Anti-choice is not “pro-life”

Tom Friedman shreds the folks whose idea of the sanctity of life starts at conception and ends at birth.

The prospect of a President Romney seems to have scared Tom Friedman into eloquence:

You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

47 thoughts on “Anti-choice is not “pro-life””

  1. Do any undecided voters (a) read Friedman and (b) care what he thinks? He doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends in the Reality-based community, from what I’ve seen of his name here.

    I agree completely with his sentiment here, and would extend it to contraceptive advice too – if you are anti-abortion, the best way to reduce its occurrence (better than banning it, which does not work much of the time) is to ensure very free access to birth control information and methods. But I’m not (a) undecided or (b) a voter.

  2. I don’t admire much about anti-abortionists, but I have to give them this: they are spectacularly good sloganeers. “Pro-life” is a hall of famer, and it is only partially offset by “pro-choice”; life is a higher value than choice, and it fits better in headlines, which is critical. “Partial birth abortion” and “unborn children” are other malicious dandies. The labels of choice probably ought to be “ant-abortionist” and “pro-choice”, but the good guys are losing this PR battle by a stunning margin. If you are ever tempted to use “pro-choice” to mean “anti-abortion”, think of Friedman’s passage, and don’t.

      1. Some of us are pretty sure that having access to contraception and abortion is extremely fundamental to our personal liberty.

    1. The “pro-life” frame was actually created in response to the left’s adoption of “pro-choice.” If we were going to get rid of sloganeering, we would distinguish whether someone is for or against abortion rights.

      1. Pofo may actually be right about which came first, although that is now a remote historical footnote. The key point is that pro-choice is a fair, honest and accurate label for that viewpoint, while pro-life is, as Friedman establishes, a shrewd political slogan not entitled to the same description.

      2. Seems to me that the most accurate designation is pro-criminalization or anti-criminalization of abortion. It is about whether or not the government should use its criminal justice powers to penalize women who seek, or doctors who perform, abortions.

    1. The argument at John’s link is that President Obama is an indirect but effective opponent of abortion — and hence “pro-life” — because ACA would expand access to contraception. What has often been overlooked, but has seen some light in this campaign season, is that the anti-abortion movement is dominated by people who are also anti-contraception (which they usually downplay for political/tactical reasons). MSM fail.

  3. Friedman unaccountably avoids mentioning the many many “pro-life” people who fervently support the death penalty.

  4. Abortion is opposed because, if you accept the reasoning of pro-lifers, it is itself, directly, the killing of innocent life. A 1-1 ratio of abortions to innocent death.

    Ownership of particular firearms is opposed by gun controllers, even if you accept their reasoning, because some minute fraction of them might be used to kill innocent life, but most will not be.

    Given that, I can’t see how the contrast between the two is favorable to gun controllers. If pro-lifers really were to reason like gun controllers, they’d set out to ban medical instruments, on the theory that otherwise they might occasionally be used to perform abortions. And not care one bit they were mostly not used for abortions.

      1. Yes, exactly: Both are mere inanimate objects, tools, which can be put to any end the person possessing them chooses. The owner of a scalpel can go out and start slashing throats. The owner of an AK-47 can use it for target shooting and other sports.

        Gun controllers insist on committing the pathetic fallacy, attributing purpose to these inanimate objects, when purpose is an attribute of their owners.

        That they insist on attributing to these inanimate objects purposes they are rarely put to only accentuates the irrationality of this.

        1. Gun controllers insist on committing the pathetic fallacy, attributing purpose to these inanimate objects, when purpose is an attribute of their owners.

          So “x” has a grudge against his ex and wants to go out in a blaze of glorious killing. Does he reach for his scalpel or his AK47? Exactly, his AK47. Why? Because only a navel-gazing ninny would equate these two as “mere inanimate objects”. Your argument is “divorced” from reality from its leading premise. Usually that means that everything that follows is mendacious. Much like the lies that got our unfaithful ex in trouble at the very start of this circular rebuttal.

          1. I’m inclined to agree with your point of view, but it is disrespectful and hardly conducive to discussion to adopt a moniker so directly and personally aimed at your interlocutor. Unless, of course, your name is Bellmore.

          2. You start with the assumption that somebody is intent on murder, you’re going to get murder regardless of what you ban. No gun? Fine, run somebody over with a car. Set fire to their house. Crush their skull with a lead pipe.

            There are no end of objects normally used for innocent purposes, which can be turned to murder.

            The fact remains that the pro-life movement objects to the killing of innocents, believes abortions is an example of this, and sets out to ban the thing they actually object to. Nice, direct, no going after things which merely contribute to the objectionable activity, while mostly being used for innocent purposes.

            If we are to suppose that the motivation of gun controllers is to reduce innocent deaths, then we must conclude that their chosen means are remarkably indirect and over-inclusive, since for every gun they’d ban that’s actually used in a murder, they’d be banning hundreds to thousands of guns that would never be so used.

            Or, we could conclude that gun controllers don’t so much object to innocent deaths, as they object to gun ownership itself, regardless of whether the guns are misused. If that’s the case, the laws are directly targeted to what they find objectionable, and their actions are a rational way of pursuing their goals.

            And they’re lying their pants off about why they’re passing the laws.

            But either way, no, if you’re pro-life you don’t need to try to ban objects which are only rarely used to end innocent life, and are mostly used for perfectly defensible ends such as sport or self-defense. The suggestion betrays a complete failure to understand the way pro-lifers reason, or to admit what really motivates gun controllers.

          3. Why do gun “enthusiasts” always insist that mass murderers would use a 2×4 if they couldn’t dress up in full body armor and use military weapons capable of shooting dozens and dozens of bullets without reloading? Why do people who at all other times appreciate the capabilities of firearms suddenly pretend they’re no more effective and efficient a means of mass murder than is your Volkswagen Passat?

          4. Um, ’cause it’s true? Silly reason to insist on something, I know, but you do realize that people do somehow manage to commit murder, yes, even mass murder, without using guns, right?

            But I don’t deny that guns are quite effective at killing people. Of course they are!

            Nothing that’s effective at killing game animals will be incapable of killing a human, it’s not like we’re all that biologically different from deer, after all.

            Further, there’s murder, and there’s self-defense, and strangely enough, bullets don’t know which they’re doing, they’re equally effective at both.

            You know what? Photo copiers are effective at forging currency. Cars are effective for fleeing across state lines with kidnap victims. The fact that an inanimate object can be used effectively for a wrongful purpose is irrelevant, if it’s also got legitimate purposes.

            We don’t ban cell phones because they’re effective for coordinating criminal activities. We don’t ban gasoline because it’s effective for arson.

            We ban doing wrongful things, not articles which might facilitate doing wrongful things, but which are mostly used innocently. The way guns are.

            So, don’t pretend this is about murder. Murder is already illegal. Every wrongful use of a gun is already illegal. Gun control laws aren’t aimed at suppressing wrongful use. They’re aimed at suppressing innocent ownership.

            People eventually figured that out, which is why the gun control movement imploded the way it did. Nobody buys the cover story anymore. You don’t care about the criminals, you just want to make criminals of people who own things you don’t like.

          5. Brett,
            There is no civilian reason to wear full body armor and fire three dozen armor-piercing rounds without reloading. I’ll admit Bambi was not a documentary, but that kind of equipment would only make sense if Predator actually was, except the beast was a deer. That kind of equipment is only useful in a pre-planned assault on a dozen armed enemies – or on a theater full of victims. Or, of course, in case North Korea invades.

            Yes, maniacs may be maniacs, guns or no – but if they can’t cradle in their hands rapid, ranged, semiautomatic Death, they might not feel so ready – they might not be so ready. The temptation to kill dozens just can’t be so effective without the tool to do it, and there just aren’t mass knifings the way there are mass shootings; even whn they do occur, the toll is dramatically less. It is instructive to compare the Wolverhampton Machete Attack to that atrocity in Aurora: a (physically) healthy young man with an enormous blade attacked a yard full of small children and unprepared women, and no one died.

          6. warren, speaking as one who has tried to engage brett on this topic, i must tell you that doing so is extremely difficult. while there are many topics about which brett is philosophically unhinged and prepared to expound at length changing his tactics and even abandoning the logic of previous arguments all for the sake of continuing the discussion (the lengthy series of discussions on the obama birth certificate would be an excellent case in point), on this subject i believe mr. bellmore feels he has a personal stake. there is no other subject about which he stays the course and maintains the true thread of his arguments so consistently as he does when he argues on this subject. if you go back to the comments on previous threads related to this issue you will find an unusually consistent approach which cannot be breached by any counterarguments. i also have the impression from memories of such threads that he is more likely to engage in ad hominem attacks than on any other subject.

            you are, of course, welcome to continue the discussion with him if you like but, aside from this meta-commentary, i do not intend to try to reason with brett on this topic. for brett this topic is his moment of epistemic closure.

          7. “There is no civilian reason to wear full body armor and fire three dozen armor-piercing rounds without reloading.”

            I suppose I could engage side issues, like the fraudulent definition of “armor-piercing” which was used the last time Democrats in Congress drafted an ammo ban. Or talk about people with the misfortune to work in bad neighborhoods But I’ll go straight to the heart of the matter:

            Would you care to venture a guess as to the ratio of civilians who own these things, to the number who do something bad with them? Are you going to assert that it’s anywhere close to 1? Are you seriously going to deny that most of the people who own these things, who you’d make criminals of, don’t do anything wrong with them?

            How is it that civilians do things there are “no civilian reasons” to do? I ask you, in all seriousness: Are you being rational here, in denying that there are civilian reasons to do things civilians actually do? That there’s no peaceful use, for things mostly used peacefully?

            Who’s really in denial here?

            Perhaps you wish to rephrase your complaint a bit? No civilian reason you respect? No civilian reason you’re not comfortable ignoring? No civilian reasons you don’t want to stamp out because they offend you?

            Because you’re just plain delusional if you deny there are civilian reasons to do things civilians are, in fact, doing.

          8. Navarro,
            I think it’s useful to have Brett remind people that he thinks it’s important that anyone who wants to be able to take on a small army at any time and without seeking professional assistance, even though there’s no legitimate reason for anyone to have such a capability and no evidence (outside of action films) that it’s ever been put to good or even to innocuous use. If the price we as a society pay so that these little, little men can pointlessly tool up to suit their dark and twisted fantasies is that every couple of months some other, even smaller man with even darker and more twisted fantasies will shoot dozens of people, killing a dozen or so of them – well, to Brett, that’s a fair swap.

          9. What I think is important to remind you is that the people you want to sic the full force of the law on aren’t doing anything to hurt anybody. Because if they were, you wouldn’t need a new law to go after them, now, would you.

            Yes, I think you need to remember that you’re advocating a law to crack down on people who are minding their own business. You wonderfully pro-choice people, you.

          10. i suppose it may be useful to set brett up to seem to be on the same side of things as mass murderers but i doubt any minds are being changed by the exercise. i’ve been over much of this ground with brett less than two weeks ago. see here: for the gory details.

            while there can be some real doubt at times about the things brett truly believes, on this issue there can be little doubt. whatever else brett is, he is definitively a 2nd amendment absolutist. tweak him at your discretion.

          11. And the police, who seem to be becoming more and more like gangs in uniform, might be breaking down people’s doors in even greater abandonment if they knew there were no guns behind those doors.

          12. Charles, that’s nonsense. It’s completely the opposite of the case: the police have become increasingly militarized, and are conducting raids in an incredibly aggressive style, in part because they insist that such precaution are necessary in case the inhabitants of the property are armed to the teeth and ready to take on a small army.

          13. Then it’s funny how slow they can be about breaking down a door when they know there’re guns behind a door with people prepared to use them.

    1. because some minute fraction of them might be used to kill innocent life, but most will not be.

      because some minute fraction of them have been used to kill innocent life at fairly high kill ratios, but most will not be.


      1. Of course, the large fraction that has not (yet) been used to kill innocent human life hasn’t been used for any other purpose, either. The thirtieth bullet in your ammo clip has no purpose other than the killing of innocent human life.

        1. I’m not sure you can make that argument stick. Other purposes mainly fall under the umbrella of “psychological security blanket”. It’s dark and twisted I know but there you have it. And I don’t think that that purpose is a good enough reason to expose the rest of us to the risks of mass carnage when one of them inevitably goes off the deep end. Most people, including myself, want reasonable restraints on armaments in civil society. The truth is we don’t know how to do that perfectly. I’m willing to accept an imperfect solution if it will lower the severity of damage when someone has a breakdown. Unfortunately, the cry babies have the megaphone at the moment.

        2. Right, right, it just sits there, frustrated as heck, because I won’t use it for it’s destined purpose. Back to the pathetic fallacy again.

          Again, listen to yourself. Is this rational? Is twelve some magical number of cosmic significance, such that you can load 12 bullets into a magazine with innocent motive, but you shove that 13th one in, and you must have mass murder on your mind? Is there a line stamped on the magazine, and if you use the cartridges below the line, they veer away from the target YOU pointed the gun at, and go looking for somebody to kill?

          Why 12? Why not 10? 15? 8? What’s your numerological justification?

          Warren, listen to yourself. This is nothing but magical thinking. You really think, somebody owns something you don’t like, you’re entitled to assign an evil purpose to it, and if they use it for anything else, they’re misusing it, because it’s only purpose is evul?

          Look, I have a 2 mile commute to work. And there’s a gas station on my route! I drive a car capable of over 300 miles on a tank of gas. Do the remaining 298 miles of range have no purpose other than high speed interstate police chases?

          I own a printer. I print a couple of sheets at a time, the paper magazine holds 90% of a full ream. (Why not 100% Ask HP, they’re weird that way.) If I load more than a couple sheets into it, do they have the purpose of printing 20’s on them, for me to pass as the real thing?

          Why bigger magazines? Because they take longer to run out. And, no matter WHAT you’re doing with the gun, it’s a pain when you run out of bullets, and have to change magazines. A bigger pain if you have to load it, too.

          I guess that doesn’t occur to you, because you can’t actually envision somebody shooting the gun. And, because you don’t give a damn about the convenience of gun owners, when you think there shouldn’t BE gun owners.

          And, Tim? Yes, most people want “reasonable” rules. The reason you can’t get the stuff you want passed, is that it’s not reasonable. We had a loud, extended argument over gun control in this country. Your side lost it.

  5. The idea of pro-life meaning more than anti-abortion is important, but Friedman grossly cheapens it by including sugary drink bans in his expansion of the definition of pro-life, without mentioning the death penalty, drones, wars, lethal force in criminal justice, and Presidential kill lists.

    In that way, Friedman is just like the right wing. It’s fine when the government kills. It’s only when individuals make choices that the government should interfere.

  6. That’s certainly an admirable statement from Ol’ Stache, but its impact is seriously diluted when three paragraphs later, he calls Mayor Bloomberg “the most pro-life politician,” and cites the smoking and soft-drink initiatives as evidence.

    That’s akin to judging Rudy Giuliani solely on the fact that he was a kick-ass U.S. Attorney, and ignoring the rest of his record.

  7. You also don’t get to call yourself pro-life if want people to die due to lack of access to health care.

    Judging by their legislative actions, Republicans don’t want to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act; they want to repeal it, period. House Republicans have passed two bills to repeal Obamacare: HR 2, passed on Jan 9, 2010, and HR 6079, passed on July 11, 2012. Not a single Republican voted against either bill. As far as I can determine, they haven’t taken any legislative action to replace Obamacare with something else.

    Romney says he wants to replace Obamacare with something else, but he has also said that he will repeal Obamacare on day one. So he’s very comfortable passing legislation that will result in a bunch of Americans dying, even if he hopes to reduce or eliminate the death count via unspecified later legislation that might or might not pass.

    If I ran as a “pro-life” candidate promising to “repeal and replace” existing restrictions on abortion, saying I would do the repeal on day one, and later replace them with something else (I wouldn’t say exactly what), would anyone in the “pro-life” movement take me seriously? Of course not. There are precious few pro-life Republican politicians unless you believe, to quote Barney Frank, that “life begins and conception and ends at birth.”

    1. “You also don’t get to call yourself pro-life if want people to die due to lack of access to health care.”

      True, you don’t get to call yourself that, if you actually want the people to die. But this is much like saying, “You don’t get to call yourself pro-minority if you want minorities to fail college at great expense, due to being affirmative actioned into schools beyond their qualifications.” “You don’t get to call yourself pro-poor if you want poor people to be unemployed due to the minimum wage being too high.” “You don’t get to call yourself an economist if you want a hyper-inflation followed by economic collapse.”

      It’s something of a liberal trope, isn’t it, to assume that your opponents agree with you about the consequences of their policies, and persist in them precisely because they WANT all the bad effects you claim they’d cause. Gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling to think that the people who disagree with you are evil, doesn’t it?

      But I don’t think you’d accept the same reasoning being applied to you.

  8. Well, if that were true the vast majority of people would be content with the gun access controls in this country. (I suppose now you’ll claim that they are. Or that most people are simply unreasonable?) And for starters, I haven’t said what I want passed so you can’t really say that what I want is unreasonable. If “my side” has lost, it’s because your side has a well-funded lobby that’s intimidated almost every elected official whose constituents actually want more effective gun controls to STFU about gun control or risk a giving his/her opponent a massive NRA cash infusion next election. Witness Obama’s soft-pedaling on this issue during the 2nd debate for example.

    I’m at least willing to stipulate that this is a tough problem with no easy answers. Doesn’t sound to me like you’re even willing to acknowledge that we have a problem with violence in this country. Or maybe you would stipulate that, but that the correlation with gun access is purely coincidental.

        1. Seriously, I’d like to know what’s so magical about 12 rounds, that the 13th becomes for murder only. Is there a rational explanation for why it’s 12, and not 5, or 7, or 123?

          Warren throws out a line like THAT, and *I’m* supposed to be the irrational one here?

          1. okay brett, i know i said i wouldn’t try to engage with you on this topic (and not because you’re are any more irrational about this than you are with any of a number of subjects but because, instead, that you are obviously so vested in this issue that continuing to bicker with you about it is like deliberately stepping on someone’s stubbed toe) but i have to ask, does there exist a clip size that you would find excessive? if so, how large would it have to be? would it seem excessive to you to have a 20 round clip, or a 50 round clip, or a 100 round clip, or a belt-fed weapon with 100s of rounds available? things like that have always seemed to me to be useful for two purposes–either as a very expensive toy or as an efficient means of killing. i’m open to suggestions for other purposes.

            i apologize for breaking my silence on this but i really am interested in whether there might be a limit for you.

          2. An excessive clip size would be one that causes the gun to be too unwieldy for effect use or makes the clip mechanically unreliable.

          3. Charles beat me to it.

            And what’s wrong with expensive toys? Yes, that’s what most firearms in this country are. Not weapons of mass murder, not preparation for revolution, but instead expensive toys. That’s all my Calico carbine is, (Top two pictures) that, and a way for me to stick it to my Congressman.

            The failure to understand that, and the subsequent insistence that they’re all intended to be used for murder, that the owners dream of murder, is by far the biggest mental hole gun banners suffer from, though hardly the only one.

            And, guess what: Most books in this country are probably trashy woman’s romances, not textbooks. Doesn’t repeal the 1st amendment.

          4. i’m glad you and i can at least agree on one thing, although i don’t think you read my last comment as carefully as you might have since i was very careful to offer the alternative to toy as “an efficient means of killing” and not as a weapon of mass murder. those two things have or should have very different connotations. admittedly, you may have chosen your wording based on other comments upthread.

            where we differ is that i think there is no inherent right to own expensive toys and that they may be legitimately regulated wheras you believe that even expensive toys fall under the umbrella of the constitution. vive le difference!

          5. There’s no constitutional right to own expensive toys unless they’re expensive toys the Constitution explicitly guarantees you the right to own. That pesky 2nd amendment again; Until you manage to repeal it, it’s as much a part of the Constitution as the 1st.

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