Why Being Prolife Ain’t Easy

Posted on 08/25/11 1 Comment

I continue to raid my vault of old CP articles so you can become acquainted with some rare gems. Well okay, that’s not exactly the reason. It is more like I need to get the copy-editing done on a book and to complete another book proposal for my agent by early next week, so in the interim I’ve decided to offer some, er, reruns.

In this article I discuss the challenge of being prolife about more than the fetus.


On May 31st, 2009 abortion doctor George Tiller was gunned down while serving as an usher in his church in Witchita, Kanasa. Tiller had been targeted previously in 1993, and had always remained a target due no doubt to his willingness to perform late-term abortions (after 21 weeks).

My guess is that the gunman (allegedly Scott Roeder) would count himself as “prolife”. So being prolife he kills a doctor in a church. Even though I understand the gunman’s logic (kill one guilty life to save many innocent ones) I consider his act to be a monstrous evil. So what exactly does it mean to be “prolife”?

Now imagine this. A prolife activist is walking along the sidewalk on her way to a prolife rally. In a shallow pond nearby she sees a toddler flailing about. Clearly if she does not save the child, he will drown. On the downside, if she saves the child, she will get her pants wet and be late for the prolife rally. Weighing the benefit of saving of the child’s life against the cost of wet pants and a late arrival, she continues on her way.

Tiller’s killer may call himself prolife but he is a moral monster. But then what about this prolife activist? Certainly she didn’t actively kill anybody, but she did leave a child to drown. Doesn’t this make her also a moral monster?

Here’s another scenario. I get the mail today and among the bills I find an urgent appeal for donations from World Vision to pay for urgently needed anti-malaria medicine to quell a growing epidemic. I throw the appeal in the trash, go out and spend $5 on a Starbucks latte.

Anti-malarial out-patient treatments cost between 13-20 cents per person. This means that the 5 bucks I spent on a Starbucks latte could have saved 25 lives. So while the prolife activist’s inaction leads to the death of one, my inaction leads to the death of 25. Now who is the moral monster?

In recent years I am thankful that the prolife movement has expanded focus beyond the life of the fetus to encompass the mother and the prospects for the child once born. But even so, it seems to me that we are still only at the beginning of what it means to be prolife.

(The drowning child scenario is drawn from Peter Singer’s famous paper “Famine, Affluence, and Morality,” Philosophy and Public Affairs (1972). For a practical prolife guide for action see Singer’s new book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (Random House, 2009).)

  • toryninja

    I constantly wrestle with this. “You know, my daughter doesn’t really need more than one pair of clothes. Sure, people will laugh at her, mock her, etc. But if I use the money I save from buying her enough clothes to last the week, I could save X number of lives. And is my daughter’s self-esteem more important than X number of lives?”

    Or there is Greg Boyd’s famous example where he gives this thought experiment (he might have got it from somewhere else): If you found a beaten and starving man on your front porch would you feel responsible to help him? How about on the sidewalk in front of your house? How about on the corner of your street? How about the street over? How about downtown? How about overseas? Why as Christians do we consider the man on are porch our “neighbour” and not those who are just a few kilometres (or thousands of kilometres away) our neighbour? Especially in our incredibly globalized world?

    Do you have any good books or articles that deal with this question/problem? Preferably from a Christian perspective but it doesn’t have to be. I would imagine you are recommending the Singer book in this post?