Radically Re-framing Pro-Life

Crisis Pregnancy can refer to a couple of things. First, it can refer to a pregnancy that is unplanned and which can put the mother and child in a difficult economic or social situation. It’s a crisis of hardship; one in which even if the mother is wanting to keep the child, she doesn’t quite know how to navigate the struggles of an unplanned pregnancy. Second, the “crisis” can refer to the actual psychological decision point. This often is what brings women to such centers, as they feel torn over a variety of possible decisions: abortion, adoption, child-rearing, etc. The fundamental goal of a crisis pregnancy center is to help both mothers and fathers think through the decision factors of the pregnancy and choose a path forward that recognizes the value of both the mother and the child’s life. It holds at its foundation a belief that in a pregnancy we are dealing with two separate lives: the mother and the child.

So here’s the deal. We are not unaware of the fact that this whole discussion needs re-framing, in a "crazy-major a lot has got to change, turn this thing on its head, make it a revolution not a position" kind of way. Especially in light of the recent presidential election, the pro-life cause has been seen and postured in such a way by both its advocates and opponents as a partisan conservative religious movement (if you're a conservative religious person, please read on and don't take offense). This is deeply unfortunate, though sometimes well-deserved. It’s time to change the nature of the conversation to emphasize a few things:

1) To be “pro-life” is not to simply be pro-baby. This is where a lot of those who position the pro-life position as a religious one get it wrong. Listen, if you claim to be pro-baby you have to go beyond the pregnancy. Too many pro-life advocates passionately fight for birth but then the buck stops. I wonder how much would change if when we committed ourselves to being pro-life for the baby, we committed ourselves to being pro-mother, pro-toddler, pro-child, pro-teenager. What if the fear of raising a child in poverty, social stigma (especially in religious communities), etc. was not present. We’re not discounting the complexity and the difficulty in doing this, although we’re not discounting the simplicity and ease of doing it either. To be pro-life is to be pro-LIFE (which is why our coffee mug and the forthcoming blend do not say pro-life, but life). All the way through. Thoroughly. Completely. And this may mean as you pick up your pro-life position, you may really need to do some serious introspection and ask whether you need to put down some others in order to exude the sort of consistency necessary for integrity and change.

2) This HAS to get beyond partisan and religious politics! There’s no other way to say it. For far too long, the pro-life position has been constructed and then re-inforced as a Republican agenda piece, to the degree that Democrat has become synonymous with pro-choice and Republican has become synonymous with anti-choice. Two things to note here: First, both parties are to blame for this construct, but so are the converts that ultimately buy into and champion this sort of categorical thinking. I’ve already seen many Republicans promoting this election as an “opportunity” get the pro-life position legislated. Whatever truth there may be in that, it reinforces the idea that this is primarily a legislative partisan issue. I’ll say more on that momentarily. Second, this sort of thinking leaves out huge swaths of people and convictions that don’t align with such views. As this election has shown the breakdown in the partisan politics, so it must also mean the breakdown of partisan representative groups. While a good deal of pro-life proponents are religious and conservative, this is far from representative of the whole. Millions of pro-life individuals identify as neither religious nor conservative, as typically defined. It’s time for the sake of the movement (and that, ultimately, is what this must become again, not a position), that the diversity of the pro-life movement has to be celebrated. Partisan homogeneity is not going to get the job done.

3) The pro-life position cannot be legislated, primarily. This is the major flaw in the political view. Just as with the whole of social issues throughout the course of national democracy, we cannot “law” ourselves into the right decision. Whatever may come of Supreme Court nominations, we would be deluded to think that that would reverse the course that we have set for ourselves as a nation. Every issue in social progress, and I speak here as a historian, has happened with three things: 1) Proper, bi or multi-partisan legislation (so yes, it is important, but it is not the end-all); 2) Changing the moral consciousness of society; 3) Change in ecclesial (church) consciousness. In all three of these dimensions is much work desperately needed. But re-framing the conversation in the ways propositioned above are incredibly important in doing this. We must expand the boundaries of the position; we must seek to find friends and allies that live outside our political or religious convictions; we must express deep compassion and conviction for both the mother and child, beyond the choice of giving birth; we must explore creative options beyond simple birth or abortion; we must recognize the importance of the complex scenarios some women find themselves in and learn to think and speak intelligently and emphatically around those scenarios.

4) We have to change our public and personal rhetoric in sweeping ways. Part of this will happen as we work to move away from partisan politics and as we take on a bigger portrait of what being “pro-life” really is, but it stands that a great deal of the rhetoric involved in the issue is less than grace filled. This, again, comes from both sides: to speak, as places like Planned Parenthood or certain Democrat politicians do, of abortion as solely a woman’s heath-care right and crisis pregnancy centers as brainwashing organizations is to suggest that it is the intent of pro-lifers to victimize the mother. This is dead wrong. In fact, I would argue that with the consistent pro-lifer, it is actually an empowerment to women. I am unashamedly a feminist (man)! It's not about the choice, of which nobody denies you have one and can continue to have one, but the ability to do the hard stuff of life! To be able to raise a child, even single handedly, and be a good and beautiful and capable and loving mother is not taking anything away but honoring something great in you! But equally, pro-lifers must ensure that any language used does not heap shame, stigmatization, or pain upon the mother as she wrestles with the choices. We must be inviting, loving, grace filled, encouraging, hopeful, inclusive, honoring, in our words and we must follow this up with actions that are even more than that! If we live out what we say--that is, if we live out the principles of LIFE--then we cannot be accused of anything less. 

Over the next six weeks, we have a variety of posters that we believe will help reframe the conversation. If you are skeptical or resistant to the pro-life position, we ask that you take an open mind and heart here and be patient as our contributors talk through the issues. As we move forward in this conversation, we have structured our organization to be creatively supporting of this issue. For the short term, $1/mug (of every mug, not just the LIFE mug) will go to support a local crisis pregnancy center from now to December 31st. That’s the short term. And starting December 1st, we’re releasing a coffee blend that will go to support the work of such centers as a whole. Details will still emerge on that, but this will be part of our long term support strategy, meaning that as long as you drink the LIFE blend, a part of the proceeds will go to support crisis pregnancy counseling!! Our hope is to be able to support these organizations with hundreds of dollars on a monthly basis and, at the same time, keep the conversation going over a common cup of joe.

Again, this conversation needs new framing and now--as opposed to various other points over the past decade--I think we have an incredible chance to talk about abortion, life, and the choices that surround it as well as the options that women have in making a decision. And if you feel so compelled, join us in purchasing a LIFE mug and/or pre-order the coffee for yourself or for somebody you know! Money will go back into the local work that these counselors do!

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