I saw this rather tiresome meme quoting Sister Joan Chittister. The quotation reads, "I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth."
Now, I have just about had it with this very common and very fallacious argument, and so I'm going to respond at length, and hopefully show why it is not only a tedious distraction, but also employs question-begging logic with regard to what "birth" means (or doesn't mean) in this whole discussion...
First of all, let's respond to the thing at face value, and consider the frankly stunning phrase, "all you want is a child born," and simply pause there. Because before we move on to the pathos-laden sequel, we need really to consider what's entailed in this first statement. "All you want is a child born,"—as opposed to what? "Not born," certainly, is the implied opposite. That is to say, a child dead—murdered, in fact. See, normally when dealing with questions of morality and ethics, it is quite natural and intuitive to tackle the large fundamental questions first and then proceed on to the fineries and perhaps more precious, nuanced points. We need to bear this in mind as the crux and lynchpin of the argument. Now, then, we can proceed on and consider the counterarguments in context.
I'll do so by way of metaphorical examples. If, for instance, you were to travel to, say, Pakistan or Afghanistan, and met someone picketing with a placard protesting against women being beaten or killed by their husbands with impunity, a good first instinct would be to say, "Right on, friend." It would, on the other hand, be somewhat strange and frankly perverse, to march up to that other person and launch into a tirade of whataboutism, e.g., "Well, what about women's education? What about women being allowed to drive? Or to vote? Or [so on and so forth]? You're not really pro-woman, you're just against women being beaten and murdered!" Or, say, it were the antebellum United States, and you were to accost an Abolitionist about what his or her plans were to ensure freed slaves equal opportunities of housing, employment, and education, or to demand as a prerequisite to the Emancipation Proclamation first a full and sweeping establishment of equal civil rights writ large. That Abolitionist likely wouldn't see you as an ally. He or she might even suspect that you were pro-slavery. At the very least, he or she would see you as missing the more urgent and pressing point in the matter. You would be, as the phrase goes, "majoring in the minors," and dismissed as an obstructionist nuisance.
Note, please, that both of my hypotheticals here are not even very strong as metaphors, though, but also why. Because in both of the above cases, the nuisance arguments don't necessarily imply their opposites, that women should go on being beaten and murdered in the one case, or that people should go on being enslaved in the other. One could imagine, rather, both of these arguments being made in good faith, albeit misguidedly. But in the antecedent to which the metaphors apply, this is not the case. Here, the upshot really is the stark opposite. The "therefore" that follows the counter-examples in the primary argument is: "Because of all these other considerations, *therefore* we must uphold a robust legal right for a child to be murdered before it is born." And here we can divert to considering the extension of this logic. Because I don't see how birth is a necessarily relevant fact in the matter at all. The argument, after all, is predicated upon the conditions facing born children, i.e. that some of them lack feeding, lack education, lack housing. These are granted in the premises to be things that *born* children suffer. So, why does it not follow that, if we cannot solve this for a three-year-old that is already born, then the same brutal consequence of our failure holds? If society won't help a mother feed, educate, or house her three-year-old daughter, then why shouldn't we make it legal for the mother to drown that child in her wading pool? If legal abortion really is the necessary relief to these issues, then abortion is obviously insufficient on its own, because so many would-be needy kids slip through the cracks of that laudatory solution and manage to be born in spite of society's incapacities. So we need to extend legal child murder beyond the womb to cover all the cases where pro-birthers have failed to be "truly pro-life," and allow that all unfed, unschooled, homeless kids be allowed to be killed. Limiting this merciful relief only to that class of kids that are not yet born seems prejudicial and cruel. It's quite unfair to the born kids not to allow them to benefit from this act of charity, too.
Before we get over excited with our final solution, however, we should stop and interrogate the premises to see if they even hold. If we look more deeply at the thing, we actually find that—alas for the program of merciful child killing—pro-lifers are not actually the abysmal failures they're supposed to be. The last time I myself had an opportunity to consort in-person with a bunch of these pro-birthers, for instance, the program for the day belied the stereotype that Sister deploys. We did gather first to pray and witness outside an abortion clinic. Many of those in attendance were families, some of whom had adopted kids who were rescued from the fate of abortion, including some special needs kids. These kids, lucky to have been born, had the fortune after being born to be fed, educated, and housed by the very same people who had endeavored to ensure their births. Not only that, but after our prayer vigil the whole lot of us then went out into the City where, while meeting with people and offering to pray with and for them, we also provided homeless people with meals and wellness kits including things like clean socks and dental care products and the like. Now, perhaps Sister has never seen this sort of thing going on, but I personally find this rather remarkable, because in all my years of experience with the pro-life movement, I have found this kind of charitable outreach to be the norm rather than the exception.
Actually, though, there is a line that has been elided from the quotation from Sister Joan that helps to shed light on the matter. Before the concluding remark that, "That's not pro-life. That's pro-birth," Sister had said, in the full statement, "And why would I think that you don't [want the aforementioned things]? Because you don't want any tax money to go there." So, actually, Sister might know that this sort of private charitable activity goes on, but what she's really worried about is government programs sufficiently provided for to do these things. Here, I'm prepared to grant Sister a bit of grace. I think maybe we can come up with more public funding to do the sorts of programs she has in mind. The devil is in the details, however. Speaking personally, for example, I'd propose that one place we should take this public funding from first of all would be from taxpayer funds that subsidize groups that already have an income stream from abortion, like Planned Parenthood. I’d suggest, too, that if we all put our heads together and tried to be a bit clever about it, a careful look at current allocations for the funding of public education might reveal ways to find resources to educate more born children. Perhaps not every kid would be able to have a laptop in the classroom. We’d need to make the tough decision of whether it’s more important for young Johnny to be able to look at TikTok during math class than for younger Johnny to have been pulled apart with forceps and vacuumed out of his mothers womb and thrown into an incinerator, but I think just maybe this is a calculus tha real good-faith actors could reach consensus on if they tried hard enough.
At the end of the day, though, as interesting as these later considerations are, we need to get back to the fundamental and most basic facts. Even if we granted that Sister’s criticism were true and that those who are ‘pro-birth’ aren’t *really* pro-life, we need to turn the consideration around and ask about the implicit opposite. Are those who are *anti* birth any *more* pro-life? Haven’t ‘pro-birthers’ at least achieved the first and crucial part of being pro-life, the sine qua non, “if all [they] want is a child born”? It seems to me that they have, because it’s very hard to feed, educate, or house dead kids. And it seems to me that anyone who wants to moralize about the feeding, education, or housing of children loses somewhat his or her credibility if countenancing the killing of children at the outset. There is always more we can do. But, hey, call me crazy: if it simply comes to down to comparing the kids the pro-lifers I know have saved from abortion and gone on to provide for with the kids Sister Joan and her ilk have killed under the full support of the law, I am inclined to think the former set are, on balance, better off.