The abortion debate has been so hyper-focused on the question of rights, that few (if any) have actually contemplated, in a realistic fashion, what a genuinely prolife society might look like. Militants on both sides imagine certain kinds of dystopia if the other had their way and all arguments led to their logical conclusions.
Imagining these potential realities is certainly necessary to thinking well about the topic of abortion, and more broadly of human rights. But much of the minutia of these realities are left unconceptualized. So when apparent oddities arise, it catches these activists off guard. So, what would a genuinely prolife society be like?
What Would a Genuinely Prolife Society Look Like?
Would a genuinely prolife society be pro-natalist? Natalism generally is simply the idea that childbearing and parenthood are good and desirable social ends that should be pursued. Pro-natalist public policy usually entails incentivizing childbearing and parenthood, say, through tax credits or even a guaranteed basic income for those who get married and have children.
Anti-natalism on the other hand, is not merely the opposition to pro-natalist public policy, but opposition to the general idea that procreation is a net positive for society. It is the case, that a genuinely pro-life society would be natalist to some degree, but not necessarily a state-sanctioned public policy.
A pro-life libertarian society definitely would not have pro-natalist public policy primarily because the sort of government spending required for it is antithetical to libertarian political philosophy. For this article, I will describe the generally natalist, libertarian version of a genuinely prolife society.
In a genuinely prolife society, that is libertarian, every human being enjoys the negative rights of self-ownership. That is, the right to not be aggressed against; this includes the fetus. Unlike today’s society, there would be no perceived conflict between the rights of women and of their offspring.
This is significant, because today both sides of the abortion debate view the rights of women and offspring as being at odds, or opposed to one another. Today, prochoicers compromise fetal rights in favor of the mother, and prolifers compromise women’s rights in favor of the fetus. This is the perceived solution because of the false idea that government must accommodate the more important rights bearer, whichever that is.
But a genuinely prolife society has sorted this out.
The sphere of the family
In a genuinely prolife society, the family is seen as the cornerstone. It does not view spouses as property, or subordinate in dignity or right, or any other sort of malaise. As a consequence, abuse is viewed as anathema; offspring are a net benefit both to the family directly and society indirectly.
The family is the prime example of what other communities would model themselves after. But the family is also the major contributing factor to the sphere of enterprise. It’s the minutia of managing family (and household) that gives way to the economy – the need to living in community with others in order to make more and more efficient a functional family.
The sphere of enterprise
Enterprise means an undertaking; that is, to take on a challenge or solve a problem. Today, it is used more or less synonymously with business, but that doesn’t quite capture it.
An enterprising mother may commit to solving the problem of cooking for a large family through various means including meal planning and prep, assigning age-appropriate chores for the kids to help contribute, economizing the food budget efficiently, enlisting the cooperation of her husband, and so on.
While this is indirectly related to business and economy it is first an enterprise. The point being, it is in the work of daily living – both as an individual and as a family – that is enterprising. Our work – when productive – solves problems for us and is therefore enterprising.
The choices we make to toward solving problems prompt people to innovate and trade. In a genuinely prolife society, it would enterprise life affirming solutions for women whether they wanted to get pregnant or not.
Businesses specifically provide goods, services, and a means of acquiring an income whether employer or employee. Businesses provide those goods and services based on market demand.
In a genuinely prolife society, which would recognize the right of women to make choices about her own body and what she’ll use it for – apart from aggressing against others in the process – businesses would respond to the demand both for life-affirming options to prevent unwanted pregnancies, as well as life-affirming options when unwanted pregnancies occur.
This is very important! Legal prohibitions not withstanding (we’ll touch on that in a moment) what’s most necessary in a genuinely prolife society are a variety of options such that abortion is perceived by women as a dangerous, expensive, archaic, and immoral (if not illegal) option – ie. not life-affirming, but life-destroying.
It is conceivable (pardon the pun) that businesses could provide the very solutions that would choke out abortion services through innovative competition and creative destruction.
Healthcare, while really just one other service-related business in a freed market, would be uniquely positioned in a genuinely prolife society.
The practice of medicine is founded upon the Hippocratic oath: first do no harm. This is a moral (not legal) imperative that gives direction especially in a prolife society. When abortion is inconceivable in the economic or moral sense, there exists a backbone to the industry that is life-orienting.
It’s not merely that, when faced with high-risk pregnancies for example, “you save the life that can be saved” (although it would), it’s that medical research would be aimed at de-risking pregnancy for women over time. By contrast, in today’s society – which views abortion as a medically necessary procedure – the incentive to de-risk pregnancy is all but eliminated.
The industry benefits from aborted fetal tissue, for example. There are (false) ideas about so-called overpopulation or a dubious negative impact of humans on the global climate. These stem from a life-destroying mentality in healthcare. (Though this is not to say that prolife medical practitioners of various kinds do not exist or do individually uphold their Hippocratic oaths to the best of their ability.)
The economy is the free exchange of goods and services between people. On the one hand you have business, which we already discussed, and on the other, you have the consumer – the people purchasing or otherwise acquiring goods and services from others.
This is the quintessential place wherein we know if we’re living in a genuinely prolife society or not. Is there a market demand for abortion? Or, in other words, are women actively seeking out abortion services irrespective of legality?
Everything else we’ve discussed to this point is so absolutely essential. Because when (not if) unwanted pregnancies occur, what’s going to motivate and incentivize women to choose life-affirming options over abortion?
Are there life-affirming goods and services available? Is healthcare affordable, accessible, and natalist? Is the family going to be supportive? Are her individual rights recognized? Studies in this area all affirm that when a woman’s most basic needs are met, she will not demand abortion services.
The sphere of the church
In a genuinely prolife society, what will the church look like? (This is aside from proper preaching of the Gospel and administration of sacraments). Will the church look like a community where only married are mothers, families are perfect and polished, and no hint of human sin exists? Or will it look like a motley crew of imperfect people in imperfect circumstances doing their best to love one another through the longsuffering of life?
So many people – women especially – have been hurt by churches who think they’re supposed to look like a Normal Rockwell painting. A genuinely prolife church would avoid showcasing the pretentiousness of so-called cultural Christianity, but would instead act in Christian love towards one another … including single mothers!
There’s a prevailing contradiction that exist in current conservative evangelical and Christian circles: it is sinful to have an abortion, but single motherhood is not something we want to be perceived as endorsing. Not all conservative churches do this, but it is no less true.
Single mothers, whether as a consequence of extramarital sex or divorce, are simply unwelcome in many conservative churches. This is antinatalist even if single motherhoods is not the ideal. A genuinely prolife church would come alongside single mothers to support (in various ways, not necessarily financially) that mother’s life-affirming choices, even despite any of her poor choices that may have got her there.
The sphere of civil governance
I saved this for last. Why? Because a genuinely prolife society does not begin with anti-abortion legislation; pure and simple.
“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
― Frederic Bastiat, The Law
In fact, a genuinely prolife society may not even need or have abortion-specific legislation. For most of history, abortion was simply counted as murder. But aside from the question of existence of legislation, the striking thing most people have not thought through are the implications of genuinely prolife legislation. Genuinely prolife legislation, for example, could not violate a woman’s (even an accused woman’s) rights.
It could not create new injustices in the pursuit of justice. Take miscarriage for example. Many prolifers know there’s a difference between miscarriage and abortion. What is it? Miscarriage is not an action initiated by the woman; abortion is. But if you were looking at a woman miscarrying, it could look exactly the same as it would if she had taken the abortion pills; the cause would not be apparent to you.
In a genuinely prolife society, a woman who miscarries would not be held suspect – guilty until proven innocent – of an abortion. In fact, in the United States, the historic and classical liberal precedent is the presumption of innocence.
Yet, in our criminal justice system today, a so-called “tough on crime” mentality pervades and results in a blatant disregard for the rights of the accused. Whatever injustices are inflicted in the pursuit of justice are seen merely as “collateral damage” or like the “cost of doing business” of civil governance.
But inflicting injustice in the name of justice is really a countermand to a claim to justitial authority. This does not make for a just, much less prolife, society.
A libertarian criminal justice system means – among other things – protecting the rights of the accused, high standards for guilty verdicts (even an polycentric, or anarchic, legal order, where the market provides civil governance services, the standards would be high to protect ensure justice and not become a liability). But additionally, the woman who miscarries becomes the hallmark for what we wouldn’t do in the name of justice.
You see, a genuinely prolife society has implications that go far beyond a woman and her capacity for reproduction. This sort of society impacts life in much more magnanimous ways.
A genuinely prolife society is not a utopia; not a dystopia either
Despite the fact that a genuinely prolife society can be imagined, there’s no utopian dreaming here. A prolife society recognizes that bad things happen, poor decisions will be made, unintended consequences happen, and so forth.
So we should not have any illusions about what to expect. But the key here is to contemplate the numerous impacts to society at multiple levels and how that picture looks very different from our current reality.