How Can You Be Pro-Life And…?

I recently wrote about my belief that the pro-life movement could benefit greatly from a more pragmatic approach. Even though the article wasn’t a broader pro-life argument, it attracted a lot of common questions that pro-lifers, especially those who don’t fall into the stereotypical religious-based camp, face. How can a libertarian support government regulation of abortion? How can a self-professed feminist support restrictions on “a woman’s body”? Do you care about life after birth? First of all, I reject the assertion that being opposed to abortion puts any kind of requirement on a person to hold any other view. To suggest otherwise is simply an attempt to defeat an opponent by falsely implying hypocrisy – which, I should point out, doesn’t do anything to refute the underlying argument.

That being said, the liberty movement is always going to be at odds over the issue of abortion, and I think that pro-life libertarians need to be able to defend their position. Personally, I don’t care in the slightest if other feminists think that I’m not “feminist enough” for being opposed to abortion, but I do care about women’s issues, and would like young women afraid to identify as feminists to know that you don’t have to fit a certain leftist ideal to be one. And, of course, assertions by the left that “pro-life” is a misnomer if we don’t support universal healthcare or any other leftist cause célèbre are always going to be prevalent and must be addressed.

With all of that in mind, I would like to address the question at hand in relation to the above issues. So, how can you be pro-life and be…

A feminist

Those man-hating feminists! How dare they want to vote! Wait…

On this point, it’s important to put the disclaimer that I’m by no means an expert in feminist thought. At college, I studied political science, not women’s studies, but I’m familiar with a lot of the core of feminist thought as it relates to politics, and to a lesser extent, to society. I believe that historically, women have been disenfranchised by a male-dominated power structure. Women still face a higher risk of being victims of sexual crimes. Rape culture shames and discourages victims from reporting sexual crimes. Women are less likely to run for political office, and more likely to be treated badly by the media if they do run. Women are judged more harshly than men for engaging in similar behaviors. It is within recent memory that women were able to open credit cards without their husband’s approval. Some of our grandparents can remember when women couldn’t vote.

She would like you to know that she’s an autonomous citizen and doesn’t like you oppressing her by feeding her and making her stay in her crib.

However, none of these conclusions suggest or require that support for abortion, which pro-lifers such as myself view as the taking of a human life, be a feminist litmus test. And while pro-life feminists are rare, we do exist. As I discussed in my previous column, I think that it is anti-woman to try to restrict access to contraception or assume that all women have to be, or should be, mothers.

Abortion is a separate issue. Just because the unborn baby is dependent on the life of its mother doesn’t mean that it’s not a life. All children and many adults are dependent on someone else to live. That doesn’t mean that we get to kill them. I was born premature. In many states, I could have been aborted at the time I was born, and in fact, my mom’s doctors suggested aborting me to give the larger twin (my sister) a better chance of living (for the record, we both survived, as you may know if you’ve checked out our contributors page).

Baby Mary Ann after being told the doctors wanted to abort her… er, me.

I do recognize that abortion is complex, and often an emotionally-charged decision. I have a hard time supporting a ban on abortion in the cases of rape, but I would prefer that rape survivors are routinely provided access to emergency contraception. Taking away the perceived need for abortion would certainly eliminate a lot of the complex moral dilemmas involved.

A libertarian

As most of you probably know, I’m a “small-l” libertarian. I don’t claim allegiance to the Libertarian Party, nor do I agree with them on everything. However, as a liberty-minded individual, the question of how I can support government “regulation” of abortion is often brought up. It is true that I do favor less government regulation in nearly all cases.

I have no idea what’s going on in this picture. Please take my libertarian card now.

However, it is disingenuous to suggest that pro-life libertarians are examples of only supporting bans on things we don’t like. I don’t oppose abortion because I don’t like it; I oppose it because I believe it to be the taking of a life. I don’t like prostitution or drugs, but I don’t think people should sit in prison for engaging in those behaviors.

I’m not an anarcho-capitalist. I’m a small-government libertarian conservative, and I’m more likely to support a return to state and local control than an attempt to “get government out” altogether. I absolutely support state legislation against violent crimes that harm individuals, and property crimes that deprive individuals of their property. Even if I don’t like said individuals, I don’t support crimes being done against them. I don’t support legislation of victimless crimes, for the most part, and I don’t support federal legislation of most all crimes. But abortion doesn’t fall under those categories. The rebuttal of “if you don’t support abortion, don’t get one,” really doesn’t apply. Lots of people might think that it’s a husband’s right to punish his wife by striking her, but I certainly don’t want to leave that interpretation up to their choice.

I do recognize, as I’ve said in comments on my previous article, that abortion is something that is always going to be debated. I believe that, at the absolute least, abortion should be restricted past what is, admittedly, a difficult concept of “viability.” I believe life begins when the fetus begins developing. I recognize, however, that proving when life begins is always going to be somewhat a matter for philosophy, not science. Like nearly all issues, I think that complex questions about abortion should be left to the states.

Finally, this takes me to the ubiquitous final question.

How can you be pro-life and not support other “life” issues?

Issues commonly brought up include lack of support for alternatives to abortion (which I covered in my previous article,) and support for war. War is not the same thing, unless you believe that killing foreign combatants is the same thing as murder. I don’t. I think that war is sometimes a necessary evil. It does show a lack of respect for the idea of life if people don’t care if innocent people are killed in war. But that, surely, is a rarity among people who support wars.

The only point I will concede to this argument is that it may be a misnomer to call anti-abortion supporters “pro-life.” However, pro-abortion supporters typically prefer the term “pro-choice,” even if they don’t always support choice in cases of school choice, or personal health choices like drinking large sodas, or the choice to carry weapons. I don’t think that’s necessarily hypocritical of them. It’s understood that “pro-choice” typically refers to abortion, and it’s understood that “pro-life” typically refers to abortion. Let’s not get caught up on trying to trip up our opponents based on their wording.

Of course, the big argument that seems to come up on this point is about healthcare. Is it hypocritical to support legislation restricting abortion and not support government intervention to improve the quality of life for people who have been born?

First of all, there is a fundamental distinction between supporting the government punishing crime and requesting that the government subsidize, well, anything. I don’t support government-funded healthcare, certainly not federal-government funded healthcare, because that’s not the role of the government. Our founding documents talk about the pursuit of happiness, not its guarantee. The government has the ability to provide for the protection of its citizens, in fact, that’s the very idea of government. However, it has neither the responsibility nor the right to feed, clothe, and hold their hands from cradle to grave.

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In Defense of Pro-Life Pragmatism

This week, the internet has been abuzz with talk of a Texas state senator’s filibuster. State Senator Wendy Davis stood on the floor of the Texas for over twelve hours and delivered an impassioned defense of the necessity of abortion in the face of a bill that would have banned all abortions past twenty weeks of pregnancy. “#StandwithWendy” began trending on Twitter (copying the much more catchy “Stand with Rand“). Commentators nationwide have praised Sen. Davis for “standing up for women’s rights.”

Senator Davis during her filibuster.

Conservative (and conservative libertarian) women like myself greatly resent being told that our rights are ultimately about whether we want an abortion. We’re often very annoyed with such condescension on the issue of abortion. However, quite frankly, conservatives have done a very poor job of defending their pro-life stance in the face of arguments about women’s rights.

So how can we fix this?

First, for the purpose of this article, I am assuming that the gender gap exists. However, I do not believe it is natural for women to align themselves more often with liberal causes.  I am also assuming that readers are in general agreement with me that abortion is wrong. I’m not going to attempt to change anyone’s mind on the broader issue of abortion because I don’t have the time or the desire to do so. Rather, what I want to accomplish is for conservatives to take a good, hard look in the mirror and see what we’re doing very wrong and how we’re allowing ourselves to be put into a stereotype of not caring about women.

Recognize and point out that calling abortion an issue of “a woman’s body” is intellectually dishonest.

Life is not life only when we want it. Conservatives need to step away from responding with talking points and slogans (“I’m pro-life”) and actually take some time to articulate the reasoning behind them. Some states can charge people with double murder for killing a pregnant woman. Many women experience lasting depression after miscarriages. Not wanting to carry a fetus to term doesn’t make it more or less of a life. As conservatives, we have to challenge the idea that abortion is as simple as someone making decisions that only affect them.

Stop acting like rape is no big deal.

Some conservatives think that abortion should not be allowed in cases of rape. Some think there should be an exception. Either way, this is always going to be the rebuttal of the left (“what about rape?”), and we have to realize that this is a very sensitive topic. Unlike in cases where abortion is an issue of convenience, there is no choice involved in this. Pregnancy by rape is something that, by its very nature, is thrust upon a woman against her will. Flippantly dismissing these cases is wrong and offensive to rape survivors. It also doesn’t look great for our “we really don’t hate women” cause. And while we’re on that subject…

Think before you speak!

Let’s summarize some of the things that Republican politicians have said about rape and abortion. Rape victims shouldn’t need abortions because rape kits are abortion tools. Pregnancy rarely comes from “legitimate” rape. Pregnancies resulting from rape are a blessing from God. Going through a rape is “something similar” to a man’s daughter getting pregnant out of wedlock.

Disregarding the fact that these are all blatantly false (some laughably so), just look at how much the left has taken these comments and repeated them ad nauseum. I don’t think that these patently false and rather heartless comments are representative of any mainstream conservative view. But by speaking without thinking about what they’re saying or knowing what they’re talking about, these politicians have made it even easier for the left to tell women “conservatives don’t care about you.”

And while we’re on the subject of knowing what you’re talking about…

Being blatantly anti-science doesn’t help anything.

I strongly believe that conservatism which seeks to impose ideas about how individuals should live their lives is not true conservatism. Conservatives traditionally want smaller government. Liberals may say that they don’t want to run your life, but that promise ends when you want to drink a big soda or homeschool your children. Conservatives may be hypocritical about our small government stance sometimes, but at the very least, it is at the core of our philosophy.

With that in mind, the pro-life movement must separate itself from efforts to ban or discourage birth control, punish premarital sex, or promote motherhood as the ideal for all women. I realize this is controversial for a lot of pro-lifers. But abortion is not wrong because it’s taking away from women’s “natural inclination to be mothers,” it’s not wrong because it’s stopping the “natural process of pregnancy,” and it doesn’t happen because people have sex before marriage. Abortion is wrong because it’s the taking of a life. If we stray from that fundamental argument, we get ourselves caught up in actually telling women what to do with their bodies.

On a related note, if we are ever going to provide alternatives for abortion, we simply can’t argue that birth control also shouldn’t be an option. I am not opposed to birth control. But for the conservatives who are, can we at least agree that birth control would be the lesser evil? The same goes for emergency contraception. While we’re on the subject, emergency contraction doesn’t actually cause abortions. Neither does regular hormonal birth control (not that oral birth control pills are the only form of contraception).

So stop saying these things! We’re fighting a losing, anti-science, anti-reason battle, if we try to convince people not to even use contraceptives. And guess what? Abortions still happen when abortion is illegal. Since Roe v. Wade and subsequent court decisions, abortion has been legal nationwide. Regardless of who we put on the Supreme Court, there is quite a bit of jurisprudence to overthrow in order to change that. If we really want to be pro-life, we can’t just focus on the legal status of abortion (which may not change, soon, or ever!), but also on reducing it overall. As much as we may not like it, that’s going to include not trying to block women’s access to birth control.

Rhetoric matters.

We should be able to accept that having an abortion is a complex, highly emotional decision, and not something that women do because they’re horrible monsters. Stop calling women who feel they need an abortion “baby killers.” Stop saying that rape victims need to accept their “blessing from God.” Yelling at women, telling them they’re murderers, and trying to physically block them from going inside abortion clinics doesn’t help.

One of the few pro-life protest images available that doesn’t include gruesome images of aborted fetuses.

Recently, anti-abortion activists in my hometown were proudly passing around a personal story from a woman seeking an abortion who had been so disturbed by the protesters outside of the abortion clinic that she left… and went to a clinic a couple of counties away. That is not a win! You know what might actually help? Providing women with options so they don’t feel like abortion is their only choice. Screaming, shouting, and condemning is not going to win people over. Nor is it going to do anything to convince women who are drawn to the left that the right doesn’t really hate them.

I do not like being told that it is my right (and the only thing I should care about) to take the life of a child (at the very least, one I chose to conceive). I also don’t like listening to conservative politicians try to argue against abortion by using wrong, unscientific, or sexist arguments, lumped in with dismissal of other women’s health issues like birth control. I’m not calling for a compromise. I’m just calling for using methods that actually work.