A recent article in The Atlantic proposed that neither activism for or against abortion can solve the real problem behind sex-selective abortion, an issue raised in the recent documentary It’s a Girl. Sex-selective abortion isn’t about abortion, as the Atlantic article insightfully notes – it’s about a culture in which women are valued less than men; where women and girls are abused, beaten, and killed for being female. Banning abortion won’t stop a culture’s sexism; it will lead to an increase in infanticide. I think we can all agree on this. But being pro-life encompasses more than being anti-abortion, and a pro-life ethic, if implemented, would solve the cultures’ problems.
First, we need to distinguish between pro-life people and pro-life activists. An activist works for political and cultural change; naturally, pro-life activists tend to focus on controversial issues like abortion because they are controversial. They don’t lobby Congress to make laws prohibiting child abuse because child abuse is already illegal. They don’t go out and tell everyone that rape is wrong because we already have a societal consensus that rape is wrong. Most organizations focus mainly on one thing, so it makes sense for some organizations to focus on issues like abortion, and other organizations to focus on issues like domestic violence. In addition, since abortion is controversial, you’ll get more people working for (and donating to) the anti-domestic-violence organization if that organization doesn’t take an explicitly anti-abortion stand.
Those who identify themselves as “pro-life” are rarely exclusively anti-abortion. Most pro-lifers believe in (and the Catholic Church teaches) the dignity of all human life, from conception till natural death. We believe that non-controversial things like rape, murder, child abuse, and domestic violence are assaults on the dignity of the human person – and therefore, morally wrong. We are against abortion and domestic violence and child abuse, but any one person only really has time for one career. Many people who are “pro-life” work as lawyers, police officers, counselors, writers, victims’ advocates, teachers, etc. because we want to protect human life and human dignity, and help people heal when that has been violated. To say that pro-lifers don’t care about women or about children after they’re born ignores the large presence of pro-life people who are actively working in pro-life (but not controversial or strictly anti-abortion) work. We’re against abortion for the same reason we’re against child abuse – it’s an assault on human dignity and human rights. It’s just not controversial to be against child abuse, so that doesn’t make headlines.
Those of us who are consistently pro-life believe that abortion isn’t really any different from infanticide. A fetus is a human being an early stage of development. A teenager is a human being at a later stage of development. Life begins at conception; we oppose abortion because you just don’t kill innocent people, no matter how young or old they are. It is a fundamental human rights issue. We’re upset about abortion. We’re upset about infanticide. We’re upset about violence against women. It’s probably true that an increase in abortion will lead to a decrease in infanticide, but it’s hard for us to believe that that’s a good idea. It’s like going to a country where they kill 6-year-olds and saying “No no no! Kill them when they’re five.” Sure, killing 5-year-olds will reduce the number of 6-year-olds who are killed, but that doesn’t actually help anything. They’re still killing people, and that’s wrong.
Pro-life people, whether or not we spend the bulk of our time campaigning against abortion, want to see a world where everyone is respected simply because people ought to be respected. We think abortion should be banned. We think infanticide should be banned. We think domestic violence should be banned. We think men should respect women, and we think women should respect men. We think adults should respect children, and children should respect adults. We think the strong and capable should have a particular respect for the weak and vulnerable, because it is so easy to trample on them. If you’re a human being – we don’t care if you’re a fetus, or a woman, or a white male – you deserve respect, and you have a right not to be abused or killed. You deserve to be loved.
Take this principle – that every human being, regardless of age, sex, ability, or anything else – deserves love and respect, and you’ll end misogyny, abortion, infanticide, domestic violence, and all these other problems. A simple anti-abortion ethic won’t help, but a pro-life one will.
© 2013. Mary C. Tillotson. All Rights Reserved.