Anyone who went to the 44th annual March for Life this past weekend in Washington, D.C. would have heard the term “pro-life” used quite frequently. Posters proclaimed, “We are the Pro-Life Generation,” and, “Pro-Women, Pro-life,” while groups such as “Secular Pro-Life” have even used the term in their organization’s name.
I have become so familiar with the word that I have never really given it much thought until this past weekend. This year’s march got more coverage than past years, possibly because of Vice President Pence’s presence. Yet, most media described the event as “anti-abortion,” a term which did not sit as well with me. Since the march is self-described as pro-life and working towards “a world where every human life is valued and protected,” I wondered if it was even a correct way to describe it.
After doing a bit of research, I learned that the Associated Press encourages the use of the terms “anti-abortion” and “abortion rights” when referring to the two sides of the abortion debate, and this explained why many of the news articles about the march used such phrasing. It seems that these words were favored because they were less charged than the more commonly heard words, “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” yet, these terms are not completely neutral either. The word “anti” sounds quite negative, while “rights” generally sounds positive. Even though anti-abortion is a concrete term, it also can seem superficial because it doesn’t allude to any of the reasons abortion is opposed.
Even if I am technically anti-abortion because I oppose abortion, I have almost always described myself as pro-life. It is the term I have heard most frequently, perhaps because it emphasizes the humanity and dignity of unborn children when used in the context of opposing abortion. It also has the advantage of sounding more positive than “anti-abortion.”
In addition, the term “pro-life” has the advantage of being understood in a broader way. In addition to a desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, many pro-lifers have concern for life issues at all stages, including overturning the death penalty and opposing physician-assisted suicide. Other concerns that have been described as pro-life causes include promoting racial equality, criminalizing pornography, protecting the environment, and helping refugees, among many others. Although agreeing with other issues is not required for participation in the March for Life, many people there acknowledged the importance of other causes regarding human dignity in their words and posters. Thus, while the march’s specific focus is related to abortion based on its taking place on or around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and ending at the Supreme Court, many people there seem to have embraced a wider understanding of what it means to be pro-life.
In a similar manner, those who use the term “pro-life” are often accused, “If you’re pro-life, then why don’t you support [insert cause here]?” There are two main problems in this criticism. The first is that it puts everyone in the pro-life movement into a small, labeled box associated with a particular political movement and supposes a superficial agenda. The truth is that the people at the march represented many different backgrounds—young and old, religious and non-religious, Republican and Democrat, male and female, etc. The second problem is that such a claim distracts from the issues at hand. Just because someone focuses on making abortion illegal does not mean that he or she does not support those other causes. Rather, the focus on abortion as a pressing issue comes from its insidiousness and massive scale. As Pope Francis has said, “The right to life is the first among human rights.”
In the end, is “anti-abortion” an accurate way to describe pro-life views? Personally, I would say “pro-life” is a generally better word, even when describing something specifically opposed to abortion, because it is both positive and emphasizes the understanding of human dignity that provides the foundation for such opposition. I can understand why the word “anti-abortion” is sometimes used in media, since it is recommended and very concrete. Yet, the term comes with its own set of problems, including limited scope and negativity.
Looking forward, at least, I will not be as surprised when I see something like the March for Life described as “anti-abortion,” but I will definitely continue to describe myself and the general movement as “pro-life,” a term which seems to me to be much more appropriate.
Reba Luffy is a senior honors mathematics and theology major. Unlike many of her peers, she actually loves South Bend weather. If you ever want to take a walk in the snow or contact her for any other reason, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.