I am known among my friends and colleagues as a political geek, so I am frequently asked my opinion about particular candidates. One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “Is he pro-life?”
I think that we pro-lifers really need to start to pay attention to protecting the integrity of our brand name, because it is becoming seriously diluted.
Certainly, lots of politicians will describe themselves as “pro-life”, when it is to their political advantage. But what does that mean?
If they mean “opposed to stabbing babies in the neck and sucking out their brains” (partial-birth abortion), or “opposed to strangling babies born alive despite the abortion” (the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act), then that’s definitely a “pro-life” position. If the standard is “won’t force people to pay for or perform abortions against their religious beliefs” (the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act), then that’s a “pro-life” position too. We could go beyond individual pieces of legislation, and if the candidate “won’t appoint Planned Parenthood or NARAL ideologues to key policy positions”, then that’s a “pro-life” position as well.
So a person’s stand on specific issues, and their track record on particular policy matters, are clearly important — actions speak louder than words.
But the label “pro-life” has to mean more than just “how many boxes can I check off on this list, so that people can be convinced to call me ‘pro-life’”. If that’s all it is, the term has become meaningless — and we will always be vulnerable to manipulation by politicians and interest groups with malleable principles but the ability to craft clever position papers.
I guess I’m just tired of hearing people describe a candidate as “pro-life” when the best that can be said about him is that he’s “anti-abortion in most cases”, or that he’s just “better than the other guy”. We should demand more of our politicians, and we should demand more of ourselves. Otherwise, we’ll never get anything more than what we’ve been getting for years — lip service at election time, crumbs from the table afterwards.
Being “pro-life” — as opposed to merely taking “pro-life” positions — has a much broader and deeper meaning. It involves a recognition of the sacredness of life, its inherent dignity, that views each individual human being as having inestimable value because he or she is made in the image and likeness of God. It rejects a reductionist or utilitarian view of humanity, where lives are disposable if they are inconvenient, not “useful”, or if they came into being in a way that we disapprove. It entails a commitment to defending each and every life against abuse, from whatever source. It calls people to acts of direct service to the poor, the vulnerable, and the frail. It is an attitude of reverence in the divine presence, seen in every human person.
To get a sense of what our “pro-life brand” really means, people should take a look at the beautiful statement by the U.S. bishops, Living the Gospel of Life. Certainly, Pope John Paul’s great encyclical The Gospel of Life should also be studied.
The goal of the “pro-life” movement is not just to win elections, pass particular bills, or appoint specific people to courts. The goal is to transform hearts and minds, so that we can build a Culture of Life and Civilization of Love.
That’s the real definition of our brand, and we should protect it and market it to a culture that desperately needs it, and to people who hunger for it. The real “pro-life” brand will sell itself, because it speaks to the truths that are already written deep in the human heart.