Pro-Life Progressives? Why Not

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Abortion is a social justice issue

Beginning shortly after President Trump’s surprise victory, pro-life progressives began calling on the party to moderate its tone on social issues, in particular abortion. This spring, pro-choice progressives drew swords to demand ideological conformity on abortion, arguing that abortion is necessary so women can escape poverty. In response, Democratic leaders have at least stated publicly there was room in the party for pro-lifers.

Time will tell if Democrats in Congress will provide anything more than lip service to pro-lifers.  But initial results are not promising, as anything that hints of a pro-life perspective is labeled as anti-choice and vilified.

Consider my colleague, Lori Szala, who recently wrote about her experience growing up in a working-class, single-parent family and finding herself pregnant in high school.  Szala scheduled an abortion, but cancelled the appointment at the last minute. Despite leaving college, she ultimately succeeded without an abortion, and holds that society should engage in the difficult but critical task of supporting women like her rather than leaving them to feel they must abort.

Despite its moderate tone and focus on the needs of serving women in crisis, Szala’s piece generated outrage on the political Left. Her crime? She works for Human Coalition, a pro-life organization. The New York Observer complains the organization is “far from impartial when it comes to abortion.” Media Matters dismisses Szala’s arguments as “denouncing abortion access” and Human Coalition’s work as “misleading people.”

One of the most substantive responses, and representative of the prevailing critique of pro-life work, comes from the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU agrees that support should exist for women who want to keep their children, but it dismissively states “it would be easier to take her argument seriously if Ms. Szala didn’t work for an organization whose mission is to outlaw abortion.”

To belittle Szala’s argument because she is pro-life completely misses the point. Cataloging a parade of horribles that might result from an unplanned pregnancy, the ACLU fails to consider the unborn child who will be aborted. Central to the ACLU’s position is the belief that a pregnant woman has an absolute right to end the life of her preborn child if that’s what she wants to do.

This is a position for which there can be no common political ground, because a worldview that values the life of the unborn cannot subordinate that child’s right to life to the mother’s economic interest, no matter how important. The argument treats other humans – distinct, living persons, just like us – as an economic commodity whose life depends on a cost-benefit analysis. Many Americans agree that children’s lives cannot and should not be measured in dollars and cents – though perhaps not the ACLU.

The argument also places an unreasonable and unjustified degree of hope in abortion as a benefit to humanity. At Human Coalition, where we work with hundreds of abortion-seeking women every month, we find that nearly four out of five of the clients we have seen this year state they would prefer to keep their children if their circumstances would allow it.  But abortion clinics make no pretense of addressing these underlying issues.

The ACLU’s argument reinforces the false narrative that a woman facing a crisis pregnancy must choose between poverty and childbearing. Even beyond choosing adoption, economic challenges amplified by pregnancy can be mitigated — albeit with great effort.   Conversely, every abortion takes a life that will never return.

It is unsurprising that efforts like Human Coalition’s, to provide women with material help and the practical ability to choose life, are met with scorn by the pro-abortion political class. The abortion movement has to trivialize abortion and ensure that abortion is both legal and common in its attempt to silence opposition to the practice.

This mindset is fundamentally at odds with helping women find solutions other than abortion.  Because of the abortion lobby’s intimate ties with the Democratic Party, progressive support for life-affirming policies is virtually nonexistent. That is why Hillary Clinton notably dropped “rare” from her slogan that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Acknowledging that abortion should be rare admits that abortion is not a good thing and raises unsettling questions that suggest progressive politicians should try to reduce abortion.

The tragic irony of the abortion movement is that free abortion access facilitates rather than limits systemic injustice. By proposing a quick and cheap solution to unplanned pregnancy, abortion implicitly pressures women to bear the entire burden themselves and allows partners, families, and communities to sidestep their obligations to these mothers.

The data counterintuitively suggest abortion may limit economic mobility. It haslong been noted that the rise in abortion produced a rise in out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families. The changing mores surrounding childbirth and marriage mean that women who refuse to abort are left to go it alone. But as University of Virginia sociologist Bradford Wilcox explains, children are more likely to escape poverty if they live with two married parents, and they’re even more likely to escape poverty if they live in a community with a higher percentage of married parents.

How to best help women with unplanned pregnancies overcome the economic challenges they face is a complex issue with no easy answers. Because unborn children are innately valuable, pro-lifers cannot overlook the need to rescue children. But programs explicitly designed to help women avoid abortions they do not want is an effort on which progressives and conservatives can and should find some common ground. Abortion is usually the last resort of women who believe that they have no choice. We must work together to give them better options.


Colin LeCroy is associate general counsel at Human Coalition, one of the nation’s largest pro-life nonprofits, which utilizes a metrics-focused, technology-driven method to serve families and save children from abortion.