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Pro-life from womb to tomb?

Deconstructing an argument aimed at pro-lifers

Pro-abortion protesters took to the streets of Los Angeles last Tuesday. Getty Images/Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News

Pro-life from womb to tomb?

Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., once quipped that a pro-life advocate is someone who believes that “life begins at conception and ends at birth.” Once the child is born, the argument goes, pro-life advocates no longer care.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Times last month published a feature about the life of Christy Berghoef that parallels Frank’s claim. Berghoef evidently outgrew her staunchly pro-life upbringing in rural Michigan and now defines herself as “broadly pro-life from the womb to the tomb.” For Berghoef, and many like her, the breakthrough to a “broader pro-life” position includes moving politically leftward on such issues as gun control, immigration, healthcare, and poverty.

Recent years have brought a deluge of “deconstruction” stories in which people like Berghoef purport to dismantle the narrow-minded confines of conservative Christianity. Common threads run through these deconstruction stories, including a desire to breathe fresh air beyond the stifling judgmentalism, the aversion to nuance, presuming the worst of others’ motives, conflating one’s view with the only conceivably true view, and so on.

Let us attempt an exercise in deconstructing such deconstructions of faith.

Assuming that those who reject leftist positions do so because they don’t care about life from the womb to the tomb is a particular kind of judgmentalism. It makes a rather holier-than-thou, unnuanced, exclusivist presumption about the motives held by millions of Americans. It presupposes, rather uncharitably, that callousness, apathy, ignorance, or disdain are the only conceivable reasons anyone might not support certain solutions to such problems.

There is, however, a world of difference between not caring for the poor and thinking that typical leftist policies are not the best way to help the poor. That gaping difference is evidenced by the fact that conservative households donate substantially more money to charity than liberal ones. A 2018 Barna study found that practicing Christians outpace all other demographics in providing food to the poor, donating clothing and furniture to the poor, praying for the poor, and giving personal time to serve the poor in their communities and beyond U.S. borders. The belief that we either rally for more expansive government attempts to alleviate poverty, or we don’t care about alleviating poverty, can be a rather stifling if not self-righteous way to frame our options.

Is it possible that many people reject leftist policies precisely because they care about life from the womb to the tomb? To deny that possibility reeks of a certain dogmatism.

Many who champion the leftward womb-to-tomb perspective look with admiration at European countries with more expansive government welfare systems Yet, according to Harvard social scientist Arthur C. Brooks, “numerous studies have demonstrated that a dollar in government spending on nonprofit activities displaces up to 50 cents in private giving,” and the “highest level of crowding out occurs in assistance to the poor and other kinds of social welfare services.”

We could add that Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan have become prosperous with scant natural resources as they have embraced free markets, while resource-rich Russia and Brazil languish in poverty under big government systems that claim to uplift the poor. In the United States, the top 10 cities with the highest rates of homelessness, along with the top 25 most dangerous cities, share one thing in common: They are all run by Democrats. Again, is it possible that many people reject leftist policies precisely because they care about life from the womb to the tomb? To deny that possibility reeks of a certain dogmatism.

The same can be said for other controversial questions wrapped up in the womb to tomb slogan. There is a difference between not caring for the victims of gun violence and thinking that leftist gun control policies are not the best way to curb gun violence. There is a difference between not caring for immigrants and supporting legal immigration. Not caring about the sick and seeing problems with government-run healthcare programs are not interchangeable. Conflating the two is hardly kind or open-minded. It is a kind of fundamentalist faith that should not be immune to deconstruction.

My point is that the very existence of such arguments, the fact that they are commonplace in conservative circles, shows that it is not a simple black-and-white matter of who cares for the poor and who doesn’t.

Am I saying that the political right is, therefore, infallible or synonymous with true Christianity? Far from it. There is much to our right that bears no resemblance to what Jesus stands for. I am simply arguing that the trendy womb-to-tomb argument, when used to lure people leftward, is just one more illustration of the deconstructionist lurch to the ideological left.

Thaddeus Williams

Thaddeus Williams is the author of the best-selling book Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2020). He serves as associate professor of systematic theology for the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and resides in Orange County, Calif., with his wife and four kids.

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