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The Lazy Slander of the Pro-Life Cause

May 13th, 2011

by Helen Alvaré, Greg Pfundstein, Matthew Schmitz and Ryan T. Anderson

This article was first published January 17, 2011 at publicdiscourse.com.

Do pro-lifers care about life after birth?

One of the most frequently repeated truisms of the abortion debate is that pro-lifers really don’t care about life. As much as they talk about protecting the unborn, we are told, pro-lifers do nothing to support mothers and infants who are already in the world. Liberal writers such as Matthew Yglesias are given to observing that pro-lifers believe that “life begins at conception and ends at birth.” At Commonweal, David Gibson, a journalist who frequently covers the abortion debate, asks how much pro-lifers do for mothers: “I just want to know what realistic steps they are proposing or backing. I’m not sure I’d expect to hear anything from pro-life groups now since there’s really been nothing for years.”

This lazy slander is as common as it is untrue. Of course, there is much more that needs to be done, but in the decades since Roe v. Wade, pro-lifers have taken the lead in offering vital services to mothers and infants in need. Operating with little support–and often actual opposition–from agencies, foundations, and local governments, pro-lifers have relied upon a network of committed donors and volunteers to make great strides in supporting mothers and their infants. It’s time the media takes notice.

In the United States there are some 2,300 affiliates of the three largest pregnancy resource center umbrella groups, Heartbeat International, CareNet, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA). Over 1.9 million American women take advantage of these services each year. Many stay at one of the 350 residential facilities for women and children operated by pro-life groups. In New York City alone, there are twenty-two centers serving 12,000 women a year. These centers provide services including pre-natal care, STI testing, STI treatment, ultrasound, childbirth classes, labor coaching, midwife services, lactation consultation, nutrition consulting, social work, abstinence education, parenting classes, material assistance, and post-abortion counseling.

Religious groups also provide crucial services to needy mothers and infants. John Cardinal O’Connor, the late Archbishop of New York, famously pledged to assist any woman from anywhere experiencing a crisis pregnancy, and the current Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, recently renewed Cardinal O’Connor’s pledge. The Catholic Church–perhaps the single most influential pro-life institution in the United States–makes the largest financial, institutional and personnel commitments to charitable causes of any private source in the United States. These include AIDS ministry, health care, education, housing services, and care for the elderly, disabled, and immigrants. In 2004 alone, 562 Catholic hospitals treated over 85 million patients; Catholic elementary and high schools educated over 2 million students; Catholic colleges educated nearly 800,000 students; Catholic Charities served over eight-and-a-half million different individuals. In 2007, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development awarded nine million dollars in grants to reduce poverty. And in 2009, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network spent nearly five million dollars in services for impoverished immigrants.

The Catholic Church is far from the only pro-life religious group that assists the needy. At the Manhattan Bible Church, a pro-life church in New York since 1973, Pastor Bill Devlin and his congregation run a soup kitchen that has served over a million people and a K-8 school that has educated 90,000 needy students. Pastor Devlin and other church families have adopted scores of babies, and taken in scores of pregnant women, including some who were both drug-addicted and HIV positive. The church runs a one-hundred-and-fifty bed residential drug rehabilitation center and a prison ministry at Rikers Island. All told, the church runs some forty ministries, and all without a government dime.

No major pro-abortion group or institution has taken on a comparable commitment to vulnerable Americans. Pregnancy resource centers devote significant resources to supporting women who have already decided to have an abortion, but abortion advocates offer no similar support to women who wish to continue their pregnancies. Indeed, they often devote their resources to shutting down the services provided by pro-lifers. NARAL Pro-Choice America reports spending twenty thousand dollars on “crisis pregnancy centers” in Maryland in order to “investigate” and publicly smear such centers for demonstrating a bias for life. (One might point out that the same bias once motivated the entire medical profession.)

If pro-life Americans provide so many (often free) services to the poor and vulnerable–work easily discovered by any researcher or journalist with an Internet connection–why are they sometimes accused of caring only for life inside the womb? Quite possibly, it is the conviction of abortion advocates that “caring for the born” translates first and always into advocacy for government programs and funds. In other words, abortion advocates appear to conflate charitable works and civil society with government action. The pro-life movement does not. Rather, it takes up the work of assisting women and children and families, one fundraiser and hotline and billboard at a time. Still, the pro-life movement is not unsophisticated about the relationship between abortion rates and government policies in areas such as education, marriage, employment, housing, and taxation. The Catholic Church, for example, works with particular vigor to ensure that its social justice agenda integrates advocacy for various born, vulnerable groups, with incentives to choose life over abortion.

One of the significant ironies of accusing pro-lifers of being “anti-vulnerable,” “anti-women,” and “anti-poor” is that poor women tend to be more pro-life than their more privileged counterparts. It is especially important, therefore, to offer them options that do not simply appeal to their economic interest or personal autonomy narrowly understood, but rather that accord with their moral outlook and overall wellbeing.

Abortion advocates, however, continually argue that one public policy in particular–further increases in government-supplied birth control–can become a panacea for high abortion rates. However, there is more than a little doubt about the claimed relationship between contraception programs and abortion rates. Rather, in the altered sex and marriage markets made possible by contraception and legal abortion, more and more women engage in non-marital sex without any “shotgun marriage” guarantee in the event of pregnancy. This leads (ironically) to more non-marital pregnancies, more non-marital births, more sexually transmitted diseases, and (irony of ironies) more abortions.

Figures out just in the past few weeks show that this contraception-related increase in abortion is not limited to the United States. In Spain, legal availability of birth control and abortion has drastically increased, with some 60% more women reporting that they used contraception in 2007 than in 1997. Over the same period, researchers found abortion rates more than doubled. The results of government policies promoting widespread contraception are clear: more of every outcome that birth control and abortion were promised to curb, including non-marital pregnancies, births, and abortions. Not to mention sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment; is it any coincidence that Planned Parenthood serves roughly the same percentage of clients for STIs (31%) as it does for contraception (36%)?

No one doubts that birth control used in a particular instance of sexual intimacy increases a woman’s chances of avoiding pregnancy. But the social policy of widely available birth control has been accompanied by an increase of out-of-wedlock births and abortions. In New York City some 41% of all viable pregnancies ended in abortion in 2009 despite the fact that the city distributed 40 million free condoms during the same year.

The insistence that pro-lifers make birth control the centerpiece of a pro-life strategy has reaped a three-fold reward for abortion advocates. First, its surface logic (“birth control equals no baby”) has blinded onlookers to the historical results of birth control as a social policy. Second, pro-lifers are easily tagged as “religious zealots,” ignoring the most obvious solution to abortion for irrational, theological reasons. Third, abortion advocates can claim to be women’s best friend–by increasing sexual autonomy–despite the dubious effects of their proposed solution.

In sum then, the charge should be laid to rest once and for all that the pro-life movement is not active on behalf of women, children, and vulnerable persons generally. Those bringing the charge–the same groups that do very little personally to help women and children–should be held to account, both for their lack of real charity and for their refusal to acknowledge that their entire strategy–state supplied birth control and unlimited abortion–has backfired upon the very groups they promised to help.

While the pro-life cause has always been animated by the conviction that life begins at conception, it has never forgotten that it continues after birth. The pro-life movement’s message has been vindicated by 40 years of legalized abortion: the personal dignity, happiness, and prosperity of women, children, men, and the nation is advanced when life is cherished both before and after birth.

Helen Alvaré is associate professor at George Mason University School of Law and a senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. Greg Pfundstein is the executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation. Matthew Schmitz is managing editor of Public Discourse. Ryan T. Anderson is editor of Public Discourse.

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  1. Sean
    May 14th, 2011 at 04:15 | #1

    When so many conservatives oppose life-giving and life-saving programs such as national health care and S-CHIP for kids, it remains a fact that many are just anti-abortion, not pro-life. There are just too many instances where the ill health or death of someone is acceptable, even while being anti-abortion.

  2. May 14th, 2011 at 16:33 | #2

    @Sean Here you go with more red herrings and straw men.
    National health care will do nothing but put us deeper in debt, provide “health” services for elective procedures, besides being against the Constitution. S-CHIP for kids is also the government going against the law. We don’t need government nannies to take care of people from cradle to grave. These programs are not “live-saving” or “life-giving.” Now how about giving a real example where Christians (not all conservatives are Christians) say that ill health or death is acceptable?

  3. nerdygirl
    May 14th, 2011 at 19:24 | #3

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    How is national health care against the constitution anyway?

  4. May 15th, 2011 at 06:03 | #4

    @nerdygirl Find in the Constitution where it allows the Federal government to dictate to its people what products to buy; find where it says the government can dictated what medical procedures must be covered by insurance companies; find where it says an expenditure for this purpose can be made. ETC. If you don’t know why it is against the Constitution, perhaps you need to read that document.

  5. Sean
    May 15th, 2011 at 06:05 | #5

    Glenn, as usual, you miss the point. If you are really “pro-life,” you’d do things that nurture and care for life. You don’t, you’re just anti-abortion. Many other countries appear to be successfully giving all their citizens access to health care, and at lower cost than our system, which grants health care to the employed and/or well to do.

    Just think how much more seriously the “pro-life”/anti-abortion point of view was if you really WERE pro-life: health care access for all, against capital punishment, etc.! Did you ever think of that? Did you ever think about how it’s easy to dismiss the anti-abortion point of view because of the inconsistencies and inaccuracy of claiming to be pro-life, when you’re not?

  6. nerdygirl
    May 15th, 2011 at 19:33 | #6

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    Wait, so taxes for municipal roads is cool, but taxes for national healthcare isn’t?

    Conversely, Republicans in Florida had that whole private insurance companies aren’t allowed to cover abortion. Thats both against republican stance of not interfering with private business and against the constitution.

  7. May 16th, 2011 at 06:56 | #7

    @Sean You have just made an unsubstantiated accusation about what I (or any anti-abortion person) does. Your claim about what other countries do is hilarious – have you even examined the health care in these other countries? Usually substandard with long waiting lists, and the government decides who is entitled to what health care!

    Everyone already has access to health care; capital punishment is ordained by God for and actually protects life by ridding society of those who take lives. “Pro-life” is indeed a misnomer but the context is only about the abortion issue. So stick with the context.

  8. May 16th, 2011 at 07:01 | #8

    @nerdygirl Individual states have the right, under their individual constitutions to determine what to tax and what to spend money on, just as the federal government has the right to tax and to determine what to spend taxes on by the U.S. Constitution. When you go outside of the Constitutions you violate the laws. What is the point in having laws if no one obeys them?

    Health care is available to everyone individually, and individually we have the right to choose what we want to do with our physical heath. Roads are not something individuals can make decisions about since they are used by everyone and must be controlled by the state. You are trying to compare unlike issues, which is totally illogical.

    As for banning insurance companies from paying for abortion, that is no different than banning business from selling guns to criminals. There is nothing wrong with telling an insurance company that they cannot pay for murders. Paying someone to murder is illegal.

  9. Deb
    May 16th, 2011 at 11:42 | #9


    “Just think how much more seriously the “pro-life”/anti-abortion point of view was if you really WERE pro-life: health care access for all, against capital punishment, etc.! Did you ever think of that? Did you ever think about how it’s easy to dismiss the anti-abortion point of view because of the inconsistencies and inaccuracy of claiming to be pro-life, when you’re not?”

    Did you ever think you are being prejudice by assuming the beliefs of the pro-life crowd on other social issues? Does it make it easier for you then to support the killing of babies in the womb by lumping the supporters of said babies into this “don’t really care for life” group? That is the point of this article.

  10. May 16th, 2011 at 16:04 | #10

    The point of the article is that pro-lifers put their own personal resources behind their beliefs, giving both their money and time to support vulnerable women. Show us the comparable commitment of pro-abortion advocates. Talking exclusively about government programs, as if that were the only way to support the needy and vulnerable: could it be that your pro-government spending ideology is more important to some of you than actually doing something to help people?

  11. nerdygirl
    May 16th, 2011 at 16:25 | #11

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    Well, too bad “murder” is legal. So, yes, that particualr instance I’m citing is rather hypocritical, thanks for skipping that part.

    Of course, I still don’t really see how a national health care plan, especially if there’s still the option for private insurance, is against the constitution. And I mean, while everyone’s health is their own business, when people neglect it, it wears down the community, and thus nation as a whole. So while roads and sidewalks are there for everyone, even if people don’t use them, wouldn’t it make sense to have a national health care plan, even if some people don’t use it?

  12. nerdygirl
    May 16th, 2011 at 17:14 | #12

    @Jennifer Roback Morse
    Conversely, could it be that pro-government enforcement of traditional marriage is more important then actually helping strengthen traditional marriage?

  13. Brandon
    May 17th, 2011 at 06:15 | #13

    nerdygirl :
    @Jennifer Roback Morse
    Conversely, could it be that pro-government enforcement of traditional marriage is more important then actually helping strengthen traditional marriage?

    You mean anti-government redefinition of an age-old institution of civil society, anti-government expansion of powers over family life? Surely you have been around on this blog long enough to know Dr. Morse’s position on this issue. This characterization of her arguments is disingenuous. If you believe that supporting natural marriage is pro-government, then let’s hear your refutation of her arguments.

  14. May 17th, 2011 at 06:49 | #14

    @nerdygirl Read the Constitution and then tell me where it authorizes a National health care plan. Either we are a nation of laws or we are not, and the latter seems to be the truth more and more daily.

  15. May 17th, 2011 at 07:55 | #15

    Great article. Whenever I read of or hear someone parroting the “you pro-lifers don’t care about the living”, I think to myself, “really? Have you bothered to look?” Lazy slander – a great way of putting it.


  16. Leo
    May 17th, 2011 at 08:39 | #16

    Our current mixed public and private healthcare delivery system in this country is quite complicated and delivers mixed results with a very high price tag compared to other countries. There is definitely room for improvement. I am open to the idea of government health insurance, and I might respectfully disagree with Glenn over some of the issues involved. That, however, is a bit beside the point. Glenn favors the private sector not because he believes it denies people care, but because he believes it is the best way to provide care.

    A number of European countries have both government health insurance and restrictions on abortion, so being pro-life is not at all incompatible with being pro-public health care. I would like to see more U.S. politicians who were both populist and socially conservative, but there is no party for them. I believe many pro-life Democrats who might provide the core of such a movement either left or were forced out of the Democratic Party over the abortion issue and became either Reagan Democrats or Independents. The latter group, however, has no real party organization, and third parties are hard to form.

    Dr. J’s point still stands. I see numerous examples of Catholic and other religious charities providing healthcare and other benefits to families. Where is the corresponding effort from the other side using their own money instead of taxpayer money?

  17. Paul
    May 17th, 2011 at 09:42 | #17

    But we would have to pay a fine if we do not get insurance. “In 2016, when the penalty is fully phased in, it will be $695 for an individual (up to $2,085 per family) or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is greater. The penalty will increase annually based on the cost of living.”


    That means that we would not be allowed to not have insurance.

    As for this statement: “And I mean, while everyone’s health is their own business, when people neglect it, it wears down the community, and thus nation as a whole. ” This sounds an awful lot like Germany in the late 1930’s. They wanted to cleanse their society of those that drained state resources. Those that were “unfit” were force to submit.


    Now, I am not saying you are a Nazi, or even that this comment refers to that…it is just the first thing that it made me think of. That is a scary road to go down.

    People should notice when someone is a drain on state resources, but the government should not be in that business. That is a local or state concern. Or in a better world, it would be private citizens and companies that help those who really need it…not the Gov’t.

  18. nerdygirl
    May 17th, 2011 at 15:30 | #18

    I’m not saying I agree with forcing everyone to carry a type of insurance. In short, I’m okay with people opting out, and I’m not necessarily entirely on board with the current plan, but I find the idea that a national healthcare plan is *inherently* unconstitutional, or un-american is thin at best. But part of the reason I’m okay with national plan would be that it should help families with stretched budgets stay insured.

    “They wanted to cleanse their society of those that drained state resources. Those that were “unfit” were force to submit.”

    Enh. Let’s not Godwin this. I disagree that my statment had any twinges of nazism (socialism, perhaps, but certainly not nazi socialists) But to be fair, multiple other commentors, and the blog itsef goes into rants about the nanny-state and how people shouldn’t be on it, etc. Doesn’t that reek of social darwinism? If people can’t survive on their own, why should the government help them?

    I’m not saying anyone necessarily is a social darwinist, but darned if i’m my ideas are going to be semi-insinuated as being nazism without biting back.

  19. nerdygirl
    May 17th, 2011 at 15:36 | #19

    And her characterization of our stance on helping the needy and vulnerable was similarly disingenuous.

    If she wanted to stop the threadjack, she could have done so politely. Snark begets snark.

    And yeah, I find the idea of amending state and national governments to prevent gay marriage to be pro-government.

  20. May 18th, 2011 at 15:39 | #20

    @nerdygirl Amending constitutions to prevent SSM isn’t pro-government – it is stopping a redefinition of a word. What do you want to redefine next?

  21. nerdygirl
    May 18th, 2011 at 19:17 | #21

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    I suggest we change seals to sea kittens!

    Right. Using the government to enforce civil issues isn’t pro-government at all.

  22. May 19th, 2011 at 06:10 | #22

    @nerdygirl I suppose by using the government to make laws against crime – a civil issue – is pro-government also?

  23. Leo
    May 19th, 2011 at 08:02 | #23

    I don’t know what “pro-government” means in this context. I like some government and prefer it to anarchy. I think government regulation of markets can in principle prevent or ameliorate some very undesirable things. There is currently a thread on what libertarian marriage might look like. (See The Incoherent Libertarian Position on Marriage).

  24. May 19th, 2011 at 09:32 | #24

    Did you even read the article you just commented on? If you did, exactly which of its assertions are you disputing? You’re merely repeating the accusations that are factually refuted in the article. ???

  25. nerdygirl
    May 19th, 2011 at 19:35 | #25

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    Perhaps, but I’m not the one assuming “pro-government” is synonymous with “unamerican” “evil” and “murders sea kittens”

  26. May 20th, 2011 at 09:36 | #26

    @nerdygirl Excuse me, but you are the one who said amending the constitution for any reason is pro-government. Now, how in the world did that come to be me assuming pro-government is synonymous with “unamerican” or “evil” or even “murderers of sea kittens.”?!?!?

  27. nerdygirl
    May 20th, 2011 at 20:03 | #27

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    The first person to throw around “pro-government” was Dr. Morse. It was negative in connotation. Your use of “pro-government” has also held negative connotations. I’m just snarkin’ ya both.
    Leo’s about the only who seems to have noticed that none of us are using a constant definition here.

  28. May 21st, 2011 at 08:20 | #28

    @nerdygirl I think there are indeed two definitions of “pro-government.” One is as Leo points out; that government is needed to prevent anarchy. It is also necessary for the national defense and a host of other things you will read in the Constitution. But the other definition of “pro-government” is the socialist/marxist idea of the government nanny which takes care of you from the cradle to the grave – IF they let you reach the cradle and IF they don’t hasten you to the grave!

  29. nerdygirl
    May 21st, 2011 at 21:12 | #29

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    Socialism and Marxism are two separate things. I hope you understand that there is a difference.

    (Bit of a hint though, neither hastens one to the grave any faster then a capitalist system, and if you believe otherwise, I can honestly say there’s no point to continue dialoguing with you)

  30. May 22nd, 2011 at 06:00 | #30

    @nerdygirl Marxism is a brand of socialism, the brand our current administration has brought to the table and which intends on converting this country to. Read the Cloward-Piven strategy – it is their playbook. Yes, the do hasten you to the grave when they take over the health care and determine who is worthy to receive it. Just look at Canada and Europe to see how many people have died due to denial of what in the USA we are provided. They have long waiting lists for needed care. Capitalists allow free-market medicine.

  31. nerdygirl
    May 22nd, 2011 at 19:15 | #31

    @Glenn E. Chatfield
    I bet you believe the moon landing was faked and 9/11 was an inside job too.

  32. May 23rd, 2011 at 05:59 | #32

    @nerdygirl You’d lose your bet.

  33. Cathy
    May 25th, 2011 at 21:36 | #33

    The “great” healthcare of other countries doesn’t explain why so many people from other countries, including poor people, come to the U.S. for health care when it was denied to them in their home countries. I personally know a man from Kenya and a woman from Mexico who received free health care here in the US, not to mention the many native-born American citizens who regularly receive free health care through municipal and religious hospitals. Then there was little baby Joseph Maraachli, who was flown to the U.S. by Priests for Life when the Canadian government health care system refused to allow him a life-saving tracheotomy in Canada. Socialized health care is rationed health care. Our present system allows people who have more money to pay more for health care. That gives Americans of all incomes the best health care in the world. It’s not perfect, and it can be made better. But denying care to the unborn, the elderly and all the most vulnerable among us is un-American, and that’s why there’s so much opposition to our President’s plan.

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