Pro-Life Not As Anti-Choice
September 6, 2012
It has become commonplace for those who are pro-life to think that this means, if followed consistently, one must be anti-choice. That is, if one is in favor of choosing life, then that same person must be for outlawing abortion, perhaps even in cases of rape and/or incest. I submit that this is not necessary nor is it even admirable.
As I listened to Rick Santorum speak at the Republican convention about his daughter, Bella, I was struck by his passion, his love for this daughter and the strength of the love they shared. I did not hear a politician; I heard a father, a man who loved with his whole heart, his whole being, his daughter. And not a word about limiting choice; not a word about outlawing abortion; not a word about regulating it in ways that stop just short of outlawing it. Nor, I thought, were such words necessary. Rick Santorum had done in those moments what I never thought he could do: He made me respect him, he made me admire him, he made me applaud his and his wife’s choice or choices. And in those moments he made me pro-life – or perhaps to be fairer to myself, he confirmed my pro-life preferences.
There is, I was reminded then, a pro-life rhetoric that is as powerful as any rhetoric I have ever heard. It is the rhetoric that some like to draw on when they quote the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is the kind of rhetoric that moves people, that directs them and does so without the benefit of laws.
But further this rhetoric need not lead and should not lead to an anti-choice imperative. This rhetoric is so powerful that, if repeated and spoken as Santorum did it, it need not lead to an anti-choice agenda. People will choose life more often than not – but only if we speak a language and practice a politics of pro-life not only consistently but freely. Hence, those who are pro-life should not be anti-choice because it is our choices that define us. The opportunity to choose is the opportunity to be virtuous, to practice virtue, here to choose life. A choice constrained by law is not equivalent to an act performed freely, without a legal obligation to perform it. Hence, charity and welfare are two different phenomena because the one is given freely while the other is a legal requirement, a legal bequest. Similarly, as Aristotle noticed in his critique of Socratic communism, without private property, human beings cannot practice generosity, as they would have nothing to give to others freely and absent compulsion. Choice or freedom is absolutely necessary for virtue to be practiced, for human beings to be, well, human beings.
There is something about a regime based on rights that propels a society toward legal regulations because there is something about rights that enshrines or fortifies self-interest. As a result it is thought that absent strong laws, self-interest will prevail. But this could be wrong. The power of Rick Santorum’s rhetoric makes me think it is wrong. If human beings are given a choice, a real choice, between life and death, between love and self-interest, they will almost always choose life and love over death and self-interest.