The Great Hypocrisy of the Pro-Life Movement

To understand the remarkable moral, political and intellectual collapse of the pro-life movement, look to the Alabama Supreme Court, not just to Donald Trump’s recent pledge not to sign a national abortion ban or Kari Lake’s flip-flop on Arizona’s reinstated 1864 anti-abortion law.

When the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that I.V.F. embryos were subject to the state’s wrongful death statute, it forced the pro-life movement to fully examine the cultural and political implications of its position on unborn children, and pro-life Republicans blinked. They caved, almost instantly, on a core philosophical element of the movement — the incalculable value of every human life no matter how small — and the movement is now standing by or even applauding as Trump is turning the Republican Party into a pro-choice party, one more moderate than the Democrats, but pro-choice still.

The traditional pro-life argument comes from different religious and secular sources, but they all rest on a common belief: From the moment of conception, an unborn child is a separate human life. Yes, the baby is completely dependent on the mother, but it is still a separate human life. The baby’s life isn’t more important than the mother’s — which is why the best-drafted pro-life laws protect the life and physical health of the mother — but it possesses incalculable worth nonetheless. Absent extreme circumstances, the unborn child must not be intentionally killed.

And while pro-life Americans can disagree about how to protect unborn children — whether it’s primarily through legal restrictions, primarily through measures meant to reduce the demand for abortion, or primarily through a combination of abortion restrictions or financial assistance to mothers and families — there has long been agreement on that one core claim: From the moment of conception, an unborn child is a person worth protecting.

From that standpoint, the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision in February holding that the state’s wrongful death statute applied to embryos frozen and preserved as part of the in vitro fertilization process should not have been surprising at all. If state law can declare an unborn child to be a separate human life, then of course that would apply to all unborn children, including those conceived as part of fertility treatments. Even though the embryos are frozen and exist outside the womb, they are still human — no less human than those created through conventional means.

But I have many pro-choice friends who would read the paragraphs above and scoff. They have good-faith disagreements about when an embryo or fetus becomes a “person” entitled to legal protection, and they disagree about the intentions of the pro-life movement. They argue that the pro-life movement is about power and control. It’s about seeking to constrain the choices women can make, to keep women in the home, and to maintain male dominance. The rhetoric about the value of all life and the rhetoric of self-sacrifice is a ruse. At the end of the day, the pro-life argument is a weapon to be wielded against people Republicans don’t like.

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