Why We Need To Cancel The Term 'Pro-Life'

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy, Alex Wong/Getty and George Pagan III/Unsplash

When I was nine years old, I attended my first protest. We held anti-abortion signs along the main street running through my town. Back then, I thought being pro-life only meant being anti-abortion— which as a cradle Catholic, I was led to believe was literal murder. Abortion was not permitted under any circumstances, including rape, incest, and risk to the mother’s life, at any stage in the pregnancy (IUDs, by preventing a blastocyst from adhering to the uterine wall, were abortifacient, and therefore caused murder; Catholic school sex ed taught me this).

“Pro-life” meant “pro-birth.” That was bad enough. But being pro-life comes with a lot more baggage than abortion.

People who call themselves “pro-life” support any other number of causes that violate the fundamental right to life. It’s the “get ’em born” mentality— get the babies out under any circumstances. After that, do what thou willst. And that means supporting anti-life conservative policies.

The Pro-Life Movement Supports… What? calls itself “The Pro-Life News Site.” It’s the biggest pro-life website out there— but when I clicked on it, I didn’t find arguments about abortion. I saw a giant photo of Joe Biden with the words “Joe Biden: ‘Voters Don’t Deserve to Know’ If I’m Packing Supreme Court with Radical Leftists.” LifeNews’s opening crawler also contains a picture of Kamala Harris and Mike Pence with the words, “New York Times: If You Thought Kamala Harris Was Condescending During Debate, You’re Sexist.” Another crawler article tells the reader that Kamala Harris Claims Amy Coney Barrett May Be ‘Biased’ Just Because She’s A Christian.

Huh? What’s this all have to do with abortion?

It doesn’t. At least, not unless you follow thread that liberals are bad because they support abortion and must be defeated all costs. According to the pro-life movement, anyone that isn’t anti-abortion is anathema. That includes every liberal in America. Therefore, the pro-life movement is inextricable from mainstream American conservatism.

Don’t believe me? According to LifeNews, a Catholic Archbishop from St. Louis says that if you’re voting for a candidate whose record favors abortion or who supports expanding abortion rights, you aren’t “forming a Catholic conscience in preparation to vote.” In other words: vote Republican or go to hell. Literally.

And Republicans have a decidedly anti-life record.

Conservatives Are Pro-Life? Really?


Trump’s America implemented a zero-tolerance policy on immigration in 2018, according to The Guardian. The result? Utter chaos in which children were separated from their parents without accurate record-keeping, and children in “detention centers” that were little more than cages. This from people calling themselves pro-life? But doesn’t the very phrase “pro-life” mean they were all for the lives of children?

Apparently not.

The conservative response to COVID-19 has been anything but pro-life. We’ve lost, so far, 215,000 Americans to the novel coronavirus, says The New York Times. Conservatives have politicized mask-wearing, one of the most effective ways to stop the virus. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, which The LA Times calls “a tea party Republican,” in a plea to open the country, said in April, “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? If that’s the exchange, I’m all in.” So basically: let’s sacrifice the old for the sake of economy— the furthest thing from pro-life.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Trump’s 2021 budget would slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by 180 billion over the next ten years: removing benefits from people who are not working at least 20 hours a week and “curtail[ing] students’ access to free and reduced-price school meals,” among other things. Who’d bear the brunt of this? The unemployed, the elderly, the disabled, and working families with children. This is taking food from people’s mouths. What could be less pro-life?

Pro-Life = Pro-Death?

According to Vox, a failed Texas bill would have imposed the death penalty on women who received illegal abortions— abortions the bill would have outlawed completely, including in cases of rape and incest. A Georgia bill, passed in 2019, calls fetuses with a detectable heartbeat “unborn children… a class of living, distinct person” which deserves “full legal recognition,” says Slate. Women who receive an abortion after six weeks, or after detectable “embryonic or fetal cardiac activity” are subject to life imprisonment and yes, even the death penalty.

Can you call a policy that advocates death pro-life?

The Movement’s Favorite Target

The pro-life movement’s favorite target is Planned Parenthood, which they see as an abortion mill. The American Life League’s STOPP, on their landing page, says that the organization is “racist”; that it has sold “aborted baby body parts” in California; that it’s “evil,” and that it’s “hooking kids on sex.”

So I called my local Planned Parenthood and asked what services they provided. A very nice receptionist told me that they do offer abortions and abortion referrals. But they also offer birth control (of all types from IUDs to Depo-Provera shots); pap smears and well-woman exams; a range of services for STIs (testing and treatment); referrals for pregnancy Medicaid and OB-GYNs; mammogram referrals; gender-affirming hormone therapy; vasectomies; free condoms; mental health referrals; adoption referrals; support for carrying a pregnancy to term; and support for abusive relationships, among other things. They often treat men.

Basic reproductive health care? Hormone therapy for transgender folks? Mental health referrals and support for abusive relationships? These are services that support people’s lives. Shutting down what is many people’s only access to these vital services isn’t supporting life.

It’s Time To Get Rid Of It

The “pro-life” movement is anything but. It’s time to ditch the term. If you’re against abortion but support Trump’s policies, you’re not pro-life. You’re anti-life: you’re against supporting people who already live and move through the world. You’re supporting policies that oppress children outside the womb after doing everything possible to get them here, even prohibiting access to birth control.

Trump is not a pro-life candidate. Period. His policies do not support life for the American people: from his stance on masks to his slashing free school lunches. The modern pro-life movement might be anti-abortion. But it’s certainly not pro-life, and the sooner we stop calling it what it’s not, the better.

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