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Youth For Life FAQs About Pro-lifers

This FAQ was originally written by Selma Kramer of Youth for Life with the intention of responding to common questions about pro-lifers. Any pro-lifer who finds the responses in this FAQ helpful or informative may copy them. The only condition is that you may not make any changes to it that distort the text's intention or meaning.
Update: Links Corrected September 1, 2001
"Are pro-lifers a bunch of religious fanatics?"

This is a very common but false belief. The pro-life movement includes people of a wide variety religious paths. One can find pro-lifers of every religion, from atheist to Wiccan. There are also pro-lifers who are gay/lesbian or bisexual, vegetarians/animal rights supporters, and/or politically liberal.

Of course, there does tend to be a large number of pro-life Christians and Christian sentiment in the pro-life movement. However, this isn't unique to the pro-life cause. Christians have been prominent in many social causes past and present. For example, the Quakers were strongly opposed to slavery in the 1800s and some abolitionists vigorously attacked slavery as the greatest of all sins against Christianity. The present-day Catholic Church is a strong opponent to the death penalty. That doesn't mean that being Christian is necessary for being against slavery or the death penalty. Similarly, the presence of Christians in the pro-life movement doesn't mean being pro-life is solely a religious cause.

Why, then, is the belief pro-lifers are all Christians and most pro-life arguments are religious so persistent? One obvious explanation is that this distortion is convenient for some people's purposes. Isn't it easier for an abortion advocate to generate support for abortion if he can claim that pro-lifers are "religious nuts" who have no rational basis for their views?
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"What do pro-lifers think about abortion in cases of rape or incest?"

Rape and incest are both very tragic and disgusting acts. It's natural to sympathize with the woman who has endured such a horrible violation. However, it is a mistake to assume that having sympathy for the victims of rape or incest requires one to support legalized abortion, especially abortion on demand for any reason.

Opinions about the rape and incest cases vary widely among pro-lifers. Some pro-lifers make an exception for them, believing abortion is understandable in these cases. To understand why one might be pro-life while still believing in an exception for rape and incest, realize that pregnancies resulting from rape and incest are extremely rare. A survey taken by Planned Parenthood (published in its journal Family Planning Perspectives, July/August 1988) found that only 1% of the women reported rape or incest as their reason for aborting.. Therefore, accepting some very rare circumstances where abortion is permissible does not mean that one must permit the other 99% of abortions that are for other reasons.

Some pro-lifers, however, think that even in rape and incest, abortion isn't the answer. For many women, an abortion after rape actually compounds their trauma. First, because many women believe abortion is immoral for themselves even if they think it should be legal for others, yet feel like they have no choice but to abort in the case of rape or incest. A rape victim might feel pressured in abortion because they fear other people wouldn't understand if they kept "the rapist's child" (although, in reality, the child is as much hers as any child she will ever conceive). Some victims of incest are actually forced into abortions by their abusers to conceal the incest (after all, a very young pregnant girl would probably draw attention to the abuse).

Secondly, the act of abortion itself often ends up being compared to the rape. Some women have described abortion as a "second rape", another painful invasion of their body by a stranger. Many end up comparing what they did to their child to what the rapist did to them. They feel horrified that they committed an act of violence against their child just as the rapist violently attacked them. Perhaps the real answer to rape and incest pregnancies is offered in the following words from Joan Kemp:

After sexual assault there is, for varying lengths of time, a natural revulsion toward anything associated with the rape. This may include the location, or characteristics of the rapist such as his clothing, race, mustache, etc. It is normal for this feeling to attach to the unborn child conceived in rape. However, these feelings normally fade with time. When this does not happen spontaneously, counseling with someone qualified to treat victims of rape trauma is highly effective. Rape victims I have worked with were aware of and distressed by the "inappropriateness" of these feelings. They were anxious to overcome their revulsion of anyone and anything that reminded them of the rape. They would not, for instance, have welcomed anyone telling them that men of their attacker's race are natural criminals. Nor do women welcome being told that their children conceived in rape are unworthy of life, genetically prone to crime, and bound to feel unwanted and bitter. A person in crisis is seeking positive solutions, not a counsel of despair.

For more information on abortion in the cases of rape and incest, see the related articles in Victory Over Violence or Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths
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"I'm pro-life. How can I put my beliefs into action?"

One very effective way to get involved is to contact your local crisis pregnancy center. Crisis pregnancy centers provide help and alternatives to women who are thinking about abortion (many also provide counseling and support to women who aborted and are now suffering emotionally from it). Since these centers don't charge women for their services, most centers will be grateful for whatever volunteer effort or donated supplies that compassionate people like you can offer them. Birthright has numerous centers in several countries.

Of course, there are plenty of other opportunities for helping the pro-life cause. Be creative and think about what talents or resources you have that could be applied to pro-life work. If you have regular access to the Internet, perhaps you can create a pro-life webpage. Just remember: People will see you as a representative of the pro-life movement. Make sure you always present your views in a calm, reasonable, and peaceful manner. Chapter Two of Dr. Reardon's book Making Abortion Rare may help pro-lifers who would like to better understand and sympathize with the motivation of ambivalent and pro-choice people.
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"How can men be pro-life? They don't know what it's like to be pregnant!"

First, if one doesn't want to allow pro-life males to speak out on abortion, it is only consistent to exclude pro-choice males' opinions as well. Of course, this would require overturning the ruling that made abortion legal. Roe v. Wade was decided by an entirely male Supreme Court, and the male founder of Playboy Magazine (a magazine that, ironically, some consider anti-woman) was one of the biggest financial supporters of abortion legalization. Furthermore, the vast majority of abortionists are male. Why allow these men to have a role in abortion when they can't understand pregnancy or abortion any better than pro-life males can?

Of course, excluding all men from the debate really isn't appropriate. If a male pro-lifer uses an argument that would still be valid if it came from a female pro-lifer, it's not fair to dismiss his points simply because of his gender. Abortion is a human concern, not merely a woman's concern. Every aborted child has a father. If a woman chooses to abort, the father has no way to stop her even if he desperately wants his child. Yet, if a woman chooses not to have an abortion, the father is required to provide child support for 18 years. Why should he have legal responsibilities but no legal rights?

Furthermore, almost half the children aborted are males. Every male is a former fetus; every male born since 1973 is a former fetus who could have been legally aborted. In what other situation has someone insisted that only those who might commit a certain act have a right to an opinion on whether or not it should be legal? Would you say that only slave-owners have a right to an opinion on racism, because only white people know what it's like to own slaves?

Incidentally, most surveys and polls show women are actually more likely to be pro-life than men are. Many of the major pro-life groups are headed by women. One of the most prominent examples is Wanda Franz of National Right to Life. It should come as no surprise that Feminists for Life was founded by women (Pat Goltz and Catherine Callaghan) and continues to have female leadership. In most crisis pregnancy centers, the staff is primarily female.
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"Do pro-lifers hate women who have had abortions? Is a woman who previously aborted a hypocrite if she becomes pro-life?"

The way pro-lifers feel about women who have had abortions is variable. Unfortunately, there are some pro-lifers who do not have the appropriate empathy for women who have had abortions. Fortunately, however, most pro-lifers recognize the need for healing and forgiveness. They realize that women can feel pressured into abortion by fear, misinformation, or lack of support from loved ones. In response to this situation, many pro-lifers have helped create crisis pregnancy centers. Furthermore, many of the groups for healing from post-abortion grief out there are run by pro-lifers.

A woman who once aborted is not at all a "hypocrite" for speaking out against abortion. "Hypocrites" are people whose current actions contradict their current words. If someone now recognizes their prior actions were a mistake, warning others not to make the same mistake makes them a teacher, not a hypocrite. In a climate where abortion is portrayed as a "woman's right" and a "simple" solution to the problem of pregnancy, it is cruel to call women "hypocrites" for not realizing how they would be affected by abortion. For perspectives on how abortion can harm women, see Regrets of Women Who Had Abortions, The Bitter Price of "Choice", and Women Who Abort: Their Reflections on the Unborn.
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"Do pro-lifers really advocate shooting doctors and bombing clinics?"

None of the mainstream pro-life organizations support violence and many have made a point of condemning the violence (for example, Pro-lifers Against Clinic Violence). Some (such as Feminists for Life) have actually offered rewards to help the investigation of acts of violence. The people who do engage in violence are anti-abortion, but they are not pro-life and not accepted in the mainstream pro-life movement. See Stop the Violence! or Open Letter to the Killer of Barnett Slepian for more info.

Furthermore, there's no way we can know how many acts of violence pro-lifers have prevented. Many pro-lifers involved in sidewalk counseling or abortion malpractice litigation report having to talk to men so angry and grief-stricken over the loss of their unborn child or the death of their girlfriend or daughter from a botched abortion that they wanted to kill the abortionist responsible. Without the intervention of non-violent pro-lifers, and non-violent activism opportunities for those hurt and angered by abortion, it's quite possible that violence would not be as rare as it really is. See Violence: Or a Protective Ring? in Dr. Jack Wilke's book Why Can't We Love Them Both?.
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"Why do you pro-lifers use pictures of bloody aborted babies? They're disgusting!"

Using graphic photos is not unique to pro-lifers. There are many examples of using graphic and shocking imagery to make a point about issues. Groups against drunk driving have used graphic representations of car accidents caused by drunk driving. Anti-tobacco groups have used graphic photos of people disfigured by mouth cancer. Many history books have graphic photos of Nazi Holocaust survivors. Such things are also shocking and unpleasant to view, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be shown. Just like activists against drunk driving and tobacco, pro-lifers don't show graphic images because they want to be obnoxious or like blood and gore. They show the pictures because they feel the pictures provide a real look at the horrible nature of what they're fighting. Even some pro-choicers defend the use of photos of aborted fetuses. Pro-choice author Naomi Wolf puts it in the following way:

"How can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that the truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy. Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted by them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view of women is unworthy of feminism. Free women must be strong women, too; and strong women, presumably, do not seek to cloak their most important decisions in euphemism." [Excerpt from "Our Bodies, Our Souls". The New Republic, 1995]

On the flip side, there are also pro-lifers who oppose the use of graphic pictures, at least in some cases. Some pro-lifers believe the photos should always be used in an environment where they can be prefaced with a warning (such as on a webpage or in a pamphlet, rather than on a sign in public view), so those who aren't emotionally prepared to view them can choose not to. There are also pro-lifers who simply believe the photos are not effective enough to justify the anger/defensiveness they provoke in many people. The author of this FAQ personally advocates using non-gory photographs of intact fetuses, which illustrate the development of the fetus without being upsetting to look at.
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"Why spend time on abortion when [so-and-so] is a much more important issue?"

Every pro-lifer who makes pro-life work a priority has their reasons. Some point out that the right to life is the one that allows us to exercise all our other rights...after all, if one has been killed, none of one's other rights are of much use. Therefore, they feel they can only focus on securing rights after birth once everyone is assured the chance to be born in the first place. For other pro-lifers, the abortion issue is a personal one because they have personally experienced tremendous grief from an abortion they or someone close to them had. Still other pro-lifers feel that abortion is a root cause of other problems in society. For example, a pro-lifer might believe that violence among teens is caused by a lack of reverence for life in general society. They might look at their efforts to stop abortion as a step towards restoring a respect for all life (and thus, in an indirect way, decreasing violence in general). Furthermore, if you look around enough, chances are you will find there are pro-lifers who engage in activism related to both the pro-life cause and "[so-and-so]" cause.

Finally, ask yourself: Would you criticize someone for feeding the hungry just because your personal priority is housing the homeless? Would you criticize someone for trying to end child abuse just because you feel more passionate about ending school shootings? Why does one issue have to be "more important"? Why can't people simply focus on whatever problem they feel best equipped to help solve?
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"Why don't you work on helping born people instead of fighting abortion?"

This question relies on several false assumptions.

  1. First, it assumes that pro-lifers don't provide help for born people in non-abortion-related issues. But what basis is there for assuming that pro-lifers are any less inclined to care about issues besides abortion than pro-choice people are? The humanitarian Mother Teresa was pro-life, yet her fame came from helping born people. The author of this FAQ has personally known many pro-lifers who spend time and effort trying to help born people in addition to pro-life advocacy. Many pro-lifers incorporate their fight against abortion with a fight against matters like racism, child abuse, the death penalty, poverty, etc. that they view as related to abortion. See The Seamless Garment Network or Common Ground for Life for examples.

  2. Secondly, it assumes that abortion has no impact on born people. Obviously, every unborn child has a born mother. She is at risk of physical and/or emotional harm from the abortion. There is also the grief that the aborted child's father, grandparents, born siblings, or friends of the aborting woman may feel at the child's loss. There is some evidence that the emotional impact of an abortion can lead to other harmful behaviors such as drug/alcohol abuse, abuse of later children, or domestic violence. By preventing abortions, pro-lifers may very well be preventing suffering of born peple.

  3. Finally, "Helping the born is more important" assumes that the unborn person is not a real person or is not worth the same protection born people receive...the very thing that pro-choicers must prove to justify abortion. "Why don't you help born people?" provides no evidence to back up the belief that unborn lives don't matter. To pro-lifers, the unborn fetus is as much a "real person" as born people are. Pro-choicers must address the arguments pro-lifers put forth about the unborn fetus's worth before they can insist that pro-lifers should be helping born people instead.

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