How the Pro-Life Movement Lost its Soul

Whatever your religious or philosophical background, most of us fall for the idea that humans are special somehow, that we are more than the sum of our biological components.  Ok, you biologists out there may not agree, but the idea of the soul, whatever you may call it is an idea I sympathize with, if not fully embrace (I’ve studied a lot of biology).

Yet I do appreciate the sentiment, even so far as it reaches the unborn.  Maybe that spark, whatever it is, happens at the moment of conception.  Maybe that life is sacred, unique, suddenly, irreversibly human.  If the pro-life movement wants to argue that united gametes are life, it’s hard to argue.  We think in binary, after all, and if it’s not life, it’s certainly not death.  If there is a third category, defining it proves to be elusive. What if the spark comes first and the flesh just grows around it?

If the human soul is intangible, science is ill-equipped to disprove its existence.  That’s why it’s beautiful for us all to believe different things about the origins of humanness.  Problems occur, of course, when politics get involved.  Don’t they always?  I think the political movement claiming ultimate authority as to when life begins has taken on a life of its own.  And it all starts to fall apart when the movement fails to protect the very core of its belief system.  It fails to protect the soul.

When Donald Trump claimed last week that he thought women who had abortions, were they illegal, should be punished.  As distasteful as this idea may be, it’s not exactly illogical.  As a society, we generally accept that people should be punished for committing crimes.  But the pro-life movement responded immediately to disavow both the candidate and his statement.  He back pedaled, as politicians who speak before they think (or learn anything about the abortion debate) are wont to do, but not before being schooled on what the pro-life movement really stands for.

NPR’s Steve Inskeep interviewed Marjorie Dannenfelser of the pro-life group, the Susan B. Anthony list, about this very issue, and she made her feelings on punishing women for abortions quite clear.  “The pro-life movement has never, for a very good reason, promoted the idea that we punish women, she told Inskeep. “In fact, we believe that women are being punished before the abortion ever occurs. In other words, the early feminists believed this was the ultimate exploitation of women.”  Abortion, in other words, is punishment enough.

I hardly see this argument as pro-woman.  It implies that a woman is simply incapable of making the decision to terminate no matter how much she has thought through her options.  Apparently, Ms. Dannenfelser thinks all women should be treated like underage children, legally incapable of consenting to what happens to their own bodies.  Women should not even be respected enough to be held responsible for committing a crime.

But not only that, what about that spark we talked about?  That unique human soul that is created at conception.  The life that is so valuable that it is to be protected, even at the expense of the well-being or even the will of the mother.  If it is a human life equal to all others, how can we excuse women for being too stupid to know any better?  If a woman is convicted of killing her post-utero child, we expect her to go to jail.  So giving women a pass on abortion just illustrates that the spark, however special it may be, is not valued the same way as a human life.

I also take issue with those who try to offer compromises in terms of “exceptions.”  Many pro-lifers, trying to soften the image of absolutists, claim if a mother is raped or a victim of incest, then abortion should be allowed.  In other words, if a man was responsible for the pregnancy, then it’s ok to terminate it.  It’s only when a woman has consented to sex that an embryo is suddenly an irreplaceable human life.  Abortion is murder or it isn’t. And the pro-life movement just proved to me that it’s not.

I’m calling you out.  Your political stance is not about compassion.  It’s not about protecting babies, and it’s certainly not about protecting women.  It’s about control. And don’t bother to hide behind your religion.  Or at least not the part where it defines life as occurring at conception.  Where is that part exactly? I lost my bookmark.  Now, if you mean the part where women should be property used only for the purpose of begetting progeny, then carry on.

To those of you who do believe abortion is murder period, that egg and sperm, once united, are so special that no one has the right to end that spark of a holy zygote:  well maybe you and I can find some common ground.  Maybe we can work together to end the stigma of single motherhood, to provide evidence based sex-education for all our kids, to give every baby that is born love and a home.  If you are not willing to do that, then calling yourself pro-life is just a smokescreen for shaming and controlling women for making choices about their bodies




7 thoughts on “How the Pro-Life Movement Lost its Soul

  1. I’ve had similar thoughts about abortion. Why should it be all right to abort if the fetus is the product of incest or rape? Like how does that solve anything much? Sure, the mother doesn’t have to live through an unwanted pregnancy, but is that fetus less worthy of life than one begotten of two careless or unlucky or even irresponsible people? Not logical, but of course the issue is messily emotional. And — why should a woman be forced to continue a pregnancy that endangers her own life? Her soul counts, too, presumably. Well. Not a subject many pro-lifers are willing to consider logically.


  2. You’re absolutely right about a lot in this post. The pro-life movement generally claims that women shouldn’t be punished for abortion, yet they also frequently call abortion “murder.” If it’s murder, then who gets punished? The murderer. And a planned murder is worse than manslaughter, and worse than a murder that isn’t premeditated. That’s why we have degrees of murder. If abortion is murder, then it’s a planned one. It isn’t logical to argue that women shouldn’t be punished. But I think deep down they at least understand that this isn’t a situation in which women feel an intense hatred for their fetuses. They’re in a bad situation and trying to get to a better one. I was part of the pro-life movement for most of my life, and I never thought this through, but it makes so much sense from an outside perspective.


  3. It is hard to think about and not just feel when the subject is abortion. I abhor it, but I realize my life has been privileged. If I had several children whom I could barely feed, would I consider abortion when facing another child to feed and clothe when my energies and hope are flagging? I might. (I’d like to think I would not put myself in such a position, but people do. Have to fight the oh-how-wise-I-am conviction to be fair.) There certainly ought to be and often are better choices — like making sure the fathers of unwanted children take responsibility for them. Anyway, as dreadful as abortion is, I do think it should be legal. It’s a heart-rending decision that should belong to the woman whose body and life are impacted.


  4. “…don’t bother to hide behind your religion. Or at least not the part where it defines life as occurring at conception. Where is that part exactly?”

    Speaking as a Catholic: The Catholic Church makes its stance on the origin of life clear in Section 2270 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

    “Now, if you mean the part where women should be property used only for the purpose of begetting progeny, then carry on.”

    The Catholic Church’s view on women:

    “Man discovers woman as another ‘I’, sharing the same humanity.”
    ~ Catechism of the Catholic Church, Section 371

    Women are not property. Men and women share “the same humanity.”

    One is not superior to the other, though the role of one is different than the role of the other.

    For example: Men, because of their biology, are more suited to carrying heavy loads than women. This isn’t to say that a woman can’t become stronger than a man — just that, when it comes to muscle, a man has an inherent advantage.


      1. “I apparently need to be better informed?”

        I didn’t say that you need to be better informed. I’m sorry if that’s what my words implied.

        I was just pointing out where my beliefs regarding when life begins come from.

        “What’s the time frame on that definition of life beginning at conception?”

        I’m not quite understanding your question.

        To answer it to the best of my ability:

        The Catholic church teaches that life begins at the moment the egg and sperm make contact. (i.e., Conception.) However long it takes for that to happen, it seems, varies.


  5. I meant that with all sincerity that I need to be better informed. I asked a question kind of snarkily and you answered from your perspective. Cool. I meant when did the Catholic Church establish that life begins at conception in wriring?


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