The beauty of an ostensible contradiction is that it is an invitation to discover a paradox, a supposed contradiction that when observed fully and deeply is actually the manifestation of concordant and profound truths. Thus, the historically and culturally loaded term “pro-life Democrat” appears to be a contradictory moniker, but upon analysis it is not.
To be pro-life is to see the dignity and inherent worth in every human being and to work to create a society that respects and celebrates life in every circumstance, whether it is the lives of people of color, the LGBT community, children at the border, immigrants, a child in the womb, and the multitudes of other adjectives and nouns that describe the breadth and diversity of human life. If members of the pro-life community truly believe all human life, even that in the womb, on death row, or terminally ill, is worth protecting and defending, then it follows that they would do everything in their power to create a society that respects the lives of all human beings.
The same values that compel one to be pro-life and see the dignity and worth in all human beings are the exact same ones that motivate them to share in the dream of the Democratic party for a nation built on equality and progress. To respect life, there must be policies in place that reduce poverty, provide universally accessible healthcare services, secure the opportunity of a good education for every American, preserve the environment, and protect the human rights of minority groups: all goals of the Democratic party and features of their most recent party platform. Thus, the Democratic party is founded on the ideals of using proactive policy to secure justice, progress, inclusion, and equality for all. Those who are pro-life Democrats rely on the actualization of these ideals to create societal structures that respect all human life.
Many people see practices such as abortion, stem-cell research, and euthanasia as necessary steps in promoting progress and equality. While it is noble to advocate for the realization and manifestation of these goals, pro-life Democrats believe that the unborn and the sick are still human beings who must be factored into the balancing equation between progress and equality. The pro-life organization New Wave Feminists expresses this tension in the following quote: “When our liberation costs innocent lives, it’s merely oppression redistributed.” If any practice redistributes oppression, it works against the goals of promoting equality for all humanity and defeats the very essence of progress, the core of Democratic ideals. Because they share in the Democratic vision of progress, pro-life Democrats are compelled to oppose these practices.
However, there are also those who support ending such practices but do not realize the necessity of a massive cultural and political change in order to create a society that is equipped to deal with the ramifications of fully respecting life. As members of the Democratic party, pro-life Democrats are committed to enacting this change through life-affirming policy by ensuring the economic equality of women, reducing gun violence, and combating every form of abuse and harassment. In addition, pro-life Democrats engage in changing the cultural narrative that violence can achieve justice, equality, or human flourishing.
As a result, Pro-life Democrats are compelled by their Democratic beliefs in creating a future that is free of oppression to support pro-life goals of ending the practices that tuck oppression into quieter corners by affecting the most vulnerable. This also entails supporting constructive programs that create this future without resorting to violence as a means. By accepting the invitation to reflect on the paradox expressed by the label “pro-life Democrat,” it is evident that the two terms are not mutually exclusive, and that together they offer a deeper vision of what it means to stand for equality and to respect human life.