Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why the National Right to Life Comittee isn't really 'Pro-Life'

From the NRLC's own mission statement which you can read here.

The primary interest of the National Right to Life Committee and its members has been the abortion controversy; however, it is also concerned with related matters of medical ethics which relate to the right to life issues of euthanasia and infanticide. The Committee does not have a position on issues such as contraception, sex education, capital punishment, and national defense.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

An organization can't be pro-life unless it takes a position on things like contraception or national defense? That's just silliness.

John Henry said...

As I've written before, I see no reason to expand the definition of 'pro-life' to include everything from health care to education to fiscal policy. The term 'pro-life' has a well understood and widely used meaning in our culture. I don't think there's a pressing need to dilute that meaning to create yet another synonym for the common good.

samrocha said...

This is puzzling to me. So are we to accept this meaning at the expense of the basic meaning of 'life'? I am very compelled by the sense of 'life' argued by John Paul II in the Gospel of Life. So, how it is that this is a linguistic dilluting?

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I'm glad you find the Gospel of Life compelling. I do as well. The question is why the NRLC, which is a non-sectarian organization, should be required to explicitly adopt JPII's views on the question.

This is along the lines of arguing that some organization dealing with homelessness isn't really pro-poor because it doesn't take a position on immigration, or health care, or the minimum wage, or whatever. The reason you have organizations that focus on a specific set of issues and don't get involved with others is that you want to attract as broad a base of support as possible to achieve your aims, and not everyone who agrees with you on issue X will agree with you on issue Y, or Z. Demanding that NRLC undercut its effectiveness to no discernible purpose doesn't strike me as being a very good idea.

John Henry said...

'The Gospel of Life,' as understood by Catholics, is not identical with the term 'pro-life', which refers to the anti-abortion movement in the U.S. Both phrases contain the word 'life', and they frequently overlap, but the 'Gospel of Life' is something different than the 'pro-life' movement. The term 'pro-life' in the U.S. means, basically, anti-abortion.

See, e.g.,

Merriam Webster
Pro-Life: Opposed to abortion

Dictionary.com
Pro-Life: Opposed to legalized abortion; right to life.

The always indispensable Wikipedia:
Pro-Life: "It most commonly (especially in the media and popular discourse) refers to opposition to abortion and support for fetal rights. The term describes the political and ethical view which maintains that fetuses and embryos are human beings, and therefore have a right to live."

John Henry said...

Whoops, I guess BA had already addressed the question adequately.

samrocha said...

BA: Yes, I think an organization need not include everything -- but to exclude seems some else entirely.

J. Henry: Usage does not justify meaning necessarily.

John Henry said...

Well, words are symbols used to describe certain realities. The usage of the symbol determines what the word means (what realities it refers to). The difficulty comes when there are multiple realities that a given symbol is used to represent. In this case, it is fairly well-established that the symbol 'pro-life' denotes opposition to abortion.

You are free to adopt idiosyncratic meanings of certain symbols, like 'pro-life' or 'socialism'. But you should recognize in departing from the common meaning/usage of the word that everyone else will continue using the common meaning/usage. Thus, it makes little sense for you to write that the NRLC is not 'pro-life', implying some sort of hypocrisy on their part, when you are using an idiosyncratic definition of what 'pro-life' means.

It would be like me saying a pro-choicer isn't really pro-choice because they favor gun ownership restrictions. Well, sure, if one adopts an idiosyncratic meaning for pro-choice that's true. But on the common usage, it's a non sequitur.

Michael J. Iafrate said...

I'm with Sam. John, I appreciate you pointing out the general meaning of "pro-life" in u.s. culture. In response, it becomes all the more important for Catholics to insist that our definition of "pro-life" is much wider and more inclusive.

John Henry said...

Right, well the discussion is about what 'our definition' is. I see no problem with a Catholic adopting a limited to usage of the term 'pro-life' because it is a useful word, while explaining that the 'Gospel of Life' is an umbrella term that includes a much larger set of commitments. As I said, we already have plenty of words for the common good.

I think it can be very useful to point out that being 'pro-life' is necessary but certainly not sufficient for Catholics, and for non-Catholics that the premises involved in being pro-life have ramifications in other areas of public policy. But I'm content to leave the term 'pro-life' as it stands for the sake of clarity in discussions with the wider culture.

samrocha said...

Linguistically here is another problem: pro-life may hold some symbolic regional value of a certain kind (which basically changes its intuitive meaning) but, they use the general term, LIFE, in their title. Is the 'right to life' now to be interpreted in such a parochial way too?

John Henry said...

I would submit for your consideration that the 'region' in which the term 'pro-life' has symbolic value is basically the English-speaking world, as reflected by our dictionaries, which don't even list alternative definitions for the phrase 'pro-life'.

As to the phrase 'right-to-life,' I am completely indifferent. Take away the hyphens and it's just 'right to life,' which reminds me of 'right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' as much as anything else. It's a common phrase used in a variety of contexts.

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I'm not sure I get the distinction between an organization's not including something within its mission and excluding something from its mission. These would seem to be different ways of describing the same thing. Either an organization takes an official position on a given issue, or it doesn't.

Also, there is an irony, I think, in describing a particular definition of "pro-life" as being "inclusive" when the definition is being used to say that certain people and groups *aren't* pro-life.

samrocha said...

Yes that would be rather odd if had not written above that "This field does not exclude the 'pro-life' vision, but it is also much more than that too."