The Language of Life

Planned Parenthood has seen the polling data and is backing away from the term “pro-choice.” This is not surprising.

You cannot claim to support a woman’s “right to choose” unless you fill in the blank and say what she can choose. In the case of abortion advocacy, the “right to choose” means the right of a woman to choose to kill her unborn child. Who is comfortable supporting that?

Planned Parenthood has produced a video, “Not in Her Shoes,” to supposedly break down both the pro-choice and pro-life labels and reflect the complexity the decision to have an abortion. But the truth is that while the circumstances that lead a woman to consider abortion may be complex, abortion itself is very simple.

Abortion ends the life of an unborn child. It kills an innocent, unique human person. Abortion subjects the weak and vulnerable to the whims of the powerful. Changing terminology cannot change that reality.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some who oppose abortion who want to eschew the label “pro-life.” They view it as too soft. After forty years of legalized abortion, they are impatient for legislative changes. They are embracing the labels “anti-abortion” and “abortion abolitionist.”

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, explains this shift by saying, “Anti-drunk driving groups are not pro-sober driver groups. Anti-smoking groups are not pro-clean air groups.” Troy Newman of Operation Rescue writes in Refocusing the Pro-Life Movement for Victory, “Our movement needs to take the public past the point of being ‘sentimentally pro-life’ to being aggressively against abortion.” [Hawkins responds to this article on HLI’s Truth and Charity Forum here.]

For those whose focus is a legislative means to stopping abortion, such a shift may be politically prudent. Since so much of the apparently weakening “pro-choice” movement is the denial of what abortion actually is, it makes great sense to keep the focus on the facts of how destructive abortion is. To see abortion for what it is, is to see something indefensible, which is why the lies about abortion must be exposed for what they are.

mother and babyBut being pro-life means recognizing the intrinsic dignity of all human life from conception to natural death. It means recognizing that life is a cherished gift born of the sexual embrace of a man and woman. It is not a commodity that can be manufactured, bought, sold, and finally discarded when no longer deemed useful. We must not abandon this principle for the sake of political pragmatism.

When a man breaks his leg, we can and should relieve his symptom of pain, but if we do not set the bone he will remain crippled. Similarly, abortion is not only a crime against humanity; it is a symptom of a much greater cultural disorder. Like any symptom, its relief does not necessarily cure the disease. We must win the legislative battles against abortion. If we do not confront the culture of death, then this disease will rear its ugly head in another manifestation of a deeper cultural malady.

The path of the culture of death can be traced as it has seeped through our culture like a cancer. The Anglican Communion’s 1930 Lambeth Conference declaration that contraceptives were acceptable within marriage made mainstream the idea that children were no longer cherished blessings and an intrinsic purpose of a marriage, but acquisitions obtained for the benefit of their parents. This attitude intensified with the ready availability of oral contraceptives in the 1960’s.

Once children became a purely optional outcome of sexual activity, as predicted, they were dehumanized. It was a natural extension of this thinking to abort a child whose conception was unplanned and unwanted. And then the growth of the culture of death exploded.

If unborn children are disposable through abortion, then why shouldn’t we treat human embryos with a similar lack of dignity? If procreation is no longer a purpose of marriage, why should it be limited to one man and one woman? If inconvenient human life can be killed before birth, then why shouldn’t we kill any human life that is too burdensome?

Thus we can see that abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the destruction of human embryos and the assault on marriage and the family are all symptoms of a common ailment: the rejection of the dignity and sanctity of human life.

Clearly, abortion must be opposed and anyone who is pro-life must be an abortion abolitionist. But when over 500,000 of us gathered in Washington D.C. in frigid temperatures to march down Constitution Avenue in the annual March for Life, we were not just marching against abortion. We were marching in solidarity with the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the infirmed, and all the vulnerable whose lives might be deemed unworthy by a society poisoned by the culture of death.

Just as we cannot dismiss or minimize the enormous tragedy of the 55 million lives lost to abortion and the countless men and women who suffer the physical and emotional scars of abortion, we also cannot believe that if we just made abortion illegal, that all will be right with the world.

The culture of death is a multi-headed dragon that must be destroyed at its heart. Just as there are organizations, and groups of organizations, who prudently target a single facet of the culture, there must be others who address the whole picture. It would be a mistake to redefine the entire pro-life cause as purely an abortion abolition movement. It is essential, but not enough, to oppose abortion. On January 25th we marched for all human life. We must courageously be pro-life.

Denise Hunnell, M.D.


Dr. Denise Jackson Hunnell is a Fellow of Human Life International. She has contributed work to local and national Catholic publications as well as to secular newspapers including the Washington Post and the Washington Times. Dr. Hunnell has been married for nearly thirty years to Colonel (ret) John F. Hunnell, an Air Force test pilot. They have four children and are blessed with two grandchildren so far.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • James H, London

    Alas, the whole edifice of the Culture of Death has contraception at its
    foundation. I can’t see any way to stop it, without removing that. And
    contraception won’t be removed bar a civilisation-wide collapse of the
    order of the Dark Ages in Europe. I’d like to be wrong, but if I were
    seeing things from God’s point of view, I’d be willing to sacrifice an
    awful lot, just to excise that particular cancer.

  • ctm

    I say it again. We should be calling pro-choice supporters what they truly are and that is PRO-DEATH. All this dancing around the language, looking for a more adequate or succinct moniker is moot. There is no need to change the pro-life label to anything else, it is plain and it is simple. But, there remains a great need to call out those who support and finance death, call them out and call them what they are. We have allowed them to skulk in the shadows and use soft language for far too long. There is a swelling movement in this country to stop funding abortion clinics with tax payer dollars, now is the time for people who support life to jump on board that band wagon. Get active, write your legislators, volunteer, go to marches and stand outside of abortion clinics to pray (NEVER to incite violence, ever). While there are state legislators and governors trying to defund taxpayer support to abortion clinics, there are elements within the White House and some support from certain legislators that seek to incorporate programs into health care legislation that would limit care to persons over a certain age, and to those with serious health conditions over a certain age. Wake up Christian America! When college students are flocking to a booth that offers them the opportunity to volunteer to clean up animal poop at the local pet shelter, but the nearby booth supporting pro-life is seeing very little interest, America, we have a problem!

  • pupsncats

    The only way a culture steeped in immorality, vice and the commodification of human life will be through a miracle performed by God himself. Why? As your article pointed out, human life in the modern world is not cherished. It is not cherished because modern man has darkened his mind, heart and soul to the laws of God and of Nature. The only way out of the darkness is through recognizing Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life and without the graces that only the true Catholic Church can confer on man, there is no hope of this. Modern man, even many of those members of the Vatican II church-the church created to embrace Modernsim-has no desire to listen, see or understand who God is and how life is meaningless without him.

    Only grace from God can open the mind, heart and soul and grace is not given to those who do not believe.

    I believe God is separating the wheat from the chaff in a most profound way today. Jesus knew there would be few true believer’s when he returned and it is obvious how right he was.