What’s In a Name? Why I Call Myself Pro-Life

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My name is Carly Hoilman, and I am proudly pro-life. Unfortunately, our postmodern culture now demands that I clarify what I mean by that. But I will gladly do so, as many times as it is required of me, because there is power behind the “pro-life” name — power that enemies of life would eagerly usurp if given the chance.

The pro-life movement is under attack today for its perceived failure to address social ills (“life issues”) beyond abortion and euthanasia. In his latest piece for CatholicVote.org, Eric Sammons does an excellent job laying out the history of the pro-life movement — from its inception 30 years ago, to the death and recent resurrection of the “seamless garment” argument, where “pro-life” is used as a catch-all phrase that signifies anything and everything under the social justice sun.

I was disappointed, however, by Sammons’s decision to embrace the title “anti-abortion,” and to forgo “pro-life” altogether. While many pro-lifers may be eager to break away from meh-life Catholics and progressives who believe littering is morally on par with killing unborn children, our response should not be to surrender, but to point our attackers to the truths surrounding the pro-life cause.

Words Matter

Those who have attacked the title “pro-life” are not interested in clarifying the language so much as they are keen to water down the meaning of a well-established cultural movement with crystalline objectives.

Words matter, and Leftists know this. But since they can’t hijack our title outright without exposing their own sinister objectives, the next best thing would be to render it obsolete by suffocating the legitimate pro-life issues of abortion and euthanasia under a broad blanket of social justice issues.

“Anti-Abortion” Isn’t Accurate

Pro-lifers aren’t simply trying to be provocative — our name signifies a clear, consistent moral cause. As Sammons notes, “‘Pro-life’ means that we want all innocent life to be protected by law from being killed.”

Of course all pro-lifers categorically oppose abortion, but this isn’t the only trait that distinguishes us as a movement. While the pro-choice movement really is only about protecting a woman’s “choice” to abort her offspring, the pro-life movement is not only about eliminating this choice.

Changing our title now would be a victory for those who accuse us of only caring about protecting life up until birth. The reality is that while abortion providers like Planned Parenthood are only interested in ending and preventing pregnancies, pro-life charities and pregnancy care centers provide services that address the holistic needs of mother and child, such as food, supplies, financial aid, prenatal care, child care, and spiritual support.

Anti-abortion would be a reductionist label for the pro-life camp because what rallies people and sustains our momentum is not what we’re fighting against, but what we’re fighting for.

Suffragettes didn’t call themselves the anti-voting inequality movement. We refer to the American War for Independence, not the War Against British Rule.

Evil is the absence of good, not vice versa. We are fighting for the Good.

Why We March

With that said, the pro-life movement has knowingly adopted a somewhat narrow understanding of the word “life” that captures exactly what we’re fighting for. Our primary interest is in preserving the lives of the most vulnerable — the unborn, the elderly ill, and the disabled.

The seamless garment argument does a grave injustice to the pro-life movement by misrepresenting and watering down our cause. Our limited focus is not the result of weakness, but prudence.

Abortion and euthanasia are the only examples of state-sanctioned murder in this country. No other political or social issues, no matter how important or legitimate, can be honestly placed in the same moral category.

We fight on behalf of society’s most vulnerable because this is the bare minimum moral standard for any other form of human rights advocacy — if we can’t secure their right to life, then we can forget about everyone else’s.

Life is Winning

By surrendering the title “pro-life,” Sammons is making the tactical error of prematurely ceding the battle. The good news is, it’s not too late.

The only reason social progressives are trying so desperately to repurpose the term “pro-life” is because it still has currency. Life is winning in this country, and they can smell defeat in the air.

With victory so close at hand, we must refuse to renounce the strength that is our name, and instead embrace this winning cause that has drawn hundreds of thousands to march in our nation’s capital for the past 45 years and placed two pro-life Catholics on the Supreme Court.

I have good news for Sammons and bad news for our opponents: The “pro-life” label isn’t up for grabs.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

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Carly Hoilman is a columnist at CatholicVote.org, and a freelance culture writer and editor based in the greater Philadelphia area. She is a wife, mother, Catholic convert, and alumna of The King's College in New York City. You can find her writings at CatholicVote, TheBlaze, Conservative Review, and Faithwire. Follow her work on Twitter @carlyhoilman.

6 Comments

  1. Theresa Shaw on

    I am definitely not just anti-abortion. But don’t you consider the death penalty a state sanctioned murder?! I am a pro-lifer, and I DO! The seamless garment / from womb to tomb titles are appropriate because that is what I fight for. There is nothing in between

    • Vince Granacher on

      You have a valid argument putting the death penalty as an issue under the pro life umbrella. It fits there because of the pro life argument being conception to natural death. The death penalty is definitely not natural death. It is just euthanasia with a “feel good” term to justify it. But those that want to make the term pro life a seamless garment want to argue that the illegal immigrant on the border looking for a better life, or the poor looking for a “living” wage, or many other social injustices fit under the term of pro life. What they forget is that the other issues, while important, are nothing if you do not have the right to life in order to even be capable of receiving any other “rights. Without the right to life, all other rights are meaningless.

    • The Church believes there is a difference.

      Abortion:

      2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:

      You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.75
      God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.76

      2272 Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,”77 “by the very commission of the offense,”78 and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law.79 The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.

      Euthanasia:

      2277 Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.

      Capital Punishment:

      2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

      If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

      Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”68 ”

      I post this not to diminish your legitimate concern over capital punishment-merely to illustrate that even the Church Herself does not regard this as a “seamless garment” thing.

      Thanks

  2. Kathy Starcevich on

    I loved the sentiment behind the article by Eric Sammons and shared it on Facebook, yet there was a lingering sadness when I contemplated letting go of the term “pro-life.” As I thought about it more and read this article, I realized that what I most agreed with in Sammons’s piece was our shared dislike of the “seamless garment” philosophy. This has been promoted by some well-meaning people in the Church and elsewhere, but has also been co-opted by those who are pro-abortion and fight the cause for life. This train of thought can water down the term “pro-life” to the point that it loses its significance. When you identify as pro-life, explain further by raising our first right (to life) as primacy, followed by other critical life issues such as euthanasia, ethical stem cell treatment, and capital punishment. Those who support crisis pregnancy centers and such already help provide for new mothers in need who have chosen life. But taking this to the level of entitlements for those who are not willing to work (notice I did not say unable to work) does not find support in the Scriptures. https://www.openbible.info/topics/hard_work

  3. I liked your article, Carly. Thank you for writing it. Probably an oversight, but I do wish you had included amongst your list of the “most vulnerable” whom the prolife movement wishes to support, pregnant moms who are often under pressure to abort the nascent life within them. Keep up the good work!

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