Definitions

Non causa pro causa

Pro-life

[proh-lahyf]
Pro-life is a term representing a variety of perspectives and activist movements in bioethics. It is most commonly (especially in the media and popular discourse) refers to opposition to abortion and support for fetal rights. The term describes the political and ethical view which maintains that fetuses and embryos are human beings, and therefore have a right to live. Less commonly, it can be used to indicate opposition to practices such as euthanasia, the death penalty, human cloning, and research involving human embryonic stem cells.

On the issue of abortion, pro-life campaigners are opposed by pro-choice campaigners who argue that the central issue is a completely different set of rights.

Overview

Pro-life individuals generally believe that human life should be valued either from conception or implantation until natural death. The contemporary pro-life movement is typically, but not exclusively, associated with Christian morality (especially in the United States), and has influenced certain strains of bioethical utilitarianism. From that viewpoint, any action which destroys an embryo or fetus kills a human being. Any deliberate destruction of human life is considered ethically or morally wrong and is not considered to be mitigated by any alleged benefits to others, as such benefits come at the expense of the life they consider as a person. In some cases, this belief extends to opposing abortion of fetuses that would almost certainly be unviable, such as anencephalitic fetuses. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are also opposed by some pro-life people based on a belief that all human life is sacred and must be protected even against the wishes of people who want to end their own lives.

Some Pro-lifers oppose certain forms of birth control, particularly hormonal contraception such as ECP's, which are alleged to prevent the implantation of an embryo. Because pro-life advocates largely believe that personhood begins at conception, they refer to these forms of birth control with the term "abortifacients". The Catholic Church recognizes this view, but the possibility that hormonal contraception has post-fertilization effects is currently disputed within the scientific community. (See Also: Emergency contraception and implantation.)''

Attachment to a pro-life position is very often but not exclusively connected to religious beliefs about the sanctity of life (see also Culture of Life). Exclusively secular-humanist positions against abortion tend to be a minority viewpoint among pro-life advocates.. While this group is a distinct minority, they are a growing and burgeoning movement, and seek to put new meaning into the phrase "pro-life."

Diversity of pro-life views

The major stated goal of the pro-life movement is to "restore legal protection to innocent human life. This protection would include fetuses and embryos, persons who cannot communicate their wishes due to physical or mental incapacitation, and those who are too weak to resist being euthanized.

Some pro-life advocates, such as those subscribing to the philosophy of a Consistent Life Ethic, oppose virtually all acts that end human life. They would argue that abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and unjust war are all wrong.

Others argue that the death penalty can be a fair punishment for murder, justifiably inflicted by lawful authority, whereas abortion is an attack on innocent human life that could never be considered because it lacks the same due process protections that a criminal trial requires before any imposition of the death penalty. In recent years, the issue of the death penalty has gained more attention because some pro-life advocates wish to create a more unified pro-life ideal that prohibits the death penalty. The majority of Roman Catholic theologians are strong proponents of this unified position. The increasing attention paid to this controversial position may result from the large Roman Catholic membership of the pro-life movement, a membership that is also striving to adhere to recent religious statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the death penalty.

While some pro-life advocates are opposed to euthanasia of humans under all circumstances, others believe that individuals, especially adults, should have the right to choose to end their own lives if they become terminally ill or severely disabled. Because many such individuals are unable to communicate their wishes, euthanasia will likely remain controversial within the pro-life community. While some believe that direct euthanasia should only be an option for persons with the ability to communicate at the time of the procedure, others believe that individuals should be allowed to state their wishes in advance, such as in a living will, or that family members and/or persons with power of attorney or guardianship should be allowed to make decisions regarding euthanasia for persons who are unable to communicate.

Cessation of life support for an individual who is unable to live without life support is sometimes referred to as indirect or passive euthanasia. Although many pro-life advocates support indirect euthanasia for persons judged by their doctors as having little or no hope for recovery, other pro-life advocates oppose indirect euthanasia, even under those circumstances. Some pro-life advocates strongly disagree with the court decisions which allowed Terri Schiavo's husband to have her feeding tube removed. Indeed, most pro-life advocates familiar with the Terri Schiavo case framed the issue as one of direct euthanasia on the grounds that nutrition and hydration, in their view, do not constitute "life support".

In contrast, there are yet others who find that the pro-life movement's focus on legislative means is heading down the wrong track, believing that working through means of sex education, birth control, and aid to single mothers will more realistically reduce abortions while also drawing others into the movement. Rather than causing a political divide by arguing what can and cannot legally be done and what laws should be passed about it, such non-legislative pro-life goals are sought in order to bridge the gap with those who may consider themselves against abortion but pro-choice, because they cannot agree with passing restrictive laws--whether concerning gestation or anything else.

Other pro-life views also encompass life extension. Aging kills about 100,000 people per day and some people such as Aubrey de Grey advocate research to help sustain their lives. One fundamental tenet of this view is that humans have the right to live as long as they wish to. Some, such as the Extropians, take this to the extreme: they intend to defeat death. Such people often use the rhetoric of other pro-life advocates (for example referring to aging as "slaughter" and invoking the phrase "Our Right to Life").

The debate

In some countries, the abortion issue remains one of the broader and more controversial societal issues. A broad spectrum of positions exists on this issue, from those who advocate abortion-on-demand at any point during a pregnancy on the one end (100% pro-choice), to those who oppose every form of abortion on the other (100% pro-life). Between these two there is a considerable range of positions. Some oppose abortion, but are content to work at reducing the number of abortions through prevention of unwanted pregnancies, a task they accomplish through encouraging abstinence, targeted sex education and/or increased availability of contraception. Current legislation in United States Congress, the Pregnant Women Support Act, seeks to reduce the abortion rate in the U.S. without making any procedure illegal and without overturning Roe v. Wade. There are also some who support legal abortion within the first two trimesters but oppose late-term abortions. Those who oppose late term abortions usually take the view that once a fetus has reached the point where it could live independently from the pregnant woman, the balance of rights perhaps swings in favour of the fetus. Some oppose most abortions but make exception for cases where the woman's life is in serious risk. In this category, some likewise make an exception for severe fetal deformities. Others make exceptions when the pregnancy was not caused by consensual sexual activity or may violate social taboos, as in cases of rape and incest. Some allow for all these exceptions, but stop short of abortion-on-demand.

Another issue is that of mandatory notification and consent. Some believe that a pregnant minor should not be allowed to abort her pregnancy without notifying her parent or guardian because of the risks and possible medical complications. Likewise, some believe that notifying the woman's husband should be required because of parental rights. In a 2003 Gallup poll in the United States, 72% of respondents were in favour of spousal notification, with 26% opposed; of those polled. In many states, such restrictions are mandated by law, though often with the right of judicial oversight. Others believe that the child's biological father must be notified.

Generally speaking, the pro-life position regards abortion as a form of infanticide, and thus seeks legal restrictions on abortions. Pro-life advocates typically argue that if a pregnant woman is unable or unwilling to raise the child, there is the option of placing the child up for adoption.

Public opinion in the United States of America is almost evenly split on the issue. Two polls were released in May 2007 asking Americans "With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?" May 4th through 6th, a CNN poll found 45% said pro-choice and 50% said pro-life. Within the following week, a Gallup poll found 49% responding pro-choice and 45% pro-life.

Legal and political aspects

The U.S. Republican Party platform advocates a pro-life position, though some Republicans are not pro-life. The Republican group The Wish List supports pro-choice Republican women just as EMILY's List supports pro-choice Democratic women. The Susan B. Anthony List is dedicated to "increasing the percentage of pro-life women in Congress and high public office. The Democrats for Life of America are a group of pro-life Democrats on the political left who advocate for a pro-life plank in the Democratic Party's platform and for pro-life Democratic candidates. The former vice-presidential candidate Sargent Shriver and the late Robert Casey, a former two term governor of Pennsylvania, are among the most well-known pro-life Democrats. His son, Bob Casey, Jr. is now a pro-life Democratic US Senator.

In many nations, such as Canada, the nations of Europe, Australia, the nations of Asia and Africa, and the U.S. there are many on the economic left-wing and political centre who either have personal disagreements with abortion or who oppose legal abortions outright. Both groups generally consider themselves pro-life.

Motivations

Two strands of thoughts can be distinguished within the pro-life movement: religious and secular.

Religious

Christianity

Opposition to abortion by some Christians is based on a number of sources. The Didache, a short early Christian treatise, specifically prohibits abortion. The Bible, unlike the Didache, makes no specific mention of abortion, although it does mention unborn life several times. For example, Psalm 139:13-16 refers to God's creation of unborn human life as follows: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Luke 1:44 cites Elizabeth exclaiming to the Virgin Mary, "Behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb (John the Baptist) leaped for joy." Jeremiah 1:4-5, retelling God's appointing of Jeremiah to be a prophet, says: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you". Pro-life Christians interpret such passages to reveal the personhood of an embryo/fetus, while others interpret this passage to be centrally focused instead on the special significance of Jeremiah as a prophet and maintain that they have no relevance to claims that the fetus is a person.

Pro-life Christians cite many other Biblical passages in support of their position, including the following:

Psalm 127:3: Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children are a reward from him.

Leviticus 24:17: "[The LORD said:] If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death."

Proverbs 6:16-17c: "There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him . . .[one of which is] hands that shed innocent blood."

Psalm 9:12: For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted.

Psalm 82:3-4: (3) Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. (4) Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

The Catholic Church teaches that "abortion is a grave sin against the natural law. It believes that human life is sacred, and begins at conception. Under this view, abortion is equivalent to murder, and there are no permissible exceptions. When the life of the woman is in jeopardy, it is permissible to obtain life-saving treatment which may have the secondary effect of killing the fetus, but no direct action may be taken against the fetus/embryo itself, and all life-sustaining options must be exhausted. (An example is chemotherapy treatment for a pregnant woman with uterine cancer.) It also ascribes to a Consistent Life Ethic: euthanasia, the death penalty, unjust war, embryo research, in vitro fertilization (which involves discarded embryos), artificial contraception (of which some methods may prevent implantation of a zygote in the uterine lining), and abortion are all condemned as violence. Church law provides that anyone who directly participates in an abortion is automatically excommunicated (provided they are aware of this penalty at the time of the act). A valid sacramental confession remits this penalty. In accord with its opposition to abortion, the Catholic Church provides support to pregnant women in "crisis pregnancies," as well as to low income families.

Other Christian denominations hold varying positions on abortion. Conservative, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christian groups are more likely to oppose abortion, whereas liberal or mainstream Protestant churches are more likely to allow for it.

The Christian Alliance for Progress, most notably, has come out in opposition of abortion, but has advocated a program of assistance and prevention as opposed to the criminalization of abortion, opposes the death penalty, but maintains a neutral stance on euthanasia.

Hinduism

While Hinduism does not take the explicit anti-abortion stance that most Christian groups do, Hinduism teaches that murder is a great crime and one of the worst possible sins. Hindu teachings recognize a fetus as a living, conscious person deserving of protection. Also, according to Hindu Mythology, there are 16 Samskaarams or Sanskaars during the life cycle of an individual (Soul) which starts pre-birth at Garbhadhaan (Conception), thereby denoting that life is considered to begin at conception itself. One of the seven legendary immortals or Chiranjeevin in Hinduism, Ashwatthama, was cursed by Lord Krishna, avatar of Vishnu to immortality and eternal suffering partly for attacking a pregnant woman so she would miscarry her fetus (later born as Parikshit, grandson of Arjuna) when he was in his mother's womb. Parakashit was stillborn, but was raised from the dead by Sri Krishna.

Islam

Islamic opposition is based on the concept that abortion is considered murder if done 120 days after conception and disfigurement of the woman's body if done before. According to a hadith (Sahih Bukhari 54:430 and 55:549, Sahih Muslim 33:6390), the fetus is not considered alive until the 120th day after conception. Islam does provide for some exceptions where abortion is permissible, such as when the woman's life is in jeopardy or when repeated pregnancies severely damage her health.

Judaism

Jews are considerably divided in terms of life issues. Adherents to Orthodox Judaism are particularly stringent in these matters, as Judaism stresses the sanctity of life above virtually all other considerations. (Commandments for which one must accept death rather than violate include only murder, idolatry/apostasy, and forbidden sexual relations.) According to halakha (Jewish law) abortion is prohibited once 40 days have passed since conception. Before 40 days have passed, most poskim (Jewish legal decisors) still generally prohibit abortion, though this interval is considered a period of lenience. According to the Talmud the embryo is considered to be mere water. Rashi stated that the fetus is not a person . If a pregnancy threatens the life of the woman, all agree that the fetus must be aborted in order to save the woman's life.

Other denominations of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, etc.) espouse more liberal interpretations of the traditional texts, or often reject them outright as irrelevant or outdated. Consequently, adherents to these movements often take a more liberal stance on abortion issues.

Secular

Some pro-life individuals hold no religious convictions, and rely upon non-religious sources to base their arguments. Even some of those who are religious have used non-religious justifications when making public policy arguments, including some prominent pro-life politicians (for example, U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and U.S. Senator Sam Brownback). One of the more prominent secular pro-life advocates is Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice.

Many disciplines of philosophy may be implemented in the formation of a secular pro-life viewpoint. Some make use of natural law theory, which would emphasize the primacy of the right-to-life as the most fundamental human right guaranteed by law.

Biologically speaking, the zygote created at fertilization possesses a unique genome of human DNA, a unique blood type, and all other essential biological manifestations of a living organism (although, in the case of identical twins and chimeras, that unique individuality is not preserved). Pro-life advocates assert that this constitutes membership in the human species and personhood, and therefore conclude that the deliberate harming of human embryos and fetuses is morally objectionable. Other pro-life arguments may hold that destruction of human embryos and fetuses constitutes discrimination against them, based on their stage of development.

Term controversy

Both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are examples of political framing: they are terms which purposely try to define their philosophies in the best possible light, while by definition attempting to describe their opposition in the worst possible light. "Pro-choice" implies the alternative viewpoint is "anti-choice," while "pro-life" implies the alternative viewpoint is "pro-death" or "anti-life." Similarly each side's use of the term "rights" ("reproductive rights", "right to life of the unborn") implies a validity in their stance, given that the presumption in language is that rights are inherently a good thing and so implies an invalidity in the viewpoint of their opponents.

Pro-life and pro-choice individuals often use political framing to convey their perspective on the issues, and in some cases, to discredit opposing views. Pro-life advocates tend to use terms such as "unborn baby," "unborn child," or "pre-born child, while some pro-choice or pro-birth-control advocates insist on scientific terminology (distinguishing between a zygote, a blastula, an embryo, and a fetus, and objecting to "fetus" as a blanket term).

The Associated Press encourages journalists seeking a neutral tone to use the terms "abortion rights" and "anti-abortion.

Activism

Pro-life activism involves a variety of activities, from promoting the pro-life position to the public in general, lobbying public officials, or reaching individuals - for example by attempting to dissuade individual women to forgo abortions. Some efforts involve distributing literature, providing counseling services, conducting public demonstrations or protests, and committing acts of civil disobedience.

Types of activism

  • Free ultrasound: One type of pro-life activism is giving free ultrasound scans to pregnant women who are considering an abortion. These usually take place at a crisis pregnancy center. The theory behind this practice is the belief that the pregnant woman will decide to carry to term once she views images of the fetus. In the US, federal funding is provided for crisis pregnancy centers, many of which provide free ultrasounds.
  • The life chain: The "Life Chain" is a public demonstration technique that involves simply standing in a row on sidewalks holding signs with pro-life messages. Historically, the most often used message has been "Abortion Kills Children" but other signs have been produced for use by Life Chainers that include, "Abortion stops a beating heart," "Abortion Hurts Women," "I'm a child, not a choice," "God Heal Our Land," "God Bless America," "Jesus Forgives and Heals," "Jesus Loves the Little Children" and "Jesus Loves You." Life Chainers, as an official policy, do not yell or chant slogans and do not block pedestrians or roadways. This type of demonstration is extremely common, but some pro-life demonstrators question the effectiveness of this tactic. Many Right to Life chapters hold Life Chain events yearly.
  • The rescue: A "rescue operation" involves pro-life activists standing in front of an abortion clinic in order to prevent anyone from entering. The stated goal of this practice is to force the clinic to shut down for the day. Often, the protesters are removed by law enforcement. Some clinics were protested so heavily in this fashion that they closed down permanently. "The rescue" was first attempted by Operation Rescue. Ever since former president Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act into law, the rescue has rarely been attempted. Some consider it "peaceful civil disobedience" but others fear that the openly confrontational nature of rescue operations may inflame an already touchy situation to violence.
  • The die-in: is a variation of a protest by the same name which was first done to protest the Vietnam War. In the pro-life die-in, protesters fall to the ground in the fetal position. Often this is used to gain attention, in order for groups to distribute literature, and engage in conversation with the onlookers. Those on the ground do not move, hand out literature, or talk. Very few groups use this tactic, however Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust frequently use this method.
  • The truth display: In a "truth display", protesters go to an area intending to display pictures of aborted fetuses. Though this sparks anger and controversy, some pro-life groups believe this is the most effective way of explaining their position. The members of one group based out of Riverside, California, known as Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, have been jailed numerous times for these types of displays which they set up both legally and illegally on university campuses. Pro-Life Action League's Face the Truth displays are another example of a "truth display." A point of disagreement among pro-lifers is whether displaying shock pictures is really necessary. Though many believe in the truthfulness of "truth displays", many feel that it is sufficient to display informative images of perfectly healthy fetuses in order to demonstrate their humanity, not their suffering. Proponents of these "shock tactics" argue that, unless people realize the precise nature of abortion methods/procedures and their tangible results, the pro-life position can never succeed.
  • Sidewalk counseling: "Sidewalk counseling" is a form of pro-life activism which is conducted outside of abortion clinics. Activists seek to communicate with those entering the building, or with passersby in general, in an effort to persuade them not to have an abortion or to reconsider their position on the morality of abortion. They do so by trying to engage in conversation, displaying signs, distributing literature, or giving directions to a nearby crisis pregnancy center. The "Chicago Method" is an approach to sidewalk counseling that involves giving those about to enter an abortion facility copies of lawsuits filed against the facility or its physicians. The name comes from the fact that it was first used by Pro-Life Action League in Chicago. The intent of the Chicago Method is to turn the woman away from a facility that the protesters deem "unsafe," thus giving her time to reconsider her choice to abort.
  • Picketing: The majority of the facilities that perform abortions in the United States experience some form of protest from pro-life demonstrators every year, of which the most common form is picketing. Most facilities that perform abortions experience picketing at least 20 times a year; in 2007, 11,113 incidents of picketing were either reported to, or obtained by, the National Abortion Federation.

Violence Against Abortion Providers

The vast majority of pro-life advocates, as well as virtually all mainstream pro-life organizations, reject the use of violence in support of pro-life goals and/or in opposition to abortion, on the basis of the belief that both qualify as murder. They also believe that such violence will only hurt their cause. They rely upon other forms of activism like picketing and vigils, as well as legal and political action. The American Life League has issued a "Pro-life Proclamation Against Violence.

Violent incidents directed against abortion providers range from the arson and bombings of abortion clinics, as committed by Eric Rudolph, to the murders or attempted murders of physicians and clinic staff, as committed by James Kopp. G. Davidson Smith of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) defined abortion extremist, animal rights, and environmentalism-related violence as "single issue terrorism". Actual acts of violence against abortion providers and facilities in North America have largely subsided following a peak in the mid-1990s. The National Clinic Violence Survey, conducted by the pro-choice Feminist Majority Foundation, reports that severe violence now affects only 18.4% of abortion providers and facilities figures), a figure lower than at any time since 1994. Statistics from the National Abortion Federation show that violence against abortion clinics or providers has decreased steadily since a peak in 2001.

In North America, the most recent act of violence against an abortion provider that resulted in bodily injury was on July 11, 2000, in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, when Dr. Garson Romalis was stabbed in the back in the lobby area of the building where he worked; the most recent act of criminal damage against an abortion provider in North America was an arson at an abortion clinic in Virginia Beach, Virginia on May 9, 2007. ; and the most recent act of criminal damage by a pro-life extremist was an attempted suicide car bombing on the Edgerton Women's Health Center in Davenport, Iowa, on September 11, 2006 (the center did not provide abortions, but the perpetrator, David Robert McMenemy, apparently believed it did).

See also

References

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