Who is truly pro-life?

Recently, this cartoon showed up in my Facebook feed:


This is a popular axiom, this idea that the 44% of Americans who identify as pro-life care little about life after birth. So, let me ask: is it true that pro-life supporters are heartless prudes who are concerned only with fetuses but not with the lives of children in poverty, struggling single mothers, and other vulnerable members of society?

In my experience, this is far from true.

Let’s begin with the assumption — invariably held by those who post this type of cartoon — that government action is the only way to care for human life. True commitment to human life will necessarily show itself in support for large scale government programs, the argument goes. Put another way, “‘caring for the born’ must translate first and always into advocacy for government programs and funds.

Do you see the narrowness of this assumption? Is it not possible that there are those who deeply desire services for those in need but prefer that those services come through non-governmental means?  Is there not more than one way to lift up the poor?

Can there not be people of goodwill and compassion who are simply skeptical of government’s ability to provide quality, consistent service due to its renowned, bureaucratic inefficiency? Government is a rather blunt instrument, after all.

And before we smugly condemn pro-life advocates’ commitment to lives outside the womb, let’s look a little closer at the facts. As I survey the non-profit landscape, I see many, many organizations run by religious conservatives that are caring for people in need, both before and after birth.

Massive amounts of money, man-hours, and energy are poured not only into crisis pregnancy centers but also into community development and humanitarian relief.  In truth, religious conservatives do much of the heavy lifting inside organizations that serve the poor. Everywhere from soup kitchens to legal clinics, from after-school tutoring programs to adoption agencies, from medical clinics to battered women’s shelters, you will find Christian volunteers and dollars.

There is a bounty of conservative churches that run ministries focused on serving the neediest members of our society. Here’s a description of just one such church:

At the Manhattan Bible Church, a pro-life church in New York since 1973, Pastor Bill Devlin and his congregation run a soup kitchen that has served over a million people and a K-8 school that has educated 90,000 needy students. Pastor Devlin and other church families have adopted scores of babies, and taken in scores of pregnant women, including some who were both drug-addicted and HIV positive. The church runs a one-hundred-and-fifty-bed residential drug rehabilitation center and a prison ministry at Rikers Island. All told, the church runs some forty ministries, and all without a government dime.

You may be uncomfortable with the spiritual component of these ministries run by religious conservatives. That is fair. It is not fair, however, to pretend that pro-lifers are doing nothing to serve those already born.

When I look at just my own circle, the people doing the most for people in need are often my pro-life friends. One of my closest friends has two adopted children (in addition to several biological kids), one of whom has very significant special needs. She has also maintained a long relationship with her former foster daughter and the child’s struggling mother. Further, her door is always open to kids from her working class neighborhood who come with all manner of needs. She is “pro-life” in every conceivable way.

My friend is an everyday hero, and she is far from alone. I know many others who routinely sacrifice themselves to lift up “life” in crucial ways. In fact, I think if you conducted a research study on who in America is adopting and fostering children, you might find that it is disproportionately pro-life Christians.

And, finally, please do not assume that all pro-life citizens are also in favor of the death penalty and against gun control. I, for one, oppose the death penalty and would like to see very strict gun control. I am pro-life not because I am part of some unthinking mass, but because I abhor violence against children. And because I tremble for a society that kills its own young.


© Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2015.

6 thoughts on “Who is truly pro-life?

  1. Julie

    Look at you – preaching! I love it! 🙂 I’ve also been blessed by pro-life ministries that place a high priority on post-abortion counseling. And I’ve seen what an impact that can make. And that flies in the face of the idea that pro-life people care only about a ‘fetus.’

    I love how you’re willing to put yourself out there, Laura. Every time I read your blog I am blessed by your courage.


  2. ann

    I would love it if churches were doing such a good job with social services that we didn’t need government doing it. But truth be told, the example you gave is the exception, not the rule, of church-community involvement. All the churches in our area work together to run a single food pantry in town, and patrons are allowed to get food from them once a month, and it is limited to what is on hand, not what families want to eat. That is the purpose of government, to deliver public goods efficiently and effectively.


    1. I hear that. The purpose of this post is not to argue that we have arrived at a moment in which the private care of the poor is sufficient, so that all government care can be suspended. The point, instead, was 1) to suggest that people who oppose large government care nets may be doing so out of something besides small-heartedness and 2) to show that many pro-lifers routinely demonstrate that they do in fact care about all manner of “life.”


  3. Maria

    How do you see churches and other religious organizations making systemic changes that will work to eliminate poverty? It’s one thing to run a soup kitchen, it’s something entirely different to work to eliminate the need for the kitchen in the first place.

    How also do you see the church working to prevent unwanted pregnancies? Abstinence education has been shown time and time again to be ineffective and the church’s hard stance against birth control and comprehensive sex education actually works to increase the need for abortion.

    I’m not against the church supporting people in need – but it seems to me that until these two huge things are addressed, the impression that hard core pro-lifers are actually pro-birth isn’t going away.


    1. Thanks for responding! I totally agree with you that “it’s one thing to run a soup kitchen, it’s something entirely different to work to eliminate the need for the kitchen in the first place.” And in many ways, I would add, eliminating the need for the soup kitchen is the much more challenging task. Identifying and changing problematic systems is very difficult. I do not say that to let the church off the hook, but simply to acknowledge the size of the issues facing our country.
      In response to your questions: I think some of the Christian orgs I linked to are in fact addressing underlying causes and thinking hard about the systemic changes needed. Yes, they are providing for practical needs, but that is not all that they are doing. For instance, there are many in my Christian circles who support the black lives matter movement and its attempt to address systemic injustice against African Americans. There are also Christians in my acquaintance who are working hard to change how the legal system understands prostitution and protects victims of trafficking.
      In terms of working to prevent unwanted pregnancy, I think it is important to note that not all religious conservatives are in favor of “abstinence only” education and that while the Catholic church (I admit, one of the standard bearers of the pro-life movement) is against birth control, not all conservatives share that view. And, again, many of the orgs I linked to (and their many peers) are doing much to reach out to teenagers and young adults and care for them in a host of ways that decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancy.
      I agree that much more can be done, but I wanted to shed light on the fact that some is already being done. A fact that I think is often overlooked or outright denied.


  4. Pingback: What a vote for Trump says to Black Americans – Thinking about such things

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