Reframing the Abortion Debate: Pro-Birth vs. Pro-Life
The restrictive and punitive abortion legislation recently passed and signed into law in states such as Georgia, Alabama and Missouri has brought abortion into the national spotlight again.
The debate around abortion is usually cast as pro-life vs. pro-choice. The pro-life side is anti-abortion and focused on the fetus in the womb. The pro-choice side is pro-abortion and focused on the woman and her bodily autonomy and reproductive rights.
As we reflected on it and considered the context holistically, we believe that is an inaccurate labeling for the sides in the debate. A more accurate framing, we believe, would be pro-birth vs. pro-life.
The activists and supporters of legislation that would restrict abortion after there is a fetal heartbeat would be classified as pro-birth. And those who are now characterized as pro-choice would be classified as pro-life. Let’s examine why this reframing makes sense and what it means in terms of the abortion debate now and going forward.
Sr. Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun, author and speaker, provided the best argument for a new perspective during her 2004 interview with Bill Moyers when she said:
I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.
Ron Schenck, evangelical minister and former anti-abortion leader and activist, makes a similar point to Sister Chittister in his recent New York Times op-ed, “My Reversal on Abortion Rights.” He writes:
What is “pro-life” about putting a woman in a situation where she must risk pregnancy without proper medical, social and emotional support? What is “pro-life” about forcing the birth of a child, if that child will enter a world of deprivation and insecurity, to say nothing of the fear, anxiety and danger that comes with poverty and a lack of educational and employment opportunities?