From the beginning, many in the pro-life movement have been restrained, even apologetic in their presentation of abortion to the public. Many still recoil at the idea of showing pictures of the victims, because, they say, it is too aggressive. But the self-identification of the movement as pro-life has been an even bigger problem. The name is Orwellian double-speak. Pro-life is positive and broad, but the truth is we are opposed to something very specific. And both our opposition and the thing we oppose should be in our name.
The term pro-life connotes a sunny upland, a destination, a wholesome and habitable worldview—which belies the urgency of a crisis that kills children today, this hour and this minute. The term anti-abortion is unsettling and urgent, and rightly so.
When the media characterize us as anti-abortion, many of us vigorously object, but they are crediting us with a truth which we should embrace. Of course, the reason has been a commendable desire to defeat abortion. We have believed that we must be positive to be on the right side of history. But history does not bear this out. It was not the pro-freedom movement, it was the anti-slavery movement. It was not the pro-peace movement, it was the anti-war movement.
These movements saw the things they opposed as cancers which, if not rooted out, would consume and destroy the culture. The underlying mistake of the pro-life movement is the wishful idea that the abortion culture is merely a nightmare from which we will soon awaken. It is to think that abortion is an aberration in an otherwise healthy culture, and that gentle persistence will affect a serene transformation. But we delude ourselves if we think that the public will come around to see how nice and reasonable we are, and painlessly abandon their mistaken view.
Part of this confusion is because many prolifers go back and forth between being soldiers and medics. It is often the case that the very same people who oppose abortion also reach out to vulnerable expectant mothers, and in that effort, we wish to remain gentle and approachable. But even here, our cleverness may well have the opposite effect. When we appeal to mothers in crisis pregnancies to resist the allure of abortion, we are calling them to something very difficult. We have greater credibility in calling them to something difficult if we ourselves are doing something difficult. We may be undermining our moral authority with expectant mothers by not taking up the cross of being confrontationally anti-abortion, while we ask them to risk everything.
Another great casualty of our refusal to describe ourselves as anti-abortion has been the linguistic free pass our use of euphemism has given to those who support abortion. If we call ourselves pro-life, how can we object to the smokescreen label pro-choice? We know instinctively that we must keep the spotlight on abortion when those who promote abortion use their weasel language, but we forego the power to do so when we continue to distance ourselves from the word abortion.
Of course, this is not a new argument. The abortion struggle does not allow for complacency and so prolifers are always looking for ways to reposition to stop the killing. For 45 years there have been those who have argued that we should speak plainly and call ourselves anti-abortion. As Matthew Schmitz pointed out in a symposium last summer in the Human Life Review titled “Whole Life vs. Pro-Life.” :
Twenty years ago, a certain Jim McFadden put the point nicely: “Why do we eschew ‘pro-life’ and call ourselves ‘anti-abortion’? The short answer is honesty: ‘pro-life’ is a euphemism that has been effectively countered (with endless media support) by ‘pro-choice’—we do not ‘link’ abortion with any other issues; that led to the ‘Seamless Garment’ which in effect holds that, in a perfect world, abortion would disappear. No, we see Roe v. Wade as our Dred Scott, and abortion as the analogue to slavery; the Abolitionists were not afraid to be ‘negative’—they fought not for utopia but against slavery alone—they saw it as a single evil that could be defeated in both moral and political realms.”
In the same symposium, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, wrote: “The term ‘pro-life’ has become almost meaningless for millions of Americans.” She points out that while a majority of millennials believe abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances, only 36% identify as “pro-life.” Hawkins considers herself “anti-abortion” because, as she says, it is “simpler and cleaner.”
Our age craves candor and clarity. Our universities have been colonized by Marxists who have thoroughly suppressed free speech and free thought with their micro-aggressions, trigger warnings, and safe spaces. But like the mainstream media, universities are becoming less relevant by the day, and their joyless hectoring has become a dramatic counterpoint to the brave firebrands who think and speak with crispness and clarity. The victory may not be as remote as we think, if we have the courage to seize the day. We are anti-abortion.