The pro-life rallying cry rings loud and strong from many conservatives. Fifty-one percent of voters consider abortion an important factor when deciding whom to vote for, and another twenty percent would vote only for a candidate who shares their views on abortion. Pro-life voters base their stance on abortion on the sanctity of life. But too many supposedly pro-life voters appear to consider “pro-life” merely a position on abortion. The sanctity of life factors into a number of other issues: capital punishment, guns, police violence, healthcare, and L.G.B.T. suicide. Nearly any issue of public debate is rooted in conflicting rights or values. Being pro-life on abortion doesn’t require an individual to be pro-life on every issue where the right to life is implicated. But it does mean that adopting a position at odds with the right to life reflects a choice to value something else above life. Few “pro-life” voters seem to recognize or acknowledge how often they oppose the sanctity of life.
The Catholic Church maintains an admirably principled consistency in its stances on abortion and capital punishment. The Church maintains that the sanctity of life extends to both unborn fetus and convicted criminal. Pro-life persons who support the death penalty must provide some justification for why a criminal’s life is worth less than a fetus’s life. Many pro-lifers would undoubtedly admit that a criminal’s life has diminished value compared to an innocent fetus. But they don’t recognize that that decision makes them not pro-life, but pro-innocent life. They quickly discard the sanctity of life rationale when the life in question begins to look too different. There are yet more issues with capital punishment, from racial differences in charging and sentencing to the uncertainty of jury verdicts. Those considerations suggest the lives of alleged —and even convicted—criminals ought to be valued as potentially innocent lives. But pro-lifers should reconsider whether their professed belief in the sanctity of life allows for taking the life of even known criminals.
The sanctity of life, most would agree, is more fundamental than the Constitution itself—it is one of the inalienable rights described in the Declaration of Independence. But many pro-life advocates are all too willing to subordinate the sanctity of life to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Pro-lifers should be pro-life when it comes to guns too. That doesn’t mean they have to be against guns entirely, but it does demand that they recognize their subjugation of the sanctity of life to the right to bear arms. There are certainly valid constitutional and policy arguments in favor of some form of the right to bear arms. But any refusal to consider gun control reform to reduce gun deaths is a clear choice of some other value over the lives of schoolchildren and victims of domestic violence. I doubt whether a person can reject reasonable attempts at further firearms regulation and still honestly claim to be pro-life. The toll this firearm freedom takes on our society is quantifiable and absolutely dwarfs gun death statistics in other rich and free countries. That indicates there is room for improvement—room for saving lives. Total opposition to gun control reform is inconsistent with pro-life principles.
Pro-life advocates often adopt an anti-life stance on the issue of excessive use of force by police. Conservatives, champions of limited government and critics of unnecessary government intervention and use of force, ought to be the first ones to object to the misapplication of police force based on political philosophy alone. But when police violence targets particular classes of people and frequently results in death, pro-lifers should be outraged. African-Americans make up thirteen percent of the U.S. population, but they make up thirty-nine percent of people killed by police without attacking. Any who choose to defend those uses of violence must acknowledge that they are valuing something else over the sanctity of life. While police officers’ lives are also worth protecting, the analysis is entirely different. Police officers choose their occupation, carry weapons, and are authorized to use force beyond what civilians are allowed. Police officers are given significant deference in their use of force; however, that latitude is not unlimited. Pro-life individuals should expect law enforcement to show respect for the sanctity of human life, unless they are, once again, merely pro-innocent life.
Pro-life principles also demand that proper attention be paid to the issue of suicide, particularly among L.G.B.T. youth. According to a C.D.C. study, nearly a third of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have attempted suicide at least once in the past year, compared to six percent of heterosexual youth. Pro-life individuals should be advocating, regardless of their position on issues like same-sex marriage, for, at the very least, humane treatment of L.G.B.T. individuals. Pro-lifers should care about studying the causes and risk factors of suicide and how to mitigate them. Conservative pro-lifers and liberal pro-lifers might differ in their proposed solutions and on the role of government, but both should care a great deal about the issue.
Balancing rights can be a tricky process. If we wanted to cut vehicle deaths as much as possible, we would take all the cars off the road. But as a society, we have decided that the utility of cars outweighs some number of vehicle deaths. It’s a tradeoff society has made, and it’s important to recognize that. Pro-lifers may make the same type of tradeoffs on some of these other issues. They may decide, for example, that in the case of capital punishment, retribution is more important than the sanctity of life. But they should make that decision consciously, especially if they are going to call themselves pro-life. To pretend that such decisions do not involve abridging the right to or sanctity of life is simply a fiction.
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