On August 17, the U.S. Democratic National Convention opened in preparation for the coming presidential election with a platform that holds the most extreme pro-abortion positions in party history. It was also the first time that the pro-life caucus was explicitly excluded by the party at a national convention. On the same day, Democrats for Life of America hosted its own (virtual) rally. Its major theme was the need for a “whole-life” approach to politics, emphasizing care for the unborn, migrants, and the poor, as well as fighting for racial and climate justice.
Evidently, America is rapidly coming to a crossroads on abortion. While the situation is dire, the response of pro-life party members is highly encouraging; defenders of life will not be silenced and are prepared to fight for radical change. However, the language they employ is concerning to many pro-lifers outside the Democratic party. Some reject the phrase “whole-life” out of hand, worrying that it dilutes the message of protection for the unborn and could undo hard-fought gains. Others see its potential to raise needed bipartisan support necessary, but only as a sneaky tool, in a sense, to “trick” the opposition into supporting pro-life policies.
Yet, there did not seem to be any trickery in the latest “whole-life” statements of the DFLA. Speaker Dan Lipinski definitively called protecting life a moral imperative. In a 2016 article on the subject, Executive Director Kristen Day stressed, “The whole-life ethic does not make exceptions for abortion. Being “whole life” means advocating for justice for all — from before birth to natural death and every moment in-between.”
Attached to these affirmations, “whole-life”, far from trivializing an anti-abortion stance, can be understood as a sentiment that captures the essence of the value for human dignity which underlies the pro-life position. If defenders of life adopt this phrase in unity that transcends politics, “whole-life” could actually stand against the false narrative that opposing abortion is an arbitrary political stance on which zealots choose to fixate at the expense of ignoring other issues.
It draws attention to the interconnectedness of society which is at the very root of why opposing abortion is fundamental to a consistent ethical system; caring for the unborn is inseparable from a mission to care for the most vulnerable in our human family and for the world in which we live.
That said, pro-lifers have every right to be skeptical of new language. In the international sphere, seemingly benign terms like “reproductive health” have been manipulated for the purpose of establishing a right to abortion. Of course, we must proceed with caution, continuing to observe the context in which “whole-life” policies are invoked and the ways they actually play out. But at the same time, we cannot be afraid to re-phrase established truth in a way that reaches its audience, revealing the real depth and relevance of the pro-life cause.