New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has a problem with right-wing politicians who self-identify as pro-life, yet are seemingly indifferent to the defense and well-being of life after birth. I share Friedman’s sentiment and he makes some excellent points.
You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children.
I would add that you can’t call yourself pro-life when you want to cut anti-malaria and anti-AIDS programs, particularly when we have a good estimate of how many tens of thousands of children would die as a result. You can’t call yourself pro-life when you believe healthcare is a privilege not a right and you oppose every single feasible program to ensure universal coverage, again resulting in the death of tens of thousands of people each year.
The term “pro-life” should be a shorthand for respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth. What about the rest of life? Respect for the sanctity of life, if you believe that it begins at conception, cannot end at birth. That radical narrowing of our concern for the sanctity of life is leading to terrible distortions in our society.
Great, but I won’t let that label apply to people for whom “sanctity for life” begins at birth. The hypocrisy Friedman points out is a two-way street. If he wants to make the Bernardin seamless garment argument, but then exclude some human beings that he deems unworthy of protection and assistance, he should at least have the decency to explain why their lives are worth less.
His desire to exclude the unborn seems to be rooted in a delusional belief that there is a pro-choice consensus on abortion in the United States—that’s right, a consensus on perhaps the most contentious issue in American politics. That consensus might exist at the New York Times (outside of Ross Douthat and a handful of others), or even among most journalists, but it does not exist in the United States.
The numbers fluctuate, but basically half of all Americans identify as pro-life and half as pro-choice. A majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in only a few or illegal in all circumstances. A strong majority of Americans support a 24-hour wait period, informed consent laws, parental consent laws, and banning “partial birth abortion.” The nation is deeply divided on the issue with a clear majority opposing unlimited, unrestricted access to abortion. If he’s calling out abortion extremists, Friedman might want to take a look in the mirror.
Friedman adds to the absurdity by claiming that Michael Bloomberg is the most pro-life politician in the country, emphasizing how NYC’s nutritionist-in-chief has tackled obesity by banning large sodas and letting people know how fat their food is making them (notably absent in Friedman’s litany is any effort by Bloomberg to increase physical exercise, such as restoring physical education classes to previous levels in schools). Even if one thinks that Bloomberg’s crackdown on large sodas (but not alcohol and not at 7-11) is an inspired idea, it is hardly a powerful life-saving plan. In fact, Obamacare alone will likely save more lives than all of the Bloomberg actions that Friedman describes combined, seemingly giving the President and all who voted for the Affordable Care Act a legitimate claim to the Friedman Award for the defense of post-birth life.
Ultimately Friedman’s attempt at a Confucian rectification of names is a failure. While right-wing social Darwinists and scientifically-challenged Tea Party favorites do not deserve to be called pro-life, neither does Tom Friedman nor his favorite fellow moderate. What about other pro-choice people on the left and center-left who support gun control, smoking bans, legislation to curb climate change, and early childhood education? Typically these people would be called “liberals” or “Congressional Democrats.” Of course, “liberal” and “Democrat” are unacceptable terms if you want to be a courageous post-partisan problem-solver rather than just a guy who agrees with the President’s agenda. Feel free to pick a new label, just leave “pro-life” to people who mean it.