Maybe you’ve read something about the debate over whether we should call ourselves “pro-life” or “anti-abortion.” Voices come from within and outside the movement.

A writer at says you shouldn’t call yourself pro-life unless you adopt his laundry list of policy positions.1 Among other things, you must: Oppose capital punishment, torture, and assault weapons; support hate crime laws, the Violence Against Women Act, gender equality, extensive veterans benefits, universal health care, affordable housing, a living wage, action on global warming, banking regulations, unemployment benefits, the Family and Medical Leave act, the EPA, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He didn’t say where he stands on abortion, except to mention that “it’s admirable to care about the heartbeat of an unborn child.” I think he was being sarcastic.

Members of our movement do agree it is pro-life to rescue women from human trafficking, feed the hungry, welcome refugees, and protect the environment. They make a compelling case that opposition to abortion is not enough.

In fact, as we talk with people in other countries we find their definition of “pro-life” can also be quite broad. Their ministries often include health care, education, and clean water initiatives in outreach to street children, widows, and people who have HIV/AIDS.

While we acknowledge the biblical pro-life ethic reaches beyond abortion, the reason we’ve focused on that particular violation of the sanctity of human life (along with assisted suicide and euthanasia) is because these attacks on the sanctity of human life are so highly orchestrated. Due to the breakdown in “traditional” values and the Judeo-Christian ethic, they enjoy widespread popular support and even government backing.


The Lazy Slander of the Pro-Life Cause (Public Discourse)

Why these activists don't like calling themselves 'pro-life' anymore (Washington Post)

Maybe the Pro-Life Definition is Fine Just As It Is (Save the Storks)

Videos from the Evangelicals for Life Conference (2017, Washington, DC)

Completely Pro-Life: A Sermon (Ron Sider, ESA)

Yet only the most depraved individual would be in favor of sex slavery, starvation, or letting sick people die, and many secular groups exist to eradicate these evils. No one ridicules you for standing up for the environment or animal rights, but they can look at you funny when you say you want to protect unborn babies and vulnerable old people.

Years ago, before Life Matters Worldwide existed, I toyed with the idea of joining Evangelicals for Social Action, who were (and still are) outspoken opponents of abortion. I held back because I didn’t care as much about some of their other causes: the nuclear arms race and a conflict in Central America.

My reasoning went like this: While the prospect of a nuclear winter is frightening, people weren’t then (nor are they now) actually suffering from it, but thousands die in abortion clinics every day. And, as beleaguered as the victims of atrocities may be, many are capable of fighting for themselves while the unborn cannot even cry out.

Today I see the situation in much the same way: Which cause is most urgent? Who needs my help most? We want to “run to the sound of the gunfire.” If society cannot protect its most vulnerable, everyone’s in trouble.

Who will decide what's included in "pro-life"? I don't know, but I think this is a good discussion to have 40+ years after Roe v. Wade. If we all take the biblical pro-life ethic seriously and personally, we'll each decide for ourselves and enrich the pro-life movement.

I'll leave you with this thought from Ray Ortlund, citing Francis Schaeffer:

“True Christianity produces beauty as well as truth. . . . If we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim.” This is a common blind spot among Bible-believing people. An orthodox doctrinal statement on paper might make us proud, but it alone will not make us convincing. Gospel doctrine must create gospel culture. Without that, we are trifling with the truth."

Related post: For more on this topic, see "A consistent ethic."

1. Christopher Lamb, “It’s Time To Redefine What We Mean By Pro-Life. Take This Quiz.” Huffington Post, 1/30/2017,, accessed 3/8/2017.

© 2022 Life Matters Worldwide. Privacy Policy
Life Matters WorldwideP.O. Box 3158Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501(616) 257-6800