The most e-mailed article at nytimes.com right now is opinion writer Thomas L. Friedman’s “Why I Am Pro Life.” Friedman, who comes from the left side of the opinion roster, argues that the right has hijacked the abortion debate by winning the title “pro life.” He wants it back.
To name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. And we must stop letting Republicans name themselves “pro-life” and Democrats as “pro-choice.” It is a huge distortion.
The center of Friedman’s piece is a very simple rehashing of a common liberal argument:
The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people [namely Republicans] for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth.
Friedman advances precisely three examples of Republican’s failure to be pro-life after birth:
In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control—like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.”
Gun control, the EPA, and social welfare programs. This is what it means to be pro-life.
The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth. What about the rest of life? Respect for the sanctity of life, if you believe that it begins at conception, cannot end at birth. That radical narrowing of our concern for the sanctity of life is leading to terrible distortions in our society. (emphasis mine)
But note what Friedman is granting in the bolded sentence: that the fetus has “life.” He’s right, of course. There’s no other rational—scientific—option. And there’s no other biblical one. Friedman here has used a tu quoque (a.k.a. “and so’s your old man”) argument that I find a bit breathtaking. I actually grant that common-sense gun regulations, care for the environment, and the welfare of poor children are very important issues for which knee-jerk free market solutions don’t seem entirely sufficient. I’m willing to go so far as to say that it’s a sin before God to manage guns improperly (the government is put in place by God to restrain evil, Rom. 13), to mar our environment (that’s poor dominion, Gen. 1:26–28), and to let poor kids go hungry when we can do something about it (Jas. 2:16).
But as I read Friedman’s logic, it runs something like this: because some people don’t care about helping the disadvantaged and vulnerable during the decades-long air-breathing phase of their lives, that gives me the right to kill vulnerable people during a particular nine-month phase of their lives. This is “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). Friedman “can’t not know” that abortion is wrong. And no one else’s sins can possibly justify it.
Four years ago I wondered whether I was justified in making abortion a “litmus test” for my vote. I started to be bothered by the charge that I was a “single-issue voter.” Sometimes a Democratic candidate represents some of my biblical values better than a Republican candidate does—couldn’t there be a situation in which I vote for a pro-choice candidate for the greater good?
But John Piper made a simple point that has stuck with me: there are many single issues that would rightly eliminate a candidate from my consideration: he advocates date rape, he supports selected international genocides, he views bribery as a reasonable way to run government—he thinks it’s okay to kill babies. I will never vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. I will vote for a third-party candidate—or a tenth-party candidate if it comes to that. An attack on babies is an attack on the God in whose image they are made.
The Christian answer to Friedman—which I do think is a little different than the Republican answer—is this: Let’s love our neighbors, made in God’s image, in all phases of their lives. Let’s be known for our good works (1 Tim. 5:10) toward them during their initial nine-month phase as well as their subsequent seven decades. We can’t let Friedman or the Republican party hijack the right to be called “pro-life,” because only Christians truly know what a good life is and how to work toward it.