By Monica Snyder, executive director, Secular Pro-life
People repeatedly post the following quote:
“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without reimagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus, but actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn. –Methodist Pastor David Barnhart
Often the pro-life response is to challenge the idea that people who oppose abortion are indifferent to the wellbeing of those already born. Research shows that the demographics traditionally associated with opposing abortion are also more likely to donate to charity and do volunteer work. (See also a long list of examples of pro-life people caring for their neighbors and communities.) The “you don’t care once they’re born” trope is pretty tired.
Another common response is to counter that it’s actually quite inconvenient to be vocally pro-life. It’s a highly unpopular position in many desirable social spheres, and it entails grappling with a lot of ignorance, anger, and ridicule, not to mention repeated political and legislative defeats. (Prior to Dobbs, I did anti-abortion work assuming we will lose and trying anyway, because that is generally what I had experienced up until summer 2022.) All of this happens while preborn children are constantly, incessantly destroyed. If you are passionately pro-life, it comes with deep emotional tolls. To say advocating for the unborn is convenient is to say you haven’t really tried it.
But the Methodist Pastor’s diatribe strikes me not so much because of its inaccurate portrayal of pro-lifers and of pro-life activism, but because of how kindly and generously it lets pro-choicers off the hook. So here I have written a counter “sermon”:
“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate against. They never make demands of you; in fact they can’t even speak. They can’t confront your ignorance when you call them tumors or parasites. They’re powerless to denounce your lethal ableism when you suggest it’s better to never live than to live with disabilities, or to condemn your classism when you imply it’s better to not be born than to be born poor. They can’t ask you to reckon with your racism when you tout higher abortion rates for PoC as empowerment. They can’t implore you to step up and support mothers who feel they have no choice. You can forget about the unborn, mute and helpless to remind you they are here. You can advocate for abortion without substantially challenging your power or privilege to have been born yourself, to get to experience life in all its pain and beauty. You can advocate for abortion without reluctance or remorse – on demand and without apology – and never have to face the humans whose lives you’ve deemed worthless. The unborn are, in short, the perfect group to dehumanize with no risk to yourself. They can’t fight back. They’re stuck in a small space, forced to die in silence.