Why Less Is More in a Post-Roe World
When coaching pro-life candidates for public office, I tell them to say one thing and say it well: “I oppose abortion because it’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.” Stop. Rinse. Repeat—a hundred times if necessary. You have plenty of time. You can state that sound bite in seven seconds or less.
There are three reasons for this disciplined messaging. First, it’s succinct enough to make the evening news. Second, it accurately conveys the moral logic of the pro-life position. Third, it minimizes risk. During an election cycle, a careless comment can destroy your candidacy in a heartbeat. Less is more when dealing with a hostile press.
Idling behind that seven-second sound bite is a formal pro-life argument that can be summarized as follows:
Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.
Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.
Conclusion: Abortion is wrong.
Despite the clarity of the argument, some pro-life advocates insist that saving unborn humans is not enough. To be legitimately pro-life, so their argument goes, the pro-life movement must show equal concern for all injustices, not just abortion. We must shift from “pro-life” to “whole life.” After all, Jesus cared for all marginalized people, not just some. Sex trafficking, poverty, the opioid crisis, economic inequality, and the unfair treatment of refugees (to name just a few) are assaults on human dignity and thus equally qualify as “pro-life” issues. Anything less than a consistent whole-life witness betrays our fundamental principles and drives critics away from considering pro-life arguments.
Are pro-life organizations wrong to focus on abortion?
How does it follow that because pro-life advocates oppose the intentional killing of innocent human beings, they must prove their pro-life credentials by fixing everything wrong with society?
It doesn’t follow, not at all. True, as defenders of human dignity, pro-life Christians should care about poverty, clean water, and the rights of people everywhere. A biblical Christian ethic is concerned with the whole life. But the organizational priorities of pro-life organizations are necessarily narrow; we must stop letting our opponents dictate our operational objectives. After all, when governments set aside an entire class of human beings to be killed, it’s only fitting that pro-life organizations prioritize ending that evil.
Pro-life advocates just won a major victory at the Supreme Court. In a post-Roe world, pro-life legislation can move forward without being handcuffed by the federal courts. But the victory will be short-lived if whole-life advocates succeed in redefining “pro-life” as “whole-life.” Though sold to Christian leaders as “compassionate” and “consistent,” a whole-life strategy is seriously flawed for several reasons.
1. Whole-life objectives distort pro-life priorities.
We won’t achieve pro-life victory by seeking to fix every wrong in society. That’s an impossible task. We’ll achieve it when our primary objectives are achieved, when each state no longer permits the intentional killing of unborn human beings. Yes, our tasks in service of securing that objective vary. Pro-life work necessarily includes pregnancy centers, apologetics, political strategy, and educational campaigns. But the objective itself is singular: we exist to protect unborn human beings.
Biblically speaking, the shedding of innocent blood represents a preeminent moral crisis. It demands fearless intervention (Prov. 6:16–19; Prov. 24:11–12). It’s never one issue among equal concerns.
In terms of the evil done, what issue comes close to the state-sanctioned intentional killing of a million innocent human beings annually? During the five decades that Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, 62 million human beings were legally killed in the US. That is the Holocaust times ten. That is Yankee Stadium filled 1,143 times over. And that’s just the United States. There is plenty of injustice to go around, but none so egregious and violent as abortion. That’s reason enough for pro-life advocates to make legally protecting unborn humans their top priority.
True, abortion is not the only issue, any more than slavery was the only issue in 1860 or killing Jews the only issue in 1940. But both were the dominant issues of their day. Demanding pro-lifers do more is like telling abolitionists in 1860, “You can’t be against slavery unless you address all its underlying causes.”
Slavery is wrong. Abortion is wrong. Neither statement requires further qualification.
A biblical Christian ethic is concerned with the whole life. But the organizational priorities of pro-life organizations are necessarily narrow.
2. Whole-life objectives exhaust battle-weary pro-life advocates.
Is saving babies enough? According to one pro-life leader, the answer is no. The entire pro-life movement, not just pregnancy centers, must shift from “pro-life” to “pro-abundant life.” That is, pro-life organizations must “programmatically” work to build strong families, secure religious liberty, promote healthy marriages, disciple believers, encourage responsible fatherhood, and help families thrive spiritually.
How is that even possible? Pro-life advocates just got saddled with a back-breaking job description not even Superman can pull off. True, within the confines of the local pregnancy center, staff should focus holistically on clients. It’s unfair, though, to tell hardworking pro-lifers—many who have spent decades sacrificing financially and vocationally to save children—that they must take on more work or fall short of their moral obligations.
3. Whole-life demands are unfairly applied to pro-lifers.
Why is the whole-life argument never used against other groups who target specific forms of injustice? Critics never demand that other organizations broaden their humanitarian efforts; they only demand pro-lifers do so. How many of these other organizations reciprocate by diluting their personnel and funds to help pro-lifers save unborn humans?
Suppose your church, eager to save young children from gang violence, opens an inner-city childcare ministry on the south side of Chicago. For three hours after classes on school days, you provide kids a safe place to go, taking them off the street and away from gang recruiters.
But instead of applauding your sacrificial efforts to save children, a television reporter slams your church with a hit piece:
If you truly cared about kids, you’d care about all kids, not just grade school ones. Middle school kids need help too, you know. Why are you only open for three hours on school days instead of 24-7? And what are you doing to address the underlying causes of gang violence such as gun sales and poor housing? Sorry, but if you’re going to call yourself a childcare ministry, you must care for all children K–12, not just cherry-pick the ones you like.
A reporter who said that about your childcare ministry would be sacked before the evening sign off. But if he conveys those same sentiments about a pro-life organization, he may win an Emmy.
Improving the lives of living children presupposes their live births. We must save lives first—only then can we help those children with their quality of life.
Meanwhile, pro-life advocates do care for those outside the womb. Pro-life pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics by a wide margin nationally. These centers are funded entirely by pro-life donors who give sacrificially to assist women both before birth and after. This shouldn’t surprise us. As Thaddeus Williams points out,
Conservative households donate substantially more money to charity than liberal ones. A 2018 Barna study found that practicing Christians outpace all other demographics in providing food to the poor, donating clothing and furniture to the poor, praying for the poor, and giving personal time to serve the poor in their communities and beyond U.S. borders1.
In short, whole-life demands often amount to little more than a lazy slander of the pro-life cause.2
4. Shifting to a whole-life approach will not convert pro-abortion critics.
When a critic says that pro-lifers are “pro-birth” rather than “pro-life,” we should call his bluff: “Tell me, if the pro-life movement takes on every issue that you demand we take on, will you join us in opposing abortion?” We already know the answer: “No! Abortion is a fundamental right!” To which pro-life advocates should reply, “Then why did you bring up all these other issues in the first place?”
Of course pro-life advocates are pro-birth! What’s wrong with that? The alternative is the intentional dismemberment of innocent human beings. Indeed, it’s not pro-lifers who care nothing for kids once they are born; it’s pro-abortionists who do not care. Without exception, every abortion-advocacy group in the country from Planned Parenthood to the Democratic Party opposes legislation that protects children who are born alive after botched abortion procedures.
The abortion debate was never about other issues. It’s about one question: Can we set aside an entire class of human beings to be killed simply because they are in the way of something we want? If pro-lifers want to win in post-Roe America, we better not let critics define victory for us. We’ve got enough on our plates persuading our fellow citizens that intentionally killing innocent human beings is a grave moral wrong.
Opposing the intentional killing of innocent humans in the womb is the very essence of what it means to be pro-life. As my colleague Marc Newman points out, “Individuals and organizations that make it their exclusive mission to save these human beings from a culture hell-bent on butchering them have nothing to apologize for. They don’t need additional causes; they need additional support.”
Scott Klusendorf is the author of The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture.
God alone is the potter. He alone knits cells together in the womb to form a baby human. He alone has the right to destroy or glorify the work of his hands.
There is plenty of scholarship looking into the political history of abortion in America or the legal history, but we wanted to take a different angle.
If early American men were going on trial for forcing women to eat abortifacients, we certainly can’t believe what Justice Blackman wrote in his original Roe v. Wade opinion.
Knowing abortion is murder is not something that is just a result of modern technology. It has been the common sense of people in America for centuries.