Pro-life Critics of Lockdowns Are Being Falsely Accused of Hypocrisy | Opinion

While many argue over whether abortion access is essential health care during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, others are opportunistically grasping this moment to condemn the purported hypocrisy of the pro-life movement.

"The GOP is not a pro-life party," read one recent headline. In another article, "Pulling back the curtain on the not-all-that-pro-life movement," an opinion columnist suggested pro-life critics of coronavirus lockdowns "have squandered any argument that they care about human life" since they have shown a "willingness to sacrifice others."

On social media, Mary Ziegler, a law professor who specializes in the history of U.S. abortion laws, recently shared a Newsweek article that reported on a pro-life politician's opinion that "many of his generation were willing to 'take a chance' and return to work" to protect future generations. In her post, she asked how pro-life principles relate to lockdowns and what it actually means to be "pro-life." I helped connect her with members of the pro-life movement, and many responded to her questions.

In response to the professor, some stated that lockdowns could ultimately hurt more people than they help. Many averred that pro-life principles are solely rooted in the opposition to legal abortion access, meaning that there is no pro-life stance on lockdowns. There was even a citation to a recent article from a leading speaker on pro-life issues who tackled whether pro-life principles require the support of lockdowns. In the piece, Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute, wrote that "'Pro-life' means [they] will never sanction the intentional killing of innocent human beings."

Shortly after these interactions, Professor Ziegler wrote an article that failed to recognize these pro-life perspectives and instead furthered the accusation of pro-life hypocrisy: "[A]s some Republicans try to ban abortions during the pandemic, they are calling in increasing numbers for the sacrifice of lives to kick-start the economy." She used this characterization to undermine pro-life efforts to protect the unborn, suggesting that the Republican Party cannot "be taken seriously the next time it tries to justify restricting abortion based on 'the dignity inherent in all human life.'"

This messaging on how the pandemic relates to the abortion debate is clear: It is hypocritical for members of the pro-life movement to oppose lockdowns while also supporting abortion restrictions.

This argument reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of pro-life principles. As spelled out by Senator Ron Johnson, pro-lifers do not believe the government always has an obligation to take every step that might feasibly protect every single human life. Instead, the pro-life movement is merely premised upon the argument that pre-born humans deserve the same rights and legal protections that the government provides to all other humans.

There are other important factors to consider, as well.

Pro-life protesters outside Supreme Court.
Pro-life protesters outside Supreme Court. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

Pro-life Americans are intellectually consistent in their support of life and criticism of lockdowns when they express fears that increases in deaths from delays in cancer treatments, delays in cancer detection, increases in domestic violence, drug overdoses, and suicide will outnumber any lives saved from the lockdowns. Indeed, since one of the original purposes of the lockdowns was to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed, months of bans on non-essential medical procedures might have inadvertently created a backlog that could actually overwhelm the system once the bans are lifted.

President Donald Trump has suggested lockdowns could prove to be a "cure worse than the problem itself." A top United Nations official has similarly warned against the costs of these lockdowns: "There is also a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact...than from the virus itself" since "an additional 130 million people could be pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of 2020."

These attacks on the intellectual integrity of the pro-life movement miss the mark. One can support the natural right to life while criticizing draconian lockdown policies that may well ultimately kill more people than they save.

Steve Jacobs is the program director of Illinois Right to Life. He received his J.D. from the Northwestern University School of Law and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.