Pro-life movement: Not just for abortion anymore

Members of a “new evangelical” movement promote a broadening conception of the term “pro- life.”

What if “pro-life” were more than a political slogan and entrenched position in the abortion culture war? What if an emerging generation of evangelical Christians were just naive enough, just idealistic enough, to behave as though the coiners of that “pro-life” phrase really meant that Christians were called to be for life—in all its forms?

What if evangelical America did take this whole pro-life thing seriously?

Suffice it to say it could draw down our endless culture wars—a bright prospect indeed for the future credibility of evangelical Christianity and the state of the common good. The intriguing news is that this is precisely what is beginning to happen as the public expression of evangelicalism continues to evolve in our “post-Christian” culture.

In my study of the changing evangelical landscape, I have been struck by my subjects’ changing ideas about “life.” Like many non-evangelical progressives, I have often cringed upon hearing conservative Christian politicians and activists wax righteous over the “sanctity of life” while evincing little concern, if any, for the myriad ways in which life outside women’s bodies is being damaged, degraded and destroyed. But now, we hear a new tune, particularly among the young. In many circles the evangelical commitment to life is broadening and taking on such problems as human trafficking, poor access to health care, poisons in the environment and inhumane immigration policies. It’s refreshing to hear, too, a different conversation about abortion that is more focused on addressing the root causes of abortions than on criminalizing women and doctors who have and perform them.

The course change is motivated in part by the recognition that the abortion issue has become a scarlet letter “A” on evangelical Christianity’s reputation, seeming often to obscure the cross. As one evangelical anti-trafficking activist told me, when people “hear the word Christian, they think of hateful, divisive people who want to control women’s bodies. There’s so much anger and misconception that you have to wade through before you can get to a conversation about Christianity. Abortion—it’s destroyed the conversation about Jesus.”

Many evangelicals I interviewed in my research, or whose writings I read, are correctly identifying the ways in which the abortion argument in this country has gone wrong, and tarred their faith movement in the process. There has been, in sum, a huge sincerity deficit—does anyone outside of traditional evangelical subculture really buy that ardent pro-lifers are earnestly committed to “life”?—coupled with a lack of evident concern for the complexities and human consequences of criminalizing abortion.

“When you push for the rights of someone (i.e., an embryo) with which the public has no real relationship at the possible expense of the actual people they see every day (i.e., the mother), it’s a tough case to argue,” writes author and church founder Christian Piatt. “Had the [anti-abortion] movement begun with a grassroots effort to serve those women in a loving, nurturing way, I think it may have been different. Had the group promoting [anti-abortion] legislation recognized them as more than the carrier of a group’s political agenda in their wombs, things might have turned out different.”

Or as another new-paradigm evangelical put it to me, the endless railing about “life” is sheer noise to the unconvinced and non-converted until well-off megachurch members are adopting and nurturing significant numbers of unwanted orphans.

When religious conviction meet genuine service, the term “pro-life” begins to mean something real. It means something when it’s applied to the fight against the human slavery that exists in our time, an area of impressive evangelical activism and commitment in recent years. Or when it’s applied to caring for “creation” out of principled concern about environmental degradation and the harm it wreaks on human health. As one Idaho pastor says of his church, “Abortion is a huge factor for us . . . but I also see that the environment is killing people, especially young children.”

If anything, young evangelicals are more “pro-life” than previous generations, according to Jonathan Merritt, author of “A Faith of Our Own“: If by “pro-life” one means “a womb-to-tomb ethic that addresses war, poverty, and global hunger, in addition to abortion,” Merritt says.

Some abortion-rights champions might see a downside in all this. If old-school evangelicals’ credibility gap has hamstrung their ability to bring the rest of the culture around to criminalizing abortion, couldn’t the restoration of credibility bode ill for abortion’s continued legal availability?

A valid concern perhaps. But it would be the height of cynicism, even paranoia, to reject evangelicals’ good efforts on these other “life” fronts out of fear of the abortion implications. It’s important to bear in mind, too, that younger evangelicals’ approaches to abortion are not all about Roe v. Wade and enacting ever-tighter abortion restrictions such as those being passed by numerous state legislatures. To younger evangelicals, says Merritt, addressing abortion also means “encouraging adoption, ensuring contraception is available for low-income women, and increasing assistance for unwed mothers who wish to bring their children to term.”

On the whole, there is much for progressives to cheer in this changing dynamic around “life.” Some members of this “new evangelical” movement could be progressives’ new friends for the fight for the environment, for campaigns against poverty and abuse, for more humane immigration policy.

To the Christian Right political constituency, this broadening conception of the term “pro- life” has to be confounding—a case of a once-effective political strategy and slogan that is losing its edge. What, for example, is the political usefulness of the fight against human slavery and sex trafficking? Given its resonance with Christians and non-Christians of nearly all political stripes, it seems the worst wedge issue ever—which, in addition to the very real rescue and hope it brings to the abused and enslaved, is the beauty of it.

Listen to the language of these new evangelicals, and you’re not likely to hear that “pro-life” term bandied about the way it is among their forebears. But watch them in action and you might see something more interesting. You might see idealistic Christians taking “pro-life” at face value—and living it out.

About

Tom Krattenmaker Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland-based writer specializing in religion in public life and a contributing columnist for USA Today. He is the author of the book "The Evangelicals You Don't Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians."
  • nkri401

    At the end of the day, the question is does woman have right to have sex without the intention of getting pregnant? If she does, the option of abortion should be available. Most of the pro-life position seems to me is you broke it you own it kind of punitive attitude.

    What is NOT puzzling is where is the punitive attitude towards the men? Women – you’re a but means for the men to continue their destiny. Don’t you know?

    What is puzzling though is why some women side with these men.

    Just my opinion.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    One of the greatest rulers who ever lived, Octavian, “Caesar Augustus,” published edicts against abortion, for the reason abortion cut down on the number of future Roman citizens for his legions. He was right, and Rome lasted another 300 years — longer than the USA has been around, already. Get a clue.

  • juxtaposer

    Could it be that one begins to see in the younger something that elders also held but that was overshadowed in the media by opposition?

  • patriot1

    We don’t believe you own it philosophy! We believe an unborn baby has a soul and was created by God. To murder that unborn defenseless child is an abomination to God. People have to take responsibility for there actions. There are women who have numerous abortions. Is that ok with you? Do you have any conscience?

  • SODDI

    But they’re ALL anti birth control, too.

  • tieege

    “Get a clue”? These three words indicate that this person is not pro life, but pro disrespect towards others “he” hasn’t even met. This is the way prolifers approach those that disagree with them. They annonomously bully people with words and phrases. What is even more telling is that he uses a Roman leader known for his murderous brutality to prove his point. The prolife movement as we know it, is morally bankrupt. It has no credibility. It will never succeed because it really doesn’t respect all of life. As much as I would like to believe the thrust of this article, its goal is still in its infancy.

  • pf026213

    Abstinence has a very low usage rate, so while its correct to say there is no failure rate, its a very poor form of birth control.
    The abortion rate overall has plummeted as more women become educated about their options and realize that unplanned children are a real burden if you’re not ready to take care of them.
    Rhetoric aside, we’ve certainly got enough of us on the planet already, so we should be able to discuss how and when to have children, and the best ways to plan for them.

  • pf026213

    Rome needed more people , the US doesn’t, the world doesn’t

  • The Stoic

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • persiflage

    “Caesar Augustus,” published edicts against abortion, for the reason abortion cut down on the number of future Roman citizens for his legions.’

    If you’re intent on conquering the known world, you’re going to need a very big army with plenty of replacements for mountains of dead Roman soldiers. Those days the world was in a perpetual state of war, much like today. Boots on the ground have been replaced by drone technology and sundry high tech advances in weaponry.

    I guess we can go ahead with giving women the right to control their own reproductive processes, if we can dispense with the necessary cannon fodder of past eras.

    PS. When did you change your tune of abortion rights?

  • nkri401

    Are you saying then the first abortion is OK? How many is too many?

  • malusk03

    Augustus also punished married couples who failed to produce at least three children, a law so severe that some otherwise respectable Roman matrons registered as prostitutes to escape it. He also forbid his soldiers from marrying during their 25-year enlistments.
    Allthe does get bonus points for originality — his is the first post I’ve ever seen that hasn’t held up the Roman Empire as a warning of how not to do things. Perhaps Allthe hasn’t gotten to the part in Revelation about the lady seated on the seven hills.

  • Bluefish2012

    The consistent life ethic was not a new thing among Christian. From Wikipedia on this concept: Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s views expressed in 1983:

    “Initially, Bernardin spoke out against nuclear war and abortion. However, he quickly expanded the scope of his view to include all aspects of human life (according to the church’s definition). In one of the first speeches given on the topic at Fordham University, Bernardin said: “The spectrum of life cuts across the issues of genetics, abortion, capital punishment, modern warfare and the care of the terminally ill.” He later added: “When human life is considered ‘cheap’ or easily expendable in one area, eventually nothing is held as sacred and all lives are in jeopardy.”

  • persiflage

    Bernardin was quite extraordinary as far as Catholic thinkers go…..I remember living in Chicago during his era. His uncommon good sense and influence were unfortunately terminated prematurely due to cancer. His like has not been seen since………

  • Bluefish2012

    Artificial birth control is not a life issue per se–used effectively it results in no new life whatever. It is rather a sexual ethics issue. Entirely different area of ethics. The RCC stance on the issue is explained in Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” Look it up–highly credible argument in my opinion.

  • ccnl1

    The most effective forms of contraception, ranked by “Perfect use”:

    1a. (Abstinence, 0% failure rate)- RCC approved
    1b. (Masturbation, mono or mutual, 0% failure rate)- RCC approved if in the form of wet dream

    Followed by:
    One-month injectable and Implant (both at 0.05 percent)
    Vasectomy and IUD (Mirena) (both at 0.1 percent)
    The Pill, Three-month injectable, and the Patch (all at 0.3 percent)
    Tubal sterilization (at 0.5 percent)
    IUD (Copper-T) (0.6 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Post-ovulation) (1.0 percent)- RCC Approved
    Periodic abstinence (Symptothermal) – RCC approved and Male condom (both at 2.0 percent)
    Periodic abstinence (Ovulation method) (3.0 percent)- RCC approved

    Every other method ranks below these, including Withdrawal (4.0), Female condom (5.0), Diaphragm (6.0), Periodic abstinence (calendar) (9.0), the Sponge (9.0-20.0, depending on whether the woman using it has had a child in the past), Cervical cap (9.0-26.0, with the same caveat as the Sponge), and Spermicides (18.0).

  • patriot1

    Bottom line: Does God condone abortion?

  • patriot1

    In my OPINION, no abortion is OK!!!

  • persiflage

    I don’t know. What does He have to say about it?

  • patriot1

    To persiflage: I think abortion makes the Lord very very sad.

  • nkri401

    How much do the miscarriages make the Lord sad and why does the Lord not do something about it?

  • nkri401

    I’m OK if you don’t have an abortion. This is not an opinion, I mean it and I will defend your right not have an abortion.

  • nkri401

    What if “pro-life” meant “pro-woman’s life”?

  • patriot1

    To Nk: I could explain it, but it would take a long time. You wouldn’t agree or understand, so I won’t waste my time. Maybe you can answer your own question.

  • DanaB1

    patriot1 – No, the bottom line is, what relevance does what you think your god thinks of abortion have to what our secular laws, which apply to everyone of all faiths and none, should be?

  • patriot1

    Dana: Mr know it all. God’s laws are above man’s. That’s the bottom line. Whether you ike it or not , believe it or not, doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t want to believe in God that’s up to you. However, because you may not believe in Him, doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist.

  • DanaB1

    patriot1 – Your opinion that no abortion is OK is noted, and that you don’t think it’s OK for women to have “numerous” abortions, is noted. You have every right to hold that opinion, and to think whatever you want about women who do have abortions in defiance of your opinion about abortion. But your opinion is just that, your opinion, and has no relevance to anybody else’s actions or choices.

  • patriot1

    Don’t be so philosophical. If you love and believe in abortion, so be it. At least half the country is against it.

  • DanaB1

    You have the right to believe in whatever god you want, and to live your life however you want in accordance with what you believe your god’s laws are. You also have the right to believe that people who violate what you believe are your god’s laws are going to Hell. As long as I have the freedom to live my life in accordance with what *my* beliefs are, not yours, I’m not too concerned with what you think about my choices as long as they don’t affect you.

  • nkri401

    You said it – half the country would let the woman and her doctor make the best decision for herself by herself.

    Thank God for that.

  • patriot1

    Pls. don’t put words in my mouth. I do not judge anyone and whether they are going to hell. Like I said, you can do whatever you want. God gave us that freedom. With that freedom comes a reponsibility. Take God out of the equation, and with freedom still comes responsibility. It’s like giving your son the car keys. He has the freedom to drive it , but he must obey the laws of the road or face the consequences, ie. traffic ticket, car accident, etc. God gives us freedom to live life. However he has made the rules in the 10 Commandments and the teachings of Jesus. Should we violate those laws/rules, we may have to face the consequences. That is what I believe. Whether you want to believe them also, is up to you.

  • patriot1

    Ok. If that makes you happy. That’s the law in this country. That doesn’t mean I agree with it or it is morally right..

  • nkri401

    patriot1,

    It’s not about my happiness but thanks anyway…

    If I may (I understand your moral objection), what will your punishment for a woman who chooses to get an abortion? Is it like let the Lord decide or will you, if you could, inflict the punishment you think she deserves?

    Mea culpa if this is too much philosophy.

    You realize when the abortion was illegal; some women got illegal abortions anyways.

  • nkri401

    You, sir, are a Skeptic… You may also be a Stoic as it’s not mutually exclusive.

    Peace

  • patriot1

    Why do you continue asking questions. I told you my beliefs. What’s your problem? Do you just like to argue?

  • nkri401

    It’s OK to tell me to buzz off but since you responded, I wanted to know where your opinion would lead to.

    If you want just tell me to get lost, I get it.

    Peace….

  • patriot1

    Peace

  • JillPole1

    The author completely left out the long and generous history of Crisis Pregnancy Centres that came into being soon after Roe vs. Wade. These Centres, in virtually every American city, have been from the very beginning concerned not only with the life of the unborn, but the health and care of the mother and child long after birth.

  • jay e

    Jill,

    How many of these centers volunteers or employees are out educating their fellow ‘pro life’ troops on the need for universal health care? Pragmatically, if one is truly pro life – one would surely be supporting universal health care – which most conservatives abhor. Perhaps when they all start to support life in this way – and vote this way then the public will recognize all of the good works you reference . How unfortunate for your cause that this segment of the conservative movement is so mute when compared to the very vocal – ‘we’re morally superior to you’ those who don’t agree with our pro live message crowd. I wish you luck with the message…

    I am just saddened that the ‘pro life’ crowd has so effectively drowned out your efforts. I hope you continue to educate them…

  • Vt.Expat

    I would not mind the “pro-life” movement if it meant helping each other live their lives from conception to their last day on Earth. However …………………

  • Vt.Expat

    Why are total strangers so determined to get into women’s wombs? Sounds rather like a sexual predator act to me.

  • Vt.Expat

    Then if God abhors abortions (killing) why doesn’t he stop wars and death by gunfire in the USA (now those are the real abortions in our “society”) I have been waiting an answer to this one for a long long time.

  • persiflage

    Religious beliefs are full of inconsistencies and contradictions and are seldom based on established facts – the kind we ordinarily use on a daily basis. In many ways, religious faith exists in a different sphere altogether.

  • LadybugLa

    nikri,

    I can’t answer for patriot, but as someone who’s pro-life, I wouldn’t punish the woman, at all. I would make the abortion provider responsible, probably through the use of fines or restricting his license/certification, closing a clinic, etc. I’m not sure that jail is the best punishment for either side.

  • DavidJ9

    They seem to have made common cause with the greedy rich who have made it clear that they don’t care what happens to children, the poor, the infirm and the elderly. If the evangelicals want to show that they are pro-life they will stop voting for elected officials who pander to racists, misogynists and other forms of bigotry. They will stop voting to benefit the rich.

  • An-Toan

    The Jesus, I believe, was a mystic, a progressive, and a revolutionary. The mission is to become the change that he would like to see.

  • cricket44

    CPCs are manipulative and dishonest. I would never recommend a woman going to one.

  • larryclyons

    Perhaps evangelicals can explain their opposition to abortion, given that its not mentioned at all in the bible. In fact the Bible, or at least the Old Testament does not consider the fetus to be a life until after it is born.

    The Bible clearly states that life and personhood begins with “breath”. With the creation of “man” in Genesis 2:7, God:
    “…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

    The Hebrew word for human being or living soul is nephesh, which is also the word for “breathing.” Nephesh occurs over 700 times in the Bible as the identifying factor in human life. Obviously, fetuses do not breath and therefore cannot be considered as human beings according to the Bible. Here is another verse that reinforces this conclusion. God says:
    “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”
    (Ezekiel 37:5)

    God also tells Moses how to calculate the value of persons being offered to God:
    “If the person is from a month old up to five years old, your valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver.” (Leviticus 27:6)

    The fact that God assigns no value whatsoever to newborn infants or fetuses means that “God-fearing” anti-choicers are openly defying their God!

    Moreover abortion is not murder. The only reference I found regarding what happens when a woman has a spontaneous abortion because of a conflict states quite plainly. A fetus is not considered a human life.
    “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life.”
    – Exodus 21:22-23

    The Bible however is quite clear on murder, the penalty is death except in cases of the above quote, then the killing of a fetus is a misdemeanor fine.

  • larryclyons

    interesting numbers, pull them out of your hat or from sort of weird fantasy of your? In other words citation please or its just bs.

  • larryclyons

    And just where in the Bible does it prohibit abortion? The only reference I found regarding what happens when a woman has a spontaneous abortion because of a conflict states quite plainly. A fetus is not considered a human life.
    “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life.”
    – Exodus 21:22-23

    The Bible however is quite clear on murder, the penalty is death, however the killing of a fetus is a misdemeanor fine.

    Which follows given that the Bible does not consider fetuses to be alive until after they have taken its first breath. The Bible clearly states that life and personhood begins with “breath”. With the creation of “man” in Genesis 2:7, God:
    “…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

    The Hebrew word for human being or living soul is nephesh, which is also the word for “breathing.” Nephesh occurs over 700 times in the Bible as the identifying factor in human life. Obviously, fetuses do not breath and therefore cannot be considered as human beings according to the Bible. Here is another verse that reinforces this conclusion. God says:
    “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”
    (Ezekiel 37:5)

  • XVIIHailSkins

    As a moral reformer of the ancient world, he was less advanced than Socrates or Confucius, more advanced than Moses, and was almost certainly exposed to Buddhist teaching at some point in his first thirty years. The average American Christian cannot even entertain this point of view, because a Jesus who is not the son of the omnipotent creator of the universe does nothing to fulfill their misplaced sense of superiority.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    If you take a hard line stance on either side of this issue, you’re probably an idiot.

    If you believe that at absolutely no point during a pregnancy should a fetus begin to be considered a child, you’re probably an idiot.

    If the only moral argument you’re prepared to make against abortion is that ‘it’s just wrong,’ you’re probably an idiot.

    If you’re on either side of this issue and you appeal to “faith” as the basis of your thought process, then you’re a self-conscious idiot.

    Now that we’ve spelled out the ground rules, hopefully this argument becomes a bit more tolerable.

  • patriot1

    I think you’re a fetus.

  • patriot1

    To David: You make no sense. What are the liberals and athiests doing to help others? I’m a conservative Catholic that volunteers every week to feed the the inner city poor at my church. Additionally I give rides to the elderly for doctor’s appointments. I take no money, nor ask for thanks. Other conservatives and Christians do the same. WHAT DO YOU DO?

  • patriot1

    To VT>Expat. We do in taxes (welfare) charities, food banks, etc. What about personal responsibility. Shouldn’t people use contraceptives if they don’t want children? Do I have to pay for that also? Maybe I should pay for viagra too. In fact, when they party, and subsequently hook up, send me their drinking tab and I’ll pay for that also.

  • An-Toan

    “Light dispels darkness. Wisdom dispels ignorance.” – Buddha

  • persiflage

    fortunately, abortions are perfectly legal, so we won’t be punishing women or their care providers any time soon…………….

    Let’s hope there’s never a return to the dark era for women that preceeded Roe v Wade.

  • patriot1

    I have read and reread what you wrote above. I have come to the conclusion that you are an idiot.

  • larryclyons

    my my what an adult response. You cannot debate the ideas or answer the argument so you insult. So mature.

    Mind you what do you expect from someone who is over 30 and still ives in his parents basement. Just a piece of advice, when Mommy calls you up for supper, remember to clean the cheetos dust and other unmentionable goop off your keyboard.

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.