A New Pro-Life Movement

Posted on February 14, 2017 By

by Shane Claiborne

Note: Shane Claiborne founded The Simple Way in Philadelphia and heads up Red Letter Christians (people who are committed to living “as if Jesus meant the things he said.”) His books include The Irresistible Revolution and Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why it’s Killing Us.



We need a new pro-life movement in America.

Too often “pro-life” has come to mean anti-abortion, as if abortion was the only LIFE issue. Life does not begin at conception and end at birth, but if some pro-lifers were left in charge of things, the womb would be the safest place to be – and as soon as you were born you’d be in trouble. You’d want to stay in the womb as long as possible.

It’s not enough just to be born – we also need to support the babies, the kids, the youth. And that means making sure everyone has the things they need to thrive – education, food, health care, housing, and all such things.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful to have a pro-life movement that stood against abortion, but also stood just as passionately against the death penalty, gun violence, militarism and war, the degradation of creation, police brutality, and all other things that destroy life? That would truly be a pro-life movement. To be prolife is not only about protecting the unborn, but also about supporting folks after they are born.

One of the most important things we can talk about today is the need for a consistent ethic of life. I like to say that I am pro-life from the womb to the tomb.

Every human being is made in the image of God, and any time a life is lost we lose a little glimpse of God in the world.

This language of the consistent ethic of life, the seamless garment, has been a helpful ethical framework for many people over the centuries. The early Christians stood consistently against all killing – and spoke passionately against abortion, the death penalty, murder, and war. And today a consistent life ethic is resonating with a new generation of evangelicals, especially young folks.

We are tired of death. We also are tired of a two-party system that is very inconsistent when it comes to this ethic of life. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a consistent ethic of life. Many Republicans are against abortion. Many Democrats are against gun violence. But both parties promise to increase military spending. It creates a quagmire for those of us who are tired of death and for whom a value for LIFE is our ethical framework.

I also want to suggest that we need more than ideologies and hubris in this movement. We need action. I recently met a man after a speaking event who told me he has always been pro-life. But he said, “I began to realize I was pro-life but I wasn’t pro-active. I wasn’t really doing anything other than protesting.” He went on to share with me that he has now started a counseling service for young women and an open adoption agency to help find homes for new babies who need families.

That’s what I love about Mother Teresa. She didn’t just say she was pro-life – she showed us she was pro-life. She took in 14-year old moms, and picked up orphans abandoned in the train stations of Calcutta. I had the privilege of working with her in India.

While I was there, I learned that folks called her “Mother Teresa” because she was their mother. She had raised them.

I remember meeting a young man, about thirty years old, who said to me, “You know why we call her Mother Teresa, right?” I shook my head curiously. He went on, “Because she’s our mom.” He showed me things she had given him over the years, just as any mom would give her kids. That’s the sort of integrity that the pro-life movement needs today.

I want to be pro-life like Mother Teresa was pro-life – and that means taking in teenage mothers, and walking alongside families in poverty. It means creating support groups for people who have chosen to have abortions and are living with the pain of that decision. It means getting involved in the lives of folks facing execution and standing against all killing, both legal and illegal.

Mother Teresa didn’t just picket abortion clinics. She didn’t just have t-shirts and have an “Abortion is murder” bumper sticker. She had young people whom she had raised who called her “mother.” If we are truly pro-life we had better have some teen moms and foster kids living in our homes.

And Mother Teresa knew that abortion was not the only life issue. She was just as passionately against the death penalty and made some personal phone calls to governors in the U.S. to stop executions. She told them, “Do what Jesus would do.” She even wrote a letter to John Dear who was in a North Carolina jail for protesting war and asked him “to proclaim the love of Jesus even to the poor in prison.”

Mother Teresa consistently spoke out courageously for life. She’s a great model for us today, as we seek to be pro-life – and not just in word, but in deed.

So let us reimagine the pro-life movement today as a movement that stands consistently for life, and against death. And let us move beyond stale rhetoric and ideologies to action. What’s just as important as whether we are pro-life or pro-choice is how we are pro-active.

All of us who seek to be pro-life should continue to care about abortion – but we should just as passionately care about the death penalty, gun violence, the movement for black lives, the crisis of refugees and immigrants, the environment, healthcare, mass incarceration And all the other issues that are destroying the lives and squashing the dignity of children whom God created and loves so deeply.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

Those who like this post may also enjoy:

The Consistent Life Consensus in Ancient Christianity

Nukes and the Pro-Life Christian: A Conservative Takes a Second Look at the Morality of Nuclear Weapons.

Does the Consistent Life Ethic Water Down Life Issues?



abortionChristianityconnecting issuesconsistent life ethicdeath penaltygunspovertyracismReligion     , , ,

  1. Nichole says:

    The prolife movement has started those organizations. They are not well publicized, but they exist, are running, and are doing great work. The reason there is this concentration on life from conception is because there is a fundamental problem with understanding when life begins. People who are really prolife do not advocate for the death penalty, are working on the front lines of that movement and the growing and misguided idea that killing those who are suffering is a great idea (euthanasia). People who are really prolife are already involved in education, equality, and helping those in need, no matter the circumstance. It’s true that the fight for life at conception is getting more airtime, but that doesn’t mean that prolifers are not caring of these other issues. Those of us who have been in the trenches for a while know that there has been a proliferation of other issues because human dignity and its origin is not well understood. You are right in saying that those who are prolife should walk the walk, but please don’t act like you are the first to discover this. We all struggle to show our beliefs in a cogent way.

  2. Scott Zimmerman says:

    “All of us who seek to be pro-life should continue to care about abortion – but we should just as passionately care about the death penalty, gun violence, the movement for black lives, the crisis of refugees and immigrants, the environment, healthcare, mass incarceration And all the other issues that are destroying the lives and squashing the dignity of children whom God created and loves so deeply.”

    Well actually no. You can’t care about each of the issues you list here with the same passion and then claim to be consistent in your belief. Each issue you list has different degrees of effect (from zero effect to incredible effect) on children’s lives. To pursue them all with the same passion would actually make you inconsistent rather than consistent when regarding the significance of each issue to a child’s life. It’s an over simplification of a much more complex set of issues in reality. But to be more actively involved in the concept of being pro-life in more than one area is an honorable goal.

  3. P Leidy says:

    Protecting life occasionally means dealing with evil in this fallen world. Who wants such an ungodly task…? “but we are to have the mind of Christ.”

  4. Helen Deines says:

    Put on the mind of Christ regarding poor families who, in my city, are so often without jobs, food, and housing. These problems are complicated as evictions and foreclosures are often questionable if not clearly illegal as people of modest means have very limited access to legal aid. So we need not only the goodness of Mother Teresa, but also a level playing field in a world of corporate greed.

  5. Mick says:

    Yes but the other movements you mentioned often have the baggage of world view , and often that world view does not have the unborn as any aspect of their beliefs . Often we find the organizations that support environmental concerns support also abortion rights. To give the environmental aspect support and elect those candidates that agree will tend to support political representatives very inclined to support abortion rights . Read the blog at Sojourners lately , pro life views are openly mocked , and the small government beliefs of any who have them are used to suggest a lack of concern for life . Really the answer is the church , not the dysfunctional political system we have today . That is where I am at anyway , Revival !

  6. Pro-life Feminist says:

    Shane evokes the Black Lives Matter movement, yet, ironically, his argument is analogous to the argument racists make against BLM: telling BLM activists that if they were *really* supporting black lives, they’d talk about “black on black violence.”

    Furthermore, I’m curious to know: is Shane going around writing essays telling those in the environmental movement why they should be anti-war or those who are fighting for refugees why they should advocate for the environment, or is he only assigning a prodigious list of social issues to pro-lifers? For that matter, is he telling those who are anti-war or pro-environment, pro-refugee etc. why they’re hypocrites if they aren’t pro-life? Or only vice versa?

    • FL Frey says:

      Shane is making a valid point for people who self define as pro-lifers. That point being that they should be consistently pro-life, not just against abortion. The fact is that most BLM advocates do talk about black agains black violence, however, they are combating a unique societal issue: An apparent devaluing of lives of color. Many in the pro-life movement, however, seem to take an antithetical position on life when it comes to the death penalty. Shane’s argument is a valid one in that the two party system has miserably failed. It is nearly impossible to be passionately pro-life and and active Democrat while it is equally as challenging to be a Republican while advocating for even limited gun control and environmental protection.

    • Julia Johnson says:

      Yes! How about advocating for and protecting the life of the woman? How about advocating for a health care system in which black & brown moms and babies aren’t DYING from pregnancy and child birth at highest rates in the developed world? Ugh

      • Ginny Finn says:

        How about bringing in BLM to advocate for the black children being lost to abortion at a rate higher than birth? Unfortunately, the press paints everyone with a specific brush, as if we all are the same mold. We need to work together across party lines for all life. For example, what if more free prenatal counseling and care and afterbirth care was offered at Planned Parenthood? What if we encouraged families? It is known that children succeed in education much more from two parents vs single-parent households (not just traditional). Strong relationships with peaceful conflict resolution help prevent violence.

    • Thank you, responders 1-6! I couldn’t have said it better.

  7. Terri says:

    You want to help those on death row…saying we should be against the death penalty…and yet, not one word about the victims and their families who suffered at the hands of those on death row. Where’s your compassion for them?
    There are consequences if you make bad decisions. End of story.

  8. jodee says:

    here is the thing. Its not about saving innocent lives. Its about the government forcing women into becoming mothers. In this country we have a voluntary armed forces. The government doesn’t force you to join to save innocent lives. In this country, the government can’t force you to be an organ donor, even after you have died, in order to save innocent lives. In this country the government can’t force you to donate blood, plasma or bone marrow..all that saves lives but we are given the choice whether or not to dontate. Pregnancy and childbirth is not some beautiful idyllic walk in the woods. It can be dangerous, violent, women can die, have life long health problems, even ptsd from being pregnant and giving birth. If the government is not allowed to do all of the above why should it be allowed to force women to donate their blood, organs, womb and potentially their life to see a pregnancy to term? If women are not allowed to decide for themselves, whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy, you have reduced her to a reproduction slave and property of the government. Women deserve body autonomy. We will not become your baby making slaves. No.. full stop NO!

    • Julia J. says:

      Thank you for articulating this!

      • Jon S says:

        Am I the only one who see’s this as flawed logic? Yes, there are times when it’s acceptable to choose between the mothers life and a fetus’ life. But saying “pregnancy is not a choice” isn’t correct, just like signing up for the army. Maybe you join the army for tuition, malice, excitement, money, doesn’t mean you want to go kill. We have sex for many reasons, doesn’t mean you want to have a baby… but both are choices and both have consequences.
        Again both are *usually* free choices, and Jodee, your paragraph paints a straw-man argument that isn’t logical. Sex is a choice on par with the ones you gave, usually but not always. This isn’t brave new world, and we aren’t forced to copulate. If you value freedom to do whatever you want, at least have the intellectual honesty not to paint a false picture of it.

        • jodee says:

          yes we have the choice to copulate. and we have a choice to prevent pregnancy. but sqy those prevention measurements fail, and conception occurrs, no one, especially the government can force the woman to carry the pregnancy to term. Abortion will never be eradicated. By making what is a very safe procedure if performed by a dr, illegal, one is proving they are not prolife because women will die from self induced abortions or back alley abortions. Regardless of how anyone “feels” or “believes” about abortion, women have the right to body autonomy. If she doesnt want to be pregnant, no matter how it was conceived, she will find a way to terminate. It was noemal during biblical times, and even in numbers, God states a woman’s life holds greater value than a fetus. This shouldnt even be an issue.

    • Rachel MacNair says:

      Jodee, are you comfortable with the observation that your argument applies to fathers stopping child support payments they on’t wish to be legally forced to make? That her employer, her parents, the father’s parents, can all say that they shouldn’t be forced to deal with this new life? Taxpayers who don’t like government programs to help her if she chooses to give birth?

      When these supports are pulled out from under pregnant women, that sabotages her choice to give birth to her own baby. I think people need to pay attention to how many choices abortion takes away. No woman is an island.

      • NoForcedBirth says:

        No, a woman deciding to abort doesn’t correspond to “financial abortion”. A pregnancy is just that, a pregnancy, it is supported entirely by a mother’s body, and a mother’s body only. Once it becomes an autonomous child, he or she is a person that we as a society has decided needs support. This argument is stupid, baseless, and a straw man.

  9. Antonio G says:

    This is an amazing word and just the type of article that I have been looking to read and reference. Thank you for speaking such truth and I love the examples that you gave. How do we live out and become the hands and feet of Jesus. We have to make actions! We live in such a lazy Christian society where it’s easy to state what we think is right and wrong.However, how are we actually taking tangible steps to do what is right and to bring Christ love into the world. Thanks again!

  10. Terry says:

    Anti-Death would be more like what you are seeking, I think. The term “pro-life” has too long been associated with nothing BUT anti-abortionists. You’ll never get much of a following with that term alone. And, as far as using Mother Theresa as your go-to saint, you obviously only know what the media has given you. She withheld pain medication to those dying of cancer and other horrifically painful diseases. DELIBERATELY, supposedly for their “souls.” But it didn’t stop her from using them for herself. So, your heart is in the right place but I question your examination of history and the use of branding. Read this: https://allthatsinteresting.com/mother-teresa-saint

    • Jessica says:

      Yes! My thoughts precisely! Why can’t we care about more than one thing? Why do people imply that unborn children need to take a backseat to all the issues of the world?

  11. shelah hockman says:

    You have to be born to enjoy all the other rights of life! That is why we concentrate on Abortion, euthanasia, stem cells, infanticide, and cloning. These touch the lives of innocent, helpless souls. If they can get past these stages alive then they can be the subject of Christian charity also.

  12. Jessica says:

    This is ridiculous. For one thing, this assumes that because a person doesn’t support abortion, abortion must be the only thing, the only issue they care about. This is a harmful false dichotomy that some people have created in their minds. Did you ever think that perhaps the reason abortion comes to the forefront is because there are those fighting tooth and nail to kill babies even at birth? They need advocates, they need people to care, just as much as any other human rights or life issues. Shane, you’re promoting a false perception and you are making assumptions, and you apparently think so little of our brains that we can only care about one issue at a time. This is wrong.

    • Do you see Shane promoting the dichotomy between abortion and everything else? As I read this post, that is exactly what he is refuting. He’s saying that pro-life people should continue to care about abortion AND should care about other threats to life as well. I don’t think he means to suggest that all pro-lifers are single-issue. After all, he himself is a proponent of the consistent life ethic and is writing here for the Consistent Life blog, so clearly he knows that consistent-lifers exist. But he also knows that there are others who do insist on maintaining that false dichotomy by focusing on one issue over and against all others, or sometimes even actively favoring other forms of violence. The point here is that pro-life in the best and strongest sense of the term is from womb to tomb.

  13. Ed says:

    Isn’t it interesting that God himself would not pass this test?

    Death penalty in the OT.
    Ananias and Sapphira, Scripture saying the state does not bear the sword for nothing in the NT.

    In principle, there is much here to commend, but in practice there are still questions and problems.

    Personally, I would trade the death penalty for the end of (at least) elective abortions – but I would never say that proponents of the death penalty are inconsistent on their stand for life.

    • tony masalonis says:

      About God. Well first of all, the Consistent Life Network is non-religious, I personally oppose violence for secular reasons and even Shane, though well-known to be a committed Christian, uses hardly any faith-dependent reasoning in his post. Take out a few short passages about God and Christians, and you’ve got a totally secular essay and a mighty strong one at that. (Mother Teresa is a religious figure, of course, but Shane’s description of her consistent life ethic mentions Jesus only briefly in one paragraph.)

      Having said that, of course many people cite the scriptures to support various positions on the death penalty. The definitive expert on this topic in my mind is Dale Recinella, who writes: “I spent five years … researching the Biblical death penalty as it operated when it was the law of the early Hebrews before the time of Christ. What was the death penalty as governed by Jewish law in scripture? I was shocked to find out there were 44 mandatory requirements of substantive law and of procedural law to determine how and when someone should be executed. The American death penalty doesn’t satisfy a single one of those requirements.”


      He’s written a book about it and for something more digestible, produced a short pamphlet summarizing the evidence that the Bible doesn’t support the death penalty. Check it out.

      As for the NT, nowhere in Acts 5 is it stated that God or Peter “killed” Ananias and Sapphira. Their deaths could be read as a result of the shock of being caught or guilt at realizing what they’d done. In his above-cited writings, Dale shows that the Greek word used for “sword” in Romans refers to a small, symbolic dagger representing authority to punish criminals, not a weapon used to actually end someone’s life. And it goes without saying that the overarching message of the Gospels, the life and teachings of Christ and the early Christians, was one of complete, consistent non-violence.

      All the forms of lethal violence opposed by the CLN mission statement share the common feature that supporting them means either taking upon oneself, or giving to a fallible authority, the state, the power over whether another person lives or not. However good the intentions might be, to say that some people’s lives but not others’ can be taken away forever doesn’t quite qualify as consistent.

  14. NoForcedBirth says:

    Will you all please just leave women (in general and individually) alone? Let her make the best decision for herself by herself.

    I see a lot of “she should have thought about this before she had sex” and “she should have used birth control”. So it is 100% on the woman, she is 100% responsible for her choices, unless/until she gets pregnant, and then you all want to vote on what she does. Let her take 100% responsibility for ALL her decisions. It is none of your business what she asks her health care provider for.

    Of course you should be working for women to have all the health care they need during a pregnancy, labor, and recovery. And no, no woman should lose her job just because the half of the population that runs the world doesn’t have babies. But do you think any woman in this world DOESN’T know about adoption? Most women who abort do so because they don’t want to go through a long, uncomfortable, life-threatening pregnancy and long, even more painful and life-threatening labor and delivery. We have one of the highest maternal death rates of any “civilized” country–google it.

    The people here mentioning how we don’t conscript people’s bodies to save the lives of others are spot on. The only way the “pro-life” movement would have any authenticity is if every “pro-life” person agreed to be used for kidney donation, bone marrow donation, liver donation–all things which can be donated and still have the donor live. No right of refusal if you are matched, no “this isn’t the right time for me”, no “I’m afraid of the cost and the pain” or “I don’t want to risk my life for anyone else”. None of the reasons that women use to terminate a pregnancy could be used to prevent the immediate and irrevocable use of their body–after all, we ARE talking about saving lives here!

    Here’s a question: if the penalty for murder in the OT is death, why is the penalty for causing an abortion a fine? See Exodus 21:22. Then go away.

  15. tony masalonis says:

    YES – Everything to do with sexuality, contraception, and pregnancy should be a shared responsibility, not 100% on women. Totally agree that women, unborn and born babies, and just plain everyone, should have access to all the real healthcare they need, at every stage of life. I think and hope that everyone posting on here agrees with that. Men are part of the choice to have sex and the choice whether or not to use birth control, and should be equally responsible. Sadly that isn’t the case today.

    I think we’d agree on most the previous paragraph, and “merely” (not that it’s a “mere” small point, of course) diverge on whether the way to correct an injustice is by promoting the destruction of life. (Doubtless we don’t agree on whether an unborn baby is a human life, but that discussion is already in a million other places on the internet. So I’ll just address a few of your other points.)

    Would be interested to see some backup for your take on why “most” women have abortions. Until then, I’d be more inclined to trust this study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3729671/, cited/summarized in https://www.verywellhealth.com/reasons-for-abortion-906589 … among other findings, health concerns (that’s all health concerns, the kinds you mention plus others) were cited by only 12% of the respondents.

    In a sick way, I almost like your point about organ donation. No question about it, more people should be organ donors. I personally, as someone who believes in the value of all people’s lives, am registered as an organ donor, a bone marrow donor, and have applied to be a kidney donor but am currently ineligible for the latter due to a minor health issue. Yours are intriguing thoughts: If you say you’re going to do it and someone is relying on it to save their life, maybe it is wrong to back out. If only you hadn’t phrased it in such a mean way … and apparently it only applies to pro-lifers, I take it? In any event, the organ donation analogy has some merit but is imperfect: a person who dies for want of a transplant dies of the disease–it’s not the would-be donor that directly destroys her/him.

    See my reply to Ed (#13) about the relevance of religion and the Bible, but since you mentioned Exodus 21:22, the passage (in NIV) reads: “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows.” So at least in this translation, the baby hasn’t necessarily died, but been born prematurely. More to the point, this OT law addresses a case where the death or injury to the baby and the mother was unintended; it occurred due to reckless and violent behavior. It’s something like what we’d call involuntary (man)slaughter. The non-parallel to elective abortion is obvious.

  16. Ann says:

    Thank you for so eloquently writing my beliefs.

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