“Pro-Life” or Pro-Life?

I have a thing about sourcing citations. Whenever I see some cite online, and particularly one that is agreeable, I want to know its provenance. A lot of “quotes” are nothing of the sort; Edmund Burke did not write, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil…” In fact, nobody wrote it. Or said it. It just appeared in the common speech.

We’re all familiar with the Benjamin Franklin trope, “Those who sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

What he actually wrote was:

Those who would give essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.1

It took me a long time to find that source, as I’m not a Franklin scholar. But, until I did find it, I tended to be shy about deploying that particular “quotation.”

Recently, a quotation by Sister Joan Chittister surfaced (or, resurfaced).

But I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking. If all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed and why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.2

I am familiar with the Sister, and an admirer. This nugget struck me as something she might have said, or written. But where — what was its source? With the power of Google, I was able to track it down.

Within the context of the interview, this observation makes sense. And, she means what she says. She’s not advocating for abortion (which, come on, would be right out). She’s making the valid point that Christian responsibility does not end at birth. And, the observation makes sense on its own.

What is “pro-life”?

The foundation of “pro-life” is white supremacy. The “pro-life” movement was created by Paul Weyrich and Jerry Falwell as part of a campaign against the forced desegregation of “Christian academies.” 3

The private Christian school was the refuge for the thousands of white southerners who did not want their kids in schools with blacks, and these “white flight” schools mushroomed across the south.

Weyrich was looking for a way to lever Evangelical Christians into voting Republican, and Falwell was looking for a way to keep Christian schools white. Falwell had previously rejected Weyrich’s overtures to get involved in the abortion debate. He changed his mind after Carter announced his plan to get the white flight schools to desegregate.

As late as 1976, the Southern Baptist Conference, hardly a bastion of Godless liberalism, had reaffirmed its long-standing position that abortion should be available for women, “under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” Some notable Evangelical theologians, with distinguished careers, had published and taught varying positions on social issues like abortion, the death penalty, and evolution. As the Falwell-Weyrich Axis gained political power, it purged all the politically incorrect thinkers from the Evangelical ranks.4

The coalition of savvy politico and charismatic preacher was an outstanding success. Evangelical Christians were driven into the political process and remain there to this day. Increasingly, however, the single-issue voters who have adopted the anti-abortion banner have diverged from the (supposed) Christian underpinning of that banner. As Sister Joan so astutely pointed out 15 years ago, Christian duty does not end when the baby takes its first breath. Christ gave us a laundry list of proper behaviors, that has been tossed aside.

Sister Joan emphasizes that

Scripture is not a driving test. Scripture is a challenge to the heart and this moment. Scripture is the whole scripture. But we don’t believe it’s frozen in time.5

The political Evangelical movement has lost that connection to Scripture. Lacking the intellectual strength and moral fiber that comes from thinking, questioning, and agonizing over answers, the heirs of the Weyrich-Falwell Axis have wandered so far from the path, they now advocate for the parental rights of rapers, deny marital rape, and propagate bizarre theories like “women don’t get pregnant from rape.” They curse poor women who have babies; they denounce any government program that feeds, clothes, shelters, educates, those babies.

What’s wrong with the “pro-life” movement is not that its members oppose abortion. Very few, if any, people are “for” abortion. They’re for the right to choose. No, what is wrong with the movement is that its members are not pro-life — not for doing everything in their power to make life on earth precious for each new inhabitant. When that baby is born, it is one of God’s creatures. That was Christ’s message when he walked among us. That’s still his message, today.


  1. Franklin, Benjamin. “An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania.” Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin. Ed. William Temple Franklin. Vol. 2. N.p.: M’Carty & Davis, 1840. 48. Print. 
  2. Moyers, Bill. “NOW with Bill Moyers. Transcript.” PBS. PBS, 12 Nov. 2004. Web. 01 Aug. 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript346_full.html&gt;. 
  3. Balmer, Randall. “The Real Origins of the Religious Right.” POLITICO Magazine. Politico LLC, 27 May 2014. Web. 01 Aug. 2015. <http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133.html#.Vbyl2B8Syzd&gt;. 
  4. Balmer, op. cit. 
  5. Moyers, op. cit. 

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