E.J. Dionne has a question about what it means to be pro-life

AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar

I don’t think E.J. Dionne is actually interested in the question he asked yesterday in this column. I think he’s only interested in lashing out at conservatives for clicks. But okay, let’s play a long.

If you’ve been around people discussing abortion for more than, say, a week, you’ve probably heard this argument before: How can people call themselves pro-life when they support ______? Often what goes in the blank is “the death penalty.” That has always struck me as a truly dumb argument but Dionne doesn’t make that one so I won’t go into why. Here’s the one he does make:

On Tuesday, four high school students — ages 14, 16 and 17 — were fatally shot in Oxford, Mich., by a 15-year-old classmate firing a 9mm pistol with 15-round magazines.

Less than 24 hours later, a Supreme Court majority that seems on the verge of weakening the nation’s gun laws heard arguments in a case that could lead to tougher restrictions on abortion.

Please tell me: What can the words “pro-life” possibly mean when the same people who want to constrain abortion are eager to make it easier for Americans to obtain and carry deadly weapons?

Again, I think he’s really asking to rile up progressive readers at the Post but let’s try to actually answer this in a couple of ways.

The first, and really the easiest, response to this argument that conservatives are hypocrites is just to turn the argument around 180 degrees: How can progressives call themselves pro-choice when they support ________? Here we could fill the blank with any number of things starting with “vaccine mandates” or more precisely in this case “gun confiscation.”

But that’s taking the easy way out. What’s harder is to try to actually tease out how someone could take these two positions without being a hypocrite. And here I haven’t consulted any previous arguments or received wisdom on this question, I’m just going to tell you how it makes sense to me.

The first thing to say is that I do believe human life is valuable and deserves protection. When it comes to abortion, the most consistent view is that life begins at conception and should be protected from that point on. However, as a matter of public policy, most people recognize some sort of compromise needs to be made with people who believe, say, that life begins at birth. And so various lines are drawn in various places. In Roe the line is viability, usually 23-24 weeks, though babies born at 22 weeks can survive in some cases thanks to advances in medicine. The Supreme Court is considering a law that would set a limit at 15 weeks, which is closer to the global norm. Texas passed a law that would prevent abortion after 6 weeks. Even that law allows for the possibility of abortion before a fetal heartbeat is detected. Anyway, I think how the idea of being pro-life applies to this issue is pretty self-explanatory.

On guns, Dionne is essentially arguing that guns result in dead children as happened tragically this week in Michigan after a 15-year-old stole his fathers handgun and shot nearly a dozen people, killing four. How can anyone who calls themselves pro-life support that?

The short answer is, I don’t support that. I don’t think any pro-life person supports school shootings. But many of us do support the right to bear arms. And here’s where I think Dionne is cheating a bit. The purpose of the right to bear arms isn’t so people can shoot up schools. The purpose is sport or hunting or self-protection. Ultimately it’s about giving individuals the right to own a gun if they want one and is often about self-preservation or preservation of one’s family.

When someone, like the shooter at Oxford High School, steals a gun from a parent and goes to school with the intent to kill that’s a terrible crime. So the question becomes, should we sacrifice the freedom of millions of people because some people will inevitably break the law and use guns to kill others. Dionne no doubt would say yes but there are millions of responsible gun owners who would say no. In essence, don’t punish the law abiding for the bad behavior of those who break the law.

I’m not sure how that reasoning is in any sense anti-life. Yes, some people will die if people have access to guns but that’s not the goal of the freedom to own them. Pro-life people don’t support the right to own a gun so that innocent people will die.

I don’t think the same can be said of the pro-choice position on abortion. In that case, the death of the fetus can’t be disconnected from the freedom to abort. It’s a freedom that, when exercised, always and intentionally results in a dead child.

The only way I can put it is this: I don’t think pro-life people would support the right to bear arms if every gun sold resulted in a school shooting. If that were the case, pro-life people would be against guns. But the fact is that millions of guns get sold and only a tiny fraction result in someone’s death, much less murder, much less mass murder of other children. Using that extremely rare but horrible outcome to brand everyone who supports the 2nd Amendment a hypocrite doesn’t make much sense.

We recently had a man drive through a Christmas parade in Wisconsin. Would you say that people who own cars or support the ownership of cars are not pro-life? That’s really the same argument Dionne is making.

You can be pro-life and pro-2nd Amendment because the purpose of the 2nd Amendment isn’t murder. Pro-life people are consistently against murder but they aren’t against guns, knives, cars or any other tool which can, unfortunately, be misused by a deranged or bad person to murder someone.