Earlier today, I came across this gem of moral and political philosophy. It’s title, “10 Things You Can’t Do and Still Call Yourself ‘Pro-Life’” inexplicably intrigued me. Looking back, it should have been fairly obvious where this was going. We’ve all heard how supporting the death penalty is inconsistent with being pro-life. What could the other nine be? Perhaps it was simply the optimism of a Saturday morning that deceived me, but I thought that maybe this was something other than a paean to the sanctity of left-wing politics. [Spoiler alert: it's not.]
The author, Benjamin Corey, describes himself as a “former fundamentalist.” Please excuse a brief aside, but it amazes me how many people I’ve come across in my life who were formerly or were raised by “fundamentalists.” There are actually Christians out there that describe themselves as “fundamentalist,” but not nearly enough to account for all the people that claim to be former fundamentalists. I think it is generally just shorthand for “conservative evangelical” used by people who want to instantly convey how dark and oppressive their past was. Anyway, I’m almost certainly a “fundamentalist” from Mr. Corey’s perspective.
The list gets off to a rather pedestrian start:
10. You cannot support unrestricted, elective abortions, after the age of viability.
This seems like a fairly obvious thing on a list of what you can’t support if you are pro-life. This is indicative of a larger problem with this article. Mr. Corey observes:
When someone says “pro-life” our thoughts immediately go to the age-old abortion debate (something I’m not interested in hashing out on this blog), when instead it should cause us to think of an all-encompassing value system which shows a primacy for the value and dignity of life in all respects, and at all stages.
Might I suggest that this is the case because that is what the term means? Mr. Corey might not be interested in “hashing out” the issue of abortion in his article on what it means to be pro-life, but the phrase comes from the abortion debate. It wasn’t floating in the aether as some idealized term to describe an all-encompassing ethic favoring life. To criticize people for using “pro-life” in its widely accepted meaning because they aren’t referring to all the things “pro-life” might mean, absent any context, is just plain silly. I have been unable to find any articles by Mr. Corey listing all the things you can’t do and call yourself pro-choice, but surely one would include supporting mandatory taxes, traffic laws, and gun control.
What’s worth noting about this entry is that it is the only one on the list that is in any way qualified. Later entries anathematize anyone who deviates in the slightest from Mr. Corey’s vision of “Pro-Life.”
Mr. Corey then moves from the painfully obvious to the blatantly political:
9. You cannot oppose a livable, minimum wage.
…It’s impossible to say that we are legitimately in favor of “life” when millions among us are unable to afford basic housing regardless of how hard they work.
There is no indication here that the minimum wage is at all a complex issue. You either care about the poor and support it, or you don’t and wish they would starve to death. Unfortunately, the real world is not that simple. Basic, basic economics tells us that when the price goes up, demand goes down. If you mandate a higher price (wage), less people will be hired. But maybe simple reality doesn’t apply if you are loving enough.
8. You cannot advocate, support, or passively tollerate [sic] economic policies which oppress the poor, minorities, or any other marginalized group.
I suppose I can agree with this one, but it is phrased so generally that I doubt anyone in the country disagrees with it. If anything, it reflects an inability to recognize that “the other side” doesn’t disagree with you because there motives are bad. People genuinely disagree over what economic policies oppress the poor and minorities.
7. You cannot oppose gender equality
Fair enough, but what does this have to do with being “pro-life”? Apparently, “Being in favor of life, means we equally value the life of both genders.” Mr. Corey goes on to discuss wage inequality. The further we get in this list, the clearer it is that he thinks “pro-life” means agreeing with him on social and political issues, no matter how tangentially they are related to life.
The next few entries make that clear:
6. You cannot hold anti-immigrant sentiments or support oppressive immigration policies
5. You cannot oppose healthcare for all
Again, apparently there can be no honest disagreement on the wisdom of these policies. Opposing nationalized healthcare is, ipso facto, hating the poor (and implicitly wanting them to die).
We’re getting pretty far down the rabbit hole of left-wing pieties:
4. You cannot use dehumanizing language
Racial epithets, the “R” word, and even the term “illegal” (which in addition to being derogatory, is a totally dishonest term), dehumanize an individual and make them less than ourselves.
Hard to disagree about racial epithets. I didn’t know what the “R” word was at first, but I think he means “retard.” I’m also not sure why “illegal” is a dishonest term for someone who violates immigration law.
Generally speaking, I think Mr. Corey is right about this. We should be careful not to dehumanize others in how we speak. That being said, I’m not sure that this is synonymous by observing all the latest rules about which words are offensive. Furthermore, it is even less clear that using the term “illegal immigrant” meaningfully weighs on whether or not you are pro-life.
3. You cannot support unrestricted gun rights
Apparently, this one is “the most obvious.”
It’s an impossible argument to call oneself pro-life, but to also argue that any citizen ought have access to military grade assault weapons, which are objects designed to take life away. There is no other purpose for guns, beyond killing things. To resist reasonable, middle-ground measures such as background checks, registrations, and mandatory safety training does not indicate that one is holistically on the side of life.
If the premise here is true, why stop at “middle-ground measures”? Gun ownership should be outlawed entirely if we want to be consistently pro-life.
2. You cannot support the death penalty
Ah, there it is. Mr. Corey’s argument here is essentially the same one you’ve heard many times before: “Being pro, or in favor of life, means that we are in favor of all life. That includes those who are on death row.” If this life in question is irrelevant to the question, it would seem to follow that there are no situations in which killing is justified.
To his credit, Mr. Corey is willing to take that step:
1. You cannot support, advocate for, or participate in war
On one hand, Mr. Corey wants to adopt a woodenly-literal definition of “pro-life” that forbids any sort of killing. On the other, his definition is so loose that it encompasses policies he likes that are, at most, loosely related to “life.”
If Mr. Corey wants to think that anyone who disagrees with him is not pro-life, fine. But I doubt that even one percent of Americans can agree with everything on this list. To claim that they are “dishonest” for calling themselves pro-life is absurd.