The pro-life movement and ‘common liberal values’

Prof. Jon Shields

Scholar Jon Shields (professor at Claremont McKenna College), who’s not exactly pro-life but has become more sympathetic to our view in the course of his research, discusses the pro-life movement in an interview with the New Yorker (emphases added):

The pro-life cause has indeed resonated in a liberal, rights-oriented culture far more than other “culture-war” issues. … Young Americans … are suddenly less pro-choice than older Americans. …

This development, however, is not as odd as it appears. I think the pro-life cause continues to inspire activists and cannot be dismissed by secular, socially liberal Americans precisely because it appeals to common liberal values that we all share [e.g., human equality].

The liberalism at the heart of the pro-life campaign, however, is constantly distorted by a generation of scholars who have insisted the right-to-life movement is really about the preservation of traditional gender roles or male control over female sexuality. Such interpretations tend to ignore that the right-to-life movement regards itself as today’s civil-rights movement. The failure to grasp this reality renders the passion and dedication of the pro-life movement almost impossible to comprehend.

I believe that many scholars of abortion have resisted this conclusion because they find it difficult to entertain the possibility that these conservatives might be agents in progressive history. …

On some level, I think most [pro-choice academics] understand that pro-lifers are raising serious human rights concerns. And on a surprising number of occasions, I’ve had liberal academics confess that their pro-life sympathies run quite deep.

About his own views, Shields says:

I was raised in a strongly pro-choice household and carried those views with me into my fieldwork. Doing this research, however, forced me to think through my beliefs in a more systematic way. I was exposed to thoughtful activists and images of aborted embryos that I always used to carefully avoid. So, somewhere along the way, I did become far more sympathetic to the moral claims of the pro-life movement than I even imagined when I began talking to activists. I suppose I was particularly moved by the claim that human organisms might have an intrinsic value independent of their characteristics. Above all, though, this work has left me with a deeper respect for the thoughtful partisans on both sides of this issue. Our best hope, in my humble opinion, is to continue deliberating about this issue.

This is refreshing, I think, coming from the pro-choice side of the debate. He is thinking clearly about the issue and sincerely looking to find the truth

Editor’s note. This appears on the blog of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.