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Why Progressives Should Be Pro-Life

This essay by the progressive Evangelical Rachel Held Evans appeared last year, after the Philadelphia trial of gruesome abortionist Kermit Gosnell, but the first I saw of it was last week, when someone sent it to me. In it, she talks about how she became pro-choice as a college student, and grew to dislike the pro-life movement and its rhetoric. She considered herself personally opposed to abortion, but unambiguously pro-choice. And then President Obama, for whom she voted in 2008, loosened restrictions on partial-birth abortion. More:

 I squirmed on the couch when, during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, cheers erupted upon every mention of a woman’s “right to choose.” A lot of pro-choice folks like to say that “no one is pro-abortion,” but when celebratory concert series and festivals are organized around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I can’t help but question the degree to which we have desensitized ourselves to the reality that abortion means the termination of, at the very least, a potential life, something that should never be celebrated with balloons and rock concerts.

What frustrates me about the pro-choice movement is the lengths to which advocates go to de-humanize unborn children and sanitize the abortion procedure, reducing life to nothing more than a cluster of cells and the implications of pregnancy to little more than a choice. The word “fetus” is used instead of “child.” Efforts to encourage women to receive counseling prior to an abortion are stubbornly opposed. The argument is framed around the woman’s body exclusively, as if the fetus is inconsequential, and pro-life advocates are characterized as being “against” women’s rights. (Frankly, as a woman, and a feminist, I don’t like people invoking my “rights” to unilaterally support abortion.)

Then came the Gosnell house of horrors story, which really put her over the edge:

Here was abortion—in all of its heartbreaking complexity, with all of its ties to life, death, poverty, exploitation, fear, loneliness, politics, and propaganda—sprawled out on the front pages of our newspapers, and no single side “won.” It was an indictment on our shared apathy, on our shared callousness, on our shared simplistic political solutions.


I think a lot of progressive Christians like myself, eager to distance ourselves from some of the rhetoric and policies of the Republican brand of the pro-life movement, shy away from talking about abortion, when our call to do justice and love mercy demand that we speak and act to address this issue, even though it may be more complicated than we originally thought.

In fact, I wonder if an appreciation of the nuances in the debate, and of abortion’s connection to traditionally “progressive” issues like poverty and healthcare, may actually make those of us who are “stuck in the middle” especially effective agents of change.

Read the whole thing, especially this comment from one of Evans’s readers:

I was a Paramedic in a busy urban 911 system. And I ran 911 call after 911 call. I saw poverty. I saw hopelessness. I saw dispair. I dealt with it daily.

I twice responded to abortion clinics for failed abortion attempts that endangered the life of the mother. One woman went from my ambulance straight into surgery.

I responded hundreds of times to women who were 1 day to 2-weeks post procedure for everything from depression and suicide attempts to post abortion side effects and signs/symptoms.

20 years as a Paramedic has taught me that all life is precious, complicated, and worth it. I am pro-choice because I’ve read the US constitution I’m pro life because I have delivered babys, held parents in my arms after their stillborn babies have been born, and helped women who have had abortions…

I learned quickly that to judge another is to do them the greatest disservice… because you don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions.

Today is the March For Life in Washington. In advance of it, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said something which which Evans would likely agree. He’s addressing Pope Francis’s line that the Church needs to move away from its “obsession” with abortion, gays, and contraception:

“The normal Catholic in the parish might hear a sermon on abortion once a year. They’ll never hear a sermon on homosexuality or gay marriage. They’ll never hear a sermon about contraception. But if you look at the New York Times, in the course of a week, there will be 20 articles on those topics. So who is obsessed? Now, the Church’s positions are very clear and very consistent. For us, life is at the very center of our social teachings. Life is precious. It is a mystery. It must be nurtured, protected, the transmission of life is sacred. And our defense of human life is a great service to society. When the state begins to decide who is worthy of living and who isn’t, all human rights are put in jeopardy, but the voice of the church is very clear. And we’re not just saying that life is precious in the womb but life is precious when someone has Alzheimer’s when someone has AIDS when someone is poor when someone has mental illness. Their humanity is not diminished – and they have a claim on our love and on our services. So the church’s position is a very consistent one. It is a consistent life ethic. I don’t think that we are obsessed, however, when the New York Times is writing 20 articles a week about these things and make reference to the Church in half of those articles, it gives the impression. But I think in the parishes, these things are talks, in a routine way, in CCD classes, along with the rest of the Catholic doctrine but all of our teachings fit together. They’re part of a whole. There’s a consistency in our life ethic.”

UPDATE: Evans-Manning Award to the thought-provoking Liam for this:

As-a-prolife-progressive, I’ve had my share of confrontations with fellow progressives over the past decades. Yes, I’ve been met with incredulity; I’ve even been mocked at my own birthday dinner by a friend (who is still a friend, btw; his mockery was not borne of malice but an intellectualized form of shock, though I’ve never hid my views). That said, there is considerably more variation among progressives on this subject than many journalists or conservatives (or Right-Thinking(TM) Progressives) care to dwell on too long.

My views are not directly based on my religious beliefs; my religious beliefs merely reinforce my views on this topic. My views derive from being raised in a family with a special needs child in the 1960s, and having early frequent exposure to other special needs kids. It was not a Hallmark Afternoon Special, btw; special needs kids have all the variation of neuro-typical kids, and the arc of their lives does not necessarily trend towards Lovely. That said, what impressed me as a young child is how vulnerable all children are to the context of whether they are wanted/needed, and, even if so, the extent to which they are wanted/needed. It repulsed me at fundamental level to consider that the well-being of any person was a function of those things. So, for me, the idea of aborting a child precisely in order to spare the child the misery of being an unwanted life was a “cure” that essentialised the disease, as it were. (Btw, the same dynamic is behind my positive regard for equal rights for gay folk, who are among the categories of canaries in the mine shaft for the proposition that each human being has innate dignity regardless of whether he or she is valuable or valued by anyone else or even fruitful for the species.)

Anyway, I prefer not to cooperate with the building up of a world where an individual’s value is increasingly dependent on being valued by others. My preference is a deeply progressive value, even when other progressives fail to realize it.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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