Amid the hullabaloo surrounding the abortion laws in Georgia and Alabama, I came across the following meme shared by a pro-choice acquaintance of mine:
My initial reaction was to dismiss it as yet another instance of an individual applying pejorative labels to those on the opposing side of an issue. But then it struck me that the meme did get something right.
What They Mean by ‘Anti-choice’
Pro-choicers claim to be dissatisfied with the dichotomy between the terms ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’. Being ‘pro-choice’, they note, need not involve celebrating or actively advocating for abortions; it merely means affirming that a woman has the ‘right to choose’ to do what she wishes with her body, including ending the life of the fetus in her womb. In this sense, one can be ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’, they say, for one can personally oppose abortion for moral or religious reasons and never have an abortion, but allow other women to make that ‘choice’ for themselves. (Many a libertarian uses this justification, as do some ‘personally pro-life’ Democrats.)
What distinguishes these pro-choicers from those who have traditionally called themselves pro-life, they argue, is that the latter do not stop at expressing their personal moral qualms about abortion; they actively oppose a woman’s right to choose to do what she wishes with her body and what is in her body. In other words, the dividing line is not between whether or not one supports elective abortion, but between whether one ‘trusts women’ to make the right choices ‘about their own bodies’. For this reason, anyone who opposes elective abortion must be labelled ‘anti-choice’ rather than ‘pro-life’.
How might one respond to this? A knee-jerk reaction might be to push back against the ‘anti-choice’ label (perhaps out of an aversion towards being classified as ‘anti-freedom’ in any sense of the term) and argue for why we must only be referred to as ‘pro-life’.
Nevertheless, I believe that we have good reason to embrace the label ‘anti-choice’. Here’s why.
“What Choices Are We Talking About?”
Nobody is indiscriminately pro-choice about all choices. In fact, we hope that nobody supports anyone else’s ‘right to choose’ when it comes to matters like theft, rape, or murder. We hope that if one witnesses a man attempting to take advantage of a woman, he/she intervenes, rather than ‘trusting the man’ to make the ‘right choice’ about what to do with his own body. In other words, we hope that all of our fellow human beings are anti-choice when it comes to some choices. Thus, being ‘anti-choice’ is not inherently wrong; being anti-choice about some choices is actually a good thing.
On what basis do we judge whether we ought to be ‘pro-choice’ or ‘anti-choice’ regarding a given choice? We first ask ourselves, “What choices are we talking about?” If the answer involves choices that adversely affect the lives of innocent human beings, our sense of morality pushes us towards being ‘anti-choice’; otherwise, we are generally ‘pro-choice’.
For instance, we are ‘pro-choice’ about the clothes people buy for themselves; we ‘trust them’ to make the ‘right decisions’ in that arena. But as soon as one’s choices involve harming the life or liberty of another innocent human being, we’re generally anti-choice. We’re anti-choice about rape, murder, incest, theft, fraud, slander, and incitement. In cases involving immoral choices, our sense of morality forbids us from advocating for the person’s ‘right to choose’.
So when it comes to the issue of abortion, the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What kind of choice is involved in abortion? Is it a choice that harms the innocent life of one other than the individual making the choice?”
We are ‘Pro-life’ and ‘Anti-choice’
The individual who calls himself a ‘pro-lifer’ will answer the latter question with a resounding ‘yes’; he or she firmly believes that the choice to have an abortion ends an innocent human life, thereby constituting an immoral choice. There is nothing wrong, then, in describing oneself as ‘anti-choice’ when it comes to elective abortion, as long as one holds to the view that abortion in all cases, except when the mother’s life is in danger, is immoral. In saying that much, the above meme is accurate.
Nonetheless, I do not wish to concede linguistic territory to my opponents. We have no reason to accept their claim that being ‘anti-choice’ about abortion makes one incapable of also describing oneself accurately as ‘pro-life’. The ‘personally pro-life, publicly pro-choice’ stance is a blatantly inconsistent one, but this is not something that I wish to discuss at present. The bottom line is that we can deny one’s ‘right to choose’ in these cases precisely because we are pro-life. For by being pro-life, we are acknowledging that any set of choices involving the harm to the life of the innocent fetus is an immoral one. And such choices are worth being ‘anti-choice’ about.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.