and note the famous passage stating that "let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

What most bothers me most about the "pro-life" movement is not its pro-war, pro-capital punishment stance that does nothing to preserve life, but the "pro-life" movement's complete failure to turn their indignation about abortion into a means of tangibly bettering life. They may bleat about the "sanctity of life", but actions speak louder than words, and I've seen very little connection between their rhetoric and their actions. If life is indeed so sacred, why is the "pro-life" movement so silent about anything that does not suit its narrow pseudo-religious political agenda? Why does it not actually behave in a manner that displays its supposed high regard not only for human life in and of itself, but for the maintenance of an acceptable quality of life?

Here's an example. In the US, over 1.2 million people die annually as a result of heart disease and cancer [1]. Yet "pro-lifers" are markedly silent on this issue. They may attack the medical profession when it disagrees with their stance on abortion, but they are rather silent when it comes to supporting genuinely pro-life medical research and treatment. When was the last time the "pro-life" movement became righteously indignant about the lack of funding for cancer or diabetes research? When was the last time the "pro-life" movement was moved to passionate mass protests in support of those needlessly suffering? Why is the "pro-life" movement so obsessed with abortion while unconcerned with the health the person will have once they are born? The only time the movement ever even approached something resembling concern for the living was the controversy over Terri Schiavo, a woman whose brain activity had demonstrably ceased irreversibly. The reality was that Schiavo's case simply suited a narrow American political agenda related to "values" and it failed to extend to a more genuine concern for the health of the living.

Here's another example. Accidental deaths, as seen in my previous source, are the fifth highest cause of death in the US. Of these accidental deaths, over 42,000 annually are the result of deaths on the road [2]. In other words, eight times the population of my hometown back in New Zealand is killed every year on American roads. Lives are lost - many times in preventable accidents. Better roads, cars, healthcare, and laws could save many road fatalities, if it were not for a lack of funding. Tens of thousands of lives would enjoy a continued existence, and the quality of life they and multitudes of others (e.g. their families, those injured but not killed in road accidents) enjoy would be raised if the reduction of the road toll were treated as an imperative requiring greater attention and funding. "Pro-lifers", however, reveal their true colours in their failure to address an issue that affects those who are actually living. Almost all of us venture onto the road daily, while most of us will never even see the inside of an abortion clinic. It's interesting to see how skewed the "pro-life" movement's priorities are.

Naturally, this entry has generalised the "pro-life" movement. There are, of course, some people who are genuinely pro-life. There are opponents of abortion who are deeply involved in the medical profession or seriously concerned with the road toll or sternly opposed to war and capital punishment. It is not by any means this entry's goal to condemn them. This entry - as I hope was clear - was about the general movement itself and its public face. It is a movement that, through its actions, has failed to demonstrate a genuine concern for life outside the womb and has revealed itself to be hypocritical.

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