Pro-Life Hypocrisy?

While browsing Twitter, I stumbled upon an interesting set of questions by @mxrgee.  The conversation was, for Twitter standards, civil and constructive. Nevertheless, it is a difficult place to make a well-reasoned defense of the pro-life movement. So here is a summary of some of the key questions and a more detailed response.

Is it hypocritical for a pro-life person to never adopt or consider adopting a child?

There are multiple issues here.

First, this criticism is a false moral equivalence. The obligation to prevent harm has a higher ethical demand than not exercising the option to do something good. Failure to do good (“not adopting”) is not a moral justification for doing harm (“abortion”). Under no circumstances can the criticism of those who don’t adopt be used as an excuse to end the life of a child.

Second, a Barna study found that 5% of Christians adopt compared to 2% of general populace. 3% of Christians foster. Since 2.5% of children in America are adopted, Christians are doing more than their fair share of adopting. But of course they could (and should?) be doing more.

Third, out of 135,000 adoptions per year, only about 18,000 are infant adoptions. Yet there are a million or two potential adoptive parents out there waiting for children. The waiting lists are years long. The reason is a lack of supply. There are too many abortions and not enough children. Many who want to adopt can’t.

Fourth, some pro-life persons should adopt and don’t. It is plainly hypocritical to ask others to do what you yourself could have done but chose not to.[1] This does not include those who, for various reasons, made the legitimate decision that adoption was not in the best interest of the child and/or family. There are many legitimate barriers to adoption. These include economics (lack of stable income, costs of adoption, healthcare expenses, etc.), criminal histories, marital status (e.g. divorced and/or single), personal health issues, how skilled someone is with children, and various other suitability issues.

Why is adoption better than abortion when there are so many legitimate barriers to adoption?

Abortion ends a (sacred) human life. Lack of adoption options never justifies a death sentence. This is the fundamental pro-life ethic. This doesn’t mean that the mother’s quality of life is of no consequence, but that life over death must come before all other concerns.

Shouldn’t those in the pro-life movement be as concerned about the mother as they are about the baby?

The quick answer is “No”: this is an emergency. Millions of babies are dying and the first step is to stop the bleeding, both literally and figuratively. The mother’s life is not at risk.[2]

Those who are pro-life cannot undo an ill-advised pregnancy. Once it occurs, options are limited. An abortion is almost always the worst outcome.[3] A reasonable, but still flawed outcome, is adoption. The last option is the mother keeping the child. This may be better or worse than adoption. It all depends on context.

Having the mother keep the child may not be in the best interest of the child. If that is the case, then adoption is better. Yet studies are clear that a child normally does best with its biological parents. The correct pro-life stance is to push for this outcome where appropriate. Fortunately there exist Crisis Pregnancy Centers across the country that can provide services and support. It is, however, very expensive compared to adoption.[4] Unfortunately there may not be a best-case scenario.

Should the pro-life movement be more concerned about the mother? Probably. Out there in the trenches most pro-life individuals are genuinely caring people who care deeply about the mother. But throw in politics and it gets ugly. Certain policies make it seem like pro-lifers don’t care about moms. Let’s not forget the mothers. Those who are pro-life must be pro-mother as well.[5]

Lastly, the concept of moral distance should help. The closer someone in need is to us, the greater our moral obligation to them. Failing to provide for your pregnant teenage daughter makes you a monster. Failing to do so for someone you’ve never met does not. Charity cannot be compelled. We should applaud those who choose to help. It is a loving fact that there are millions who are willing to adopt babies who would otherwise be aborted. Let’s give them that chance to prove themselves.

[1] Those who don’t adopt because they are pro-life only for political reasons deserve the harshest criticisms. These are politicians who enact policies that only try to end abortion without also supporting at least one of the alternatives, such as mother and baby care or adoption. These people do not deserve the pro-life label.

[2] The risk-unadjusted maternal mortality rate is < 0.03% of births. This is approximately equal to the two-week unadjusted-risk of dying in a car crash. The risks to mothers have been overblown. While it is true that abortion is less risky to the mother than giving birth, abortions represent about a 99% risk to the baby, making the decision pretty easy.

[3] Statistically speaking. The cases where abortion saves the life of the mother are few and far between.

[4] As an adoptive parent, my heart bleeds for the children who don’t get to have their birth parents. God intended for kids to be with their parents in a loving stable home. It breaks the heart whenever this does not occur. It’s a difficult thing to not care for the mother as much as we care for the baby. In a better world we wouldn’t have to separate mother from baby. I hope one day we get there.

[5] And pro-father.