We religious pro-lifers have more allies than we may have thought, and more useful arguments as well.
She’s never met anyone who says he’s pro-life just because his Church says so. They may appeal to the Bible or to the Catechism, but almost always after making what Kelsey Hazzard calls a “secular” argument. “The pro-life position is essentially a secular position,” she says.
It’s driven by religious people, of course. But like the civil rights movement, which was also driven by religious people, it makes universal appeals. Anyone can make its central arguments about the life and human dignity of the unborn. And anyone should be able to see the truth of those arguments, whether or not they believe in God.
Hazzard runs the group Secular Pro-Life. Their YouTube channel can be found here . Her group wants “to end elective abortion.” They agree with the Catholic Church on the central matter, but as you’d guess they differ on others like contraception. But many Catholics will find them closer to Catholic teaching on matters like health care than some of their other pro-life brethren. (It’s complicated, as they say in movies.)
I heard Hazzard speak at the annual conference of Rehumanize International, held this past weekend in Pittsburgh.
We have more allies
I’d never thought of it quite like that. Some Catholics, including me, shifted their position on capital punishment in obedience to the Church’s teaching. Socialist Catholics become less statist and capitalist Catholics become less libertarian in response to Catholic social teaching. But I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say they became pro-life because the Church told them to. If they don’t say, “I’ve always been pro-life,” they say some version of “I became pro-life when I saw the unborn child was a human being.”
The movement Hazzard represents means we religious pro-lifers have more allies than we may have thought and more useful arguments as well. Arguments we already make we can offer with a kind of leftist imprimatur.
For example: A few days before the conference, I saw on Medium a post by someone who called himself “your stereotypical leftie.” He explained his rejection of the movement to repeal Ireland’s pro-life eighth amendment of its constitution. Against most of his leftwing peers, he calls himself “unashamedly pro-life; a conviction that is not based on any religious dogma, but science.” The child is a human being from the moment of conception. That is “irrefutable fact.” (Here, fyi, is the Irish Republican organization supporting the eighth amendment. For those who don’t know, Irish Republicanism is pretty much the opposite of our Republicanism.)
The Irishman argues that his position more authentically upholds left-wing commitments than the pro-abortionists’. He describes abortion “as a far-right concept, intended to remove those from society deemed to be unworthy, in this case working-class children and children with disabilities.” What, he asks, “could be more misogynistic than sex-selective abortions that almost exclusively target unborn female children? And what could be more bigoted than the disproportionately high amount of Black and Latino children aborted in US clinics?”
A few years ago, a writer in the leftist journal New Statesman made the same argument. The slogan “My body, my life, my choice,” writes Mehdi Hasan, had “always left me perplexed. Isn’t socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless? Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?”
He doesn’t believe this because he’s Muslim, he says. “To be honest, I would be opposed to abortion even if I were to lose my faith. I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a ‘person.’”
Disconnected from religion
“It’s vitally important that we disconnect abortion from religion,” Hazzard argues. “Abortion supporters want them connected.” She describes how in its very early days, the pro-abortion movement chose to associate the defense of life with the Catholic Church. They wanted to marginalize it, to make people think the arguments against abortion were religious and therefore inadmissible in a public debate. They saw the Church as their main enemy and wanted to push it out of the public square.
They still do this. They want the public image of a pro-life person to be “older, white, and male. If they want that, they want it for a reason.” The reason, I think, is that they want people to believe pro-lifers don’t care, don’t understand, and want to oppress women.
We can sometimes give that impression. As she says, some people begin to see the humanity of the unborn, but then they see some pro-lifers and think “I think this is true, but gosh, I don’t want to become a Republican.” That’s generally unfair, I’d say, but it’s not always unfair. Hazzard says that pro-lifers should counter the pro-choice attempt to poison the well by choosing as a spokesperson someone who’s a woman, younger, and of color, as indeed most pro-life groups have done.
It’s one of several Hazzard offered during her talk — on second thought, just
David Mills writes a column every month for the Human Life Review’s website .