Americans who wish to be truly pro-life must be willing to examine the philosophical and cultural implications of these views, said George Mason University law professor Helen Alvaré.
Being involved in the pro-life movement, she said, “will lead you places where you’ll be surprised to go, because abortion is not a single issue.”
Alvaré delivered the keynote address at the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life on Jan. 26, explaining to participants that if they want to “keep the integrity” of their positions, they must be willing to take action on social and philosophical issues connected to abortion.
Hosted annually at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the Cardinal O’Connor Conference for Life is the largest student-run pro-life conference in the United States.
Alvaré, who was speaking at the conference for the third time since it began in 2000, told the 650 student participants that being pro-life may lead them to investigate the modern understanding of human rights and freedom.
In typical human rights discourse, she observed, weakness and disability are seen as a reason to extend “greater care” to people, “not as a premise for their destruction.”
However, under current abortion laws, she noted, it is permissible for the vulnerable to be killed “when you’re killed by a member of your own family.”
Alvaré explained that this radical re-imagining of human rights hinges on a revised definition of freedom as action without imposition or inconvenience from anyone else. But this definition, she warned, would eventually “take us to a really, really sorry place” where any kind of human relation is seen as an imposition upon freedom.
Paradoxically, she noted, women do not walk into an abortion clinic “feeling empowered” or free, but rather feeling like they have no other options.
The assumption that motherhood is “unacceptable” has made women dependent on abortion, she said, and this dependence has been enshrined in U.S. laws and culture so deeply that the Supreme Court has said that “women cannot order their lives” without abortion on-demand.
A pro-life position will also lead one to reconsider the ethical, class and race issues surrounding abortion, Alvaré observed.
Abortion advocates such as Sandra Fluke and Cecile Richards present abortion as a tool for relieving the economic burden on poor and minority women, she noted, but in reality, the cultural misunderstanding of sex has harmed the poor.
“Sex is not just tennis,” Alvaré reminded the students, adding that sexual intimacy cannot be purely recreational.
Sex produces babies – a fact that is often ignored – and is also for bonding and forming relationships, she explained. After more than four decades of promoting unrestricted contraception and abortion, there are still troubling rates of single motherhood and women in poverty, she said.
Rather than empower women, Alvaré underscored, the push for free contraceptives and abortions has made the situation worse, contributing to increased levels of infidelity, sexually-transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies among poor and minority populations.
Both Republicans and Democrats have contributed to the current state of affairs by aggressively promoting domestic and international contraception programs, she added.
By equating “sexual expression” with freedom, she said, politicians gain “allegiance on the cheap,” while failing to address the real problems of unwed parenthood and severe economic crises.
The pro-life movement can benefit society, Alvaré said, through efforts to help members of all classes and cultures to “form stable families and take care of one another and their children.”
While acknowledging that such a commitment is not always easy, she added that each individual can make a difference in his or her daily life, simply by “going where a pro-life conviction takes you.”