If you’re a person who considers yourself pro-life, you’ve likely heard the old “you’re not pro-life if you don’t support [insert XYZ left-wing policy]” strawman from your pro-abortion opponents.
Usually, those spewing such specious statements, however absurd, at least stick to something along the lines of “you claim to be pro-life, yet you don’t support universal healthcare…people can’t live without healthcare.” Yes, this is tiring, and not rhetorically solid.
But it gets even more absurd.
Recently I’ve seen the ‘inconsistency in pro-life stance’ strawman applied in more imaginative and wild ways than ever before. I’ve seen pro-life people accused of hypocrisy in defending life because they oppose the Green New Deal and wildly prolonged quarantine measures (in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic.) The most absurd usage of this rhetorical device I’ve witnessed was a proclamation that if one does not support progressive income taxes, they cannot claim to defend life.
So, the record needs to be set straight on this issue. When we speak of being ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ we are clearly talking about bioethical issues specifically. I’m not saying that it is ‘good’ for a pro-life person to be a Randian libertarian on every other issue imaginable. I’m also not suggesting that people who defend life from womb to tomb should sit complacently on mercy to the migrant, or other Rerum Novarum type issues that are very important to Catholic Social Teaching.
In fact, it is fair for us to criticize anyone who supports policy or theory inimical to the message of Christ and the teachings of his magisterium. One could go as far as to say that as Christian people, we are compelled to do this. Fraternal correction when another errs in matters of justice and goodness is virtuous and builds up both the corrector and the correct-ee; to “instruct the ignorant” is a spiritual work of mercy, after all.
But, the upholding of positions which discount human dignity, though unfortunate, does not inherently nullify someone’s pro-life commitments, especially in the public discourse as it exists.
Pro-life positions, and their ‘Pro-Choice’ antitheses can properly be understood as relating to bioethical issues related to the immediate continuation of human life. If one supports abortion, they are not pro-life because they endorse the legality of terminating an innocent life. Similarly, one cannot be pro-life if they support euthanasia, or physician assisted suicide: this is because the immediate end of these policies, when they are considered rationally and objectively, is always the death of a human person.
No factor can be controlled for to stop a child from dying in an abortion, or an elderly person from dying in euthanasia. To do so, would negate the purpose of these gravely evil actions, because their purpose is death.
Thus, pro-life people, for the sake of civil discourse, as well as the need to promote life, shouldn’t feel the need to respond to straw men deployed to call their intent into question. I’d go even further and say that they shouldn’t let themselves be phased. Particularly when this fallacy is levelled as an argument by someone who calls the legal allowance to abort one’s child a “reproductive right.”
Though most pro-life people are rightly focused on the conversion of hearts, legislative advocacy, and prayer to end abortion, it may even be wise to call out the “not pro life unless [fill in the blank]” strategy as deflection. Since it is clear within the public discourse that ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ refer to the two, diametrically opposed positions in the abortion and euthanasia debates, it is impossible that someone is posing such a query in good faith. Rather, it is intended to obfuscate the issues at hand, and make pro-life people look bad. Point this out, reveal the strategy, or if neither is prudent, it is wisest to ignore it, as I said before.
Since its been established how pro-life people like us should respond to this tired and popular technique, I’d like to bring up a similar strategy deployed against pro-abortion, or pro-choice folks:
“You’re pro-choice, but you won’t allow people to do [insert activity, commodity, speech which liberals wish to ban]”
I have seen this from my pro-life confreres, unfortunately, and I really wish I didn’t. The cause of life is not best served by employing the same strawmen Planned Parenthood’s Twitter activists like to use. Furthermore, the Pro-Life movement does not need such straw men, because reason and a person with a well-formed conscience can reach the conclusion that abortion is a teleologic evil without even very much guidance. Once you have removed any doubt about the inhumane and destructive nature of abortion, it is easy to get someone to support governmental proscription of the practice.
In closing, when you encounter straw men in the debate for life, operate in good faith, but be careful not to assume your opponent is doing so as well. If they are not, hold them to account. Finally, do not get tangled in an endless argument on the Internet with a convinced abortion supporter: you are less likely to change their mind in two hours keyboard warring than you are to save a life volunteering at a Crisis Pregnancy Center, or praying for an end to abortion.