Commentary: Pro-life arguments can have progressives’ logic

Published 11:36 am Thursday, October 5, 2023

By Robert Cunningham, Christ for Kentucky

Campaign season is upon us, which means it is time, once again, for a profoundly significant and sensitive ethical discussion to be reduced to 30-second ads for political fodder.

This is Kentucky’s first gubernatorial election in a post-Roe v. Wade America, and it shows. Andy Beshear’s campaign is clearly seeking to paint Daniel Cameron as an extremist, while Cameron, along with many Republicans across the country, struggles with the dilemma of principles vs. pragmatics.

Welcome to the new frontier of pro-life conservatism. Roe v. Wade not only protected abortion rights but also anti-abortion convictions from tangible implications. Those like myself who believe in the sacredness of in-utero life could espouse these views somewhat immaterially.

But pro-life politicians can no longer campaign against a Supreme Court decision and, instead, must face the practical controversy and costs of pro-life policies.

Candidly, I’m not sure the pro-life movement is ready for this moment. As pro-choice advocates shape the public imagination with anecdotal visions of radical extremism, our response will require a newfound depth of sophistication and argumentation.

As a Christian, my ethics regarding life are informed by scriptural teachings and Christian tradition. For me, this is enough. But for much of society, it is not. If anything, invoking Christianity only fuels the narrative of extremism.

But what if evangelicals invoked deeply held beliefs of the progressive worldview to advocate for the unborn? Granted, our pervasive partisanship clouds everything, but if we could somehow rise above the clouds, there is actually a pro-life case to be made from the progressive perspective.

My progressive friends are rightly pro-science. However, every new advancement in prenatal science only reinforces the human dignity of pre-born life. Biologically speaking, the scientific consensus is that life begins at conception when a separate DNA is created. From that point forward, we are not discussing a clump of cells or parasitic tissue; we are debating human DNA. And science allows us to track this uniquely formed life with remarkable clarity.

For example, consider the Mississippi legislation before the Supreme Court when Roe v. Wade was overturned. This law sought to ban abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy. While this may seem like a radical restriction, science now tells us that all major organs are formed and functioning at this developmental point. The kidneys filter toxins, the pancreas produces enzymes, the lungs have practiced breathing for six weeks and the heart has beaten over 15 million times. The fetus responds to touch, the developed fingers are independently moving, and the tiny thumb is often sucked for comfort. Should we not trust the science when it affirms the humanity of the pre-born?

Progressives are also rightly pro-justice. As a Christian, I admire their concern for those society tends to neglect, but I also wonder why that concern does not extend to pre-born life. They seek to defend the vulnerable against the powerful, but nothing is more vulnerable than life in the womb. They give voice to the voiceless, but the pre-born literally has no voice. They fight for those without power harmed by the interests of the powerful, but this is the definition of abortion. I deeply admire the progressive concern for justice, but should that advocacy not extend to the truly least of society?

Finally, progressives are rightly pro-diversity. They lament the imperialistic tendency of predominantly white Western culture and prioritize listening and learning from diverse perspectives. But will this cultural humility extend to the ethics of abortion? From a global perspective, America will only find commonality with totalitarian states like China and North Korea.

Even far more progressive Western countries have laws that American progressives would view as radically extreme, such as France, Germany and Belgium, all of which restrict abortion at 12 weeks.

But outside the West, the rest of the world, particularly Africa and Latin America, views our abortion practices as immoral at best and downright barbaric at worst. Are we to value diversity only when it aligns with our presuppositions, or are we genuinely committed to the challenge, perhaps even rebuke, of diverse perspectives?

As an evangelical Christian, it will probably surprise no one that my religious beliefs led to a pro-life conviction. But religion aside, a pro-science, pro-justice, and pro-diversity worldview, rightly understood, surprisingly leads to an equally pro-life commitment.

— Rev. Robert Cunningham is the founder and director of Christ for Kentucky. He earned a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary and is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Leicester, researching the role of religion in America’s founding era. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertC4KY and send questions and comments to