In the great debate over legalized abortion, I have consistently stood my ground as passionately and unapologetically Pro-Life. Several years before becoming a Christian at 18-years-young, I started gravitating towards Pro-Life values. It all began one day when a friend asked me, “Hey Chris, do you think that a healthy, unborn baby should be killed by a medical procedure before it’s born?” I had never thought about that before. Horrified, I replied, “No way! That’s awful.” Soon after that, this same friend invited me to go with him to some local Pro-Life rallies. The day after one of those rallies, I even found myself on the cover of a local newspaper! Then over time, as I immersed in the Pro-Life movement, I became utterly convinced that terminating an unborn life is an act of murder.
It’s been crystal clear to me how fundamentally immoral and unjust it is to terminate a viable human life in utero, a life that otherwise would be born and grow into childhood and adulthood. If consciously taking someone else’s life is murder, how could abortion on demand be any less murderous? And then I heard stories of people whose mothers seriously contemplated aborting them. My heart sank at the thought of not having these people’s presence and gifts in the world– people like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and Celine Dion.
Becoming Pro-Life at such an early stage helped me to recognize the truth that all human life is important, beginning with the lives of the unborn. So valuing and protecting the lives of the unborn would naturally lead Pro-Life people to champion the wellbeing of human life wherever it is found, right?
For me, that’s when things started to get complicated. Very complicated.
As I worked through my Pro-Life views, I could not ignore the life and welfare of mothers bearing these children. There was no escaping a growing moral conundrum: how can I call myself Pro-Life if passionately protecting a mother’s life and wellbeing is any less crucial than passionately protecting her unborn child. Life is life, isn’t it? So then, what is the best option for an expectant mother who has suffered the horrific trauma of being raped and is now carrying the child of her assailant? What is the best option for mothers who are victims of incest? What is best option for mothers whose long term health or survival is in peril if she carries full-term? What is best option for mothers expecting a child who is severely malformed and will suffer and die soon after birth?
Seriously regarding the welfare of life outside a mother’s womb widened my frame of lives that are worth protecting. This bigger frame also revealed an inconvenient truth that things are rarely as black and white as we pretend they are. While I remain adamantly opposed to abortion on demand as a means of birth control, I found that being Pro-Life requires us to bear the agonizing tension of valuing the life and welfare of both the unborn and the women who carry them. There are indeed terrible circumstances no mother wants to face when either her own wellbeing or that of her unborn child demands that a legal form of abortion is still available to her. All life is life worth valuing, after all. As a Christian Pro-Lifer, I affirm that every life, both the unborn and the born, is precious to us and especially to God, the Author of life.
But my widening Pro-Life frame of did not stop there.
We have been engaging in a national moral struggle to define whose lives truly matter to us. As a Christian Pro-Lifer, I was challenged once again to widen my frame when I first heard the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” My initial reaction to that was, “Well yes, but all lives matter, don’t they? Black lives. Brown lives. White lives. We all matter. Why single out just Black lives? What’s the point?” Many of us sang as children, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” And that’s true.
Still, my Christian conviction to love my neighbors as myself and my ongoing commitment to Pro-Life values led me to explore more deeply what “Black Lives Matter” means. What are we really saying?
Black Lives Matter became the rally cry of the Black civil rights movement after the police shootings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in 2014, and gained even more powerful prominence after the police killed George Floyd this year. As a wordsmith, I have to admit that “Black Lives Matter” is an ingenious phrase— pithy, pointed and highly evocative— as evidenced by the surge of support and resistance it has received. In just three words, it says: “The lives and wellbeing of Black people are sacred. However, the actions and policies of American systems of justice, law enforcement, housing and education have time and again demonstrated that Black wellbeing and survival is of secondary or even little importance to America. We’re here to say that Black wellbeing and survival matters. Black lives matter, and since they do, policy, attitudes, and behavior must reflect that reality.”
Once I understood what Black Lives Matter means, it occurred to me that my definition of Pro-Life must widen to include the protection of Black lives.
If I am willing to advocate for the abolition of laws, policies, and attitudes that proliferate the evils of abortion on demand, how can I not also advocate for the abolition of laws, policies, and attitudes that harm the lives of my Black neighbors?
I say all this as an urgent plea to my Pro-Life friends and neighbors. To be authentically Pro-Life, our frame of focus must encompass more than the plight of the unborn. It is a cognitive and spiritual dissonance to be passionately in favor of the unborn while remaining apathetic to the plight of the born. How can we exert so much effort to lovingly empathize with the feelings, health, and potential of the unborn and not extend that same loving empathy to to the feelings, health, and potential of the born, and in this case, of our Black neighbors, who are urging us to see that their lives matter, too.
Or to put it another way: we Pro-Lifers would go to any length to protect unborn Black babies, right? After all, in principle at least, unborn Black babies are just as sacred as unborn White babies. Once these unborn Black babies are born, how can we say to them and their mothers, “Well, you’re on your own now. Good luck, and God bless. And don’t you dare bother me with all your talk of systemic injustice and racism.” How can we ignore the fact that statistically speaking, a White baby will be healthier, more educated, make more money, and live longer than a Black baby, and not ask why that is, beyond our basic assumptions? How can our Pro-Life compassion and empathy co-exist with this kind of callous disregard? We want laws and polices in place to severely limit or even completely eliminate the evil of abortion on demand. How could we not also want laws and policies in place that dismantles the the evil of racism that hurts Black lives?
We Pro-Lifers have argued for years now that there is a pervasive culture of selfishness, violence, and death in America that proliferates the evil of abortion. This death culture has severely eroded our moral obligation to cherish the sacred worth of the unborn. Amen. I would add that this same culture spawns the kind of selfishness, apathy, suspicion, and arrogance that keeps our country from recognizing and dismantling the evil of racism that denies the sacred worth of born Black lives, too.
Fellow Pro-Lifers, expand your frame of compassion more widely to include Black lives. We go to great lengths to name, and to single out, and to fight to protect the lives of the unborn. Many of us Pro-Lifers are proud to name and single out Blue lives, too.
However, if you cannot just as passionately name, and single out, and fight to protect the lives of Black people, who for 400 years have suffered a racism that has denigrated the presence and worthiness of Black lives, then for heaven’s sake, don’t call yourself Pro-Life anymore. Be more honest, and just settle for anti-abortion.