Another assertion has become commonplace in discussions of abortion. Pro-lifers who own firearms, or support military actions abroad are misled at best, and at worst, hypocrites. The critic assumes that any inconsistently held pro-life beliefs are evidence pro-lifers aren’t actually motivated by a desire to protect human life, but rather a desire to control women’s liberty. This line of criticism lacks substance and misunderstands both the essential pro-life position as well as why people support gun rights or particular military actions.
Suppose for a moment it’s true that the vast majority of pro-lifers are hypocritical in how they hold their views on protecting life across various issues. Would that supposition invalidate the pro-life position as a whole? The essential pro-life argument is as follows:
- It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings
- Elective Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings
- Therefore, elective abortion is wrong.
If the premises are true (and there’s good reason to believe they are) and the conclusion logically follows, then the argument is sound. Would a subset of the pro-life community being hypocrites demonstrate that either premise is untrue? Of course not. Neither the wrongness of killing innocent human beings nor the nature of abortion and its victims are in any way impacted by whether some pro-life advocates behave inconsistently toward life in regards to the views they champion.
In fact, this is little more than a personal attack. It’s highly unlikely that if the moral consistency of particular pro-lifers changed overnight these critics would then drop their support for abortion. It’s a smokescreen, an attempt to poison the well of the pro-life cause, not an actual rebuttal of the above argument.
That being said, the claim that supporting gun rights or military service is inconsistent with the pro-life view is mistaken. As philosopher Tim Hsaio points out, self-defense is an extension of the right to life, intrinsic to all human beings. Since all human beings have the natural (intrinsic or God-given) right to life, then it is perfectly just for human beings to take steps to prevent themselves from being victimized by those with an evil intent. Writes Hsaio,
“Now since the purpose of a right is to protect my well-being, the possession of a right entitles me to protect that which I have a right to. Thus, if I possess the right to life, then I must also possess the corresponding right to secure or protect my life. I must, in other words, possess the right to self-defense. The right to self-defense follows immediately from the right to life—in fact, the right to self-defense is an integral part of the right to life itself. It is what gives substance to the right to life.”
Remember, the reason abortion is wrong is because it intentionally kills an innocent human being. The vast majority of Americans who purchase firearms do not do so for the purpose of going out and intentionally killing innocent human beings, but for self-defense purposes or for protecting friends and family from those with wicked intentions.
Military action is a bit more complicated, but still serves as a further extension of this principle. Being a servicemember myself (Going on six years as a Cavalry Scout in the Army National Guard) I have received the question on numerous occasions, why do I oppose abortion if I am engaged in a line of work where my job is predicated upon the taking of human life?
The question ultimately relies on a confusion of moral principles. Remember, pro-lifers oppose elective abortion because it intentionally takes the life of innocent human beings. We could be mistaken in that claim, but that doesn’t necessarily make us inconsistent if we support or serve in the Armed Forces. It’s impossible to find a valid comparison between an ISIS fighter or Nazi executionor and an unborn child. It’s not even worth pondering.
The ethics of warfare are complex and involve a great amount of moral ambiguity, but at their core are the same basic principles which underlie both the pro-life position and self-defense. Just as a toddler cannot adequately exercise the ability to defend their life or well-being, and therefore needs an adult (such as a parent) to fill this role, governments must protect the lives of citizens against immoral aggressors such as foreign states and terror groups. This is why we have police, intelligence services, and the military provided by civil government.
Debates over the ethics of contemporary military actions abroad usually come down to finer details about how to effectively engage enemy combatants and achieve victory with minimal loss of innocent life. While a military commander may foresee the loss of life on the battlefield, this in no way makes a conflict inherently immoral, provided steps are taken to mitigate the loss of life without compromising the overall mission. For instance, the introduction of laser guided weaponry, thermal imaging, communications and better surveillance/reconnaissance equipment has been a major boon towards limiting the risk to civilians(and friendly forces) caught in the crossfire of a battle.
Even when an attack or war is being fought for justified reasons the loss of innocent human life can sometimes be unavoidable. For instance, during the D-Day landings in Normandy, due to uncontrollable circumstances such as bad weather, enemy anti-aircraft fire, and other factors, Allied bombers often overshot their objectives and accidentally bombed civilian centers as well as Allied fighting positions. While undoubtedly tragic, few would argue that the invasion would have been inherently unjust unless no civilian lives were lost. In war, a variety of unseen and unavoidable variables can pop-up in an instant and impact battlefield decision making. The advent of modern military technologies helps, but similar problems can still impact the battle space resulting in tragedy. Communications errors, equipment failures, bad intelligence, and unethical behavior on the part of soldiers sometimes tragically lead to unintended results in conflict. Fatigue and cynicism can also play a role. Decision making on the battlefield changes within split seconds, while still being guided by the commander’s intent which is guided by an overall strategy and “big picture” mission of friendly forces. All of these safeguards can’t prevent the occasional unethical and immoral behavior (human beings aren’t basically good) which is why a clearly defined Rules of Engagement (ROE for shorthand) and Uniform Code of Military Justice are essential for a morally upright military. In the circumstances where soldiers behave unethically or even wickedly towards non-combatants, the military justice system corrects and punishes bad behavior, while promoting and honoring good behavior on the parts of servicemembers. Leaders should model good behavior and combat bad behavior within the ranks. As retired Marine Corps General James Mattis poignantly puts it, people should know that they have no better friend and no worse enemy “than a United States Marine”. The same is true for the rest of the Armed Services.
As Army Major Pete Hegseth points out, by and large it has been the United States military (with help from countless invaluable allies worldwide) which has promoted stability, justice, and peace at home and abroad by serving as a sort of world sheriff. Perfect, no, but until a better alternative presents itself, those who love justice shouldn’t feel ashamed for supporting the United States military. As the noted British historian Andrew Roberts argues, when the United States military is weak, wicked men like Adolf Hitler are able to make growing threats to the lives of millions of marginalized people; however, when the American military is strong, even oppressive superpowers like the Soviet Union are forced to tread carefully.
The decision to engage in conflict must be guided by sound moral principles, which includes considering the possible unintended consequences of one’s decision. Good intentions alone are not good enough.
In light of this, pro-lifers are not hypocritical to support either gun ownership or armed conflict provided both are guided by sound moral reasoning. Debates over both are a sign of healthy functioning social conscience.
However, the debate over abortion has nothing to do with what sort of human beings pro-lifers are; it has everything to do with whether the unborn are human, and will be granted recognition as fellow members of the human family. Debates over the Ethics of war, capital punishment, and gun ownership are ultimately irrelevant to the humanity of the unborn, and the inhumanity of abortion.
 Hsiao, Tim “Natural Rights, Self-Defense, and the Right to Own Firearms”, The Public Discourse https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/10/42765/
 United States Army, “Invasion of Normandy” https://history.army.mil/brochures/normandy/nor-pam.htm
 Beevor, Antony D-Day: The Battle for Normandy
 Maj. Hegseth, Peter “Who Should Win the Nobel Peace Prize?” PragerUniversity, Nov 11, 2019
 Roberts, Andrew “Why America’s Military Must Be Strong” PragerUniversity, May 26, 2014