One criticism that the pro-life movement tends to hear repeatedly is that their position would be taken much more seriously if they would adopt a consistent pro-life ethic that rejects all forms of killing.
This, of course, would include issues like capital punishment, war and other systems that neglect treating human life with the utmost care and dignity.
Admittedly, this isn’t the fairest critique. For one, it fails to acknowledge that the pro-life movement, like most movements, seeks to place emphasis on a particular issue and that emphasis does not imply indifference elsewhere.
By and large, it is understood that the pro-life movement is concerned primarily with abortion and attempts at trying to derail this focus are sometimes disingenuous and not well received.
However, there is a point worth considering when discussing the term “pro-life” more specifically.
Critics may grant the focus of the movement while arguing that the term “pro-life” does not appropriately communicate a movement that is singularly fixated on anti-abortion and nothing more.
Whether or not one is convinced of this inconsistency, some who advocate for a consistent pro-life ethic may feel as though they have more of a right to the term.
After all, the term “pro-life” had a much broader meaning from its beginning. It did not originally mean “anti-abortion” alone.
In fact, the term only came to be associated with right-wing politics after Roe v. Wade when political conservatives adopted it in order to express the heart of the movement.
Of course, words and phrases begin to take on different meanings over time, but for those clinging to a consistent pro-life ethic, reclaiming the term to extend what it means to be pro-life is an important rhetorical move.
In no way does this mean that opponents of abortion must adopt a consistent pro-life conviction or else give up the term altogether, but the holistic approach to life can indeed offer a helpful corrective.
Moreover, seeing where both pro-life camps are coming from is important for future dialogue committed to preserving the dignity of human life across the board.
So, how exactly can these two camps learn from one another?
Those who find themselves in the consistent pro-life camp can learn a great deal by coming to acknowledge a sort of uniqueness to the issue of abortion.
We may then come to understand the emphasis on abortion even more and thereby gain a deeper appreciation for why such an emphasis is in fact necessary.
In addition, it may also help to acknowledge how organized movements centered on a particular issue can have a powerful and effective voice.
On the other hand, those who do not adopt the broader use of the term can learn a great deal from those who do.
By gaining an awareness of the deeper, pre-existing issues that cause one to consider abortion as an option in the first place, we can do a better job not only at treating the symptom, but attending also to the root cause.
Moreover, opponents of abortion may also discover for themselves how other moral atrocities cannot easily be divorced from their convictions to protect human life.
Consequently, they may come to better understand the underlying logic of the consistent pro-life position.
Perhaps then we will move even further beyond our own ideas of what it means to be pro-life.
There is certainly more to be said, but whatever one’s position, there shouldn’t be any reason why both of these groups can’t work together in order to promote a social ethic that sees each individual person as fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a new series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. Learn more about EthicsDaily.com’s “Emerging Voices” and “U:21” series here.
Tyler Conway is a hospital chaplain in Temple, Texas, and a 2018 graduate of George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas.