Pro-lifers often go with a simple definition to replace that: to be “pro” something is to be “for” something, so a pro-lifer is literally “for” life. But such a definition, while true, is awfully vague. It does not clear up any possible questions that one might have about what it means to be pro-life.
So how does one define “pro-life”?
The following answer that I will provide is my own attempt at a definition. It may very well be a poor definition. It may very well be an unnecessary definition as well due to the possibility of someone else having already articulated the essence of what it means to be pro-life. So take what I say with a grain of salt.
That being said:
I think that to be “pro-life” is to believe, defend, and teach to others the idea that all those who are human beings, by virtue of being a human being, have a prima facie right to live (i.e. should have their biological life respected and, thus, not be killed under most circumstances).
Let us break down this definition piece by piece to make sense of it.
“I think that to be ‘pro-life’ is to believe, defend, and teach to others…”
The first part of the above quote is obvious: if you do not believe what the rest of the definition says concerning the meaning of “pro-life” then you are not pro-life.
I also think, however, that it takes more than just belief in the pro-life position to actually be pro-life; I think that you have to defend the position and teach it as well (sometimes the two overlap). If you only believe the pro-life position without actually doing and living the pro-life belief that you hold then you are not, by definition, being pro-life.
“…the idea that all those who are human beings…”
In other words, it only applies to individual whole human organisms, not non-human organisms and not simply parts of a whole human organism. And we can use science to show that an individual whole human organism exists from the time of conception.
“…by virtue of being a human being…”
We do not have intrinsic rights by attaining some quality or characteristic, but by being of a certain kind of thing. And in this case, that thing is a human being. Any other criteria are too arbitrary.
It is only by being a human being that all human beings
“…have a prima facie right to live (i.e. should have their biological life respected and, thus, not be killed under most circumstances).”
Prima facie, as I briefly discussed in a previous post, means normally or usually. So for one to have a “prima facie right to live” means that they have a right to live unless there are certain extreme circumstances where the right does not apply. One that most people would agree on as an example of this is in situations where we end up needing to take the life of another in order to defend our own life.
That is my definition of “pro-life.” To me it seems to cover more then just the issue of abortion; discussions over euthanasia, in-vitro fertilization, human embryonic stem cell research, capital punishment, war, and so on also appear to be part of the dialogue when a definition like this is involved.
But this is not to say that the morality or immorality of some of these acts is not harder to figure out than others based on such a definition. One who is for capital punishment, for instance, may very well be acting against this definition of “pro-life” by supporting such an action.
But they may very well not. Perhaps such a definition is not necessarily against the support of capital punishment in all circumstances.
That makes it all the more important to discuss these issues with those who we otherwise agree on concerning issues of abortion, euthanasia, and the like. And perhaps further explanation of what it means to be pro-life would be the first step towards more fruitful conversations on such topics in the future.