It may sound contradictory to say that I am both pro-life and pro-choice. Commonly, when one says one is pro-life, that person is declaring an opposition to abortion and professing a conviction that life begins at conception. When one says one is pro-choice, that person is declaring that he thinks women and men have a right to choose whether they will support the life of the unborn.
How is it possible to be both pro-life and pro-choice? When I declare that I am pro-life, I mean that I am for the life of all humans from the moment they become human in their mother’s womb to the moment of their death. When I say “all humans,” I mean whether they are rich or poor, black, brown, white, or whatever color. I am for the life of the innocent as well as the guilty person in prison; for the life of the Palestinian as well as the Israeli; for the life of the Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, or any other religious classification; for the life of the Afghan, Iranian, Saudi, Chinese, Japanese, or any other nationality.
When I say that I am pro-choice, I mean that every person has a right to be able to make his or her own decisions. God gave each of us free will, and he wishes that we use our free will to choose good and avoid evil. When I say that I am pro-choice, that is what I mean. I respect the freedom of each person to choose wisely and morally. I hope that all choices respect the dignity of every other human being, including the child in the womb.
The reason I am pro-choice is that I cannot support those who claim to be pro-life and yet want our government to outlaw the freedom of others to choose in a way that I might not. We need to be clear that government laws allowing persons to choose do not force persons to choose one way or another.
Unfortunately, too many people who claim to be pro-life want to put everyone else in the pro-abortion category. If one is not pro-life as they see it, then one is pro-abortion. That is not accurate. To be pro-choice does not mean one is pro-abortion. It simply means that one respects the freedom of others. It does not imply that one necessarily agrees with the choices others make, specifically choices around the issue of abortion.
As one who is pro-life and also pro-choice, I consider it my responsibility to do what I can to persuade those who are pro-choice to come to understand the dignity of individuals from the beginning of life in their mother’s womb. It is my conviction that people like myself, and all others in positions of responsibility within the Catholic Church, ought to do a much better job of promoting the life of the child within the womb. We ought to focus our energy more on that than on trying to get civil government to do our job for us.
It is also my conviction that one of the reasons we have not been successful in promoting the dignity of the unborn child is that we have not promoted the dignity and place of women in our church. Perhaps if the leadership of our church would give women an equal position of dignity and responsibility, then they would be more willing to listen to our presentations on the equal rights of the unborn child. As long as our official hierarchical position continues to place women in positions of subordination, then women will continue to declare that they will make decisions about their bodies and what is within them—sadly, regardless of the consequences to unborn children.
There is another aspect to this issue of what it means to be pro-life that too many people seem to disregard: the reality that many who declare that they are pro-life still remain in favor of the death penalty and of war, and do not stand up for the rights and dignity of the poor, the homeless, the undocumented, and even the life of our planet. If one is truly pro-life, one needs to be pro-life from the womb to the grave for every human being and for all of creation. We cannot be truly pro-life and limit our focus to the life of the unborn.
An aspect of this issue that is rarely expressed is the reality that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision allowing abortion, is not of itself responsible for one abortion in the United States. It is simply a law allowing abortion. The decisions of women and men result in abortions. We cannot blame Roe v. Wade for demanding anyone have an abortion.
Those of us who are truly pro-life and pro-choice should not waste our time trying to outlaw Roe v. Wade. Even without Roe v. Wade, people will find ways to have abortions. We need instead to focus our energy on elevating the life and dignity of all human beings, and on promoting the equality of women and men within our church and society.
Fr. Louis Arceneaux has been a priest in the Congregation of the Mission since 1966. After studying and later gaining a doctorate in theology at San Anselmo in Rome, he taught theology and served in seminary formation for 15 years before moving on to other pastoral ministry, including parish ministry, retreats, and promotion of peace and justice. He is presently on the leadership team of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests and helped develop their proposal for renewal of seminary formation.