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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Consistency from Pro-Life Advocates

One objection I sometimes hear is that if you're pro-life, you must also be vegetarian, and/or you can't support capital punishment or war. These objections usually stem from a philosophical problem: the person raising these objections is just not thinking clearly about the issue. More nuanced thinkers understand that there are differences between types of killing, and that there are issues which affect the moral equation.

It's important to begin by illustrating that in the pro-life view is that abortions on human beings is immoral and should generally be illegal. That's all that is indicated by someone in the abortion issue calling themselves "pro-life." Trying to argue that someone is not genuinely pro-life because they're not a vegetarian, or they support capital punishment, etc., makes a strong rhetorical point, but it's nonsense if you really think carefully about the issues. It is not within the scope of this article to give a thorough treatment of these issues; it is only to show that one can be consistently pro-life while taking these other factors into consideration.


I am sympathetic to the views of vegetarians. With the same passion that I believe we should not be killing the youngest members of our species, vegetarians (and vegans) believe that we should not be killing animals at all, for any reason. So must one be a vegetarian/vegan if they want to be consistently pro-life?

No. My position is that human beings are uniquely valuable, even over the animals. Humans have intrinsic value in and of themselves, and it is highly immoral to use them as a means to an end (which is what abortion does, to say nothing of the immorality of intentionally killing innocent human beings). It seems to me that one can make a consistent case that we can't kill innocent human beings (the pro-life position) but still support consuming animals for food.

It is my view that animals are only instrumentally valuable, that is, they are a means to an end. Animals are only valuable insofar as humans place value on them. Now that is not to say that I think they should be mistreated. They are still conscious creatures and they can suffer. I oppose hunting animals for sport, and I am also uncomfortable with locking animals up in zoos (though I have not yet made the leap into saying it's absolutely wrong). But I don't think it immoral to kill animals for a legitimate human need, like food and clothing. I realize that animals are killed en masse and probably suffer as they are killed. While I don't think it's wrong to kill them for a human need, I do think that we should take steps to ensure that these animals don't suffer when they die.

So I don't think vegetarians/vegans are crazy by supporting animal rights. I don't agree with them, but I can understand where they are coming from and I do share views in common with them. I just don't think it's always wrong to kill animals.

Capital punishment

So what about capital punishment? If one is pro-life, don't they have to oppose killing human beings? Innocent ones, yes. The problem that people who make this claim fail to realize is that there's a major difference between a child in the womb, who is innocent of any wrongdoing and is not even in the womb through any fault of their own, and a convicted murderer given a fair trial by his peers. The murderer is guilty of a heinous crime, whereas the unborn has done nothing except for simply existing in a situation that someone else has created.

Even the staunchest pro-life people should realize that it's not always wrong to take a human life. If someone is threatening the life of your or someone else, you have the moral right to take them out. If someone takes the life of another person, and is given a fair trial, then it is morally acceptable. They have forfeited their own right to live. Plus, in the case of capital punishment, this is not a case of revenge but of justice.

Now some may respond that innocent people have been killed through capital punishment, which is true, of course. Now someone could support capital punishment in theory, if not in practice for this reason. But with the advent of DNA testing this makes it far more unlikely. Plus, it is my view that capital punishment should not always be on the table. Very little doubt should be left if you are going to use this extreme form of punishment.


Now how about war? Surely someone who is pro-life can't support war. Generally I agree, but I think that there are times in which war can be justified. As much as I hate wars, I think there are times in which a nation may be obligated to go to war. There are innocent people who die in wars, which can't be avoided.

In my understanding of Just War Theory, certain criteria must be met. Thomas Aquinas laid out three conditions that a war must meet in order for it to be considered a just war:

1) Just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.
2) War must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain. For example, a war in the nation's interest or as an exercise of power is not just. A just cause would be for the sake of restoring some good that has been denied (lost territory, lost goods, punishment for an evil perpetrated by a government, army, or even citizen population).
3) Peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence. The right intention would be fighting for the just reasons the authority has expressly claimed for declaring war in the first place. Soldiers must also fight for this intention.

So one can also support some wars and still be considered pro-life. Intentional loss of life must always be avoided, but there are times in which killing a human person may be permitted, or even obligatory.


Pro-life people who support other forms of killing like capital punishment or war in some instances are not being inconsistent, as long as their position has been thought through. There will always be those on any side of any issue who do not have good reasons for their views.

So trying to argue against a pro-life person by calling them inconsistent is just committing the ad hominem fallacy. Even if it were true, that says nothing about whether or not the arguments against abortion fail.

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