I have a liberal friend who questioned the apparent paradox of a conservative friend’s political position. My liberal friend thought that being pro-life while at the same time being pro-death penalty (as many conservatives leaders are) were incompatible ideas. My conservative friend responded that denouncing the slaughter of innocents while supporting the just sentence of convicted felons who benefited from the opportunity for due process and endless judicial review is not the same thing. The unborn do not enjoy due process. He added as a point of clarification that my liberal friend was either “stupid or intellectually dishonest” to make such a comparison.
Such is the state of the pro-life debate in America as it is being played out on Facebook. For a tool meant to unite us with newly discovered acquaintances and long lost friends, it certainly can bring into focus profound fissures within our friendships and our social fabric. That said, these two liberal and conservative friends do get along swimmingly. They just happen to disagree about everything. I guess opposites do attract.
After some reflection on my two friends’ collegial Facebook debate, I think I have found the disconnect. Maybe I can help bridge their understanding. I could be the uniter, not the divider. As I see it, their disagreement is caused by ingenious marketing. My liberal friend thought pro-life meant pro-life in all circumstances. In reality, this is not the case.
The genius of the pro-life movement is its name. It is impossible, assuming you can inhale and exhale regularly, to be anti-life. Sure, everyone can have a bad day, but generally speaking, if you are alive and would prefer to stay that way, you are at your core pro-life. In marketing, it is better to be “for” something than “against” something. In this case, if you are not pro-life, then you are by definition anti-life, and that is an absurd position to defend in a moral society.
The reality is that pro-life doesn't really mean pro-life for everyone in every situation, as my liberal friend understood the movement. Pro-life means anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia only. It does not include a variety of other life-related issues, but pro-life as a title sells better. Other areas of life and death can therefore rest comfortably outside the traditional, what most people understand it to be, pro-life movement.
For example, support of capital punishment, regardless of its proven chance to exterminate the wrong person, is different to many pro-life advocates (like my conservative friend). Those defendants were found guilty in our “exceptional” system, and we need to protect the innocent and deter other potential criminals. Mistakes happen. Capital punishment support and pro-life sensibilities can live together in this world.
The slaughter of over 100,000 Iraqi citizens in the name of democracy, the ones who were killed in a war started on misinformation, is different. We were spreading freedom, and wars can be justified as moral imperatives. The use of torture on prisoners without the precious 'due process' is necessary in the name of security, and is different. The targeting of U.S. citizens for assassination is different because we know by looking at them that they are guilty. The destruction of natural resources and the collateral damage that does to people living nearby is necessary for the living to thrive economically, so it is different. Many a pro-life advocate is comfortable with these positions.
No wonder my liberal friend was confused.
The bottom line is that my conservative friend was arguing an anti-abortion position, and that's fine. That’s what pro-life means to him. Once you accept that life begins at conception, everything else becomes clear. My liberal friend thought pro-life was a more expansive belief that would bias my conservative friend’s other policy opinions about the period between conception and natural death. He was wrong.
Turns out the pro-life is only focused on the beginning and the end. All other life situations in between come with the caveat "but in this situation it is different".
Too harsh? At the GOP debates during this campaign cycle, the death of an uninsured person was cheered. The high number of executions in the state of Texas was cheered. The candidates supported torture as a reasonable means of national self-defense, and the crowd did not voice their opposition. I will guess that the audience at these events would describe themselves as staunchly pro-life, but the aforementioned situations – well, they’re different. None of those people were innocent in their minds. The uninsured person wasn’t poor – he was insufficiently disciplined and self-reliant. The executed man wasn’t innocent – the all-white jury said so. The people who were tortured – they were guilty of 9/11, weren’t they? That’s what we were told.
There may be things I don't know, but I do know that someone who believes there should be more people put to death and more people tortured is stretching things when they call themselves "pro-life". But it is darn good marketing.
I’m sure this will all get sorted out in the highest court in the land someday - Facebook.