Are We Pro-life or Anti-abortion?

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Human life is sacred. All human life. The biblical text makes this abundantly clear. Most people, if not all, who identify as conservative evangelical Christians are strongly opposed to abortion. And to be clear, I, too, am fundamentally opposed to abortion. The issue for me lies in other openly endorsed actions commonly seen in conservative evangelical circles, which undoubtedly and needlessly also lead to loss of life. In my view, the term “pro-life” should encompass the protection of all human life from all causes—not just abortion.

What are some actions that needlessly result in loss of life? Lack of health care access, lack of gun control, global climate change, and COVID-19 exposure all take lives needlessly.

Lack of access to primary care is a key driver for the lower life expectancy of African Americans relative to Caucasians and Latinos. Given that racial differences are primarily cultural and not biological, African Americans should not lose five years of life expectancy relative to Caucasian, American Latinos, and Asian people due to issues of systemic racism.

Gun violence is rampant in our society. Most people see little issue with guns purchased for hunting or protection. I, too, own a couple of guns for hunting. Too often, however, well-intentioned gun owners are found having used their guns for suicide or in a deadly household accident. Greater issue revolves around the assault weapons, guns engineered to kill people at war. While there might be acceptable reasons for owning such a weapon, they seem far too easily available to much of the public.

Global climate change currently kills an estimated 300,000 people annually, and far more will die each year as climate change insidiously progresses. Most, but not all, of this loss of life occurs outside U.S. and Canadian borders. The scientific community is nearly unanimous (98% of scientists) that anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gasses is driving global climate change. A handful of developed countries emit most of the greenhouse gasses. Carbon dioxide is produced by fossil-fueled vehicles, methane is a voluminous side product of the ruminant animals produced for the meat we eat, and nitrous oxide escapes from fertilizer used to produce the feed for our livestock and pets. These gasses do not remain within the borders of emitting countries, rather spread across the global atmosphere where they trap long-wave radiation being emitted to space, retaining this heat in our atmosphere.

The science has long been settled, but huge questions remain about what we can and will do about it. A warmer Earth has had and will continue to have predictable consequences. My church provides support for several villages in Honduras that have been recently devastated by two hurricanes this past fall. Emissions from developed countries (especially the U.S.) will continue to harm these villages over time. We send food aid, we facilitate development, but to what end when we continue to emit greenhouse gasses that drive a significant part of the problems our Honduran brothers and sisters face? 

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic currently illustrates the intense dissonance between anti-abortion or pro-life perspectives when Christians make wearing a mask an issue of personal liberty or press to keep congregant organizations open for economic reasons. Mask wearing confers an obvious and documented benefit of protecting innocent bystanders from a massive loss of life. Public health professionals who are in a position to really know are in broad agreement that people should wear masks and not congregate indoors, creating significant risk of infection. This is certainly a pro-life issue. If mask-wearing or avoiding indoor gatherings will save hundreds of thousands of lives, what could be easier to accomplish? No Supreme Court ruling is required. 

Christians who value “liberty” or economic health over saving lives fail to apply the second-greatest commandment of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Wearing a mask and avoiding congregating is being pro-life in an actionable way. While economic hardship is real, for some more than others, the financial sacrifice could be temporary whereas lives lost due to COVID-19 exposure are forever.

What would Jesus do? I would hope the church would model all their actions after Christ Jesus.  While Jesus rendered to Caesar what was Caesar’s, He primarily sought to build relationships with the poor, the downtrodden, the sick, the disenfranchised. Jesus did not dwell on his liberty or his right to a robust income stream. The biblical text suggests that in our current time, Jesus might strike up a relationship with a woman seeking an abortion, draw her close, hear her story, and would appeal to her heart by asking her not to choose to abort. This, it seems, should be primary work of the church. We should build relationships with those who seek abortions, draw them close to us as we exhibit Christ-like love, provide them with an alternative to abortion, and secondarily vote for a legal solution.

The “anti-abortion at all costs” position unfortunately tags along with political sympathies that downplay or deny the need to tackle systemic racism, oppose sensible gun control, engage solutions to global climate change, and to live inconveniently for a time by wearing masks and avoiding crowded indoor gatherings. Political leaders who take an anti-abortion position while promoting policies that result in loss of life to other causes requires us, as voters, to make an either/or choice that is inherently hypocritical. We should expect more from our political leaders; they will hew to our positions as voters if we speak out. 

So be open-minded and think critically. Learn about systemic racism. Learn about gun violence. Learn about global climate change. Learn how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The preponderance of evidence on all of these issues and their current and future consequences has been shared in all clarity by experts in the respective fields.

Solutions to these issues are complicated and require nationwide (in the U.S. and Canada), if not global, conversation. Conservative evangelicals are an influential voting block that has frequently played down issues like health care access, gun control, and global climate change for a variety of reasons, some good and maybe some not so good. A truly pro-life agenda should seek to protect all lives from all causes. My hope is that we, as the church of Christ, would actively choose and publicly advocate to save the lives of already born people throughout our globe by caring for our neighbors wherever they might live by stewarding our resources and creation well. We must engage people on all sides of these issues in conversation to identify those actions that will save lives.

These are all pro-life issues. The responsibility lies with us to learn and discuss how we can protect lives in a way that goes beyond being simply anti-abortion.

About the Author

David L. Dornbos Jr., Ph.D., resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he is a professor for Calvin University in the biology department. He is a member of InSpirit Christian Reformed Church in Byron Center, Mich. He co-authored the book "Your Steak in the World," with cardiologist Dr. Jay Hollman.

See comments (7)


I'm black, I have laws that protect me and to which I can appeal, I can protest.

I'm poor, there are social services where I can get medical coverage and food aid.

I'm concerned about the climate, assault weapons, etc:  I can advocate, write, and persuade.

I'm unborn— unlike the others, I can't stand up for myself.

It seems to me abortion (the intentional killing of innocent human beings —who have no way to advocate for themselves and who have no protection of law) is the most urgent injustice in our society today.  Yes, the writer brings up many legitimate concerns and I'm not suggesting ignoring them, but it's almost as if he is seeking to relativize the injustice done to the unborn who need our attention and focus THE MOST at this time in our society and culture. 

I encourage you to watch this powerful scene from "return to the hiding place"... protecting human life pretty much trumps all other rights, even telling the truth...

re abortion, how can we hold the men accountable? the burden is almost exclusively on the women... that's not ok... Hosea 4:14... and how can the Church step up to take care of the children... there has been so much emphasis on voting against abortion, but that's the easy part... now we as the Kingdom Church need to set up apartments and community homes with support networks for the moms that choose life for their little ones, that they can grow up in a healthy & safe environment to flourish and thrive... voting is NOT enough! We need support in place for them to help the moms/familes live for 20 years as they raise their children... 

Wow, two great comments by Don and Bev!

It seems that being pro-life (loving people and working for good things for them) means being anti-abortion (hating what causes harm to loved ones).

Excellent article. Truely being pro-life means caring about life at all stages. It saddens me that with COVID rampant, many of the same people who claim to be "pro-life" are anti-mask, and refuse to wear a mask. To me, this is an example of being anti-abortion and not being pro-life. Thankfully, God is merciful and forgives when we fall sort of his ideal. 

Thanks, Dr Dornbos, for this article contrasting pro-life issues with the anti-abortion issue.  It would seem that being pro-life is much more encompassing than being anti-abortion.  Being anti-abortion is simply a sub category of being pro-life. Although whether being pro-life or against abortion may be confusing when using today’s popular terminology, technically, it’s obvious that being pro-life is much more encompassing.  As you pointed out, there are so many other issues that would fall under the category of being pro-life.  I think you probably just scratched the surface as to issues that threaten the lives of people or the quality of life for so many. So I’m not so sure that making such a distinction (pro-life vss, anti-abortion) is really that helpful.  It’s like saying we should avoid all sin, because all sin is life threatening in some way.  Avoidance of all sin may be technically the responsible position for Christians, or anyone, it is an impossible task, sinners as we are.  Thanks for giving us food for thought, as long as we don’t eat too much, because overeating is a life threatening issue, too.

Yes, being pro-life is much more than being anti-abortion however in reading the article, it doesn't seem to me that the author is doing what he himself recommends, "We must engage people on all sides of these issues in conversations..." If this is untrue, than I apologize to the author but I see many assumptions being made about the beliefs of conservative Christians. The issues are not as black and white as the article seems to state.

The underlying cause of the "lower life expectancy of African Americans relative to Caucasians and Latinos", gun violence, and climate change, are settled in the article but maybe not so settled in everyone's mind. The dangers of covid vs. the dangers of shutting everything down are obviously perceived differently by many.

Our "facts" factor into our opinions on issues. When our "facts" differ, our responses differ.

It's a shame that the author seems to have such a low view of conservative Christians. Statements that conservatives care more for liberty or financial gain than lives are misinformed and judgmental. The suggestion that liberal Christians are the only ones who care for and help women considering an abortion or that conservatives aren't educated in systemic racism, gun violence, climate change and covid are inaccurate.

Worse is the we're right, you're wrong attitude. "The preponderance of evidence on all these issues and their current and future consequences has been shared in all clarity by experts in the respective fields." As many know, "experts" can be found and "science" provided for all sides of the issues. Not everyone agrees on the facts that these issues are based on nor on the solutions.

I daresay that this statement, "My hope is that we, as the church of Christ, would actively choose and publicly advocate to save the lives of already born people throughout our globe by caring for our neighbors wherever they might live by stewarding our resources and creation well" is true for all Christians, both "conservative" and "liberal". We just differ on how to do it.

Let's be willing to come together seeking to understand differing opinions. We don't have to prove the other person wrong or that we're right.  Our Christian lives should be non-partisan, based on God's Word, not on if we are conservative, liberal, or somewhere between.