I am pro-life. What does that label mean? It means that I hold all human life as precious, of equal worth, value and dignity, from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death. Just because a person may be disadvantaged in some way, just because their life might seem to contain more suffering than others, does not render that life any less valuable or worthwhile.
I often express pro-life sentiments on Twitter which result in the same old discussions; the label “anti-choice” is bandied about a lot. This is an attempt to be perjorative and smear the pro-life cause as being dictatorial or totalitarian; the dreaded “illiberal”. The prefix of anti being deliberately chosen to subvert the positivity of the pro-life cause and cast it into a negative light. Nothing could be more polarising.
The label implies pro-lifers wish to restrict basic freedoms and choices. Abortion is a grave matter which results in the ending of the lives of the most vulnerable. Let’s call a spade a spade. What is the choice that is under contention? It is the choice as to whether or not to kill your unborn child. Are pro-lifers against people having the automatic right to kill their unborn children at any stage in the pregnancy, no questions asked? You betcha we are, because the choice to kill should not be a right, a basic freedom or choice, in any civilised society. Abortion was legalised in the UK on that very premise, it was seen as a compassionate measure, one to alleviate suffering, a tightly regulated necessary evil, not an automatic right or privilege of every woman. Aleck Bourne, a doctor who performed an illegal abortion, one of the pioneers of the abortion movement, was horrified by the idea of abortion on demand and campaigned for a ban on the practice of doctors receiving a fee for performing or recommending an abortion.
Pro-abort seems the much more accurate label than “pro choice” as does “in favour of women being able to have a safe legal abortion”. That seems descriptive, factual and devoid of moral loading. As is “pro-life”: it does what it says on the tin. We are in favour of life. ALL life. Trouble is “in favour of women being able to have a safe legal abortion” (IFWSLA) is not quite so snappy. Nor is it emotive, which is how many wish the frame the debate. If the case is going to be made in favour of abortion, it needs to be using emotive and language, in order to evoke compassion for the women in terrible and desperate circumstances, which are the arguments that are always trotted out when abortion is discussed. The trouble is, as many of the fevered advocates are only too well aware, when you start using the hard cases, it plays straight into the pro-lifers hands as it admits that abortion is fundamentally an awful thing. This inherently validates the pro-life cause, so instead abortion is described as a fundamental right or choice, which is certainly not what the Abortion Act of 1967 was enshrining. Furthermore the truly genuine cases are very few and far between, even in Catholic theology, the law of double-effect kicks in if a woman’s life is genuinely endangered by pregnancy. A pregnant woman would be able to accept treatment that would save her life, even if the side-effect would result in the death of her baby.
It is time for some honesty from the pro-choicers. If they wish abortion to be a choice or right that every woman has, then they polarise debate and further entrench positions. If pro-choicers admitted that abortion should be an absolute last resort, that abortion is indeed a tragedy for women and children alike, then they would get a lot more sympathy. Perhaps, if the pro-choicers could couch the debate in terms of a necessary evil then both sides would have common ground and consensus upon which to build and maybe, some lasting social progress could be made on the issue? But smearing the other side with misleading labels is not the way forward.