Last week, Elizabeth Warren took to Twitter to call attention to the story of a mother whose son was born prematurely and required costly medical care for which Medicaid helped to pay. The Massachusetts senator blatantly adopted pro-life language in her recounting of the family’s story, urging fellow legislators to “step up and fight for the millions of babies like Peter who can’t speak for themselves.”
The irony is comical, but also galling. This rhetoric is coming from the same senator who, in 2015, voted against the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill that would have prohibited most abortions after 22 weeks of pregnancy. That same year, Warren voted against tabling an amendment that would have permitted up to $1 billion in additional funds for Planned Parenthood. Time and again, Senator Warren has failed to stand up for those who can’t speak for themselves.
Not that this is surprising. Warren is, after all, quite cozy with Planned Parenthood and was endorsed by EMILY’s List in her 2012 campaign against former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown. For her purposes, it’s more politically expedient to serve the will of the pro-choice movement than to stand up for a consistently pro-life ethic.
It’s much easier to neglect the unborn millions who can’t speak for themselves.
Despite Warren’s failure to advocate for the unborn, her tweet at least nominally acknowledges the importance of honoring life. In recent years, the pro-choice movement has trended toward a much more brazen form of shamelessness. Miles Smith, an assistant professor at Regent University, has noted that pro-choice activists’ increasingly positive rhetoric concerning abortion mirrors that of Southern slavery advocates before the Civil War. He wrote the following after the Democratic National Convention last summer:
Calhoun’s radical embrace of slavery added to the dehumanization of African-Americans and departed from long-held moral and political understanding of slavery in American political life. In our own time, modern-day John C. Calhouns make up the abortion lobby in American politics. The 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) clearly demonstrates that the Democratic Party has shifted from acceptance of abortion as a necessary evil to celebration of abortion as a positive good.
The pro-choice movement values a crude form of freedom that boils down to unrestricted autonomy. It’s not just about giving the mother a choice in a difficult situation; nowadays, abortion is a symbol of self-empowerment.
This radical shift on the part of pro-choice advocates limits opportunities to forge a consistently pro-life ethic that could undergird social and economic policy. On the contrary, it reinforces the partisan obstacles to forming such an ethic: Democrats retain an image as the party of abortion and welfare, while Republicans are seen as the party of traditional sexual ethics and spending cuts.
What a consistently pro-life ethic would be like in practice is more difficult to define with precision. John Carr, the director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, has offered a useful summary of what this has historically meant. For such an ethic to be potent, it would have to demand respect for the lives of the born and unborn, both those who can and can’t speak for themselves. Recognition of the dignity of all human lives would have to be the starting point. In the context of abortion, that means honoring life above mere choice and autonomy.
This is not meant to denigrate human freedom, but rather to exalt it. Prizing liberty, while neglecting the value of human life, is a recipe for disaster — in fact, it’s a recipe for a type of slavery. If life isn’t first protected, then unfettered liberty can result in its loss. In other words, freedom without virtue is self-defeating.
Now Elizabeth Warren seems to support one of the other components of a consistent life ethic: concern for the poor and sick. That is well and good, but is rendered less meaningful by the fact that Warren values choice to the point of neglecting the lives of all those who can’t speak for themselves. She has left herself defending an inconsistent life ethic.
— Jeff Cimmino is an editorial intern at National Review.